Thursday, December 4, 2008

Gone Postal - A Novel - Chapter 13

Since it took a fleet of Jeeps, Hummers and Econolines to get us back into Seattle, we staggered our departures so as not to arouse suspicion.

It wouldn’t look good to see a convoy of vehicles jam-packed with bedraggled rebels rolling across the Tacoma Narrows. The event we’d been preparing for all those months was about to go down.

Spencer, or whoever told Spencer what to do, had decided in a fit of symbolism, to shut down I-5 on the Fourth of July.

I was one of the last to leave the Olympic peninsula compound. Even though I trained with the men I wasn’t going to fight with them. I would join Spencer on July 3rd at his office which provided an excellent vantage point to observe the battle on I-5, it was to serve as mission control.

When Mike and I climbed into Sam’s Hummer it was July 2nd. I was to have one more night with Rosie and then I’d be gone again.

You can imagine.

We’d decided no women at the Olympic compound. Hector’s place in the Cascades was a different story, he’d found the ladies dug the Che Guevara routine just as much as the Tony Montana role.

The role of Hector's team was different. They were going to work the streets, so to speak. We feared freelancers. Figuring flames on I-5 and the ensuing standstill of commerce, rioters might run rampant. Hector et al were supposed to help police, if that’s the right word, the situation. As you may recall, that didn’t go well at all.

For all its bluster and blather the USPS still had many subversive elements within its rank and file, which is how a few short hours after I walked away from Rosie dozens of trucks, jeeps, semis emblazoned with that screaming eagle went missing, requisitioned not for the purpose of delivering but to block all deliveries.

These, as well as scores more vehicles borrowed or stolen, including ingeniously, a few FedEx and UPS trucks, would take the shape of our modern barricades. I say ingeniously because UPS and FedEx gave the impression this was a larger movement, like joint marketing really. And it raised the implication that this was more than just a few bad seeds at the post office, which as anyone who has read this far must surely see.

However, there was a risk this could be dismissed as an isolated incident and then washed away like so many other scandals, with a trial in the media, an inquiry, a scapegoat, and collective amnesia as we move on to the next train wreck.
Well, this was no train wreck.

Spencer’s office was fitted out with two teevees and a radio, in addition to his landline, three separate cell phones were laid out on his desk. We’d all been issued new phones and could be in constant communication, either by voice or text.

As Spencer and I passed the wee hours waiting for the light of day, and the launch of this new revolutions, the thoughts racing through my brain stopped at the memory of Gianni, one nightmare leading to another, but how.

“What’s going to happen to Gianni,” I asked.

Spencer said, “'Happening,' you mean."

“What do I mean, what’s 'happening'?”

“He’s at Luigi’s, rendering.”


“You don’t want to know. The man had a lot of fat on those vile bones of his. In a few hours, he'll just be bones.”

I decided Spencer was right, I didn't want to know any more. I waited in silence as grayness creeped, whispering the beginning of a new day.

In the pre-dawn light we saw the first trucks assume their positions just below James St. Further up on the southbound side we could just make out shadows, the proof of the progress being the complete lack of traffic. They’d done it, I-5 South was closed, and the north quickly followed.

We turned the radio to KUOW, the NPR station, but they were in the middle of their semi-annual pledge drive.

“I really need to give this year,” said Spencer. “It makes me feel so guilty listening and not contributing.”

He flipped to another station, but still no traffic report. The broadcast networks didn’t air their first newscasts until 6:00 am, so we had 15 minutes til then. He went online and the DOT had the first live camera shots.

Then we heard the explosions. Mike had blown the Alaskan Way Viaduct.

Moments later around Mercer Island there was another explosion.

He’d blown the lid.

“I didn’t know that was going to happen!” I shouted at Spencer.

“Last minute addition,” said Spencer not pulling the binoculars away from his face.

I-5, 99 and the 520 were now effectively closed, Seattle was an island.

Everything was going well.

We’d integrated the troops and divided them into four battalions (not counting Hector’s men on the streets). They were forming two blockades on each direction of I-5, creating a closed section of the freeway which they would hold from either end. As this developed the first images were coming on the local news, we’d made the scroll on CNN, five minutes later we were world news.

This was a critical juncture, all those cars trapped between the barricades needed to be emptied of civilians, and they had to be peacefully escorted out of harm’s way. We could already see flashing lights and the weak plaintive wail of sirens reached us even at our height.

“Cops coming north,” Spencer relayed to Spartacus.

“We’re in position,” his voice cracked back over Spencer’s Motorola.

A group of guys led by a mailman, still in his baby blue shorts and cardigan, AK-47 held aloft, escorted an orderly column of civilians towards that southern barricade on the northbound lanes. Someone in the semi rolled it forward just enough to let the people squeeze out. That kept the cops busy for the time being.

