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Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Promotional Intro to SURRENDER

 July 5, 2020

  They picked a hell of a day for a revolution.
  Phoenix heats up in the summer. Prior to this day, the regional all-time high had been 124F, back in 1994, when Sky Harbor Airport had closed due to fear the runway surfaces would blow the tires off airplanes. As undiscouraged revelers from the previous night’s Independence Day celebration staggered towards their cars for the winding rides home, the nighttime temperature had been a humid yet dusty 115, even before the morning sun peeked in to further bake  Camelback Mountain. Monsoons remained a predictable phenomenon in the desert city, typically in late August and early September. What this year’s local TV meteorologists called early monsoons were referred to by the nationals as a derecho, a wind swath exceeding 240 miles in width, full of giggling microbursts and hysterical downbursts. The local stations eschewed such jargon, fearing its use might panic the local citizenry.
   When the first reports of gunshots came into the police precinct dispatch stations at 8:15 that morning, the sky had mutated from a high brown to an odd low violet swirled with shadows made of rain matched in force by hail and spiraling wind, the latter clung to by brittle sands. Parades of noise--some deafening, others ancient whispers--strutted and goosesteped from the mountain precipices, charged down trails long-abandoned by weekend hikers, vaulted over dry washes and halted with an eerie abruptness as counterwinds met their assault. Unexpected as the derecho was, it made good cover for the insurgency. The better part of Phoenix didn’t know what had happened until their device of choice told them it was all over.
  In the case of what came to be called the Phoenix Invasion, “It’s all over” was something of an optimistic embarrassment.
  Patrons inside Old North Vegan, sobering from the strains and rigors of mixing wine and whisky late into the night before, stopped nattering and strained to make out the sound that had buckled the tinted window looking out onto Scottsdale Road. The waiter thought it might have been a cherry bomb--it wouldn’t have been the first time someone had put leftover fireworks to use. The bartender suspected a car backfiring a bit close to the tavern. A customer with shades and a spiked haircut wondered if somebody had fired off a gun. But that was ridiculous. This was the civilized part of the valley. Gunfire only happened in the minority sections. He adjusted his sunglasses and went back to work on his Bloody Mary. The woman across the table tittered without quite knowing why.
  The shot had been fired from near the summit of the Camelback Mountain range, the tallest of the mountains surrounding what the locals called the Valley of the Sun.
  The Old North Vegan was not the only place to experience gunfire that Sunday morning.
  Ray Trent was teaching his son Arnie how to drive the family’s classic Oldsmobile 98. Because of the bad weather, Ray had wanted to try another day, but Arnie had insisted and eventually his father acquiesced. With Ray riding shotgun, the younger Trent was backing the car out of their curved driveway when they both heard what the elder Trent was certain had been a rifle shot. A veteran of the first Iraq War, Ray told police the shot had missed the car but might have lodged in the neighbor’s front yard. According to what Trent later told the city newspaper, “The dispatcher told me they’d check it out as soon as possible.”
 
  The shot that missed the Trents had been fired from a perch near the top of Piestewa Peak, the second highest range in the Valley. The type of gun that fired this shot, the one at Old North Vegan, and the hundreds of others throughout the Valley that morning was the British-made Accuracy International AXMC rifle. An ideal weapon at distances of up to one mile in clear weather, these bolt-action rifles were on the list of preferred sniper weapons by NATO soldiers. The shots this morning had not been fired by those soldiers. And the weather had been anything but clear.
  Far across town, interrupting the emerging housing projects sprouting up throughout Ahwatukee and Chandler, reclined the battered expanse known as South Mountain. Once the hiking location for the lower and working classes, South Mountain had of late been ripped into by city governments and developers intent on expanding a freeway loop. To the good fortune of the workmen involved in this project, they were not required to dig on weekends, yet no one had bothered to remove the cones and barricades that usually backed up morning traffic for miles, leaving the makeshift highway lightly traveled this Sunday. The Ahwatukee side did not share in this relief, however, so that by the time the shooting had ceased, dozens of homes suffered more damage than even the derecho itself could have caused.

  By the conclusion of the first assault at a few minutes before nine, thirty-seven people had been wounded. No fatalities resulted, although that fact did not discourage some internet media companies from speculating that it was likely the police simply had not discovered those unable to speak for themselves. To that end, immediate speculation as to who the perpetrators were ranged from one end of the political spectrum to the other. Depending on one’s preferred source of information, suspects ranged from members of the Black Lives Matter movement to enthusiasts of the Sovereign Citizens brigands. The reality during the first few hours was that city, state and federal law enforcement were trying to figure a way to approach the origin points of the assault and had not had time to worry about who was behind it all. No press conference was scheduled, although TV news programs across the world broadcast constant updates, mostly fed in from the three local affiliates. The Phoenix Police Chief warned everyone within Metro Phoenix to stay indoors, that the police were questioning anyone they saw out of doors, and that the people involved in this psychotic action would be brought to a “swift and proper justice.”

