Without diverting his attention fully from sorting the reports into reasonably sized stacks on his desk, the grey haired man in the starched white shirt picked up the receiver, pressed the button next to the blinking red light and matter-of-factly announced his last name, “Hammond.”
“Special Agent Hammond, this is Agent Barnes,” the younger voice on the other end said, hopefully. Then, after a few seconds of silence it continued, “From the Montana office. We spoke last week.”
“Spoke to a lot of people last week, son, and I don’t waste my time trying to remember all of them,” the man at the desk said, many years beyond caring about the emotional scars he might leave on younger coworkers. “You’re going to have to tell me what it was we talked about.”
“Well,” the voice known as Barnes said before already being interrupted.
“Short version,” added Hammond, curtly.
Barnes cleared his voice and began, “Call from a rural town. Very vague.”
“Calling a town in Montana rural is vague,” snapped Hammond as he shook his head.
“Some sort of cheap voice-altering device employed,” Barnes continued, trying not to be affected, but noticeably insulted, which was exactly what his superior had been going for. “Something about a shed in the woods and bombs, but we couldn’t make most of it out.”
“I remember it now,” Hammond said, annoyed he was fielding a call over this case. “What about it?”
“Preliminary investigation revealed an ex-Boeing employee from their security division just purchased some land out there. Also shows a significantly increased purchase rate of piping from the local hardware store.”
Hammond allowed a brief silence before asking, “And?”
“Yes, sir,” Barnes’ voice faltered as papers could be heard shuffling on his end of the line. “This particular employee has been threatened on three separate occasions according to our file and is currently on leave from the company. They recommended it for his safety, sir.”
“You should be reporting to me about what your follow up revealed already. I shouldn’t be wasting my time hearing about your preliminary,” Hammond barked. “Honestly, you guys these days need to have your asses wiped for you. I would have…”
“When we followed up with surveillance, sir,” Barnes interrupted with a sudden air of confidence, “we discovered that the guy, the ex-Boeing, well, current Boeing employee on leave, does a great deal of fishing on a stream located on his property. Not much of anything else. Does it near a small shed he seems to have recently built. With little else happening, we were about to cut it off when one of our agents reviewed surveillance tapes and discovered heat signatures in the surrounding woods we had previously missed. They returned regularly as if someone else was watching this guy as much as we were. Couldn’t catch wind of any radical groups recruiting in the area, but we believe there may be a legitimate threat here.”
“What do you think?” Hammond asked as if he suddenly valued Barnes’ opinion. “Previous assailants tracking him down or local crazy government hater caught wind someone who built weapons for Uncle Sam moved next door?”
“Can’t be sure at this point, but the surveillance pattern by the other party suggests they’ll be back again tomorrow night and my call was for the purpose of requisitioning a support helicopter. Mostly for the spotlight, sir. Tough to get light out there.”
“Yep,” said Hammond simply. “I’ll put you on with Bonnie and she’ll fax you the paperwork.”
“And sir,” Barnes’ voice came over sounding unsure once again, “I was hoping for some advice.”
“Yep,” said Hammond again.
“Local law enforcement. On what level should we involve them on something like this?”
“They’re stretched thin in those parts,” said Hammond. “Best to do your thing nice and quiet. If you step on some cowboy’s toes, just kiss ‘em and make it all better after.”
“Yes, sir. Thank you, sir,” Barnes said before Hammond placed him back on hold without a response.
Hammond then shouted, “Bonnie! Give the young punk on line one what he needs.”
“I don’t like going out there no more,” John nearly whimpered as he sat on a crate across from Elmer in his tool shed and watched him stuff supplies into a canvas duffle bag. “It gives me the willies.”
“If it ain’t us that’s gonna make this right, it ain’t gonna be nobody else,” Elmer scolded John for his lack of bravery and delicately placed the night vision goggles he’d borrowed from Phil into the bag. “I don’t aim to let some nut job come into my town and start threatening me or anybody. I’m sick of sitting around waiting for him to fire the first shot.”
