/ Language: English / Genre:thriller / Series: Pug Connor

State of Rebellion

Gordon Ryan


Gordon Ryan

State of Rebellion

“It is the liberals who fear liberty. .”

— George Orwell

“We need a constitutional convention in the State of California.

We need to change the framework of governance.”

— Gavin Newsom, Mayor, San Francisco, 1 Feb. 2010, Fox News

Author’s Note:

Chapter 1

Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial Bridge

Interstate 5, north of Sacramento, California

June, 2011

Had the gallows knot been properly placed to the side, behind the ear, Richard McFarland’s neck would have snapped, delivering a swift death. As it was, the young California National Guard lieutenant twisted and convulsed for a long, agonizing two minutes before he died.

In the predawn hours, the light was barely sufficient to see, but Otto Krueger, First Sergeant of the Shasta Brigade, a northern California militia unit of dubious intent, kept his eyes riveted to the gruesome scene. Otto’s younger companions had less stomach for the sight of Lieutenant McFarland slowly swinging in the stillness of a purple dawn.

Killing the two California Superior Court justices with a quick bullet in the back of the head had been easy compared to this assignment, but Commander Shaw had been adamant: “Make it plain that the brigade will not tolerate traitors or spies.”

“Can’t we just get the hell out of here, First Sergeant?” one of the two men with Krueger pleaded.

The grizzled veteran pulled his eyes from the ghastly sight and glanced derisively toward the whining kid. He spat a stream of tobacco juice on the ground and returned his gaze to the body. Standing five feet nine inches and weighing one hundred eighty pounds, First Sergeant Otto Krueger was rock solid. Dense tattoos extended from beneath his rolled-up sleeves, running from biceps to wrists on both arms. His sandy hair, cropped to a uniform half-inch length, added to his appearance as a balding, but very fit, muscular man.

He looked back at the young would-be soldier who was now on his knees in the dirt, struggling to avoid further embarrassment.

“It’s a war, Private. This loser chose the wrong side,” Krueger said. He stepped to the slowly swaying body, took hold of a dangling boot and turned the body enough for the available light to reflect off McFarland’s distorted face.

The sound of retching caused Krueger to turn around again. The smaller of the two young recruits who had been assigned to accompany Krueger on this mission was still on his knees, several yards from the truck, relieving himself of the sandwich he had eaten on the drive south.

Krueger sneered. “Stand up, maggot. There’ll be no mama’s boys in my outfit. You volunteered for this mission. Now get in the truck and shut up. If you puke again, you walk home-or you could join our friend here,” he said, jerking the boot and swinging the body around in circles.

The kid didn’t reply, but wiped his mouth on his sleeve and stumbled toward the pickup.

“Ted, close it up and let’s get out of here,” Krueger ordered the other, even younger, teenage recruit.

Ted vaulted into the back of the truck and closed the lid on the side-to-side aluminum toolbox bolted to the back of the cab. The lieutenant had been confined in this coffin-like enclosure during the drive from their base camp in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Ted then jumped down and slammed the tailgate on which, moments before, the trembling accountant, who doubled as a weekend soldier, had been made to stand, his desperate eyes silently begging for mercy.

The First Sergeant climbed behind the wheel and started the engine on the Ford F-150 pickup. With a final glance at the slowly twisting body, Otto spat a wad of chewing tobacco out the window and floored the accelerator, spinning dirt and debris beneath the lifeless remains.

The truck bucked and lurched as Krueger steered out of the dry river bed and up the embankment toward the end of the bridge. As they neared the highway, headlights suddenly blinded them as another vehicle rounded the bridge abutment, facing Krueger’s truck and blocking their return to the highway. Otto jammed on the brakes and reached to the seat beside him for his pistol. He sat motionless for several seconds until the occupant of the other vehicle got out, trained a flashlight on the driver’s side of the Ford, and approached from the front.

“Got a problem here?” a voice called out.

In the dusty glare of the headlights, Krueger recognized the uniform of a Yolo County sheriff’s deputy.

“Quiet!” he mouthed softly. “Not a word from either of you,” he added, climbing out of the vehicle, his pistol shielded behind his back.

“No problem, Officer,” Krueger called out. “Just looking for a good spot to fish.”

“Step into the light, please,” the deputy called toward Krueger.

Dust hung in the air, reflected by the headlights, as Krueger came forward into the space between the two vehicles while the deputy continued to stand to one side of his Chevy Tahoe.

“Not looking for any trouble, Officer,” Otto said, his voice friendly. “Like I said, just looking for a good fishing spot.”

The deputy stepped forward a couple of paces, shining his flashlight toward the interior of Otto’s truck and catching the reflection of two additional faces. He hesitated and moved his hand slowly toward his holster. Otto quickly moved, closing the gap between the two men, his smile visible beneath the twin headlamps of both vehicles.

“Just my two nephews, Officer. Nothing to worry about.”

“Can I see some identification, please?” the officer asked.

“Certainly. Will this do?” Krueger extended the pistol toward the deputy and continued to smile as he closed the remaining distance between them.

The deputy’s face changed immediately, and he quickly reached to unsnap his holster and withdraw his revolver. Krueger remained calm, even smiling, as the seconds extended to what seemed like minutes. Before the deputy’s weapon cleared the holster, Krueger reached out and seized the man’s wrist in a vice-like grip, preventing him from raising his arm. His eyes only inches from the deputy’s face, Krueger slowly shook his head while holding the officer’s arm rigid, rendering the revolver immobile in his hand.

“It’s a dangerous profession you’ve chosen, young fella,” Krueger said, raising his.45-caliber military-issue pistol toward the man’s face. Without a further word, Krueger fired one round directly into the deputy’s forehead, released his grip on the man’s wrist, and watched the wide-eyed law enforcement officer sprawl backward. Krueger stared at the fallen deputy for several seconds, then turned and fired one round into each of the Tahoe’s headlamps, extinguishing the glaring lights. Then he leaned down, grasped the dead man’s hand, which still held the revolver, and using the man’s own finger, fired two rounds into the air before dropping the hand and the gun back to the ground. He retraced his steps to his truck, entered the driver’s seat, and threw the vehicle into gear, once again spinning tires as he maneuvered around the sheriff’s vehicle, pulling onto the highway.

“Dude, that was a sheriff’s deputy,” the young man in the rear seat whined to his young companion, “and he shot him. He killed a cop!”

Krueger growled. “You’re right, Private, he was a deputy. Now he’s meat for worms.”

Chapter 2

Davis, California

Daniel Rawlings stood under the shower nozzle, his head tilted back and his eyes closed. Rivulets of steaming hot water ran down his face as he tried to wash away the night sweat and anxiety that always accompanied the dream. For over two years, he had been haunted by a recurring nightmare. It always woke him and left him sitting up in bed, his heart racing. Over and over, he had been forced by an involuntary, self-inflicted penance to watch Susan die, each time as realistically as the first, though in the dream his wife’s face was absent-replaced by a blurred image beneath her fur-lined hood.

He’d knelt in the snow and held her in his arms while she died, but she’d not been able to speak. Ever since, he’d been unable to convince himself that there wasn’t something, anything, he could have done to prevent her death.

The dream always brought Dan awake, sweating and trembling, wishing for the thousandth time that it might only be a dream. Then, unable to erase the gruesome image from his mind or fall back to sleep, he would get out of bed and climb into the shower, hoping the hot water and steam might somehow purge the painful memories.

Stepping out of the shower, Dan toweled off, wiped the fog from the bathroom mirror, and lathered his face. Staring back at him were the same blue eyes, the same thick, dark brown hair and heavy overnight beard. There was even the same body, exercised regularly in an almost ritualistic pattern. At slightly over six feet, Dan had maintained every aspect of his physical attributes that Susan had so loved. It seemed peculiar to him that all physical signs were void of the devastation that had occurred within his heart, his soul. Those he had been unable to maintain, to exercise, even to control.

He and Susan had been married for less than a year when she died, and his morning ritual-a return to reality more than an awakening from sleep-was born of frustration at a reluctant but forced acceptance of the ever-present nightmare, of Susan’s absence, and the brevity of the marriage they had been promised. A widower at the ripe old age of twenty-eight, eternity seemed a long time away.

The one redeeming benefit of waking so early was that after clearing his head of the memories, he was able to shift mentally into another frame of mind and make good use of the pre-dawn hours to work on the novel he was writing. He had spent hundreds of hours at his computer, his imaginary characters filling the lonely void in his life. In many respects, Voices in My Blood had been his salvation.

Despite the bitter cold of the winter morning, sweat saturated the young soldier’s ragged uniform, and salty droplets ran from his forehead, stinging his eyes. Four of them lay abreast in their shallow log bunker, awaiting the next assault by the British regulars.

“There’s no hope, Ned,” the young man said, his voice tight with fear.

“Don’t give in, Tommy, we ain’t dead yet. An’ you’ll see, sure as shootin’, Ethan’s boys’ll come swoopin’ down outta them Green Mountains, and the redcoats’ll scatter like scared rabbits.”

Nearly four hundred and fifty pages of his heart and soul, not to mention personal satisfaction derived from the effort, lay on his desk, ready to be sealed in a U.S. Priority Mail envelope and sent off to a New York literary agent. Born of a year’s worth of sleeplessness, early morning hours, and long, nighttime sessions that had replaced, in large part, any semblance of a social life, the book he hoped would be the next great American novel was finally finished.

Rawlings had needed an outlet for the persistent pain, and he had turned to what he had come to think of as “the voices in his blood” for diversion. Fired by the stories told him by his grandfather, Jack Rumsey, Dan’s feelings for his ancestors had always been strong, but in researching and writing their histories, he had developed a sense of being literally connected to them. Unable to objectively judge its worth, Dan came to view his novel-tentatively titled Voices in My Blood-as a catharsis for his grief following the death of his bride. The task of writing a novel had proven far more daunting than he had imagined, but it had also consumed him.

The Rumsey family, his progenitors on his mother’s side, had come from England to the American colonies with the first wave of settlers early in the seventeenth century. Over several generations, they had pioneered the frontiers and been involved in pushing the borders of the fledgling United States ever westward, some crossing the plains in the traditional route, untended grave sites marking the extent of their passage.

The Rumseys, a current-day amalgamation of Macabees, Standishs, Morrins, and a host of other Anglo-Saxon and northern European names, had become a hardy bunch. Together with a smattering of native American Indian blood, they had lived, labored, fought, and propagated during a volatile and romantic period in American history. Like many families of that turbulent era, some were more adventurous, exhibiting a restless bent that brought them at last to the fertile valleys of central and northern California.

Dan Rawlings loved the beautiful Rumsey Valley, nestled in the eastern foothills of the California coastal range, northwest of Sacramento. Another branch of his ancestors had eventually settled there in 1867, the final stop for the formerly South Carolina Rumseys who moved west after the Civil War. It was where he had chosen to continue living, surrounded by the echoes of the past.

Rawlings had found it easy to identify with these robust, often reckless people. Indeed, after he had researched their names, histories, and genealogy, the characters had taken on lives of their own, something Dan found immensely intriguing. The daily task of writing had become an adventure, and as he turned on his computer each morning, he did so with a feeling of curiosity, wondering what his characters might end up doing as he explored their lives and feelings. The “voices in his blood” sang to him, and he found it emotionally satisfying to speculate about their lives and to embellish their stories.

After earning a degree in political science from the University of California at Davis, Dan had then graduated with honors from Stanford Law School. Out of a sense of patriotism, or perhaps his family’s sense of performing their civic duty, he joined the California National Guard in Sacramento, spending six months on active duty at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, becoming a JAG officer.

His marriage to Susan completed what he felt was the foundation of a wonderful life, personally and professionally. Landing a job as the city attorney in Susanville, California, high in the Sierra Nevada mountains, was the finishing touch. With work he loved to do and living near the skiing that Susan loved so much, the two of them seemed destined to enjoy the good life. But Susan’s tragic death just one year later had instantly changed all that. She was twenty-four, he was twenty-six, and their marriage was barely one.

Five months after the accident, still numb from the loss and unable to deal with the memories he and Susan had built in Susanville, Dan resigned his position as city attorney and accepted a job as county administrator in Yolo County, near Sacramento, returning to the geographic roots of his ancestors. Rather than live in Woodland, the county seat, and the town where the county offices were located, he had chosen to live in Davis, near the University of California, where he would have easy access to the library and its resources. Dan had disciplined himself to work at least a few hours each day on his manuscript, and the daily routine had proven to be his salvation in the two years that had passed since Susan’s death. He had settled into a lonely, but comfortable, routine, and it was only a fifteen-minute drive to work-just enough time to clear his head and make the transition from aspiring novelist to county administrator.

The periodic nightmares in which he relived the horror of Susan’s death were a continuing curse and a cruel mocking of what might have been-should have been. He hated seeing her broken body lying amidst the blood. When he allowed his mind to drift, he missed her terribly, his breath came in short, ragged gasps, and the pain in his chest, more emotional than physical, was, to his way of thinking, indiscernible from an actual physiological trauma.

But there were also satisfying memories. Even now, while driving or sitting quietly in his office, he often found himself lost in thought, trying desperately to recall her scent, the texture of her hair and the feel of her skin. He would think about how she spoke to him with her eyes, her smile, and the bold and intimate things she would say and do as she draped herself on him, entwining her fingers in his hair, breathing her sweet breath into his ear, growling outrageous threats, slowly building his emotion and desire, and purring in response when he held her tightly in his arms, his face buried in the fragrant hollow of her neck and shoulder.

Yet also in that quiet solitude-that memory-induced coma-he also missed her softer side, so often exposed as she sat quietly on a quiet hillside at sunset, writing in her journal, the moisture filling her eyes. After some months, he came to realize that her head-turning physical attributes had never been the source of his deeply felt love. He had lost his companion, his partner in life, and his lover, and her absence left him empty, at times inconsolably bereft of emotion.

His grandfather had been right. Life often wasn’t fair. It wasn’t fair that less than a year after being married, she had been cruelly and needlessly snatched away from him. It wasn’t fair that he was alone. It wasn’t fair that he didn’t want to be alone, but that he could not, for the life of him, envision being with anyone else.

Writing the book had at first only been an escape, and so he was more than mildly surprised when a New York literary agent to whom he had submitted early parts of the manuscript had asked to see the rest. Since that telephone call, the pressure had been intense to finish the book, and he had worked late at night and early in the mornings through several drafts to polish his story and put it in final form. He was ready now to send it off, but he was doing so without much confidence. He had never written anything for publication, and he’d heard the horror stories about how hard it is to get a publisher to pay any attention to an unknown author. He had prepared himself to be disappointed, certain his manuscript would generate only a series of rejection slips.

He was consoled when he considered that the writing had helped him cope with the loss of Susan and also put him in touch with his ancestors. No matter what came of it, Voices in My Blood had served a great purpose.

The phone rang just as Dan was grabbing his keys and preparing to leave his condo for work.

“Good morning, this is Dan.”

“Morning, Dan. It’s Tony.”

“Well, Sheriff, you’re on the job early this morning. Trying to set up a game this afternoon?”

Antonio Sanchez was the Yolo County Sheriff, and the two of them sometimes knocked off early to get in a quick nine holes at the Yolo Country Club after work. But instead of responding to the question, Tony said, “Can you meet me on I-5 at the north end of the Memorial Bridge?”

“Sure. I don’t have staff meeting ’til ten. What’s up?”

“I’d, uh, rather talk with you in person.”

“Understand. I’ll be there in twenty minutes.”

The flashing lights and multiple vehicles parked on both sides of the interstate at the north end of the bridge were visible for nearly a mile across the flat, flood plain northwest of the river and gave ample direction to the scene. Dan pulled off the freeway and around to the northwest side of the bridge that crossed the Sacramento River. Named the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial Bridge after a long campaign waged by veterans from Yolo and Sacramento counties, the bridge was sorely in need of repair or replacement.

At least a dozen vehicles-sheriff’s department, emergency medical services, and civilian-were scattered on the shoulder of the road on both sides of the bridge. Dan pulled his Blazer behind a sheriff’s patrol car and got out to peer over the side of the bridge. Slightly below and partially under the bridge in the dry creek bed was an ambulance. Dan made his way down the dusty slope and toward a cluster of sheriff’s deputies and several civilians-whom Dan took to be detectives-standing around Sheriff Tony Sanchez.

Rounding the back of the ambulance, Dan instantly came to a halt. An EMT was sitting on the shoulders of another EMT, trying to undo the rope around the neck of a man wearing camouflage BDUs similar to what Dan wore on guard weekend drills. The lifeless body hung from the underside of the bridge abutment. The body was turned the other way, and Dan was unable to see the face.

“A rotten way to start a Monday morning,” Tony said, excusing himself from those surrounding him and stepping in Dan’s direction. The sheriff took him by the arm and led him away from the group.

“Deputy Collins was shot and killed here last night.”

“Darin Collins? What happened?”

“We don’t know yet. A passing trucker reported seeing his cruiser parked at a funny angle up there at the end of the bridge. When a deputy checked it out, he found Collins lying alongside the car. He’d been shot in the head.”

“I can’t believe it. Any theories as to why?”

“Nothing. He had his weapon out of its holster, and he had been shot at close range, in the forehead. That’s as much as we know. The body’s been taken to the coroner.”

“Geez. Darin’s married and has some kids, doesn’t he?”

“Two, and one on the way.”

Dan shook his head, imagining how Darin’s wife was going to react to the news. “What’s up with this?” He nodded toward the body that had been cut down and was being placed on a stretcher.

“I wish I knew. While the deputies were securing the crime scene, one of them came down here and found this man hanging under the bridge.”

“A suicide?”

“Not likely. His hands are tied behind his back. Do you recognize him?”

Dan looked again toward the body as the EMTs were preparing to place the collapsible gurney in the ambulance. Reluctantly, he walked to where he could look at the contorted and discolored face.

“Damn! McFarland!”

“Then you do know him?” Tony said.

Dan nodded slowly. “He’s a member of the 324th. Lieutenant Richard McFarland.”

Tony jotted down the name.

A male civilian in a suit spoke from behind them. “Are you a member of this man’s military unit?”

Dan looked at the man and turned back toward Tony, hesitating.

“Dan, this is Special Agent Samuels and his partner, Special Agent Bentley, of the FBI. They arrived about thirty minutes ago.”

Dan nodded, looked back toward the stretcher, and then responded to Samuels. “We’re both in the 324th Mechanized Infantry Battalion, California National Guard. McFarland is. . was. . a platoon leader. . a lieutenant.”

“Are you his commander?” Agent Bentley asked.

Dan turned away from the stretcher now being loaded into the ambulance and focused his gaze on Bentley, who appeared to be in her late twenties. She was dressed in a tailored, dark-blue suit. Her hair was jet black and cut close, just above the neck line. She stood about five-five in low heels, Dan noticed, and presented herself as all business.

“No,” he said, shaking his head. “I’m assigned to the JAG. Richard was a grunt.”

“Grunt?” she questioned, then nodded her understanding. “Infantry.”

“That’s right,” Dan said.

“Did you have frequent contact with Lieutenant McFarland?” Bentley continued.

Again Dan hesitated, his thoughts gathering after the shock of seeing McFarland hanging by the neck from a thin strand of what appeared to be nylon ski rope. As his legal training kicked in, his mind began to function more formally, and he addressed his comments to Tony.

“Are we still in Yolo County, Tony? I mean, the Sacramento County line is over the river, isn’t it?

“Yep, this is still my jurisdiction. But if, as you say, the deceased is a federal military officer, then Agents Samuels and Bentley may have priority in the investigation.”

“Agent Bentley, if you don’t mind, before answering your question, I’d like to call our commander, General Del Valle.”

“That will be fine, uh, Mr. . ”

“Dan Rawlings. I’m the county administrator here in Yolo County and a captain in the Guard’s JAG Corps.”

“Well, Mr. . Captain Rawlings, we intended to call for an appointment with General Del Valle immediately after we leave here. Perhaps we could all meet together.”

“Fine. I’ll call the general and apprise him of the situation. If you’ll excuse me,” he said, stepping away and walking back up the slope toward his car, followed by Tony.

“What’s the story, Tony? How’d the Feds get involved so quickly?”

“I don’t have a clue. They were here within forty minutes after the body was reported.”

Dan halted and looked at his friend. “I’m sorry. It hasn’t been a good morning for either of us, has it?”

“I’ve had better,” Tony said, shaking his head. “Look, you call your general, and I’ll finish here with the crime scene. I’ll stop by your office later and let you know what we find-if anything.”

“Okay,” Dan said, already dialing his cell phone.

Dan stood at the driver’s side of his car, waiting for the call to be transferred to the general and watched as the ambulance lumbered up the slope, slowly traversed the multiple vehicles, and made its way onto the highway. Down the slope, Agents Samuels and Bentley were talking with Sheriff Sanchez.

“General Del Valle,” the phone echoed.

“Sir, this is Captain Rawlings. We’ve had an unfortunate incident with one of our officers. . Lieutenant Richard McFarland.”

“I know the young man, Captain. What happened?”

“He’s dead, sir.”

“Dead? How?”

“He was found hanged.”

“A suicide?”

“The sheriff doesn’t think so. I’m on scene at the I-5 bridge leading into Yolo County. Two FBI agents are here with the sheriff and have advised me that they would like to meet with you this morning. Is it possible that we come in immediately, sir?”

“Captain, does this have anything to do with ‘Deadbolt’?”

“It could, sir, but there’s no way of knowing at this point.”

“I’m booked for my annual helicopter check ride at 10:00. You say you’re at the I-5 bridge into Yolo?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Good. I’ll cancel the instructor pilot and reschedule. Meet me at the private plane area at Sacramento International. I’ll be there at, uh, 10:30. Be on the runway side of the hanger. And tell the FBI agents I’ll see them in my office at 4:00.”

“Yes, sir. Sacramento airport at 10:30,” Dan repeated, checking his watch.

Dan punched “end” on the phone’s keyboard and walked back down to where Sheriff Sanchez and the two FBI agents were still in conversation. He waited several moments until their discussion ended and Agent Samuels looked at him.

“General Del Valle said 4:00 this afternoon. If there’s nothing else, I’ll meet you at the Sacramento Armory at 4:00.”

“That’ll be fine, Captain. Thank you for your cooperation,” Samuels said.

Dan glanced quickly at Bentley and gave a loose wave to Tony. “I’ll talk to you later, Tony. Call my cell phone if anything breaks.”

“Right, Dan. Sorry about your friend.”

“Neither of them deserved to die, Tony,” Dan said, retracing his steps to his vehicle. “Certainly not this way.”

Pulling onto I-5, Dan thought momentarily about driving home and changing out of his suit into his uniform. It was nearly 9:00, and General Del Valle had said to be there at 10:30. Barely time.

Just over an hour later, on the return trip, some of the emergency vehicles were still gathered at the crime scene as Dan drove over the bridge again. The sight of McFarland, his face purplish and distorted, had etched itself into Dan’s mind, an image he now wished he could have avoided. He already had one of those-of his wife, Susan-and it had plagued his nightly dreams.

McFarland had only been on his infiltration assignment three months and in the guard less than a year. Clearly the Shasta Brigade was dangerous, if indeed, they were responsible. But who else? The extremist paramilitary group had already claimed responsibility for killing two federal judges, hadn’t they? At least, someone in the patriot movement had, and according to Army intelligence, the Shasta Brigade was integrally involved in the movement. If it proved true, there was no turning back for the brigade, and killing a National Guard lieutenant wasn’t going to make matters any worse, although Deputy Collins was a different story. Killing a cop always brought out the wrath of the blue brotherhood from other law enforcement agencies.

Dan turned his Blazer onto the approach road to the airport and pulled into the first parking area, in front of the private plane ramp. As he walked toward the hanger, he saw the guard helicopter approaching the far side of the building and could see General Del Valle at the controls. If the general was his usual self, he’d want answers and he’d want them now.

How did the FBI get to the crime scene so quickly? Sheriff Sanchez had never before mentioned their involvement in a local murder case. Sure, McFarland was a federal military officer, but for two FBI agents to be on scene within an hour of notification? There was more to their presence than was readily apparent. That was one question Del Valle would ask immediately, and one for which Dan had no answer.

Chapter 3

Over the Sierra Nevada Mountains

East of Redding, California

Nearly three hours later the helicopter’s fuel state demanded a return to base. Dan leaned into the turn and peered out the left seat window. Major General Robert Del Valle, Commanding General, California National Guard was at the controls. Currently serving as the acting Adjutant General for the State of California, he banked the five-passenger, Bell Jet Ranger helicopter sharply to the left and headed south. Surprisingly, Del Valle’s questions had been few, and they had ridden in silence for much of the flight.

“Shall we take another sweep over the area, General?” Rawlings said into the voice-activated mike as the helicopter straightened out.

“I think we’ve seen all we’re going to see today, Captain. We’ll head straight for Mather. After we meet with the FBI, Sergeant Pitama can take you back out to your car.”

The compass heading settled on 190 degrees, and the Bell flew straight and level at six hundred feet, visibility unlimited in the bright blue California skies.

“I don’t know that we learned much today, Captain. No sign of life at the brigade’s last known training site, except for that parked truck.”

“They’re gone, all right,” Rawlings said to the older man, who, the moment he got in the cockpit of an aircraft, appeared to be twenty years younger. “General, we made three passes over their most frequent training site and their rifle range. If the Shasta Brigade is still operating out of that mountainside base camp, there’s no sign of it. There’s usually someone there, either drilling or on the weapons range.”

“They’ve vacated the area, that’s for sure. So, if we’re gonna get a handle on this cowardly murder, let’s start with what we do know. The basics, I mean,” Del Valle said, his eyes sweeping left and right for conflicting traffic.

“First, ever since Senator Turner began beating the drum for his secession mania during the primary campaign, the Shasta Brigade has been vocal in their support. They jumped on that message like flies around a pig sty. But that’s a given. Most militia units feel that way. Second, after the general election in November, when that Turner-sponsored referendum for secession passed-by a surprisingly large margin, I might add-the brigade increased its rhetoric, and the sty got a whole lot larger, and so did the swarm of flies. The militia units in every state west of the Mississippi ate it up, and every gun-toting nut in the west joined in the hysteria. Their campaign to physically intimidate California government officials who oppose secession-including our governor-is reprehensible.”

Rawlings nodded in agreement, briefly amused at the General’s frequent use of barnyard metaphors. But Del Valle is right, Rawlings thought as he recalled the deliberate event two months earlier when the governor’s wife and daughter had been involved in a vehicular accident. The California Highway Patrol had ruled it a run-off-the-road, intentional assault on their vehicle. No one had been hurt, but the message had been clear.

“Third,” Del Valle said, reciting known facts as if he were making a case to a jury, “when the me-first, anything-goes, liberal crowd challenged the election results, and the superior court judicial panel ruled it unconstitutional, what, six months ago, the California Patriot Movement as they call themselves, took on a decidedly nasty IRA tactic. They killed. . no, executed, they called it, Judge Rowe and Judge Chen, and publicly claimed responsibility. The only reason they didn’t get Judge Evans is that he was in Europe. As far as I know, he still is, and I don’t blame him for a minute. And then, finally, the governor sent the whole convoluted mess to the California Supreme Court, and they’ve been sucking their thumbs for months, too scared to act. Can’t blame them, can we?”

Dan could see that while the general had been silent while they were flying, he had not been mentally wandering. He’d put the whole picture into perspective, as Dan had seen him do numerous times over the several years Dan had served in the guard.

“General,” Rawlings said, “we don’t actually know the militia committed those murders. It might have suited their needs to claim responsibility.”

“Are you crazy, Captain? What did they teach you in that law school? They did it, all right. They’ve banded together under this ‘patriot movement’ umbrella. Son, we’ve got to accept the fact that we have the makings of a full-fledged, Irish-type insurrection on our hands. A real ‘let-my-people-go’ barnburner. You can see how fifty years of internal war practically destroyed Northern Ireland. Their cities and towns were totally boarded up for a quarter of a century. Believe me, this secession fever will escalate faster than crib corn can flow through a goose.”

“That just seems hard to accept, General, no matter how the facts stack up. We’re all Americans.”

What?” Del Valle bellowed into his mike, sharply banking the helicopter to avoid a flock of birds. “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard that ‘we’re all Americans’ line. Every time I went overseas, people would ask me, ‘What are Americans really like?’ Captain, there are three hundred and thirty million of us. You believe we all think and act alike? If only five percent are wackos, that means fifteen million people are willing to beat your brains out in a New York minute, commit the most heinous crimes against your wife-or you-or kidnap and torture your kids. Then-and this is the really sad part-when the police catch the sorry animals and they’re hauled into court, they want you to believe that they had the right to do it, because society treated them wrong or their mommy didn’t love them enough. It’s as scary as a scene out of Dante’s Inferno. And if this secession goes through and California becomes a republic, after thirty-two years in this uniform, I’ll be in command of a foreign army. You think I want that?”

“No, sir. None of us want that.”

“Rephrase that, son,” Del Valle said, his voice calmer. “If we’re to believe the election results, most Californians do want that.”

“It’s just. . well, sir, it is hard to swallow. I can’t fathom the reason for it, or for the senseless killing of Lieutenant McFarland this morning.”

“Well, you’d better wake up and smell the coffee. And as despicable as it is, it’s not a senseless killing. If you had a spy in your unit, and you considered yourself at war, you’d kill him, too. Unless we can get a grip, war’s coming in one of its ugliest forms-internecine-family-to-family, and Mama ain’t gonna be able to make the boys play nice-nice. If we can control it politically, without violence-and believe me, that’s what Governor Dewhirst is trying his darnedest to do-we will. Otherwise, we-those of us in uniform-are in for a guerrilla war the likes of which will make my jungle cruise in Vietnam seem like a vacation. Can you imagine fighting in our own cities? Door-to-door? Against our own people?”

“What can we do about it, General-the guard, I mean?” Rawlings asked.

“I’ll tell you exactly what we’re going to do. . hold on a moment.”

As the Jet Ranger crossed the northern edge of Roseville, Del Valle leaned forward and changed the channel on the radio, listening for several moments to the Mather ATIS system for weather and wind conditions. Then he keyed the transmit button on his cyclic control.

“Mather tower, this is Army two-six-Bravo, Bell helicopter on final, just over Roseville, info Whiskey and squawking VFR, approaching from the northeast.”

“Roger, Army two-six-Bravo,” the tower responded. “You are cleared for an approach on the east side to the guard area. Wind from the west at six knots, gusting to fifteen. Remain clear of the approach to runway two-two-left.”

“Roger that, Mather. Stay clear of two-two-left. Army two-six-Bravo, out.”

With the National Guard hangar in sight, Del Valle banked the helicopter and began his descent, scanning the horizon for opposing traffic.

“What we’re gonna do, son, is smoke the grizzlies out. And you’re going to run the show, reporting directly to me. I’m going to pull you from the JAG office, covertly, of course, and assign you to the CID. I want you to select a junior officer and two good non-coms. Be sure you can trust them, and I don’t say that lightly. Some of our boys might already be in the brigade. . of their own choosing. I want to know where that elusive militia is training and what they’re up to.”

“We’re going to put another man inside?” Rawlings asked.

“No. They’ll be watching for that. Besides, I have a feeling the FBI already has a man inside.”

“The FBI?”

“How else do you figure they got the news so fast this morning?”

“Of course,” Rawlings replied, shifting his body for a better look at the approaching runway.

“Watch the stick!” Del Valle said, as Rawlings’ knee jostled the duplicate control.

“Sorry, General.”

“Needless to say, keep this information confidential, and make sure you get volunteers for your team. It’s not going to be easy. The ‘Movement’ has already admitted to killing those who oppose their dreams of glory and freedom.”

Del Valle flared the helicopter, setting it down gently on the crosshatch markings.

“By thunder, I missed the mark by nearly a foot,” Del Valle grinned as the Bell settled onto the ground. “Guess I need another ten hours of flight time.”

The two men sat quietly for several moments while General Del Valle ran through his post-flight checklist and let the engine idle for the two minutes necessary to cool it down.

“Uh. . sir, I know a few Yolo County residents who associate with the Shasta Brigade,” Rawlings said hesitantly. “They’ve asked me on occasion to spend a weekend with them. I could possibly-”

“The answer is no, Captain,” Del Valle said, removing his headset and braking the rotor with the overhead crank. “You may not assign yourself to infiltrate the Shasta Brigade. First, you’re a lawyer on my JAG staff, and I need your advice during this crisis. Second, you’re also the county administrator, and your absence would be noticed and highly publicized if the press caught wind of what you’re doing. And third. . well, I can’t think of a good third reason at the moment, but those are my orders. You’re not going in. Is that understood?”

“Yes, sir,” Rawlings said, nodding his head. “Do you think we can pull it off?”

“You mean the infiltration?”

“No, sir. Stopping the secession.”

“Heaven help us if we don’t, Captain. It’s been tried before and cost over a half million lives-American lives. And it took this nation a hundred years to get over it. I don’t want to live in another banana republic, struggling internally for fifty years to establish our laws and trampling on the rights of others to accomplish it. Now don’t get me wrong here. I understand, and in some respects, I even agree with a lot of what these militia boys believe in. I don’t like these bleeding heart, liberal do-gooders, and ‘anything goes’ crowd, what Bill O’Reilly calls ‘secular progressives,’ any more than the next man. But given half a chance, the Shasta Brigade would kill ’em all in a heartbeat. That’s not the America I believe in. This nation was founded on our ancestors’ blood, and they didn’t always agree with the people they died for. When I entered West Point, I never thought for one minute that we’d be spared the need to shed more blood, even my own, to keep us whole.”

“Against our own people, sir?”

“The time has come when people are going to have to make a choice. I’m afraid Governor Dewhirst was probably right when he told the press that the California Patriot Movement has begun in earnest. Remember this, son,” Del Valle said, opening the cockpit door and pausing to look directly at Rawlings. “You’re in command of a tactical operation now, in what we have to assume is a potential combat situation. Command is difficult, and the cost, as you have so graphically seen this morning, is often the lives of your men. The most important principle of command is a hard one. True military leadership is not whether you’re willing to die for your men, but whether or not you’re willing to order them to a probable death for the sake of their fellow soldiers. Select your people carefully.”

“I understand, sir. I’ll get right on it.”

“Good. There’s Pitama with the Humvee. He can take us back to the armory. I’ve got a few phone calls to make. Be in my office at 1545.”

“Yes, sir.”

Upon their arrival at the armory, Dan went straight to his office and spent the next two hours reviewing personnel files on his computer. He also spent a half hour reviewing Lieutenant McFarland’s file, remembering when he had selected the young, excited lieutenant to infiltrate the Shasta Brigade. At 1540, he logged off the computer and headed for General Del Valle’s office. Sergeant Pitama sat behind a desk in the anteroom outside the general’s office. He stood up as Dan entered the room.

“Good afternoon, Captain Rawlings. The general’s expecting you, sir. You can go right in.”

Dan knocked on the open doorway and remained there, waiting for General Del Valle to acknowledge his presence.

Del Valle looked up from behind his desk and then waved Dan in, motioning for him to take a seat.

As the door closed, Del Valle stood and came around the desk. He had changed from a flight suit into his dress greens. Each time Dan was in the general’s presence at reviews and command functions, it amazed him how the man transformed as he stood. Seated behind his desk, he seemed normal size-certainly in comparison to Dan’s six-foot one-inch height. But the moment the general stood, everything changed. General Robert Del Valle stood six-feet-five-inches, and Dan swore that five feet of it was all leg. More impressive than seeing him rise from behind the desk and transform into what appeared to be an NBA regular, was watching him emerge from a helicopter. It was tight enough in the cockpit for Dan, whose head touched the low ceiling, but how the general managed it was beyond comprehension. Even Sergeant Pitama, a good sized Maori, originally from New Zealand, who possessed what General Del Valle called “side-to-side” presence, seemed small next to the general.

Del Valle took a chair next to Dan.

“I’ve given a great deal of thought to this morning’s occurrence, Captain. We’ve lost a good man. That doesn’t sit well with me.”

“No, sir, I feel the same,” Dan said. “And the sheriff lost a deputy, too.”

“I see,” Del Valle nodded. “Apparently this wasn’t a clean execution. Perhaps the deputy came upon the scene during or after the murder.” The general looked at Dan for several seconds, the silence broken only when he replaced his coffee cup on its saucer. “This would be your first operational loss, wouldn’t it, Captain?”

Dan looked up briefly, surprised by Del Valle’s choice of words-rather a cold, impersonal definition, it seemed. “I hadn’t thought of it in those terms, General.”

“That’s exactly how you must think of it. You’ll recall I told you command could be expensive. I didn’t mean that lightly, or flippantly, but I neglected to tell you that it would also cost you, in emotional terms. Some men can’t stand the responsibility of having to order other men into situations where their lives may be in danger. Look, son, we may not be storming a beachhead, but believe me, there are many kinds of war. These militants chose to pursue the cowardly kind. I suppose they have no choice if they intend to wage war at all, but be that as it may, we’re at war with them. And I’m afraid it’s only going to get worse.”

“How do you mean, sir?”

“After we got back, I got on the horn to the Pentagon-General Roberts, CID. I asked him if he had any knowledge of why two FBI agents would show up so quickly at the murder of one of my officers.”

Del Valle rose and refilled his coffee cup, returning to his seat and replacing the cup on its saucer. Dan waited for him to continue at his own pace.

“It appears that, as I suspected, the FBI has their own version of ‘Deadbolt,’ and we have to assume that includes an insider. In light of the recent so-called executions, it would make sense. The murder of two federal judges would require it, I suppose.”

“Including infiltration, you say?” Dan asked.

“General Roberts wasn’t able to tell me more, but we have to assume they would be as thorough as possible. He did, however, tell me that the CID has kept the FBI and a special unit from the CIA fully briefed on our investigations.”

“Then you were right. If the FBI’s got a man on the inside, that would explain how they knew about McFarland so fast.” Dan hesitated a moment, looking toward the large window behind the general’s seat and suddenly back at Del Valle. “But, sir, if they knew about McFarland, why didn’t-”

“Why didn’t they warn us, or try to prevent his death?” Del Valle asked. “I don’t know, but I darned sure will find out when your two FBI guys arrive.”

“Agent Samuels and Agent Bentley are their names. I failed to mention, sir, that Agent Bentley is a woman.”

“Who’s senior?”

“They weren’t introduced that way, sir, but based upon their ages, I believe Samuels is the lead agent. He’s mid to late forties, and Bentley is in her late twenties.”

The telephone intercom on Del Valle’s desk buzzed, and Sergeant Pitama spoke. “Excuse me, General, the FBI agents you were expecting have arrived.”

Del Valle stood and pressed the key on his telephone. “I’ll be with them in a moment.”

“Yes, sir,” Pitama replied.

Del Valle stared down at Dan for a moment before speaking. “We’ll be involved in a jurisdictional turf war here, Captain. Keep your cool and let me do the talking.”

Dan rose and nodded. “Yes, sir.”

Del Valle stepped to the door, opening it and smiling at his guests.

“Good morning, I’m Bob Del Valle. Please, come in and have a seat. This is my JAG officer, Captain Daniel Rawlings, whom I believe you’ve already met.”

“We have,” Agent Samuels said, shaking hands with Del Valle. “I’m Special Agent Al Samuels, and this is my partner, Special Agent Nicole Bentley. We appreciate your giving us some of your time, General-under trying circumstances, of course.”

Del Valle closed the door, and as his guests took their seats in front of his desk, he assumed his position behind it.

“Now I want to know two things, Mr. Samuels-I assume you are in charge here.”

“I’m the senior agent in-”

“Good,” Del Valle interrupted, his demeanor brusque and his delivery abrupt. “I want to know why didn’t your agent inside the brigade prevent this needless death, or, if that was not possible, why didn’t he notify you, or us, so we could have taken some action to save this young officer’s life?”

Dan smiled inwardly. Keep your cool, Captain. . while I go for the throat.

Samuels was visibly startled by Del Valle’s opening thrust, trying unsuccessfully to regain the initiative.

“General, we, uh, we’ve made no mention of any contact with-uh, was it the brigade, you said?”

Del Valle kept a straight face, his body language stiff and formal.

“Don’t jerk me around, Samuels. I’m the Adjutant General of the California National Guard, and I want some answers. We both know we’re talking about the Shasta Brigade, a loosely organized band of rabble headquartered about a hundred miles north of Sacramento, up in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. They killed that boy sometime during the night, and you knew about it.”

“General, I’m not able-”

“Well, I am able,” Del Valle said, banging his fist on the desk. He glanced at his watch and firmly pressed the speaker button on his telephone.

“Sergeant Pitama!” he bellowed.

Instantly the reply came. “Yes, General?”

“Sergeant, get the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation on the horn immediately.”

“Yes, sir. Right away, sir.”

Del Valle looked directly at Samuels, who held his upright posture for a few seconds, and then his shoulders visibly slumped.

“General, I’ll tell you what I can without jeopardizing our operation.”

“What you can?” Del Valle repeated, leaning forward.

“General, give me a break here. I work under the same confidentiality and ‘need-to-know’ security restrictions that you do.”

“Now we’re getting somewhere.” Again Del Valle punched his speakerphone. “Sergeant, cancel that call.”

“Yes, sir.”

He punched off the speakerphone and leaned back in his chair, steepling his fingers in front of his chest, waiting for Samuels to speak.

Slowly, Samuels smiled at Del Valle. “Now I recall why I got out of the army as a captain after my first hitch, General. I wasn’t willing to put that burr under anybody else’s saddle, and I wasn’t willing to live with one under mine.”

The room was instantly silent, and Dan caught a brief glimpse of Agent Bentley, who to this point hadn’t spoken a word. Her face was pale, and clearly the exchange between the two men had given her pause. She caught Dan’s eye momentarily, and he allowed a brief, subtle smile to cross his lips, looking away before she could respond.

“Now, Agent Samuels-and Agent Bentley,” Del Valle said, smiling at the young woman for the first time, “I’ll do the best I can to remove the burr from my saddle so we can reach some joint conclusions. We are on similar tracks, I think, and we do work for the same government, and it increasingly appears as though we are facing the same enemy.”

Samuels nodded. “General, here it is in a nutshell: for several years, the bureau has been investigating nine selected militia units throughout western America. There are many more, of course, and we keep tabs on them all, but these nine have, well, shall we say, become a bit more operational in the past two years. We have a mobile strike team, but as yet have taken no overt action against any of their command headquarters. Each field office of the bureau-those nearest the militia units-has two or four agents assigned to investigate their activities. In the San Francisco office, that’s Agent Bentley and myself.

“The Shasta Brigade is indeed quite operational, and contrary to your ‘loosely organized’ description, they are quite well organized and have recently gone completely underground. We expected that, after the movement took public responsibility for the murder of the Superior Court judges. We’ve attributed seven bank robberies to them over the past year-seven we can confirm. That’s their main source of funding. Seems they’ve taken a lesson from the IRA and other terrorist organizations in how to raise money. We’re also aware of your ‘Deadbolt’ operation-your attempt to infiltrate the brigade and determine how many members of your National Guard unit participate.”

Del Valle looked quickly at Dan, who shook his head slightly and shrugged.

“As to the murdered officer,” Samuels continued, “we received a call around four o’clock this morning about a possible killing, but the caller had to disconnect. . or was disconnected. I called Agent Bentley, and we headed for Sacramento, hoping to receive further information along the way that would enable us to intervene. We heard the police band radio call first, however, and cut across I-505 into Woodland where we met Sheriff Sanchez. Our information was limited, believe me, and when we saw your lieutenant. . well, it was as difficult for us as it was for Captain Rawlings. If we could have prevented it, General Del Valle, I can assure you we would have done so. Remember, there was a law enforcement officer killed in the line of duty as well.”

“I understand,” Del Valle said. “And I apologize for any unintended implication that you didn’t care. Please, go on.”

“There’s not a lot more, General. We have the identity of about two dozen, full-time regulars in the brigade, and they also have another fifty or so part-time regulars, but their total numbers probably exceed full-company strength-well over two, maybe even three hundred men and women. These newer guys don’t know much about the true objectives or the specific operations. It’s the central core of two dozen or so-most with criminal records-who call the shots. Their commander, a man named Jackson Shaw, is also former Army-West Point, class of ’87-discharged for negligence in the field, resulting in the loss of several men under his command.”

Del Valle looked at Dan. “Do we know anything about Shaw?”

“Yes, sir,” Dan replied. “We’ve pulled his package.”

“His package?” Agent Bentley spoke up for the first time.

“His personnel file, Ms. Bentley,” Dan explained. “His record of service in the Army.”

“General, that’s about all I can share without stepping over my limits. I hope you understand,” Samuels said.

“Are any of these regular brigade members you’ve identified also members of the guard?”

Samuels nodded toward Bentley.

“General Del Valle, Agent Samuels has assigned me to run background checks on the core members of the Shasta Brigade. None of the central leadership is involved with your guard unit, but over half have extensive military backgrounds. Shaw and his cadre of followers have dropped completely out of sight. Nearly a dozen of the new recruits are also members of the 324th, and over fifty more are either active duty military or belong to various military reserve units. The brigade is on an extensive recruiting campaign, General. They’re growing larger and getting bolder all the time. We’ve suspected them of killing some dissident members or new recruits who wanted out, and as we’ve said, the patriot movement has claimed responsibility for killing the federal judges. But to our knowledge, this is the first time they’ve executed a federal military officer.”

“Why now?” Del Valle asked. “And how does the Shasta Brigade fit into this patriot movement?”

“We believe that all the California militia units have banded together, calling themselves the California Patriot Movement and hiding their individual actions behind the larger facade,” Bentley said. “Whether there is a central command structure yet, we don’t know. And as to why now, we believe they’ve embraced Senator Turner’s appeal for secession. It’s the clarion call they’ve needed.”

“And who killed McFarland?” Del Valle asked.

“That’s what we’re looking to find out, General,” she responded. “But we can assume that they’re sufficiently aware of military intelligence procedure to realize that our side needs to infiltrate their operations. They’ve probably established an internal security unit.”

“You mean an assassination squad,” Del Valle said.

“Exactly, General.”

Del Valle looked at the female agent. “We’ll have to go about it a bit more carefully, Agent Bentley, but we need to know what’s going on inside the brigade and the other militia units. We’ve developed a small internal group for just that purpose. Captain Rawlings is a JAG officer-a lawyer-as he’s most likely explained. But several months ago, I selected him to run an internal investigation with one of our Criminal Investigation Division agents. Only three other people know of his assignment: Colonel Harman, who serves as the battalion commander, myself, and the CID agent with whom he works.”

“General,” Bentley said, leaning forward in her chair and looking nearly straight up into Del Valle’s face, “we are sincerely sorry for the death of your officer. I want you to know that if there was any way, anything, we could have done to prevent it, we would have acted.”

“Thank you, Agent Bentley. Captain Rawlings,” Del Valle said, “Take the agents to your office and share what information you’ve gleaned through ‘Deadbolt.’ No holds barred, Captain-give them everything you’ve got, and don’t be surprised,” he smiled, looking back at Samuels, “if they already know most, or even all, of it.”

“Yes, sir,” Dan said, standing up. “And, sir, Lieutenant McFarland was married only about eight months ago, and-”

Del Valle held up his hand, nodded slightly, then stood and headed for the door. As they reached the exit, Del Valle turned and faced Dan. “Son, this part of our job never gets easier. When you finish with these folks, we have a visit to make-to Mrs. McFarland.”

“Sir, I should be in dress uniform, instead of BDUs?”

“It’s not necessary, Captain,” he said, shaking his head. “Mrs. McFarland won’t notice.”

Just before noon, First Sergeant Otto Krueger was back at a long-abandoned Shasta Brigade headquarters after dropping off the two recruits. The warning he gave them-that they would think Lieutenant McFarland had enjoyed a peaceful death compared to theirs if they opened their mouths-would keep them silent for a few days. He then drove north and turned off the highway onto a side road, heading up into the mountains.

Discharged from the Army’s Special Operations Group after fourteen years of service, Krueger had been accused of beating up the Fort Ord base chaplain. The fact that Krueger had also been suspected of selling military hardware to Bay Area gang members, and the resultant investigation would likely uncover security breaches, aided in the post commander’s decision not to prosecute. Krueger had agreed to a general discharge to avoid Leavenworth Prison, and the commander agreed to the discharge to avoid publicity and discredit to his career.

Leaving the Army, the former Green Beret settled in the northern California mountains near Yreka. He floundered around for several years, moving from job to job until he finally worked his way up to assistant manager at K-Mart.

One Saturday afternoon, Krueger intervened in a parking lot dispute between a yuppie, who acted as if his black belt inured him to injury, and a couple of teenagers who happened to scratch the yuppie’s highly polished BMW as they walked by. Krueger asked the parties to let the matter go and move on peacefully. The yuppie took umbrage at the middle-aged man’s interference and ended up throwing a punch. Parrying the younger man’s jab, Otto responded with a reflexive kick, bending the man’s knee backward, dropping him to the pavement, and rendering him partially crippled.

After talking with several witnesses who were in the parking lot, including the teenagers, the police determined that the younger man had initiated the fight. Nevertheless, the K-Mart regional director felt that the image of a “don’t-mess-with-me” black-belt assistant manager was not in the best interest of good public relations, and Krueger was dismissed with four weeks’ severance pay.

A week later, one of the parking lot witnesses approached Krueger, who was still out of work and disgruntled, and introduced himself as Jackson Shaw. After some preliminary discussion, Shaw said he was the commander of a local militia unit that could use a man with Krueger’s skills and indicated there was a full-time, paid slot on the command staff. Within two weeks, Krueger was offered the position of first sergeant of the Shasta Brigade, and he had never looked back. He quickly came to know that for the core leadership, there was no turning back, and loyalty was non-negotiable.

Reaching Camp Liberty, the ramshackle cluster of old, wooden huts called home by the top echelon of the Shasta Brigade, he parked the pickup behind one of the shacks, then got out and grabbed a hose connected to a spigot attached to the building. As he began to hose out the back of the truck and inside the toolbox, a man in fatigues exited the shack and approached.

“Any trouble?”

Krueger shook his head and kept spraying the truck.

“Nah. Only the skinny one, Kenny. He barfed all over the place. He’s got no stomach for it, Commander. He was scared stupid.”

“They’ll learn, Sergeant Krueger. We, too, were young and afraid once. Keep after ’em.”

“My pleasure. Think the guard will try to replace the kid?”

Commander Jackson Shaw nodded. “They have to if they want to learn anything, and we have to keep recruiting. It’s a weed-out game that we can’t afford to lose.”

“We won’t lose, Commander, and they won’t get another spy in here-not for long, anyway. But my problem is making soldiers out of the gutter-dwellers who want to join the brigade. We’ll never function as a unit until we get some trained and disciplined NCOs.”

“You’ll get the job done, Sergeant,” Shaw said. “No other problems this morning?”

Krueger could see that his commander already knew the answer, probably from early morning radio reports.

“A sheriff’s deputy showed up just as we were leaving. I had no choice.”

Shaw nodded. “That will make them more intense in their pursuit. Killing a judge or even a military officer is one thing. Killing a cop is. . well, just be alert.”

“They’ll know we mean business, Commander.”

“We’ve crossed the Rubicon already, and we’re playing for keeps now. We win this one, or we die. I want you to run down to Sacramento again in a few days and find a likely bank. We need to keep up the charade.”

“And these young pukes?”

“They’ve crossed, too, whether they know it or not. Take them with you.”

“Yes, sir.”

Chapter 4

South of Puerto Penasco, Mexico

Sitting in an old Ford pickup truck with the doors open, two young Mexican men sat smoking, waiting impatiently for the third member of their group to say goodbye to his girlfriend. Oblivious to the political machinations north of the border, or the extent to which opposition to illegal immigration had escalated in California, Carlos Domingo and his teenage girlfriend had decided to make a run for the wealth they knew in their hearts lay just beyond the border.

Carlos found it difficult to maintain his machismo in the presence of the two waiting men, while at the same time trying to console Carmen. She was almost nineteen, but looked more like a schoolchild of fifteen, undernourished, with gaunt, hollow cheeks-the kind models pay big money to have a dentist create. She was fighting in vain to keep the tears from her pretty eyes.

“It’s dangerous, Carlos, and you don’t know the others,” she said, glancing at the pickup.

Carlos, himself barely twenty, tried to make light of her concern, while harboring a great fear at the prospect of crossing the border with those two, both of whom seemed in the same condition as he, but whose honesty was unknown. Carlos had rejected going by the “mule train”-a paid entry system whereby local guides led groups of people across the border through their network of bribed border guards and “safe” illegal entry points. He had chosen instead to cross over into the United States with the nightly influx of “wetbacks,” as those Mexicans who swam-or walked-across the Rio Grande had been called for over a century.

“The man from the MexiCal has a job for me. You know that. For the harvest in Idaho.”

“How far is this Idaho?” she asked plaintively, tears running down her cheeks.

“Far. But I will save all my money, I promise. I will send for you soon. And I will find a priest to marry us.”

“Carlos, I’m afraid,” she whimpered.

“I know, little one, I know.” He took her in his arms and held her close, looking hesitantly over her shoulder at the waiting men, concerned they would see his weakness and simply drive away. “Our son will be born north of the border, Carmen, and he will be our freedom. He will be the key to our green card.”

In the sixth month of her pregnancy, her belly swollen with child, the emaciated girl resembled a starving woman in famine-plagued Africa. She clung to Carlos, desperate and sobbing out of fear and abandonment. Holding her by her thin shoulders, Carlos extracted himself from her fierce embrace.

“I must go, little one. I will send for you soon, I promise,” he said, struggling to withhold his own tears.

He stooped to pick up a ragged gym bag and moved quickly toward the battered truck, walking backward and continuing to hold out his hand to the girl.

Vaya con Dios, Carlos,” she said.

“Before you know it, little one, I will send for you.”

Tossing his bag into the back of the truck, he vaulted over the tailgate into the bed. As he did so, the driver set the tires to spinning in the gravel, steering the truck up an embankment onto the road and the four-hour drive to the border.

As the truck carried him away, Carlos looked back at his pregnant girlfriend and felt his heart would break. He thought of the child that grew within the child. He would send for her-he must send for her.

On Thursday, three days after McFarland’s murder, Dan pulled his Blazer onto the freeway for the short drive from Davis to Woodland. He turned his thoughts from Josiah Rumsey’s role in the Spanish-American War to the staff meeting he would conduct that morning. He had come to enjoy the variety of mental roles he was required to play. It kept his mind sharp, and, if a tabloid headline he had recently scanned while waiting in line at the grocery store checkout was true, using his mind in that way would preclude the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.

Arriving at the county administrative office building on Court Street in Woodland, Dan greeted his deputy administrator, Jim Thompson, who was already at his desk working on his second cup of coffee. Thompson, who was originally from Wyoming, always wore cowboy boots, a Stetson, and western-cut suits, often with an Indian string art tie. Well-liked, with a good-ol’-boy air about him, he was often the object of office ribbing. He was the personification of the cliche that regardless of formal education, you can take a boy out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of the boy. Working for Yolo County provided for Thompson the best of both worlds.

“So, what did Josiah Rumsey do today?” Thompson asked as Rawlings poked his head in to say hello.

“He thinks if he can get up San Juan Hill before Teddy, maybe he’ll become president,” Rawlings replied.

“Yeah, right,” Thompson said sarcastically to Dan’s back as he continued across the foyer toward his office.

This morning banter about his novel had become a part of their repartee ever since Dan had taken Thompson into his confidence about his writing endeavor. Dan had often wished he hadn’t revealed that he was writing a novel, but sometimes Thompson came up with a good suggestion that he was able to incorporate into the developing plot. Their shared secretary, Patricia Collins, found their exchanges amusing.

“Pat, what’s on the schedule today?” Dan asked as she followed him into his office, notepad in hand.

“Staff meeting at nine, executive director from the Yolo Rice Co-op at ten-thirty, and-this you’ll love-Senator Turner is on the stump at Rotary at noon.” She grinned broadly.

“California uber alles, eh?” he replied.

“And goodbye, America,” Pat laughed. “Think this was how George Washington became the Father of Our Country-by schmoozing the Rotary boys?”

“Beats chopping down our cherry-or maybe in the case of Yolo County, I should say almond-trees,” Dan quipped. “That’s all?”

“Not quite. Sheriff Sanchez called and asked if he could meet with you this morning. I told him you had a staff meeting, but he said it was urgent. I told him I’d pencil him in before your first appointment, but I’d have to call back to confirm.”

“That’s good, Pat.” Dan nodded. “Tell him to come on over as soon as he can get here, please.” Dan leaned forward and pushed the intercom button on his desk. “Jim, would you step in for a minute?”

Pat continued. “You’ve also got the planning commission this afternoon-the rezoning of the Beasley agricultural section, remember? That’s at three.”

“Jim’s gonna be a busy man.” Dan stood behind his desk and stretched, then removed his coat and hung it on the coat rack in the corner just as Jim arrived.