  Wilson Ratner, the Officer in Charge of the State of Arizona’s Office of Field Operations of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, arrived at South Mountain with nineteen support agents just before noon. Military assault helicopters had been positioned above this and the other three target locations for hours, but except for the sudden scampering of javelina and bobcats, no activity had been reported. As Ratner climbed out of his Jeep G503, he almost lost his balance from the buffeting winds. Ignoring the binoculars hanging on his neck, he scanned the south valley. A brown rain was forming over Camelback and a hail storm battered the west Valley. How many mornings had he sweated out the traffic on his way to the downtown headquarters? Today nothing moved but the weather.
  Twenty years earlier, a young Will Ratner had testified before a Congressional hearing investigating the annual “Good Ol Boy Round-Up” certain white agents had been hosting for years. While his testimony had shed much light on the racial tensions within the ATF itself, resistance had been fierce and Ratner had been assigned to most of the hotbeds of racial combustion in the country, finally landing in Phoenix five years back. His years in the Valley of the Sun had been easy ones, largely administrative in nature, while most of the White Axis back in Washington had either retired or resigned. Today he was forty-five. And while he knew his physical condition fell something short of his younger charges, he had kept his mind sharp as a pair of alligator shoe tips.
  “You won’t believe this, Commander.”
  Ratner lowered his binoculars and turned toward Dwyer, the Special Agent and Ratner’s second in command.
  “Well? Try me.”
  Dwyer said, “Holes. Tunnels. Dozens of them.”
  The Sebastian Barricade, a stretch of three-quarters of a mile near the northern summit, was what Dwyer meant.
  From Ratner’s Confidential Report to ATF Headquarters:
Following negative results of thorough electronic scanning of contained area, Special Agents determined fire zone had been positioned with twelve AXMC rifles, these being confiscated by the Agents and transported to SID for processing. Preliminary observation indicates suspects kept weapons buried several feet below the so-called Sebastian Barricade for undetermined time and retrieved them for use the morning of the incident. Also found at the South post was a  rain-soaked book of paintings.

  While the people of Phoenix remained dutifully inside their homes, many locals reached out to one another via social media outlets, such as Facebook and Twitter. The FBI was already coordinating with these and other social giants for any suspicious type of chatter that might suggest advanced knowledge of the attacks. Aside from obvious keywords such as “shooting,” “rifles,” “AXMC,” and the names of the various mountain foothills, the electronic surveillance officers were looking for emotionally charged language, including such words as “hate,” “bully,” “disgusting,” “outrage” and “avenge.” They also paid close attention to posts and tweets within the Phoenix area composed in potentially hostile languages.
  Some people, affixed to their local and cable news outlets for constant updates, were quick to blame foreigners, especially those from the Middle East. And while in the light of various attacks over the years, such suspicions were not altogether unfounded, the reality turned out to be a bit closer to home.
  One man, who claimed to work construction along the expanded 202-East, told his Facebook friends that for weeks now he had observed a bunch of “long-hairs in military fatigues” “traipsing up and down” the near side of South Mountain, “acting crazy” and occasionally toting what the man said looked like rifles. Asked by the two local FBI agents who visited him that afternoon what he had meant by “acting crazy,” the man had been unable to describe what he meant, only saying that the half dozen or so people he had seen looked out of place, even in an area prone to attracting what he called “weirdos.” Already nonplussed by this encounter, the agents lost all interest when they spoke with the man’s foreman, who told them the man was unreliable, often coming to work intoxicated, and would have been fired already if he weren’t the project director’s nephew.
  Around this same time, another pair of FBI agents interviewed a local Somali taxi driver whose cell phone communications were actively monitored by the authority of a FISA warrant. That morning agents had overheard the driver tell a relative in Mogadishu that following a routine drop-off before the early morning storms he had witnessed “several men and maybe women going up Camelback Mountain off the trails and behind rich houses.” The reason he gave the Agents who spoke with him about the reason for the conversation was, as the Somalian himself put it, “I drop off young white women at this house many times. They party. They come home. I never before see these other people sneaking around.” Unable to give other details than that the six or seven people he saw were more than a thousand feet away from him and moving in the general direction of the top of the mountain, the driver was released.
   That same day agents from the FBI and ATF interviewed dozens of other “witnesses,” their investigations by mid-afternoon resulting in little more than a mass of disjointed splurges of speculation. The derecho broke apart and its offshoots of whipping winds and muddy skies dissipated. As what would have been a late afternoon rush hour came and went, a bizarre silence gripped the valley in a glove of isolation. From inside one’s house, alone or with family, a peek out the door revealed little except for the site of neighborhoods with no children playing in the streets, no teenagers racing their cars, no parents coming home from work, no barbeques, no loud arguments. I jumped when my landline phone rang just before six that evening.
  The only person who had that phone number was my assistant. I recovered in time to answer it before the voicemail kicked in.
 “Yeah, Janey. What’s the story?”
  “Kevin, I just checked the office messages.”
  “Aren’t you the ambitious one? Anything that won’t wait?”
  She cleared her throat, something I’ve noticed she does whenever she thinks I’m missing the point. She said, “How about a confession?”
  I automatically sat down and began slipping into my shoes. Something in Janey’s tone of voice made me suspect I might feel better with them on.
  “What do you have to confess, darling?”
  Ignoring my lame attempt at civility, Janey said, “A man calling himself Al Vance left a message.”
  “Who is Al Vance?”
  “If you’ll please just let me tell it? Okay?”
  I began to think I would need my jacket and tie as well. “Go ahead, Janey.”
  “The message was that he was Al Vance. He wanted to talk with Kevin Friar. He wants to confess to the shootings this morning.”
  “Might be a crackpot.”
  “I realize that.”
  “No way that one person did all those shootings.”
  “I get it, Kevin. He went on to say that while he thought he knew what he was doing, that things are going very fast and he needs to slow the other people down and that what he really wants right now is the advice of a good defense counsel. He expects you to call him back.”
  I was going to need that jacket and tie for sure. “You check him out?”
  “I waded through all the area Al Vance listings on social. Nothing you would call an exact match up or even close. Phone number isn’t registered with any major carriers. And before you ask, I did check our old and active client lists to see if the name was cross-referenced. No soap.”
  “Darling, you do good work.”
  “Gee, thanks, boss. You want the phone number? You know you can’t leave your house? Only people still on the roads are law enforcement.”
  “No law against video conferencing. If this amounts to anything.”
  She cleared her throat again.
  “I’ll be careful,” I told her, unaware as I was as to what that statement might even mean.