“Can’t you just call the FBI again?” pleaded John. “This would be better off left to them, I think.”
“They obviously ain’t gonna act fast enough. We got our townsfolk to protect. Besides, they’re stretched thin in these parts,” Elmer reasoned.
“We ought to at least let the Sheriff know,” John suggested. As he watched each new item enter the bag he realized that the point of no return was drawing ever closer.
“No sir, we gotta do what’s right, John, and sometimes that means not following the rules. This is America, dammit. Might have to do something we can’t have the Randy involved in. If the old cowboy feels we stepped on his toes, it’ll make ‘em feel better when we bring this terrorist to justice.”
Elmer then slid a bucket from the corner of the tool shed and lifted off the cover. He reached his hand in and produced one thick section of pipe after another. John watched in horror as the pipes, capped on each end and with what appeared to be a wire sticking out of one end cap were inserted into the bag.
“The hell are you doing with those?” John cried out.
“Fighting fire with fire,” Elmer responded, his face still in the bag. Then again, quieter as he continued packing, “Fighting fire with fire.” Elmer then handed John a pair of handcuffs, which he accepted reluctantly.
Elmer knew it was up to him to hold Ted at gunpoint while John placed him into custody. If he let John hold the gun, Ted would surely see in his eyes he was incapable of pulling the trigger.
“Now keep those ready and let’s get on with it,” Elmer said. He stood, threw the bag over his shoulder and hoisted his rifle.
“Oh, Edna, what have you done to me,” Ted moaned as he still sat in his outhouse, his stomach shouting at him. “Woman must have undercooked the sausage this morning.”
He had recently lit the lamp inside the small shed and its glow was becoming increasingly bright compared to the light outside. Ted still had a long walk home in front of him and he had hoped to do it with more daylight than it appeared he would be afforded. It was beginning to look like he might have to navigate his way in the dark since he was far from done.
This was particularly troubling because Ted had heard the rustling in the woods another handful of times since the first. It was always around dusk, which meant that his chances of running into whatever it was that had been stalking about the woods near his favorite spot to fish the stream would be all that much higher on his way home now.
“Maybe I won’t smell too appetizing,” Ted joked with himself as his stomach gurgled loudly again.
Then Ted listened intently as he sat atop the commode he had installed into his outhouse shed. He swore he heard something over his groaning stomach. As he focused to try and hear it again, he looked about the shed and regretted not making it a bit larger. He had contemplated making a separate room with a small cot in it at one point, but decided he didn’t want to be tempted to spend entire nights out by the stream. Apparently, Edna’s sausages had other plans.
This time Ted definitely heard it. And it was close.
He began to try and wonder what he was going to do. He reached momentarily for the rifle propped against the shelves then thought better. Inside the outhouse, he ought to be just fine. It was sturdily constructed enough. Worst case scenario, he would just have to wait it out until sunrise.
Just as Ted relaxed his legs and settled back down onto the commode, he began to hear something else. It was not any sort of animal. In fact, it wasn’t even close at first. It sounded like a something Ted recognized but just couldn’t quite put his finger on at first. As it slowly grew louder, Ted thought it might just be a…
“Helicopter?” he wondered aloud. Then as the sound grew suddenly louder, light burst in through the vents near the outhouse’s roof. This was followed by a great deal of shouting from a great many people, a few of whom sounded to be immediately outside Ted’s outhouse door.
“Thank God you’re here,” Ted heard a voice shout as he fumbled for the roll of toilet paper. “He’s inside there!”
Elmer had advanced past the tree line confidently. When John hesitated and stayed behind, Elmer hadn’t even looked back. Before he knew it, John was watching Elmer place the grey metal pipes beneath Ted’s outhouse. The night vision goggles allowed John to see a small, red, barely noticeable light waving around in the distance as Elmer glanced around.