“Jim, Sheriff Sanchez needs to see me this morning, so would you please handle staff meeting? And this afternoon I’ve got a funeral to attend, so I’ll need you to sit in on the planning commission meeting at three. Pat has the particulars.”

Jim nodded. “That’s fine. Is it that guard officer?”

“Yes,” Dan replied. “McFarland. Most of the Cal Guard will turn out.”

“A real shame,” Jim said, shaking his head.

Dan paused for a moment, thinking once again about his wife’s death and his reluctance to attend another funeral-any funeral. “Okay,” Dan said, clapping his hands together to break the moment. “Let’s get this show on the road.”

Dan flipped through his daily planner for several minutes after Pat left, pausing to reflect on the entry for Lieutenant McFarland’s funeral in the afternoon. A disturbing vision of the young officer’s distorted face flitted across his memory. The quiet rap on his doorjamb broke his reverie, and he looked up to see Tony Sanchez standing in the doorway.

“C’mon in, Tony. Cup of coffee or a glass of juice?”

“Just had one, thanks. Mind if I. .?” he said, making a gesture to close the door.

“By all means,” Dan nodded, coming out from behind his desk to sit on the sofa on the windowless side of his office.

“I just wanted to keep this information between the two of us.”

“Of course. Got something on McFarland’s murder?”

“Several things have turned up, actually. First, the tire tracks. The treads fit the profile of original equipment on Ford trucks.”

Dan laughed. “Well, Tony, that narrows it down to, what-a half-million vehicles?”

Tony grinned. “Something like that, but don’t forget, police work is long, tedious, and usually mundane, but each data point narrows the possible permutations.”

“I know, Tony. I’m sorry. Please, what else?”

“Well, the lab has analyzed the vomit found on the scene.”

“The what?”

“One of the people at the scene puked his. . or her. . guts out.”

“I’d be terrified if I were facing a lynching, wouldn’t you?”

Sheriff Sanchez nodded. “I’m sure I would’ve, but it’s not McFarland’s.”

“And that means?”

“It means that someone else at the scene wasn’t used to seeing such violence. He lost his ham and egg sandwich when he vomited in the dirt.”

Dan nodded. “That makes sense. So, we have a half-million trucks, and one terrified person.”

“This will go a lot smoother if you’ll just listen for a minute.”

Dan smiled. “Sorry. What else?”

“The autopsy showed that McFarland had been brutally assaulted-tortured, actually-prior to his hanging. Every finger was broken, and he had construction-type staples in his knees and elbows.”

Dan winced. “Good grief, his death might well have been a relief.”

“I’ll grant you that,” Sanchez replied. “Deputy Collins, on the other hand, died instantly. He took a military-style.45 caliber slug through the head at extremely close range, judging from the powder burns on his forehead. Fortunately, we recovered the bullet where it had impacted the bridge after exiting Collin’s head, and it appears that Collins got two shots off before he was killed.”

“Was there any other blood at the scene? Perhaps from someone Collins shot?”

“No.” Sanchez pulled a plastic sandwich wrap from his carrying case and held it up for Dan to see. “Do you recognize this?”

Dan looked closely at what appeared to be a slender piece of metal, about two inches long.

“It’s a. . a sliver of something?”

“Look closer, but don’t take it out,” he warned.

Dan took the plastic wrapper and held it up to the light, his eyes focusing on the object. Suddenly his eyes grew larger.

“You recognize it, don’t you?”

Dan looked at Tony, then back again at the object. “There aren’t as many of these as there are Ford pickups, but it’s still circumstantial.”

“True, but it narrows it down, doesn’t it? In fact, two of my deputies regularly play pool with Kenny, and he constantly has this-or a similar-silver toothpick hanging from his lips. He drops it in his shirt pocket when he really concentrates, but it’s as much a part of your brother-in-law’s clothing as that sweat-stained ‘A’s’ baseball cap he always wears backwards.”

“Lab tests?” Dan asked.

Tony shook his head. “Can’t match it to the vomit. Not enough saliva remaining on it. Technicians said the ants and insects probably had a go at it. I’m afraid we didn’t spot it until the following day when we did a thorough ground-eye search.”

“Still,” Dan added, “if Kenny doesn’t have his toothpick anymore, then. .”

“Exactly. That’s one reason I came to see you this morning.”

“Why would he be involved?”

“The FBI is convinced this was a militia job. Kenny’s been identified-in fact, he’s been bragging about being part of the Shasta Brigade.”

“He’s never said anything to me,” Dan said. “But we haven’t really talked much more than to say hello-at least since Susan’s death. We never really hit it off, even after I married his sister. I see him occasionally at church, but he only attends when he’s visiting them.”

“Could you see if you could, uh, find out about this?” Tony asked, holding up the bag and then replacing it in his case.

Dan stood up and took a deep breath, then walked toward the window. “Where’s this all gonna go, Tony? If they did this. . if Kenny did this. . how far will these people go?”

“If the brigade is responsible for these killings, apparently they’ll go as far as they need to go. One more thing, Dan. This may be confidential, and maybe you can’t answer, but was McFarland on assignment for the Army? Working with you, perhaps?”

Dan turned immediately to face Sheriff Sanchez and nodded. “I can’t fill in the details until I see General Del Valle, but McFarland was undercover, on an assignment that had something to do with the brigade. In case you don’t know, some of your deputies are also in the brigade. But that’s all I can share with you, Tony. I’m sorry.”

Sanchez stood, picking up his case and stepping toward the door.

“That’s enough. . for now, Dan. And yes, I know I have a few deputies in the brigade. Thanks for your help. If Kenny was involved, I’m truly sorry. His parents have already been through enough for one lifetime, losing their daughter and all.”

“That they have. I’ll find out how much of the brigade information I can discuss with you, Tony. And I’ll let you know if I can contact Kenny. He lives up near Redding in a small trailer near Shasta Lake, but he comes back to Woodland often enough.”

“Fair enough. You going to the funeral this afternoon?”

“Yeah. Most of the guard will turn out. The general wants a full military honors funeral.”

“From what I could see, the kid deserved it. The department will bury Collins with full honors tomorrow over at Knight’s Landing. It’s been a lousy week!”

“That’s the shame of it, Tony. In any war, here or on a beachhead-even in law enforcement-it’s mostly the young ones who pay.”

The sheriff snorted. “Look in the mirror-we are the young ones. I’ll see you at the funeral,” he said, departing and waving to Pat as he left.

Dan moved back to the window and felt, rather than saw, Pat come up behind him.

“Dan, Mr. Franchi and Mr. Alverez are here to see you.”

Dan held silent for a moment and took another deep breath, exhaling slowly. He thought of the day he had interviewed McFarland for an undercover assignment and how confident the young officer had been. McFarland had even said how proud his wife would be. He had become momentarily deflated when Dan explained that he couldn’t tell her.

Finally, he turned to face Pat.

“Thanks, Pat. Show them in, please.”

The Yolo Rice Co-op was Yolo County’s largest rice dealership and had contracts with most of the growers for their harvest. More than sixty percent of Yolo rice ended up in Korea. The primary stockholder in the co-op was the Franklin Group. They owned the trucks, the rice that was hauled to the Port of Sacramento, and the ships on which it was transported to Asia.

Situated in the heart of an agricultural county, Woodland’s Chamber of Commerce boasted that anything that grew anywhere in the world could be grown in Yolo County. Primary crops were rice, tomatoes, almonds, walnuts, sorghum, and saffron. Promoting international commerce had become a major part of Dan’s job as county administrator.

Since the early fifties, when smaller farms found it difficult to make a go of it, only the larger holdings or corporate conglomerates had succeeded in showing a profit. To complicate matters, weekenders from the San Francisco Bay area had discovered Rumsey Valley, and since it was only a two-hour drive from the city, buyers had begun to snatch up small plots for recreation homes. For some years, the Yolo County Board of Supervisors had been limiting subdivisions to a minimum of twenty-acre plots, which temporarily delayed the influx of recreationally minded people. The pressure was now on to loosen that zoning requirement to allow for two-and-a-half acre mini-lots. So far, the planning commission had been able to resist additional development by warning that the installation of multiple septic systems in close proximity would contaminate the local aquifer. The legal and financial pressures were on for development, but the older families who had descended from the valley’s original settlers, like Dan’s grandfather-Jack Rumsey-were resisting the change.

As the two men entered Dan’s office, Pat closed the door, and Dan stepped to greet them.

“Good morning, Dan. Good to see you again.”

“And you, Ted,” Dan responded to Franchi.

“I’d like to introduce Hank Alverez. Hank is with the MexiCal Labor Services.”

Dan shook hands with Alverez and motioned for both to take a seat. Dan sat on the couch opposite them. “So, Ted, how’s the crop look this year?”

“Up about eight percent. It’s going to be a bumper harvest. That’s part of the reason for our visit. We’re going to need additional labor for harvest and transport, and Hank has contracted with us to provide temporary workers.”

“I see. Where will these workers come from, Mr. Alverez?” Dan asked.

“Throughout the state, Senor Rawlings. We will obtain our field laborers from other commercial concerns, where they are already employed.”

Documented workers, Mr. Alverez?”

“Oh, si, Senor.”

Dan reclaimed some notes from the credenza behind his desk, then returned to his seat. “Ted, I had a visit last week from the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services, asking for our cooperation in locating farms where illegal immigrants are working.”

“I see,” Ted replied. “What’s immigration worried about in Yolo?”

“Same as everywhere. Illegal workers being preyed upon and jobs lost to local laborers. Will these additional workers be employed by the co-op?”

Franchi hesitated momentarily, glancing at Alverez. “No. As with most temporary workers, including those clerks you use here in the county building, they’ll work for a temporary agency. That’s where Hank comes in. MexiCal Labor Services will employ the workers and assign them out to us for the duration of the harvest.”

Great dodge, Dan thought. No taxes, no benefits-and deportation for anyone who complains. “I see. How can we help?”

“Housing. We’d like to contract with the county to house some of these workers in the facilities at the county fairgrounds. We’ll provide the bedding, but we’ll need the toilets and showers activated and electricity to the buildings turned on, including the kitchen facilities.”

“I see. As I recall, you’ve arranged this before, haven’t you, Ted? Before my time?”

“Yes, we have. Supervisor Hernandez put forth the first proposal about eight years ago, and since then, whenever we’ve needed to bring in a larger group of workers, the temporary housing has been provided at the fairgrounds.”

“Fine,” Dan said, standing. “I’ll add the proposal to the next agenda packet. Mr. Alverez, it’s been a pleasure meeting you. Please come again.”

The two men rose, and Ted offered his hand. “Thanks, Dan. Coming to Rotary today?”

Dan laughed. “We’ll have near perfect attendance. Everybody wants to see Senator Turner’s dog and pony show.”

“He makes a lot of sense, as proven by the election results. Californians are fed up with all the garbage rules and regulations coming out of Washington.”

“Could be, but killing a couple of federal judges who disagree with you seems a rather harsh approach, wouldn’t you say?”

“Turner didn’t kill anybody.”

“Really? His rhetoric goaded those who did, and they don’t need much goading, especially from a United States senator, to make them feel in the right. You know, my grandmother used to warn against throwing the baby out with the bath water. We still get some benefit from being part of this nation. Besides, the last time a state tried this, it brought on a devastating war.”

“Granted, we don’t want a war, but Washington saddles us with a lot of regulations and expensive welfare requirements for which we don’t get any federal money. I like Turner’s thinking, and so do millions of Californians.”

“I can’t argue with that,” Dan said, seeing them to the door and following them out into the foyer. “Thanks for coming.”

After Dan’s visitors entered the elevator, he stopped in Jim’s office and closed the door. As Dan took a seat on the couch, Jim looked up from the staff classification project he was working on and smiled.

“Days like this, do you wish you were a financially secure author?”

“I suppose I’d trade places with John Grisham-and he was once a humble lawyer, too,” Dan replied. “I don’t know, Jim. It seems we’re caught in the middle here.”

“How so?”

“Well, I just met with the rice co-op about housing for migrant workers. The Feds want California to crack down on illegals, but the farms in the county need the labor.”

Jim smiled again, leaning back in his chair and placing both hands behind his head. “That’s why they pay you the big bucks, and I get to do the staffing paperwork,” he drawled, nodding toward the stack of papers on his desk.

Taking a big breath and exhaling forcefully, Dan leaned back, resting his head on the couch. “Time was, as my grandfather says, when the braceros came up from Mexico legally, worked the fields through the harvest season, and earned enough money to last them through the winter. All that came to a halt years ago when many of them stopped going back to Mexico and became illegals. Now, we deny them the legal right to work, but at the same time covertly foster their illegal work to raise profit margins. Then we require our government agencies and schools to provide all health, welfare, and education services that they need, whether they’re here legally or not. It’s a lousy system, and it needs to be fixed.”

Jim stood and tucked in his shirttail. “Tell you what, Daniel. Let’s go see what Turner’s solutions are. Maybe he knows a way to make all these problems disappear,” he said, grinning. “He’s still drumming up support to overturn the court injunction against the governor proceeding with the secession.”

Dan also stood. “You know, only last week I was writing about one of my characters who lived in Utah during its pursuit for statehood. Originally, they thought they would be an independent nation, or state, calling themselves Deseret. That changed when the U.S. finally offered statehood.” Dan grew more serious. “Jim, what do you make of Turner’s platform about this secession? Posture or substance?”

“Posture, initially-at least before the primary elections. But, once the results were in, it took everyone by surprise. And then in November, it turned into a tidal wave. What was initially just a groundswell has practically become a mandate. Courts or no courts, we’re going to have to contend with it, and it’s going to hit the County Board sooner or later. The city council already addressed it last week. They voted to instruct the city manager to prepare Woodland for a transition to an independent republic. They’re already fighting amongst themselves for the revenues they expect to flow from Sacramento.”

“Yeah, I read their minutes. They’re a bit premature. . I hope.”

Jim’s eyes narrowed, and his facial expression became sinister. “Politicians, Daniel, my boy. Politicians. They will be dead set for-or against-as soon as the polls are in. Situational Ethics 101. Didn’t they learn you nothin’ at Stanford?”

“Cynical, Mr. Thompson. Very cynical,” Rawlings said. “Well, let’s get over to Rotary in time to get a good seat where we can hear from the leader of ‘Turner’s Rebellion.’ That’s what they’re calling this in the press, in case you Wyoming boys can’t read. I’m beginning to feel like a colonist heading for a Thomas Paine lecture.”

Chapter 5

Woodland, California

The Woodland Rotary Club meeting was packed, the number in attendance bolstered by the many guests brought by members to hear Senator Turner. Ever since the state superior court had overturned the election results, preventing the governor from proceeding with the secession, Turner had stumped his way through California, voicing his support for an appeal to the California Supreme Court. While publicly decrying the murder of two of the three superior court judges who had issued the ruling, Turner nevertheless made certain his audiences knew that he thought the justices had been wrong. The California Supreme Court would rectify that, he always added.

Having been previously alerted by the senator’s staff, reporters from the Sacramento Bee, Woodland Democrat, and Davis Enterprise newspapers, as well as a film crew from the Sacramento CBS Television affiliate, Channel 13, were on hand to report on Senator Turner’s comments. His original call for secession had shocked even his staunchest supporters, and press pundits had initially dismissed it as a trial balloon in response to his younger, more energetic opponent. But now, having retained his senatorial seat in the November, 2010 elections, and with two successful statewide votes for secession behind him, that had all changed-dramatically.

Every speech given by the senator over the past month had been covered by the local and national press-as seen to by the senator’s public relations staff. Even two foreign journalists had taken to following the senator in an attempt to ascertain the basic reasons behind his call for secession-something Senator Turner had never even alluded to in his previous twenty-four years in office, including his three terms in the House of Representatives. His most recent campaign, however, as radical a departure as it had been, had been viewed as just that-a campaign. “Full of bluster and bravado,” as someone had said. Yet, now he had been elected for another six years and was still calling for the formation of an independent Republic of California and publicly castigating the courts that had declared its establishment unconstitutional.

Most longtime political analysts were surprised that the movement had gained this much momentum. But the Sunday morning national news talk shows were treating it as a bona fide issue, though there remained a great division of opinion on the topic among politicians and pundits. Evidence of the strength of the notion that a state might legitimately secede from the Union was found in the number of other western states that were debating the issue, some state officials calling for a referendum in their own upcoming elections, just as John Henry Franklin had told Turner to expect. And the Mexican government’s support of the idea, giving it an international flair, added fuel to the fire.

The room was abuzz with conversation. Dan Rawlings nodded to several members of the county board of supervisors as he entered and shook hands with Woodland’s mayor, who was accompanied by the city manager.

“Looks like big times in the old town today, eh, Mayor?” Dan said.

“Maybe bigger than we wanted. Is the board going to come out in favor?”

“It’s too early to tell, but like the council, the supervisors need to sort out the impact on Yolo County. What seemed a farfetched idea has turned into the most serious question our locally elected officials have ever faced.”

Addressing City Manager Roger Dahlgren, Dan asked, “Roger, how do you see it? Flash in the pan, posturing-or what?”

Dahlgren frowned. “Dan, I’m surprised you don’t realize how serious this is. The Senator is the spokesman for a majority percentage of Californians. We’re fed up with it. We’ve already told Washington, in two statewide elections, that they can go bark up a tree, for all we care. We don’t need ’em, and for certain we won’t put up with their oppressive regulations, federal mandates, and bureaucratic ineptitude anymore.”

As soon as Dahlgren began his harangue, the mayor quietly slipped away and began speaking with another group of guests.

“Rog, you’re far too uptight about all of this. It’s politics,” Dan cautioned.

Dahlgren shook his head. “Look, the senator brought this important issue into focus. If Governor Dewhirst or the courts don’t recognize our rights in this matter, and I mean soon, you’re going to see this thing mushroom beyond belief. A new republic is the answer, and the people will be heard, either in the ballot box or from the bullet box-whatever it takes. I believe it was Thomas Jefferson who said ‘If a man hasn’t found something for which he is willing to die, then he’s not fit to live.’”

“Uh, actually, that was Martin Luther King, Jr.,” Dan said, straight-faced.

Dahlgren screwed up his face and gave Dan a disgusted look. Dan exchanged quick glances with Jim Thompson, who smiled just slightly, raising his eyebrow in question.

“You’re kidding, right?” Dan asked, looking back at the city manager. “You’d go to war over this family squabble?”

Squabble? Was Fort Sumter a squabble? Did the South see it as a family feud? Jefferson or King, it doesn’t matter who said it. There are things worth fighting for-in fact, worth dying for.” Dahlgren shook his head even more vigorously.

Dan couldn’t believe it. Secede from the Union? Just send in your postal change of address notice and move on? And to equate this with the Civil War. What is he thinking? Irritated and struggling to keep his cool, Dan leaned into Roger, his body language somewhat threatening.

“And worth killing for?” he asked.

“Unlike some of the more patriotic members of your family, I don’t think you appreciate the gravity of the situation. When it all shakes out, you don’t want to be left. . hanging around. Considering how long your family’s been in this valley, I thought certain you’d be a patriotic Californian.”

Dan bristled at the obvious reference to the recent hanging, to say nothing of the inference that his views on secession impugned his patriotism, but he stifled the sharp response that instantly came to mind. “Well, Rog, it’s-”

The room was gaveled to order as the chairman called all to seats. Roger Dahlgren walked over toward a group of younger men standing in the corner. Following a prayer, lunch commenced.

Buttering a roll, Dan shook his head, leaning toward his deputy, his voice muted. “Jim, what was that all about?”

“Rumor is, Dahlgren’s now a captain in the Shasta Brigade. Those paramilitary boys find this secession mania right up their alley.”

“Well, if his council members don’t support the movement, he’ll find himself working on his resume,” Dan said. “And what did you make of his ‘hanging’ comment?”

“I’d take it as a warning. A very real warning.”

Dan thought for a moment about what Sheriff Sanchez had said earlier in his office. “You could be right, but, man, I hope not, and not-for just my own sake.”

Jim asked the man across the table for the salt, then leaned over to whisper in Dan’s ear.

“It’s quickly becoming a true rebellion.”

Dan shook his head in disbelief and began to eat, thinking about Jim’s comment and Roger Dahlgren’s implied threat. For the next twenty minutes he bantered with the Bank of America branch manager, feigning concern about the rising interest rates and the price of oil.

At 12:45, the program chairman once again brought the room to order and waited for conversation and the clanking of dinnerware to die down before he spoke.

“Members and invited guests, it is my distinct pleasure to open today’s forum and to welcome our distinguished guest. For eighteen years, Senator Malcolm Turner has served as California’s voice in the United States Senate. For six years before that, he served us well as a representative in the House. Many explosive issues have come and gone during his congressional tenure. Senator Turner has taken a stance on each, relative to his understanding of where Californians stood. But perhaps, in this latest movement, Senator Turner faces his greatest challenge. Indeed, perhaps all California faces its greatest test. Let’s hear what he has to say. Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to introduce to you the man who may well be the first president-or perhaps even prime minister-of the Republic of California, Senator Malcolm Turner.”

A few of the Rotarians and their guests immediately stood in applause. Others, some less enthusiastically, joined them in standing as Turner rose from his seat at the head table and stepped to the podium. He took his place behind the lectern, confident, smiling warmly, acknowledging old friends in the room and nodding to new faces. Malcolm Turner looked very much the part of a U.S. senator. His artificially dark hair was immaculately coiffed. He wore a dark-blue suit, starched white shirt, and a bold, California bear flag tie. Smiling, he accepted their welcome, then raised his manicured hands to quell the generous applause.

As the audience took their seats, the senator looked around the crowded room. Attendance was up by a third, given the multitude of guests and media representatives. Nearly a hundred people were jammed into tight quarters. With the tables filled, some had taken their lunch on their laps and were seated on chairs lining the walls.

After the room quieted, Turner stood silent for a moment, allowing the tension to build slightly. Here in Woodland-in the heart of an agricultural county burdened by myriad federal regulations-he knew he had a sympathetic audience.

“Mr. Mayor, members of the Yolo County Board of Supervisors, Woodland City Council members, Rotarians, and honored guests: In 1958, during Eisenhower’s presidency, my father brought me to Woodland to the Yolo County Fair. I was home from college for the summer, and Dad wanted me to see some of the exhibits, as well as to participate in the business discussions he had scheduled with local farmers. It was my first introduction into the business end of farming, outside of the countless hours I had spent in our fields near Modesto. There may well be some of you in the room today who recall the glory days of the California farmer. And most of you will also recall eighteen months ago, when I first proposed consideration of California becoming a sovereign nation. To me, it seems like only yesterday. .”

Chapter 6

Sea Ranch

Ninety-five miles north of San Francisco, California

January, 2010

It was election year, and Senator Malcolm Turner had put out the call for campaign contributions as he began his run for a fourth term in the U.S. Senate. The invitation to meet with John Henry Franklin at his palatial estate three hours’ drive north of San Francisco had been a welcome surprise. Their meeting changed Turner’s campaign rhetoric from politics-as-usual hyperbole to a more deadly indictment of federal intervention into state’s rights. Franklin’s retreat, called Sea Ranch Estate, sprawled over an area of about twelve miles, north to south, and running east from the coast nearly nine miles, well into the coastal mountain range. With its proximity to the route followed by California gray whales heading north to Alaska from Baja, the northern California coastline was a favorite gathering place for whale watchers, Greenpeace supporters, rabid environmentalists, and assorted tourists. Providing public access to the beaches across his land and a healthy contribution to ocean environmentalist causes was a concession Franklin made to placate those who might otherwise resent the size of his holdings. Access to the developed area of Franklin’s retreat and to his elaborate estate, however, was electronically restricted.

Launching his campaign for reelection, Senator Turner had put out the word, and the usual corporate sponsors had responded. But in his three previous senatorial election campaigns, he had not been contacted by John Henry Franklin, nor, to his knowledge, had he received any contributions from the Franklin Foundation. So, this unexpected invitation to Sea Ranch was as intriguing as the messenger was beautiful and alluring. Delivered at that time and in that manner made it an invitation Turner could hardly decline.

Amelia Erickson, Franklin’s personal assistant and the woman who had visited the Senator’s office to extend the invitation, came out of the mansion as Turner’s limousine came to a stop.

She extended her hand. “Senator Turner, how kind of you to come.”

“Thank you, Ms. Erickson,” Turner replied, flashing his warmest campaign smile.

She linked her arm in his and turned toward the monstrous stone house. “Let me introduce you to the other guests.”

Three men stood near the veranda railing where they had been watching the sunset gather over the ocean. As Amelia and Turner approached, the younger of the men stepped forward to greet him.

“Welcome, Senator Turner. Please, join us.”

Turner recognized him as Paul Spackman, the evening news anchor for CBS Television’s San Francisco affiliate. He didn’t recognize the other two men, both Hispanic. Spackman made the introductions.

“General Emiliano Estaban Valdez, deputy chief of staff of the Mexican Armed Forces, and General Rodrigo Cordoba, retired. General Cordoba now serves as the Chief of Federal Police in Mexico.”

Turner shook hands then accepted a drink brought to him by a uniformed servant. “Gentlemen.” He raised his glass. “To your health.”

Gracias, Senor. It is an honor to meet you, Senator,” General Valdez replied.

“The pleasure is mine, General.”

“I’ve just spoken with Mr. Franklin,” Amelia said, once introductions had been accomplished. “His helicopter is about ten minutes out. Please, make yourselves comfortable, and I’ll alert the staff to prepare for his arrival.”

The massive stone fireplace was fully ablaze, and the liquor sideboard in use as John Henry Franklin entered the room. Muscular, about five-feet-ten, Franklin exuded power as much from his physical presence as from his well-earned reputation for being able to resuscitate a business deal others had written off as moribund. While his outward presentation was always pleasant and courteous, Franklin had found it useful to carefully cultivate a questionable business reputation that his friends and enemies had come to call “Frankevelian.”

Though he never had been formally charged, a feeling prevailed that those who stood in the way of his interests frequently met with misfortune. On the other hand, his business interests seemed always to be blessed by the fortunate oversight of Providence.

Over the years, Franklin had acquired controlling interests in many companies, but it wasn’t until he cornered the market in communications-specifically cable TV and telecommunications systems-that he really became a major player, elevating himself to a position of near absolute power. By linking home shopping networks and cable television systems, he had gained direct-dial accessibility to millions of homes across the nation. Through these, he had garnered credit card information, personal data, and by means of extensive surveys, a sophisticated demographic data base that he used to market to a wide assortment of family needs-and in fact, to create those needs.

His most ambitious endeavor had been launched several years earlier. He had convinced election officials in the state of Missouri-a persuasive effort among four key politicians that had cost over six million and the life of a young attorney general who opposed the measure-to test a new voting procedure that allowed voters to cast their ballots by telephone from the comfort of their homes. As the program moved to California, he even sided with environmentalists who sought to eliminate the “paper trail” that had been required of election stations. Dual electronic copies of each vote were ostensibly maintained off-site as a back-up.

Used at first merely for generating public opinion data, the concept had attracted attention from those who wished to promote greater voter participation. It seemed a natural extension of available technology, and, like many revolutionary ideas, was so obviously beneficial to everyone that it was a wonder it hadn’t been implemented sooner.

As an ambitious and progressive businessman, John Henry had envisioned a grander use of his system-a use that would serve his other aims. The technology could be applied to secretly manipulate polling results. He could see how such an ability could be put to a myriad of uses, all to the benefit of himself and selected clients.

The final piece fell into place when several of Franklin’s subsidiary companies acquired a majority interest in three of the foremost nationally recognized polling companies. Once election results could be shown to match polling predictions-both of which he planned to manipulate-he felt confident he would be able to manufacture the political results that would best serve his interests. The actual scope of his newfound power was unlimited, and his ambition had grown accordingly.

“Welcome, gentlemen,” Franklin offered warmly. “General Valdez, how good to see you again. How are you today, my old friend?”

Bueno, John Henry. And you?”

“Couldn’t be better.” Moving to Turner, Franklin grasped his hand firmly. “Senator, it is a great honor to meet you, sir. Thank you for responding to our invitation. You’ve been introduced to my other guests?”

“I have, indeed. I’m pleased to make their acquaintance, Mr. Franklin, and yours.”

“Good. Very good. But, please, my close associates call me John Henry, and I’m hoping you will consider yourself a close friend from this moment on. “And how are you, Paul?” he asked, turning to Spackman. “Who’s reporting the news in the Bay Area tonight?”

“Thought we’d give the new gal, Sandy, a ‘look in.’”

“Better watch her, Paul. She’s nearly as good-looking as you,” Franklin winked. “She’ll get her foot in the door, and you’ll be doing the weekend weather in Eureka.” Everyone laughed appropriately.

“And Chief Cordoba-Rigo, my dear friend, who’s guarding your northern borders tonight?”

“We left them open, just so the appropriate quota of illegals could slip across,” he laughed.

Stealing a quick look at Valdez, Franklin responded to Cordoba’s humor. “Excellent. Just excellent. Well, I see we’re all in fine fettle. And Amelia has taken care of you, Malcolm?”

“If my own staff could only do so well.”

“Well, then. Let’s get down to business,” John Henry said, gesturing for his guests to be seated. “I’ll come straight to the point, Malcolm. Paul, here, tells me that your main opponent this next election has some hot issues on his plate and plenty of financing to fund his campaign. How’s it look to you?”

Franklin seemed to sense that with the right approach-in this case, unlimited campaign financing-the politician in Turner would rise to the surface.

“He’s young, inexperienced, and full of visionary utopia. But,” Turner said, shaking his head, “likely to clean my clock unless I can match, or hopefully exceed, his resources. He’s got quite a war chest, plenty of time to gather more, and an army of young acolytes to spread the word.”

“Malcolm, I’m sure you know that I’ve refrained from getting involved in your previous campaigns. In fact, I’ve generally made it a policy to stay altogether clear of political campaign financing. But don’t let that convince you that I haven’t been in support of what you’ve done for California, and for that matter, the nation. I’ve watched your chairmanship of the senate finance committee with great interest.”

Franklin stood and moved to take a cigar from the humidor on the mantle, then bit off the end, spat it into the fire, and removed a burning stick from the fireplace to light the hand-rolled stogie.

“You were raised in California, weren’t you, Malcolm, and you’re familiar with our Spanish history and Mexican heritage?”

“It’s always been my view that Californians and Mexicans are ‘cousins,’ so to speak. Talking over the backyard fence is something neighbors and relatives do.”

“Exactly!” Franklin said, jabbing the air with his cigar. “I thought you’d see it that way. I’m going to speak boldly, Malcolm, because I know you to be a man of action. You know, of course, from your understanding of your constituency, that western Americans have become increasingly fed up with federally required mandates, lack of funding, and the myriad rules and regulations that tie the hands of the state legislatures. Even the drastic shift to Republican control of Congress back in ’94, and again in 2000, did little to stem the tide of federalism-or the power struggle, for that matter. I know you’ve ruffled some feathers in your own Democratic Party by your support of states’ rights issues. ‘Federal intervention should be the last resort’ is the way you’ve recently put it, if I’m not incorrect.”

Turner’s eyebrows raised slightly. “It seems you have followed my career, John Henry.”

“Certainly have. With pleasure, I might add. I’ve always taken an interest in staying informed about those who support important issues. But let me get back to the point. Are you familiar with the fact that back in 1992, a California assemblyman from Redding proposed dividing California into two separate states?”

“I believe my staff did brief me on that.”

“Good, but are you also aware that since statehood in 1850, similar proposals have been made thirteen times?”

Turner rattled the ice cubes in his glass, glancing at the other men in the room. “No, I wasn’t aware of that.”

“I see,” Franklin continued. “Back when California became a state, the entire southern half of the territory refused to be part of the statehood movement, citing that the north was economically and culturally advantaged over the south-which at that time was mostly comprised of Mexican ranchers. Against its will, the southern part of the territory was included, and California became a very large state.”

“I guess I was absent from school that day, too,” Turner said, his voice taking on a slight edge.

“I beg your indulgence here, Senator,” Franklin said, again pointing with his cigar. “I don’t presume to teach history, but from those previous attempts and the more recent movement, we can gain an understanding of how Californians feel. In the primaries of ’92, twenty-seven of thirty-one northern counties voted yes to forming a fifty-first state. And now that the immigration issue has become so intense. . well, you understand the nature of that problem, I’m sure.”

“I do recall the ’92 vote. It was an important issue, but numerically, the north is-”

“I know,” Franklin interrupted, “they don’t have the numbers.” He paused again and glanced at Spackman.

“Let’s look at this from an economic perspective, Senator. California is possessed of more natural resources than many of the third world’s sovereign nations. And our production capability staggers the imagination-lacking, perhaps, only the cheap labor force available in other parts of the world. We could correct that by assuring better relations with Mexico. And don’t forget the creative power of Silicon Valley-it’s the envy of the world. Ah, but if we could bring those resources together. Think of the possibilities if our wealth of resources could somehow be paired with controlled labor costs, and the two were linked to the finest air, sea, and land transportation system in the world. It would be an unbeatable combination. The trouble is, Malcolm, California is bankrupt, not from internal economic policies, but from federal political decisions. Our own state politicians haven’t helped. We try to give everything to everyone, and someone has to pay the bill. California has come to the end of that road, Senator. We can’t tolerate it anymore. But the state, the people, deserve more, don’t you think. Senator?”

“California’s like a fine wine, John Henry, well aged and finely presented,” Turner said, laughing. “Under the right leadership and vision, California should be a leader in the world, not a financially inept, struggling state. I have to admit, the federal government has brought us to our knees, financially speaking.”

Jabbing his cigar at Turner, Franklin continued: “Economics is the key. Military might is nothing anymore, except to keep the third world dictators in line. Financial control, Senator-that’s the real world power. With no disrespect to our Mexican guests, Mexico’s national economics have been in shambles for decades and American trade policies have had a lot to do with that. As Chairman of the senate finance committee, I’m sure you understand what I mean.”

“Indeed I do. You’re speaking my language now.”

Franklin paused to puff his cigar and move to the bar to freshen his drink, allowing Turner some time to recoup his thoughts and assimilate the philosophy Franklin had been expounding. Returning to the fireplace, Franklin studied Turner for a few seconds, taking his measure and determining if he was ready for the coup de grace.

“Senator Turner, the Franklin Foundation is prepared to underwrite your campaign-a blank check, in the usual circuitous way, naturally. This support will in no way tie your hands. You’re free to establish your own platform. We have but one point we wish you to vigorously support throughout the election.”

Turner hesitated for a moment, glancing again at the other men in the room, his political antennae vibrating. “John Henry, how may I be of service?”

Franklin smiled and took a long puff of his cigar, then exhaled a cloud of smoke toward the ceiling. “Malcolm,” he began, moving closer, “it’s time for California to reach for her destiny. I’m not just talking about splitting into two or three states-I’m talking about a new nation. It’s time for California to take her place among the nations of the world. It’s time for California to become an independent republic.”

Turner had always been good at affecting a poker face that masked his true feelings, but Franklin’s message had left the senator stunned, and he knew Franklin saw it.

“Malcolm. .” Franklin said quietly, but forcefully, moving to stand inches from Turner’s face. “. . we need you in this.” He paused as the clarion call echoed in Turner’s mind. After a few moments, Franklin said, “Your voice is well respected. And in the end, should Washington see their way clear to recognize the message we’re delivering, perhaps we can yet come to some accord. Maybe by rattling their cage, we can get their attention, and yet remain a member state in this grand Union, and still achieve our objectives. That will remain to be seen. In any event, General Valdez assures me that Mexico is ready to recognize our new nation and to support us as we work through the transition. But to get Washington’s attention, we need you to stand for California, Malcolm. Throughout this next campaign, we need you to rattle that rusty, old cage.”

Shortly before midnight, on his helicopter flight back to San Francisco, with the twinkling lights of the city on the horizon, thoughts of the evening’s discussion had swirled around in Malcolm Turner’s head. A refusal to cooperate with Franklin meant more than no campaign funds-in fact, it could well mean additional funding-unlimited funding-to the smart, young whippersnapper who was trying to unseat him. He leaned his head back against the leather headrest and closed his eyes, the drone of the helicopter’s engine relaxing him.

Secession! A new nation! Incredible!

More than one meeting had taken place at Franklin’s Sea Ranch estate after that eventful evening over a year previous. After Senator Turner left, Spackman, Cordoba, and Valdez made their excuses one by one and departed. Franklin was then joined in the library by Amelia and a tall, erect man in his early forties. Franklin greeted him with a broad smile.

“My dear Mr. Wolff. How good to see you again, Jean.”

“And you, John Henry.”

“So, what did you think of our little meeting?”

At just under six feet, lean and wiry, Jean Francois Wolff was of French and Algerian extraction. He possessed dark hair, an olive-skinned complexion, and deep brown eyes. Wolff had learned early in life that those eyes, along with a soft, understanding demeanor, made him irresistibly attractive to women. But it was an entirely different set of physical attributes-specifically a thin, colorless scar that ran from his left ear diagonally across his cheek nearly to his chin, and a piercing, unblinking stare-that gave him immediate psychological command over most men.

Following a largely unpublicized but impressive career in the service of third world leaders, Wolff had, for the past six years, surreptitiously been in Franklin’s employ. Experienced as a contract-for-hire agent for the American CIA, as well as the French Surrete, Wolff had found his assignments from Franklin personally satisfying as well as financially rewarding. Two of Franklin’s European competitors had found Wolff’s employment less rewarding, dying early in unfortunate circumstances and leaving their empires to less capable heirs, from whom Franklin had subsequently purchased controlling interests.

For the first four years of his association with Franklin, Wolff worked as a freelance soldier-of-fortune, checking his European postal drop and his bank account routinely, and responding from a distance to Franklin’s infrequent requests. Two years before, Franklin had brought Wolff closer to the center of action, naming him head of the intelligence division of the Franklin Group.

Wolff’s preferred method of operation was to work through other organizations, learning their objectives and feigning alliance with them. Unearthing, developing a familiarity with, and then becoming the covert source of funds for most of the militia units in California had consumed nearly a year of his time and over ten million of Franklin’s dollars.

Wolff moved across the room and took a seat near the fire. “Turner will come along, John Henry. You knew that before you invited him. Like most politicians, he probably heard only two words-blank check.”

“Yes, he’s predictable, isn’t he? He’s the first and most important step in our public airing of the plan. I’m directing you to coordinate the effective use of the remainder of our ‘friends’ and to see to their needs.”

Wolff leaned back in his chair and watched as John Henry paced the floor, refilled his drink, and moved to the French doors, stopping in the doorway leading from the room to the veranda.

“So, it all comes together now,” Wolff said.

Franklin turned and looked at Wolff silently for a moment, then returned his gaze to the horizon and the moon’s reflection off the ocean.

The Plan, as Franklin referred to his vision, had been formulated over a period of several years. Franklin had watched scores of American companies move their operations overseas, primarily to access the cheap labor available in underdeveloped nations. He himself had moved his entire computer consulting operation to India.

Through his various other holdings, Franklin had already captured a large share of the Asian market in rice, soybean, sorghum, and especially saffron, one of northern California’s largest exports, but he knew that American holdings overseas were always vulnerable to the political whims of the host nation.

In its democratic way, the United States had erected a labyrinth of restrictive labor laws and financial entitlements, even for illegal immigrants. Those entitlements, supported by excessive corporate and individual income taxes, made it impossible for American firms to compete in foreign markets. America, once the giant of the industrial world, had lost significant market share to this economic hegemony and was becoming a second-rate financial power-a trend Franklin was determined to reverse.

And, he envisioned, if he could not effect change for America as a whole, an objective even Franklin saw as beyond his initial capacity, then California was a great starting point. His vision, which he had never verbalized even to those he trusted to carry out his operations, went far beyond state lines. If California could show the way-effecting a true international marketplace, augmented by a free-flowing, cheap labor force-then other western states might reasonably be convinced to embrace the concept, and the westward expansion that had typified the growth of America would reverse itself. The movement to join the newly formed Republic of California-perhaps even the Republic of Western America-would grow, west to east, resulting eventually in a reunification of America, absent the bleeding-heart liberal laws that had hamstrung business and economic growth for so many decades.

But that was tomorrow. Today, the first step needed to be taken. Franklin turned back toward Wolff. “Are we ready?”

“We’ll do what needs to be done. The computer tech teams have already been assembled, and I’ve obtained access to the California Elections Office through the director, Kevin Phelps, who was every bit as helpful as you said he’d be.”

“Well, then, it seems we’re ready,” Franklin said.

“The elections office is under control, but are the politicians ready?” Wolff asked.

“Ah, well,” Franklin mused, “that’s another kettle of fish. The Mexicans are certainly on board and pleased with their ‘return-on-investment’ from immigration so far. As to the Malaysians and Koreans,” he paused, “only time will tell. I’ve been putting this together for a long time now, and there’s a lot riding on the outcome. If we’re to realize our dream of bringing all this together in an independent California, each of these groups has to see what’s in it for them.”

“That’s not the hard part,” Wolff said, rising to fill his glass. “The key challenge is getting the spineless politicians to stand by their word when the going gets tough. Will they have what it takes to go the distance?”

“Money, Jean,” Franklin laughed. “Money gives men a steel spine, or at least makes them think they are courageous. We’ve sweetened the pot sufficiently, and they’ve seen the potential.”

“And after you pull it off?” Wolff asked.

Franklin grasped the opportunity to preach his gospel. “Can you fathom it, Jean? The resources here, the transportation and manufacturing capabilities are unlimited. Combined with cheap labor from underdeveloped areas of the world? The potential is limitless, and we won’t have to worry about some tinhorn dictator in Camel-hump, Egypt, coming along and demanding half the profit to allow it to continue.”

“Sort of a restructuring of the Old South?”

Franklin threw a quick glare at Wolff. “That’s a poor analogy. We’re not after slavery. These imported workers will be paid a fair wage, far in excess of what they could make at home. What I am proposing is common practice in the Middle East. They import workers from Pakistan and the subcontinent to perform menial work at cheap labor costs. We can do the same thing, and everyone profits.”

Wolff changed the subject. “Well, we’re ready. What are your orders, mon capitaine?

“It’s time to get our operation in gear,” Franklin stated, putting aside his brief anger at Wolff’s “restructuring of the south” comment and regaining his enthusiasm. “Alert our erstwhile CIA friend, Grant Sully. Tell him you’ll be activating the ‘tech teams’ again and returning to the Sacramento elections office. I’ll transfer another twenty-five million into your Cayman account. And I want the Shasta Brigade put on alert. Then develop a plan to put the other militia units under a single command, as we discussed. Do you still think this Shaw fellow can handle it?”

“As you instructed, I’ve not met with him in person, but I’ve communicated instructions with each donation. I believe he can handle command of combined movement, but the other units won’t like it,” Wolff said, shaking his head. “They each have their own agenda and think they’re autonomous. Besides, Sully likes to keep them at odds so he can play them against each other.”

“I don’t care a whit what Sully likes,” Franklin said, warming to his directive role. “I’ve used these wannabe militia groups many times over the past few years and spent a lot of money on their training and equipment in the process. This is too important. I want to personally know what’s happening. Tell Shaw we’ll be very selective in our targets, both political and ‘action.’ I want them alerted, training increased, and recruitment up, especially among, shall we say, ‘expendable assets.’ Let them continue to rob a few banks to cover the real source of their financing. Be sure to maintain the individual cell organization structure for security.” Franklin smiled at Wolff. “And Sully, bless his heart, needs to see that his ability to ride two horses has come to an end. He knows he’ll never become director of the CIA. Perhaps we can entice him with the role he could play in a new California.”

Wolff raised his glass, rattling the ice cubes. “To Grant Sully-the new director of the new CIA-the California Intelligence Agency.”

“We’ll see about that. Assuming we can pull off the election coup, the key to this thing will be the U.S. military. How they respond will be critical. You can bet the farm Washington won’t take it lying down. The Army Reserve, National Guard, and even the California State Reserve units-those are the concerns we have. The militia. . well,” he paused, “we know where they stand, and this operation will suit them just fine. But we’ve got to force the federal military’s hand and make the retention of California a patriotic issue.”

“A little internal insurrection should help,” Wolff said.

“Exactly-and public reaction. That’s your baby. You handle it, but move slowly at first. I want the election results to convince the public that support is widespread. Then, when we unleash the militia to do their thing, Californians will see them as the New Englanders saw the militia-as Minutemen-patriots in the flesh. Then they’ll receive public support, at least verbally, in their fight against the Feds. And one other thing-concerning your ‘tech team’ and the elections issue, I want it done right this time. Be sure your team knows-no more foul-ups like we had in the Missouri elections.”

“Missouri was a fluke. A real computer glitch occurred, and by the time we found out, it was too late. Election results had already been announced.”

“Jean,” Franklin said, staring hard at the younger man, “I don’t care why! I’ve spent hundreds of millions establishing the credibility of the home telephone voting system, and four states have now adopted it. But California is still running parallel with the old system, and California’s the key to national acceptance. I just want to be sure this one is under control. We’ve got a lot at stake. You’ve got a lot at stake.”

“I’ll see to it, John Henry,” Wolff responded.

Franklin started to leave, but stopped, turning in the doorway.

“Did you catch Rigo’s comment about the Mexican borders earlier?”

“Nothing of concern. The general knows nothing about our border crossing operation, I can assure you.”

“See you keep it that way. He strikes me as one of those truly dangerous men, especially in Mexico-an honest politician.”

“He’s watched day and night. Nothing to worry about. Besides,” Wolff said calmly, “honest politicians in Mexico have a way of ending up dead.”

“He’s still quite useful to us. Without his relationship to General Valdez, we’d have no knowledge of the Federales’ intentions. Proceed cautiously.”

“Understood. I’ll take care of it.”

Chapter 7

Woodland Rotary Luncheon

Woodland, California

June, 2011

. . Of course, it wasn’t yesterday, was it?” Senator Turner continued. “In fact, we’ve accomplished quite a bit in the past eighteen months, working together for the benefit of Californians. And I intend to continue doing just that.”

During the nine months immediately following the private Sea Ranch meeting, Turner had followed John Henry Franklin’s directions, stumping throughout California, presenting the message of secession. At times eloquent in his denunciation of federal intervention, Turner had initially met with staunch opposition. But surprisingly, as Franklin had predicted, support for the notion had steadily grown, and pollsters had begun to document the changing mood of the people. And then, suddenly, it was over, and Turner was a fourth-term U.S. senator. And California was on her way toward sovereignty.

To his chagrin, with his reelection achieved and the California voters having overwhelmingly approved the secession issue, Turner found himself actually in love with Franklin’s original idea and proud of the part he had played in its creation. At service clubs throughout California, he continued to carry the message, as here today in the Woodland Rotary, to the ever-growing number of people who enjoyed the thrill of starting over-and took a certain satisfaction in standing up to Washington and its never-ending bureaucratic rat race.

For over twenty minutes, Senator Turner continued to preach the message he had honed under John Henry Franklin’s subtle tutoring, castigating the federal court system for not listening to the voice of the people, but softening his radical rhetoric with a generous application of his own brand of rural humor. With the audience in the palm of his hand, he wrapped it up by recalling one of Yolo County’s favorite sayings.

“. . and my daddy always said, ‘If it grows anywhere in the world, it can be grown in Yolo County.’”

Dan watched with some amazement as the room again erupted in applause. A large cluster of young men and several older men stood in the back of the room, clapping loudly, as Malcolm Turner remained triumphantly at the lectern. He had reached for his audience, found their pulse, and raised them to a fever pitch. Though Dan found Turner’s proposals outrageous, he was nevertheless in agreement with many of Turner’s historical landmarks. Dan’s own grandfather, Jack Rumsey, had said much the same thing while Dan was growing up, helping his grandfather move sprinkler pipes between the rows of almond trees and tending the ten acres Jack had given him to run as his “business.” The smooth-talking politician was quite right about the plight of the small farmer, but his proposed solution was too radical. Dan viewed the voter approval for secession with alarm. He had understood the political expediency of Turner’s position during the elections, especially with the competition of a younger, articulate, well-financed opponent, but it had surprised Dan as much as anyone to see Turner continue the call after securing his Senate seat. To point out federal abuses and excesses was one thing, but to propose severing ties with the United States was irresponsible, at least to Dan’s way of thinking.

City Manager Roger Dahlgren was seated several tables across from Dan with a contingent of associates, none of whom Dan recognized. They were cheering loudly and encouraging all around them to join in the fracas.

Dan leaned closer to Jim Thompson. “Who are those guys with Roger?”

“Brigade boys, most likely.”

Senator Malcolm Turner stood smiling and waving, accepting the accolades as the audience concluded their applause and again took their seats.

“Gentlemen, it would be my pleasure to entertain questions for the next few minutes. I would ask the reporters who are here to defer to the local members.” Hands shot up throughout the room, and Turner pointed to a man seated at one of the front tables. “Jake Petersen. You’ve been around here for many years, and we’ve served on several committees together. I value your opinion.” Turner smiled. “What’s on your mind?”

Petersen was over seventy and had farmed about four hundred acres northwest of Woodland for as long as anyone could remember. His three sons had opted out for other professions after seeing no profitable future in farming. After the last son went into accounting, Jake had sold his farm to a large corporation and moved into town. He stood slowly, using his cane for leverage.

“Well, Malcolm, I’ll tell ya. We don’t need none of this baloney I’ve been readin’ in the papers about giving Washington a chance. You just need to go back to the president and Congress and tell them to kiss off. We voted to get out, and we’re through with ’em. Just tell the president to get his bleedin’ heart liberal judges out of California and let us get on with our lives. Then, Malcolm,” the old man said, banging his cane on the tiled floor for emphasis, “we need you to get back here and help us form a new nation.” The old man started to sit down and then paused, looking back toward the lectern. “And remember this,” he said, waving his cane, “protect the farmer. They’re the life’s blood of this country. That’s all I’ve got to say.”

The audience erupted, and Senator Turner smiled broadly, initiating the applause for Jake and his popular point of view. Though most of the Rotarians were independent businessmen and corporate managers, their livelihood depended on the prosperity of the Yolo County farmers.

Dan Rawlings looked at Jim Thompson and shook his head. The members and guests continued making comments and asking questions for several minutes, strengthened in their exuberance by the many visitors who came from outside the normal membership of local Woodland businessmen and farmers. Dan could see that Roger’s new visitors had come to the meeting expressly to support Senator Turner’s presentation and to vocally intimidate the crowd and garner support-or at least to stifle any opposition. And from what he could see, none of those Dan knew to be opposed to the secession seemed inclined to voice that opposition, perhaps intimidated by the presence of the overwhelming support evident in the room.

Chapter 8

Woodland, California

Captain Dan Rawlings left the Woodland Rotary luncheon and headed straight for his apartment in Davis, where he changed into his Class “A” dress greens. Driving over the Yolo County Causeway toward the funeral home, the image of Lieutenant McFarland’s bloated, purplish face kept recurring, and Dan’s mood turned somber.

Not since he’d buried his wife had he dredged up the courage to attend another funeral, but Lieutenant McFarland was a brother-in-arms-and more. Dan-in his incarnation as Captain Rawlings-had actually met with McFarland on several occasions and, under General Del Valle’s directive, had been the one to accept the young man’s reports on the status of the Shasta Brigade. To his sorrow, Dan had also been the one to recommend McFarland to General Del Valle as an officer with the suitable temperament to infiltrate the Shasta Brigade.

Dan crossed the Sacramento River and drove east along the northern boundary of Sacramento, beginning the gentle climb into the foothills of the Sierra Nevada. He left the freeway at the Roseville exit and turned north toward a golf course he had played on many occasions. About a mile beyond the golf course, he came to the funeral home where McFarland’s service was to be held, pulled into the parking lot and shut off his engine. Seeing the lush, green grounds of the cemetery that surrounded the building, Dan broke into a light sweat, and memories flooded his mind. He had been a witness to Susan’s accident and had since dreamed about it often. Unable to alter its outcome, the scene always unfolded before him the same way, whether awake or asleep.

They had been skiing high in the Sierra Nevada Mountains near Susanville. Just before pushing off, his young wife smiled and winked at him. Then, racing ahead down the mountain through the flat light of an overcast day, Susan plunged into a steep field of tall moguls, her legs acting as powerful pistons, absorbing the impact as she worked her way down, down, down the steep slope. Nearly a world-class skier and fearless on the mountain, she combined both strength and grace in a way that amazed Dan. Not nearly her equal, he followed at a slower pace.

As she continued to work her way through the steep, bumpy run, he pulled to a stop at the top of the field of moguls, admiring his young wife’s fierce attack on the deep ruts and giant mounds.

He had watched helplessly as a teenaged, female skier suddenly skidded into Susan’s path. Out of control, the novice had dropped her poles and was flailing her arms wildly to maintain her balance while sliding laterally across the hill, directly toward Susan.

Still skiing hard, Susan made a sudden, powerful move to avoid the collision and veered sharply off the run, plunging into a copse of mature quaking aspens whose solid white trunks blended into the flat light of the mountain.

Unable to do anything but cry out, Dan watched in horror as Susan cart-wheeled and tumbled through the grove to slam headfirst into the trunk of a large, gnarled tree.

Fighting back his tears, his chest pounding with exertion and fear, Dan half-skied, half-tumbled down the mountain. He had wrenched off his skis, screaming over his shoulder for help and wading frantically through the soft snow to the place where Susan lay crumpled against the tree, an ever-widening patch of red snow staining the pristine powder. Her once-beautiful face was bloodied, contorted in death, framed by the fur-lined hood of her ski parka, and as he held her lifeless body in his arms-

This was usually the point at which he would wake up each morning, drenched in sweat. For months after her death, he had not gone to church. His bishop had visited and gently counseled with him, and still Dan resisted. Even Susan’s parents had pleaded with him to come to church with them, to no avail. Finally, several months later when his sister was home visiting with three of her five children, she asked Dan for help one morning, taking her kids to the mall, since her husband had not made the trip. Dan agreed, and as he sat in the food court area, his four-year-old niece, Rachel, climbed on his lap, whispering in his ear, “I wish Aunt Susan could be here with us.”

The rap on his car window startled him, and he turned his head, taking a second to recognize Sheriff Sanchez standing beside his car. Dan removed his keys and exited the vehicle, placing his garrison cap squarely on his head.

“You in a dreamland, Danny boy?” Tony asked, smiling. “Looks like you’re a bit overheated.”

“Just thinking,” Dan replied, wiping the perspiration from his brow and noticing that Tony was dressed in a business suit rather than his sheriff’s uniform.

“I can understand that. Looks like a big turnout,” Tony said as they began to walk across the parking lot toward the chapel.

Dan looked around as they neared the entrance, spotting several groups of green and blue uniforms among the civilians heading for the service. He saw General Del Valle at the door, greeting his officers and men as they arrived. Twenty yards before they reached the door, Tony slowed his pace and nudged Dan in the side. Dan followed Tony’s gaze and identified Kenny Bailey, Dan’s brother-in-law, heading toward the entrance in the company of three other men, all dressed casually in jeans or slacks and open-necked shirts.

Tony looked away from the building, scanning the cars in the parking lot. “I’ve got a cameraman out in the unmarked SWAT van filming the attendees,” he said.

“You don’t think they’d come here?” Dan asked.

“Stranger things have happened. . and, well, there’s Kenny, right?”

“Yeah,” Dan said, again walking toward the entrance. “Good afternoon, General,” he said, snapping a salute.

“Afternoon, Captain Rawlings.”

“Sir, I’d like to introduce Tony Sanchez, Yolo County Sheriff.”

The two men shook hands. “Are you the investigating authority, Sheriff?” Del Valle asked.

“At present, sir. The FBI has been in contact with our office, but they’ve not assumed jurisdiction.”

“I see. Well, shall we go in, gentlemen?”

Dan had never met Mrs. McFarland until the previous Monday, when he and General Del Valle had gone to her home to inform her of her husband’s death. Del Valle had arranged for Mrs. McFarland’s mother to be escorted to the house as well, and several family members had arrived while Dan and General Del Valle were still present. Even though the general had handled most of the dialogue, it had been one of the hardest things Dan had ever done. Surprisingly, the young, very pretty woman had taken the news without breaking down, her silent tears the only outward sign of her shock and grief.

Inside the chapel, Lieutenant Colonel Jack Harman, Commander of the 324th Mechanized Battalion, stood several rows from the front, retaining seats for the general and his staff officers. Dan and Sheriff Sanchez slid into the pew, followed by Colonel Harman, with General Del Valle taking a seat on the aisle.

Dan could see through the gathering that Mrs. McFarland sat on the front row of the right section. Two women, whom he took to be her sisters, were seated on either side of her, with her mother and mother-in-law on either side of the sisters. The remaining men of the family filled the outer edges of the pew. Kenny and his associates took seats toward the back, and as far as Dan could tell, Kenny had not noticed Dan’s presence.