The same procedure didn’t work so smoothly for the southbound lanes. We couldn’t get a good view from Spencer’s office, but we heard the pop pop of gunfire over the Motorola. We ran to the other side of the building just in time to see a spray of muzzle flash and the associated pop pop popping split second delayed.

“Shit!” shouted Spencer, “What was that?”

“Bad,” said a voice I didn’t recognize, calmly. “Hold on, I’ll report in five.”

A civilian with a gun tried to be a hero and shot one of Max’s men, he fired back. Both suffered flesh wounds, neither would die. However, they did have to be taken to the infirmary van, a kind of makeshift ambulance we’d prepared, and that meant another man off the highway.

Plus, now we had a hostage.

That turned into the human interest story.

We’re starting a revolution and Anderson Cooper’s tracking down some over-caffeinated wannabe vigilante’s wife.

News reports rolled in.

The Mercer Island tunnel lid hadn’t caved in, just the east entrance was blocked, nearly everyone survived uninjured, one poor sod got crushed coming out the portal as the stone bearing the quotation “Through this Tunnel is the Gateway to the West" collapsed on him.

“Only one dead on Mercer Island,” I shouted to Spencer when I saw the news.

He had gone to use the toilet. The entire floor was empty due to the Fourth of July holiday, not that it was ever very busy anymore. Incalculable square feet of office space sat vacant across the country. Seattle was no different.

Traffic was relatively light that early holiday morning which helped limit the casualties.

“Only one dead,” I said again as he walked in zipping up his fly. “If that thing had caved in it would have been a bloodbath.”

“It’s Michaelangelo, my friend, he’s an artist. He had no intention to harm that ceiling.”

Things weren’t so clean at the Alaskan Way Viaduct. The images on teevee showed massive dust clouds and a portion had pancaked. It was impassable, so objective achieved, but we’d hoped to avoid real carnage and there was no telling how many people were trapped in there.

The day wore on.

The men moved the stranded cars towards the closest barricades. Those whose owners took their keys were smashed and pushed by bigger vehicles Demolition Derby-style.

Spencer had packed food in a cooler, pulling out a sandwich and taking a bite, he offered me one, but I couldn’t eat. I spent the day running around the building looking out the windows trying to catch a glimpse of the reality being shown on the teevee.

I reached Rosie on her cell phone and things weren’t going well at all at street level. All I-5 traffic spilled onto surface roads which were wall to wall cars. No one was going anywhere and no one was happy.

Idiot kids with nothing better to do and fireworks in hand started a celebration that turned into tragedy. No one could tell the difference between firecrackers and gunshots and before you knew it the noise was coming from everywhere, people were getting shot, there was screaming and I couldn’t hear a word from Rosie.

“I’m going home,” she texted.

I wanted to get out of there, too, go running to Rosie and hide, try, somehow to survive this. This wasn’t Lexington, these shots were being heard around the world, but it wasn’t going to be pretty, and, yeah, I know Concord and Lexington weren’t pretty, yet this shit, this madness was going to escalate to another scale entirely.

“You better eat something,” Spencer said with disconcerting calm. “The tanks will be here soon, and you’ve got a long night ahead of you.”


Sure enough, right there on CNN was a column rolling up from Fort Lewis.

Air cover was to show itself seconds later, a sinister booming Blue Angels display rattling the windows, but those were no angels. Everything was happening lightning fast.

Helicopters hovered and the guys fired warning shots.

They started blowing up cars.

I don’t know when negotiations opened up, but Spartacus was relaying his progress in his talks with the authorities to Spencer every half hour. They were killing time.

The shells of burnt out cars were still flaming when the advance came into view, swerving between the miles of parked cars or pushing them out of the way. The tanks just rolled over them.

Between the jets zooming overhead, the helicopters wop wop wopping as they circled buildings coursing through the corridors of the skyscape careful to stay out of range, but taking fire from the unpredictable crowds milling and roiling below, the sight of tanks, troop carriers and jeeps bearing artillery right in front of us on I-5, Seattle had been turned into a war zone in the short passage of 10 hours.

The initiation of the standoff brought a few moments respite, the two sides sitting there, guns trained, waiting for someone to blink. Then, watching through the binoculars Spencer and I saw two guys start removing a howitzer or something, some big gun they’d been towing behind their jeep.

“Uh oh,” I said.

“Don’t worry,” said Spencer. I was not reassured. “If they wanted to shoot us they would have done it a long time ago, they could’ve strafed us from the Apaches or dropped ordinance, it’s just different killing other Americans rather than a bunch of ragheads at a wedding.”

“And they’re on teevee,” I added.