  As any street patrol officer will admit, it is one thing to issue an order akin to Martial Law. Quite another thing indeed is it to enforce such an edict. The presence of any type of uniformed law enforcement officers on every street corner in and of itself would have ignited more disorder than it quelled. Likewise, even the random shakedown of every two-bit ne'er do well or derelict with a personality disorder and pants as thin as notebook paper would have wasted everyone’s time. So the people who even on a typical day popped in and out of cracks in the sidewalks, holes in the store fronts and shadows in the alleys went about their businesses largely unimpeded by the muscles and minds of the law.
  A local tavern of my acquaintance thrived from the largesse of just such clientele. Marti, after whom the bar was named and whose arms possessed the musculature of two (or maybe three) pythons wrapped together,  had never been a slave to state or local ordinances. When Arizona banned smoking in public places, she gave away free packs of Camels at the door and told her patrons to light up. If you were a little under legal age and looked to Marti as if you needed a  beer, she would serve you what she thought you could handle. But if you wanted trouble, Marti was not above cupping your head in those pythons and hurling you face first into the street with the admonition to “Come back tomorrow! No harm done!”
  Eight to ten patrons sat at the bar when I walked in, none of them paying me the slightest attention. All eyes--except Marti’s--were fixed on the TV news that hung on the wall.
  “Mr Friar! Johnny Walker Black with soda tonight?”
  I nodded and she mixed. “I’m meeting somebody,” I said, looking around. “Guess he’s not here yet.”
  She made a point of touching my hand as she served the drink. “Table five’s open, if you want it. Waitress didn’t come in tonight. Cook neither. No surprise. You want anything to eat, I can still cook you up something.”
  Marti made the best chili I have ever had in my life. It took self control to pass on the offer. I could see she wanted to get back to the television, so I thanked her and waited at table five.
  Lester Holt was breaking in to announce a press conference by the President when Al Vance walked into Marti’s.
  He cut quite the dash. Standing just shy of five feet six, his left shoulder hung a tad lower than its mate. Though clean-shaven, he wore his dark brown hair nearly to his waist. A camouflage field jacket was opened over his bare torso, his jeans were black and his hiking boots matched one another. His black eyes seemed just a bit small for his face.
  No one paid him attention as he slid into the seat across the table from me.
  He talked about the Arizona Diamondbacks starting lineup. He gave a monologue about the vile nature of cooking oil. He proffered a mini-dissertation regarding the uses to which picnic tables could be put. He opined that marijuana was the opium of the masses. He made liberal use of quotes from William Shakespeare, Ernest Hemingway, Mark Twain and Boz  Scaggs. He talked about all these matters in what I can only describe as a loud whisper, accompanied as it was with incongruous hand gestures and facial quirks which I imagine he thought emphasized whatever his points were.
  When I returned to the table with my second drink, Vance got down to business.
  “Correct me if I’m wrong, Mr Friar. A lawyer shall not reveal information relating to the representation of a client unless he reasonably believes it necessary to prevent that client from committing a criminal act. True?”
  “That is true. We call it the ‘future crimes’ clause of our professional ethics.”
  “That come up much in your line of work?”
  “It tries to come up. I usually stop the client from getting to that point, both in terms of disclosure as well as deed.”
  “You sure do talk like a lawyer, don’t you?”
  “Whereas you just--talk. A lot.”
  He sat back against the booth as if trying to decide whether to be offended or amused. While he made up his mind, I continued. “If you want to consider this chat a consultation with me, that’s fine. The we can decide if you will be a client. In the meantime, we can agree that any remarks you make to me at this preliminary conversation are off the record.”
  “You ever heard of the Identity Caucus, Mr Friar? I’m just gonna guess you haven’t.”
  I held up a hand to silence him. “They are an anti-tax, anti-Muslim, anti-gay, anti-immigrant organization in the Southwest.”