The front of the chapel contained a large floral arrangement. In the center, directly below the dais, sat the closed coffin, draped with an American flag. A large photograph of Lieutenant Richard McFarland, in Army dress blues, was displayed on a raised tripod next to the casket. Dan felt the blood rush to his head and neck, his face suddenly warm and flushed. He took several deep breaths and willed himself to calm down. Then the National Guard chaplain, Major Alexander Butterman, stood behind the pulpit and motioned for all to rise. He waited for the shuffling to die down and commenced with an opening prayer, then motioned for all to be seated.

“It has often been stated,” Chaplain Butterman began in a low, soft voice, “that in time of peace, sons bury their fathers, and in time of war, fathers bury their sons. But our world has become more complicated, and war is not always as we once knew it. .”

Following the service, six platoon commanders, all young lieutenants, carried the casket with precision as the cortege followed them slowly across the soft, grassy field to the burial site. There, Lieutenant McFarland’s family sat next to the open grave, beneath a green canopy, on two rows of folding chairs. Surrounding the site was a large crowd of both civilians and uniformed men and women of the California National Guard. To one side, a hundred yards away and standing on a gentle rise beneath a small grove of trees, was an honor guard of seven soldiers, standing at parade rest, their rifles held at order arms, the stock grounded beside their right legs.

The graveside service was brief as General Del Valle spoke to the assembled crowd about duty, honor, and country. His remarks echoed those of Chaplain Butterman, who had reviled the cowardly act that had taken the life of a brave young American soldier. Concluding his remarks, General Del Valle stepped back into the throng, and the first volley of rifle fire rang out across the field. An involuntary shudder rippled through the crowd at the expected, but startling sound. Two additional volleys rang out, completing the twenty-one gun salute to a fallen soldier. Mrs. McFarland stifled a sob and laid her head on her father’s shoulder. The older man, proudly wearing his blue-and-gold VFW cap, wrapped his arm around his daughter and wiped at his own eyes with a handkerchief.

Finally, McFarland’s company commander, Captain Everton, accepted the folded, tri-cornered flag from the pallbearers, and, in a precise movement, stepped toward the young widow, coming to attention directly in front of her. Everton leaned down and presented the flag to the woman, mouthing a few words not heard beyond several feet. He returned to attention and rendered a slow, deliberate salute. Then he turned on his heel and resumed his position with the pallbearers.

Dan experienced a quick flash of himself sitting in the widower’s position at Susan’s funeral. His temples began to pound as his heart raced, sweat beads broke out on his forehead, and again he breathed deeply, willing himself to control his thoughts and emotions.

As the crowd began to disperse, Dan decided not to pass through the line and offer his condolences. Choosing instead the solitude of his vehicle, he walked alone across the lawn toward the parking lot. When someone fell into step alongside him, he wasn’t at first aware that it was Special Agent Nicole Bentley.

“Good afternoon, Captain Rawlings. Do you know the Chili’s restaurant on Madison and I-80?”

“I do,” he replied, startled by her unexpected appearance.

“Could you meet me there in twenty minutes? Please?” she asked.

“Yes,” he said, nodding as she turned away, moving to where her car was parked.

Dan arrived first and was drinking a glass of lemonade when Agent Bentley entered the restaurant. She looked around and spotted Dan sitting in a booth at the rear. As she walked toward him, Dan felt a twinge of nostalgia, remembering several times when he had met Susan at this same restaurant. Nicole Bentley looked nothing like Susan, but still, here he was, sitting in a booth, waiting for a beautiful woman to join him.

Bentley was wearing something more feminine than the dark business suit he had seen her in before-perhaps, Dan thought, to blend in with the crowd of mourners at McFarland’s funeral. She wore a light-colored knit skirt and matching jacket over a light blue blouse-buttoned up the front-and sandals. Her dark hair, cut short, was slightly windblown, but as she neared the table, he noticed that she had freshened her lipstick.

He stood as Agent Bentley approached and smiled to himself, remembering how Susan had often surprised him by wearing a new outfit or a changed hairdo. Susan had told Dan early in their relationship that her father had never paid any attention to what her mother wore, nor complimented her on her appearance. Dan had picked up on that and had made it a point to notice whenever Susan got a haircut or bought new clothes. It became something of a game with them, spotting anything new before she closed the door to their apartment in Susanville. Susan loved his attentiveness and had relished the pride her husband took in her appearance.

“Thanks for meeting with me,” Bentley said as she slid into the other side of the booth.

“My pleasure, Agent Bentley,” Dan replied. “Something to drink?”

She glanced at his glass. “The lemonade looks good,” she answered. Dan motioned to the waitress a few tables away and pointed to his glass, holding up two fingers, which she acknowledged with a wave of her hand.

“So, how can I be of assistance?” Dan asked, sitting down.

“I presume you noticed your brother-in-law at the funeral.”

Dan nodded. “I did, but we didn’t speak. How did you know. .?”

Nicole smiled and ran her fingers through her hair, teasing the windblown look. “I’ve done my homework, Captain Rawlings.”

“Would that I were as up-to-date.”

“Excuse me?”

“Well, I mean, you know something about me, but I know nothing about you.”

“That’s the way I like it,” she smiled again. “When did you last speak to Kenny?”

“Wednesday.”

Nicole’s eyebrows raised, and Dan laughed.

“Yeah, I guess it’s peculiar for someone to know exactly when he last spoke with someone else-especially when I seldom meet with Kenny, but Sheriff Sanchez asked me to check with Kenny about an item that was found at the crime scene.”

“The silver toothpick?” she said as the waitress delivered a glass of lemonade.

“Yes,” Dan replied, not surprised that she knew about the evidence.

“And. .?” she asked, peeling the wrapping off a straw.

“And he said he lost it on a camping trip two weeks ago.”

“I see,” Nicole said. “Do you believe him?”

“What you mean is, do I think he participated in the killing of Lieutenant McFarland.”

“Perhaps that is what I mean. Do you?”

“I hope not, Agent Bentley. His parents are two very fine people who have suffered enough grief, what with their daughter-my wife-dying two years ago. Can you imagine how his mother would feel if her son turned out to be a murderer?”

“Captain Rawlings, everyone on death row has, or had, a mother.”

“I guess so,” he said, continuing to stir the ice in his drink. “So, how can I help you today?”

“I was wondering if you could come into our San Francisco office and look over some mug shots.”

“Today?”

“No, early next week, if possible.”

“What are we looking for?”

“You’ve lived in Yolo County most of your life. I thought you might recognize someone in the photos we’ve taken of the members of the militia and could help us with background.”

“Yeah. I could do that, I suppose. Any particular day?”

“How about Tuesday?”

“Fine. Tuesday would suit me. Late morning?”

“Good,” Nicole replied, finishing her drink and standing. She took a dollar from her purse and left it on the table. “Until Tuesday, then.”

“Agent Bentley,” Dan said, also rising and picking up the check, “will I find my picture in those mug shots?” He smiled.

“Not likely, Captain Rawlings, and I can advise that you are not considered a ‘person of interest,’ either.”

“Well, I am to the other side, it seems,” he said.

“What do you mean?”

He reached into his uniform pocket, retrieved a small piece of paper, and handed it to her. “This was under my windshield wiper in the cemetery parking lot just now.”

She unfolded and read the note.

Captain Rawlings:

Treason is a hanging offense.

Patriots unite!

She quickly refolded the note and looked up at Dan. “May I keep this?”

“It certainly isn’t going in my scrapbook,” he said, smiling.

“I’ll see you on Tuesday, Captain Rawlings.”

“I’ll be there.”

Just before sunset, Dan and his grandfather, Jack Rumsey, took a half-mile walk up to a favorite vantage point on the mountain above the older man’s farmhouse, located some thirty-five miles from Woodland, up State Highway 16, in Rumsey Canyon. There, the two men sat quietly on their haunches, watching twilight dissolve and darkness begin to envelop the valley and tree-lined creek bed below them. The steep hills, covered at that time of year with a stand of tall, dry grass and the scattered groves of oak trees, provided rich pasture for grazing cattle. Below, on the flatter ground, they could see the orchards of nut trees, laid out in neat rows. It was a scene they both loved, and they sat watching without speaking, enjoying the nightly procession of shadows deepening in the arroyos carved into the hillsides by centuries of winter rains.

“How are you finding your work, Dan?”

Dan smiled at his grandfather, wondering how the old man was always able to tell when something was wrong-from Dan’s skipping school in the early years to the dreadful months after Susan’s death-even when Dan thought he was carrying on quite normally.

“The world is changing, Jack. You read the papers and watch the news. Between the clamor for California’s independence and the planning commission’s movement to break up the large farm holdings in Rumsey Valley, well, it’s a tumultuous time. I don’t know that I want to preside over the demise of this valley.”

“We’ve got nearly eight thousand acres of prime land in our family, down considerably from the fifteen thousand we once had, but still a nice holding. Almonds and walnuts have been this family’s life. You’ve got the land in your soul, even if you did opt to be a lawyer and a county administrator instead of a farmer.”

Rawlings smiled at his grandfather, who was now eighty-one. “I don’t farm the land, Jack, but you’re right, I care about it a lot.”

Jack shifted his position. “Our family has always cared about this land. It’s been like that since your fourth great-grandfather, Colonel Howard Rumsey, settled this valley right after the Civil War.”

Dan quietly chuckled and braced himself, knowing he was due for another of Granddad’s stories about Rumsey Valley. Jack started to speak, but caught himself. Cocking his head and grinning at his grandson, he said, “I guess you’ve heard that one already.”

Standing up, Dan looked west, watching the fading rays of light create a kaleidoscope of color between the evening clouds and the tops of the mountains, their purple hue changing even as Jack began the family homily. Yes, he did know that one, and the one about the one-room schoolhouse off to the right a half-mile, where his great-grandmother and grandmother had completed their schooling. His mother had broken out of the mold and left for San Francisco and a college degree-the first in the family. He also knew the one about the steep mountain trail above them. At the close of the last century, his great, great-grandfather had followed it east on horseback, over into the Sacramento Valley every weekend to court the Morris girl until she agreed to marry him and move across the foothills to Rumsey Valley.

Dan’s head was full of Jack’s stories. He’d heard them all, and listening to them, he had learned to be patient with his grandfather. As Dan had matured, and he and his grandfather became peers more than mentor and pupil, Dan had been able to make something of a joke of his grandfather’s natural loquaciousness. Even Jack laughed when Dan introduced him by saying, “Granddad never met a man he couldn’t bore.”

Dan turned now toward Jack and held his eyes, as his grandfather had taught him to do, in order to take the measure of a man.

“I know most of it, Granddad, but what eluded me for so long was how I knew it, or rather how I felt it inside, like it was part of me.”

“It is, son. Not everyone in this family has that understanding, but I saw it in you early on.”

“That book Dad bought me, you know-the one I showed you about heritage, DNA, and our recollections of our ancestors? The genealogy book by G.G. Vandagriff. That’s where I figured it out. I’ve got their voices in my blood, Granddad, just like the author said.”

Looking back down the valley, Dan paused, as if expecting his ancestors to appear-to tell him how to handle his problems. “They all speak to me somehow, and from them, I’ve. . well, I’ve inherited their feelings, not only for this valley but for the nation. And from you, Granddad,” he said, smiling at Jack. “All you’ve taught me; shooting my first buck, how to cast a fly, irrigating the almonds.” The memories flooded through him, and he knew Jack could sense his feelings.

Jack got to his feet and started down the hillside, turning to look back at his grandson.

“It’s a rare thing, to be connected that solidly to the land of your birth and to your forebears, Dan. These radicals, both conservative and liberal, just don’t get it. What they describe as patriotism has nothing to do with what’s best for this country. They don’t value the hard work, personal sacrifice, and blood that have made this country what it is. They only want to exploit the advantages for their own gain.” Jack resumed his downward path, and Dan followed. “You know that your father and I haven’t always. .” Jack hesitated.

Dan had often felt like a pawn in the friction between his grandfather and his father. As a young boy, he had struggled to keep his balance in that storm-to continue loving them both.

Jack laughed out loud and continued his thoughts. “We haven’t always agreed since he and your mother split up. But your father was right about one thing-you needed to leave this valley and make your mark. It’s inside you now. You’ll always come back. You are the valley, and your children will be, too.”

Dan laughed. “Jack, I’m only forty miles down the road, in Woodland.”

Jack ignored Dan’s protest and continued his descent, looking over his shoulder at his grandson. “Time was, it was a full day’s trip, each way. It’s ‘outside’. . townies.”

“Well, I’ll try to keep some dirt on my shoes, if it’ll make you feel better.”

They made their way confidently through the darkened but familiar landscape.

“I know you’ll do right by us, Dan. I wish. . if only your grandmother could’ve seen what’s become of you. She would have been as proud of you as I am.”

As they reached the bottom of the hill, Dan looked at his grandfather for a moment before speaking. “Jack, I know how much you miss Grandma. I got a bit more understanding of that after Susan died. I want you to know that everything you and Grandma taught me over the years is still with me, including a love for the land. But as important as the land is, it’s nothing without the people who love it. And we all serve this valley in different ways. I’m afraid the ‘townies,’ as you call ’em, have discovered that the Valley is more than just a road to Clear Lake. They’re coming, and we have to be prepared for that.”

You, maybe, but not me. I’ve had my day. It’s your turn now, and I hope I’m not here to see it. That, and the success of this ridiculous separatist movement Turner’s promoting. Stand up to them, Dan. Our family and friends fought hard to make this land part of America. Don’t let Turner and his bunch throw that all away.”

“I feel the same way, but people are angry and frustrated at Washington. You know that. It’s damn near impossible to get the Feds to change or to get them to stop regulating everything we do-from building roads to doing business to even deciding what crops farmers can grow. Now that they have their new health legislation, they want to regulate our health check-ups and medical treatment. It’s becoming ‘Is Grandpa too old for a hip replacement?’ mentality. They’ve gone too far, Jack.”

Jack shook his head. “They’ve climbed on our back, that’s for sure, but life is change, Dan. I’ve watched it for eighty years.” He hesitated, a grin spreading across his face. “Most people favor progress-it’s the change they don’t like,” he said, laughing at his own joke.

“So I’ve heard you say,” Dan laughed also. “But it’s getting out of hand, and people are going to get hurt. . have already been hurt, in the process.”

“If you’re talking about that young soldier they buried today, it’s an outrage.”

“I know. I went to his funeral this afternoon. Jack, have you ever heard of the Shasta Brigade-a militia group up north?”

“Sure. Are you thinking they’re involved in this?”

Dan looked west, to the last sliver of light clinging to life just over the crest of the mountain. “They could be. It’s a bold move if they are, but they’re acting pretty cocky lately, with all this hue and cry for secession.”

Jack put his hand on his grandson’s shoulder, darkness fully surrounding them now. “Cocky doesn’t cover it. They’ve already claimed responsibility for murdering the judges, haven’t they? If this is their work, they’ve got to be held accountable.”

“And what about California? Am I wrong in thinking that secession isn’t something we can abide?”

“Can the head function without the body? Or the land without the water? Or the man without the woman?” Jack paused. “We’re united, Dan. Sure, California could function as a separate nation and probably do quite well-maybe better than most-but our ancestors fought long and hard to become a nation of states, each connected to the others.”

“Maybe,” Dan replied, “but many of the original colonists thought we should remain aligned with England before they declared independence. Some of our complaints are nearly identical to the ones had by the early settlers. The federal government seems to have gotten too big for its britches, as I’ve heard you say often.”

“Oh, a change is necessary, all right. We’ve had well over a century of politicians promising entitlements to everybody. Cradle-to-grave largesse. Eventually it catches up, and somebody has to pay the bill. You remember the story I used to tell you about the farmers co-op hauling the sheep to market in the community wagon? One of them got sick and they put him in the wagon with the sheep and he rode the rest of the way. Pretty soon, the lead farmer got really tired and turned around to ask the others to pull harder. Everyone was in the wagon. He was the only one pulling. Our nation has gone down that road, Dan. We all can’t ride in the wagon.” Beginning to walk again, Jack said, “For my part, I’m going home to get some sleep. I’ll let you young’uns solve the world’s ills.”

“Thanks, Jack,” Dan laughed.

“Think nothin’ of it, son. Glad to help. Oh, and Dan, one more thing.”

“Yeah?”

“Watch yourself. Don’t underestimate those fanatics in the Shasta Brigade. They won’t look kindly upon those who get in their way.”

“Believe me, I know it. And the sheriff’s telling me the same thing. On his advice, I’ve started carrying a pistol in my vehicle. You’ve carried one as long as I can remember.”

Jack nodded. “He’s probably right. Now, c’mon back to the house and let’s rustle up some dinner.”

Just after 10 p.m., Dan drove past the rural area adjacent to Yolo County Airport on his way home after leaving Jack’s house. When he saw a van stopped crosswise in the center passing lane of the highway, blocking passageway in both directions, Dan slowed his Blazer. The van’s flasher lights were activated, and it looked like a minor accident had occurred.

Approaching carefully, he stopped about ten yards short of the vehicle, just off the southern end of the single airport runway. About fifty yards away, just inside the fence line, a small Cessna was on the edge of the main runway, with two men silhouetted in the cockpit, the engine idling. He couldn’t see the driver or passengers from the van, but the vehicle lights were still on, and he could see slight exhaust fumes from the tailpipe, as if the vehicle engine was also running. Dan’s instincts went on full alert, and he reached into the glove box to retrieve his Beretta and an extra clip. The intuitive response action saved his life.

Two men came out of the ditch to the far side of the van, each wielding pistols and approaching Dan’s car from both angles. Each man wore a balaclava that covered his face. Instinctively, Dan floored his Blazer, ramming the back of the van, pushing it toward the edge of the road, but still not leaving enough room for Dan to drive around it without dropping into the three-foot-deep ditches.

Several shots rang out, and the rear window of Dan’s Blazer collapsed in a shower of glass shards. Dan slid across to the passenger seat, exiting his vehicle and taking cover beside the right front fender between the Blazer and the van. The two attackers closed to the back of Dan’s car, one of them shouting a warning.

“Come out with your hands high, and we won’t shoot. We don’t want to hurt you.”

Dan remained silent.

One of the men crept around the front end of Dan’s car, exposing his upper body and pointing his weapon at Dan. “I said stand up and put your hands on your head.”

From a kneeling position behind his vehicle, Dan fired one round, which struck the man in the center of his chest. He dropped his weapon, remained upright for several seconds, and then fell to the pavement. The second man fired several shots, which struck the Blazer, and then he jumped over the ditch, running toward the airport runway, firing back toward Dan as he ran.

Dan stood behind his vehicle and took aim, but decided to hold fire as the man ran away. Suddenly, the door on the Cessna opened up, and an automatic weapon appeared, a volley of shots striking the Blazer and the van. Dan ducked down again behind his vehicle. The shots ceased, and Dan carefully looked over the hood of the car. The fleeing man had climbed the fence and nearly reached the airplane when a quick burst from the automatic weapon dropped him instantly. He fell on the pavement, close to the end of the main runway.

Dan remained behind his car as the Cessna revved up its engine, quickly pulled onto the runway, and began the takeoff run, lifting into the air and banking west into the darkened sky. It had been too dark to observe the tail number of the aircraft, but within seconds everything was quiet. Dan checked the pulse of the man he had shot and took a quick look inside the van. The driver was dead, and the van was empty. It appeared that only the two men, plus those in the aircraft, had been present. He stepped back toward the driver’s side of his car and retrieved his cell phone, dialed 911, and reported the shooting, calling for an ambulance.

In less than fifteen minutes, Sheriff Tony Sanchez arrived, followed by three of his deputies, and the Fire Department ambulance that had already arrived on the scene. Just over an hour later, Special Agents Samuels and Bentley arrived at the Yolo County Sheriff’s office to join in the questioning. The man who attacked Dan was dead, the other critically wounded. Absent the balaclava, the wounded attacker, who had been shot by his own people, was immediately identified as Kenny Bailey, Dan’s brother-in-law. He had been transported to Woodland Memorial, but was in critical condition and unable to speak.

At the end of three days in a coma, Kenny Bailey died in the hospital. Investigators determined that both the van and the aircraft had been stolen. The Cessna was located at a small, rural airport near Santa Rosa, cleaned of all fingerprints and identifying evidence. In a subsequent interview with both the FBI and Sheriff Sanchez, Dan was advised that the attack gave all the appearances of an attempted kidnapping, as the van contained a body bag and a vial of anesthesia, plus a syringe. Agent Albert Samuels told Dan he’d had a lucky escape, while Sheriff Sanchez told him that he had done well, that his quick reaction had clearly saved his life.

All Dan knew for certain was that he had shot and killed a man, that his brother-in-law was involved in the attack, and that he, too, was now dead.

Chapter 9

CIA Headquarters

Langley, Virginia

Nearly three thousand miles east, Marine Corps Colonel Pug Connor picked up his notepad and headed down the hall toward an impromptu staff briefing called by the director of Central Intelligence.

Five years earlier, U.S. President William Eastman had appointed a former federal judge, Clarence Wentworth, as director of Central Intelligence, known internally as the DCI. The current rumor in the agency was that with his health failing, the judge had finally decided to hang it up. The office pool favored an outside appointee, but most of the old-time management level staff favored Wentworth’s DDO, Grant Sully, to replace the director. Organizationally, the CIA had a director, a deputy director of intelligence (DDI), a position held by retired Air Force Lieutenant General William Austin, and deputy director of operations (DDO), the post held by Sully, a career CIA employee. Sully’s impressive field record, commencing immediately after his hire in the late seventies, included service in the East German and Russian Cold War campaigns, where he had been trained by the old-boy network of former OSS agents, some of whom had been Jedburghs through the close of WWII. Stories abounded regarding Sully’s early “wet work” operations, but only a few operatives from those ruthless hit teams remained to confirm the stories. In light of current political expediencies, those who could confirm preferred to keep their prior involvement quiet.

Colonel Connor’s immediate boss was Bill Austin, the deputy director of intelligence. Austin’s staff was large and mostly located within the complex in Langley. There, they analyzed information gathered from all sectors of the world, providing “best-guess” scenarios for any given international situation. Austin often equated his work to that of the world’s economists, who rarely agreed on monetary policy and who, in retrospect, were generally way off-base.

Sully and Austin, although nearly the same age, had distinctly different management styles. About two-thirds of the headquarters staff seemed to prefer Austin. But many still admired Sully, who commanded a great deal of respect, especially among the old time CIA managers, as someone who had gone from a slick-haired Yale preppie to DDO in an impressive, action-packed thirty-two years.

As director of strategic analysis, reporting directly to Austin, Pug Connor usually attended staff meetings, and along with several other department heads had been specifically invited to attend this impromptu briefing. Connor had recently returned from Europe, where he had spent most of his time in Ireland. The IRA, despite the peaceful accords that had been in place for several years, continued to play a low-key role behind the scenes.

General Austin met Pug in the hall en route to the conference room.

“Welcome home, Pug. Is Ireland still green?”

Pug smiled at his boss. “The parts I visited certainly are,” he replied.

Connor had worked with William Austin for over ten years, first coming to the National Security Agency as a young major when Austin had been NSA’s director of intelligence. Austin had seen Pug through an emotionally devastating divorce and assumed a father-like role in the process.

Pug Connor had married late, following his time at college, a two-year LDS mission to Ireland, then return to and graduation from the United States Naval Academy where he was commissioned as a Marine Corps officer. He was thirty by the time he married, and was immediately deployed to a Marine expeditionary unit at sea, absent for nearly a year. Several years of similar assignments had taken their toll on his marriage, and finally his wife had divorced him, fortunately before children entered the picture. At forty-two, divorced for nearly four years, his life had taken on a sameness of routine, the job consuming all his time and attention.

When Austin retired from the Air Force and President Eastman appointed him to the CIA, Austin had invited Connor, a newly promoted lieutenant colonel, to join him. Trained as a Marine combat officer, Pug Connor had been involved in several covert field actions during his military career, serving as company commander in a seaborne marine expeditionary unit, then, following completion of his master’s degree in international economics, spending most of his time in military intelligence.

His participation in one “we-were-never-there” action in Iraq, prior to the second Gulf War, had earned him a Silver Star and the respect of the New Zealand Special Air Service task force he had commanded. Finding out that Pug had family ties in New Zealand, the Kiwi SAS regiment had awarded Pug an honorary beret, which he displayed proudly on the bookcase in his office.

Upon joining the CIA, the retired general had made a telling request.

“Colonel Connor,” Austin had said, “General Austin is no more. He’s retired. I hope you can find it in yourself to address me as Bill. After ten years together, I’ve earned that.”

This had surprised Pug, as he had always used formal military address for the general, but this loosening of protocol pleased him nonetheless. Since that time, except in meetings, Pug dealt with his boss on a first-name basis. They had grown close, both professionally and personally.

As they entered the conference room and took their seats at one end of the table, Austin leaned toward Pug.

“Meet the right people in Dublin?” he queried.

“I’ve been meeting with Donahue and his crowd for over five years, and no real answers have appeared. But I know one thing for certain: the Provos still suffer from internal dissent, and not everyone is onboard with the diplomatic posture currently in vogue. They’re still angry over British support of Australia’s republican movement, and now they’re angry that California’s trying the same thing and seeming to get away with it. My contacts in the IRA told me that if America can’t support their war for independence as well, then maybe the United States isn’t such a valuable ally. I’ll put my findings in a report.”

“Good, but don’t copy Sully until I’ve had a chance to read the draft,” Austin warned. “He’s still looking for reasons to tag the Provo leadership. It doesn’t matter to him if they’ve disavowed terrorist actions or not-he just needs more ammunition to discredit them. Will you have time to complete the report before you leave for New Zealand?”

Pug nodded. “I don’t leave until next Monday. I’m going out for a crash refresher course in sailing on George Granata’s new yacht this Saturday, in the hope of not looking like a total fool in the water in front of my Kiwi relatives.”

“Think the Kiwis will take the America’s Cup back from the San Francisco Yacht Club?” Austin grinned.

“They’ve got about as much chance of that as Sully inviting me to a backyard barbecue.” Pug laughed softly. “Besides, New Zealand already owns the Cup. It’s just housed in San Francisco. All the American sailors are Kiwis. But in truth, New Zealand probably hasn’t got the money to mount a credible campaign. It’s all about dollars now. National pride takes a back seat.”

Even though Al Qaeda was the ‘terrorist de jour,’ Pug knew that the DDO and several of the operations staff were still focused on monitoring the old-line, long-recognized terrorist organizations, even though it appeared more and more that recent attacks were the work of splinter groups. The pattern had long been recognized by intelligence agencies: Unable to go to war against stronger powers, smaller nations had resorted to supporting state-sponsored terrorism using surrogate armies. Everyone accepted that.

But Grant Sully’s theory, not unacceptable by any means, was that once the historical terrorist organizations such as the IRA and the PLO had achieved a certain level of recognition and a quasi-political status, they were rendered less able to perpetrate the heinous acts they had traditionally used to achieve their ends. And so the notorious organizations had begun sponsoring splinter groups from within their own ranks, disavowing any responsibility for their actions, but in fact, fully supporting them under the table.

Connor had to admit it made sense. Only time or a major intelligence breakthrough would tell. Al Qaeda’s individual cells worldwide made such disavowal even easier. In the meantime, he would heed Austin’s warning and go easy with any information that might give Sully and his allies more ammunition.

Once everyone was present, Judge Wentworth entered the conference room from the side door in his office and commenced the meeting.

“Thank you all for coming. I’ve asked you here to participate in a briefing by a representative of the FBI and the Army CID. A domestic briefing.” He smiled.

“They’re gonna let us in on family secrets?” Grant Sully said, eliciting a ripple of laughter around the room.

“Maybe so, Grant,” the judge smiled. “But while we’re waiting. .” He looked at Pug. “Colonel Connor, give us a quick update on your trip to Ireland.”

Pug glanced at General Austin, then responded to Wentworth.

“Director, the word is that a major split has occurred in the IRA as a result of the British and American support of the growing Australian republican movement and the hands-off attitude regarding California’s burgeoning secessionist movement. One group, those in Kevin Donahue’s camp, disavow any responsibility for the recent violence, and the other group, claiming to represent the IRA, have assumed responsibility, vowing further action if Northern Ireland is not afforded the same rights as Australia. Not surprisingly, each group is calling itself the true IRA.”

“Garbage,” Sully snorted. “They’re one group with one purpose, and they’re covering it up. It’s the ‘good guy, bad guy’ stuff. One group can do whatever it wants, while the other remains in a position to talk. I don’t buy it-not for one minute. And if you can’t see it, you’re in way over your head, Connor. I’ve told you before-stay out of my ballpark.”

The director interjected. “Let’s not get into that again, Grant. Pug, please continue. What are the British doing about it?”

“Sir, the government is still reeling over the change in leadership. Prime Minister Thornton has tried to hold down the scuffle, at least until they consolidate their position regarding the Commonwealth and the Queen’s legal position, vis-a-vis Australia. It’s the old story, sir. If they give in now, it will appear that pressure worked, and they will be expected to cave in every time a dissident group pushes hard enough.”

Sully growled. “I’ve been hearing that same crap since I scraped horseshit off my musket. There will always be pressure, either politically or by violent action. That’s what I meant, Director, when I said Connor doesn’t know what he’s doing. And he’s gonna foul this up, sending this Provo splinter group the wrong message.”

Director Wentworth frowned again and gave Sully another stare.

Sully paused a moment and then, in a softer voice, continued. “The decision should be reached based on its results and benefits, not on the latest bombing incident. We still need to address the issue based on our national objectives, and the British need to take a much larger view. The whole political alliance thing has changed over the past fifteen years. Holding on to a piece of land that doesn’t want to align itself is senseless. With former alliances breaking up all over the world, countries like Puerto Rico want to align with a larger power, and others just want out of their existing ties. In Ireland’s case, they’ve been trying for several centuries. It’s crazy to force them to stay.”

“Grant, before our guests arrive, tell us-would that analysis apply to the current furor in California?” the director asked, changing directions and spurring interest around the table as all waited for Sully’s answer.

Startled by the comparison, Sully nevertheless maintained his composure. “California’s just political hyperbole, Director. Senator Turner had a stiff test against a younger and better-financed opponent, and he found a horse to ride back into the Senate-maybe even into Eastman’s job in a couple of years, if he can milk it that long.”

“From what I hear, the matter’s going to the California Supreme Court, and the militia units are having a field day. Have we got a handle on what’s happening, or not?” the director pressed.

“It’s nothing more than political posturing.”

“So you’re telling us that in spite of overwhelming voter approval, a United States senator’s support, and growing militia unrest, you see no substance behind this secession mania? Why, then, is he forcing it to the Supreme Court?” Wentworth continued.

Sully shifted in his seat and changed directions. “Sir, I have to admit, it’s taken on a momentum of its own, but I have no hard data, since domestic issues fall under the FBI. Maybe they can tell us more when they arrive, but I believe that it’s all bluster and will disappear when the court renders its opinion.”

Pug motioned to Director Wentworth, who nodded for him to speak.

“Sir, the Provos are watching this California thing closely, to see what the federal government’s going to do.”

“You think they’d take action against Americans?” Wentworth asked.

“I don’t know, but the internal dissent is real. Their beef is with the British, but they don’t like the fact that America seems to be taking the secession talk lightly. They feel Ireland should have been allowed to unify with the north decades ago. We should consider all possibilities and keep a close eye on them.”

“Grant?” Wentworth said, looking toward the DDO.

“We’re watching them, Director,” he said, glancing at Connor.

The main entrance door to the conference room opened, and one of the director’s aides caught his eye. Judge Wentworth waved his hand, signaling the man to show the guests in. Two men-a civilian and an Army major in uniform-entered the room and took the two seats that had been reserved near the director at the head of the table.

“Gentlemen, we welcome you to our daily ‘donuts and coffee’ gathering,” Wentworth said. “I understand you have some new information for us on the domestic side of the house.”

The civilian nodded and opened a leather briefcase, retrieving about a dozen stapled reports, handing them out around the table.

“Director, with your permission,” he said.

Wentworth nodded.

“Gentlemen, my name is Jeff Casey. I’m the agent in charge of the bureau’s militia investigations unit.” He looked quickly around the table, nodding and smiling at several familiar faces, including Pug Connor’s.

“Roughly fifteen months ago, FBI Director Hazelton tripled the manpower in our militia task force to look into their escalation of operations. Of course, militia units have been under surveillance for many years, but a recent upsurge in activities and recruitment has given immediacy to the bureau’s concern. In the Far West and Northwest, an increase in bank robberies has been attributed to three of these recognized militia groups. In addition, responsibility for the murder of the two appointed federal judges in California has been claimed by the California Patriot Movement, an umbrella organization made up of a loose confederation of militia units. As of earlier this week, we are also investigating the execution-style murder of a California National Guard lieutenant who had infiltrated the Shasta Brigade, the largest of the California militia units. A sheriff’s deputy who surprised the perpetrators at the scene was also killed in that incident. Their actions are viewed as the first open declaration of hostility directed at established military authority.”

“What authority?” Sully asked. “The guard has no authority in civil matters, other than those authorized by the governor in times of emergency.”

“Granted,” the FBI briefer agreed. “Still, an open and direct assassination of a federal officer has occurred, and the bureau has been investigating the incident. We believe the killing is in response to federal opposition to secession-opposition that the militants have used as a rallying cry to promote a declaration of independence for California.”

“You’re not serious,” General Austin said.

“I’m afraid we are, General. These people have taken the results of the two referendums literally and are storming through the state in support of every speech Senator Turner gives. That support often takes the form of physical intimidation, not unlike that used by Hitler’s brown-shirt thugs. Their actions speak for themselves.”

“What does the Army have to say about the matter?” Director Wentworth asked.

“Major Brighton can respond to that, Mr. Director,” the FBI agent said.

Brighton stood. “Sir, General Robert Del Valle is in command of the California National Guard and is also the acting adjutant general for the state of California. Previously, we were cooperating with him and his local CID unit in this investigation.”

“What do you mean by ‘previously,’ Major?” the director inquired.

“Well, sir, the joint chiefs have conferred with legal counsel on this issue, and they have a serious concern that General Del Valle’s National Guard units have been infiltrated by members of the patriot movement and other militants throughout California, especially the Shasta Brigade.”

General Austin spoke again. “So you’re telling us, Major, that in addition to us trying to get agents into the brigade, they’ve been recruiting members from your National Guard units and reversing the intelligence-gathering process?”

“Essentially, that’s correct, General. Many of the reserve components are made up of men who like this sort of activity. They’re prime targets and easy marks for militia recruitment.”

“And as a result, Army command has cut one of its own generals out of the pipeline; is that what you’re saying?”

“Yes, sir, although General Del Valle is no longer regular Army.”

General Austin banged his fist on the table. “Regular Army or National Guard, he’s one of your field commanders, Major. How does the JCS expect him to ferret out his informants without your support and cooperation?”

“Sir, the joint chiefs feel we can’t afford the leak at a time when Senator Turner is calling for secession.”

“Good heavens, man,” Wentworth said, “are you telling me that even the Pentagon is taking this movement seriously?”

“They see it as a clear threat to the continuity of the chain of command, Mr. Director,” Major Brighton said.

“And why have we been included in this briefing, Mr. Casey?”

“We’re calling in all our assets, Director,” he said, glancing at Sully.

Domestic assets, you mean,” Wentworth said, then reminded him, “We’re restricted from operating within the jurisdiction of the United States.”

“Of course,” Casey replied, a flicker of a smile crossing his face, “but we thought-hoped perhaps-that you might have stumbled onto some information that would provide a larger view of the situation.”

“Sully,” Director Wentworth said, “what’s he talking about?”

“Sir, apparently the bureau continues to assume that the Agency has operatives inside the borders of the United States. While we do, on occasion, come across information relevant to domestic issues, I can assure you, sir, that we have no assets operating within the country.”

“I see,” Agent Casey said. “In that case, I hope our briefing has been informative. Please read over the documents I’ve presented and feel free to contact my office if anything comes to mind. If there are no further questions, Director?”

Wentworth glanced around the room and got no response.

“We appreciate your coming this afternoon, Mr. Casey. We’ll be in touch if anything develops and would be pleased if you could keep us informed as well.”

“Our pleasure, Director Wentworth. Good day, gentlemen,” Casey said, gathering up his papers and stuffing them in his briefcase. He and Major Brighton walked the length of the table toward the end of the conference room. As Casey passed by, Pug reached out and touched his sleeve. Casey paused and leaned down next to Pug’s ear.

“It’s good to see you again, Jeff. What’s the word on a new director for the bureau?”

Casey smiled and whispered, “Could be you’re a lot closer to the man than any of us,” he chuckled. “Rumor has it that Judge Granata is at the top of the president’s short list.”

“He’s a good man, Jeff. If you get him for your next director, the country will be well served. I owe you for the tip. Chalk it up,” Pug laughed softly.

“I keep a log book. I’ll call you some morning about 3 a.m. and collect.”

Pug nodded, and Casey straightened, patting Pug on the shoulder and continuing to follow Major Brighton. Sully was talking to Director Wentworth, but Pug’s thoughts ran quickly through his own memories of Judge Granata. They had been next-door neighbors in Woodbridge, Virginia, for over twelve years. Granata had been appointed by the previous president to the federal appeals court some nine years earlier. If, indeed, President Eastman was considering nominating Granata to be the new FBI director, Pug thought it was a fine choice.

Pug’s attention was called back to the discussion at hand. Director Wentworth was speaking with a raised voice, trying to elicit something or other from Grant Sully. At his last loud request, the room had gone silent. No one spoke for several seconds until Wentworth apparently became impatient.

“Grant?” Wentworth said, snapping his pencil in two and glaring at the DDO.

“Director, of course I have people keeping an eye on the militia units-at least the larger, more active units. They often have representatives overseas raising money or weapons for their arsenal. I’ve briefed you on that before.”

Wentworth nodded. “So, we do know what’s going on?”

“Not much. They’re active, raising Cain, and, if Casey is right, have evolved to outright murder of judicial and military personnel.”

Judge Wentworth sat silent for a few moments, trying to tap his pencil stub. Finally he threw the broken object in the corner wastebasket and stood.

“That’s all for this morning, gentlemen. Grant, I want a written report on everything you know about this, uh, Shasta Brigade, and the patriot movement in general throughout California. And I want better surveillance.”

“But, sir, our restrictions prohibit-”

“Forget the restrictions, Grant. They’ve never stopped you before when you wanted to learn something. Now I want to learn something. Is that understood?”

“Understood, Director.”

Chapter 10

Chesapeake Bay, Virginia

Stand by to come about, Pug, and then pop the kite. I’ll show you what this baby can really do downwind,” George Granata said.

“Aye, aye, Skipper,” Pug smiled, his face dripping with salt spray from broaching upwind breakers.

The twenty-eight-foot, fiberglass racing yacht came about, heeling hard over as Granata swung her bow downwind. Pug pulled the lanyard loose, and the spinnaker immediately billowed, popping the rubber bands that had held the folds together. Instantly, the sleek craft lurched forward, her hull seeming to skim above the waves.

“Man, I love this life,” Granata bellowed over the wind as Pug made his way aft, taking a position starboard of Granata, who stood at the helm. “If I had it to do all over again, I’d say to heck with law school and take up the offer old Martin Tarkington made to me back in ’58 to crew with him. Who knows where I’d have been now? Certainly your Kiwi cousins wouldn’t have taken our Cup to Auckland at the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron, and then lost it to the Swiss,” he challenged.

“Who’s Tarkington?” Pug asked, smiling at Granata’s jab.

“He ran several sailing crews out of Newport in the old days. . when American racing yachts were unchallenged.” He smiled again.

“Those days are over, Judge,” Pug shouted back over the wind.

“Well San Francisco won it back from the Swiss fair and square and it’s going to stay in America,” Granata said.

“Like hell,” Pug replied. “The Kiwi’s will be back. Watch and see. Remember how they felt about the last time, when Denis Connors ran the show. His actions off the coast of San Diego disgraced America, in case you’ve forgotten. Did you know that in New Zealand, during the first Cup defense challenge the Kiwis ran, one of the most popular souvenirs was a T-shirt with the slogan, New Zealand rules the waves-Denis Connors waives the rules? I was ashamed to share the same name with him.”

“Are you an American or a Kiwi?” Granata yelled again, laughing at Pug.

“At the moment, I’m more Kiwi.” Pug grinned back.

“Check your passport. Oh, of course,” Granata laughed again. “You’ve got both, right? Ignorant foreigner. But you’re right about Connors. It was not American yachting’s finest hour, and I don’t mean just the five-zip loss to the Kiwis.”

With the coastline barely visible over the horizon to the west, they sailed downwind under the pull of the spinnaker and the mainsail for nearly twenty minutes, enjoying the movement and the solitude of the open sea. As Pug turned around to say something to Granata, he spotted a motor vessel fast approaching from astern and pointed so the judge could have a look. Both men instantly recognized the bright orange strip running from bow to waterline at a vertical angle.

“Coast Guard,” Granata said. “We’re pretty far north for a drug interdiction run.”

“They seem to be following in our wake. If they’re looking for us, maybe we should drop the kite.”

“Right,” Granata nodded.

Pug moved forward and released the halyard, dropping the spinnaker. He hastily pulled it in, hand over hand, before it could be sucked under and become fouled beneath the keel. The Coast Guard cutter pulled along Granata’s port side and slowed her advance. An officer in a gray foul-weather jacket came out of the bridge and raised a bullhorn.

“Is Judge Granata aboard?” he inquired.

Granata raised his arm, acknowledging.

“Your Honor, please stand by to heave to,” the officer shouted.

With a bit of maneuvering, the cutter pulled alongside and threw a line, securing the two vessels close aboard.

“Sir, I’m Lieutenant Sparks,” the officer said, standing outside the cutter’s small bridge. “We’ve been asked to see you safely ashore, where a helicopter is waiting to transport you to Camp David. Would you care to come aboard, sir?”

“I’ll come about, Lieutenant, and return to port,” Granata said.

“Sir, I’ve been instructed to transport you and your guest as quickly as possible, if you please. We can man your craft, with your permission, of course.”

“What’s the urgency?” Granata asked.

“Sir, all I know is that there’s a helicopter waiting to transport you and Colonel Connor to Camp David.”

Granata looked at Pug.

“Not a clue,” Pug said, shaking his head.

“Sir, permission for one of my officers to come aboard,” Lieutenant Sparks requested.

Granata nodded and waved his arm again.

Another weather-jacketed officer stepped over the sideboard, followed by two deckhands in foul-weather gear. When they were aboard, Granata looked into the face of the young officer.

“Son, you know anything about this class of yacht?”

“Yes, sir. Ensign Scott Argeris. Born on Martha’s Vineyard and crewed two seasons in various international races with Russell Coutts.” The young man smiled. “Plus one run on the Sydney to Hobart, four years ago.”

Granata smiled and relinquished the helm. “Another traitorous Yank gone over to the Kiwis.” He laughed. “Let’s go, Pug. From what I read yesterday, the president was headed up to Camp David for a weekend retreat. He probably got angry when he heard we were going sailing while he had to work.”

“Could be,” Pug said, grabbing his dark-blue Hood sea bag and tossing it to a waiting crewman on the cutter.

“Take her home, son,” Granata said to Ensign Argeris, “and enjoy yourself. It looks as if my sailing is over for the weekend.”

“Yes, sir, Judge,” the ensign smiled. “I’ll take good care of her.”

Colonel Pug Connor had to think how long it had been since he’d seen the president personally. He’d given briefings the president had attended, but since Pug had completed his tour of duty with the NSA, there had been little direct contact with President William Eastman. He shook his head and grinned. To be literally jerked off the water and flown to Camp David aboard Marine Two seemed a bit theatrical, but everyone knew that one of President Eastman’s trademarks was keeping people off balance.

A three-minute ride in an electric golf cart, driven by a marine in cammies, brought Pug and Granata from the helipad to a rustic log cabin nestled in a stand of pines. Pug knew the place well and experienced a wave of nostalgia as they pulled up in front, thinking about the time he had spent here in the presence of the joint chiefs during a previous Iraqi crisis situation while he was working at the National Security Agency. Ambassador Prescott, General Austin, and the president had been involved on a daily basis in that crisis, and Pug had participated in most of the meetings.

They were met on the porch of the cabin by Clarene Prescott, who for nearly six years had served as national security advisor to the president.

“Well, Colonel Connor, it’s been a long time, hasn’t it? And Judge Granata, it’s good to see you again,” she said, offering her hand to both men.

“It’s been several years, Ambassador Prescott. You’re looking very well,” Granata replied.

Prescott, formerly ambassador to the United Nations and confidante to four sitting presidents of both parties, opened the door to the cabin. Pug and the judge were electronically screened for weapons, and then they stepped into the cabin. The last time Pug had been in a small gathering with the president-an occasion that had occurred in the Oval Office-was when Eastman had, without fanfare or public acclaim, pinned the Silver Star on him for valor in a daring, covert, behind-the-lines operation during the second Gulf war.

President William Eastman entered the room, stepping forward with a bright smile and thanking them for coming.

“Please have a seat,” Eastman said. “I’ve finally rounded up the Senate votes I need, George. With your permission, we’ll begin the hearings next week to see if we can’t get you in the driver’s seat over at the FBI.”

“I’m still in shock, Mr. President. I was about ready to step aside and let some of the younger jurists handle the load. In fact, I’ve recently purchased a new yacht, and just this morning-”

Eastman nodded. “So I hear. Sorry about that, George. But Colonel Connor here was probably just checking on the American competition with the intent to sell our nautical secrets to his New Zealand kinsmen.”

Granata laughed in reply. “Truth be told, Mr. President, it was the other way around. I was trying to steal his racing knowledge.”

Eastman nodded and smiled again at Pug. “What do you think of my choice for FBI director, Pug?”

“It will be good to keep him in the saddle, sir. . and off the water.” Pug grinned. “In actuality, Judge Granata is one of the finest men I know, as well as a great neighbor. He even cuts his own grass, Mr. President.”

“A shirtsleeve jurist. High praise. Well, then, let’s get the ball rolling. Clarene, if you please,” Eastman said to Prescott, who stood quietly in the corner. “What say we arrange the hearings with Senator Thompson and get the Senate committee in gear?”

“Right away, Mr. President,” she replied.

“And now, Colonel, you’re probably wondering why I asked for you to accompany Director Granata today.”

“I’m at your disposal, of course, sir.”

Eastman stepped to a small table in the corner of the room, where he gathered several pieces of paper before returning to the seating area. His face and body language reflected a more serious demeanor. “In my hand, I have an original, unsigned copy of your resignation from the CIA. I’d appreciate your signature.”

Pug stood silent for a moment, glancing quickly at Granata and then Ambassador Prescott.

“That would come as a surprise, would it not, Pug?” Eastman said seriously.

“Mr. President, uh, I’m not certain. .”

Eastman raised his hand, palm facing toward Pug, and nodded.

“Let me finish. Are you familiar with the name Hudson? Commander Avril Hudson?”

Pug thought for a few moments and came up blank.

“Commander Hudson is currently the American military attache in New Zealand,” the president said.

Pug nodded. “Sorry, Mr. President, I do recall him. I met Commander Hudson about two years ago, I believe. In Wellington.”

“Colonel,” the president said, “in addition to your resignation from the CIA, I have here your appointment as military attache to the American Embassy, Wellington, New Zealand. I know this is all quite sudden, Pug, and it might appear that I’m putting you out to pasture. In truth, Commander Hudson will remain at his post for another six months or more. You’re heading down that way next week, I understand. For a vacation with your family?”

“Yes, sir. I had planned to be gone four weeks, but-”

The president waved off Pug’s concern. “That will work fine, Colonel. Carry on with those plans. And enjoy yourself while you can. I want you out of sight for awhile. We’ll see to the publicity regarding your new appointment. You’ll return occasionally, for a day or two, in order to meet with Judge Granata and several of his agents. At the right time, I want you back in Sacramento, quietly and with no fanfare. This is not a quick resolution issue, Pug. In some respects, you’ll be involved in law enforcement work rather than military operations. That makes it a slow, tedious process, to gather sufficient information. I want this stopped, but we have the election cycle to consider and time to ferret out the culprits. It won’t be a quick assignment. You will likely spend the better part of the next year digging for worms before you catch your fish.”

Again Pug remained quiet, his expression puzzled. The president turned toward Clarene Prescott. “Clarene, perhaps you can bring the colonel and Judge Granata up to speed.”

“Certainly, Mr. President. Judge Granata, two days ago, Colonel Connor and his contemporaries at the CIA were briefed by one of the FBI’s special agents and an Army CID major regarding the growing insurrection in California. Their briefing was more along the lines of a fact-finding mission. . and it came up empty, didn’t it, Colonel Connor?” she asked.

“Madam Ambassador, I still don’t fully understand. .”

She nodded. “Grant Sully kept his silence, didn’t he?”

Suddenly Pug understood. “He did, Ambassador.”

“Right. Well, here it is in a nutshell. The president has asked me to put together a task force-outside the normal agencies-to investigate the truth behind the rapid movement toward secession. If you’re agreeable, Colonel Connor, the president would like you to head that confidential task force. You’re still a serving Marine Corps officer, and your absence can be explained by your new appointment in New Zealand.

“Judge Granata, it will take about six to eight weeks to get you into the director’s chair. In the meantime, the president wants you to work with Colonel Connor and several of the FBI’s militia investigators, meeting as time permits, in between your Senate confirmation hearings and Pug’s New Zealand visit, to try to ferret out what’s really behind this secession and the surprisingly strong public support it’s gained.

“Pug, your appointment to New Zealand will serve as cover for your leaving the CIA and will also give you a place to disappear, when necessary, for a few days at a time. Judge Granata will be your FBI contact, and you’ll report directly to me or to the president. The FBI agents involved will be outside their normal reporting lines as well.”

President Eastman leaned forward in his chair and looked at Pug. “Colonel, we’ve worked together before. I trust your instincts. Also, your current boss, General Austin, has told me a bit about your, uh, testy relationship with Grant Sully.”

“Sir, if the general is displeased. .”

President Eastman laughed. “Not to worry, son. You still head Austin’s list of men with integrity. He actually recommended you for this assignment, telling me he would hate to lose you from his staff, but assuring me you had the right skills for the job. As for Sully, he’s served this nation for many years, but as of late, Director Wentworth has expressed. . well, the jury’s still out, and the verdict may well depend in large part on your findings. Are you prepared to take on this assignment?”

“Sir, I’m. . uh, I’m ready to serve as you deem necessary, of course.”

“Understand me clearly, Colonel Connor. These militia die-hards are no less dangerous than the Iraqis you faced. And they’re not as easy to identify. They’ll kill you in a heartbeat if they feel it will further their ends. That’s why your New Zealand assignment will be good cover.”

Pug nodded. “Thank you, Mr. President. I very much appreciate your concern.”

“Fine, then,” the president said, standing. “Let’s get underway. Go to New Zealand and have a good time. Meanwhile, Clarene will arrange for a safe house in Sacramento, and we’ll see what we can do to put Judge Granata in place at the FBI. Oh, and Pug, while you’re cavorting around in New Zealand, remember your loyalties. Consider it a presidential order that whatever sailing knowledge you have is highly confidential. Let the Kiwis fend for themselves.”

“Sir, you have nothing to fear from me. I’m barely a passenger on the water, pure and simple. Now the Kiwis. . they’re a different story. If memory serves, it’s a Kiwi who heads the San Francisco yachting consortium. If America is able to hold on to the America’s Cup, without using all Kiwi sailors, I’ll be absolutely shocked.” He laughed.

Eastman feigned mock disdain and shook his head. “But the Swiss took if off the Kiwis, didn’t they?”

“They did, sir, but even then, the Kiwis still owned it. The same New Zealander who heads the San Francisco effort ran the Swiss victory.” He laughed.

“Clarene, shouldn’t such a treasonous remark go in Colonel Connor’s dossier?” the president joked.

“I’ll see to it, Mr. President,” she said, winking at Pug.

“Godspeed to both of you, gentlemen,” the president said. “All jesting aside, we have a serious threat to our national security with this secessionist movement. I want to get to the bottom of it and put an end to it. I don’t intend to preside over a second Civil War. Congratulations, Judge Granata. I look forward to working with you.”

“And I with you, Mr. President. Thank you for your confidence.”

Chapter 11

Sierra Nevada Mountains

Northern California

For most of his adult life, Jean Wolff had been a highly skilled, professional mercenary. Despite the Shasta Brigade’s well-earned reputation for violence, even murder-if the reports were true-meeting in person for the first time with the brigade’s leadership didn’t intimidate Wolff. Yet the physical insertion of another level of command-an unwanted level of command-always presented a problem. Depending upon the ego of the unit commander-in this case, a former U.S. Army officer named Jackson Shaw-the task had often proven difficult.

Twice, on similar missions, both times in the former Yugoslavia, the group commander or one of his associates had shot Wolff, but he had survived. On the second of those occasions, it was the local commander who had not survived. Wolff’s knowledge of the unit’s internal dissent had afforded him the opportunity to foment a rebellion within the ranks-to Wolff’s advantage.

With respect to the Shasta Brigade, John Henry Franklin had been adamant: it was time to take charge of this operation. Over a year earlier, at Franklin’s direction, Wolff had begun sending anonymous donations of cash to Shaw and other militia unit leaders.

Now, despite the inherent risks, and without having advised Shaw that he was the source of funds, Jean Wolff was going to meet personally for the first time with Shaw and the brigade leadership.

The land surrounding Camp Liberty, so named by the founders of the Shasta Brigade, was heavily wooded and deep within the Sierra Nevada Mountains. As Wolff drove the final miles over a dusty, rutted, fire service trail, he thought of his younger days and the physically demanding topography on which he had been required to operate-freezing his earlobes in the mountains surrounding Narvik, Norway, or nearly succumbing to heat prostration in the Libyan Desert. Surely these brigade members appreciated their temperate environment and the generous comfort it afforded. Yet, he smiled to himself, a soldier is a soldier is a soldier, and if complaining and grousing weren’t a part of this brigade, as they were in every other military organization he’d known, it would indeed be unusual.

Finally, the unpainted, crumbling wooden structures and temporary tent facilities came into view, located adjacent to a clear, fast-moving stream at the far end of an inclined meadow. A good site for rapid drainage and protection from the elements, he thought as he cut the engine and exited his truck. Of course, the site’s selection in the early thirties, as a Civilian Conservation Corps camp-part of Roosevelt’s Depression-era government works program-was made without consideration of a potential military assault or defensive strategies. Wolff could see that without the placement of perimeter defenses, including trip wires and Claymores, an attacking unit trained in stealthy assault techniques could completely infiltrate and overpower the camp within an hour.

Wolff stood to the side of his vehicle and surveyed the area, surprised that he hadn’t been challenged in his final approach. A familiar sound reached across the open field, and Wolff turned, smiling as he observed a dozen or so recruits laboring beneath the harsh eye and sand-and-gravel voice of the backbone of any military effort: a drill instructor.

“Get down, you tub of lard! If I was the enemy, I’d see your fat buttocks two hundred yards away, and I’d knock ten pounds off it with a couple of fifty caliber slugs,” a burly, muscular man bellowed at the top of his lungs. “I said you didn’t belong in the brigade, and I’m gonna wash your useless skin head outta here. Now, move it-move! move! move!”

Wolff noticed movement out of the corner of his eye and turned to see three men approaching, each dressed in BDUs and wearing a sidearm.

“Mr. Wolff, welcome to Camp Liberty. I’m Jackson Shaw, commander of the brigade.”

Wolff ignored the extended hand. “I can’t say much for your security, Commander Shaw. If I’d come here to kill you, you’d be a dead man right now.”

Shaw nodded slowly and allowed a small grin to cross his face. He removed his utility cap, scratched his head, and then replaced the cap. Suddenly, a single shot rang out, and the driver’s side mirror on Wolff’s vehicle shattered, with shards of glass and bits of metal falling to the ground. Shaw and the two men with him remained silent as Wolff glanced casually at the damage.

“Perhaps you’re right, Mr. Wolff. Security can always stand some improvement,” Shaw smiled, “but if you had come here to kill me, you’d have been dead, eight miles back down the mountain.”

Shaw extended his hand again, and this time Wolff accepted it, returning a firm grip of his own. Shaw spoke again. “Mr. Wolff, these are my company commanders, Captain Gary Jeffs and First Lieutenant John Hagleman. Now that we’ve completed the pleasantries, why don’t you join us in the command hut for some coffee? Lieutenant, please see that First Sergeant Krueger joins us.”

Hagleman immediately left the group and walked across the field, stopping to speak with Sergeant Krueger, who then directed a corporal working with the new recruits to take over. By the time Hagleman and Krueger reached the dilapidated building tucked into the shelter of a stand of pines, Shaw and Wolff were already inside, seated around an old wooden table, and Captain Jeffs was pouring coffee.