“Yes, of course. Now watch this,” he picked up a different phone from his desk. “OK, boys, they’re almost in position.”

I was freaking out at this point, nothing good could have happened between those opposing sides. Our guys with small arms and grenades facing off against an armored division.

No. It did not look good, double-plus un-good as Orwell would have said. I wanted to grab the phone, stop him from giving the next order, I just couldn’t bring myself to move, a sick feeling in my stomach, paralyzed limbs, I could only listen and watch.


I looked to the barricades. Nothing was happening. Maybe they were ignoring the order, I thought, maybe Spartacus and his little army saw the futility, the stupid pointlessness of engaging like this against such superior firepower.

Then I turned to look back at the column; men in black were pouring onto the freeway, jumping down from bushes where they must have been hiding all day waiting for this moment, knowing a contingent would be coming up from Fort Lewis and lying in wait.

There were hundreds of them, it seemed impossible, like magic, as if a conjurer had snapped his fingers creating a force out of thin air. Completely surprised, the troops from Fort Lewis almost immediately surrendered.

I was just about to compliment Spencer on this masterstroke when I noticed a scuffle around the howitzer.

“Oh oh,” I said.

“Now what?!” and even as he was preparing to dismiss my worry again, he looked himself and saw that pair of soldiers with the big gun fighting back. It was hand to hand and our guys weren’t getting over there fast enough.

The gun swung out of control, aiming right then left then shockingly up and in our direction. I saw the soldier pull back his arm as he was knocked to the ground, then the flash at the barrel, the boom, and the building rocked, glass shattered all around us.

Spencer and I hit the floor, ears ringing, stunned.

I looked at him as he picked himself up and shook like a wet dog except spraying shards of glass not droplets of water.

“Well, I didn’t see that coming,” he said with the same maddening nonchalance.

“You’d better get going,” I saw him mouth.

“What?!” I shouted.

“You have to leave now,” he shouted back.

“Leave? For where?!”

“Canada, you nitwit. We won, you saw it, we’ve got tanks now, go tell the world.”

He handed me the third and last phone from off his desk.

“Do you know where Waterfront Park is?”

“Sure,” I said, gathering those wits of mine.

“Take that phone and dial this number,” handing me a piece of paper, “when you get through. Ask for Moe, be very clear, you must say, ‘Is this Moe?’”

“’Is this Moe,’” I repeated.

And he will say, “Who wants to know?”

“’Who wants to know,’ right.”

“Then you say, ‘The Marmalade Man.’”

“’The Marmalade Man’?!”

“The Marmalade Man.” He stuck out his hand. I took it, he pulled me close, locked onto my eyes to make sure I was cogent and said firmly, “Talk to no one else, not even, especially not, Rosie. Got it?”

“Got it,” I repeated.

“Good luck,” he said. “You’d better take the stairs.”

And with that as he extracted my hand from his, frozen as it was in a rigor mortis-like clench, he led me out the door of his office, breezy now exposed to the elements, looking so different than the first time I’d seen it, so different from a few short minutes ago, before my world exploded and I was launched on another chapter of this story.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Gone Postal - A Novel - Chapter 12

I met Spartacus in the back room of the Pioneer Square Saloon, playing pool with his demo man Michaelangelo. I would get to know them and their legions well, living as we did in close quarters, training around an abandoned lumber mill on the Olympic Peninsula. They were not pleasant people, pumped up with machismo, bravado and very few who expressed in anything resembling articulate-ness their reason for doing what they do, and, more importantly why they were doing it now, at home.

They’d made their bones in Iraq, Indonesia, Haiti and the ‘Stans, but they weren’t Rambos, no these guys were sophisticated and rich. Really, fucking rich. They drove up in Hummers and Escalades even though gas was through the roof, pulling out wads of cash like toilet paper rolls. They’d been trained by the best and had a taste of nation-building, and whether they acquired it or it acquired them didn’t really matter, they weren’t going to stop, they were going to ply their trade wherever they could and the way they looked at it, the Western States, as Spencer had said, just meant an shorter commute.

The architects of failure may have slunk off to their ranches and ski lodges, but these guys, the hard-hatted steel-toed builders, the masons, and the electricians, plumbers, and, yeah, we might as well say it, the contractors, were still on the job.
One thing can’t be denied, with their men, money and guns, they took our misfit conglomeration of bums, drug-dealers, gang-bangers, washed-out vets, evangelists, martial artists and mailmen and they built us an army.

Out there on the peninsula, Max and I couldn’t help feeling like Patrick Henry and Thomas Paine mixing with Hessians and Patriots in some fucked-up amalgam of America’s past and future. Running through the trees, ducking and rolling, shooting at targets that eventually started to fall as our pathetic marksmanship and soldiering slowly grew competent. Some of our carrier-brothers still wore their postal uniforms, maybe for laughs, maybe cuz that’s all they had or maybe cuz they just didn’t care.