  “They is we. They is me.”
  “Congratulations. I don’t represent hate groups.”
  He laughed. He laughed loud enough that heads turned from the bar. Marti turned up the TV volume and Vance and I resumed our conversation.
  “Right. You only represent liberal hate groups. But you’d say that if they’re liberal, they can’t be hate groups. I keep forgetting.”
  I was beginning to dislike this Al Vance person.
  “What is it that you want?”
  “I came up with the idea for today’s shooting spree, Mr Friar. Fifty-seven armed soldiers from the American Border Patrol, United Families, Vinlanders, Soldiers of Odin, some holdouts from the Sovereign Citizen Movement. I walked among them all a year ago and today brought it all down to show this fair city and the rest of this country what could happen if they don’t wake up to what is really going on.”
  “Sorry, Al. I’m due back on Earth.”
  “Funny. Yeah, a real funny guy. Well, try this out, funny guy. Those were British-made weapons used this morning. We dug tunnels that led us to the firing points. And someone left a book of Escher drawings up at the South Mountain post. Think I picked all that up from television?”
  I did not think that. I did not know quite who I was dealing with.
  I said, “So far, you are confessing to an officer of the court about a hundred federal crimes.”
  “Off the record, remember?”
 “What the hell do you want?”
 “The Identity Caucus is my idea, start to finish. Maybe there’s a couple guys I brought into this, a couple guys who think maybe this was all their idea. Guys who maybe want to do more than just scare people. If we’d wanted to off a bunch of civilians, we could have done it. Sheep. Ducks. Waiting to be slaughtered while they try to remember where they left that box of ammo. That was the point of the exercise. Civilians give away their freedom to a bunch of sissy politicians and so-called law enforcement types. This kind of action on our part, Mr Friar, scares people. Maybe wakes them up. But maybe now a couple guys with no self control, no discipline, maybe these guys want to take it to the next level.”
  “What’s the next level, Vance?”
  “Unconditional surrender.”
  “Huh?”
  “Your side. The status quo. The liberals. The police. The whole damned government unconditionally surrenders. Maybe some bombs go off sometime tomorrow or the day after. Maybe some buildings burn. Maybe some real target practice. These two guys I’m maybe thinking of might be power tripping on a whole wild level. What I didn’t count on when I set this up was how our group might get all crazy with thinking that the whole town was just sitting there waiting to be mowed down or blown to hell or whatever. These two guys have lots of charisma, Mr Friar. I don’t scare easy myself. These two guys scare me some. Maybe a lot.”
 I had a few questions. “Where did you get the weapons?”
 “If you mean specifically, I’m not going to tell you that right now. I will tell you that some people in other countries agree with our aims. Being pro-American isn’t just for Americans, you know.”
  “You mentioned fifty-seven people. Is that just some number you made up?”
  “Fifty-seven people operating in the field this morning. We’re a lot bigger than that. But those in the know, including myself and maybe these other two guys, yeah, right, that’s a real number.”
  “You have some kind of clubhouse or what?”
  “Again with the funny guy thing. Look, I made the rounds the last year. There’s pissed off people everywhere. There’s people who get it. Some of those people who get it have money. Some have motivation. Some have training. I have all three. What I also have that these maybe two guys don’t have is brains. Vision. Self-discipline.”
  He was persuasive. There was no getting around that. If he was telling the truth and if his “maybe two guys” existed, the people of Phoenix were in considerable danger.
  “What is it you want me to do, Vance?”
  “Go to Homeland Security, ATF, FBI--whoever it is--and make a deal for me.  I’ll tell them everything I know and I skate on all charges. Saving lives, Mr Lawyer man. Mr Funny Guy. Mr Friar. What do you say?”
  “I have your number. I’ll call you later tonight.” I turned toward the bar. “Marti?”
  “Yes, Mr Friar?”
  “I believe this gentleman needs to be thrown out of your bar.”

  “Right away, Mr Friar.”

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