“Mr. Wolff, this is the brigade first sergeant, Otto Krueger,” Shaw said.

Wolff gave Otto a long, evaluative look. Otto returned Wolff’s stare, locking eyes until Wolff smiled slightly, and the two men came to an unspoken understanding regarding their respective level of professionalism-and determination.

“Commander Shaw, let’s get right to it,” Wolff said. “I’ve got to be in San Francisco later this evening. Tell me a bit about your brigade and your operations.”

Shaw sipped at his coffee and exchanged looks with Otto. “We’re just a group of good ole boys, Mr. Wolff. We do a bit of orienteering and paintball exercises. Nothing to tell, really.”

“I see,” Wolff nodded. “Well, then, perhaps I’ve come to the wrong place. I was led to believe that this was an active, operating paramilitary unit, led by competent officers-yourself included. You are Jackson Shaw, aren’t you? West Point, Class of ’87?”

Shaw remained silent.

“Look, Shaw, let’s not waste each other’s time. We know your unit has robbed five banks in the past six months, whacked heaven knows how many liberal do-gooders, including two city councilmen, one in Walnut Creek and one in. .” Wolff hesitated, looking at each of the men in the room. “Are these men fully cleared for all your operations?”

“They are,” Shaw responded. “Captain Jeffs is also the unit security officer.”

“Fine, then. I’ll say my piece once, and if you have no further interest, I’ll move on. We’ll identify a more capable unit. . if that should be necessary.”

“Look, you called me to arrange this meeting, Wolff,” Shaw said, suddenly angry. “What business is it of yours who we are and what we do? Who are you, anyway?”

Wolff smiled back at the larger man and spoke in a calm voice. “I know who I am, Commander Shaw. The question is, do you know who you are? And how important the Shasta Brigade is-or can become-to the California Patriot Movement?”

Shaw and his three men remained silent for several moments while Wolff waited patiently, taking a sip of his coffee.

“We’re listening, Mr. Wolff,” Shaw finally said.

“Good. Over the past few years you’ve received several anonymous ‘donations’ to the cause. Besides the bank robberies, I mean. Am I correct?”

“Many people believe in what we’re doing,” Shaw responded.

“True,” Wolff said, “but few of them have put up $300,000 in the past six months, right?”

Shaw raised an eyebrow. “Go on.”

“I sent that money, but that was just for openers. If you accept my offer, I’m prepared to deposit $1 million in your Cayman Islands bank account to be used completely at your discretion. I would suggest a healthy bonus for each of your full-time command staff-including you, of course, First Sergeant,” Wolff said, turning to smile at Otto Krueger.

“Why the money?” Shaw asked.

“Let me continue. You will remain in command of the Shasta Brigade-”

“I’m already in command of the brigade,” Shaw interrupted, agitation in his voice.

“Yes, you are. But in due time, you’ll be placed in command of the entire California Patriot Movement. Eight other militia units throughout the state will be placed under your authority.”

“Just who are you, Wolff? CIA? None of the other units will accept joint operational control, and for sure not from an unknown and unproven quantity like you.”

Wolff smiled. “The quantity, Commander Shaw, as I said, is $1 million-to start.”

“And what do we have to do to earn this. . this ‘donation’?”

“Although you will be in command of the military aspects of the operation, I will make the political decisions about what will be done and when it will occur. You’ll take your orders from me.”

“I’ve heard enough!” Shaw shouted, standing abruptly and knocking over his chair.

Wolff remained seated. “As I said, Shaw, the choice is yours. If necessary, we can locate another more suitable person-or unit-to run this operation. What we are proposing will happen, and the Shasta Brigade will participate, with or without you. You can be in charge, and the Shasta Brigade can take the lead. . or not. Your choice.”

The two men stared at one another for several long moments while Captain Jeffs, Lieutenant Hagleman, and First Sergeant Krueger remained silent, awaiting the outcome of this challenge to Shaw’s authority.

“And who commands you, Wolff?” Shaw asked.

That, you will never know. Let’s just say, their objectives are in harmony with yours, and they are prepared to support your movement with unlimited financial resources and the finest weapons to bring all your dreams to fruition, so to speak. And to ease your mind, they are not foreign nationals seeking to take over a part of America. You are not being asked to participate in a treasonous action, unless you see secession as such,” Wolff said, smiling.

“And when will this happen?”

“Be patient-the political work needs to be completed first, and that’s already in process. Then the military ops will follow. But it starts today, Commander Shaw-right here, right now, in this room. In a few weeks, a couple of months at most, I’ll arrange a meeting of the other militia units and announce your consolidated command responsibilities. Now, let’s talk about what your brigade will accomplish over the next sixty to ninety days. I think you’re really going to like your orders, Commander Shaw.” Wolff smiled.

Chapter 12

Yolo County Administration Building

Woodland, California

July, 2011

Just over a month after McFarland’s funeral, Dan Rawlings sat behind his desk in the Yolo County Administration Building, reviewing his daily planner, when Pat buzzed him over the office intercom.

“Dan, there’s a Ms. Jean Waters on the line from Waters amp; Hobson Literary Agency in New York City.”

Dan immediately recognized the name of the agent to whom he’d sent his novel. “Put her through, please.” Before picking up the phone, Dan quickly rummaged through the files stacked neatly behind his desk and retrieved a yellow folder. He pulled out the cover letter he had sent to Ms. Waters when he had mailed off the manuscript for Voices in My Blood.

“Good morning, this is Dan Rawlings.”

“Good morning, Mr. Rawlings. This is Jean Waters from Waters amp; Hobson. How are you today?”

“I’m fine, Ms. Waters. It’s a pleasure to hear from you.”

“Mr. Rawlings, I’ll come quickly to the point of my call. We’ve read your submission, and I must say, it’s very well presented. I think we can be of assistance in placing your novel, and we’d like to represent you.”

Dan had been deeply engrossed in budget issues prior to the call. He was surprised by the suddenness of the offer, and it took a few moments for him to mentally shift gears.

“Well, Ms. Waters, I’m flattered. I’ve actually done some additional work on the manuscript I sent last month. Uh, could you tell me where we go from here?” he asked, playing for enough time to digest this welcome but unexpected news. For six months, he had been receiving rejection slips from various publishers and agents. They ranged from a penciled note on his returned letter, which said, ‘Nope, not for us,’ to a more polite, two-paragraph letter, in which the agent advised that they didn’t handle that type of fiction.

“I’d like to send you a contract for representation. Of course, I can’t promise that we will be able to sell your manuscript to a publisher, but I certainly have high hopes. It’s well written, the story is compelling, and it’s timely, given recent developments in California, especially if you could add a closing chapter or two on the growth of the militia and the secession phenomenon.”

“Thank you, Ms. Waters. Thank you very much. You’ve made my day. I’ll watch the mail for your contract.”

“You’re very welcome, Mr. Rawlings. We’ll be in touch. If you have any questions, or if you have any occasion to be in New York, please let us know. We’d like to meet with you. Bye.”

“I will, and a good day to you, too, Ms. Waters. Thank you again.” Dan hung up the phone, and less than five seconds after his phone light went out on Pat’s switchboard, she was in his office.

“Well, don’t keep me in the dark. What’d she say?”

Working to stifle a happy grin, Dan said, “She asked me if I’d like the condo on Oahu or Kauai.”

C’mon, Dan.”

“All right, she offered to represent me. She likes the novel.”

“Great! Absolutely great. I’m working for the next John Grisham.”

“Not so fast, Pat. I’d really like to keep this between us, please. It’s a bit premature to begin getting too-”

“I know, I know. I’ll keep my mouth shut, if you promise to tell me when something happens.”

Smiling and nodding his head, Dan got up from his desk. He reached for his suit coat. “That’s a deal, Pat. I’m going out for a quick walk around the block. I need to clear my head and think about this for a few minutes.”

“Okay. I’ll cover for you. You don’t have anything until your appointment with the county attorney after lunch.”

“In that case, color me gone. I’ll be back after lunch, about one.”

“Okay. And congratulations. I know it’s nothing firm, but it is the first big step, right?”

“I guess it is. We’ll see. But first things first. We’ve got a lot happening, with the board undecided about their stance on secession, even though most of the other counties have already voted in favor.”

“Oh, I heard three of the supervisors speaking yesterday. They want to install HotVote in Yolo County for our local elections.”

“What?” Dan asked.

“You know, HotVote-the Home Telephone Voting system. The state’s been using it since the primaries last June.”

“What is it, exactly?” Dan asked

“Our county administrator wants to know how elections and the voting process work in California?” Pat teased.

“Yeah, don’t spread it around,” Dan laughed.

“It’s absolutely a snap. You dial the 800 number first. The computer prompts you to enter your Social Security number, followed by a four-digit assigned PIN, given to you when you register to vote-sort of like the bank teller machine. Then you’re presented with a question-by-question list of issues and candidates. You know, ‘press one if you vote for Wilson, two if you vote for Johnson,’ and so forth. You can skip any issues you don’t wish to address. It’s great, Dan, and really convenient. They’ve used it in other states for several years.”

“What about the longer referendum issues? Does the computer read them to you?”

“No, silly. You have to put in some effort before the election-that is if you want to know what you’re voting on.”

“Okay, I’ve got it,” he said, an embarrassed grin crossing his face.

“It should make it easier for everyone.”

“You mean the couch potatoes get to vote, too?” he joked as he headed for the door. “See you after lunch.”

“Okay. But next election, you should try it.”

“I’ll think about it, but I kind of like the privacy and security of the booth,” he said.

“What’s more private or secure than calling in from home?” Pat laughed.

“I guess. See ya later.”

“Good evening. I’m Paul Spackman, and welcome to the Six O’ Clock Eyewitness News.

In a surprise announcement yesterday, the California Supreme Court startled the pundits by remanding the secession issue back to the state elections office, requiring a special, statewide single-purpose election on the controversial issue. A date has yet to be determined for a future election. Senator Malcolm Turner, for whom this issue has been a primary focus since his campaign for reelection, has agreed to speak with us.”

A close-up of Senator Turner filled the screen behind Paul Spackman, and the reporter swiveled in his chair to face Turner.

“Senator Turner, thank you for agreeing to speak to us. Your reaction on the surprising court decision, please.”

“Paul, once again our justices have failed to listen to the people or the purposeful voice behind their previous votes. This court decision is not going to sit well with Californians, and certainly not with those public-minded organizations that have placed their time and energy behind the movement.”

“Senator, are you saying that the militia groups may take hostile action against the Supreme Court justices as they did last year against the Superior Court panel?”

Turner pursed his lips, affected a concerned look, and shook his head. “Paul, I certainly hope that more violence doesn’t occur as a result of this misguided decision, but I don’t know that the electorate could have sent a clearer message. Notice has been served on the bloated, federal bureaucracy that enough is enough. You’ll remember the line from that network news movie of some years ago, ‘We’re mad as hell, and we’re not going to take it anymore’? Well, that’s how the majority of Californians feel, Paul, and I’m proud to say that I stand with the people on this issue. After all, how many elections will be needed to show Congress and the courts that Californians are serious?”

After a quick camera cut to Spackman’s face, the news anchor continued his questioning.

“Your position is well known, Senator. Can you tell us why you think this has become such a volatile issue, and where we should go from here?”

“There is no reason for the people of this great state to continue to knuckle under to outdated, prohibitive, increasingly burdensome federal policies-policies that have choked our productivity and negatively impacted the growth and prosperity of our state. The people are fed up, and I’m proud to have been in the forefront of this campaign.”

“Thank you for your time, Senator Turner. I’m sure we’ll hear more from you and others on this momentous issue in the days ahead.”

“Thank you, Paul,” Turner said with a small wave.

Turning back to the camera, Spackman continued. “With a special election scheduled, Californians will be faced with yet another decision about the future of their state. HotVote, the Home Voting Telephone System that so successfully saved the election back in November after the state’s computers failed in their tally, will take the forefront in the upcoming election results. That story and more when we return. .”

Following a commercial break, during which Spackman quickly reviewed his script, he began again.

“Last November, when an untimely computer failure in the California elections office caused a delay of nearly eight hours in certifying the election results, the Home Telephone Voting system, or HotVote, apparently performed flawlessly. Results from the HotVote system were immediately available, and the totals from that automated voting system compared favorably with the official count when it finally became available the following day.

“We are now joined via satellite by Barbara Fuller, an official with AmeriLink, the company that pioneered the HotVote home polling system. Thank you for joining us, Ms. Fuller. Tell us about your company’s system.”

An attractive young woman, professionally dressed and sitting in front of a bank of large computer monitors, smiled at the camera.

“Paul, our polling system was originally developed to provide subscribers access through their PCs to home shopping networks, mail-order houses, ticketing outlets, and banking functions. In tests conducted over the last few years in Missouri, Oregon, and Utah, it has also proven its worth as a tool to facilitate more efficient and greater voter participation in all kinds of elections.”

“Your system certainly proved its worth in the California general election last November,” Paul said, “and throughout the evening, provided the only figures that were available.”

Ms. Fuller nodded her assent while fidgeting with her earpiece, trying to hold it in place. “As unfortunate as it was to have the California regular polling system go down, we were pleased to have our system in place and to be able to demonstrate once again the efficiency and reliability of the HotVote polling technique.”

Spackman nodded his agreement. “That demonstration comes at a good time for you and your company. With multiple successful elections behind you in several states, I believe HotVote is due to come online as the primary polling system in California later this year, during the regular, statewide elections. Have you been notified regarding your company’s role in this recently announced special election?”

“You’re quite correct, Paul. California voters, as well as the citizens of Missouri, Oregon, and Utah, have taken wholeheartedly to the convenience of voting from their homes over the telephone. We’re very excited and see a great future for the system, which was originally designed to provide voter participation by those who were in some way prevented from getting to the regular polling locations-folks who were unable, because of health or other causes, to get out and participate in our democratic system. And yes, we have been asked, just today, as a matter of fact, to prepare our system to function in the upcoming special election.”

“Thank you, Ms. Fuller,” Spackman said. Turning back to the camera once again, the handsome newscaster smiled at his co-anchor. “Sandy, it looks as if Californians are in for yet another barrage of secession campaigning, and that HotVote will be the final arbiter. Now, I believe you have another story for us. .”

John Henry Franklin sat in front of a massive television screen that filled nearly the entire wall of his den at Sea Ranch. Watching the interview, he mentally began checking off the preparations for the next phase of the operation.

“This is a surprising new development, Jean. One we’ll have to deal with quickly.”

“I believe we can keep it under control. Actually, it was your behind-the-scenes work with Phelps and the lieutenant governor’s office that turned the tables in the first two elections, and of course, coordinating the results with the polling data. We can do it again.”

“Yeah, maybe,” he said, twirling his cigar between his fingers. “And both of those took a bit of arm-twisting and cost a bundle. But that’s changed,” Franklin said.

“How so?” Wolff asked.

“Director Phelps died last week of a heart attack following a drug overdose.”

“Oh?” Wolff said, his instincts heightened.

“We had nothing to do with it,” Franklin replied. “Apparently, he actually did start taking drugs. He was a key insider. But even if he were still alive, he wouldn’t be of much help in this special election. The issue he was so willing to help is history.”

“What was that?” Wolff asked.

Franklin smiled. “There was a particularly important issue during the last election-important to Phelps, that is-about company health and retirement benefits for gay partners.”

“Phelps was gay?”

“Decidedly, although he never came out of the closet. We just got a friend of his to ask his help on this particular issue, and once we got inside his office. . well, you know the rest.”

“Interesting,” Wolff said. “I wondered how you’d gotten us inside-officially, that is.”

“So now, we have to fill his void and get back into the computers, and quickly.”

Wolff paused for a moment before replying. “We’ll keep a close eye on those staff members who have the ability to provide information. Someone is always vulnerable to persuasion, either money or force.”

Franklin rose and walked toward the French doors leading out onto the veranda, commenting as he passed the third man in the room.

“After the special election confirms the secession, how do you see the Fed’s responding, Grant?”

Grant Sully rose from his chair near the French doors and followed Franklin onto the veranda. “A lot of bluster, John Henry. Pro and con political posturing, mostly from congressmen scared to death that it will affect their home states and possibly cause the loss of their congressional seats as a result. Still, the investigations will increase. Technically, the CIA is restricted from domestic inquiry, so the FBI has been assigned to investigate and report. They’ve agreed to brief the CIA twice a week, or immediately if something significant develops. I’ll be in that pipeline. Rest easy. We’ve got it under control.”

“Humph. A lot’s at stake, Grant.”

“It always is.”

“Yeah, I suppose. But then, you’ve never fomented an insurrection in your own backyard. You’ve always played in someone else’s neighborhood, and when it blew up in their face, you just pocketed all the marbles, went home, and developed another plan.”

Grant Sully turned to face Franklin. “This time, I’ve a vested interest. This time it’s for real.”

Franklin studied Sully for a moment, then continued. “We’ve never undertaken such a bold plan before. I intend to see it carried out. With the help of our Mexican friends and a small, well-directed insurrection from the brigade to bring about the desired public response, we’ll pull this off and the world will view it as a popular uprising.”

“And Senator Turner?” Sully asked.

“He’s beginning to enjoy his role,” Franklin replied. “I think he sees himself as the first prime minister of the Republic of California.”

“And. .?” Sully asked.

“That’s how he sees it, and for now, that suits me just fine.”

Chapter 13

San Francisco International Airport

San Francisco, California

August, 2011

After spending nearly a month in New Zealand, wondering the entire time how the task force was developing and why the president had snatched him out of the CIA to work on this team, Colonel Pug Connor found no relief for his anxiety. It only increased during the twelve-hour Air New Zealand flight from Auckland to Los Angeles. Usually unable to sleep on aircraft anyway, Pug enjoyed even less rest than usual on this trip. After clearing customs in L.A., he hand-carried his one bag and transferred via airport shuttle to the Delta terminal and had a bite of lunch, waiting just over two hours for his connection to San Francisco. The fifty-minute flight barely gave the plane time to ascend and descend before the flight attendant was announcing preparation for landing.

Walking up the concourse from the arrival gate, Pug thought again of what his former wife, Alison, always said about arranging meetings immediately after a long flight. Give yourself time to get to your hotel room and change or get your clothes pressed, she’d admonished. A quick glimpse of his reflection in the corridor from the glass-covered advertisements convinced him that Alison had been right. He looked like a vagrant in his rumpled gray suit.

Uniforms seemed to withstand travel much better. But in his nearly twenty-three years of military service, including four years at the Naval Academy, he had seldom been required to actually wear his military attire. Over that time, not counting the Annapolis years, he had spent only nine years in uniform. Military personnel assigned to the National Security Agency and the CIA tried to blend in by wearing civilian clothes. An assignment to serve on a presidential task force seemed destined to continue the trend.

As Pug walked toward the terminal exit, a young woman quietly fell in step with him. Once through the doorway, she spoke up. “I’ve got a car in the parking area, Mr. Connor,” she said quietly.

He looked at her and nodded. “Ms. Bentley?”

“Nicole Bentley.”

They blended in with the thousands of daily travelers at the San Francisco International Airport and made their way to the parking lot, where Bentley opened the driver’s door and unlocked the passenger side for Pug. Pulling onto California 101, she merged confidently with the traffic and headed north, then handed Pug a manila folder.

As she drove, she said, “My partner, Al Samuels, is waiting for us at the hotel, and Judge Granata will join us shortly. We’ve scheduled a briefing for you on the current status, and tomorrow morning we’ve lined up a helicopter from the California Forest Service for a look around some abandoned Shasta Brigade training sites.”

“So the judge is out here?”

“He is, sir.”

“How are the confirmation hearings going?”

“A bit of a delay there, sir. Politics, I believe.” She smiled, glancing at him. “But the president told Judge Granata there’s nothing to worry about. A couple of senators just want something in return from the president.”

“Democracy at work,” Pug laughed.

“Yes, sir.”

Pug glanced over at the pretty young woman as she skillfully maneuvered her way through the afternoon traffic and then flipped open the folder.

“That’s a list of militia leaders from the top half-dozen units operating in central and northern California, and a background summary on each. Our briefing this afternoon will be more specific to the Shasta Brigade.”

“Fine,” he said, closing the folder. “And Pug will do fine, Nicole,” he said.

“Yes, sir. . Pug,” she said, briefly smiling at him again. “My partner called a few moments before you landed and told me that Judge Granata will be a bit late to our meeting. He’s with several of the California justices who wanted to meet with him. His ‘official’ visit to California is a fact-finding mission at the San Francisco FBI office. The press has dogged him since his nomination. He felt he couldn’t fly out without being spotted, so he announced the visit and made it official.”

“So the judge is getting a taste of notoriety, eh?” Pug laughed. “Serves him right. He’s given me the needle over the years when I’ve been stuck in the public eye.”

Granata, fifteen years older than Pug, had often asked Pug’s opinion on issues of the day, and on rare occasions when they had been able to find the time, they’d played golf together. Pug knew Granata was a determined, no-nonsense public servant. Even so, he remained a compassionate man, whose natural impulse was to take people at their word and offer them every opportunity for change.

On one occasion, five or six years earlier, Pug had gone to Judge Granata’s court in Alexandria, Virginia, to meet him for lunch. Arriving early, Pug had slipped unobtrusively into the back of the courtroom and watched as a young female defendant pleaded her case. Accused of violating the terms of her probation, the young woman had been asked by Judge Granata what assurance she could offer that she would not repeat her offense. Pug marveled at her naive reply-one that revealed her limited perspective and her ignorance of the world.

Judge Granata listened as the young woman explained how she was planning to move to St. Charles, Maryland, where, she said, “I kin get a new start, with different folk. There’s no drugs there, Judge.” Granata had slowly shaken his head in amazement, and Pug himself had wondered how the young lady had come to the conclusion that relocating barely thirty miles from the source of her troubles would, indeed, change her life. Still, Granata, with a reputation for fairness, set the young lady on her intended course with a warning that should she reappear in his court, he would have no choice but to confine her for the duration of her original sentence.

Watching her shuffle away, her wrists handcuffed and leg restraints in place, Pug had suddenly felt humbled by the confined life most people led, restricted by their view of the world, which in many cases was limited to a short fifty-mile radius with the highlight of their life being a trip to Atlantic City, or for the more fortunate, Las Vegas.

Bentley parked the car in the hotel basement, and she and Pug entered the elevator. Three days earlier, when Granata had called Pug in New Zealand and arranged this meeting in San Francisco, he’d briefed Pug on the members of the task force, including Bentley.

“She’s been with the bureau just under two years. Assignment to your task force is somewhat unprecedented for one so inexperienced, but she comes highly rated. Her partner, Al Samuels, is the agent in charge of the FBI’s militia investigation in California. Bentley has been working with him for just over a year. His reports on their progress so far indicate that she shows excellent instincts and that she’s learned rapidly. However, the choice of whether to keep her on the task force or not is up to you, Pug. Once my appointment is confirmed, I could assign someone more senior, but they would have less knowledge on the specific units we’re concerned about. Besides, she works pretty well with Samuels, it seems.”

“I’ve been the junior man on a new team a few times myself, Judge. Have you had a chance to talk with her?”

“A couple of times.”

“What do you think?” Pug asked.

“Very intelligent woman, but I don’t want to influence you. It’s your call. These two California-based agents will be key to your success, and you need to have full confidence in them.”

“Judge,” Pug said, “it’s now your agency. In the years I’ve known you, I’ve not yet found a reason to question your evaluation of anything. I say let’s keep her on the team.”

“Here we are, Colonel,” Bentley said as the elevator reached the fourteenth floor. “Room 1426, to the right. Agent Samuels should already be here.”

Bentley knocked on the door, and Samuels opened it immediately.

“Good afternoon, Colonel Connor. It’s a pleasure to meet you, sir,” he said.

Pug shook hands with the man, guessing Samuels was approximately his own age. “Let’s start off informally, what say?” Pug said. “I’ll be Pug and you be Al. Or would you prefer Alfred?”

“Al will do fine, Colonel, and my partner is Nicole, Nicky, or sometimes Annie Oakley, when she outshoots me on the pistol range,” Samuels said, chuckling.

“Just Nicole, please,” Bentley said, offering her hand again to Pug. “Don’t mind Al. It sticks in his craw that my shooting seems to, uh, be a bit more accurate.” She smiled.

“I’d prefer we work by first names, if that doesn’t violate FBI protocol.”

“No, uh,” Samuels said, “we’ve kind of developed our own protocol on this assignment. By the way, Judge Granata just called and said he’s about ten minutes out. And Pug, please don’t be offended if we refer to Judge Granata as ‘Director.’ The casual atmosphere only goes so far, if you know what I mean.”

“Absolutely, Al,” Pug laughed. “Ten minutes until Director Granata arrives, you say?”

“That’s what he said just a couple of minutes ago.”

“Well, then. I think I’ll use the bathroom to shave and clean up a bit. That was a long flight.”

“How about some lunch when you finish?” Nicole asked.

“Great. A club sandwich and a lemonade or a Sprite, if you please.”

Judge Granata was, in fact, nearly forty-five minutes late, giving Pug ample time to shower, change clothes, and have a bite to eat. When Granata did arrive, the four of them immediately launched into a review of the militia activity that had occurred during the previous twelve months.

Pug shook his head. “These guys have clearly stepped over the line, and certainly they’ve gone out on a limb, claiming responsibility for murdering federal judges. But do you actually believe they consider themselves involved in open warfare with the United States government?”

“Clearly, the core leadership does,” Judge Granata said, nodding. “But it’s not as farfetched as it seems at first glance. Let Samuels and Bentley update you further. Though the president’s idea to form an independent investigative task force was new, you’ll be pleased to know you won’t have to start from scratch. The FBI has been on this issue since before the first referendum. We’ve compiled quite a file.”

“That’s what Agent Samuels was telling me before you arrived.”

“Agents Samuels and Bentley will be your direct link with my office. For about eighteen months this has been their sole assignment-investigation of the northern California militia groups. They’ve compiled dossiers on the leadership and have uncovered some very interesting linkage. What you don’t know, and it’s still restricted information outside of this group, is that they’ve an undercover FBI operative inside the Shasta Brigade. Through him, we understand that more bank robberies are planned. We’re hoping our insider can provide more detailed information on timing so we can stake out a few of the likely targets.”

“Do you have any other inside intelligence sources?” Pug asked.

“Agent Bentley can answer that question, Colonel,” Al Samuels said. “She’s had primary responsibility for membership and background.”

“None, unfortunately, Colonel Connor, at least no one else inside the brigade,” Nicole responded. “We do, however, have a fairly complete membership list of the organization-that’s included in what I gave you in the car. At last count, about a hundred and twenty-five fully active members, with maybe thirty hard-core, experienced military types. Of course, total membership is probably five times that number, but most of those have no idea how involved the units are in these killings and robberies.”

Pug leaned back, resting his arms on the side of the paisley lounge chair.

“Nicole, in my experience with foreign groups, thirty dedicated, capable men, or women for that matter, can cause a vast amount of devastation.”

Nicole nodded and looked toward Samuels.

“That would hold true in this case, too, Colonel. Nicole?” he said, nodding for her to continue.

“Colonel, this secession issue, as Director Granata indicated, goes much deeper than anyone had imagined. Popular support exists, make no mistake, and in fact is still growing, but we have reason to believe that someone, or, more likely a group of people, have infiltrated the system in California and have rigged the elections.”

Nicole paused, allowing Pug time to reflect on the magnitude of her statement. Judge Granata and Al Samuels sat silently. When Pug didn’t react, waiting instead for her to continue, Nicole looked at the judge, puzzled.

Pug leaned forward in his chair. “People, let’s get something straight. Ms. Bentley,” he said, looking directly at her, “you, Agent Samuels, and Director Granata should not assume that I am so naive as to be astonished by any revelation that might come forth from an investigation of this sort. Terrorists and fanatics of the kind we’re dealing with here are willing to do virtually anything to further their cause. If we didn’t know that before Oklahoma City and the USS Cole and the events of 9/11, we certainly know it now. Sometimes the motivation is no more than to get one single person out of the way so some other faction can lead. I’ve seen it. And if they think it’s required, they’ll take down a whole plane load of people to kill one person. Granted, domestic origin is a new wrinkle, and one that makes our job even harder, but it’s not to be unexpected.”

Granata settled back into his chair, a sly grin beginning to form on his face. Pug continued speaking.

“The lengths to which unscrupulous men will go to gather wealth and power no longer surprises me, and that someone has seen fit to invade the sanctity of the polling booth should surprise none of you, either. It’s been done for centuries, usually to ensure the election of a specific person. But in this case, it seems clear that a clandestine group has reason to think that if California were a separate and distinct nation, they would benefit. This movement to secede certainly isn’t just because people are fed up with Congress wanting to stick its fingers into everyone’s pie-even though we all know that’s exactly what they usually do.” He laughed. “So let’s dispense with the beating around the bush and the ‘surprise revelations’ about findings to date. Please assume that I know something about this intelligence gathering business. What say?”

Pug paused as Agent Bentley, Al Samuels, and Judge Granata began to smile, looking occasionally at each other and then back at Pug. Finally, Judge Granata broke the silence.

“I would like to think that I always knew, but now perhaps, Agents Samuels and Bentley, you can also understand why the president selected Colonel Connor to head this task force.”

“Thank you, Judge. Now tell me,” Pug said, looking back at Nicole. “What makes you think fraudulent elections have been involved in this process?”

“Following the first advisory election last year, we investigated the death of the director of the California elections office from what appeared to be a drug overdose. At first glance it was clearly a drug issue, but the police were suspicious and notified us because of the secession issues. We haven’t been able to trace the perpetrators any further, but a detailed background check of the deceased showed no previous drug involvement. There are at least two other murders that may have some connection to the election, including that of an assistant attorney general in another state.”

Pug stood and stepped to a small table in the corner of the hotel room. He opened his briefcase and pulled out a couple of folders and several yellow, legal-sized pads.

“If I’m going back to New Zealand tomorrow night, I’d better have more than a good memory.”

“Colonel, there is one other quite important piece of information you should know, given your previous assignment,” Nicole said, as she placed a blown-up, black-and-white photograph on the table in front of Connor. “This picture was taken from a camper van parked in a known meeting site of the Shasta Brigade. It’s a roadside rest stop in northern California on I-5, just south of Corning. Do you recognize either of these men?”

Pug studied the photo for a moment, turning it sideways to get a better perspective of the two men who were talking over the hood of a car, near some children playing in the grass and a lady walking a dog in the background. Pug’s eyes widened a bit as he took note of the familiar characteristics of one of the men.

“The man on the left,” Nicole said, “is Jackson Shaw, the commander of the Shasta Brigade. He normally meets with another man we’ve yet to identify. That man is not in this picture. The second man in this picture-”

“Is none other than Grant Sully, CIA deputy director of operations,” Pug interjected, looking up at Granata, who nodded acknowledgment.

“That came in two weeks ago, after our meeting with the president,” Granata said.

“Does the president know?” Pug asked.

“We’ve told Ambassador Prescott, but as yet, I’ve not personally advised the president. Perhaps Prescott did, but don’t count on it.”

Pug drew in a deep breath. “We’ve got our work cut out for us, it appears, and it means I’ll have to remain even further in the background for awhile. And don’t either of you underestimate Grant Sully. His network goes deep, and despite our jesting earlier about respective domestic and international limitations between the CIA and the FBI, his network is not limited to international. I believe he has an extensive network of contacts within the U.S.”

“Colonel Connor,” Agent Bentley said, smiling, “so do we. Or, as task-force head, perhaps I should say, so do you.”

“Well,” Pug said, stretching his arms over his head, interlocking his fingers and cracking his knuckles, “it’s always nice to be traded to a winning team.”

Chapter 14

Cache Valley, California

Puffing hard himself as they reached the crest, Dan knew that his grandfather, Jack Rumsey, was tiring. They’d hiked four miles from where they’d left the car, most of it uphill, but Jack was still hanging in there. Dan was impressed by his grandfather’s stamina-into his eighties and still going strong.

With several fishing places to choose from, Dan felt compelled to ease Jack’s burden.

“How about Pleasant Lake, Jack?” Dan queried, knowing the clearing where they usually camped was only another few hundred yards distant.

Leaning forward, his hands on his knees, breathing hard and sweating, Jack smiled. “What’s the matter? That desk job made you soft?”

“Not like in the old days, eh, Jack, when the ships were wood and the men were iron?”

“Watch your mouth, kid.” Jack replied. “Why’d you choose this place anyway? We just about fished it out years ago.”

“The truth?” Dan said.

“No, I want you to lie to me, you smart-mouthed pup,” the older man retorted.

“Two reasons. We haven’t been fishing in a long time, and I felt I needed to get away for a bit.” He grinned at his grandfather. “And two, one of the guard officers told me his Shasta Brigade squad would be on maneuvers up here this weekend. I’d kind of like to have a look.”

Jack cocked an eyebrow at Dan and shook his head. “You thinking of joining with the brigade boys?”

“They’ve asked me,” Dan replied. “Several times, in fact. But I have no intention of joining. I just want to see what’s up.”

“And you brought me along for protection?” Jack suggested.

“Something like that.” Dan laughed, dropping his pack.

Jack shucked his pack and stretched his back muscles.

Both men stood for a few moments, enjoying the vista provided by the lake, framed against the coastal range mountains. After setting up a lean-to shelter and clearing a place for the fire, Dan assembled his fly rod and took a small packet of flies from the backpack.

“Second fish cooks, Jack.”

Jack stood stone-faced. “Hope you cook better than last time, young Rawlings. I’m looking forward to a couple days of servitude from the next generation.”

“Better plan on serving your grandson-then you won’t be disappointed,” Dan challenged. “After all, you taught me everything you know.”

“No, son,” Jack replied, slowly dragging out his words as he tied a homemade “Jack Special” fly onto his leader. “I taught you all you know.” He grinned.

Later, Jack lay back and watched the stars begin to appear while Dan finished frying the trout and potatoes.

“Grub’s on,” Dan finally called.

Jack rattled his mess kit and stepped over to the campfire, waiting while Dan flipped a slightly blackened, filleted trout one more time in his frying pan.

“Years ago, I discovered how much better Rainbow trout can taste when prepared and served by someone else. Catching ’em is my contribution.”

“Better shake a leg, Jack. This one’s in danger of burning up if you give me any more lip.”

After full dark, utensils cleaned, and a peaceful quiet settled in around the lake, Jack sat watching as Dan lit the Coleman lantern then arranged the sleeping bags.

“How long have I been bringing you here, Dan?” Jack asked as the younger man moved about with evening chores before settling down.

“Over twenty years, I suppose. I think I was five or six the first time.”

“And before that-before you were born, in fact,” Jack said, reminiscing. “I took your sister fishing in the back streams of Alaska during my years up there. Brave lass she was, too. Kodiak bear upstream as we waded in the water, salmon swirling around our hip-waders lookin’ for a place to spawn. You should’ve seen that slip of a girl-couldn’t have been more than twelve-in her hip-waders. Looked like chest waders, all folded down to her size. Seems like only yesterday.” The older man reached with a stick to stir the fire, then said, “It’s been a good life. No complaints to speak of, except losing your grandmother too soon.”

Dan continued straightening up the campsite, thinking about his grandmother’s death and the struggle Jack had gone through to adjust to life without her. Dan had always been close to his grandfather, but when Susan died, it was as though they added another dimension to their relationship.

Dan put away the last scrap of food, out of smell and sight of any nocturnal animals, then pulled a sweater over his head and came to sit on a log near the fire. They sat for a time, enjoying the warmth and colors of the blaze.

“Jack, you told me some time back you were opposed to the secession, but what do you think is going to happen? What should I expect?”

The old man sat quietly for a few moments, drinking his coffee.

“That what you brought me up here for, son?”

“No. I just wanted to cook your meals, blow up your air mattress, and see to your every comfort,” Dan kidded. “Seriously, Granddad, when I was drilling with my guard unit a few weeks back, some of us were discussing the next election. One of the other officers-a ‘brigade boy,’ as you call ’em-challenged me that one day I might be called upon to decide if I was going to be an American or a Californian. If the previous election results are any indicator, it looks as though we might have to make that choice.”

“You think it could come to that?”

“Can’t tell yet, Granddad. But a lot of folks are pressing the issue. And some powerful organizations-financial and political-are behind the push.”

“And you?” Jack asked.

“You know how I feel about this valley, Jack. And I know what you told me after the primaries-about being an American.”

Jack nodded. “I guess you think you’ve heard all the family stories, don’t you?”

“Yep,” Dan said, looking at his grandfather through the flickering sparks rising up from the campfire into the darkness.

“The twins, Howard and Frank-I told you about them?”

“You’ve told me many stories about how Howard settled Rumsey Valley, but not much about his brother.”

“Well, maybe there’s something to be learned from what happened to them.” Jack reached for the coffeepot and refilled his tin cup before going on.

“In 1828, my great-great grandfather, Tomas Rumsey, was still living in Connecticut, where his family had been for nearly two centuries. He had a scrap with his father about marrying the Hawkins girl, so he took his new bride and moved down to South Carolina, where he eventually bought a small parcel of land and took up tobacco farming.

“In 1830 they had a baby girl, and then in ’33, they had the twins, Howard and Frank. When the boys were nineteen, they both got an appointment to West Point and graduated together in 1856. By 1860, they were both captains, with Howard stationed in Washington and Frank down in Tennessee. Well, you know what happened in ’61. The boys met at the homestead in Carolina to decide their futures. Their dad, Tomas, was in poor health by then, and they came home only in time to bury him. Immediately after the funeral, the two brothers argued bitterly. South Carolina troops had fired on Fort Sumter, and Carolina had pulled out of the Union. Frank ended up resigning his Army commission and taking a confederate commission with a South Carolina regiment.

“Howard stayed with the Union, went back to Washington, and was later assigned to Meade’s staff. General Meade assumed command of the army of the Potomac in ’63, two days before Gettysburg, and Howard went with him. He was in the bulwarks on Cemetery Ridge when Pickett’s boys, including a South Carolina regiment, came so gallantly across that field. It wasn’t Frank’s outfit, but Howard had no way of knowing if his brother was there or not. After it was all over, Howard wrote a poem about it. In it, he said the Southern troops were the bravest men he’d ever seen.”

Dan sat quietly, enthralled by this new story, potentially a significant addition to his novel. “Jack, I really thought I’d heard them all over the years. Why haven’t you ever told me about this?”

“Kind of a family secret, I guess. Usually the story just jumps forward to Howard Rumsey’s trek west. He was a colonel by the end of the war. The brothers got together once again for a brief time at the Carolina homestead after the rebels surrendered. Their mother had died during the war, and their older sister had married. Howard got home first, and when Frank came back from two years in a Yankee prison camp, he was minus one arm-lost at Chickamauga. As the family version of the story goes, they didn’t argue, but Howard agreed to leave the farm to Frank and left to come West. They never saw each other again.”

“But that’s not the whole story, is it, Jack?” Dan asked.

“Nope,” the old man replied, pausing to drink his coffee.

Dan sat quietly, smiling inwardly at Jack’s habit of dragging out things other people wanted to know. After several long moments, Jack smiled in return, and Dan knew his grandfather was wise to him.

“So, anyway, I found out some years back-from a distant cousin on Frank’s side of the family-that this family reunion in South Carolina wasn’t entirely peaceful. It makes sense that after the war there were hard feelings against the local boys who’d served with the Yankees. With the twins’ parents gone and their sister married off to some farmer from fifty miles away, it was just the boys on the farm. That lasted about three weeks. Then Frank told Howard he wasn’t welcome anymore and to get out.”

“Weren’t they both owners-the father’s will or something?”

“Don’t know. But Frank laid it out for his brother-‘don’t want you here.’”

“What convinced him to leave?”

Jack stood and stretched his back, turning to look out over the lake and the sliver of moonlight reflecting off the water. Finally he turned back toward Dan.

“The hangings.”

Hangings?” Dan got up from his log and came to stand alongside his grandfather. “Who was hanged?”

“Maybe a half-dozen returned Yankees from that part of South Carolina. It seems the local boys didn’t take kindly to them deserting their state during the war, and although the sheet-head boys were just starting up, the night riders went after who they called ‘the traitors’ before they did the freed slaves.”

“And so Frank warned Howard to leave before he-”

“That’s the way it was told to me. It sounds right, although Howard never told my granddaddy anything about it. Leastwise, nothing I ever heard about.”

Dan considered this new information, new thoughts about his family running through his head. “So, you’re telling me that if this California secession issue comes to a head-considering what just happened to McFarland-we’ll probably see more of the same.”

“Men do strange things when they get an idea stuck in their craw and think they’re heaven’s choice for being right. Those choices aren’t easy, and ‘family blood’ doesn’t always count.” Jack turned to look at Dan. “You decided where you’re going to stand, if it comes to it?”

“You know my commission as a captain in the guard makes me a federal officer.”

Jack nodded slowly. “That’s the shame of it, isn’t it? So were the twins.”

“And Kenny Bailey was in the brigade, before he was killed,” Dan added, surprised that his thoughts had turned to his brother-in-law.

“Never did like that kid,” Jack said, “but it’s a shame he had to die that way. I told you, son-don’t underestimate these brigade boys. They’ve gotten a smell of their personal brand of freedom now, and they aren’t gonna turn loose easily.”

Dan was quiet for a few moments, staring into the fire. “People always seem to think that the lessons of history aren’t relevant to our time. But time and again, we repeat the process, don’t we?”

“It’s human nature. Man has got to stretch his wings, and we foolishly think that the people back then just got it wrong and we can do it right. We never learn.” Jack yawned, picking up his sleeping bag and shaking it out. “Well, young’un, this mountaineer’s gonna get some shut-eye.”

Dan sat quietly for a long while after Jack had curled up in his sleeping bag. The younger man studied the dying fire, breathing in the fresh aroma of the forest and enjoying the setting and a sky brilliant with stars. He turned to look as Jack shifted in his bed and listened as his grandfather’s breathing became deeper and more rhythmic.

Considering that he might actually have to choose between his American citizenship and the affection he had for his California heritage-particularly the tie he felt to his forebears and Rumsey Valley-he experienced a sudden foreboding and was surprised that tears welled up in his eyes. It occurred to him that the twins likely struggled with similar emotions as they were forced to choose opposite sides in the great American conflict of their day.

He looked again at the still figure, wrapped up in his bedroll, and thought of the mentor his grandfather had been to him as he was growing into manhood. “I love this valley, Jack,” he murmured softly to the night sky, “and all you’ve made of it.”

For eighty years the old man had been plowing fields, planting trees, hauling irrigation pipe, knocking almonds, and hunting and fishing in these mountains. Jack’s father and mother, grandparents, and Colonel Howard Rumsey, his great-granddad Civil War veteran and original valley settler, were buried not ten miles from where Jack now slept. And Ellen, Jack’s beloved wife of sixty-two years. And soon, Dan knew, Jack would join them. But the voices weren’t lost. They have been genetically and emotionally embedded in me, Dan thought. And if humanly possible, they’ll remain safe in my care.

It seemed as if he had just laid his head on his makeshift pillow when a sound startled Dan awake. The light was barely sufficient to see, but the rustling in the bushes and the stomping on the ground grew louder, bringing Dan to full consciousness. He sat up in his sleeping bag and looked around just as three men in various components of military field uniform emerged from the forest and entered the clearing. Dan quickly rose, shedding his sleeping bag. He glanced quickly at Jack’s bag, but his grandfather was not there.

“Morning,” Dan said as he sat on a log, rapidly pulling on and lacing up his boots. “Early maneuvers?”

“Who are you?” one of the men asked. All three were young, and Dan didn’t recognize any of them.

“Dan Rawlings,” he replied.

“I said ‘who are you?’ not ‘what’s your name.’ And what’re you doing here?”

“Camping,” Dan said.

The man who had been asking the questions grinned at his companions and laughed. “Don’t know much, does he?” Then he turned back to face Dan. “We’re on military exercises up on this here mountain, so’s you better just pack your gear and get off our territory before you get hurt.”

“I see,” Dan said, stalling and wishing he’d carried a weapon with him. “Is this a restricted area?”

“It is now,” the kid said. “So git.”

To Dan’s left, Jack suddenly emerged from the tree line and then held his ground about ten yards from the group. The trio of younger men quickly looked back and forth from Dan to Jack.

A quick burst of profanity was followed by, “Who are you, old man?”

“Jack.”

“Oh, another talker, eh? Well, join your buddy here and get your camp gear off our mountain.”

“Think we’ll fish a few days first,” Jack replied. “I kinda like it here.”

The spokesman for the trio stepped forward and pointed at Jack. “If I was you, I’d pack my gear and get out of here, old man. There’s no place to hide,” he said, reaching to his web belt and drawing a large knife from its sheath, “and this here K-Bar’ll pick your bones clean. You got the picture, Gramps?”

“Oh, I got the picture, sonny,” Jack said, stepping toward the campsite and nodding, a friendly smile on his face.

Dan slowly moved toward his grandfather, trying to place himself between Jack and the trio of what he could now see were unarmed men. The only weapons visible were the knives they each carried on his belt. One wore a military-style, web belt pistol holster, absent a weapon.

Angered by Jack’s refusal to comply, the spokesman moved menacingly toward Jack. “We ain’t foolin’ with ya, you dumb old man. I’m telling ya to git out, unless you want an new opening in your throat,” he said, waving the blade back and forth.

“Sonny,” Jack said calmly, slowly reaching beneath his down-filled vest and producing a silver-colored Smith amp; Wesson.357 magnum, “this here toy pistol will put a hole in your chest big enough for my fist to enter, and then,” he paused, spitting on the ground, “it will come out your back from a hole bigger than your mouth. And that’s a big hole.”

The kid stood dead in his tracks, staring at the pistol and then looking up at the broad smile on Jack’s face. For several moments, there was silence as all five men gauged the situation.

“I’ve a mind to take that pistol and shove it down your throat, Grandpa,” the kid said, his bluster returning in front of his companions.

“Well, sonny,” Jack said, spitting once again, “give it a try. I’m eighty-two years old and quite ready to die. Now you look to me to be about twenty-two or so, even if you are acting fourteen-you ready to die, too?”

Suddenly a voice rang out. “Johnson! Put away that knife,” it bellowed through the trees.

Dan turned quickly to spot two men in military dress coming through the clearing toward the group.

Dan recognized one of them instantly as a lieutenant from his National Guard unit-the one who had informed Dan of the brigade’s exercise and who had extended an invitation to Dan to join the militia unit.

“Captain Rawlings, I apologize for these men and their actions. We’ve got a group of new recruits up here, and discipline,” he said, glancing angrily at the young kid who had threatened Jack and Dan, “is sorely lacking. I hope we haven’t inconvenienced you or your grandfather.”

“We’re fine, Lieutenant Hodgekiss. Thanks for your help,” Dan replied.

The lieutenant turned to Jack. “I’m very sorry, Mr. Rumsey,” he said. Hodgekiss looked toward his recruit and pointed his arm at Jack. “This man and his family settled this valley, you stupid boy. It’s people like him we’re bound to defend, not attack. When the time comes, he’ll be the staunchest Californian among us. Now get back to the HQ tent and put yourself on report for inappropriate behavior.”

“Yes, sir,” the younger man mumbled, and all three quickly vanished into the woods.

“Again, Captain Rawlings, Mr. Rumsey, my sincere apologies. You can see, sir, why the brigade could use a few more good officers like yourself to train these boys right. A good day to you both. I’ll place the lake off-limits for the weekend, and you should have no further trouble.”

When Hodgekiss and his companion were gone, Jack replaced the pistol in his belt beneath his vest.

“Jack, where the heck did you go? I thought they’d taken you while I was sleeping.”

“A man’s gotta answer the call of nature, son.” He smiled.

“With a.357 magnum?”

“Never can tell what varmints you might encounter up in these mountains.”

“True enough,” Dan said, shaking his head and laughing at his grandfather, his adrenaline beginning to subside. “Better stir the fire if we’re going to have any breakfast.”

“You do that. As for me, I hear another Rainbow calling my name.”

Chapter 15

Wells Fargo Bank, Natomas Branch

Sacramento, California

September, 2011

The Natomas Branch of the Wells Fargo Bank, located in the northwestern part of Sacramento, was more likely than most banks to be robbed. In addition to being close to the intersection of two major Interstate highways, it was situated on its own pad, in front of a busy strip mall. Nearby stood a large Safeway grocery store, a drop-in health clinic, and about a dozen smaller establishments. The parking lot was full, and the sidewalks were bustling with shoppers when two white vans slowly drove through the area.

Three weeks earlier, when Otto Krueger had canvassed the place, he quickly saw that it met the criteria Commander Shaw had described, especially the multiple exit routes in the event of trouble. Today the decision seemed even more correct. Hundreds of people would scurry like rabbits at the first shots, and their escape would be all the easier in the melee.

Krueger nodded across the lane to the second van, and the driver exited the parking lot, turning onto El Camino and heading toward the main intersection. As the light turned yellow for the opposite traffic, the usual group of vehicles raced to make their crossing before the light turned red. He gunned his engine, aiming for the back of a station wagon that was trying to be the last car to beat the changing light. The crash brought cross traffic to a standstill, and horns began honking, with other vehicles and pedestrians stopping to observe the commotion.

Immediately following the crash, the driver of the van tripped a fifteen-second timer, jumped out of the damaged vehicle, and ran to the side of the road, melding with the foot traffic that was heading toward the mall. The van suddenly erupted in a fireball, also setting fire to the damaged station wagon, whose two occupants quickly exited their vehicle. The instant confusion in the intersection was followed by the sound of sirens, and within moments, two police cars had blocked off the intersection with their emergency lights flashing.

Krueger smiled at the success of the diversionary tactic and directed his driver to pull up and stop directly in front of the bank. He and two other men in the back of the van pulled balaclavas over their faces, exited the side door of the vehicle, and quickly pushed their way through the front door of the bank. The lobby was crowded with people waiting to use the automatic teller, plus four lines of customers standing in front of teller windows running the length of the main counter.

As soon as he entered the building, Otto pulled a shotgun from beneath his overcoat and fired a blast into the ceiling of the bank, then two more shots in quick succession aimed at the security cameras strategically placed in the corners of the interior walls.

“Everyone, down on your face. Now!” he bellowed.

Women began to scream, but paralyzed by the suddenness of the violence, people didn’t immediately respond. Otto repeated his demand, his voice even louder, and many people began to drop to the floor, husbands covering wives as best they could and mothers embracing their children. The two men with Krueger took up positions at either end of the main counter, their weapons drawn and aimed at the customers.

Krueger quickly approached the leftmost teller window. “We’ll have it all, young lady,” he said to the terrified woman, his voice calm. He dropped the barrel of his shotgun on the counter top, the metal clattering against the marble facing. Krueger shoved the weapon through the window opening until the front of the barrel was pressed against the young teller’s stomach. “Just keep calm, and you’ll live to enjoy a long and healthy life.”

The frightened woman took the canvas bag Krueger handed her and began clumsily filling it with the contents of her cash drawer. When her drawer was empty, Krueger motioned with the shotgun toward the next window in line and stepped along the outside of the counter in that direction. From behind the counter, the young woman paralleled his movement, her eyes wide with fear. They repeated the process through two more windows, emptying each cash drawer. At the last window, Krueger again smiled at her.

“You’ve done well. . Sara,” he said, reading her nametag. “Now, back away from the counter and keep your hands in sight, and you won’t get hurt.” He turned toward his accomplice stationed at the far end of the lobby and jerked his head toward the door. “Time to leave,” Krueger said to his closest associate, and the two men began to step over the prostrate customers scattered on the floor. The third man, at the far end of the counter, made his way toward the door, also.

“FBI! Drop your weapons and hit the floor!” a voice shouted from within the teller cages.

Krueger spun around to face the main counter, his shotgun swiveling in the same direction, as he sought to identify the source of the voice.

“I said drop it!” the female voice repeated in a commanding, Quantico tone.

Krueger spotted a dark-haired young woman standing behind one of the tellers’ windows, her pistol extended toward him in a double-handed stance.

A husky male voice from the far end of the bank lobby joined the chorus. “This is the FBI. The police have the bank surrounded, and there’s no escape. Now drop your weapons, get on your knees, and raise your hands.”

His gaze still riveted on the female teller, Krueger stole a quick glance at the new voice and observed a man dressed in a business suit, kneeling on the floor with a pistol drawn and leveled directly at him. For several moments, the stalemate continued, then one of Krueger’s companions turned and fired a shotgun blast at the kneeling man. Several of the customers screamed hysterically, and one woman jumped to her feet, bolting for the front door. She caught the brunt of a second blast full in the chest and sprawled backward, landing on another woman and her child who were cowering on the floor.

Reacting instantly, the female teller redirected her aim and fired two quick shots at the man who had discharged his weapon. Krueger took that opportunity to level a hurried blast toward the teller window, but his aim was low, and the pellets imbedded themselves in the front of the counter. He reached down and grabbed a female customer who was lying at his feet. Jerking her roughly upright, he locked his arm around her throat and began backing toward the entrance, still clutching the moneybag and his weapon. As he reached the door, he could see his associate lying on his back. Blood had saturated his hood and was pooling under his head, and his unseeing eyes stared at the ceiling out of the eye holes of his mask.

Krueger motioned to his second companion, who quickly joined him, and together they exited the front door. They ran around the side of the bank and dragged the hostage with them into the van, which then began to weave its way between the parked cars. Krueger stuck the shotgun out the open van door and fired into the fuel tank of a parked car, which immediately erupted in a ball of flame. Pedestrians in the parking lot began screaming and running away from the flames, hysteria spreading quickly throughout the mob of shoppers.

Four police cars, two of which had been parked near the bank on standby alert for the anticipated robbery, were now gathered at the site of the traffic accident, where the officers were busy keeping traffic away from the burning vehicles. At the sound of gunfire, seeing they had no ability to move their patrol cars through the intersection, the four officers drew their weapons and began running toward the bank.

The escaping van bounced off several cars in the driver’s frantic attempt to clear traffic and make his way to El Camino Real and the freeway entrance. Before the officers could reach the scene, the careening vehicle had negotiated the congestion and disappeared onto the freeway, the hostage still inside.

As soon as the gunmen cleared the front door, FBI Agent Nicole Bentley, who had been posing as a teller for two days, ran the length of the main counter toward where she had last seen her partner, Al Samuels. Using her arm as a fulcrum, she leaped over the locked, waist-high swinging door beside the main counter and ran toward the front door.

“Al, c’mon, if they get into the crowd, we’ll never catch them,” she shouted, glancing to where her partner had last been. Then she saw him on the floor, slumped awkwardly against the base of the customer counter, bleeding profusely from a wound in the side of his neck. She halted her pursuit and ran to him, sidestepping several customers who were trying to regain their feet now that the shooters had departed. She knelt down next to her partner.

His eyes were already beginning to glaze over. He tried to speak but could make no sound.

“It’s all right, Al, I’ll get help. Hang on,” Nicole said.

She grabbed her radio and called for paramedics, instinctively knowing it was too late. Samuels slumped lower against the counter, and Nicole sat on the floor beside him, lifting his upper body and cradling him in her lap. She tried to apply pressure to his neck, but the pulsing of blood was already beginning to slow. Helpless to prevent his slipping away, Nicole held Al Samuels, her tears blurring the vision of her partner, as he bled to death in her arms.

She sat that way for several long moments as customers held each other and gaped, traumatized by the violence that had erupted around them. Finally, two more FBI agents entered the front door and approached Nicole where she sat on the floor, leaning against the counter, cradling her dead partner. They were quickly followed by two paramedics who had originally been called to the traffic accident at the corner intersection. Nicole looked up at the men, her eyes blank, her mind uncomprehending. The senior FBI agent squatted down next to her and placed his hand on her shoulder, looking into her eyes.

“Maybe we should take him now, Nicole,” he said softly.

She pulled Al closer.

The kneeling agent turned his head and nodded toward the paramedics, who moved forward. Again, Nicole tightened her grip on Al Samuels’ body.

“It’s all right, Nicole,” he said, reaching for Al’s weapon, still clutched in the dead agent’s hand. “We’ll take care of him.”

Nicole stared down at the lifeless body of the man she had worked with daily for slightly over a year. Tears streaming down her face, she spoke in barely a whisper. “How many times have I told you, Al-that tie doesn’t go with that shirt. Oh, Al,” she said, shaking her head and sobbing, “why you, Al? Why you?”

Once clear of the Natomas area and the emergency vehicles racing down El Camino toward the multiple fires and gunshots, Krueger directed the driver of the van to turn north on Fulton Avenue and enter the Haggin Oaks Golf Course parking lot, where they stopped next to a Ford Expedition parked in a far corner of the lot. Krueger directed the driver and his remaining companion to exit the van and get into the Ford. He then climbed into the rear of the van with the hostage. He sat on the wheel-well next to the terrified woman, who lay on her back on the floor of the van, her head covered with an oily rag. Otto removed the rag, and the woman turned her head slightly, blinking her eyes and glancing up at her captor.