There were lively discussions in the barracks, cots originally segregated, mixed as the weeks rolled on. The biggest topic of debate, stupid as it sounds, was about the design of an official uniform, the uniform of the Army of the Western States of America. You’d have thought it was the Fashion Institute of Design, every night sketches were passed around and critiqued by the various camps, no longer segregated by race or creed, now divided into minimalists, those preferring a more functional look, and the more flamboyant crowd who thought we deserved something more decorative and regal.

A guy we called Radar handled logistics, bringing in truckloads of food and other supplies, mostly from the Costco in Port Angeles. Once, though, Max and I went into town with him, feeling like aliens descended onto another planet after our time out in the dripping woods, and found a sewing supply store where we bought fabric and a cheap machine. Max had a guy, Tyrell, who was really very talented, and the plan was for him to put together a prototype. He wasn’t a minimalist. It didn’t go over real well.

We looked for anything to break up the monotony, the slogging through the woods, the training, interspersed with eating, sleeping and talking. Spencer was right about my vets, Joe and his buddies straightened up in a hurry when put back into an environment with a little structure, the food and exercise didn’t hurt either.

I grew tired of playing Minuteman, all the grab-assing and bullshit was fun, but I preferred the officers’ quarters with its wine and words, discussing strategy and what tactics we’d employ, the next steps after we’d accomplished this mission in the Pacific Northwest.

We were still publishing online. Travis was taking my emails and putting them out there into the blogosphere for me. The USPS scandal didn’t go away quickly. We’d been caught tampering with a sacred trust, the feds had enough on us to lock us up for life just on the gun-running and the drug-dealing, but it was violating The Post that really got them fuming. You should have heard those knuckleheads in Washington (the bad Washington) raving like lunatics at our nerve and degeneracy. Statements to the press from both sides turned into a riotous array of vitriolic proclamations.

You would have thought we’d fucked their mothers or defiled their graves. They were backed into a corner and trying to scrawl their way out of it, but they’d run into the king of scrawl.

I fired back under the pen name Junk. At first it was just picking away at the USPS, wasteful, anachronistic, doomed. Then I launched into the classics, taxation without representation, when in the course of human history and all that shit. Spencer penned a beautiful tract under the name Bennie Franks justifying the formation of local militias as legally covered under the Second Amendment. The country was collectively waiting for a shoe to fall somewhere.

We’d exported war and revolution for so long it was only a matter of time before we were forced to eat our own dogfood, and I kept spewing out the appetizers. The Second Amendment bit hit the flag-waving hunters in the Confederacy pretty hard, they didn’t know what to think. Those back-woods country-fucks failed in their bid, now us lot were talking like we could pull off in the 21st century what they failed to do in the 19th.

Those wine-lubricated evenings talking with Spartacus (Sam from Toledo) and Michaelangelo (Mike from Escondido) were fun, we talked about making a run on the Badlands and grabbing some nukes, pull the old North Korea defense, point an ICBM at Calgary and tell them all to fuck off or the Canucks get it. Maybe move in and take Denver, create our own little Switzerland in the Rockies, mile high and naturally majestic not like tin-horn self-proclaimed majesties ruling from inside the beltway.

“We should take Vegas,” said Mike. “It would be like that Stephen King movie…”

“The Stand,” someone said.

“Yeah, I love that stuff, that post-apocalyptic shit. Mad Max.”

They were all a bunch of movie junkies, they’d seen everything, and not just the crap like you’d expect, classics, too, real classics, Kurosawa, of course, but Bergman and Fellini, too. Radar brought the movies.

The weather started to turn, rains let up, sun-breaks more plentiful and longer. One day our forward lookout drove up leading a big Dodge pick-up. We had the road in blocked, obviously, guards stationed around the perimeter at all times. So, this was unique. Everyone stopped what they were doing to see what was going on and who was going to step out of that truck because, really, they shouldn’t have been there.

There we all were standing with our guns, practicing bayonet thrusts, playing boot camp and this cowboy jumps out of his cab, boots acquiring mud as he walked next to the guard. He tips his hat into the air, and shouts to no one in particular, “I’m looking for Spartacus.”

Smart-ass that I am, I shout back, “I’m Spartacus!”

Mike sees where I’m going with it, and he steps forward and says, “I’m Spartacus!”

Then Radar.

Then Max.

Even Milton got into it.

Finally, Spartacus walked over from in front of the officers’ quarters, dismissed our goofy grins shouting, “Will you clowns shut the fuck up and get back to work.”

Then he and the cowboy went inside.

And that was it. The fun was over. We were headed back into town. The cowboy was the messenger.