He was frozen. He dared not take a step closer. He could no longer go through with it. Eventually, he saw Elmer glance around quickly, the red light swinging back and forth. Then it stopped, pointing right at John.
Elmer walked quickly back toward John. A branch snapped beneath his feet and he stopped momentarily, then began returning to John’s hiding place still within the trees.
“What are you doing?” Elmer whispered furiously.
“I…I…I can’t,” stammered John. “This is going to far.”
Elmer’s glowing red night vision light pointed right at John’s face. Without lifting the goggles, Elmer held out his hand and growled through clenched teeth, “Give me the handcuffs.”
John silently placed them in Elmer’s open palm. Elmer then turned back toward the shed as John took a few steps backward and crouched behind a large stone. He could barely watch and turned to look at the trees behind him. They invited him, called to him to retreat into their safety. He listened and, without Elmer noticing, disappeared into the forest.
Meanwhile, Elmer walked back toward the shed, more determined than ever before. He felt invigorated. Justified. Patriotic. Pride swelled in his chest as he took the handcuffs he had taken back from that traitor John in his left hand and leveled the rifle at the door of the shed. As he rocked backward, preparing to kick the door down, the pride and self-righteousness grew to a rumbling sensation he could almost hear.
Elmer hesitated for a moment. He realized that he actually was hearing a rumbling sound and it was becoming louder. It wasn’t coming from within his chest. It was coming from somewhere off in the distance behind him. Elmer and his red night vision light spun around and in glowing white set in green, he saw at least a dozen bodies moving toward him through the opening in the woods.
A helicopter appeared then over the trees and a spotlight shone directly on Elmer. He whipped off the goggles and in now blindingly clear light saw that the people coming toward him has FBI in big letters across their uniforms.
“Drop the weapon,” they shouted repeatedly, assault rifles aimed at him.
“Thank God you’re here,” Elmer shouted in response. “He’s inside there.” As he turned and pointed to the shed, the shouted instructions repeated.
“No, no, you don’t get it! I’m the one who called you,” Elmer tried to explain and lowered his rifle finally. “I’m the one who…”
Elmer landed face down in the dirt and two more agents joined the one who had tackled him on his back. He continuously protested as his hands were secured behind his back. He attempted to explain what was really going on, readily admitting how all of this must look.
Just then, Ted swung the outhouse door open. His stomach cramped as he wasn’t ready to emerge just yet, but he obviously had to see what was happening outside.
“That’s him,” Elmer shouted. “That’s the one you’re looking for. Don’t let him get away.”
Elmer was ushered to the rear seat of a black Jeep that had pulled up on scene. Agents rushed about the shed, recovering the pipe bombs Elmer had placed around the foundation of outhouse. As a hand was placed on his head to assist his entry into the vehicle, Elmer overheard an FBI agent approaching Ted and saying, “You’re safe now, sir.”
The agent explained to Ted what had been happening. From the outside of the crowd, a neatly dressed man in a shirt and tie with a bulletproof vest over it approached. He thrust his hand at Ted and said, “I’m Agent Barnes, sir. I hate that we had to put you through this, but this man was an apparent domestic terrorist who we believe may have been targeting you due to your position at Boeing.”
“Jesus,” Ted whispered and ran his hands through his hair. “I came here to get away from all that.”
“I understand, but we seem to have everything under control now.” Then, Barnes looked around in the now illuminated clearing. “So, fly fishing, huh?”
The next morning, the entire town was chatting about how they hadn’t seen Elmer going off the deep end the way he did. Edna and Helen both agreed that he could be cranky and stubborn, but had never suspected that he would try to hurt anyone. Carl chuckled to himself in the corner and spoke suddenly during a quite moment as something occurred to him.
“Anyone seen John?” he asked through a mouthful of hash browns.
John would be found two days later. Most of him anyway. The coroner’s finding determined he had been mauled by a bear while stumbling aimlessly through the woods in the dark, trying to return home. Whether it had eaten his left arm and leg or just wandered off and dropped them further away remained unknown.