“I’ve got two choices, lady,” he said, brandishing his pistol near her face. “I can kill you, like those people in the bank, or I can leave you here.”

Trying to speak through her sobbing, the woman pleaded, “Oh, please, please, don’t kill me. I’ve got two children.”

“Now hear me good, lady. I’ve got your purse, with your driver’s license, and I’ve got your home address. Don’t forget that. I know where you live. I’ve also got your cell phone. One of my men is gonna be sitting in a parked car close by for the next several hours. I suggest you sit here calmly and wait for dark before you try to find help. If you make one sound, just one noise that he can hear, he’ll get back in the van and bring you to us. And you’re not gonna like what we do to you. Do you understand? Do I make myself clear?”

She nodded slowly, the tears running down her cheeks.

He continued to stare at her, then lowered his hand and ran it slowly over her face, down past her throat, pausing as he reached her breast. She whimpered and her body shuddered. “Just remember-we can come to your home if we need to, cops or no cops. They won’t watch you forever, and when they’re gone, we’ll come. It will take a long time for us to finish with you, but it’ll end with a bullet in your pretty little face. You tell the cops nothing-you could see nothing. We wrapped a cloth around your head and you were unable to see. You understand me?”

“Yes,” she said, her voice choking.

He gathered up her purse and the large oily rag that had covered her face and exited the van, locking all the doors. Then he entered the Ford Expedition, which was already occupied by the other two men. They started the engine and drove away, making for the freeway entrance to I-80 and driving west, taking the on-ramp at the I-5 North intersection.

“They killed Ralph,” the young bandit said from the backseat of the Ford after they had driven for several miles.

“They knew we were coming,” Krueger replied.

“How could they, First Sergeant?” the younger man asked as they sped past the airport and then over the bridge where they had previously hanged Lieutenant McFarland.

“Because we’ve still got a spy in the brigade. But that won’t be for long. And when I get my hands on him. .”

Krueger remained quiet the remainder of the trip north until they took the cut-off just beyond the city of Corning and headed east, up into the mountains.

The evening news ran footage of the robbery and hostage situation, including shots of the victims being taken out by stretcher, one hostage shot and killed and another injured, and one of the robbers also killed. Agents had directed the paramedics to take the body of Al Samuels quietly out another entrance, and no film was available of his remains. However, the report of an FBI agent killed in the line of duty was front-line news.

Later on The O’Reilly Factor, Senator Malcolm Turner took the opportunity to point out that this was a tragic story of yet another American citizen, driven to the brink of desperation by oppressive federal government involvement.

“Excuse me, Senator,” the host, Bill O’Reilly said, “but I don’t see how a bank robber-a killer, in this case-can blame the federal government for his actions.”

“Bill,” Turner postured to O’Reilly, “have you read the recent history of this unfortunate young man’s life? Here’s the case of a young American. .” Turner paused momentarily. “Perhaps, Bill, I should say a young Californian-a husband, father, and dedicated son, by all accounts-who sought only to right what he saw as the wrong being perpetrated on his mother by the unfeeling and federally controlled Internal Revenue Service.

“My Sacramento staff have spoken to the deceased man’s wife, and she explained that her husband’s father died about two years ago, and that the IRS has been pressing his mother-she’s sixty-nine years old, Bill-the IRS has been hounding her for back taxes, and finally, in a cold bureaucratic way that only the IRS can employ,” he paused as if contemplating the tragedy, and then shook his head in disbelief, “finally, they foreclosed on her home. Now you tell me, Bill, and your listeners will understand this, where is a sixty-nine-year-old widow going to live? And you know what galls me, what absolutely drives me up the wall? They wanted nine hundred and sixty-three dollars from this poor old woman. Can you believe it? Less than a thousand dollars, and they foreclosed on her home. She and her husband had lived in this modest little home in Daly City for over thirty years. It’s just unbelievable. Absolutely unbelievable. Now we have two widows, several fatherless children. . Bill, this is exactly why Californians need to turn out at the polls next month and vote ‘yes’ for secession. ‘We’re mad as hell, Bill, and we’re not going to take it anymore,’” Turner shouted, firing his well-recognized slogan. He continued to shake his head in disbelief.

“Senator,” O’Reilly said softly, “this is indeed a tragedy for this young family, but surely you don’t condone bank robberies as a way to right a government indiscretion or oversight? And murder?”

“Of course not. I’m against violence in all forms, Bill, you know that. But that still doesn’t excuse the government for driving this young man to do what he felt necessary to get the money to save his mother’s home.”

O’Reilly just shook his head in disbelief at the senator’s comments and redirected his attention to his other guest, displayed on a split screen besides O’Reilly. “Mr. Greenlaw,” he said, “what say you?”

“Bill, our hearts go out to these poor families, both the tragic victims of this robbery attempt and even the unfortunate family of the misguided young man who committed these crimes. And of course we wish them well as they pick up the threads of their lives. But Senator Turner misses the point, as usual. If this man had not had such easy access to guns, this tragedy would never have happened. We need to tighten gun control, Bill-you know my stand on that issue. Registration, no assault weapons. .”

And so the program went on, with neither the guests nor Bill O’Reilly concentrating on the dead FBI agent, as Nicole Bentley continued to watch from her Walnut Creek apartment, still in shock from the day’s events. Unknown to the swarm of people at the site of the shooting, Nicole had gone into the ladies’ room as Samuels’ body was being removed and vomited until nothing more would come up. She had killed her first criminal. . but was he a criminal, or just an unfortunate man who couldn’t cope with the system? And her partner-her friend-had bled to death in her arms.

For the next several days, the incident continued to make headlines, with the San Francisco Chronicle-firmly in support of the secession movement-running the banner: “Widow’s Son Dies in Misguided Robbery Attempt.” Little was made in the article of Al Samuels or the bank customer killed in the fracas. And the gun control lobby focused solely on limiting acquisition of weapons, claiming the FBI had fired prematurely. Killing the misguided young man should have been avoided.

In the U.S. Senate confirmation hearings, Judge George Granata was grilled about the bank incident and his plans to deal with such actions. His appointment was eventually confirmed, and Director Granata took office amid a flurry of inquiries about Bureau policy and tactics. But in a week, interest in the stories faded, replaced by the president’s upcoming trip to Japan and the continuing story of the hour, California’s court-ordered special election on the secession referendum, only forty-five days away in November.

Nicole Bentley was put on paid administrative leave while a shooting board conducted a routine investigation of the incident. The board cleared her of any wrongdoing, but she began counseling-a mandatory requirement for agents involved in a fatal shooting.

A handwritten note from Dan Rawlings, offering his condolences on Samuels’ death and the tragedy of her loss, went unanswered through the following month, part of which Nicole spent with Al’s wife, Linda, and her three children.

It was emotionally wrenching to watch Al’s family. Though it was in no way her fault, Nicole couldn’t help feeling a sense of guilt over her partner’s death, to say nothing of the trauma she experienced as a result of having to shoot the gunman. She doubted that she would ever be able to erase the sounds, sights, or even the smells of that bloody afternoon from her memory.

Chapter 16

Yolo County Administration Building

Woodland, California

In mid-October, less than two weeks before the election, Dan Rawlings was visited by three members of the board of supervisors. It was not unusual for supervisors to drop in to visit or to promote a particular agenda item, but Dan was immediately cautious regarding their intentions.

“So, Dan, how’d your weekend go?” Charlie Paulson asked.

“Fine, Charlie, just fine. And you?”

“The usual. Football games, family sports. Listen, Dan, we’ve come to discuss a sensitive issue, and the others. . well. . the others sort of asked me to be spokesman.”

Marjorie Tomkins and Harold Hawkes sat quietly on the couch in Dan’s office. Dan noticed that Marjorie was fidgeting and Harold wouldn’t hold Dan’s eyes. Jack Rumsey, in one of his never-ending homilies, had warned Dan that if a man wouldn’t hold your eyes, at least for a moment, watch out.

“Charlie, I’ll help any way I can. You know that.”

“Of course we do. Dan, we. . that is, the board, feels you’re doing a bang-up job, and of course, the land reform issues have been, well, have really caused us a lot of grief, what with those dead-set on development and the old timers wanting to keep the farms intact.”

Dan could see that Charlie was having a hard time getting to the point of their visit, and he wasn’t certain if this deputation was representative of the full seven supervisors or just the three now before him.

“Charlie, you know I love this valley as much as anyone, and the land development issues are certainly divisive. But is that what you actually came about today?”

“I guess. . well, not really, but it does affect the valley. In fact, Dan, it affects all of California.”

Secession.Well, I expected it sooner or later, Dan thought. “California’s a big issue, Charlie.”

“Yeah, it is, Dan, and we. . that is, Marge, Harold, and me, we came to see how you felt. We’d like to know where you’re gonna stand, so to speak.”

Dan rose and moved to the window where he did most of his contemplation. Dan saw the reflection of his three visitors in the glass as they quickly stole looks at each other while they thought he was looking away. He waited until they stopped exchanging nervous signals and slowly turned around, his hands clasped behind his back.

“Charlie, what’s the collective board’s official position on the secession of California?”

Dan was calling their hand, blunt and forthright. He figured these three hadn’t actually polled the full body, and the issue had not, at least officially, been brought to a vote before the board in public session. A majority of California’s other counties had already officially addressed the secession-some against, but even more in favor.

“Well, we haven’t talked with all the supervisors, but us three, we wanted to get an idea of where you were gonna stand-what you were gonna recommend to the board. Have you thought about that yet? You know we can’t put it off much longer. Many of the counties have already taken a stand, and in a couple of weeks, we’ll all have to vote. It looks like, well, at least the polls say the referendum will pass again. We’ve got to decide how we’re going to go.”

Thought about it! Dan reflected. Little else had been on his mind since the two previous elections had passed so overwhelmingly. That in itself had been a shocker and had even confused the pollsters, some of whom had predicted a narrow defeat while others had predicted a passage of the issue based on their pre-election voter sampling.

“Charlie, you know that on most issues before the board, I offer a recommendation, since that’s my job. This issue, however, is one of conscience and one that each supervisor will have to decide for themselves. In fact, each Californian will have to make that decision as well. It has a finality to it. You know, we can’t really be opposed to the secession and go on about business as usual if the secession passes. Even the Tories who remained in the colonies after the Revolution found it hard to continue their lives and their business. No, Charlie, I don’t think it would be appropriate for me to make a recommendation to the board.”

Dan thought Charlie looked deflated at not having pulled out Dan’s position.

“But you have a position on it, don’t you, Dan? I mean, you’re a Californian-have always been, along with your family.”

Dan turned again to look out the window at the budding trees struggling to overcome the cold late autumn snap. He’d known for months what his decision was, although it had seemed easier not to acknowledge it. . even to himself. But here they were, pushing for a declaration. Delay wouldn’t serve any purpose, and the necessity of a formal venue, such as a board of supervisors’ meeting, was not a proper place for the appointed administrator to announce his position and surprise everyone. No, Dan thought, the year was about to turn, the upcoming court-ordered special election was at hand, predicted by most pollsters to be an overwhelming “yes” vote in favor of secession. No confusion about the fact that he might lose his job over this issue. . that had always been a distinct possibility. Better to play his hand, as Jack would say, and turn his hole card up.

“Charlie,” he said without looking back, “you’re right. I’ve always been a Californian.” He paused momentarily and then turned to face his visitors. “But I’ve always been an American, too.” He took several steps closer to the three supervisors, at which Charlie stood, more from nervousness than anything. “This is a personal opinion, even though I might not have admitted it to myself these past few months, and it’s not an official recommendation to the board. It’s quite separate from my political responsibility, but I’m personally opposed to secession. Please understand me-that is not, I repeat, not my recommendation to the board. I don’t feel it’s my place to make such a recommendation on such a personal issue, especially one with such widespread government implications. You’re the elected officials,” he said, looking at all three in turn, “and I’m your appointed administrator. I follow your direction, unless, in good conscience, I can no longer support your actions.”

Harold stood up beside Charlie, as did Marjorie. “Dan,” Charlie said, “I think. . we think you should try to see the California side of the issue. We need to be united. You know the Woodland city manager, Roger Dahlgren-he came to see me, and he feels strongly. He thinks you should feel strongly, too, Dan, and his group. .” Charlie paused, groping for the words, obviously nervous about discussing the Shasta Brigade. “Well, Roger says we should be united here in Yolo, and that it’s in our best interest to listen to Senator Turner. He’s only thinking of California and what’s best. Dan, you’ve been doin’ a bang-up job, like I said, and we’d like to keep you on, but, well, this issue is. .”

There it was-on the table. That was the impetus of this visit. Dan had heard that Roger Dahlgren and some of his Shasta Brigade boys had been talking up support for Senator Turner’s stand, visiting many of the local businessmen. Some even went so far as to call it intimidation. But it was hard to oppose or interfere with a group of citizens who were only voicing support for the state’s U.S. senator. No bones about it, this was a not-so-subtle first approach from a segment of the board of supervisors telling Daniel Rawlings, Yolo County Administrator, where he was expected to stand on the issue of California’s secession from the Union.

“Charlie, are you telling me my job’s on the line if I don’t support that bluster being put out by Roger and the militia?”

Charlie and Harold looked at each other and began to back slowly toward the door.

“I don’t know. I mean, I can’t speak for the whole board, but we, us three, I mean, feel you need to seriously consider your viewpoint. It’s not just bluster, Dan. Our United States senator has put his full weight and support behind it. You need to consider that. Besides, as Roger said, you’re a California guard officer. You owe your allegiance to the State of California. I’m sure you understand.”

“Yeah, I think I’m beginning to. Anything else I can help with today?” Dan said, inching the group toward the door.

“No, no. Thanks for your time. See you at the board meeting Thursday night.”

“Right. See you then. Thank you. Bye, Marjorie, Harold,” he said, shaking each hand as they departed.

“Bye, Dan,” Marjorie said meekly, obviously embarrassed by the visit.

Dan closed the door and turned once again toward the window. With Thanksgiving and then Christmas approaching, it wasn’t going to be a pleasant holiday, he felt. Not by a long shot. And if history served, the spring and then summer would be even longer and hotter. At least for the inner cities, it would potentially be a cauldron of violence.

Dan picked up the phone on the third ring when he remembered that Pat had stepped out to the post office.

“Good morning, Yolo County Administration, Dan Rawlings speaking.”

“Hi, Dan. This is Jean Waters. Bet you thought I’d forgotten about you.”

Dan immediately recognized the name of his literary agent, even though they had only spoken once since she had agreed to represent his manuscript. “Good morning, Jean. No, I’ve had you on my mind, but we’re pretty engaged out here at the moment.”

“How’re things in the Republic of California?”

Dan laughed. “This could well be an international call in a few months.”

“That serious? Well, that’s actually what I’m calling about. I waited until I found the right market for this unique story, and in October I offered Voices in My Blood to three of the larger publishers. They’ve been having a read for the past couple of weeks. Dan, if it will improve your day, I’m happy to advise that we’ve had offers from all three, and they’re hot. Since you added those closing chapters about the California secession, they want to move fast to be ready to respond in time for the elections. As it is, they’ll be several months behind the issues at best. They’ll have to jump their list and put Voices in My Blood in front.”

“Jean, I’m. . well, I’m. .” Dan hesitated, silent for a few seconds. “Actually, I don’t know what I am. I’m floored, that’s what I am.”

“Well, Mr. Daniel Rawlings, you’re about to become Waters amp; Hobson’s newest author. I told you that this book was compelling. Simon amp; Schuster has the best offer. Actually, they’re all pretty close on money, but S amp;S offers several advantages. First, they want to hit the streets as soon as possible, and second, they’re prepared to offer you a two, or, if you can develop a sequential story line, a three-book deal. Dan, they’ve offered four hundred twenty-five thousand just for Voices in My Blood. I believe we can get an advance in the neighborhood of one point two million for the three books, with staggered payments, of course, based on the strength of the subsequent outlines.” Dan was silent as Jean waited for his response. “You still there?”

“I don’t think so, Jean. I’ve just gone numb.”

“Ha,” she voiced, “this is the kind of news I love to deliver. Tell you what, I’ll fax the details and you consider them for a day. Don’t tarry, Dan-I need to get back to them tomorrow, so call me first thing in the morning.”

“All right. I’ll stand by the fax if you can transmit now. I want to keep this confidential for awhile.”

“I understand. I’ll send it right now. And, Dan, my sincerest congratulations. I think you’ve just entered a new phase of your life. I’m pleased to represent you. Just to add to your confusion, the moment we sign with S amp;S-if that’s what you decide-I’m going to send the manuscript to an associate in LA. Movie rights are the next consideration. This could become a whirlwind and if so, it will all happen very quickly, so stay sharp. I’ll get the fax out right now. Have a good day, Dan.”

“Thanks. Oh, and Jean?”

“Yes?”

“Thank you, sincerely. I really appreciate all your efforts. This wouldn’t have happened without you.”

It was Jean’s turn to pause. “Thanks. That was considerate. At this stage, some authors wonder why the agent gets such a large cut. Thanks for understanding our worth.”

“No question about your worth. We’re a team in this, aren’t we?”

“Absolutely. Talk to you tomorrow, Dan. Bye.”

“Bye,” Dan said, as he replaced the receiver.

He leaned back in his chair and swung around to look out the window at the small park surrounding the building where people were beginning to appear as the lunch hour approached. What a day! A threat to his job by some of the supervisors, and then this. Dan found himself thinking of Rumsey Valley and the Almond Festival, a resplendent time of year with the almond trees in bloom throughout the length of the valley. California was his home and he was a Californian. How was he going to take a stand against all those people he’d grown up with, gone to school with, fished with, and cared about? With pressing and disruptive issues to deal with and the board of supervisors’ apparent split over the upcoming vote, this was actually a bad time for outside distractions.

He rose and stepped closer to the window, watching as Pat walked across the grounds, returning from the post office. Then, slowly, he began to laugh. How could any time be a bad time to sign a million-dollar contract? He was interrupted by the ring of the fax. Pat entered the office just as Dan retrieved several pages from the machine and started back for his office, still chuckling softly.

“Anything I can help with, Dan?”

“No, thanks. I’ve got it. Just some personal stuff. Think I’ll head for lunch and see you about one-thirty.”

“Good. Oh, Dan, I’ve got a dental appointment at four.”

“Fine. We’ll cover; no problem.”

“Thanks. You okay?” she asked, noticing his faraway demeanor.

Dan stopped before entering his office, glanced back at Pat, and smiled. “I’ve never been better,” he said, reaching behind the door for his coat. Then, stepping quickly to her desk, he bent down and kissed her on the cheek. She sat there, astonished at his unusual behavior, as he whistled his way out the door.

After lunch, Dan closed the door to his office and picked up the telephone, dialing the information operator for the 415 area code.

“Operator. What city, please?”

“San Francisco. A business listing for the Federal Bureau of Investigation.”

“Thank you, sir. One moment.” Dan waited several seconds until the computer voice provided the number, which he dialed and waited once more.

“Good afternoon. Federal Bureau of Investigation. How may I direct your call?”

“Special Agent Bentley, please,” Dan said.

“One moment, sir.”

Again Dan waited while his call was transferred, wondering how to initiate the conversation and feeling foolish, remembering his note which had gone unacknowledged. He momentarily considered hanging up, but then Nicole’s voice sounded, calm and professional.

“This is Special Agent Bentley; how may I help you?”

“Good afternoon, Agent Bentley. This is Daniel Rawlings in Woodland.”

Not missing a beat, Nicole responded. “Good afternoon, Mr. Rawlings. How goes our local government?”

“Well,” he laughed. “Some supervisors would say I’m still wet behind the ears, and I’d better wake up and smell the coffee.”

“You’re not alone, Mr. Rawlings. I just might have some of that attitude around here as well. By the way, I meant to respond to your kind note last month, but one thing or another. .”

“I understand, Ms. Bentley. I’m sure it was a very trying time for you. How are you doing?” Immediately, Dan felt like a fool, and he grimaced into the phone, hoping she wouldn’t be offended by the personal nature of his question.

After a slight pause, she responded. “I’m fine, thanks. How are you?”

“Great.”

There was another awkward pause.

Nicole broke the silence. “Is there something I can do for you, Mr. Rawlings?”

“Well, uh, yes. The reason I called is. . I was wondering if you might, uh, be free for dinner.”

“When?” she asked.

“Uh, tonight? I mean, tonight,” he said, wondering why he was having such a hard time doing such a simple thing. “I know that’s short notice, Ms. Bentley, but, well, it’s been one of those days. I’ve had an absolute low, followed by an absolute high. I was hoping you might be willing to be a little spontaneous, and that I could conclude the day with some very pleasant company for dinner.” He grimaced again, feeling completely foolish. “How about it?”

Dan felt certain that Nicole knew he was as nervous as a young schoolboy.

“I don’t know. I’d hate to give the impression I don’t have anything to do. I mean, I do have a life, you know,” she parried. “Let me think about it for a moment.”

Silence.

“Ms. Bentley?”

“Yes?”

“Are you okay?”

“Sure. I need to ask you two questions. First of all, if I go to dinner with you, will you call me Nicole?”

“I can do that. What’s the other question?”

“Are you buying?”

“I’d planned on it,” he said, a smile beginning to cross his face.

“Then you’ve got a date.”

Dan made a fist, punched the air in front of him and mouthed a silent yes. “Great. Would you like me to meet you in the city, or is there somewhere more convenient?”

“I’ve got an appointment near my residence this afternoon. Let me give you my address in Walnut Creek. Where did you want to eat?”

“There’s only one place suitable, in my humble opinion. In Chinatown. The Empress of China.”

“I love Chinese. I’m at the River Oaks Apartments, Unit Esperanza, off Sycamore Street in Walnut Creek. We can take BART into the city and then walk to Chinatown. Seven-thirty too early?”

“Seven-thirty’s fine, Nicole. See you then, and thanks for allowing spontaneity to prevail.”

“Seven-thirty, then.” She gave him her phone numbers in case he got held up. “I’m looking forward to it, Dan. Bye.”

“Thanks, Nicole,” Dan replied, replacing the receiver, leaning back in his chair, and locking his fingers behind his head.

Dan had no trouble finding the River Oaks Apartments, which mirrored the thousands of other Spanish architecture apartment complexes scattered throughout California cities. It was nestled in a grove of Manzanita trees and surrounded by a high-security fence veiled in foliage. The rustic wooden sign out front advertised a pool, spa, training room, tennis courts, and even an on-site film viewing room with a large screen.

After his car was cleared by the security guard who checked Dan’s name against his list of expected guests, Dan read the unit names on each of the buildings and parked the car next to the one marked Esperanza. Nicole answered Dan’s buzz almost instantly, smiling warmly and offering to shake his hand. She closed the door behind her, and together they descended the one flight of stairs and walked toward his car.

Like a schoolboy getting ready for his first date, Dan had wondered what he ought to wear. He and Nicole hadn’t discussed it, and he hoped his slacks, sports coat, and buttoned-up, open necked shirt wouldn’t be too casual. He was relieved to find Nicole informally dressed as well, and pleased to see that she apparently knew the vagaries of weather they might encounter in the city, since she was carrying a jacket on her arm.

Remembering her in a navy-blue business suit from their first encounter under the bridge and her professional demeanor, Dan now saw her in a different light, relaxed, jovial and in fact, beautiful. Since their previous meeting, Nicole had cut her dark hair and was wearing it in an attractive, shorter style that flattered her face. Flat shoes, for walking, he assumed, and a long-strap purse completed her outfit, which Dan found flattering to her athletic body. While opening the car door, Dan caught a whiff of the pleasant, subtle fragrance she was wearing and wondered what it was called. He stifled a passing thought. Beautiful or not, does she carry a pistol in her purse?

It was only a six-minute drive from her apartment to the BART station, where, after a short wait, they caught the next train to San Francisco. At eight o’clock in the evening, the commuter rush was over, and the train was nearly empty with only two other couples sharing their car. Initial chitchat consisted of comments mainly about Nicole’s apartment complex and Dan’s condo in Davis. They were silent as they passed though several above-ground BART stations on the Oakland side, with passengers entering and leaving at each stop. Dan watched Nicole’s reflection in the train window until her reflection smiled at him, and he became aware that she was familiar with his surveillance technique.

“Caught me.” He laughed. “But I presume, based on your acceptance of this dinner offer, that I am neither a suspect, a material witness, a person of interest, or even an investigative source any longer.”

Nicole looked at Dan for a moment, a smile growing on her face. “Whether you are a suspect, or just suspect, has yet to be determined. I seldom make snap judgments, Mr. Rawlings.”

“Nope, you agreed. It’s Dan.”

“Okay. So, Dan Rawlings-Rumsey Valley, Woodland High School, UC Davis, and Stanford Law-with honors, no less. Very impressive.”

Dan looked at her with surprise, and Nicole smiled all the more. “I confess, I’ve done my homework. All in the performance of my professional duties.”

“Of course,” Dan allowed. “Reciprocity, if you please,” he prodded.

“Norwalk, Connecticut; a B.A. from Vassar in English literature; an M.A. in psychology from Northwestern, and then Columbia Law. Straight into the FBI afterward.”

“That’s a rather impressive bio, Nicole. But why-”

“Why the FBI?” Nicole interrupted, then snapped, “Why not?”

Taken aback, Dan retreated. “Excuse me if I was intrusive; I didn’t mean to be.”

Dan could see Nicole was embarrassed by her sharp response to his question.

“No, I’m the one who should be sorry. I just hear that question all the time. In one fashion or another, it’s ‘Why would an intelligent, attractive woman choose the FBI?’ and I guess I’m tired of it.”

“I can understand that.” Dan laughed. “The intelligent, attractive part, I mean.” The lights on the train flickered briefly as they entered the tunnel, and their ears popped as the train dropped down under San Francisco Bay.

Nicole continued, changing the subject. “When I was first assigned to work in San Francisco, I was told that the minutes spent under the Bay while commuting to work were the most dangerous I would encounter. I guess that’s right. If the so-called ‘Big One’ were to occur while we’re under here, there would be no hope of getting out alive. I kind of count the minutes I spend under the Bay as the sacrifice I make for being able to live in such a beautiful place.”

Dan thought of the newspaper report he’d read of her instant response to the hostage situation, feeling that being in the line of fire from bank robbers was certainly more dangerous than riding BART under the Bay.

“Have you seen much of California?” he asked.

“Mostly the cities, and usually on business. Al and I. .” she paused and lowered her eyes. “. . Al and I used to take turns driving to assignments so the other could take more time to view the scenery. Al was from Iowa, and while he’d been with the Bureau for fifteen years, he’d only been in California about six months longer than me.” After a pause, she added, “He used to beg me to get take-out when we were out of the office so we could sit in the car by the ocean while we ate lunch. He was awed by the majesty of the ocean.”

They rode the rest of the way in silence until the train exited the tunnel on the San Francisco side of the Bay and stopped at the Embarcadero Station. At the Beale Street Station they got off and made their way up to Market Street, beginning the fifteen-minute walk to Chinatown.

At The Empress of China, on the sixth floor of the building, the maitre ’d found Dan’s reservations and seated the couple at the table Dan had requested, overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge. Full dark having descended over the city, the lights on the bridge glowed brightly over the dark expanse of the entrance to San Francisco Bay. It was a spectacular view, and Nicole and Dan gazed at it without speaking while a cadre of waiters scurried about, working to change the settings on the table.

When he could do so unobtrusively, Dan continued to steal glances at the very attractive woman seated across from him. He hadn’t noticed it before, but she was wearing a pair of small silver earrings and a matching thin necklace. The jewelry caught the light from the candle on their table, and the glint framed her face nicely as she sat looking out the window, resting her chin on her folded hands.

Dan was taken-not only by her beauty, but by the way she carried herself. At their previous meetings-at the murder scene, the National Guard Armory, the funeral, and the restaurant-she had been thoroughly professional. Cordial, maybe, or perhaps a bit aloof, especially in General Del Valle’s presence, but each time professional. So far this evening, she had been considerably warmer and more open. He was intrigued by her personality in that she was very self-assured but not arrogant. It was a combination Dan found fascinating. It was very pleasant to sit across from her and to contemplate having her for a dinner companion. He congratulated himself for acting on the impulse to telephone her.

After placing their order, they sat in silence, continuing to admire the view. Finally, Dan said, “So, where did you grow up?”

“New England. My father was a captain in the Connecticut State Police. When I was fifteen, he was killed by a young kid with a shotgun who was trying to rob a bank. Dad was only forty-three and had a wife and three children. The kid got five to twenty and was back on the street in seven years. I hadn’t even graduated from college yet, and he was out, doing his thing again. He was killed two years later in a drug deal-ironically, by a shotgun wielded by one of his partners.”

Dan listened quietly. Following her explanation, Nicole unfolded her napkin and laid it in her lap. Reaching across the table, Dan gently placed his hand over Nicole’s, and she turned her palm up, underneath his hand, clasping his fingers as she offered a small smile. With their fingers interlocking, Dan briefly remembered that despite his wife’s death-a fact he felt Nicole’s background check must have disclosed-one outward symbol of his previous life remained: his wedding band was still on his finger. They sat for a moment, each looking at their clasped hands, until they were interrupted by three waiters, a particular affectation to the Empress of China, which made their establishment present a restaurant of first order.

Dan spoke. “Have you eaten here before?”

“I’ve had several Chinese dinners in town, but not here.”

“Well, then, Nicole Bentley, this will go into your journal, if you keep one. You’re about to experience the finest Chinese food in San Francisco. . in my humble opinion, of course.”

“Great-I’m starved,” Nicole said.

Dan was pleased to see that Nicole ate with good appetite. When she was finished, she pushed her plate away, emitting a small exhale to represent satisfaction with her meal. Surveying the mostly empty serving platters, she said, “Well, I made short work of that. Did you eat anything, Dan? I didn’t notice.” She laughed.

He grinned and patted his stomach. “I’ll say I did.”

Smiling, she stared into Dan’s eyes, holding his gaze longer than was comfortable for him. When she saw him become nervous, she began to laugh.

“What?” he finally asked.

“What, indeed. What about you?”

“What do you mean?”

“C’mon, Counselor. You’ve got my Vitae. Let’s hear a bit about you.”

Nicole continued to look softly into Dan’s eyes, her face framed by her dark hair and highlighted by the reflection of the candle on the table.

Dan looked out the window at the Golden Gate Bridge, remaining quiet for several long moments. Not once since the accident had he confided to anyone the details, or even the generalities, of Susan’s death-especially not to a woman he was dating. But the memories were always there, close to the surface, and even after two years, still painful. The awful scene flashed through his mind-the bright-green ski jacket, the red hair flying as she danced through the moguls, the sudden veering off into the stand of trees-and the hideous aftermath.

“We married after I finished law school,” Dan said softly, “and I took a job as deputy county attorney in Susanville, up in the mountains close to Nevada, because Susan loved to ski, and she still had dreams of making the Olympic team. We were married for about a year and a half when she was killed in a skiing accident,” he said.

Now it was Nicole’s turn to reach for Dan’s hand across the table. “I’m sorry, Dan,” she said tenderly.

“It’s been over two years, but. .”

“I understand,” she responded softly.

The train ride home was filled with quiet, continuing conversation about jobs, families, and California’s secessionist movement. Neither of them felt up to any further in-depth conversation about the tragedies in their lives.

“When you called, you mentioned that today held a high and a low point,” Nicole said.

“Yeah, I did, didn’t I?” Dan responded. “I thought it was a high-until tonight, that is.”

“Oh, Mr. Rawlings.” She laughed, turning her head toward the roof of the train car and rolling her eyes. “Methinks thou serves it up well.”

Dan laughed out loud, prompting the only other passenger, a black woman in a nurse’s uniform, to glance up briefly to see what caused the commotion.

“Well said, Nicole, well said. The low,” he began, “came early this morning when three of the county supervisors visited me to determine for themselves where I stood on the secession issue. They were none too subtle, and I got the point. Roger Dahlgren, Woodland’s city manager, has been talking to many of the businessmen in town about standing up for Senator Turner and his secession mania. Rumor has it, Roger’s also a captain in the Shasta Brigade. But then, you probably know that already. Anyway, it was clear that Roger put these board members up to the visit. They intimated that my job could be in jeopardy if I didn’t take a public stand in support of secession.”

“I take it, then, that you’re against it?” Nicole queried.

Dan looked out the window of the train as they surfaced near Oakland. “Nicole, my family has been in California for over a hundred and thirty years, but we’ve been in America nearly four hundred.”

“That puts your family in New England with the early colonists,” Nicole said.

“1630 in Fairfield, Connecticut.”

“Hey, that’s my old stomping grounds, although a bit before my time,” she laughed.

“Anyway, my grandfather, Jack Rumsey, is a grandson to the first family member to come west-the one who settled Rumsey Valley right after the Civil War. Jack’s as much as told me that my ancestors, to use his words, ‘would rise up and stomp me, if’n I ever forget that I’m an American.’”

“Sounds like a great guy.” Nicole chuckled.

“Usually,” Dan said with a laugh, “but the jury is still out among most of Yolo’s residents, and he’s lived there over eighty years.”

Have you taken a stand, Dan?”

“It’s going to be impossible not to, I think. As I said, I’m an American, and if that requires that I oppose some of my lifetime neighbors. . well, so be it. It’s a choice we’re all going to have to make, isn’t it?”

“I can see it’s not an easy decision either way. I’ve been looking at it from a visitor to California’s perspective-sort of an ‘I-was-there-during-the-earthquake’ frame of mind. I haven’t thought of it as a decision to be made. I’ve lived somewhere else all my life. So, what will you do?”

“I know where I stand, but I haven’t yet decided what I’ll do about it.”

“And the high?” she said.

“Excuse me?”

“The other end of your day. . excluding this evening’s dinner, of course,” she teased. “You said there was a ‘high’ to your day.”

Nicole had a radiant smile, and Dan had been fascinated all evening by the woman behind the FBI agent. It was as if two personalities existed within the same body.

“Right,” Dan laughed again. “You know, you’ve allowed me to laugh quite a bit tonight, and there hasn’t been much cause for that for awhile. The high, you say? Well, I received a call from my literary agent in New York this morning. She’s sold my first novel to Simon amp; Schuster.”

“No! You’re a writer? What genre?”

“Historical fiction, following an American family through multiple generations.”

“Any particular family?” Nicole asked.

Dan nodded. “Guilty. I read somewhere that most first novels are largely biographical.” He smiled. “This family might bear some slight resemblance to the Rumsey line, with some embellishment, of course.” Dan could see that Nicole became more animated while discussing literature, which pleasantly surprised him. It was something else they might have in common.

They located Dan’s car in the train station parking lot, and the short drive to her apartment went quickly. Dan parked and walked Nicole to her door.

“Thanks for accepting on such short notice. You know, if you haven’t had the chance to see much of rural California, I’d love to show you the hills around Rumsey Valley. The upcoming season is beautiful, but the valley is especially beautiful during the Almond Festival in February when all the orchards are in bloom. I’d love to show you my home grounds over the next few weeks. That is, if you’re not otherwise committed.”

Nicole looked at Dan and then, momentarily, down at her feet. “I was involved with someone,” she said, “a CPA with an international accounting firm. But he couldn’t take going with a woman who ‘kills’ people for a living, as he put it,” she said quietly.

“I’m sorry, Nicole. It was none of my business,” Dan said, embarrassed.

“No, that’s all right. It’s history now.”

Picking up his lead, Dan pressed. “And the Rumsey Valley. Is that part of your future?” he asked.

“That’d be great, Dan,” she said, turning to unlock her apartment door.

“I’ll call you,” Dan said.

“I’d like that, Mr. Rawlings. I’d like that very much.” She started to step through the door, but hesitated and turned once again to face him. “As I said, I’ve just ended a relationship I thought was growing nicely. But I discovered long ago that I don’t like the give and take process by which relationships usually progress.”

As Dan’s brow furrowed in confusion, a big grin crossed Nicole’s face.

“I know that sounds formal, but what I mean is, I don’t feel comfortable playing the games people use in the dating scene. You know-pretending you don’t like someone until. . well, you know. Do you understand?”

“I do,” Dan replied, reaching slowly to touch her cheek, then sliding his hand around behind her neck. He gently pulled her toward him and softly kissed her lips, lingering just long enough to receive a response from her as she placed her hand on his shoulder. “I will call, Nicole. And I do like you, no games required.”

“At the same time, Dan, that doesn’t mean-”

“I understand,” he interrupted, holding up his open hand. “No games and no intrusions. Let’s just see where it goes.”

She nodded. “Goodnight, Dan, and thanks.”

“Goodnight, Nicole.”

Chapter 17

Reno, Nevada

Toward the end of his two-hour drive, Jackson Shaw negotiated increasing traffic for the final few miles, and the scenery changed dramatically. Shaw had always marveled at the fluke of nature that had placed such disparate topography in such close proximity. Cresting the final rise on Interstate 80 East in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, the forested terrain gave way almost instantly to the sagebrush of Nevada and the sudden appearance of the “Biggest Little City in the World.”

Reno-for years the divorce capital of America-lay within four hours of San Francisco and two of Sacramento. It was a gambling Mecca and a weekend retreat for thousands of Californians who dreamed of striking it rich in the casinos and calling their boss on Monday morning to say, “You can take my job and shove it!” The casino owners made certain the infrequent big winners got plenty of publicity-an enticement to others to come courting Lady Luck.

Shaw, however, entertained no such dreams. His vision had to do with the power to be acquired as a result of current developments in his home state. In light of the California Supreme Court-ordered election, only two weeks away, Shasta Brigade Commander Jackson Shaw was on a mission. If he had understood Jean Wolff’s intentions, the patriot movement would essentially be declaring war on any federal agency that continued to oppose Californian’s right to independence. Such a blatant, action-filled cry for severance from the Union, according to Wolff, was the way to garner additional support and convince the undecided and undeclared that patriotism, in this instance, was defined as supporting the patriot movement.

The fools who had perpetrated the Oklahoma City bombing had gained no support for their cause-if indeed there had been a cause-by bombing a federal building filled with innocent people, including many small children. That imbecilic act had brought disrepute to militia units across the nation, and to the national patriot movement in general.

In the current situation, however, there was a groundswell of resentment being directed against those federal agencies viewed as intrusive and overbearing. This was demonstrated several months earlier when a bank robber who had attacked the Wells Fargo Bank in Sacramento was killed in the ensuing shootout. Nearly as many people had blamed the federal government as had blamed the gunman.

Commander Shaw, and the other militia leaders with whom he was about to meet, understood the public disdain for the federal government and fully planned to exploit this public perception to their advantage. But first, Wolff needed to convince the other unit leaders that they should coordinate their efforts under a central command structure-no easy task, Shaw thought.

After parking in the underground casino garage, he gathered his small overnight bag and checked into the hotel. Then he proceeded to a prearranged spot near the blackjack tables and waited. Two tables over, a man stood looking at him, and they briefly made eye contact.

Shaw had seen Grant Sully only once before, several months earlier, when Wolff had arranged a meeting between the two. Sully had not personally met other Brigade members, and the brief meeting with Sully had taken place at a roadside rest area on Interstate 5, north of Corning. To Shaw’s surprise, before Wolff left them together, he had openly identified Sully as a senior CIA operative, but was careful to advise Shaw that Sully was not part of the patriot movement leadership. Shaw had been astonished when Sully informed him that an FBI infiltrator was embedded in a high level position in the Shasta Brigade. That piece of information alone provided sufficient bona fides to convince Shaw that Sully was trustworthy-to an extent. For all he knew, the next person Sully would reveal could be Shaw himself.

Thirty minutes after Shaw entered the casino, a third participant walked by and took a seat at another of the tables and conspicuously laid his roll of bills on the green felt tabletop. As a result of their several clandestine meetings and Wolff’s numerous monetary contributions, Shaw knew Jean Wolff much better than he did Sully, but didn’t fully trust Wolff, either.

When a fourth man crossed the room and gave the signal-a quick display of his registration card with the room number printed at the top-at each table as he paused to watch, the men began to filter, one by one, away from the tables and make their way to Room 975, a suite reserved in the name of Alexander Pierpont, an alias used by Shaw’s deputy commander, Captain Gary Jeffs, when he rented the room. Having watched for a few minutes to see if any of the participants were followed, Wolff was the last to enter. Sully stood to greet him.

“We’re getting to be old chums, Jean.”

“You know what they say about politics and strange bedfellows.”

Wolff quickly acknowledged the other two participants and moved to claim a chair facing the door, though he didn’t sit down. “I thought it time we coordinate our overall efforts and introduce Shaw to the various unit commanders. And Grant, your presence was requested,” Wolff said to Sully.

“Understood,” Sully replied, taking a seat, but looking uncomfortable. “It’s your meeting, Jean. Where do we go next?”

Wolff remained standing and began to address the small group. “In two elections, the secession of California has been approved, and we can fully expect this next court-ordered election to produce the same result. Plus, I have it on good authority that the California legislature has begun discussions on how to implement a transition to a republic, perhaps even the Westminster form of government. Much public support has been garnered, thanks in large part to the efforts of the Shasta Brigade,” Wolff said, nodding toward Commander Shaw.

“The media, led principally by Paul Spackman in San Francisco, has provided favorable coverage, creating an illusion of much broader support than actually exists. Now it’s time for us to take further action designed to incite open hostility toward the federal government and to fuel the fires, so to speak. To accomplish that, tomorrow morning seven brigade commanders from around the state, plus two from Idaho who have expressed interest in our movement, will assemble here in Reno.” Looking once again at Jackson Shaw, Wolff said, “We will then introduce you as the overall commander of the newly reorganized Western Patriot Movement.”

Shaw acknowledged his appointment with a nod and quietly listened as Wolff continued his background briefing, expounding on the necessity of increasing public support for the forthcoming vote.

A West Point graduate, Shaw had spent nine years in the Army, being passed over for promotion to major when a National Guard company he was training lost four men, drowned in a Louisiana swamp during a four-day escape and evasion exercise. After much breast-beating and political posturing by a Louisiana senator, the ax fell. The Army, needing a scapegoat, had settled on Captain Jackson Shaw, providing him an official reprimand for negligence and bringing his promising career to a sudden end-an action that had left Shaw with seething resentment for the political establishment.

Reduced to running a logging service out of Yreka, California, Shaw had long nursed an undiminished loathing of a government so spineless as to throw away one of its most ardent and dedicated sons to placate a political hack who sought only to mollify his constituents and enhance his own career.

The Brigade had answered Shaw’s need to strike back.

“Where does the brigade fit into this?” he asked.

“The brigade is the sharp end of the blade,” Wolff answered. “The Shasta Brigade will lead the northern sector, and you will personally command the overall movement. The other commanders will plan and execute their own operations, but you will coordinate and direct the when and where. We’re going to challenge one of the premier agencies in the federal system and beat them at their own game. Gentlemen,” Wolff said, rubbing his hands together and affecting a pleased expression, “I’m talking about the Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms crowd. We’re going to bait them into one of their overzealous responses, wound them, make them furious, and publicly display their impotence. And we’re going to do it right before the election in November.”

Wolff watched Shaw and Jeffs, apparently to gauge their reactions. When Wolff had ordered a special-ops action a few months before to covertly research the movement of individual regional ATF agents, Shaw had not flinched at the directive. Now, Wolff was calling for outright military action, albeit guerrilla-style. Shaw, as a trained military officer, understood the risks involved. The brigade, for all its training and enthusiasm, would be no match in prolonged open combat against the military, either reserve or regulars, or, for that matter, against any of the federal agencies’ armed assault or hostage units. Surely Wolff knew that. But Shaw was sure they could prevail in a few isolated, well-orchestrated, unexpected attacks.

He raised an eyebrow and waited for the ops plan to unfold. This was something he had thought about for several years and for which he had long trained his troops, never telling them specifically what potential targets they might engage.

But Shaw had known all along that someday either the National Guard or one of the federal agencies, FBI or ATF, would become their target.

Captain Gary Jeffs spoke for the first time, addressing his comments to Shaw.

“Commander, we don’t have any tea to throw in the harbor and, given the history of the ATF against normal citizens, we can’t even claim to have fired the first shot. But by blazes, we’ll let ’em know ‘we’re mad as hell, and we’re not going to take it anymore,’” he said, mimicking Senator Turner’s rallying cry.

Grant Sully sat in the room and watched with amusement as Wolff worked his magic. He reflected on his own early days and his skillful manipulation of would-be power brokers in third-world countries around the globe. Sully had been a CIA field operative for nearly thirty years. Even as deputy director of operations, a position from which the incumbent was normally content to direct action from within the confines of the Farm at Langley, Sully still found every opportunity to make his way into the field and deal face-to-face with his operatives. Coming out of the closet as a senior CIA official, however, had not been his idea.

John Henry Franklin, needing to set the hook further into Sully, had shamed him by challenging him to “fish or cut bait.” Franklin had declared the time was past for sitting on the fence, and that if California was to secede, it would need strong, capable men to guide the change. Sully’s knowledge of how to foment insurrection would be invaluable, and his place would be assured in the new California Republic. No stranger to the manipulation and covert techniques needed to maneuver capable men into accomplishing planned objectives, Sully nevertheless found it amusing that he was on the dancing end of the strings this time, while Franklin-and to some extent Wolff-jerked his arms and legs.

The following morning, with about a dozen anxious, cautious men assembled in Wolff’s room, he opened the meeting.

“So then,” Wolff said, “shall we begin? As we speak, a special-ops team from the Shasta Brigade is conducting the initial research for an operation designed to alert the ATF that something is brewing. I can assure you, the message will be unmistakable. With help from inside sources,” he said, glancing toward Sully, who had been introduced-to everyone’s chagrin-as an intelligence agency operative, “word will filter down to the ATF of a large arms cache, which they will be anxious to raid. To heighten their interest, this arms cache will ostensibly belong to the same group that will have perpetrated actions against their brother ATF agents-actions that will take place early next week, conducted by a Shasta Brigade special-ops team. Nothing inflames a law enforcement officer more than the killing of one of his own. That, and the ATF’s propensity for knee-jerk direct action against supposed criminals, will be their downfall, all to our advantage. We expect this action will greatly increase public turnout for the election, and that the secession question will be answered once and for all. This is how it will work. .”

Daryl Cummings, in company with Senior ATF agent Howard Templeton, left a restaurant six miles north of Eureka on Highway 101. It was early morning, and they had eaten breakfast and were headed back to their makeshift office. They had spent the previous night monitoring telephone calls and visitors, if any, into and out of Room 204 at the local Ramada Inn-a known meeting place for gun-runners suspected of making drops of contraband weapons off the coast of California.

The stakeout had provided nothing of substance during the two-week duty stint, but as Templeton had told the rookie, it would take only one intercepted conversation to open many doors.

As they approached the first stoplight north of town, a pickup truck passed on their left, running the yellow warning light that turned red before the truck had cleared the intersection.

“Damn fool,” Templeton said. “Always in a hurry. Why the hell would someone want to live up here in this beautiful country and pass everything in sight just to pick up a few seconds?”

“Beats me,” Cummings replied.

A second pickup pulled up behind them just as the light turned green, and the two vehicles proceeded through the intersection, heading down the highway toward Eureka. The view ahead and to the agents’ right was of open ground that sloped away from the road toward a sheer cliff and the ocean below. The coast and beach were partially obscured by a low-lying morning mist, but as Templeton drove, he glanced at the waves rolling toward the rocky coast and thought how he never tired of the scenery in this part of the country. Content to grab a few more minutes before they would be cooped up in the motel room, neither man was in any hurry.

When the vehicle behind them rammed the back of their Ford Explorer, the jolt jerked the men out of their thoughts.

“Hey!” Templeton hollered. “What’s wrong with that guy?”

Again the truck rammed into their vehicle, and Templeton stood on the brakes, trying to slow down and get his vehicle off the road and onto the shoulder. When he succeeded in stopping his Ford, a second truck, approaching from the front, screeched to a halt alongside the agents’ car, and two men jumped out, their heads covered by dark blue ski masks.

Templeton instinctively reached for his weapon, but the first man to arrive opened fire with an automatic machine pistol, the rounds striking Templeton in the face and throat. Cummings sat frozen in his seat, his fear overcoming his training and natural reflexive instincts. Reaching the passenger side of the vehicle, one of the attackers removed his ski mask and looked for several seconds at the helpless young man. The attacker was in his late fifties, clean shaven and muscular. Cummings had a quick thought of his father, who had discouraged him from pursuing a law enforcement career. The older man smiled, nodding his head.

“It won’t hurt, son,” he said, his voice calm. Raising his automatic pistol, he released a short burst into Cummings’ chest and head. He then turned and shouted at the truck to the rear. “Shove it over, and let’s get out of here.”

The big-tire 4x4 Dodge Dakota inched up against the rear of the Ford Explorer, and the driver dropped his transmission into low gear, revving his engine and pushing against the rear of the ATF vehicle. Its tires skidding along the ground, the Ford lurched toward the edge of the precipice and then tilted, dropping over the side and plummeting to the bottom of the cliff, coming to rest upside down on the beach below. In thirty seconds, both pickups were gone, parting in separate directions, their occupants free of the hot, cumbersome ski masks.

“Good evening. I’m Paul Spackman, and welcome to the Six O’ Clock Eyewitness News. Today, in two geographically separate incidents near Fresno and Eureka, four agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms were gunned down as they drove along rural roads outside those communities. In both cases, the agents’ cars were forced off the road, and several gunmen surrounded the vehicles, raking the cars with automatic weapons fire. While no eyewitnesses were available, investigation of the sites produced sufficient evidence for local law enforcement officers to reconstruct the attacks. All four agents were pronounced dead on arrival at local hospitals.

“No claim of responsibility for these incidents has been forthcoming from any known subversive groups; however, there is speculation that the recent attempt by the ATF to require increased gun registration on new purchases may have angered militia groups, for whom the upcoming secession issues are paramount. Further on this story, our field reporter Laura Benson spoke with Claude Riker, agent in charge of the San Francisco ATF office. Laura. .?”

Jackson Shaw sat and watched the evening news and contemplated the mission outlined by Wolff six days earlier. If Wolff’s intent had been to inflame the ATF, a broad-daylight assassination of four agents would certainly do the trick. They would be out for blood, and rather than alarming Shaw, that merely served to excite him. Finally, full-scale operations would be the order of the day. The patriot movement was growing teeth, or perhaps fangs, and the Shasta Brigade had finally set about to engage the enemy. If this didn’t incite people to turn out for the election and to deliver a message to the federal government, nothing would.

Three nights later, it was clear the message had been delivered. Once again, the nightly news, delayed until the early hours of the following morning, dispensed the verdict.

“Good evening. I’m Paul Spackman, and welcome to the special election, all-night, Eyewitness News. Today is truly a historic occasion in the state of California. Ever since the advisory referendum on secession nearly two years ago, followed by the even larger margin of victory the next year in a full-fledged referendum, pundits have been lauding their respective points of view on the constitutionality of the secession issue.

“Earlier this morning, in a California Supreme Court-ordered special election, all that came to an end. As of 1:15 a.m. today,” he said, glancing at a clock on the wall, “when the vote tally was confirmed by the California elections office, using the results of the new Home Telephone Voting System, it became official. The people have spoken. In an overwhelming popular response, Californians turned out, or perhaps we should now say ‘dialed in,’ in record numbers to cast the largest vote ever on a state-wide issue. By a whopping majority of 76 percent, Californians voted to sever ties with the United States of America and, based on the legislature’s actions, to establish the Republic of California, a sovereign nation.

“United States Senator Malcolm Turner, for whom this issue was a central theme in his campaign for reelection eighteen months ago, is at his San Francisco election headquarters, and we have acquired a direct link with him.”

The screen filled with images of celebration in the Marriott hotel ballroom, where hundreds of “Yes on Secession” campaign workers were waving banners and tooting on party horns.

“Senator, can you hear us?”

“I can indeed, Paul,” he said, pressing the small receiver into his ear against the din of the celebration. “What a momentous occasion!”

“Senator Turner, in light of the vilification you have received from several segments of the press and the intellectual community, this vote must be a satisfying vindication of your position with regard to California’s future.”

“Paul, you have been one of the few voices of reason among the press in this whole affair. There is no cause for rejoicing here. We have found it necessary to sever our ties with our brothers and sisters in the other forty-nine states-a four-hundred-year family history, I might add. It’s a sad day when families cannot resolve their differences without breaking up. But there it is. The people have spoken once again, with even more resounding support. The judiciary can no longer ignore the will of the people. Now it’s time to get on with the task at hand-setting in place the machinery to run our new republic.”

“Senator, some have said that your support of this movement is nothing more than positioning yourself to become the first president or prime minister of the Republic of California.”

“Political sparring, Paul. Nothing more. We will need to develop our plans, however. Thirty months, just over two years, is not a long time to develop a control mechanism for a new nation. Governor Dewhirst and the state legislature have a lot of hard work ahead of them, if they intend to honor the will of the people.”

“Senator Turner, will you throw your hat in the ring for the leadership of the new nation?”

“Paul, I have admired your objectivity and fair reporting for years, and as you know, I have been candid with you on all occasions. However, it’s premature to speculate how this new nation will shake out. We’ll take it a step at a time. The world’s changing, and we have the unique opportunity to restructure our constitution to remove the heavy-handed and often insidiously intrusive nature that government assumes in people’s lives.”

Returning the picture to the studio, Paul Spackman continued to deliver the evening news, including reports on the street from individual citizens on how they could see this new event affecting their lives.

Chapter 18

Rumsey Valley, California

February, 2012

Nicole Bentley approached California State Highway 16, where she was to meet Dan Rawlings. The open farmland rolled by as she drove the remaining few miles, just over an hour’s drive from her home in Walnut Creek. The previous three months had flown by, highlighted by the overwhelming approval California voters had given the secession and the media frenzy about continued efforts to derail the process. Almost as an emotional break, she had taken two weeks vacation and returned to Connecticut for Christmas, meeting on several occasions in New York and Washington with Colonel Connor and FBI Director Granata. Now, back in California, she was once again pursuing both her career and her personal life, both of which coincidentally revolved around Dan Rawlings.

Dan had added a new and enjoyable element to her life, yet she found herself still moving cautiously, unable to determine whether it was because of her official duties or her reluctance to get involved in another serious relationship so close on the heels of the last one.

After their dinner date at the Empress of China, they’d had several additional dates, including a visit to Alcatraz, where Nicole had handcuffed Dan “to give you the full benefit of the experience,” she had said, laughing. She knew she had become very attracted to him. There was no denying that, without lying to herself. On their last date, she’d even considered that it might be time to advance their relationship and she had considered inviting him in to her apartment when he dropped her off. But she could sense that even though the physical attraction was mutual, he was still conflicted about his feelings for his deceased wife.

Her current field assignment, to investigate the local militia groups and the Shasta Brigade in particular, also gave her pause. There were no indications that Dan had any connections to that group-to the contrary. Dan had told her that the intimidation tactics of the brigade had created fear and succeeded in quelling any real vocal opposition, at least among the people he knew.

And “Logger,” the code name for the bureau’s man inside the Shasta Brigade, had made no mention of Rawlings in any of his reports. Yet both Nicole’s training and her self-preservation instincts told her to play her cards close to the vest for a while. The only complication to that philosophy was her increasing interest in this new person in her life, and her desire, when she acknowledged it to herself, to hold him close instead.

The exit ramp to State 16 approached, and she slowed, looking for Dan’s Chevy Blazer, which she found parked at the side of the off ramp. She lowered the passenger-side power window and pulled up next to his driver’s side. Strains of the Light Cavalry Overture came from his vehicle. Dan was settled back in his seat, eyes closed, unaware of her approach.

She honked her horn and laughed when he jerked upright, then lowered his window.

“Excuse me, sir,” she said, “is there a place a girl could find an escort to the local festivities?”

“Boy, are you in luck,” he replied. “It just so happens I’m available.”

“How fortunate.” She smiled.

“Follow me, my lady.” He gestured and drove off ahead, turning west toward the small Madison crossroads, where Nicole parked and locked her car after transferring her overnight bag and sweater into the back of the Blazer.

Seating herself on the passenger side and fastening her seat belt, Nicole started laughing again. “‘Into the valley rode the six hundred,’ or in this case-the two.”

“Aha. Classically literate as well as attractive. That’s a tough combination to beat. Do you like opera as well?” Dan asked.

“Sure,” she replied. “Got any Mick Jagger at the Met?”

Dan smiled, then leaned over and kissed her softly. “No, but if you’ll hum a few bars, I’ll try to pick it up.”

“Why don’t we just talk as we drive,” she said, “and you can fill me in on the history of this beautiful valley.”

“One of my favorite subjects.” Dan pulled out onto the road, again turning west toward Esparto and the beginning of the narrowing of Rumsey Valley. “Between here and Highway 20, you’ll see miles and miles of the reason for the Almond Festival, and, thanks to the weather, all in fabulous bloom at the moment.”

“Yes, I saw the fields as I began to approach the area. It’s beautiful.”

“And so are you,” he said, reaching for her hand as he drove.

Following the highway around the western edge of Esparto, Dan took a detour from the two-lane country road and pulled into a small, well-kept cemetery. He parked the Blazer and exited the car, coming around to open Nicole’s door.

He gestured with a sweep of his hand. “Four generations of Rumseys are resting here. My older brother, Tom, who died at birth, is two rows over, and there’s Jack’s plot,” he said, pointing, “next to my grandmother, Ellen. She’s been gone about eight years now. When she died, it took Jack several years to decide to continue living. They were married for over fifty years.”

Nicole walked slowly through the cemetery, stopping occasionally to read the headstones. Dan provided a running narrative, revealing his admiration for his ancestors and the lives they had lived, reciting the stories he had heard so many times from his grandfather. He pulled a few weeds from some of the plots and took one more look around. Then, taking Nicole’s hand, he headed back to the car. As he opened Nicole’s door, he leaned in and kissed her forehead.

“In case you were wondering, Susan’s not here,” he said. “Her family came from Sacramento.”

“It crossed my mind,” she said, touching his cheek. “Thank you for telling me.”

Forty-five minutes later, they were walking the almond orchards in the small, rural community of Rumsey as Dan pointed out the fifty acres Jack had given him as a young boy, and which Dan had cultivated over the years.

“You’re looking at the source of my college tuition here, Special Agent Bentley. From the age of ten, I was responsible for these trees and reaped the reward of the harvest. Jack helped me in the early years, but as I grew, he let me handle it myself to find out if I was a farmer or not.”

As they walked, Nicole looked up at the hills running down both sides of the valley, narrowing as they cut northwest toward the canyon, where they came together for the final twelve miles through the gap, following the flow of Rumsey Creek.

“I knew early on that I wasn’t a farmer at heart. But still, I gained a love for the orchards and the rural life Jack has chosen,” Dan said.

Coming to the last row of trees and a small line of brush, Dan took Nicole’s hand and led her down a rough path to a spot on a small bluff overlooking Rumsey Creek.

“I’ve been coming here since I was old enough to remember. My sister taught me to swim over there,” he pointed, “and Jack and I have fished this creek dry, it seems. Not much by way of fish for many years now, except in the upper lakes, back to the west toward Clear Lake.”

“Is your father still working?”

“He retired about a year ago. For much of his career, he was a public administrator, working mostly as a city manager. About fifteen years ago he began to write, publishing a few novels. That’s what he does now-plays golf and writes military and political suspense novels. He was thrilled when I told him about the acceptance of my first novel.”

“Aha. Two public administrators, two novelists-it really is in the blood. ” She smiled.

“I never thought of it that way, but I can see what you mean,” Dan replied.

For the next few minutes, Nicole and Dan sat quietly tossing pebbles into the smooth water below them and watching the river run silently though its course. “Nicole, I had something I wanted to tell you, something that-”

Dan hesitated, hearing sounds coming from the direction of the orchard. With a rustling of branches, Jack Rumsey popped his head through the brush, flashing a big grin when he noticed Nicole.

“So, young’un, up to your old tricks again?”

The mood instantly broken, Dan stood, and Nicole also got to her feet. Dan broke a big smile and put his arm around his grandfather. “Nicole, this venerable old coot is the patriarch of our valley, the scourge of Yolo County, and of course, my grandfather, Jack Rumsey.”

Jack looked at Nicole for a few seconds, then shifted his gaze to Dan, then back. Smiling, he said, “Young lady, you look like you’d have more sense than to let this ruffian take you out in the bushes without an escort. He’s not done anything untoward, has he?”

“No. I’m sorry to say he’s been a perfect gentleman. I’m Nicole Bentley, and I’m pleased to meet you, Mr. Rumsey,” Nicole said, reaching to shake his hand. “I’ve heard a lot about you.”

“Lies, all lies, I can assure you.”

“But it was very good, Mr. Rumsey, really.”

“Like I said, young lady: lies. And call me Jack, if you please. Mr. Rumsey is for old men. So, Daniel, me lad, what brings you to the valley other than the fragrance of love in the air?”

“Don’t skip any opportunity, do you, Jack?”

“Not if I can help it-not at my age, anyway.”

“Well,” Nicole interrupted, “Dan’s been touting the merits of Rumsey Valley during the Almond Festival and the beauty of the blossoms. I thought I’d come up from the Bay Area and take him up on the offer to see it for myself. With a local guide, of course.”

“Better watch him closely, Nicole. Many a young lass has been swept away by the fragrance of the blossoms, said yes to a proposal-decent or otherwise-and found herself married before she realized what hit her, all because these orchards were in full bloom.”

“Grandma included, eh, Granddad?” Dan quipped.

“That, my young grandson, is, as they say, another story for another time.”

“Actually, I was just about to tell Nicole a story of my own, and I’m glad you arrived to participate.”

“Well, don’t just stand there with your tongue in your mouth, lad. Let’s hear it.”

The three of them sat down on the bluff, Nicole seated between the two men.

“To cut to the heart of the matter, which, as I can tell you, Nicole, is not Jack’s style, I’ve decided to resign as county administrator and run for Arnold Fister’s state assembly seat in the Eighth District. Nicole, in case you didn’t know, Supervisor Fister has represented Yolo County in the California legislature for the past fifteen years. He died in late December after a long battle with cancer. They’ve set a special election in April to replace him. Jack, I registered to run a couple of weeks ago.”

Jack smiled and glanced at his grandson, who was watching for his reaction. “It’s about time you tried to make something of yourself,” he said, teasing. “Fister’s death was not unexpected, and we’ll miss him. But if you can fill his shoes, Dan, you’ll be doing all right.”

Dan turned his gaze to Nicole. “How do you feel about politicians?” Dan asked.

Without speaking, she replied by leaning close and applying a quick kiss and a hug.

“‘Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,’ or Sacramento, as the case may be. I think that’s wonderful, Dan. How can I help?”

Jack leaned past Nicole to shake Dan’s hand. “From that silly grin on his face, lass, I’d say you already have. Indeed, you already have.

“Well, I’ll be off, kids,” Jack said, various joints in his body creaking as he stood. “Nice to have met you, Nicole. In spite of my misgivings about your choice of companions, you could be in worse company,” he said.

“You’re right there, Jack,” Dan rejoined. “She could have met you, fifty or sixty years ago.”

“Only Ellen had that privilege, my boy. Enjoy the festival this evening, and I’ll catch up with you later. By the way, Dan,” Jack said, pausing as he turned to leave, “do you have an organization yet?”

“Rick Jordan is helping, but I’ve only got five weeks to campaign. Only one other person, Sally Hemmit, has filed, as a Democrat.”

“Well, count on your old granddad to tell some stories, if necessary.”

“Only if you clean ’em up, Jack. Got to protect my image, you know.”

“Humph,” Jack snorted as he made his way through the bushes again, stopping briefly and turning back. “Have you spoken to Matilda Westegaard?”

“Ms. Westegaard? The high school English teacher? What does she have to do with Yolo County politics?” Dan queried, a quizzical look on his face.

Jack laughed heartily. “In spite of all that high falutin’ education, you’ve still got a lot to learn, young Rawlings. For the past thirty years or so, no one has been elected to city, county, or state office from the Eighth District without tacit approval from our self-appointed county matriarch. Certainly not without at least seeking it. Best you pay the old gal a visit,” Jack said, leaving Dan surprised at the revelation of how large a part someone he had admired-a retired Woodland High School teacher-played in local politics.

After Jack was gone, Dan and Nicole climbed down the bluff and walked along the riverbank, stopping occasionally as Dan revealed memories and scenes from his childhood. Later, while they were returning to the orchard and making their way to the car, Nicole opened the election issue again.

“You know this decision to run will place you at the forefront of the secession issue. You’ll have to publicly declare your position.”

“Yeah, maybe that’s why I’ve decided to do it. My county position has been fulfilling, but the vacillation by the board has caused the entire staff some difficulty. I think this idea has been in the back of my head for some time, but truth be known, the royalty advance from Voices in My Blood has probably given me some options that wouldn’t have been available for a long time, if ever. I’ve been given choices, and it seems I’ve chosen to follow some of my forebears.”

“I admire your decision, Dan, but it’s a tough time to jump in. The usual issues-budget, welfare, unemployment-are going to take a backseat this time. Based upon the recent election, the state is quite in favor of secession. If you oppose it, you might lose.”

“I know, and the damned Shasta Brigade has got people so riled up, it’s hard for them to say where they stand for fear of being harassed. Still, I have other options if this doesn’t work out.”

Dan pulled the Blazer out onto Highway 16 and headed back for the evening’s festivities in Esparto. About ten miles down the road, a black pickup with overhead spotlights passed in the opposite direction, and, to Dan’s surprise, made a quick U-turn that Dan spotted in his rear view mirror. Slowing, Dan continued to watch as the pickup raced to catch up with the Blazer, eventually pulling in front of them and slowing until both vehicles pulled over to the side of the road. Despite the incident several months ago when Dan had been forced to engage in a shoot-out with the attempted kidnapping, he did not reach for his weapon in the glove box, preferring not to display concern with Nicole present.

Roger Dahlgren, Woodland city manager, got out of the passenger side as they came to a stop. The man behind the wheel also got out to stand by his truck, a lump of chewing tobacco filling his cheek. Dan stayed behind the wheel of his Blazer as Roger approached his window. Nicole kept her eyes on the men and her hand on her purse, situated on the console between the bucket seats in the Blazer.

“Nice day for a drive, Dan. Out to see the almond blossoms?”

“Only a tour of the valley. What brings you out this far from town?”

“Oh, just a few of the guys up in the hills for the weekend.” He eyed Nicole, who held his gaze. “Charlie Paulson tells me you and he had a chat a few weeks ago.”

“I see Charlie all the time, Rog. He’s on the board, or had you forgotten?”

Roger smiled and looked back toward his truck. “Nah. I don’t forget too much. You should listen to Charlie, though. His voice on the board carries a lot of weight, and the city council is unanimous in their support for secession. True Californian’s are behind it also, as demonstrated in November. You’d be wise to step up to the plate and publicly declare your support-especially if you intend to enter the political arena.”

“There are still nearly half who are opposed, Roger, but I’m sure you and the brigade boys are willing to bring the recalcitrant ones around so they can see the light,” Dan replied.

Dahlgren nodded. “Only if they see it’s for the good of California. Of course, I can’t spout a lengthy family heritage in this valley like you do, but perhaps my roots and branches are growing in the right direction. You’d be wise to listen to your heart, Dan. California’s your home and your future, if you’re smart. If you get elected to the legislature, you could be a big help to us.”

“And if we remain on opposite sides of the issue?” Dan challenged.

“The train’s moving. Don’t get left standing around the station when it pulls out, or even worse,” he said slowly, glancing toward his pickup and the driver, “don’t fall under the wheels and get run over.”

“You mean like the ATF agents did?” Dan replied. “I’ll try to keep my wits about me, Rog. Now if you’ll excuse us, we better be moving on.”

“Sure thing.” Roger slapped the hood of the Blazer. “And nice to see you, too, pretty lady,” he said to Nicole, who remained silent. Roger climbed back into the pickup, and the driver made another U-turn, his tattooed arm hanging out the driver’s side window as he drove past. Spinning his tires, he heading back up the valley.

“That,” Dan said to Nicole as he pulled back onto the highway, “is our illustrious city manager, Roger Dahlgren. He used to be a fairly regular guy, but reputedly, he’s now a captain in the Shasta Brigade, and from what we just saw, enjoying his new bully pulpit.”

Nicole reached over and rubbed Dan’s shoulder and neck. “I thought only dogs and wild animals had the hair on the back of their necks stand up,” she said.

“Survival instinct, I suppose. He’s getting quite brazen in his approach. I didn’t recognize the tattooed gorilla driving,” Dan said.

“What say we finish the evening in style, Mr. Rawlings, and you take me for a bite to eat and to the world famous Rumsey Valley Almond Festival?”

Dan looked over at Nicole, reached for her hand, and kissed the back of it. “Anything m’lady wants this evening,” he replied, anxious to dispel the tension that hung in the air following Roger Dahlgren’s veiled threat.

“Well, how about a quiet fifteen-minute drive and the strains of the Light Cavalry Overture?” she suggested.

“I knew you were a smart cookie,” Dan said. “Your intelligence is equaled only by your good taste in men.”

Nicole smiled. “The jury’s still out on my judgment, Mr. Rawlings, but the polling has started.”

Chapter 19

California Desert

Ninety miles east of San Diego, California

March, 2012

I don’t care if it is four-thirty in the morning,” he hollered, “call him now! I want him to see this first-hand. And don’t touch a thing until he arrives.”

Winston Pierce, deputy director, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, stood in an open-necked shirt and khaki pants, a handkerchief pressed against his nose and face to stifle the odor. The ghastly, overpowering smell, repressed only slightly by the fact that the temperature in the predawn hours had finally dropped, was nauseating. Pierce was surrounded by a dozen border patrol agents and local sheriff’s deputies. The only consolation was the fact that no news media had yet discovered the grisly find.

Parked before him, in an isolated desert warehouse six miles north of the Mexican border, stood a six-wheeled, box-shaped truck, unmarked, with both rear doors open. The interior of the box was illuminated by floodlights glaring from temporary stands, providing sufficient light for officials to go about their gruesome task of identifying-or at least separating-the cargo in the back of the truck. The flies, unaware of the hour, were busily engaged in their own investigation. Invited by their well-developed organoleptic sensors, the insects outnumbered the agents by thousands.

The only ones unaffected by the appalling sight were the sixteen bodies in various states of decomposition, stacked inside the back of the truck. For them, neither the early hour, nor the overwhelming odor, nor the approaching heat of daylight mattered. They were at peace.

Particularly galling to the deputy director were the bodies of a young girl and a tiny, newborn infant, sprawled near the rear of the van. Thinking of his own precious teenaged daughter, Pierce fought to control tears. Many of the other equally experienced officers simply gave up and wept.

When the cellular call was connected to the five-star hotel in San Diego less than fifty miles away, Rodrigo Cordoba, Chief, Mexican Federal Police, was brusquely awakened by the insistent ringing of his bedside phone. In San Diego to attend the same immigration conference at which Deputy Director Pierce was to speak, he had been sleeping off the effects of a night of drinking and was slow to pick up the phone. But Pierce was not about to give up. Nothing he might say in his speech would provide more graphic evidence of the horror frequently associated with illegal border crossings, and Pierce wanted Cordoba to see the carnage firsthand.

“Yes?” Cordoba answered sleepily.

“General Cordoba?” Pierce addressed him, referring to his retired army rank.

“Yes.”

“This is Deputy Director Winston Pierce-from your BCI conference group.”

Awake now, Cordoba sat up, holding his head and looking through blurry eyes at the bedside clock radio. “Ah, yes, Director. What can I do for you this, uh, at this hour?”

“General, I offer my apologies for the early call, but we have come across something I believe you should see for yourself. If it would be convenient, I will have a car outside the hotel in twenty minutes.” Delivered somewhat as a directive, as opposed to a request, the invitation sounded urgent. It wasn’t until he was standing in the shower a few moments later that Cordoba identified the other emotion in Pierce’s voice. It was anger. Pierce was angry, and he was calling Cordoba on the carpet as he might a child, as if to say, “Now look what you’ve done.”

Precisely twenty minutes later, General Rodrigo Cordoba, dressed in a double-breasted Armani suit, silk shirt with French cuffs, gold cuff links, and Italian shoes, was met on the circular driveway outside the San Diego Marriott Hotel by two uniformed agents of the U.S. Border Patrol. Leaving the hotel, Agent Presley, seated on the passenger side, turned to face Cordoba in the backseat and advised him that they had about a forty-five-minute drive. Then he turned again to face forward. Nothing else was said during the ensuing drive into the Southern California desert. General Cordoba gave no further thought to the conference that was to be held that morning, at which he was to have participated in a round-table discussion on the need for joint U.S. / Mexican police action in controlling the increasing tide of illegal Mexican immigration.

Chapter 20

Governor’s Office, California Capitol Building

Sacramento, California

The most incongruous thing about Robert Del Valle’s size, apart from his soft-spoken and caring demeanor, was his ability to fold his six-foot five-inch frame into a Porsche 911. That fact was ironic, since the same physical attribute that made him a stand-out, quite literally, in any crowd except an NBA convention, had, over thirty years earlier as he graduated from West Point, precluded his first choice of service.

“You can’t fit in the damned tank,” his assignment officer at West Point had told him when he tried to choose armor. Assigned instead to infantry, he had excelled at his chosen profession, reaching the rank of lieutenant colonel and eventually becoming a battalion commander. A family crisis involving his parents had required his resignation after thirteen years of service, and he had returned to the family homestead in Utah. Subsequent events led to a move to California, where he had established a now-successful insurance brokerage firm and affiliated himself with the army through the California National Guard. After fifteen years in the guard and twenty-eight years of total military service, he now commanded, holding the rank of major general.

Del Valle lived in El Dorado Hills, in a home that afforded him a commanding view of the Sacramento Valley. Leaving there in his sports car, General Del Valle began the pre-briefing in his mind, unsure exactly how he would approach the governor, with whom he had requested this meeting. The brutal murders of four ATF agents in November still had everyone in an uproar, and the guard’s intelligence section, working together with the Army’s Criminal Investigation Division, had thus far been unable to confirm the identity of perpetrators, although speculation had been that one or more of the newly amalgamated militia groups was involved.

Del Valle rode the elevator up from the underground parking facility in the capitol building, reflecting momentarily on a tour of schoolchildren giggling, pushing, and teasing each other. What does the future hold for them in the newly rebellious state? Had the children in South Carolina and Virginia known what was happening to their country so long ago? he wondered.

Walking toward the governor’s suite of offices, he passed by several glass-enclosed displays, one for each county in California, each displaying the primary products or industry to be found in that county. Taking a tour of the capitol was almost like attending a mini state fair.

“Good morning, General,” the governor’s secretary said. Wearing civilian clothes to reduce the formality of the visit and to allay the suspicions of any reporters who might be in the building, Del Valle had arranged this meeting to coincide with his routine appearance before the governor.

“The governor will be right with you, sir. He’s just concluding his morning staff review.”

“Thank you, Mrs. Hansen. I’ll just have a cup of coffee and sit over here,” he said. Three minutes later, several fresh, young faces filed out of the governor’s office, papers and briefcases in hand. Mrs. Hansen stood and moved to the governor’s door, smiling at General Del Valle. “General, you may see the governor now.”

Del Valle stood, picked up his briefcase, and started for the office, commenting as he passed, “Were we ever that young, Mrs. Hansen?” gesturing toward the departing staff.

She looked toward them as they disappeared down the hall. “Not that I can recall, General, but if memory serves, we, too, once thought we could change the world.”

“Yeah, I suppose,” Del Valle allowed. Entering the office suite, Del Valle turned his attention to the governor, who was moving from a conference table toward his desk and who paused to greet Del Valle.

“Good morning, Bob. I see you’re climbing the ladder on Rancho Murietta’s match play golf tournament,” Governor Dewhirst said.

Del Valle smiled and shook the governor’s hand, both men beginning the ritual golf banter.

“Just luck, Governor, and an occasional ‘membership bounce.’ Your side of the ladder seems full of serious players, though. Tough competition, eh?”

California Governor Walter Dewhirst, in his second term, motioned for Del Valle to take a seat and moved to pour fresh coffee before taking a seat opposite. “Some good players, I’ll admit, but we won’t see any real competition until our ladders cross, Bob,” he said with a smile. “I did take the time to check your current handicap. There’s a discrepancy, I think,” he said with a straight face.

“Oh?”

“Yeah. Someone seems to have left off the plus sign in front of your three.”

A big grin lit up Del Valle’s face. “I’ll check into it right away, Governor. Actually, I agree with you that it’s an erroneous posting. By the time our ladders cross, I’ll see what I can do to change it to a six. A minus six, that is.”

“You do that,” Dewhirst smiled in return, “and I’ll keep my eight and cross your name off the list anyway.”

Del Valle laughed out loud and picked up his briefcase, retrieving a folder and replacing the case on the floor. “You probably will, Walt. You probably will.”

“So,” the governor began, “got some good news for me, I hope. My peers in nearly every other state have been pressing to know what’s going to happen and how serious we are about this secession nonsense. They know, of course, that citizen support for referendum issues comes and goes in California, but this one doesn’t seem to want to go away.”

“Precisely,” Del Valle responded. “Still, the legislature is going to have to address it more seriously. Since the last election, nearly every legislator has avoided the subject like the plague, speaking in generalities, claiming they’re only doing ‘what the people want.’”

“Well, it’s gonna come back and bite ’em. There’s no escape. We’re gonna have to address it on the floor in open session.”

“And the Speaker?”

“Sheesh, if I only knew. He’s a very private man.”

“Maybe a direct approach, Governor.”

“Our erstwhile Speaker has kept all comers at bay since you were a shave-tail lieutenant. I don’t think this issue, despite the severity, will cause him to change his habits.”

“Can’t you just call him in and see how he stands?”

“He usually doesn’t work that way, but this secession mania is certainly out of the norm.”

“That’s putting it mildly. How about the direct approach: ‘Yea or nay, speaker? Time to ante up.’ Surely this issue’s too big to wait and see where the masses stand, and then get out front and pretend to lead. You know, politics as usual,” Del Valle said.

Governor Dewhirst looked at Del Valle for a moment, a smile forming on his face. Del Valle realized he had inadvertently lumped the governor in with the charge. “Governor, I-”

“No, you’re right. We’ve got to approach this differently. In fact, you’re dead right. It’s time I quit tap-dancing. What’s the thrust of your main subject today?”

Assuming a formal tone, Del Valle opened his folder. “I have some intelligence on the attack on the ATF and we need to discuss how to handle some of the spin-off. If we don’t take a stand and establish some policy on the issue, the Feds will. They’re already moving on several fronts, and we’re not getting much cooperation from the FBI.”

“Anything the Speaker couldn’t hear?”

Del Valle thought momentarily. “I suppose not, Governor. I could shield my sources.”

Governor Dewhirst stood, walked to his desk, and pushed his intercom. “Mrs. Hansen, would you see if the Speaker might have a few moments to join us, please?”

“Certainly, Governor,” she replied.

Dewhirst resumed his seat. “Bob, when he arrives, just shoot straight. It’s time we formed an alliance on this one. My gut tells me he’s as much opposed to this foolish idea of secession as we are. It’s time to get his brain on our team and develop a strategy to keep this state on keel.”

“Governor,” General Del Valle said, continuing his formal tone, “my sources within military circles tell me that the joint chiefs have instructed certain California military units to prepare a contingency plan for federal intervention, should the legislature formalize the secession movement. There’s no equivocation out there. If we march down this path, you’ll find yourself as unpopular in Washington as Jefferson Davis was the last time this was tried.”

Dewhirst reflected on that for a moment then stood as Mrs. Hansen buzzed to announce the arrival of the Speaker.

“Let’s do all we can, General Del Valle,” he responded, “to assure you don’t have to assume Lee’s role. Put it straight to Speaker Huntington, and let’s see where this crafty fox stands.”

Del Valle stood, prepared to greet the Speaker, and replied to the governor, “Yes, sir.”

Speaker of the California Assembly, James Huntington, a tall, silver-haired, distinguished black man who had been the mayor of Fresno thirty-eight years earlier before entering the California legislature, entered the room. Mrs. Hansen closed the door behind him.

“Ah, Mr. Speaker. Thank you for joining us this morning. General Del Valle wanted to brief me on matters of import. I felt it appropriate that you participate. Some coffee, James?”

“If the ladies would please come to order.”

Matilda Westegaard lightly rapped her gavel, the banter throughout the room slowly faded, and attention was turned toward the rostrum.

“Thank you, thank you, ladies. As you all know, today we are privileged to hear from Mr. Daniel Rawlings, republican candidate for Yolo County’s Eighth Legislative District. Until recently, Mr. Rawlings was our county administrator. He has now announced his candidacy for the seat vacated by the tragic and unfortunate death of our most able representative, Arnold Fister. Only last year, Mr. Fister spoke from this very lectern, and we all miss him dearly.”

Murmurs of assent rippled through the room. Arnold Fister had been a handsome and charismatic man. Many of the ladies in the room had voted for him for no other reason than his perfectly coifed silver hair.

“It was my pleasure to have instructed Mr. Rawlings as a student,” she began, only to be interrupted by one of the ladies in the back, “For hell’s sake, Matilda, you had everybody here as a student. That’s no surprise!” At this, the room burst into spontaneous laughter, and Matilda blushed slightly.

“That’s true, Jackie Healy, and you haven’t changed one bit since those days. You’re still interrupting the class.” This was followed by more laughter from the room. “Now, if I could please get on with the introduction-as I was saying, Mr. Rawlings, having served as our county administrator until two weeks ago, is familiar with local issues, and it appears, having picked up some of his grandfather’s traits, is not afraid to go against the tide when he feels it necessary. I, for one, support him in his opposition to this secession nonsense.”

She glanced down at her notes again, and added, “In addition to being Yolo County’s newest author with his first novel, Voices in My Blood, a story that is largely set in Rumsey Valley, Mr. Rawlings, is. . well, shall we just let him tell us himself? May I present Daniel Rumsey Rawlings, fifth-generation Rumsey Valley resident and candidate for the Eighth District.”

Dan stood to take the podium, acknowledging Matilda’s introduction with a “thank you” amid a smattering of light applause, which died quickly as he surveyed the room and began to address the assembled ladies.

“It’s funny what crosses your mind when preparing to speak. As Mrs. Westegaard was mentioning my forthcoming novel, Voices in My Blood, I flashed back to my senior year English class, taught, of course, by none other than Mrs. Westegaard,” he said, smiling toward Jackie Healy, who had made the earlier comment. “Most of us will remember Mrs. Westegaard as a teacher who cared, who pushed hard, and perhaps most of all, for me at least, who molded the raw clay she was given and tried to form the best possible crucible from the limited elements available.

“Many of us,” he said, turning to look at Matilda, “owe a great deal to Mrs. Westegaard, and likely, as in my case, we have taken it for granted. The lessons learned in her class while we prayed for the bell to ring have come to mind more than once over the years. Perhaps, only on occasion, mind you, I didn’t always pay as much attention as I should have, but somehow, somewhere, the lessons seeped in.” Dan pointed to his head. “Later in life, certainly in law school, the lessons resurfaced, having been retained as a result of the caliber of the teacher.” He looked toward her again with a bright smile. “It seems, Mrs. Westegaard, that you taught us in spite of ourselves. I, for one, would like to take this occasion to thank you publicly.”

Dan began the applause, prompting most of the women in the room to stand and join him in his spontaneous tribute. Matilda Westegaard remained seated, a hint of moisture in her eyes, but with her composure intact and a smile fixed on her face as she glanced about the room. As the applause died down, the ladies resumed their seats.

One of the women in the back of the room spoke up. “Mr. Rawlings, I want you to tell us why we should elect someone who still believes the bullshit being put out by Washington.”

Instantly, Matilda Westegaard was on her feet again, standing behind the podium. “We’ll have none of that in this room. Do you hear me?” she said, her voice tinged with anger. “This is America. . at least for the present. And we will honor our traditions of respecting and listening to other points of view, at least while I’m president of this club.” She then took her seat again, and the room was quiet.

“Thank you, Mrs. Westegaard, but the questioner has raised a valid point. Why should you elect someone who believes we should remain a part of the United States of America? And who is right? Who’s wrong? In fact is there a right or wrong in this question of states’ rights? Perhaps,” Dan continued, “the lessons from our school days gave us the ability to tell right from wrong, good from evil, and to discern the essence of a situation in black-and-white terms. But over the ensuing decades, the lines seem to have blurred. The ‘anything goes’ philosophy now seems acceptable, and in some cases preferred. How do we respond when we disagree with something that will affect our lives, but because of political correctness, we’re not allowed to express our disagreement? How do we apply those lessons we learned from the previous generation to life today, when the variations between two or more issues do not contain merely right or wrong. .”

And so Dan Rawlings continued the basic format that he had developed into his formal presentation, which he had given at least twice daily for the previous three weeks. A Republican by party affiliation, Dan had firmly established himself a Unionist-a label from Civil War days-which the press had pinned on him. Each group to which he spoke, even those that supported his campaign to keep California in the Union, bombarded him with examples of oppressive federal intrusion and Washington’s increasing intervention into state’s rights. Dan did not deny any of these allegations. Indeed, he agreed with most of them while maintaining that the way to correct them was not to leave the fold, but to continue to push for change from the inside. Unfortunately, his was a platform that had been preached by legislative candidates for nearly two centuries, and one from which a tired electorate sought refuge.

The field crew lay in the shade of the few trees remaining around the barley fields south of Twin Falls, Idaho. The tired laborers were resting after lunch, trying not to think about the even hotter afternoon session ahead as they prepared for Spring planting. In an attempt to keep the buzzing and biting insects at bay, Carlos Domingo had shielded his face with a magazine as he tried to take a brief nap. Not to be outdone, a co-worker reached over and grabbed the magazine, tearing several pages out of the middle to place over his own face.

Not wishing to cause any more trouble than his limited remaining energy could handle, Carlos ignored the theft and sat up, beginning to flip through the tattered pages. Unable to read most of the English, he concentrated on the pictures, casually turning pages, waiting for the field boss to blow the whistle that would signal another five backbreaking hours of stooped labor. When his eyes landed on the picture of an open truck, with dozens of uniformed police and several suit-and-tie men standing around looking in, he froze. Turning the page sideways to get a better look, Carlos felt the instant urge to vomit, his stomach curling within him as he came to a recognition of the face before him. He quickly looked around, jumped up to find the field boss, showed him the picture, and asked him to read the caption underneath.

“Hey, Carlos, you better get some more rest. It’s hotter than Hades out here, and it’s gonna be sweat city this afternoon.”

Por favor,” he persisted. “What say these words?”

“Well, it says ‘Gruesome remains discovered in southern California desert.’” Summarizing, he continued, “Mostly, it tells of a truckload of illegal Mexican immigrants who were locked in a truck and died of heat exposure. Sixteen people died.”

“Who is this?” Carlos asked, pointing to a well-dressed Mexican man, standing next to a gringo wearing khaki pants and an open-neck shirt.

“Let’s see-says here it’s General Rodrigo Cordoba, head of the Mexican federal police. Good thing you came over a different way, Carlos. Looks like those poor folk roasted to death.”

The field boss looked at his watch, handed the pages back to Carlos, and blew the whistle. Turning away and stumbling back into the field, Carlos felt tears rolling down his face. He considered racing back to Mexico, but he had nothing left back there. Nearly all his pay for two months had gone to Carmen to purchase her “guaranteed” passage across the border. She had gotten across all right, only to be left to roast in the California desert. This general, this Cordoba, he would have the answers. He would know what happened. And the man from MexiCal-the man to whom Carmen had given the money-he, too, would know.

In early April, in Davis, California, a small gathering, unworthy of statewide news coverage, had reason to celebrate. Daniel Rumsey Rawlings, special election candidate for California’s Eighth Legislative District, along with a half-dozen or so campaign workers, received a phone call from the state election office. Rawlings had received fifty four percent of the popular vote. Twenty minutes later his opponent called to concede. The national release of Voices in My Blood six weeks earlier with attendant media hoopla, combined with the publisher’s marketing strategy, had resulted in excellent sales for the book, a twelfth-place listing on the New York Times bestseller list by the end of the second week, and an eight-point jump in ratings for the Rawlings campaign.

Nicole Bentley, who had made the trip from Walnut Creek to attend this small gathering, found a private moment with Dan as he stepped outside to get a breath of fresh air and quietly savor his newfound direction. She leaned in and gently took his face in her hands. A smile on her face, she reached up and kissed him. As they broke their embrace, Dan looked at her for a moment. Nothing was said as he wrapped his arms around her, kissing her firmly, continuing to hold her in his arms in private, silent celebration, feeling no need to verbalize their feelings. After several long moments, Nicole lifted her head from Dan’s chest.

“Well, now that the special election is over, what’s next?”

Dan tilted his head back, looked up at the dark night sky, a long, slow exhale escaping his lips. Then, looking back at Nicole, he kissed her again.

“I have a feeling it’s not over at all. In fact, I feel it’s barely started.”

“What do you mean?”

“As happy an occasion as this is for me. . well, to put it bluntly, I’m in, but California’s out. It’s only been political posturing so far. Now sides will form, and bloodshed may well be inevitable. I’m joining an elected body that is severely divided and faced with an impossible task.”

“A civil war?” she said, looking up at him. “You’re not serious.”

“I hope not, but everything Jack said has happened so far. The United States Supreme Court is the obvious next step. I can’t see Congress or the president sending us a bon voyage card and a box of chocolate-covered cherries.”

Chapter 21

Sierra Nevada Mountains

Northern California

May, 2012

A light tan Pacific Gas amp; Electric service truck moved slowly up the dirt and gravel road toward a remote mountain cabin in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The driver and his passenger were vigilant and, although it would not be apparent to anyone who might view their approach, apprehensive. After the truck came to a stop in front of the cabin, the passenger got out, walked around to the back of the truck, and removed a gas detector and two breathing masks. The driver shut off the engine and came around to the front of the truck, taking one of the gas masks from his partner.

Approaching the cabin, the driver knocked on the door and called out, “Anybody home?”

An older teenage boy answered the door, barely cracking it. “Yeah?” he replied.

“PG amp;E. We got reports of a gas leak down the road to your neighbor’s place. The line runs about two hundred yards behind your cabin. You smelled anything?”

“Nope,” the kid responded, wary of the strangers.

No other vehicles were present, and while the brief conversation was in progress, the other serviceman moved around back of the cabin to check the rear.

“Mind if I come in and check your stove and hot-water heater?” he asked the kid.

“Well, I’m not really-”

“Just take a minute, son. No bother, really.”

“All right, but make it quick. My ma says I got things to do.”

“Right,” he said, entering the cabin and scanning the main room and the one adjacent, which held the kitchen. A woman in her late thirties was in the small kitchen, holding a two or three-year-old child on her hip while feeding an even younger infant in a highchair.

“I thought we was on Propane,” the teenage boy said, following the serviceman into the kitchen.

“You are, son,” the driver said, turning with a pistol in his hand. “Get on the floor, kid. Who else is here?” he said to the woman.

Frightened, the boy lay down on the floor as the second serviceman came in the back door, gun drawn and ready.

“Whada’ya want? We ain’t got nothing here,” the woman protested, her voice thick with a smoker’s rasp.

“Shut up!” the driver said as he handcuffed the boy and motioned again for the woman to sit at the kitchen table. “Check the cellar, Jack,” the driver said to the second man.

“I did. The entrance is behind the cabin. Full of weapons, just like we thought, but no one else seems to be around.”

“Then I guess our intel was straight. It’s about time one of these raids went off without a hitch. Call it in.”

“Right,” he said, exiting the front door and heading for the truck. Reaching through the passenger door, he grabbed the mike on the radio and keyed the transmitter, generating a blast of static. “Bugle Base, Bugle Base, this is 205.” More static followed, and he adjusted the gain.

“205, this is Bugle Base, go ahead.”

“Bugle Base, 205 in place. Gold strike, I repeat, gold strike. No resistance, target secure, two suspects and two young children in custody. Over.”

“Roger, 205, I copy gold strike. Strike team en route. ETA, forty minutes. Out.”

“Bugle Base, 205. Copy, out.” He replaced the mike and went back into the cabin. “Forty minutes. I’ll start the inventory, and you check for documents.”

“Right. Slam dunk, but where’s the man of the family?”

“Well, we got the weapons, and maybe one of ’em will match the hit pieces from the ambush.”

“Not a chance. They’ve ditched those long ago.”

“Yeah, probably.”

Four civilian models of the military Humvee and two Chevy Suburban 4x4s occupied most of the rear section of the interstate rest area. They were surrounded by twenty-two agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms. Signs closing the rest stop were posted at the entrance. The irony of the agents coordinating their final assault plans in the area marked with a sign that read “Pet Rest Area — Please Pick Up Leavings” had not occurred to anyone in the group.

“Okay, listen up,” Agent-in-Charge Claude Riker said, gathering his men together for the final briefing. “The point team has arrived and secured the area, with two suspects, a woman and a boy, plus two kids in custody. Air One reports no ground activity nearby. A weapons cache is confirmed. I repeat, gold strike is confirmed.”

A chorus of cheers went up from the gathered agents, releasing the frustration that had built up over weeks of intelligence gathering following the two daylight attacks and the murders of their fellow agents.

“It appears as if our tips were legit, and this time we’ve got the animals. The point team marked the turnoff with orange markers on two trees, either side of the road. Let’s hit it. Keep your interval and stay sharp. The rest of this group could show up at any time. But I think we caught these guys with their pants down. Alison, you lead in your Suburban, the Humvees in the middle, and Juan, you bring up the rear.”

Twenty-five minutes later, after exiting the interstate into the Lassen National Forest, the caravan reached the orange-marked trees and turned northwest. After traveling two miles up the road, Riker, in the second vehicle, turned to check the trailing vehicles. At that moment, an explosion shattered the stillness of the forest road. Jerking back to the front, he watched in shock as the lead vehicle rolled over from the blast, coming to a stop in a drainage ditch on the right side of the road. Instantly, Riker got on the radio, set for the local net.

“Ambush! Ambush! Back up, now!” he shouted.

The second car had come to a halt, but the five other vehicles closed up like an accordion within ten yards of each other following the blast. Agent Middleton, driving the last car, began to spin his tires in an effort to back up, but another, smaller detonation occurred just off the road, and a large tree fell solidly across the dirt trail behind his vehicle, effectively blocking the convoy’s exit. Small-arms fire commenced from the hillside to their left and began to impact the driver’s side of all the vehicles.

Air One, which had been shadowing the convoy in a Bell helicopter, tried to contact Riker by radio, but the occupants of Riker’s car had exited the passenger side, away from the firing, as had the occupants of the other vehicles. Those in the overturned vehicle who were able rapidly scrambled out the driver’s window while under fire from the hillside.

In the process of switching frequencies to report the attack to central communication in San Francisco, Air One never saw the Stinger missile, fired from an eight o’clock position. The pilot was killed instantly by the impact and spared the sensation of falling from six hundred feet as his aircraft disintegrated around him. His spotter was less fortunate and went screaming to his death.

Small-arms fire continued against the left side of the stalled vehicles, all empty now, with the seventeen remaining agents lying protected for the moment, shielded by their vehicles and the shallow ditch into which they had scrambled when the shooting began. Riker motioned to his second in command, about ten men down the line in the ditch. The man crawled to Riker’s side.

“They seem to be concentrated on that small ridge on the other side of the cars,” he shouted. “Maybe we can filter into the woods behind us. I’ll stay here with several men to cover, and you find better positions in the woods,” he instructed.

From his vantage point on a small rise, located about eighty yards from the cluster of cars, Jackson Shaw, Shasta Brigade commander, watched the scene below. He looked over to his right and got a thumbs-up from his demolition team. Nodding his approval, he gave little thought to the seventeen men who would die in the ensuing thirty seconds as the detonation cord, lining the ditch into which the ambush had funneled the surviving agents, exploded. The blast severed body parts on many of the agents, and all-men and women alike-were grievously wounded. Some died instantly. Others bled to death more slowly. In less than four minutes, twenty-two ATF agents on the ground and two in the air were dead, without word of the ambush having reached the central command, other than the initial report, which had declared the target secure and four suspects in custody.

Following a brief radio contact from Shaw, five men of the Shasta Brigade who had not been involved in the ambush stealthily approached the remote cabin holding the small-arms cache-three from the front and two from the rear. On signal, they kicked in the doors and assaulted the two agents holding the woman and sixteen-year-old Timothy Castleton. The previous twenty minutes had been slightly uncomfortable for Timothy, who had been forced to lie on his stomach, his arms handcuffed behind his back.

When the door flew open, the first agent reached for his weapon with quick reflexes, but not fast enough to avoid the three nine-millimeter slugs that entered his body and neck from the first brigade man through the door. The second agent raised his hands in surrender and lived for an additional two minutes-long enough to be taken outside, where he received a bullet to the back of the head, point blank.

Captain Roger Dahlgren, who also served as Woodland’s city manager, led the small contingent of men at the cabin. He ordered two of the men to load the dead agents’ bodies into their truck and take them to the ambush site. With two other men, he then entered the cabin.

“Get the weapons out of the cellar, fast,” he said as they entered the house.

“You got my money?” the woman said, recognizing Dahlgren as the man who had first met with her.

“We’ll take care of you, not to worry,” he said.

“You said we’d be here two days, three at most. It’s been near on to a week. I want more money,” she said.

“Shut up. I said you’d be taken care of. Tim,” he said to the young boy, “you’ve done a fine job here. Help load out the weapons and then get out.”

“Yes, sir,” the boy replied.

In ten minutes, two of the vehicles were gone, one with weapons loaded under a thick tarpaulin and one with two dead ATF agents bouncing in the truck bed. Only Captain Dahlgren remained, his Jeep Cherokee parked over the crest of a hill behind the cabin.

“Get your purse, and I’ll take you back into Redding,” he said to the woman.

As she turned to pick it up, without hesitation, Dahlgren fired a shot into the back of her head, instantly dropping her to the floor. He looked for a moment at the two smaller children, both too young to be aware of what had transpired. From the pocket of his jacket, he retrieved a small bottle of clear fluid and a wad of gauze wrapping. He poured the contents of the bottle onto the gauze and held the cloth over the nose and mouth of each child in turn, laying them gently on the floor of the cabin next to their mother. His last act was to sprinkle the floor of the cabin with liberal amounts of gasoline from a two-gallon can that had been stashed behind the cabin. Outside, he turned, looked over the cabin once more, and threw a match through the front door. The flames immediately swept throughout the small, dry, wooden structure.

Back at the ambush scene, brigade members salvaged radios, automatic weapons, and assorted ATF gear from the disabled vehicles. Commander Shaw, one task left to perform, motioned for Steve Turner, who jogged over to his side.

“Yeah, Commander?”

“Steve, get behind the wheel of that second vehicle and check the glove box for anything of interest. The team leader was in that car.”

“Right,” Steve replied. Shaw and First Sergeant Krueger followed Steve to the car and stood by as he slid over the seat toward the glove box. When Shaw slammed the driver’s door, Steve jerked upright and looked toward Shaw, who was glaring down at him.

“What are you doing?” Steve said.

“A good logger,” Shaw said, emphasizing the term, “should be careful in the woods, don’t you think, Steve?” At the mention of his code name, FBI Agent Alex Hunter, who had worked undercover within the Shasta Brigade for nearly a year, reached for his weapon, but Commander Jackson Shaw quickly triggered two rounds into the side of his head, then reached in to grab him by the collar and shove him forward against the steering wheel before pinning a California bear flag on his collar. Turning to Krueger, who was clearly surprised by the event that had just taken place, Shaw gave the order: “Clear out, First Sergeant. We’re through here.”

“Yes, sir,” Krueger replied, glancing once more at the lifeless body of Steve-or whatever his name was.

Shaw stood silently for a few moments, looking up at the sunlight filtering through the heavy stand of trees alongside the mountain trail. The woods were beautiful, tranquil, and they provided relief from the confines and confusion of the city. As he watched the smoke from the action slowly rise and dissipate, the acrid odor of cordite heavy in the air, he gave one further glance to the carnage strewn over the trail and turned to leave.

The Shasta Brigade, acting on orders from Commander Jackson Shaw, had planned, deployed, and then trapped and killed twenty-six agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms-all without having a man wounded. Shaw had also dealt with one undercover FBI agent whose cover had been blown by Grant Sully, deputy director of operations for the CIA, in his back-channel report to the brigade. The entire platoon was gone in twenty minutes. The only sound remaining in the forest was the radio in Riker’s vehicle, repeating at frequent intervals, “Bugle Base, Bugle Base, this is ATF Central, do you copy? Over.”

“Good evening. I’m Paul Spackman, and welcome to the Six O’ Clock Eyewitness News. Another brazen daylight attack was perpetrated today on agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms. Twenty-six agents were gunned down in the Sierra Nevada Mountains east of Red Bluff in what appears to have been a military-style ambush. From initial reports submitted by the sheriff’s department in Lassen County, the ATF agents were returning from a raid on a suspected weapons cache, and in the process of that raid, they burned a remote cabin in the high Sierras to the ground. Inside the cabin were the charred remains of a woman and two infant children,” Spackman said, shaking his head in a gesture of sadness.

“In a terse message left on this reporter’s voice mail, a caller identifying himself as a representative of the Western Patriot Movement claimed that the attack on the agents was in retaliation for the horrendous act committed against the woman and her children, who lived alone, unarmed, in their solitary cabin in the mountains.

“In a related news story today, thirty-eight of California’s fifty-two members of Congress filed a joint-action suit with the United States Supreme Court, seeking the court’s determination that the recent secession election was unconstitutional and should be overturned. We have a further report on today’s startling developments from our field correspondent, Janice Strickland, who will provide additional information. That report in a moment. .”

Watching the evening news from his corporate suite in downtown San Francisco, John Henry Franklin leaned back in his chair and contemplated with satisfaction the endless possibilities this new direction offered. Whatever the U.S. Supreme Court might say wouldn’t really matter. The die had been cast. The Franklin Group had already conducted negotiations with Japanese and Korean corporate and labor leaders, paid the necessary “consideration fees,” and had received assurance of political acceptance. The Mexican government, with the intervention of General Valdez, had also promised immediate recognition of the Republic of California.

Franklin thought back to when General Valdez had first approached him, nearly twelve years before, with his scheme to provide an immigrant labor force. It was an ingenious plan, but limited in scope, until Franklin put his vast resources behind it. Valdez had thought to bring in thousands, but under Franklin’s planning it had grown to tens of thousands, and then nearly a half-million migrant workers in all aspects of menial labor throughout the western United States.

Receiving wages set by MexiCal and dozens of other shell employment agencies controlled by Franklin’s subsidiary companies, immigrant workers were hired to perform tasks not many Americans were willing to do. The workers received only about seventy percent of the current minimum wage, but more money than they could get for comparable work in Mexico, if a job could even be found there. The remaining thirty percent was retained by the employment agencies in the form of a service and administrative fee.

At $5.40 an hour and a fifty-hour work week, the laborer could earn $270 a week, unencumbered by taxes. Even after subtracting the thirty percent service fee, the laborer would still clear $189, far more than he could earn in Mexico-or in East Asia, for that matter. Without federal withholding taxes or Social Security contributions to worry about, employers would realize substantial savings in labor costs.

From Franklin’s perspective, the real beauty of the plan was found in the $81 a week that would be generated in service fees. With half a million workers enrolled, a whopping $40 million a week, or $2.1 billion annually, dropped into his coffers. He cared little that the labor scheme resembled slavery, albeit paid slavery. If a laborer complained, he was simply visited by agents from BCI and deported back into the poverty he might otherwise have escaped. Mexican officials would then see that he did not return.

And now it would all become legal in this new nation he and his supporters had conceived, nurtured, and to which he would soon give birth. There would be no more relocation of American manufacturing to overseas countries, or being held to ransom by the instability of foreign governments through the constant threat of nationalization of the business. Based on centuries-old cultural and historical bonds, Mexican recognition of this new nation would be immediately forthcoming, to be followed quickly by Korean and Malaysian government political support. Immigrant labor from each of these countries would soon give the Republic of California the highest productivity and one of the lowest costs of labor of any nation in the world.

Franklin drew deeply on a hand-rolled Cuban cigar and relished his dream coming to fruition. The Republic of California. The seventh-largest economic power in the world, freed at last from the encumbrances of those Washington sycophants who had forever siphoned off California assets to strengthen neighboring states through the liberal “redistribution of wealth” philosophy.

Not anymore, Franklin thought. Not anymore.

Chapter 22

Dublin, Ireland

Dublin, six-two-four, eight-two-nine-five,” the man answered.

“Aye, Paddy. How’re the lads?”

Quickly recognizing the voice, Kevin Donahue, brigade commander of the Irish Republican Army, went on alert.

“You’ve been makin’ scarce of yerself, Fergus.”

“Aye. Me presence in Dublin tends to make people nervous,” Fergus McNally responded. “I think we should talk. Be warned, Kevin. You’ve been working both sides of the street these past few years, and I’m not up for a one-way ride. If I go down when we meet, as the Pope’s me witness, I’ll take ya with me.”

“Things have changed over the past two years. I talk to the Brits-doesn’t mean I agree with them.”

“Indeed. And in America and Australia they’re changing even more. It’s Ireland’s turn, don’t’cha know? When and where?”

“O’Connell Street Bridge, two o’clock. I’ll be alone and unarmed. You have my word.”

“That’s always been good enough for me, Kevin. ’Til then.”

“Good day to ya, Mr. Donahue.” McNally was dressed in a blue blazer with gray trousers, looking much the businessman. “Shall we stroll the beautiful Liffey?”

“You went to ground quite well, Fergus.”

“Well, now, surely y’know the story of the fox and the hare.”

“Aye,” Kevin grinned. “Given the events of recent months with the Aussies and the Yanks, perhaps it’s time for the fox and the hare to dine out-together.”

“I agree. Everybody and their brother’s castin’ free of the politicians what control ’em, and the Yanks and the Brits seem to be in sync with the idea without so much as a ‘how do you do’ to the Irish. It’s just not on. They’ve never dealt in good faith, Kevin. And you, sittin’ at the polished table these past two years, usin’ yer mouth instead of yer brains.”

Donahue nodded. “I’ve got to admit, the old ways made their mark in spite of the cost. It just might be time for a wake-up call to remind them the squeaky wheel is the one that gets the grease.”

“And I know just where to make the wheel squeak, Commander. The American vice president will be visiting London in a couple of weeks to see the bloody PM. They’ll get all cozy in some vehicle, don’t’cha think? Maybe we can send them a message. How say ye?”

“Keep talkin’.”

Chapter 23

Monterey Peninsula Airport

Monterey, California

United Express Flight 2340, a two-engine turbo prop of Brazilian construction, was a twenty-five minute hop from Monterey Peninsula Airport to San Francisco International, some ninety miles to the north. The 5:40 Tuesday evening flight log listed nine passengers, five of whom the airline manifest referred to as congressional VIPs. In addition to Mrs. Winifred Albertson of Kenai, Alaska, and her three children, all of whom were connecting to an Alaska Airlines flight destined for Anchorage, the roster included Representative John Hunter, Corona, California; Representative Mary Elizabeth Hopkins, Santa Rosa, California; Representative Robert Jensen, Bakersfield, California; Representative Donald Wilmont, Alamo, California; and Representative Clarence Joiner, Salinas, California. Flight 2340 also consisted of a pilot, co-pilot, and one flight attendant.

Representatives Hunter and Joiner had only just arrived, hastily transported from a last-minute round of golf at Pebble Beach, and their luggage, including two sets of golf clubs, was quickly loaded into the cargo compartment of the aircraft.

“Boys and their toys,” Congresswoman Hopkins teased as the two tardy passengers entered the aircraft, taking seats across the aisle.

“You should try golf, Mary,” Hunter said, laughing at her taunt. “It would help you relax.”

Laughing in reply, she said, “I can think of dozens of things more productive than a five-hour walk around a cow pasture.”

“Ah, but nothing quite so satisfying or challenging,” Joiner added as he buckled his seat belt. “Besides, Mary, at our age,” he said, nudging Hunter, “it’s the only thing left we can do for five hours straight without falling asleep. . and that includes attending one of your housing and rent-control sub-committee meetings, Representative Hopkins.”

“Well, thank you very much, Clarence.” She smiled. “You brought us down here to Salinas for your ‘dog and pony’ show, if you’ll recall. But the next time you come begging for my vote for your farm subsidies, I’ll make you grovel for five hours-while staying awake.”

With the five members of the U.S. Congress securely seated aboard the aircraft, Mrs. Albertson, still inside the departure area, continued her frantic search for the youngest of her three children. As she pleaded with the United Airlines’ gate attendant to delay the flight while she retrieved the wayward child, Mrs. Albertson’s anxiety level was rising rapidly. Final boarding announcements had sounded in the small airport terminal, located on a flat mesa amid the lush, green, rolling hills west of Salinas.

“We’ve got to make our connecting flight in San Francisco. Please give me a few moments,” the woman pleaded.

“I’m very sorry, ma’am,” the young female ticket agent replied. “We have another flight at 6:20. That flight will also give you sufficient time to connect, and we have available seating. Perhaps we can locate your child by then, but I have to release this flight.”

“Oh, if you must,” the woman said, exasperation in her voice. “Where in the world can that boy be?” she asked, scurrying off down the corridor.

Given the signal from the ground crew, Captain Anderson started the number-one engine, wheeled his aircraft toward the taxiway, and pulled away from the terminal. By the time they had reached the end of the runway and obtained takeoff approval from the tower, Mrs. Albertson’s youngest child, Benjamin, age three, was located in the rear of the small restaurant facility, happily enjoying a large dish of ice cream. His story of a nice man with “pictures on his arms” giving him ice cream and a stuffed doggie to play with went unheeded. All he earned for his absence was a stern rebuke from his mother for the unnecessary delay.

At the far end of the concourse, Otto Krueger took one last look at the commuter flight departing the gate area and slipped through the revolving doors, content that he had done his requisite good deed for the day.

Jean Wolff and Jackson Shaw drove their golf cart away from the 18th green at Pacific Grove Golf Course and parked beside the cart path. Adjusting the earpiece in his left ear, Wolff commenced to add up their scores while Shaw emptied his pockets of tees, an extra ball, and a sweat-stained golf glove.

“Seventy-eight,” Wolff said, nodding his head. “It seems you’ve had time for a bit more than brigade duties over the years, Jackson. That’s an impressive score for your first time on this course.”

“If not for that sixteenth and the-”

Wolff suddenly held his hand up for silence, pushing the earpiece further into his ear. Shaw waited quietly.

“Wheels up,” Wolff said and started the cart again, driving clear of the trees and looking out over the ocean toward the marina. “About three minutes now.”

Flight 2340 lifted clear of the runway, gaining airspeed and altitude as it flew due west over the ocean and above Monterey Bay. Dozens of yachts, both sail and motor, filled the Breakwater Cove Marina. Representative Mary Elizabeth Hopkins looked down at the scene, her thoughts running to earlier days before her husband’s death. Sailing had been one of their joys and until his untimely heart attack, had provided far more than five hours of pleasurable entertainment. Many times over the years they had sailed south from Marin County and been hosted by friends at Breakwater Cove.

But times had changed. All those people below were lost in a world she had long forgotten, trapped by her congressional duties. The plane banked north, beginning its run up the California coast to where it would cut east just above San Jose and begin the approach into San Francisco International. Perhaps, she thought, looking out the window at the coastline off to her right, once they were able to put an end to this secession business, she would vacate her seat and return to enjoy her grandchildren and to instill in them the same love for the sea their grandfather had possessed. Life was too short for constant political commitment, and her family deserved her attention ever so much more than her constituents, didn’t they? And what about her? Hadn’t she earned some rest after running full speed nearly eighteen years in Congress, all of them without Hank?

Jean Wolff stood beside the golf cart, looking up as United Express Flight 2340 completed its banking turn and leveled at about three thousand feet, heading due north. Approximately two miles from shore, its flight path paralleled the coast line, and Wolff could see the aircraft only by shielding his eyes from the sun as it completed its twilight journey into the sea.

From a pocket in his Titlest golf bag, Wolff retrieved what appeared to be a small transistor radio and extended the antenna. Without a word spoken between the two men, Wolff pressed a small, brown button on the face of the device, and an immense flash appeared in the sky, the sound reverberating some seconds later.

United Express Flight 2340 disappeared from radar scan just as Captain Anderson switched radio frequency to San Francisco control.

“Good evening. I’m Paul Spackman, and welcome to the Six O’ Clock Eyewitness News. A devastating tragedy has struck our nation this evening as multiple assassinations have occurred throughout California and other parts of the country. Reports are still coming in, but at present we have confirmed that seventeen of California’s fifty-two congressional representatives have been the victims of assassination attempts. Fourteen are confirmed dead, and three are wounded and under medical care, with one in critical condition. All seventeen were party to the class action suit filed with the U.S. Supreme Court last month in an attempt to overturn the secession vote.

“In a call to this network, the Western Patriot Movement has assumed responsibility for the attacks, claiming that these congressmen and women have failed to listen to the will of the people. President Eastman has ordered around-the-clock Secret Service protection for the remaining members of California’s congressional delegation. At the site of perhaps the most devastating single attack, we go now to Sally Todd, at the Breakwater Cove Yacht Club, in Monterey Bay, where dozens of vessels were used in search and rescue attempts, looking for any survivors of a United Airlines commuter flight with five congressional members aboard. Sally, are you there. .?”

“This is Colonel Connor,” Pug said, taking the telephone from his sister’s outstretched hand.

“Pug, it’s George Granata. Have you seen the news?”

“Yes. I’m in Christchurch with family, and we’re watching the Fox News live feed right now. The news is shaky. How bad is it actually?”

“Fourteen dead at the moment, in California and here in Washington. We’ve put the others under close security, but six are still unprotected. We haven’t located them yet. The president called and said it’s time to get our operation in gear. How soon can you make it back?”

Pug glanced at his watch. “It’s just after one, Wednesday afternoon here. I can be on the evening flight out of Auckland. I’ll have my sister call you at home tonight and confirm my departure, but I should be there by tomorrow evening.”

“Good-come straight to D.C. I’ll have two agents meet your flight at National. Do you want them to take you home, or shall I book you a room?”

“I’ll go home, George. I need some different clothing.”

“Fine. The agents will take you, and I’ll ask Wendy to put a casserole in your fridge.”

“Your wife is a saint, George. If she includes a piece of her coconut pie, don’t you dare eat it before I get there.”

“I’ll tell her,” Judge Granata said. “Ambassador Prescott has set up a meeting of involved parties for Thursday morning, and she wants you there as well. The ATF ambush and now this blatant attack seem to be an open declaration of war, Pug.”

Pug glanced at the muted television set and the scenes of floating aircraft pieces being retrieved from Monterey Bay. “It would seem so. See you tomorrow, George.”

At six-thirty Thursday morning, having gained a day crossing the International Date Line on his return from New Zealand, Pug Connor stood on the front porch of his Virginia home and waited for George Granata to exit his house next door. Although neighbors for over a dozen years, it was the first time they had arranged to go to work together. George exited his front door and walked over to where Pug waited.

“Welcome home, neighbor. Did you have a good flight?”

“Long, tiring, and cramped. In other words, the usual. Any developments?”

“One further congressman found dead in the backseat of his car. He was on a fishing vacation up in Maine. The rest have all been accounted for and are in some degree of hiding. Some found the security precautions to be restrictive, and balked. The president called a couple of them personally and told them about his security restrictions. He told them that if he could endure it, so could they, and to get their egos under control-no bravado. He personally delivered the message to that militant congresswoman from East Los Angeles-what’s her name-uh, Jessica Homer, I think,” Granata said.

“Our nation has never experienced anything even remotely similar. This is the work of ruthless and unprincipled people. How can we stop it?”

“We’re at war with these militia groups, Pug. No two ways about it. We’ll see what we can come up with this morning. The president still wants to keep the task force confidential, so it will be a closely held meeting. Oh, here’s our car,” he said as a long, black limousine pulled up. The driver got out and opened the rear door.

“Good morning, Director Granata.”

“Good morning, Sam. This is Colonel Connor, my neighbor and associate.”

They settled into the backseat, and once the driver was in place, George gave directions. “The White House, Sam. They’ll be expecting us.”

“Yes, sir.”

George put the divider window up and leaned back in his seat.

“There’s one bit of information I thought to hold until you returned, Pug-no reason to burden you during your trip. You know of course that Special Agent Al Samuels, the agent in charge of the California investigation, was killed during a militia-organized bank robbery several months ago. His partner, Nicole Bentley, the young woman you met in San Francisco, became the primary agent on the case. It will be your decision whether to retain her or not. Her knowledge is extensive, but she’s fairly new, with less than two years in the bureau. We could have a more experienced agent in place immediately, if that’s your call.”

“She’s going to need a new partner in any case, isn’t she? Are you satisfied with her performance while I’ve been gone?”

“She’s intelligent, seems to have overcome her grief at Samuels’ death-she was present at the robbery and, in fact, shot and killed the man who shot Samuels.”

“I see,” Pug said. “What’s your opinion? Can she handle it alone?”

“I like her instincts. I have a more senior agent in mind to assign with her, but he would assume leadership. She clearly wants to remain on the task force, and she’s in town, at my request, although I haven’t told her about the meeting this morning.”

“I’ve been the new boy a few times myself, George. I thought she had a good head on her shoulders. I vote we keep her onboard. As for a new team leader, that’s your call.”

“Good enough,” Granata said, picking up a telephone. “Sam, please arrange for Agent Bentley to meet us at the White House. I believe she’s at the Washington Hilton.”

Granata nodded at Sam’s response and replaced the receiver.

“So, how does the president want to handle this new development?” Pug asked.

“I haven’t a clue. Prescott called the meeting, and I’m not even sure if Eastman will be there. But we can be sure of one thing-he’s not easily pushed around, even by domestic enemies, and he’s got a lot of alternatives at his disposal.”

The president disagreed with Judge Granata’s assessment. “Ladies and gentlemen, I’ve thought about nothing but this problem for the past thirty-six hours-indeed, for the past several months if truth be known, but I’m flat out of options,” President William Eastman said to the small group gathered in the Executive Office. “Any open restraint I make will appear militant and infuriate those groups that are on the fence, including Governor Walter Dewhirst. In the old days, the president simply would have talked to the CIA about the problem, and some of the bad guys would disappear-if they could find them. We don’t work that way anymore. Sometimes I wish we did. George, what has the bureau come up with?”

“Mr. President, we’re quite certain who the primary leaders of the Western Patriot Movement are-at least the military leaders-but none of them have actually been observed for nearly a month. They’ve gone to ground, and with our inside agent killed, we’ve lost daily contact.”

“You mean to tell me you don’t know where they are, or what they’re doing?”

“That’s pretty close to accurate, Mr. President. We have a tail on some of the general membership, but not the leaders. Of course, we have a tail on Grant Sully, but still haven’t really determined his role, if any, in all this. But picking up the rank and file would be fruitless.”

“Clarene, this has been your ballgame so far. Where do you suggest we go from here?”

Ambassador Clarene Prescott, serving as national security advisor, leaned forward in her seat and placed her elbows on the highly polished walnut table. Around the table, seemingly as perplexed as the president, were FBI Director George Granata, Colonel Pug Connor, and Special Agent Nicole Bentley.

“We encourage them to come to us, Mr. President.”

“And what makes you think they will?”

“So far, every senior government leader who has spoken out on the issue, with the exception of Senator Turner, of course, has expressed his or her disapproval of the secession. The people behind the scenes on this have no one to confide in-no government official to publicly meet with to offer their support and suggestions. I have a feeling they would rather develop into a political action group-lobbyists advocating their new nation-than continue as militants forced to confront superior odds.”

Director Granata spoke up. “Ambassador, do I hear you correctly? You want to have some of us cross over to their side of this preposterous patriot movement?”

“Not quite, Director,” Prescott said, smiling at him. Looking back at the president, she continued. “Mr. President, I have a long-standing relationship with Governor Dewhirst. I believe he could be of assistance, if approached with the right ideas.”

“But he’s opposed to the secession, Clarene, or so I last heard,” the president said.

Prescott nodded. “But now. . he’s heard the will of the people.”

President William Eastman slowly nodded. “I see. . and he will slowly, even reluctantly perhaps, move down that path. Is that what I hear you saying, Clarene?”

“Yes, Mr. President. Something along those lines. And if not him specifically, then some of his staff. If he begins to prepare his state for the transition, perhaps it will give Colonel Connor and the task force the time they need to ferret out what is actually behind this patriot movement and its true leaders. If we don’t offer such staunch, unyielding opposition, maybe we can forestall further bloodshed until Colonel Connor has a chance to obtain some results.”

“What do you think, Pug?” the president asked.

“Mr. President, our options are few, and open military confrontation would only serve to bring about unacceptable bloodshed. As we both know, sir, from past experience, Ambassador Prescott is usually two steps ahead of the rest of us on this type of analysis.”

Eastman looked back at Prescott and smiled. “Well, it seems you have at least one acolyte on the team, Clarene. But doesn’t this plan carry the potential of simply escalating the movement toward secession?”

“That’s what I’m counting on, Mr. President.”

“So be it then,” the president said, standing up. “You’ll have your personal safety on the line out there, Pug, as well as the dedicated people on your team,” he said, glancing at Agent Bentley, “and I’ll follow along only so far. Then, at my sole discretion, I’ll take the steps I deem necessary to bring a halt to this thing, by whatever means I might decide. Do you understand me clearly, Colonel?”

Pug stood and nodded. “I do, Mr. President.”

“Then let’s get to it. Clarene, what do you propose to do first?”

“Vice President Hamilton leaves on his trip to London on Saturday morning, and the press will focus on that. I’ll slip out the back door and have a private meeting with Governor Dewhirst in California. If he announces the appointment of a few people in key positions to begin the transition phase, with luck, the political structure behind the militia movement will come out of the woodwork.”

“That’s asking a lot, Clarene.”

“It is, Mr. President, and will require a bit of faith along the way.”

“And the task force?” the president asked.

“I believe the existence of Colonel Connor and his task force should remain confidential.”

“So do I,” Eastman said. “Godspeed to you all,” he said, shaking hands around the room.

Chapter 24

London, England

Leaving the formal dinner through the lobby of the London Hilton Hotel, Vice President Terrance Hamilton was surrounded by reporters and well-wishers as he made his way to the vehicle. British Prime Minister Roslyn Thornton accompanied the vice president, and together they entered the black limousine, driving away into the night with escort vehicles front and back.

The meetings had gone well, other than the expected interruption from crowds of dissidents beleaguering the vice president’s appearances, each pressing for one cause or another. If it wasn’t AIDS or military bases, it was support for human rights in third world countries. The vice president often took the flack for the United States on these flag-waving expeditions on foreign soil.

Both Prime Minister Thornton and Vice President Hamilton had agreed in the initial press conference that the recent announcement of Australia’s formation of a republic, replacing the queen as head of state, did not presage a separation of interests between the two countries. It represented more of a movement toward economic association as opposed to merely political alliance; the former, rather than the latter, being the focus of many independent nations as the world plowed its way through the twenty-first century.

The small convoy of dark vehicles proceeded to the corner of the block and made a right turn. As soon as the lead car made the turn, the limousine in which the prime minister and the vice president were riding entered the intersection. In a blinding flash of light, the vehicle was lifted completely off the ground and skidded to a stop on its side. The occupants never saw the shoulder-fired missile that impacted the vehicle, turning it into an instant fireball.

Swerving to miss the burning limousine, the following escort vehicle was impaled on a corner water hydrant that immediately spouted a geyser, flooding the intersection and adding to the frenzy of the scene. Security escorts were out of their vehicles immediately, rushing to the limousine with fire extinguishers and weapons at the ready, but no attackers appeared-their mission had been accomplished, and they were already following their escape plan.

A red-haired, ruddy-faced man, who stood on the far corner of the next intersection, lingered only long enough to confirm that the impact had been sufficient to inflict the desired damage. These things never went exactly as planned, and the end result was often open to question. But in this case, there was little doubt. The occupants of the limousine could not have survived the direct hit by the TOW missile.

As part of the contingency plan for just such an emergency, medical service vehicles were on the scene almost instantly. Four occupants were rushed to the hospital: the British special branch driver, an American Secret Service agent, British Prime Minister Roslyn Thornton, and U.S. Vice President Terrance Hamilton. No immediate announcement of their respective conditions was made available to the reporters who had been following the entourage and who now descended en masse, taking photographs of every detail of the carnage.

At about 6:00 p.m. Washington, D.C. time, the president was advised that the vice president had been involved in a terrorist attack in London. His condition was listed as critical. Furthermore, Prime Minister Roslyn Thornton was dead, as were the driver and the vice president’s personal Secret Service agent.

Eight hours later, at two o’clock the following morning, the president was awakened to be advised that the vice president had died during surgery.

In a clean sweep, the terrorists had done away with the senior British government official and the vice president of the United States, and within two hours, the Provisional Wing of the Irish Republican Army had claimed responsibility for the atrocity. It was, they said, an act of defiance in protest against the support given by the United States and Great Britain to the Australian bid for independence, while withholding such freedom from Northern Ireland-a nation that had been struggling for independence for nearly eight centuries.

A spokesman for the political wing of the IRA, Sinn Fein, stated that effective immediately, the Good Friday Agreement, also known as the Belfast Agreement, signed in 1998, was no longer valid, having been broken in concept by British support for the Australian republican movement and by the American government de facto support for the California secession.

This act of aggression against the United States broke a longstanding tradition of the IRA. Within forty-eight hours, public opinion polls reflected an immediate withdrawal of American support for the IRA, which for many years had been sympathetic to Irish interests.

At 11:00 a.m., Eastern Standard Time, the president made a nationwide announcement that the perpetrators would be identified and brought to justice. He made a point of declaring that this unprecedented and unprovoked act of terrorism was a clear indicator of the true colors of the IRA, an organization that deserved only scorn from freedom-loving Americans.

Repeating each clause after U.S. Supreme Court Justice Maria Ramirez, Clarene Prescott pledged the oath of office.

“I, Clarene Elizabeth Prescott, do solemnly swear. .”

“. . that I will faithfully execute the office of Vice President of the United States. .”

“. . and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States. .”

“. . so help me God.”

Justice Ramirez smiled and offered her hand to Vice President Prescott. “Congratulations, Madam Vice President.”

“Thank you, Justice Ramirez,” Clarene replied. The women had been friends and political associates for many years, and Clarene’s choice of Justice Ramirez to perform the swearing-in ceremony was not so much a feminist issue as a response to their longstanding friendship.

Others, however, had not been equally supportive of President Eastman’s nomination of Ambassador Prescott. Three weeks had passed while Eastman and his senior staff had lobbied the holdouts in the party, seeking coalition from Congress. One Senate stalwart, a member of the same party as the president but who had often opposed his causes, had, on this occasion, reason to support the president and had lent his hand to the formation of the coalition.

Senator Malcolm Turner hoped to find an ally in Clarene Prescott, as they were both Californians. He looked toward her appointment as one that would give him greater leverage in the White House and, therefore, in the executive branch. While some within Congress had privately supported Turner in his call for California secession, most feared the political repercussions back in their home states if such a movement caught fire. Clarene Prescott was indebted to Turner for his support, without which her nomination and Senate approval would have been much tougher, a debt he had not allowed to escape her attention.

President Eastman took Clarene by the arm as they moved toward the White House pressroom. “There were times,” he commented, “when I wasn’t sure we could pull it off.”

The press, and indeed the Senate committees, had demanded of Ambassador Prescott her statement of position on the intended secession of California before they would confirm her nomination. In spite of her California origins and the very vocal support she had received from Senator Turner, a known advocate of secession, Clarene Prescott had been able to convince all sides that she was in favor of the Union, while at the same time favorably disposed to correcting the intrusions that the federal government had imposed on all individual states, not limited to just California.

“You did break some new ground, Bill,” Clarene responded. “That requires one to break up the dirt clods first.”

“Haven’t let your farm roots get far away, have you?” Eastman said.

“Something like your ‘Alaska sled dog’ stories, I suppose. Remembering where I came from helps me to keep things in perspective.”

Entering the press room, Eastman moved toward the stand. “You’re about to discover a new perspective, Clarene,” he whispered as he took his place behind the lectern.

“Ladies and gentleman, it is my privilege and distinct honor to introduce to you the vice president of the United States, Clarene Elizabeth Prescott.”

The Washington press corps, cynical from years of ferreting out the truth in a town that thrived on leaks and intentional deception, rose as a body to applaud Vice President Prescott as she took the stand. She understood that some of the applause was prompted by her having become the first female vice president. But perhaps, she reflected, part of the accolade grew out of their recognition of her nearly thirty years of service to the country-as deputy under secretary of defense, deputy secretary of state, ambassador to the United Nations, and for the most recent seven years, national security advisor to the president. Prescott had served in four presidential administrations, two Republican and two Democrat. A Democrat herself, she had earned the respect of both parties through the performance of her duties and her ability to work both camps without sacrificing principle-no simple feat in Washington.

The deference paid by the press lasted nearly sixty seconds before it became business as usual. After offering some brief introductory remarks, including some self-deprecating humor, Vice President Prescott opened the floor for questions. Henry Schikman, UPI, stood first.

“Madam Vice President, congratulations on your appointment. It comes at a time of great domestic turmoil and international change, the likes of which the world has not experienced. In the face of the continuing war in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the domestic attacks against federal law enforcement agencies, specifically the attack on the ATF in California, and the murder of numerous congressional representatives by those who favor the secession, how do you respond to those who actually applauded these actions as well-deserved, and what will you recommend be done to punish those who perpetrated these acts of war against the United States?”

Clarene glanced at President Eastman, not so much for direction as to acknowledge his earlier comment and recognize the brevity of her appointment honeymoon.

“Thank you, Henry,” she said. “I believe it was Andy Warhol who said, ‘Everyone is entitled to their fifteen minutes of fame.’ As the president predicted, I’ve had less than two minutes of honeymoon in office,” she replied, eliciting mild laughter from her inquisitors. “You are correct, however, that we are passing through a period of unprecedented international and domestic political upheaval. The breakup of the former Soviet Union over twenty years ago presaged a separatist movement among other nations, including some that had been politically aligned since the turn of the last century. Ethnic diversity, historical geography, and, certainly, philosophical and religious variations have called into question many traditional national alignments-some of them longstanding. The terrorist activities in the Middle East, Europe, and even within our own borders have brought us face to face with some hard choices.

“While not all bad in its context, these actions have certainly given rise to a worldwide instability, which often, as history has shown, causes the turmoil of which you speak. We are, of course as you know, withdrawing our troops from the Middle East, as quickly as the security of those nations allows.

“The president is on record as being supportive of the need to assess each situation as it develops and has assured the American people of his determination to provide a secure and stable domestic environment and to evaluate each international development with an eye toward the strategic interests of the United States. Beyond that, Henry, I feel it inappropriate to project our response as to the proposed intentions of the federal government, or indeed, to preclude any necessary specific measures, other than to say that we firmly believe that all citizens, including those in California, have the right to live peaceful, normal lives and to live free of the fear of military or government-sponsored organizations inserting themselves into their lives.”

“A follow-up, if I may, Madam Vice President,” Schikman almost shouted, as a din rose from others wishing to pose their question. “It is well-known that Senator Turner, a fellow Californian, has supported your nomination and appointment to the office of vice president. Have you agreed to reciprocate by supporting his agenda for California’s secession? Does his support of your appointment indicate that you agree with his stance? And finally, as VP, what is your official stance on California?”

“Henry,” Prescott said, “Senator Turner has represented the State of California for nearly twenty-five years. He understands their problems perhaps better than I, notwithstanding our common agricultural origins. I intend to work closely with the Senator and, where his recommendations further the interest of both California and the United States, will be supportive of his legislation. As regards California’s position vis-a-vis the Union, my stand before the Senate committee is a matter of record, and I’ll reserve any further comments until the chief justice has issued a statement on the Supreme Court’s review of the constitutionality of the referendum.”

Clarene looked away from Schikman and called on Ann Wallingford of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Press comments continued regarding the most pressing issues, including California’s secession plans, Australia’s republican movement, and the United States’ intentions with regard to the rising Irish debate in the aftermath of the IRA’s killing of the vice president.

“Good evening. I’m Paul Spackman, and welcome to the Six O’ Clock Eyewitness News. The battle lines have been drawn, and the strategy has become clear. The U.S. Supreme Court, in a six-to-three split decision, has overturned the California election approving secession. Representing the minority opinion, Justice Harlan Michaels declared that the California secession vote was constitutional, citing as a precedent the Treaty of Guadelupe Hildago of 1848, wherein Mexico ascribed certain rights with regard to the California territories, among those being the right to divide into multiple jurisdictions.

“Justice Harlan has opined that the United States assumed the obligations of that treaty when California was acquired from Mexico. Supporters of the secession movement have claimed that by extension, the treaty affords them the right to separate from the United States. The minority opinion confirmed the validity of that treaty and its applicability to the current situation.

“Speaking for the majority, Justice Holcomb cited a later Supreme Court case, Texas vs. White, et al., 1868, wherein Texas was deemed to have rights to certain United States financial instruments despite the fact that Texas had seceded during the Civil War. Declaring Texas’ statehood indissoluble, the court in the 1868 post-Civil-War decision honored Texas’ claim to federal bonds procured prior to the secession. Justice Holcomb’s opinion is that if Texas’ statehood remained intact during the course of the Civil War, California would inherit that indissolubility and void the election results. In other words, the original congressional contract approving California’s entrance into the Union in 1850 is irrevocable.”

Spackman shuffled a few papers and continued. “Last year, the California Supreme Court basically ducked the question and ordered a statewide election for the single purpose of determining support for secession. Immediately following the overwhelming vote to secede, thirty-eight United States Congressmen from California filed a motion to overturn, and the matter was elevated to the United States Supreme Court. Faced with an even larger majority in favor of secession, the U.S. Supreme Court nevertheless addressed the issue, rendering, at noon today, their decision to overturn the California election.

“California House Speaker James Huntington, who has voiced his opposition to secession, was contacted at his office today. In a terse comment, Huntington said the California legislature would proceed with the formation of a constitutional committee. U.S. Senator Malcolm Turner, a long-time proponent of secession, indicated that he has been in touch with the governor’s office, urging the California chief executive to proceed without delay to implement the will of the people and not to be deterred by the Supreme Court’s actions.

“In a related story, FBI sources today reported that the Western Patriot Movement has declared unqualified support for the secession, warning that attempts by agencies of the United States government to thwart the will of the California people will not be tolerated and will be met with military force.”

Chapter 25

Walnut Creek, California

Dan Rawlings sat with Nicole watching the evening news from the living room of her Walnut Creek apartment. It was the second time he had been inside her sanctuary, both of them having avoided their growing desire. Earlier, during an autograph session at a local Barnes amp; Noble bookstore in Walnut Creek for his new novel, Dan had been besieged by both opponents and supporters of secession, primarily because in the closing chapters of his American family saga, the protagonist’s family was shattered, to the point of violence, by their opposing views on a fictitious secession movement, not unlike the present situation in California.

The combination of Dan’s election to the California legislature, the timing of the book’s release, and the inclusion of the topic of secession had sent book sales soaring, elevating Voices in My Blood to number four on the New York Times Best Seller list, up from number twelve on election night. It was a phenomenal feat for a previously unpublished author. His literary agent had already received three film offers, all of them over seven figures, and further negotiations were in process.

Nicole sat quietly as the news of the court ruling was delivered, leaning her head on Dan’s shoulder. “Seems we’re headed for conflict whichever way we turn,” Dan said, lightly stroking her hair.

Trying to lighten the mood, Nicole snuggled up close. “You’re a legislator and a famous author, Mr. Rawlings. Do something.”

“I’ll do something all right,” he said, taking her face in his hands and kissing her boldly.

“Ummm, that’s not exactly the political solution I had in mind, Mr. Assemblyman, but it was innovative.” She laughed. “But really, what’s the legislature going to do? Surely they can’t sit by and just watch anymore.”

“They’ll, or maybe I should say, we’ll, be forced to openly declare either our support or opposition and take some official action. I have an appointment with the Speaker of the House tomorrow,” Dan said.

Nicole sat upright, suddenly interested in this development. “About what?”

“I don’t really know, but some of the other freshmen have been called in for introductions and committee assignments. I came in six months late in the special election, so I’m really the junior man on the totem pole. I’ll know tomorrow.”

“Well,” Nicole replied, playing with Dan’s ear, “As long as nothing can be accomplished tonight, what’s the rest of that action you were contemplating a moment ago?”

“I was trying to determine the flavor of this red stuff on your lips,” he replied, kissing her again, continuing their playfull mood. The kiss grew longer, deeper and more intense. In moments, they were aware that play time had ended. Nicole drew back a few inches, raising her eyes to meet Dan’s, the unspoken question foremost. Dan held her gaze for several seconds, then whispered her name and pulled her closer, kissing her more softly, his fingers working the buttons of her blouse.

Dan left Nicole’s apartment about five-thirty the following morning, beginning the ninety-minute drive to his condo in Davis. Nicole had roused before he left, but did not leave her room as he prepared to depart. He returned and kissed her again, softly, and stroked her face as he left.

As he drove, Dan reflected on their growing relationship. They had both proceeded cautiously. Last night had been the first admission of the depth of their feelings. In the light of day, rapidly approaching from the east as he drove toward Sacramento, Dan wrestled with the wisdom of his action. Following their dinner date in San Francisco, he had waited three or four days before calling to invite her out again, and then after several dates, he had invited her to the Rumsey Almond Festival. Each time he had enjoyed their time together, but often had gone home feeling vaguely guilty about his growing attraction, thinking about Susan.

It had been more than two years since Susan’s death, and in that time, Dan had briefly dated a couple of other women. He had broken off with both of them because of a sense that he was somehow being untrue to Susan’s memory, though intellectually he knew that wasn’t the case. Susan would have wanted him to go on with his life. He knew that. If she were sitting next to him in the car at this very moment, and could advise him, she would urge him to move ahead. He knew that, but his hesitancy still surfaced. It was awkward being with other women because he tended to compare them to Susan, and no one-no one before Nicole-had come out very well in the comparison.

It had been different with Agent Nicole Bentley from the start. Perhaps, he had thought, it was because he first saw her in a professional, not personal, light. While he was with the fascinating FBI agent, Dan had been able to put his memories aside. Nicole was bright and witty-to say nothing of being very attractive. But what was most engaging about her was the way she concentrated on Dan whenever they were together. She had a way of looking at him that made it seem as though nothing else around them mattered. On their third date, Dan had picked up some tickets for a popular musical playing in San Francisco, and they planned to have dinner beforehand at an Italian restaurant on Fisherman’s Wharf. After meeting Nicole near the terminus of the cable car on Market Street, they rode the car through Chinatown to the docks.

They had especially enjoyed the clattering ride together. The cable car driver had been one of those garrulous types who enlisted all his passengers in the running dialogue he had with himself and the motorists with whom he competed for the right of way on the steep, narrow streets.

The dinner had been fabulous, and after the table was cleared, Dan and Nicole lingered, sharing latte and experiences from their pasts and completely losing track of time. When they finally took notice of the hour, they had already missed the curtain and decided to bag the play.

They walked instead down to Ghiardelli Square and spent an hour wandering through the shops, ending up in a bookstore where Dan made a little game of asking the young female clerk if she had heard anything about the new novel by Dan Rawlings. She hadn’t read the book, she said, but in an effort to make a sale, she also said she had heard it was fabulous.

“Really?” Dan asked. “Have you sold any other copies?”

“Well, it just came out, so I haven’t, like, actually sold any yet. Would you like to get one?”

Dan thumbed the pages of Voices in My Blood. “I don’t know,” he said. “It doesn’t have any pictures, and it’s, like, awfully long.”

Nicole stood behind the clerk, watching the little interchange, holding a hand over her mouth to stifle her laughter.

By the time they caught the cable car back into town and the BART train back to Walnut Creek, it was well past midnight. Standing with Nicole in the foyer of her apartment building, Dan had taken the theater tickets out of his pocket.

“Well, I had a great time, even if we didn’t make it to the play,” he said, looking around for a trash receptacle.

Before he could throw the tickets away, Nicole reached for his hand. “How about letting me keep one?” she asked.

“Why?”

“I like to save mementos of special times in my life,” she said.

They stood there looking at each other for a moment. “Am I a special moment?” he asked.

Nicole gazed steadily into his eyes and he had suddenly felt a little lightheaded. When she stepped forward and kissed him, he experienced another wave of emotion. Nicole’s mouth was warm and moist, and keeping his arms down to his side, Dan leaned forward and tenderly explored her lips. They stood there like that, kissing, until another couple entered the lobby and passed through into the landscaped courtyard beyond.

Taking a deep breath and then exhaling, Dan playacted a more formal tone and said, “May I call you again, Ms. Bentley?”

“I don’t know, Mr. Rawlings. What exactly are your intentions?”

“Seriously?”

“Seriously.”

“Well, what are your intentions?” he rebutted.

“I asked first,” she said.

“So you did. Then, what do you think are my intentions?”

They’d bantered for several minutes before he kissed her again. Even now, driving toward Davis, Dan chuckled again as he recalled the humor of their exchange. Nicole had held his gaze for several moments, then said without smiling, “I don’t know what kind of a girl you take me for, Mr. Rawlings, but if you think you can ply me with dinner and then stand on my doorstep and kiss me whenever you feel like it. .” She paused, showing just the hint of a smile, “. . you may be right.”

“Seriously?”

“Seriously.”

Dan had broken into a self-conscious grin. “When do I get to come inside?”

“In due time. You are going to be rich, aren’t you?”

“I’m looking forward to it,” he said.

“Coming inside?”

“No. Being rich,” he parried, smiling.

They began to laugh, enjoying the verbal jousting. After a moment, Dan reached for Nicole and drew her into an embrace. They stood holding each other for a long moment. Dan was instantly overcome with desire for this woman, and he stroked her back while inhaling her fragrance. After a time, he pulled back, kissed her lightly on the lips, and whispered goodnight.

Driving home from Walnut Creek that night, he had reflected on the remarkable evening, breaking into an involuntary grin as he thought about this warm, passionate woman. Now, last night had completed their transition. For the first time since his wife’s death, Dan had not felt guilty being with another woman. Since that first night of emotion, through the passion they had shared only hours ago, they had grown closer, although neither of them had made any verbal commitments. The words “I love you” had not entered their vocabulary, and Dan sensed that despite Nicole’s earliest comments about not liking the games people played, each of them was waiting for the other to make the first serious move.

The next morning, Dan arose early, dressed, and left his condo, headed for his still unorganized legislative office-a dusty, bare dungeon in the basement of the capitol building, reserved for freshman legislators. Arriving at his office before his secretary, Dan listened to the messages on the phone recorder, rewinding when he heard the voice of Speaker Huntington’s secretary advising him of a change of location for the morning meeting to be held in the governor’s office. He listened to the message a second, and then a third time before he accepted that he was actually going to the governor’s office.

By the time Dan arrived in the governor’s suite at nine-thirty, he had considered and rejected a dozen possible scenarios as to why the Speaker of the House had changed the meeting to the governor’s office.

“Good morning, Mr. Rawlings,” the governor’s secretary said.

“And good morning to you, Mrs. Hansen. How do you keep track of all the new people?”

“Spies, Mr. Rawlings, spies. And the picture on your book,” she grinned, tapping the copy on her desk. “Would you like some coffee?”

“Yes, thank you. Creme and sugar.”

She poured his coffee and laid a Danish on the tray before placing it next to him on the sideboard. “Mr. Rawlings, would you be so kind as to autograph my copy of your book?”

Dan smiled. “It would be an honor, Mrs. Hansen. To whom should I. .?”

“To Victoria, please. I’m about halfway through,” she said. “Perhaps I shouldn’t ask, Mr. Rawlings, but is it true that Jedediah Rumsey had a fistfight with one of our early governors?”

Handing back the autographed book, Dan laughed. “Fiction, Mrs. Hansen. But then again,” he teased, “quite often, fiction is only a mild embellishment of the truth, isn’t it?”

James Huntington, Speaker of the Assembly, entered the foyer as Mrs. Hansen was accepting the book from Dan. She immediately assumed a more formal demeanor.

“Good morning, Mr. Speaker,” she addressed him. “May I offer you some coffee?”

“That would be fine, Mrs. Hansen, thank you.” Turning toward Dan, Speaker Huntington offered his hand. “Welcome to the legislature, Mr. Rawlings. I hear your book sales are going well.” He nodded toward Mrs. Hansen’s copy.

“Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Yes, quite well, I’m told. Thanks, of course, to people like Mrs. Hansen,” Dan said, smiling at her.

Huntington accepted his coffee and remained standing. “Governor in yet, Mrs. Hansen?”

“I believe he was in before six this morning, Mr. Speaker. I’ll just see if he’s ready for you.”

Mrs. Hansen entered the office, returning momentarily with Governor Walter Dewhirst.

“Good morning, gentlemen,” he greeted. “Shall we commence?”

Dan hesitated, allowing Huntington to enter first and then following him into the suite, his first time to enter the governor’s office.

“Seems General Del Valle was correct,” Huntington said to the governor.

“Oh, you mean last night’s newscast. Yes, he had it right. And now it’s. . well, there’s no way around it, James-they’ve openly declared war on the federal government,” the governor said, shaking his head. “We’re not going to get through this easily. These criminally minded militia groups are growing bolder, day by day.”

“I believe you’re right, Governor,” Huntington said, taking one of the big, leather chairs and motioning for Dan to be seated also.

Governor Dewhirst leaned against the front of his desk, sliding one hip up to take a partial seat on the edge. “If we don’t take the lead on this, we’ll find ourselves scurrying about like rats on a sinking ship.”

“That’s probably not a bad comparison, Walt. But after twenty-eight years in this House, I’ll be hog-tied if I’ll stand idly by and watch it go down without a fight. If we have to proceed with this national ‘divorce,’ we need to get control of it before it controls us. Seriously, Walt, if we spend all our energy opposing it and it happens, we could find ourselves up the creek. We need to be ready to govern.”

“Exactly what I was thinking.” Dewhirst leaned forward and looked straight at Huntington. “James,” he said, “can I count on cooperation, absent all partisan tap-dancing? Can we join hands and get this job done?”

Huntington looked at the governor, then jerked his thumb toward Rawlings.

“That’s why I’m here, Governor. I suggested Rawlings, didn’t I-notwithstanding his Republican affiliation,” the speaker said, smiling, “with no dancing or tit-for-tat party nonsense?”

Governor Dewhirst smiled, leaning back to sit upright against his desk. “That you did, James.” He shifted his gaze toward Dan. “And, Mr. Rawlings, have you fathomed all of this so far?”

Dan maintained a stoic face, glancing first at Huntington and then back at the governor. “It’s way over my head, Governor, but it seems I’m part of a compromise.”

“No, not a compromise, son.” Dewhirst rose and returned to his chair behind the desk. “Not a compromise. What shall we call it, James, an ‘accommodation,’ or perhaps more accurately, part of our opening strategy? Son, most new legislators entering these hallowed halls are allowed to park in the garage, use the private corridors and the private toilets, take the reserved elevators, and, of course, eat in the ‘members only’ dining area. But beyond that, they are courteously advised to keep their mouths shut and learn. You, my young friend, are going to be thrust into the breech immediately.”

The governor studied Dan’s face for his reaction, then glanced to see the small smile playing across Huntington’s face.

“I can almost read your thoughts, Mr. Rawlings.” the governor continued. “‘It sounds like I have no choice,’ you’re thinking. Well, you’re absolutely right. The Speaker and I have decided that we need your services at this particular time, and we’ve determined your legislative assignments. The people of Yolo County, in their infinite wisdom, have seen fit to send you here, and we intend to see they get their money’s worth. No ifs, ands, or buts-just get in the boat and make waves,” he said with a broad smile, leaning back in his chair and waiting for a reaction. Huntington remained silent, but his smile had broadened at the brusque method used by the governor to deliver their decision, arrived at the previous afternoon. “So, what say ye, Mr. Rawlings, freshman republican from Yolo County?”

Dan looked slowly back and forth between the governor and Speaker Huntington, gauging their intent, slowing coming to a smile himself. “I’ll need two things, Governor,” he responded.

The governor waited, raising an eyebrow quizically.

“A refill of coffee. .” Dan said, raising his cup, “and a paddle.”

Walter Dewhirst allowed a quizzical look to cross his face, but James Huntington immediately began to laugh. The three men sat there for several seconds, Huntington laughing, Dan smiling, and Governor Dewhirst confused.

“The coffee I can arrange, Rawlings, but-”

Huntington began to laugh all the louder, interrupting Dewhirst in the middle of his sentence. “How’s a man going to make waves without a paddle, Governor? Sometimes you Republicans are so thick.”

Dewhirst grinned and settled back in the deep comfort of his leather executive chair, reaching toward his intercom. “Mrs. Hansen, a fresh pot of coffee if you please,” he voiced.

Dan broke the levity of the moment. “In all seriousness, Governor, as an ignorant freshman legislator, how can I be of any help?”

“Dan,” the governor said, “. . may I call you Dan?”

“Of course, sir.”

“Dan, this political Neanderthal sitting next to you,” he said, gesturing toward Huntington, “has caused me more agony, more disruption, and more reason for consternation than any single politician with whom it has been my misfortune to deal. I’ve fought him on nearly every major issue that has come before this government over the last twenty years that we’ve served together in the legislature. “But,” he exclaimed, rising and coming around again to the front of his desk, “he is without a doubt the most dedicated and the most patriotic American I have ever had the privilege to work with.”

The governor turned to James Huntington and locked eyes with him briefly as they shared a moment when all partisan defenses were down, and two men, who for over two decades had engaged in a battle of wills, of laws, of conservative and liberal philosophical debate, took a moment to silently acknowledge their mutual respect born of difference, cultivated in political conflict, but, for this instant, treasured in memory.

“Son,” the governor continued, “this old curmudgeon came to me yesterday with a plan of action. Part of that plan involved you. You’re probably asking yourself ‘Why me?’ But I assure you, we know more about you than you think. I mentioned Speaker Huntington’s patriotism because he’s been roasted in the press lately for presumed political ambition regarding secession. Those ignorant fools in the media, for whom a story is worth more if it raises hackles than if it’s true, have chosen a few stalwarts to cast in the light of empire builders. The stories about Speaker Huntington and his quest for the new presidency bear no relationship to the work that this man,” he said, again gesturing toward Huntington, “has done to preserve California’s place in the Union. I dare say that if he were sure it would end this secession fever, he’d resign tomorrow. So would I, for that matter. But it won’t, so we need to fight it, son. We need to fight like. . well, like our future depends on it.” The governor changed tone, assuming a more directive attitude.

“There can be no room for equivocation in this office today, Mr. Rawlings. I’m against secession; Speaker Huntington is against it, and from what we understand so far, you’re against it, too. Are we right in that assessment?”

“Governor, Mr. Speaker, you’ve provided more food for thought than I was prepared to address. I conjured up multiple scenarios as to why I was invited to the governor’s office. None of those guesses came close, I might add,” he said, smiling. “As you said, Governor, you probably know more about me than I thought you did, but let me tell you just a bit more.

“My grandfather, Jack Rumsey, served in the California Legislature in the early fifties. He worked to broaden the scope of local government legislation and had a pet interest in California’s wilderness areas. Perhaps you know about James Rumsey, the Maryland engineer who invented the steamboat, and others in the family line, including our most famous family pioneer, Daniel Boone. Male members of my family have served in every military conflict in America’s history.”

Noticing the governor’s smile, Dan laughed and held up his hand. “I’m not seeking to extol a litany of family position or achievement, but what I am saying is that all these people left me with something. As this secession issue has gathered steam over the last few months and opposing interests have stood in the shadows, not believing what they were seeing or knowing what to do about it, I have wrestled with where I stood.

“My grandfather, bless his heart, is still hale and hearty at eighty-three, and he put the hard question to me several months ago. He said all my forebears would come back and stomp on me if I ever forgot I was an American. And that, Governor Dewhirst, is where I stand. I’m an American. I love California, and I always will, but I believe in what America stands for and the causes for which our ancestors died. I’ll do everything in my power to see that we retain our allegiance to that flag. If that stance warrants your earlier decision, then tell me where the waves need to begin, and I’ll start paddling.”

The governor rested a hand on each of Dan’s shoulders and looked him in the eye. “Did you know, son, that my father served briefly with your grandfather in the old days?”

“No, sir.”

“Well, he did, and they both have reason to be proud. Again, Dan, I say welcome to the legislature.”

Dewhirst returned to the chair behind his desk, nodding briefly at Huntington as he sat. Huntington took the cue.

“Dan,” Huntington began, “did you ever see that old Civil War movie with Gary Cooper as a Union Army major? In order to obtain information on a rebel raider outfit, he had to pretend he believed in something he didn’t. He had to disgrace himself in front of the corps and be branded a coward and traitor and drummed off the post.”

Dan’s ears perked up, and his senses quickly provided warning. “I believe I do remember that movie, Mr. Speaker. He wasn’t a very popular fellow.”

“No, I suppose not. We don’t have such drastic action in mind, as you’ll be pleased to know. But we do have a tough assignment for you, and it may go against your grain.”

Huntington looked at Governor Dewhirst, who took over.

“Dan, the legislature has stalled far too long on this issue, except perhaps for the diehards waving the red flag at the bull. Over the next week or ten days, the Speaker will announce the formation of a seven-member committee, whose primary responsibility will be to write the governing legislation for the new Republic of California. You, Mr. Rawlings, will be on that committee as a member of the minority panel, and the chairman, selected by Speaker Huntington, will be informed that you are to be assigned the primary role in drafting the constitution. It’ll be difficult work, Dan, made more so by our hope that it will never see the light of day. You’ll be the subject of praise and abuse, and, I would presume, a lot of lobbying on what to include, what to leave out-in other words, whose tail to cover, whose ox to gore, and whose barn to protect.”

Dan sat in amazement, recovering long enough to question the process. “Excuse me, Governor, but doesn’t the minority leader make assignments to new members of his party?”

“I’ll take care of the minority leader, Dan,” Dewhirst replied. “We’re of the same party-he, you, and I, remember? And the Speaker will take care of the majority committee chair from his own party. It’s a tough role we’re giving you, and especially so for such a new member. But your background and local government management experience will serve you well in this assignment. James and I will continue to take the political highroad, and the heat, I might add, against this secession mania as long as we can. But you, Mr. Rawlings, will need to tone down your opposition to the secession and go to work as if it were a fait accompli.

“Should we fail to prevent this ill-conceived secession, we need to have someone loyal, dependable, and more importantly, capable, who will have put in place the groundwork for a stable and functional government. That’s no easy task.”

“That’s putting it mildly,” Dan said. Anxious not to let the momentum get away, he pressed the issue. “The committee chair from the majority party, Mr. Speaker. What will my position be relative to him and, of course, to the senior minority member? I certainly have no standing regarding seniority.”

James Huntington rose and moved to the sideboard to refill his coffee cup. “Leave that to me, Dan. You’ll have all the latitude you need to accomplish your assignment.”

“Well, that seems to have covered it,” the governor said. “We’re pleased to have you on the team, Daniel Rawlings. Welcome to the world of politics.”

“Thank you, Governor. It’s been a pleasure to meet you, sir. And you, Mr. Speaker,” he said, reaching for his briefcase. As they approached the door, Dan paused for a moment. “Oh, Governor, one more thing. Would it be possible to obtain the services of an outside consultant? A knowledgeable professional who might give some important insight into the process?”

“Have someone in mind, Dan?” the governor asked.

“Well, sir, I. .”

“Son,” Dewhirst interrupted, placing his arm around Dan’s shoulder and walking him toward the door, “when the Speaker and I got down to a short list of potential candidates to accomplish this difficult task, whom do you suppose we asked to confirm your qualifications?”

Dan hesitated, not sure of the governor’s meaning. Then the light dawned. His smile growing, he glanced at the Speaker, whose face was covered with a large grin.

“It wouldn’t be a feisty old Stanford Law School professor with a quick wit, would it, sir?”

“None other, Mr. Rawlings. Professor Horatio Julius, who sends hordes of young Stanford lawyers into government service each year. A recommendation from him carries a lot of weight around here. Keep this assignment under your hat until the Speaker’s announcement Monday. I’m sure we’ll see a lot of each other. And James, why don’t we see what we can do to get him an office out of that musty basement where we usually hide the freshman, eh?”

“I’ll see what we can do, Governor,” Huntington said.

“Oh, and Mr. Speaker,” Dan said, edging toward the door, “about that Gary Cooper movie? We’ve got a lot of legislators in this building-most of whom haven’t taken a public stance. If you’ll recall, the eventual culprit and the rebels’ ‘inside man’ turned out to be the post commander, who also served, I believe, as the territorial governor.”

Governor Dewhirst’s eyes grew large, and Huntington began to laugh out loud.

“Walt, I think this kid will get both our seats if we’re not on our toes.”

In the foyer, Mrs. Hansen stood as the trio appeared. “Governor, General Del Valle would like you to call when you have a moment.”

“I’ll get right on it, Mrs. Hansen. You see, Dan, even the governor responds when Mrs. Hansen commands. If you have any needs and I can’t be reached-she’s the one to call.”

Victoria Hansen smiled at Dan Rawlings as he started for the door. Reaching the foyer exit, Dan looked back at her. “This might give me another character for my next novel, Mrs. Hansen.”

“Oh, dear, Mr. Rawlings. I’d better not have a fight with the governor then. Right?”

“I’ll be watching,” Dan said, and left.

Returning to his basement office, Dan sat in his chair, wishing for a window through which to contemplate his thoughts, as had become his habit years earlier. Write the constitution? If James Madison can do it, he thought, so can I. Yeah, right. He slumped down in his chair, beginning to feel the weight of the burden. Then, swiveling in his chair, he punched the speed dial on his phone.

“Good morning. Federal Bureau of Investigation. May I help you?”

“Agent Bentley, please.”

Chapter 26

Governor’s Office, California Capitol Building

Sacramento, California

I’ll put you through now, General Del Valle.”

“Good morning, Bob. New developments brewing?” Governor Dewhirst asked.

“It’s not good, Governor. I’m on my cellular, so I’d better come to the point in case we get cut off. Can you fit me into your schedule this afternoon?”

Dewhirst flipped open his daily agenda, prepared each evening by Mrs. Hansen and placed on the governor’s desk prior to her departure. “Three-fifteen.”

“Fine. It’ll be me and Lieutenant Colonel Jack Harman. He’s the commander, 324th Armored Battalion here in Sacramento.”

“Why do I get the impression I’m not going to like this news?” the governor queried.

“Like I said, Governor, it’s not good. You’ve got some decisions to make. We’ll see you at three fifteen.”

Precisely at three twelve, Del Valle and Harman entered the governor’s suite and were cordially greeted by Mrs. Hansen. Both men were in uniform, having spent the previous evening and early morning hours in meetings and then flying nearly three hours in the National Guard helicopter from Fort Irwin, in southern California.

Dewhirst shook Del Valle’s hand, then reached to shake Colonel Harman’s as well. “Colonel, I don’t believe I’ve had the pleasure.” Dewhirst motioned for both men to take seats, retreating behind his desk. “Bob, your call sounded urgent.”

“Governor, we’re rapidly approaching some key decision points. Actually, that ‘we’ is self-serving. You’re approaching some decision points, I’m afraid. We’ve spoken of this before, but events are quickly taking on a momentum of their own, and we need to act accordingly. Perhaps I’ll let Colonel Harman explain. Colonel,” he said, turning the floor over to Harman, who quickly stood.

“Sir, I’ve been in touch-”

“Colonel,” the governor interrupted, “if you’d prefer to stand to deliver your briefing, that’s fine. But I’d be just as apt to listen if you made yourself comfortable and sat.”

Harman looked toward Del Valle, who just nodded. “Actually, Governor, I’d prefer to stand, if you don’t mind. I can pace a bit, sir,” he said, hesitantly.

Dewhirst just smiled, nodding his approval.

“Sir,” Harman began again, “I’ve been in touch with my counterpart at Fort Irwin over the past several months as the secession issues have begun to boil. When the ATF agents were ambushed and gunned down, we had some operational meetings regarding how to isolate and neutralize these militia units’ military capabilities.”

Governor Dewhirst looked toward General Del Valle, his raised eyebrows expressing his ignorance of any such plans.

“Unknown to me also, Governor,” Del Valle allowed. “Regular Army internal actions, it would seem. The colonel just briefed me today as well.”

“I see,” Dewhirst responded. “Continue please, Colonel.”

“Well, sir, General Del Valle is right. Regular Army considerations were not made part of California Reserve planning. It’s all gotten rather complicated, sir, and according to policy, the information has been classified under a need-to-know basis only.”

“Complicated is an understatement, Colonel,” the governor commented.

“Anyway, sir, contingency plans have been formulated with regard to both the militia groups and. .” Harman looked again toward Del Valle, seeking direction.

“Lay it out, Colonel. The governor’s a big boy.”

“Yes, sir. Plans to deal with both the local militia groups and the California Reserve, specifically the National Guard, were formulated to neutralize their effectiveness. Actually, sir, my appointment as commander of the 324th is part of that plan. Changing leadership of the units-from reserve to regular Army commanders-down to the company level has been designed to effectively place control of these units under regular Army direction.”

Again, Dewhirst looked toward Del Valle. “Bob? Were you aware of this?”

“Not until this morning, Governor. I knew, of course, that the assignment was occurring and was unusual, but not unprecedented. But I was not aware of a strategy that established a policy toward that end.”

“How widespread is this, Bob?”

“Other changes are occurring now, Governor. Routine paperwork for these changes has, shall we say, inadvertently missed my desk. Essentially, I’ve been cut out of the loop, it would seem, for about the past six months.”

The governor stood and came around his desk, moving to the sideboard and filling his coffee cup. “What do we do about it?” he asked, returning to his seat.

“That’s what we’re here for, Governor,” Del Valle replied. “Plus one more bit of information. Please continue, Colonel.”

“Sir,” Harman spoke softly, “my counterpart advised that his armored battalion, plus the air mobile cavalry unit, had been placed on a twelve-hour alert. They were to prepare for immediate deployment. .” he hesitated briefly before adding “. . internally.”

Internally?” the governor queried, looking up.

“Specifically. .” Harman again looked toward Del Valle, who remained stone-faced and impassive. “. . specifically, sir, they have been alerted to stand by on twelve-hours’ notice to deploy to Sacramento, and to effect a supportive posture for U.S. marshals who have been or will be assigned to suspend the California legislature. In brief, sir, should the California government announce the formation of an independent constitutional committee as planned, the Army has been directed to implement martial law and to shut down the state government.”

Walter Dewhirst rose and stood behind his chair, his eyes growing larger with the revelations being delivered by Colonel Harman. “Suspend this government?” he blurted, turning to look at Del Valle, who also stood.

Robert Del Valle moved to the front of the governor’s desk and spoke in a soft tone. “Governor Dewhirst, the California National Guard stands ready to follow your orders. I can’t tell how many will defect or how any of us, for that matter, will respond to such an appalling condition. But I have already prepared the plans for just such an eventuality.”

Walter Dewhirst looked in astonishment at General Del Valle. “You’ve what?”

“Walt,” Del Valle continued, his voice still soft and under control, a ploy that had often confused his opponents in negotiation, coming as it did devoid of any anger from his six-foot, five-inch frame, “Colonel Harman, Colonel Tompkins, my executive officer, and I have developed some ‘what if’ scenarios. It’s only prudent to be prepared. The Army’s options were limited. It wasn’t difficult to project their moves if it came to this. In an insurrection, you move to shut down the government and communications. Local and county governments pose no real problem for Washington, but the federal government has no choice but to exert a semblance of control over what is seen as the rebellious behavior of the California Legislature. They’re coming, and we’ve got to get ready. Unless I’m wrong, you and the Speaker of the House plan to announce the constitutional committee a week from Monday. Am I right?”

Dewhirst nodded.

“Right. Then we’ve got to move to effectively block the redeployment of units from Fort Irwin-not a military confrontation, but a political confrontation, with uniforms all around. We need to be prepared to occupy the capitol building and the perimeter around the square with only a couple of hours’ notice. We need to be here waiting for them when they arrive, or they’ll gain the upper hand. And, Walt,” he cautioned, “we need to do it without firing a shot. It’s a display of resistance to control from Washington.”

“But we don’t want this foolish secession to happen, General!” the governor shouted, spinning his chair out of the way and pounding his fist on the desk.

“I know, Governor,” Del Valle continued, maintaining control over his voice. “We don’t, either.”

Dewhirst took a deep breath. “I’m sorry for that outburst. It was uncalled for and certainly not directed at you or Colonel Harman personally. Pull together your contingency plans and be back here at, say. .” He glanced at his watch. “Seven tonight. Call your wives, gentlemen. I think it will be a long session. I’ll notify the legislative leadership, and we’ll all meet this evening.”

Del Valle and Harman moved toward the door, the governor following immediately behind.

Dewhirst reached to shake Harman’s hand. “Colonel,” the governor said, “this took courage on your part. Whose side are you on in this mess?”

Colonel Jack Harman didn’t answer for a moment, taken aback by the governor’s direct question. “Governor, I’ve honored my responsibility to my present commander, General Del Valle. But,” he said, looking at his watch, “I’ve got three hours and forty-five minutes to decide the future of my Army career.”

Governor Dewhirst looked into Harman’s eyes, and both men were silent for what seemed like minutes. “Perhaps, Colonel. .” the governor said, pausing briefly, “. . perhaps we’re in the same boat. I’ve got exactly the same amount of time to decide the fate of California, and in some respects, the fate of America as it is presently constituted.”

The two young men fidgeted impatiently as they stood on the street corner in the San Francisco Embarcadero. The pile of cigarette stubs in the gutter attested to the length of their wait and to their nervousness. They were careful to slip into the shadows whenever a police patrol car made its rounds. They knew their shaved heads, leather jackets, and Doc Marten boots would instantly subject them to interrogation and harassment. Skinheads were usually fair game for cops-however, not tonight, if they could help it. There was money to be made-that is, if the dude with the tattoos hadn’t been jerking them around when he recruited them.

A dark green van pulled around the corner, moving slowly down the street until the driver spotted the two skinheads and brief recognition was given. The van door slid open, the two men climbed in, and the van quickly moved away, turning toward the Bay Bridge and heading east toward Oakland.

“We thought you wasn’t comin’, man.”

“Got delayed. You ready?”

The two smiled at each other, nervousness now abating as they began the process of psyching themselves up for the evening’s work.

“We’re always ready to pop spooks, man. You got the tools, dude?”

The tattooed driver looked over at his passenger and gave a slight nod. Shaw had instructed Krueger that he was to continue acting as the one in charge, allowing Shaw to take a secondary role. Shaw climbed into the rear of the van and unwrapped two automatic weapons, handing them over the seat to the young skinheads, who examined them with the joy of receiving Christmas presents.

“Fine stuff, man. We can do some damage with these, all right.”

“You got the job down?” the passenger said.

“The man’s been feedin’ it to us for three days,” one skinhead said, inclining his head toward the driver. “What d’ya think, we’re dumb? We know what to do. And we know just where to do it, too, don’t we, Slick?” he said to his companion.

The van exited the Bay Bridge, then took I-80 toward Oakland, pulling off at the first exit and entering a parking lot. “Okay,” Shaw said. “You know where to meet us. Twenty minutes, that’s all. Drive by, rake the building, and if you get a couple-all the better.”

“We got it knocked, man.”

The passenger and the tattooed driver got out of the van and stood next to a parked car, watching as the van drove off.

“Move out, First Sergeant.”

“Right, Commander,” the tattooed man said.

They climbed in the parked car, and as Otto drove through the Oakland neighborhoods, Jackson Shaw leaned back in his seat, gazing out the window at the run-down housing and the abandoned, junked cars strewn along the dark streets. Shaw thought of his home in the northern California woods, east of Anderson, and how it contrasted with these crowded tenement houses, their residents crammed in like sardines.

“You think they can pull it off, Commander?”

“One way or another. If they kill a couple of blacks, all the better. We’ll take care of the rest.”

The car pulled into an alley behind a row of dark warehouses and stopped. Shaw got out, opened the trunk, and took out a silenced Beretta and a tire tool. Then he got back into the car and waited.

Three miles away, a few blocks from Martin Luther King Drive, the dark-colored van cruised the streets, looking for targets of opportunity. After a few minutes, the driver and his passenger spotted a group of young black men standing under a light pole, waiting to cross the street.

Driving slowly past them, the van continued halfway down the block, then made a sharp U-turn and accelerated back toward the young men, their refined street sense suddenly alert to the sound of a rapidly approaching automobile. As the van sped toward them, a weapon appeared, sticking out of the passenger side window.

“He’s got a piece!” one of the men yelled.

They scattered, running frantically for cover. One dove behind a parked car, squirming into the gutter beside it. As the van sped by, the passenger opened fire with his automatic weapon. Bullets sparked off the pavement and peppered the walls of the housing units. Two of the black men were cut down by the burst of fire, one of them sprawling headlong onto the sidewalk and the other hurled by the impact against a chain link fence.

Tires screeching, the van turned the corner and was gone. The young black boy crawled out from behind the parked car and ran to his friends. One lay unmoving on the sidewalk, blood flowing from a wound in his head, the other lay writhing on the ground, clutching his stomach as blood soaked his shirt and ran onto the sidewalk. A dog was barking, and the boy began to shout for help. The uninjured black youth continued to kneel by his dying friend, crying, and yelling for someone to call an ambulance.

As the van returned to normal speed and retraced the route to the prearranged point for rendezvous, the two skinheads were hyped, their emotions at a fever pitch.

“Did you see that sucka’s head fly open? I think we got two of the spooks.” The shooter’s legs jerked spasmodically in a nervous motion, and his heart raced, fueled by the adrenaline in the aftermath of the hit.

“Let’s just get out of this van and back across the bridge,” the driver said. Pulling into the alley behind the car, he turned off the key and waited. Headlights appeared behind them, and Jackson Shaw got out of his car and moved toward them. The two young men climbed out of the van.

“How’d it go?” Shaw asked.

“Piece of cake, man. Two dead gang-bangers.”

Unnoticed by either of the two men, Krueger was also out of the car and had moved around behind the van, opening the rear doors as Shaw talked with the skinheads.

“Okay. Let’s get moving. Get your weapons out of the van,” Shaw ordered. As they started toward the rear of the van, Shaw’s muffled shot caught the shorter of the two in the back of the head, and he dropped immediately.

“What the. .?” his friend jerked around to look at Shaw, bewilderment on his face. He never saw the tire tool Otto brought crashing down on his head, crushing his skull and depositing his unconscious body next to his now-dead companion.

Otto continued to bash the man’s head and upper body, breaking the skinhead’s shoulder and arm bones long after consciousness, then life itself had been lost. Shaw and his accomplice then lifted the two bodies into the rear of the van. Otto resumed his position as driver, followed by Shaw in the car, and they re-crossed the Bay Bridge back to San Francisco. They parked the van near the hangout of the skinhead group to which the two young men had belonged. Before abandoning the vehicle, Otto wiped the steering wheel and jumped in the car with Shaw.

“Clean?” Shaw asked.

“Completely wiped. Are you sure about leaving the weapons?”

“The black gang wouldn’t have taken them from the crime scene. They would know the heat was coming, and they might be matched to the hit. They’re actually a lot smarter than the skinheads in that regard. On the other hand, the skinheads, when they discover the van, will probably take the rifles into their dump of a headquarters, where the cops will easily locate and identify the weapon and match them with ballistics.”

“Neat package if it works,” Otto replied.

After placing the van with two dead skinheads near the gang’s hangout, Otto and Commander Jackson Shaw rode most of the way in silence. They stopped for coffee once and arrived in Redding just before daylight.

“Good night’s work, Otto,” Shaw said. “Now we’ll sit back and watch to see if it erupts.”

The news the next day carried the story of a drive-by shooting in Oakland that had resulted in the death of two black youths and the subsequent killing of two skinheads, one of whom was brutally bludgeoned to death. The skinheads were suspected by the police of having taken part in the drive-by shooting in the black neighborhood. It seemed clear that they had been caught and killed by local black gang members, then delivered back to San Francisco as a warning to other skinheads. One of the military assault weapons found in the van along with the dead skinheads matched the ballistics of the murder weapon used to kill the two young black men.

Three days later, two retaliatory drive-by shootings targeted at skinheads were perpetrated by a gang of black men, and within ten days, a full-scale race war had erupted on both sides of the Bay Bridge. Skinheads from other cities poured into San Francisco as the call went out for reinforcements.

Commander Jackson Shaw watched all this with satisfaction on television from the comfort of his living room, where he took a call from Wolff one evening after the news.

“Good work, Jackson,” Wolff said.

“Easy pickings. Shall we move to the next site?”

“I think so. I’ve arranged a meeting with the local command out of Angel’s Camp. We need to get the other units fueling this race war.”

“Name the time,” Shaw replied. “We’re ready.”

Chapter 27

California National Guard Armory

Sacramento, California

July, 2012

The tension around the table was palpable, although under normal circumstances each of the groups involved would have considered it a routine, interagency planning session. Colonel Pug Connor, dressed in civilian clothes, represented the president’s task force. Nicole Bentley from the FBI, whose involvement in the task force was being kept confidential in this setting, sat across from General Robert Del Valle, representing the California National Guard. Two members of Del Valle’s staff were also in attendance: Lieutenant Colonel Jack Harman, battalion commander, and Captain Daniel Rawlings, from the judge advocate general’s office.

Connor had called Del Valle to arrange the meeting, and with Del Valle’s permission, Connor requested that the FBI send a representative-specifically, someone familiar with the operation of militia groups in California, and namely, Agent Bentley.

The previous evening, in her apartment, Nicole had divulged to Dan the actual nature of her current assignment, outlining her responsibility to keep all militia units in northern California under surveillance. Surprised at first, Dan had quickly understood her earlier interest at their meeting in the armory during the investigation of Lieutenant McFarland’s execution.

“I gather I was also a suspect?” Dan had commented.

“In the beginning,” Nicole had replied. “Although, I had no reason to suspect you more than others-in fact, less.”

“How so?” he pressed.

“I can’t get into that, Dan,” she said, still unable to reveal the involvement of their undercover agent who had been killed. “I’m sorry.”

Nicole was pleasantly surprised that Dan didn’t display any anger or frustration at the knowledge of her work assignment or her inability to discuss it with him. He had known, of course, that she was an FBI agent, but then, so had her former boyfriend, a memory Nicole had worked to bury. Following the bank robbery, her former boyfriend had confronted her with his discomfort.

“You know I’m an FBI agent. What did you think I do?” she had asked him.

“Dunno, really. I never gave it much thought. I guess I just thought you were, well, maybe some kind of administrative agent,” he had said, stumbling through the words.

“An upper level secretary, perhaps?” she had asked sarcastically.

“Hell, Nicole,” he had blurted out, “I didn’t think you killed people for a living.”

The words had stood between them through the evening, and when he left her apartment, she had known it was over between them. One week later, Dan had called with his impromptu dinner invitation.

Anticipating the planned meeting with the National Guard and the fact that Dan would likely be in attendance, Nicole had wanted no surprises to come between them. But as the time came to tell Dan of her involvement in the militia investigations, she had become apprehensive. She knew much more about his part-time assignment with the National Guard and the ways their assignments actually paralleled one another. After discussing the matter, Nicole watched Dan through the lasagna dinner she had cooked and while they washed the dishes together. She was unable to tell what he was thinking, but as she was drying her hands on the dishtowel, he came up behind her and wrapped his arms around her waist. He kissed the back of her neck and nuzzled his face in her hair.

“Do you know I love you, Nicole?” he whispered in her ear, the first endearment either of them had confessed.

Nicole turned, took his face in her hands and kissed him passionately, returning his declaration of love. She was comforted by his acceptance of her chosen career and by his ability to overlook what he might have interpreted as a ploy to merely further her investigation. She knew clearly at that point that she did, indeed, love Dan Rawlings.

“Colonel Connor,” Del Valle said, “we appreciate your coming out to California and the president’s interest in this meeting. These are trying times, Colonel. What can the guard do to assist in resolving the crisis?”

Colonel Connor acknowledged General Del Valle’s statement and looked briefly around the room before beginning his comments.

“The open rebellion from the militia units has risen to crisis proportions. In addition to the murders they’ve already claimed, intelligence points to their involvement in the current race war. General Del Valle, your troops have been called out twice now to put down what were becoming very inflamed race riots. It’s apparent these groups are using the secession issue to further their own agenda. How does your internal assessment compare?”

Del Valle looked at Captain Rawlings and nodded for him to respond.

Dan glanced quickly at Nicole and back at Connor before responding. “Sir, we’ve discovered that some of our Guard members also have longstanding relationships with local militia units. We know of at least seven guardsmen-two officers and five enlisted-who belong to the Shasta Brigade, the largest and most active northern California militia unit. We believe the patriot movement shares responsibility for the Oakland riots as well as the ATF ambush. We haven’t been able to confirm their involvement in the congressional murders. We did request further information from the guard’s liaison with the FBI, with no success, I’m afraid,” he said, glancing furtively at Nicole.

“I see,” Connor replied. “Agent Bentley, were you aware of these requests?”

“I was, Colonel. As Captain Rawlings indicates, the involvement of several Guard members-it’s actually nine, Captain,” she said, looking toward Dan, “required us to restrict the flow of information until we could ascertain who was and who wasn’t a risk.”

Turning toward General Del Valle, Nicole gained his attention, and smiled. “General, on behalf of the bureau, I sincerely apologize, but I believe you understand. In military terms, we’ve limited dissemination of information on a need-to-know basis.”

Del Valle nodded his assent. “So,” he said, “where do we go from here?”

“General,” Connor began, “that’s what we hope to achieve here today-a direction of sorts. Let’s not mince words, sir. It’s highly likely that we will be on opposite sides shortly if the governor follows through with his decision to implement the constitutional committee.”

Connor resisted the urge to look at Rawlings, even though he was fully aware of Dan’s assignment within the legislature.

“It would seem that the brigade has used, and will continue to use, these differences to exploit their openings and to put us at odds. If the worst-case scenario develops, and the federal military units are brought to bear to prevent the secession, the Shasta Brigade and all other militia units in the entire west will openly side with California. But let there be no doubt about it, General, they’ll rub salt in your wounds, too, in order to exacerbate the situation,” Connor concluded.

“Humph,” Del Valle snorted. “Losers and wanna-bes, Connor, that’s what they are.” Looking over toward Rawlings again, Del Valle queried, “What’s their estimated strength, Captain?”

“About four hundred, General, but a strong recruiting campaign has been underway for some months, and they’re growing. Only about a hundred and fifty members have more than two years’ experience in the units.”

“So they could field a trained and equipped, company-sized unit, with the basis for two more companies at recruit level?” Colonel Harman asked.

“Yes, sir.” Rawlings responded. “Although they’d probably split the experienced men into three, fifty-man units and place them throughout the companies. They seldom go into the field with more than a squad-sized unit. They know they’re no match for a head-to-head confrontation, even against the guard.”

“Maybe, Captain, maybe,” Del Valle responded. “But we’ve got some ATF agents’ families who might dispute that assumption.”

Returning his gaze to Colonel Connor, Del Valle concluded the brief meeting.

“Colonel, we sincerely appreciate your taking the time to meet with us and to share information. I trust the shared intelligence summaries,” he said, pointing toward a stack of manila folders and personnel records, “will assist both sides. The governor has decided to postpone his announcement of the formation of a constitutional committee for one week. But be advised, as much as he’s in opposition to this secession nonsense, he’s more angered at the contingency plans laid down by the Pentagon. And mark my words, if he sees his options being reduced by outside forces, he’ll be forced to choose from those options that remain within his power. I know he plans to contact the president, but California is his primary concern. If it becomes impossible to shift this train onto another track, he will take the throttle and he will control the engine.”

“I understand, General. Thank you for hosting us today. I hope we can continue to contact one another and move toward the same objectives.”

“By heaven, so do I, Colonel,” Del Valle said.

“Please hold, Colonel Connor. I’ll put you through to the president,” the White House switchboard operator said.

Pug Connor waited for a moment and was then greeted by Vice President Prescott in a hollow-sounding voice.

“Colonel Connor, how are you today? I’m with the president on his speakerphone.”

“Good afternoon, Colonel,” the president said. “Hear you’ve been consorting with the enemy, so to speak.”

“Well, Mr. President, I certainly hope that can be avoided.”

“So do I-a poor choice of humor on my part. How’d it go?”

“General Del Valle was quite sincere, Mr. President. He was cooperative, and we shared most of what we have been able to glean from our respective investigations. This young Daniel Rawlings fellow I profiled in my last written report finds himself in a tough spot.”

“How so, Pug?” Vice President Prescott asked.

“Madam Vice President, he’s been given the assignment to draft the republic’s new constitution, even though he’s been quite outspoken against the secession. I presume that Rawlings is one of Governor Dewhirst’s responses to your meeting with the governor last month. But on top of that, he’s a captain in the National Guard and is likely to be called upon to defend the state house if our contingency plans are implemented and the federal marshals move in.”

“What’s Del Valle’s position if we federalize the guard?” the president asked.

“Sir, General Del Valle advised that although the governor is adamantly opposed to the secession, his options are narrowing, and should federal intervention tie his hands, he’s likely to be pushed into a corner and required to take action in defense of California.”

“Action?” Eastman queried.

“Political action, sir,” Pug replied. “At least to show some opposition to federal intervention.”

“Colonel,” the president continued, “I’ve got my own brand of pressure back here. Senators from at least six western states have been pushing me to squash this rebellion-as they’re calling it-before it spreads to their states. They tell me the militia units in each of their states are growing bolder as a result of California’s actions. We’ve got to be decisive. And the joint chiefs don’t like the idea of one of their own military units being used against them. They want to activate the guard now and take control. Colonel, until we can see a better route, the federal marshals have their orders. If the governor announces the implementation of a constitutional committee, they will act to enact martial law-and the Army will be in support to enforce.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Pug,” Prescott added, “I got your last report. Unfortunately, we can’t use the normal international channels to find Jean Minards-an obviously false identity-who worked with the California elections office. Those reports filter back through your former employer, and you understand that we can’t tip off Grant Sully.”

“Understood, Madam Vice President. Perhaps I can trade for this one.”

“Trade?”

“I could contact Kevin Donohue in Ireland again. Once before, he provided identification of someone we needed to uncover. If Minards, or Wolff, is an internationally recognized operative, Donahue might be able to identify or locate him. I don’t know what he’d want in return, however.”

“Absolutely not, Colonel,” the president interjected. “We’re not dealing with those cutthroats. They killed the vice president, for crying out loud. If I could find them, I’d have them snatched and put in rendition. No contact with these IRA terrorists. Is that understood?”

“Yes, sir,” Pug replied. “There is one other option at my disposal. Madam Vice President, I believe you know this person also-Ambassador Molenski?”

“The Russian Ambassador to the U.N.?”

“Yes, ma’am. He was most helpful with the USS Cherokee incident a few years ago. Recently he assisted in helping me with some information about the IRA.”

“We’ll discuss it, Pug, and I’ll get back to you,” Prescott replied. “Meanwhile, keep us abreast of the developments with this Rawlings chap. Can you work with him?”

“It’s an unusual situation. He’s been developing a relationship with Agent Bentley, and his former brother-in-law is a member of the militia.”

“Oh? Did you say former brother-in-law?”

“Yes, ma’am. Rawlings’ wife was killed a couple of years ago in a skiing accident shortly after they were married. Kenny Bailey is her brother. He was shot and killed in a failed ambush on Captain Rawlings several weeks ago.”

The president spoke up. “Rawlings shot and killed his own brother-in-law?”

“No, sir. Some members of the Shasta Brigade shot him as he was trying to get on their plane before they took off. Rawlings killed the other ambusher. As far as Rawlings goes, Mr. President, Agent Bentley is convinced he’s in opposition to the secession and is actively working to prevent it.”

“So is Governor Dewhirst, Colonel,” the president chimed in. “But as you said, he’s ready to do what’s necessary to protect California. Be very careful how involved Rawlings becomes with the task force. I don’t think involving him would be such a good idea.”

“Understood, Mr. President. I’ll be in touch.”

“Good luck to you, Colonel.”

“Thank you, sir.”

President Eastman pressed the key to disconnect the speakerphone and leaned back in his chair as Clarene Prescott took a seat in front of his desk. She raised her eyebrows, revealing to Eastman her chagrin at his failure to inform Colonel Connor of impending military operational orders. Eastman watched her for a moment, assessing her agreement with his actions.

“I know, Clarene,” he said, raising his hands in a surrender mode. “We’ve left the colonel in the dark.”

“Pug Connor is a good man, and he’s worked in the dark before, but I’m surprised that you chose not to inform him.”

“It’s not a question of trust. You know that. Connor can be trusted, but there’s still the possibility that I’ll be able to abort the troop movement and stop this foolishness, and the fewer people I have to ‘stand down,’ the easier it will be. The JCS, however,” he said, shaking his head, “are dead set to move forward. We’ll bring Colonel Connor into the picture by Thursday night if things don’t change.”

“I think that would be fair, Bill. He’s walking a tightrope out there.”

“Yeah. Aren’t we all?”

Chapter 28

Modesto, California

Dan Rawlings lightly touched his brakes for the third time in as many miles and decided once again that utilizing cruise control on old Highway 99 was an impossibility. Ten miles west on Interstate 5, traffic flow was suitable, but the stop-and-go traffic, intersecting roads, and general limitations of 99 precluded such relaxing driving aids.

Crossing the Dry Creek Bridge at Galt, Dan ejected the CD, the sudden ensuing silence bringing Nicole to life from the twilight-zone nap she’d been taking since their departure from Dan’s apartment in Davis.

“Welcome to central California, Agent Bentley,” he said.

Nicole yawned and stretched her arms up and toward the back of the car before raising the seat from its reclined position. “Ever played this golf course?” she asked as they crossed the bridge and she observed the fairway extending out on both sides of the highway.

“Had one of my most memorable rounds here several years ago. Two under on the front and twelve over on the back side,” he said, laughing.

“Is that when you decided to forget turning pro?” she teased.

“Long before that, Agent Bentley.”

“What do you think Senator Turner really wants, Dan? Why do you think he wanted you to come down to Modesto?”

“It’s his home court. As to what he wants, I’m not certain, but he must have discovered I’ve been given the assignment to draft a constitution. He knows my stance because we debated the issue during the election-well, sort of debated. We were on the same podium, and questions were thrown at both of us.”

“Dan, if he doesn’t already know who I am or what I do, I’d prefer to keep it that way.”

“Understood. At least he’s chosen to meet us on relatively neutral ground. Modesto has this wonderful tradition of summer concerts in the park. They have a completely amateur band, usually about a hundred members or so, and every Thursday for six weeks in the summer they provide an open-air concert. When I was a young boy, my father lived in Modesto, and each year when I went to spend the summer with him we’d attend these concerts, although I was more interested in the playground equipment and snow cones than the music.”

“Boston Pops comes to Modesto,” Nicole said.

“You could say that, but maybe not quite so formal.”

About forty-five minutes past Stockton, Dan pulled off Highway 99 and headed for downtown Modesto, where he found parking more difficult than he’d anticipated. They ended up parking about two blocks away and walking to the amphitheater. They passed hundreds of people who were already lying on blankets on the grass, their small hibachis smoking and picnics in process, ranging from buckets of KFC to barbecued ribs. The semicircular stands had blankets draped over whole sections of seats in a sort of honor system for reservations.

Dan spotted Senator Turner center left, down front, and led Nicole to the politician. Turner saw him approaching across the crowd and stood, smiling broadly as he shook hands with people who were filtering through his row toward their own seats.

“Assemblyman Daniel Rawlings,” Turner said, somewhat officially, “welcome to Modesto. Let me introduce you to our esteemed mayor. Steve La Barbera, meet Daniel Rawlings, one of our newest state legislators, from Yolo County, and, of course, one of California’s newest authors.”

“Of course.” Mayor La Barbera smiled. “A great read, Mr. Rawlings. But as you well know, Stanislaus County offers all the wonderful benefits you extol for Yolo County in Voices in My Blood.”

Mayor La Barbera was a tall, trim man with a full beard and thick hair, both of which were fully gray. He was quite distinguished-looking and from initial impressions, cordial. To be expected, Dan thought, in a political role.

“I’m sure it does, Mayor. Perhaps I’ll have to broaden my horizons for my next effort. Let me introduce Nicole Bentley. Ms. Bentley graciously accepted my invitation to come down to hear the famous summer concert series in the park. Coming from New England, she’s looking forward to a West Coast Boston Pops special.”

Turner and the mayor greeted Nicole, who remained silent, but smiled pleasantly.

“Well, when you start your next novel, you come on down, son,” the mayor said, “and we’ll convert you to the merits of our lovely valley. I understand you and the senator have some light business. If you’ll excuse me, I’ll just go greet a few of the guests we’ve invited tonight.”

“Certainly, Mayor,” Dan replied. “It was a great pleasure meeting you, sir.”

“Thank you, Mr. Rawlings. Malcolm, I’ll see you in a few minutes. You’ve got your fire and brimstone ready for the crowd, I presume?”

“Just a little hometown talk, Steve, nothing more,” Turner said, at which La Barbera laughed.

“Malcolm, if John Phillip Sousa can’t stir ’em up tonight, I know I can count on you. I’ll see you later, Mr. Rawlings. Very nice to meet you, Ms. Bentley.”

Turner gestured to the bench, and Dan and Nicole joined the senator as he resumed his seat.

“It was good of you to invite us tonight, Senator. I’ve had the pleasure of attending these concerts before, some years ago, but Nicole hasn’t. I hope you don’t mind my extending the invitation to her this evening.”

Turner glanced admiringly at Nicole. “Mr. Rawlings, I’d have been disappointed in you if you hadn’t taken the opportunity to promote our central California traditions. Ms. Bentley, you’re most welcome.”

“Thank you, Senator,” Nicole replied. “It really is lovely outside this evening.”

“Senator,” Dan said, “how can I be of assistance?”

“All in good time, my boy, all in good time. This is an evening for enjoyment, and I merely wanted you to catch the flavor, or perhaps the fervor, of our local residents. We’re all staunchly supportive of the movement, you know,” Turner said, glancing around the rapidly filling stadium. “Notice anything unusual, Dan?”

Upon entering the circular amphitheater, Dan had immediately noticed the presence of hundreds of California bear flags, as opposed to the American flags the concert attendees had traditionally carried over the years.

“A bit more nationalism perhaps, Senator.”

“Exactly, son. Exactly my point. Now, you’ve got a wonderful opportunity in front of you for such a young assemblyman. Would that I could start my career over again with such a promising future.”

“Senator, it’s not really-”

“Don’t make light of it, son,” Turner interrupted. “Your name will go down in history. Your family has played a significant part in the formation of both the nation and the state. If my sources are right, that illustrious group of ancestors includes the William Whipple you wrote about in your novel. He’s actually your sixth or seventh great-grandfather, isn’t he? And an original signer of the Declaration of Independence? They were traitors, you know, all those folk who signed that document. But once they had succeeded in their objective, they became patriots. And now you, Mr. Rawlings, have the opportunity to take your place among your family lineage at the forefront of history. Quite a privilege.”

Dan glanced briefly at Nicole, for whom Turner’s revelation that Dan was related to a signer of the Declaration of Independence was news. Voices in My Blood, being fiction, hadn’t defined any actual relationship between the primary characters and the author, leaving it to the reader, as is so often the case in a novel, to determine truth from fiction.

They were joined again by Mayor La Barbera, and all sat watching the band, which was assembling on stage. The conductor appeared on stage, eliciting a large ovation from the crowd, who assembled to enjoy not only an evening of music but also gathered in anticipation of some political fireworks-something Senator Malcolm Turner had promised in the news releases he had made available to the local media for several days prior to the concert.

For the next forty-five minutes, the band played a number of light classical selections, march music, and show tunes, with an emphasis on California history. The entire program had the effect of heightening the mood of the crowd. Following a moving rendition of “Goin’ Home,” from Dvorak’s New World Symphony, the conductor announced that immediately following the next number, the band would pause for intermission and Mayor La Barbera would say a few words. A rousing Sousa march brought the first half of the concert to an end, at which point Steve La Barbera took the stand as the band departed the stage.

“Evening all,” La Barbera said in a casual, down-home manner, to a smattering of applause. “Earlier this afternoon, I took some time to stroll the downtown area, ‘kicking tires,’ so to speak, and who do you think I discovered? Well, I had thought that our national interests were being protected by our esteemed congressional representatives on the job back East, but I bumped into none other than Senator Malcolm Turner. Yep, right here in Modesto. Now for those of you who don’t know Senator Turner-” La Barbera paused, smiled at Turner, and scanned the audience. “Well, maybe there’re none of those here tonight,” he said to a round of laughter. “He does come home once in awhile to check in and get his marching orders before we send him back to the jungle in Washington. But we’ve got him tonight, and given the developing events in our great new nation, I think we ought to hear a few words from him. What do you think?” he said, raising his arms toward the sky to elicit response from the crowd.

A section of the audience, comprised mostly of men seemingly unified in their intention, immediately rose to their feet, applauding loudly and whistling.

Nicole took Dan’s hand and leaning into him, whispered, “Well orchestrated, as any good concert should be.” Dan just smiled and squeezed her hand.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” La Barbera announced, “I give you Senator Malcolm Turner.”

As Turner waited for the applause to die down, he smiled and shook the mayor’s hand, gesturing to the audience to please hold down their accolades. As the noise finally subsided, Turner moved to the microphone.

“Fellow Modestans, Stanislaus County residents, and guests, I didn’t come here to speak to you tonight in any formal manner, but given the import of events in which we find ourselves, I just want you to know how proud I am to be from Modesto. How proud I am of my heritage and the values my father taught me as I was raised on a farm right down the road from where we sit. But what I mainly wanted to say tonight really has nothing to do with me personally. Tonight I want to introduce to you someone we have recently come to know, and someone I can assure you we will all get to know much better as this year progresses. Someone whose name will go down in California history as he participates in the formation of this great endeavor in which we find ourselves.”

Dan could feel the hair rise on the back of his neck. Turner was going to use this forum to force Dan to acknowledge his assigned role, preempting the governor. It was political hardball, and Dan had been caught off guard. Not until Nicole placed her hand on his arm did Dan realize how hard he’d been squeezing her fingers as tension grew within him.

Turner continued. “This young man, from a fine old California family, has become known to all of you in the past several months through the release of his moving and beautifully rendered fictional account of his family’s participation in the settling of America and the pioneering of California. His novel, Voices in My Blood, has become a well-deserved bestseller, not only in California, but across the nation. Now, those of you who know me remember that I always like to keep Modestans informed first whenever possible. I happen to know that since his election to the legislature, this young man has also come to the attention of the governor, and that great responsibilities have been placed upon his shoulders. In all fairness, I should keep you in suspense with the rest of California until Governor Dewhirst decides to announce his plans, but I’m your senator, right?”

The crowd responded with the appropriate acclamation.

Looking toward Dan, Turner smiled and signaled him to come up on stage. “You want to meet this young man, don’t you?” he called to the audience.

The applause grew louder as Turner signaled with his arms for the crowd to whoop it up.

Nicole leaned toward Dan and said, “You’ve got to wing this one, Dan. But be careful and don’t confirm anything. The governor’s not going to be pleased with this.”

“That’s putting it mildly,” Dan said, standing and stepping toward the stage.

“That’s right-c’mon up, Dan. Ladies and gentlemen, it is my honor to present to you the newly elected assemblyman from Yolo County and the author of the bestselling novel Voices in My Blood, Mr. Daniel Rumsey Rawlings.”

The crowd continued its applause as Dan took his position beside Turner and La Barbera.

“Mr. Rawlings. .” Turner said, motioning for the crowd to quiet down, “Mr. Rawlings will not only be well-known for his wonderful novel, but my sources tell me that Mr. Rawlings will have an effect on every Californian sitting here today. Just as James Madison once shouldered the great burden to draft the famous document that would guide our nation through its infancy, even so, Mr. Daniel Rawlings finds himself in the same role. This young man you see before you tonight has the proud and difficult honor of drafting the new constitution for the Republic of California. Young Daniel,” Turner said, wrapping his arm around Dan’s shoulders, “will pen the future course of our new nation.”

Dan struggled to keep his anger in check as Turner worked the crowd and maneuvered Dan into an untenable position.

“We want to hear a few words from such a remarkable young man, do we not?” Turner cajoled. The crowd responded appropriately as Dan stood by Turner’s side, giving to all the appearance of one in agreement with Turner’s well-known stand for secession. Turner again motioned for the crowd to quiet, and Dan took center stage before the microphone.

“Thank you, Senator Turner. Thank you, ladies and gentlemen, for your kind welcome to Modesto. I’m somewhat stunned by all of this,” Dan said, stalling. “And I must confess, unsure as to how to respond. The senator’s kind remarks about my novel are most welcome, of course, and I thank him, and you, for responding so well to a new author. As for the future of California, I’m quite certain that no one man or woman will guide her destiny, and wherever that destiny leads, we can all be sure of one thing: this country and this state have an honorable tradition to uphold, and, along with men like Senator Turner, we will do our best to continue that tradition. Thank you again for inviting me to your community.”

Dan immediately shook hands with Senator Turner and Mayor La Barbera and departed the stand. Turner applauded along with the crowd, concluding with a few brief remarks after having accomplished his mission for the evening. As Turner returned to Nicole and Dan, the mayor approached close behind.

“Senator,” La Barbera said, “I know you’d like to stay for the remainder of the concert, but I’ve promised a few of the larger contributors that you’d attend a small, private gathering this evening. Just for a short while, of course.”

“Certainly, Steve, be right with you,” Turner said, turning to Dan and shaking his hand. “Thanks for coming, young fellow. I’m sure we’ll have occasion to meet again soon. My best to you too, young lady. You’ve got a mighty promising young man on your hands. Hold on to him if you can,” Turner said, waving to segments of the crowd as he departed with the mayor.

Dan sat speechless for several moments, aware that he had been completely outmaneuvered. “Nicole, we’ve got to get out of here, and I’ve got to get a message to the governor before the press breaks this story. That old guy played me like a fiddle.”

Wrapping her shawl around her shoulders, Nicole stood, and as the band was resuming their seats, the two slipped quietly away, reaching Dan’s car and heading for the freeway toward Sacramento. Dan’s call to the Capitol was switched to the governor’s aide, standing outside the governor’s box at the Sacramento presentation of La Traviata.

Called from his seat, Governor Dewhirst listened as Dan relayed the events of the evening. Reacting with a calm assurance Dan wasn’t expecting, Dewhirst responded. “I’m not surprised, Dan. Not surprised at all. Turner’s been around the block a few times, and he knows the Feds are just waiting for us to act. Turner’s decided to trump my hand. Be in my office at seven tomorrow morning. We’ve got a full plate, and now that he’s preempted my timetable, we’ve got to act fast. I’ll call General Del Valle and advise him as well.”

“Governor, I-”

“Don’t lose any sleep over it. You’re not the first, nor the last, young legislator Turner has sucker-punched. Learn from it, and you’ll be the wiser. See you in the morning.”

“I’ll be there, Governor,” Dan replied and hung up his phone.

“Well?” Nicole asked.

“Smooth, as if he expected it,” Dan responded.

“He does have over forty years in the business,” Nicole added.

“I just hope it doesn’t take me another twenty to learn when to duck.”

Nicole leaned over and kissed his cheek, taking his hand as they both rode in silence for the next few moments. When Dan’s phone rang, Dan picked it up, expecting the governor or someone from his staff to speak.

“Dan?” the familiar voice said.

“Mom? What’s up?”

“Jack’s had a heart attack. He’s in Woodland Memorial.”

“I’m just south of Stockton. I’ll be there in a little over an hour.”

“Drive safely, but hurry.”

“I’ll be there, Mom,” he replied.

Nicole just looked at Dan quietly. Dan met her eyes as she placed her other hand on top of his.

“Jack’s had a heart attack,” Dan said, his voice beginning to crack with emotion. “He’s at Woodland Memorial Hospital. I can take you by my apartment, and you can get your car.”

Nicole held his free hand and placed her left hand behind his neck, gently rubbing to relieve the growing tension that was now replacing the anger that Senator Turner had caused only a few minutes earlier. “No,” she firmly replied, “we’re going straight to Woodland.”

The usual press of visitors was absent from Woodland Memorial Hospital when Dan and Nicole entered the foyer. In the small reception area outside the Intensive Care Unit, Dan’s mother, who was also Jack’s daughter, met the couple. Dan took his mother in his arms and held her. Nicole stood quietly to one side. She had only met Dan’s mother once, during the Almond Festival.

“Dan, I’m so glad you were close by. He’s been asking for you. The doctors say-they say he probably won’t last the night,” she sobbed.

“It’s okay, Mom. I’m here. What happened?”

“Nothing, really. I was just driving down the valley toward town. Jack was going to get a haircut, and I was going to do some grocery shopping. He was unusually quiet, but you know Jack and his moods. About ten miles from Woodland, I noticed he had laid his head back and closed his eyes. I asked him if he was all right, and he said, if I didn’t mind, could I please take him to Woodland Memorial. If I didn’t mind. .” she cried, cupping her hands over her face.

“Jack’s old, Mom, but he’s still strong. He’ll pull through.”

“I don’t know, Dan, I just don’t know.” Glancing around Dan, she noticed Nicole standing quietly nearby. “I’m sorry, Nicole, I didn’t see you.”

Nicole walked up and took Mrs. Rawlings in her arms. “I’m so sorry, Mrs. Rawlings.”

“Thank you, dear. Dan, you better go in and see him. I’ll wait out here with Nicole, if that’s okay with you,” she said to Nicole.

“Certainly,” Nicole replied, motioning with her eyes for Dan to go to Jack’s room, and guiding Mrs. Rawlings to a chair in the waiting room.

Jack was lying on an elevated bed, surrounded by whirring and humming instrument panels, hooked up to various tubes and electrical connections, with his nose and mouth enclosed in a clear plastic oxygen mask. Dan approached the side of the bed and took Jack’s hand, standing quietly, struggling to keep his emotions in check. Jack slowly opened his eyes, and at his recognition of Dan, a hint of a smile creased the corners of his mouth beneath the mask.

“I’m here, Jack. Don’t try to talk. I’ll be here when you’re stronger.”

Jack closed his eyes as Dan stood at the side of the bed, holding his grandfather’s gnarled, scarred hand. They stayed that way for a long time, until Nicole and Mrs. Rawlings entered the room. Nicole assisted Dan’s mom to the couch and came to stand behind Dan, placing her hands on his shoulders.

“Can I get you something to drink?”

Dan reached up to his shoulder and covered Nicole’s hand with his own.

“Ummm,” he nodded, “please.”

They stood vigil through the night, alternately nodding off. Just past three, Mrs. Rawlings was asleep on the couch, and Dan and Nicole were seated together in a doublewide lounge chair in one corner of the room. Dan was resting his head on the back of the chair, lightly sleeping. Nicole nudged him, and as he opened his eyes, he could feel Nicole, with gentle pressure from her arm, urging him to remain quiet. Dan followed Nicole’s gaze to the bed where Jack lay, still encumbered by medical paraphernalia, but his eyes now wide open. The old man stared intently into the corner of the room nearest the window and away from Dan and Nicole. His expression was calm, yet intent, and a smile had returned to his face. He showed no sign of the pain that was evident earlier. Dan shifted his gaze to the corner where Jack was staring, but saw nothing other than the muted glow from the bedside lamp.

Jack partially raised himself up on the bed, restrained by the attached tubes and electrical cords. Aware that something had disturbed Jack, Dan attempted to rise and go to him, but Nicole gently restrained him as the drama unfolded. Dan glanced at Nicole and saw tears slipping down her cheeks. She held her hand over her mouth as she watched, moved by what she was witnessing.

Dan glanced back at Jack, and suddenly he understood, his mind opened to the realm of belief, his body relaxing beneath Nicole’s caress as they both sat transfixed. After what seemed like endless minutes, Jack shifted his gaze to Dan and smiled, leaning back into his pillow, resting comfortably now, his countenance radiant. The gentle look he gave Dan transmitted years of love, and for a brief moment, they shared the unspoken bond that had developed between them as boy had grown to man.

Jack spoke in a soft, reverent tone, his voice muted by the oxygen mask. “It was Ellen.”

Dan remained silent, looking at his grandfather. Nicole’s tears were now joined by Dan’s as he leaned back into his chair, comforted by his understanding of Jack’s acceptance. Nicole’s arm was looped through Dan’s, and she inclined comfortably toward him in the chair. They watched together as Jack closed his eyes and rested. They sat that way for some time, Jack breathing quietly and easily.

When Dan once again opened his eyes, he took a few seconds to realize that he had fallen asleep. Now, Jack’s chest was still, and he lay peacefully in the aftermath of his willing acceptance of life’s cycle.

Later, as the growing amber light filtered through the louvered shutters, lifting the darkness from the room, Dan stood behind Nicole in front of the window, his arms wrapped around her.

“Do you believe in life after death, Nicole?” Dan asked softly.

Nicole turned around to face him, placing her head against his chest and taking several deep breaths. “With all my heart, Dan. I know it, as certain as I stand here.”

“Personal experience?”

“Not exactly. I told you that my father was killed in the line of duty as a state trooper in Connecticut. My sister Jennie told me that he spoke to her in a dream, a very real dream, as she described it.”

Dan pulled Nicole from his chest, placing his hand beneath her chin and raising her head to face him. “You grow more complicated every day, Agent Bentley.”

Together they silently observed the beginning of a new day. Mentally preparing to wake his mother and comfort her, Dan tried to fathom what he had witnessed. Ellen had come, and Jack had willingly gone with her. In the recesses of his mind, Dan knew that the deep, welling sobs were yet to come, but for this moment he was at peace, having witnessed the fulfillment of those things Jack had tried to teach him through the years. Dan could feel it-they were all there-the pioneer voices in his blood, the ancestors come to escort Jack home. Rumsey Valley had been the family residence for nearly six generations and would continue to be, but Jack had gone home with Ellen.

At precisely three minutes to seven, having barely had time to shower, shave, and change clothes, with no time for sleep other than the catnaps he’d caught in Jack’s room during the night, Daniel Rawlings entered the foyer of the governor’s office. Shown in by Mrs. Hansen, he quietly joined the governor, General Robert Del Valle, the Speaker, and several members of the proposed constitutional committee. Looking up from a map General Del Valle was using as a reference, Governor Dewhirst took three steps to meet Dan, placing his arm around his shoulder.

“Dan, I hope you’ll accept my most sincere condolences on the death of your grandfather. Jack Rumsey was a great man and will be missed by all who knew him.”

“Thank you, Governor,” Dan acknowledged, wondering how in the world the governor could have learned so quickly with Jack only gone, what-three or four hours?

“Dan, as we discussed last night, Senator Turner has played his cards, knowing full well that I would need to act swiftly to preclude further speculation. I’ve already spoken with the president and informed him that I will hold a press conference at nine o’clock to announce the formation of the California Constitutional Committee. He wasn’t pleased, and asked if we could find some way to avoid the necessity. I told him that as a result of Senator Turner’s actions, most of my options have been removed. I asked him to seriously consider my position. He let me know he was also running out of options.”

Del Valle moved to join Dan and Governor Dewhirst as Mrs. Hansen replaced the coffee pot. and several participants refilled their cups.

“Morning, Captain. Understand you got took it in the shorts last night,” Del Valle said.

“Good morning, General,” Dan said, his face flushing. “I’m afraid I did. It was an action worthy of any shave-tail lieutenant.” Continuing his conversation with the governor, Dan said, “I’m sincerely sorry for my foolish action last night. I didn’t know what Senator Turner wanted when he invited me down to Modesto, but I felt I should go and keep the peace.”

General Del Valle snorted. “Turner’s as likely to bristle as he is to purr, Captain. Never can tell where the man will come down.”

“Well, he came down on me like a ton of bricks, and before I knew it, I was standing in front of several thousand people, having been presented as the James Madison of California.”

“Captain,” Del Valle started, “I want you to call Colonel Harman and alert him to the current-”

“Bob,” the governor intervened, “I’m going to pull rank on you this time. Effective immediately, Dan’s guard assignment will be as a member of the governor’s personal staff. I’m sorry, Bob, but his legislative role will take precedence now, and as a member of the governor’s office he’ll be clear of any of the confrontations you’ve indicated we can expect. I don’t want any more public confusion about his role than is absolutely necessary. The press would eat it up if he were assigned to write the constitution and also required to stand on the front steps with a rifle and defend the Capitol.”

“I understand, Governor. Captain, it’s been a pleasure to serve with you,” Del Valle said, grinning. “But if you think I was hard-nosed, gird your loins, son, because your new boss can make me look like Little Bo-Peep.”

Governor Dewhirst moved behind his desk, and the small group gathered around him.

“Gentlemen, our press conference will announce the implementation of the California Joint Constitutional Committee, staffed by members of both houses and chaired by Senator Pringle. The press will inundate you with questions. Most of you have been down that road before. But as a result of Senator Turner’s announcement last night, Assemblyman Daniel Rawlings will be the focus of their efforts. Instead of having him hide behind the chairman, I believe we should let him respond directly. Dan, are you ready for that?”

Dan stood quietly for a moment, thinking of all that had happened over the past twelve hours. Was it only that long since he stood on the stage in Modesto and rushed from there to Jack’s bedside? While he should be helping his mother arrange Jack’s funeral, he was here, preparing for a game show with reporters. And what of his stand against the secession? Most of the men in this room were cornered into supporting it, or at least preparing for something none of them wanted. And he was supposed to verbally present such support to a group of hungry reporters.

“How do you want me to play it, Governor?”

“We’re on the train now. Most of us here didn’t want it to happen, but it has taken on a momentum of its own. Our job now is to guide the train, and your role with the constitution will set those parameters. Just respond naturally. We needn’t throw out the state laws we have now or the national Constitution, either. Some of the greatest minds in history developed those documents. Let them know that we intend to preserve the intent of the Founding Fathers and that this is not a ‘Brave New World’ venture.”

“I understand.”

“Now, General Del Valle,” the governor said, “what can we expect?”

For fifty minutes, Bob Del Valle detailed the anticipated federal movement and the Guard’s response.

By three in the afternoon, long after the governor’s press conference had been replayed dozens of times on Fox News and CNN, orders had been received, directing the activation of the California National Guard into a federal status. But they were four hours late. As of 11:00 a.m. Thursday morning, Governor Walter Dewhirst had issued orders decommissioning the National Guard and merging it with the smaller State Military Reserve, an inactive unit comprised mostly of former military veterans and many business leaders.

Activated by the governor under the authority of Section 143 of the California Military and Veterans Code, the unit became the primary military force within the formative nation. By extension of Section 143, and following the 1994 legislative decision to place security aspects of the Capitol under the control of the California Highway Patrol, the governor issued a declaration of emergency. As a result, all five thousand officers of the Highway Patrol were brought under the overall command of the State Military Reserve, reporting directly to Major General Robert Del Valle. Over two thousand Highway Patrol officers were ordered to Sacramento to supplement the newly designated unit.

In anticipation of federal intervention, General Del Valle had prepared and was ready to implement the political, if not the strategic, defense of the California State Capitol Building and the executive and legislative officers sitting therein. Receiving its designation nearly two weeks earlier than planned, Operation Bear Claw was implemented.

Chapter 29

Capital Mall

Sacramento, California

August, 2012

In June, in St. Louis, the Democratic National Convention had been held, and Colorado Governor Jonathan Timmerman had been selected as the presidential nominee with Senator Alice Caulfield, Iowa, as vice president. Both professed opposition to the secession.

In early August, in Salt Lake City, the Republican National Convention had been held, with Clay Cumberland selected as the presidential nominee and William Snow, the former governor of Arizona, becoming the compromise candidate for vice president.

And in late August, the 2012 summer Olympics ended in London with America once again taking the lion’s share of medals.

But on this crisp, already warm, August morning in Sacramento, California, none of that mattered to the young attorney, who, at 5:30 a.m., turned off the freeway on his way to work. Approaching the Wells Fargo Bank building and his newly established law office, he was confronted by barricades, a phalanx of military vehicles, and hundreds of men wearing camouflaged uniforms-all of whom were massed at the intersection of 4th and Capitol. Unable to cross toward his normal parking entrance, he looked west and saw several low-boy trucks loaded with large military tanks just exiting the Tower Bridge, which spans the Sacramento River at that point.

To the left, toward the Capitol Building several blocks east, the mass of troops lining the street precluded his exit via that route. Unwilling to confront this sea of officialdom, he made a U-turn and retreated the wrong way down a one-way street, intent on finding a route to his office to prepare for his first significant trial, set to begin at eight-thirty that morning. He thought as he departed the area that he hadn’t even taken the time to notice if they were federal troops. This secession mania is getting out of hand, and someone should put a stop to it, he thought. It’s beginning to interfere with peoples’ lives.

From a better vantage point in the State Capitol Building, Major General Robert Del Valle watched the buildup of federal troops, anticipated since the previous evening when his sources at Travis AFB, forty miles west of Sacramento, advised of the arrival of a battalion of 82nd airborne troops from Fort Bragg, supplemented by troops from Fort Irwin.

Through a small, second-story office window, Governor Dewhirst stood with his operational team aligned in their newly assigned roles. General Del Valle, commander of the newly constituted State Military Reserve (SMR); Colonel Harman, the newly appointed SMR executive officer; and Bruce Henry, commander of the recently alerted Highway Patrol, now an adjunct unit to the SMR.

Together, they had watched the first contingent of federal troops arrive at about three-thirty, and the buildup continue through the predawn hours. State Military Reserve troops and Highway Patrol officers were not visible, but Del Valle was not unprepared. Over three thousand duly sworn and newly designated SMR personnel were available for immediate deployment. Twelve hundred SMR forces and eight hundred Highway Patrol officers were assembled in this one location, deployed in defense of the California Capitol. In addition, one hundred or so legislators and staff were inside the Capitol building, with the SMR and patrol units ready to assume exterior cordon responsibilities at Del Valle’s command. Essentially, General Del Valle had the personnel for a light division, but they barely had the necessary armor or artillery to equip a full brigade. It was only for show, in any case, he counseled the governor.

“Well, shall we greet our guests?”

“I guess it’s show time, Bob?”

“I believe it is, Governor.”

The governor spoke briefly. “Gentlemen, we have one primary objective today, which supersedes all other objectives. We must, at all costs, prevent this from getting out of hand, and we must avoid the loss of even one life. Is that understood?”

General Del Valle and his two subordinate commanders nodded, each lost in his own thoughts about the actions they were taking. Colonel Jack Harman, following that fateful day in the governor’s office, had made his choice and had submitted a resignation of his regular Army commission. Governor Dewhirst immediately commissioned him a full colonel in the State Military Reserve with assignment as executive officer of that unit, subordinate directly to General Del Valle.

“Jack, let’s get transport behind the building on the east side and go greet our guests. Commander Henry,” Del Valle said to the commander of the Highway Patrol, “I think you should accompany us.”

“Yes, sir.”

The three men descended a floor and walked the length of the building to the east exit, where a Humvee waited in the darkness. The corridors were filled with SMR troops and patrol officers, standing or sitting along the walls, waiting for the events of the day to unfold.

When forming the new State Military Reserve, Governor Dewhirst had offered all commissioned and enlisted personnel the option to terminate their National Guard responsibilities if they felt unable to take up arms against federal forces. To Governor Dewhirst and Del Valle’s surprise, less than ten percent of the newly designated State Military Reserve had opted to stand down from their assignment, and less than three percent of the Highway Patrol had failed to report when reassigned to Sacramento. Large segments of the Highway Patrol and company-sized SMR units called to active duty had been assigned to other population centers in anticipation of civil disturbances as events unfolded.

Flying the California bear flag and a two-star flag, the Humvee traversed the Capitol grounds, skirting the north side of the building toward Capital Mall on the west end. As they entered Capitol Avenue, they immediately came face to face with several barricades manned by military police personnel who waved them to a stop. A young lieutenant in BDUs, boots bloused, jump wings conspicuous on his breast pocket, and outfitted with full battle gear, stepped forward to challenge their approach, snapping a crisp salute.

“Good morning, sir,” he said crisply. “This is a restricted area. May I inquire as to the general’s business?”

“That you may, Lieutenant,” Del Valle replied in a slow, controlled drawl. “My compliments to your commanding officer. Please advise him that Major General Robert Del Valle, commander of the California State Military Reserve, requests a moment of his time.”

The lieutenant stood straight and offered another crisp salute. “Yes, sir.”

They sat in the Humvee for the next three minutes while Governor Dewhirst watched from their earlier command post, now joined by several of his aides, including newly reassigned Captain Daniel Rawlings. At the governor’s direction, Dan was not in uniform.

“The press can’t be far behind,” the governor remarked.

“They’re here, Governor, just cordoned off by the troops,” an aide replied.

“There’s another Humvee,” Dan said as a second vehicle came through the barricades and into the floodlights.

Del Valle stepped out of his vehicle when the approaching vehicle came to a stop. The officer who stepped out approached Del Valle, and in the glare of the Humvee’s headlights, Del Valle could see he wore two darkened stars on his combat uniform and a Kevlar battle helmet.

Del Valle stood to attention and rendered a salute to the approaching officer.

“Good morning, General. My name is Robert Del Valle. I currently serve as commanding officer of the California State Military Reserve. Governor Walter Dewhirst has requested that we ascertain the nature of your business.”

The officer returned Del Valle’s salute and came to a stop two feet short of Del Valle, but close enough so they could see each other’s face in the early morning light.

“Major General David Chidester, commanding officer of the 82nd Airborne Division.”

Even though Del Valle had been advised the evening before of the specific unit assigned to support the federal marshals, he affected a mild surprise, seeking in his reaction to elicit from Chidester some explanation of the Pentagon’s thinking.

Chidester understood and responded. “General Del Valle, the JCS felt that troops from outside California might be less offensive, given current conditions. And it’s a good redeployment exercise for us,” he added.

“I see. I’m sure we both hope that’s all it will be, General,” Del Valle said.

“General Del Valle,” Chidester continued, “I have been instructed to inform you that at eight o’clock this morning, six federal marshals from the justice department will present the governor and the Speaker of the House with documentation from the federal government. To wit: that inasmuch as the State of California is currently in a state of rebellion, all executive, legislative, appointed, and military officials have been, until further notice, relieved of their responsibilities, and that a state of military emergency exists. Authority and responsibility for control of civil affairs has been transferred to the United States Attorney’s office, with support from federal military forces. All police and uniformed law enforcement officers at the county and local level are to remain in place. General Del Valle, is it the governor’s intention to comply with these orders?”

Del Valle reached into the pocket of his field jacket and pulled out a cigar case. Removing one, he offered one to Chidester, who declined. Biting the end off of the cigar and spitting the tip on the ground, Del Valle glanced at his watch, lit his cigar, and looked up at Chidester.

“Sir, I make it 0612.”

Chidester lifted the Velcro cover over the top of his field watch. “Agreed.”

“Perhaps, General,” Del Valle continued, cigar clenched between his teeth, “we ought to get a bite to eat. It just might turn out to be a long day.”

Chidester’s eyes widened slightly, and a small grin crossed his face. “Is it your intention then, sir, to dispute these orders?”

Del Valle removed his cigar and looked squarely into Chidester’s eyes. “General, Governor Dewhirst didn’t want it to come to this. I can assure you I didn’t want it, and as far down my chain of command as I can fathom, they didn’t want it either. Yet, here we are. Now I’m quite certain the governor will be in touch with the president to protest your. . intrusion. How this will play out over the next several weeks and months, we don’t know. But I intend to deal with today, and in that regard I have but one objective: I want your young men and my young men to go home this evening, safe and sound, to their wives and children. I’m sure you share my sentiments, General. But each of us has a duty and an obligation today. And hopefully, with restraint, we will carry out those duties and let the politicians behind the scenes wrestle with the political decisions.”

“Agreed,” Chidester nodded. “I’ll instruct my comm officer to keep an open channel with your counterpart for our communication needs. If there’s nothing else, then, good day to you, sir.” He turned to leave.

“General, a moment please. May I inquire as to your weapons status?” Del Valle asked.

Chidester turned back and hesitated momentarily, obviously assessing the need to advise a potential enemy regarding his weapons status. “The 82nd will assume positions locked and loaded, General Del Valle,” Chidester replied.

“Thank you, sir. My father went into Normandy with the 82nd. Despite the difficult situation, it’s an honor to meet them and their commander.”

“Yes, I know,” Chidester replied, smiling gently and confusing Del Valle somewhat. “Major Del Valle dropped twenty miles behind the beaches at Normandy with the second wave just after midnight on D-Day. A lot of good men now lie beside him in France. His name adorns the roll of honor at Fort Bragg, along with his citations.”

Del Valle’s eyebrows went up, but he remained silent.

“The JCS sent me your package, General Del Valle. Class of ‘74, battalion commander at thirty-three. I was ’79 myself, the first in the family,” Chidester continued, looking over General Del Valle’s shoulder as the first rays of morning began to break over the Capitol. “I’ll have one of those cigars now, if I may, General.”

“Certainly, sir,” Del Valle said, offering the case to Chidester.

“I pray God,” Chidester said, biting his cigar and leaning forward to accept Del Valle’s light, “that our respective leaders can find an amicable solution to this pending catastrophe, so that you and I can discuss old times over another cigar and a good glass of brandy at the ‘O’ Club.”

Both generals eyed one another for a few moments. Del Valle took one pace backward and saluted, which Chidester returned-two soldiers, once again responding to political directives, however distasteful.

“Jack,” Del Valle said to Colonel Harman as he climbed back into his vehicle and watched the 82nd commander drive up Capitol Mall, “it’s time to deploy. Locked and loaded, Colonel. Once more, warn your company commanders. No individual incidents at all costs. The ratchet’s just been cranked up a notch.”

“Right, General.”

Three news helicopters flew overhead, unmolested by the Army Cobra attack helicopters also hovering over the area. Sound trucks from the three major networks, Fox News, and CNN adorned the grounds around the Sacramento Capitol Building, cables looping throughout the various vehicles-although finding space among the hundreds of troops positioned within the forested area of the grounds had been difficult.

Both commanding officers had agreed to allow the press close access, in the hopes that a highly visible public presence would serve to deter unwanted confrontation. The sight of nearly three thousand troops facing off on American soil did not, however, dispel the televised sense of impending conflict. Across America and throughout California, people watched the standoff from their living rooms, as for years they had watched evening clips of various military confrontations played out around the world. Most found it hard to believe that it was happening in America.

John Henry Franklin sat high above the fray in his palatial San Francisco office suite, watching the developing drama on live, big-screen TV. The altercation developing before him was a means to an end, and only the evening before, he had been briefed by Jean Wolff. If Wolff’s plan came off-and Franklin had no reason to doubt that it would, given the success of the past several months-today would drive the nail into the coffin, further limiting the options of those few politicians who had the power to bring this to an end. Franklin had heard the governor’s press conference the previous day and his analogy of driving the train. Dewhirst was lucky even to be on the train, Franklin thought, much less driving it. Let him think he’s the engineer, if it pleases him, Franklin thought. It’s the master of the switchyard who determines where the train ends up.

Jean Wolff watched the show from a much closer perspective, having positioned himself on the corner of “L” Street and 8th Avenue so as to have a clear view of the Capitol steps. The six operatives in his action squad were closer still. He had determined that the best method of infiltration was the ability to blend in with the locals. The recent incorporation of the Guard and SMR units, plus the gathering of Highway Patrol officers from all parts of the state, had provided the optimum environment for such an infiltration. Few component members knew each other. Acquisition of appropriate uniforms had been the simple part, at least so far, Wolff thought. There actually had been no hard part at all. Four of his team members were dressed in SMR uniforms and two were in Highway Patrol gear.

General Del Valle had deployed his troops on a broad perimeter, covering the grassy area and preventing the 82nd from occupying Capitol grounds, thereby restricting them to surrounding streets and keeping them fully two hundred yards from any entrance to the building. None of the officers present felt that combat action would ensue, but the dance had been choreographed, and the participants ringed the ballroom floor, separated by their respective sides, much as boys and girls do at dances during their formative junior-high-school years, each too tentative to approach the other.

At three minutes to eight, the ballet began in earnest as two civilian vehicles were allowed through the 82nd Airborne barricades and approached the steps of the west end of the Capitol. Dewhirst had chosen to make his presence available outside on the steps, in full view of the press, rather than waiting for a formal deputation in his office. His brief chat with President Eastman only moments earlier had failed to convince the president to reconsider his intended course of action.

Escorted by six federal marshals, several FBI agents, and four armed 82nd airborne military police officers, Janice Shipley, U.S. attorney for the northern district of California, approached the steps. Governor Dewhirst, Lieutenant Governor Henricks, Speaker James Huntington, and General Del Valle stood partway down the steps leading into the west entrance to the Capitol.

Daniel Rawlings, along with several of the governor’s aides, stood on the top steps near the doors into the building. To Dan, the scene was reminiscent of news film he had seen of Governor George Wallace of Alabama resisting the integration of state schools in the fifties and early sixties.

“Good morning, Ms. Shipley,” Governor Dewhirst said.

“And a good morning to you, Governor Dewhirst. I am here at the direction of the president of the United States to present to you an order to suspend all further rebellion and to cooperate with federal authorities in the performance of their duties.”

Dewhirst remained silent.

“Governor?” Shipley pressed.

“Go on, Ms. Shipley.”

“Is it your intention, sir, to comply with these lawfully presented orders?”

Vocalizing the thoughts that had kept him awake the entire night, Walter Dewhirst assumed the role that destiny had placed in his path.

“Ms. Shipley, the state of California is currently in the process of reorganization. There is no historical precedent for the position in which we find ourselves-notwithstanding the actions of the Confederacy. Therefore, until such time as further declaration is rendered by this government, I must claim sovereignty of the soil on which we now stand. It is the intention of this government to respect the will of its citizens as expressed in the recent public election process. Therefore, it is my duty as chief executive of this government to refuse your order and to inform you that we intend, as soon as is practicable, to establish the Republic of California, with three independent states-North California, Central California, and South California. Once a majority of those three independent states has ratified the proposed constitution of this republic, we intend to establish diplomatic relations with the United States of America, with whom we sincerely hope to remain in solidarity. I call upon the international community to immediately recognize the validity of this newly established nation and to establish diplomatic relations with us forthwith.”

Unprepared for such a broad declaration, Ms. Shipley was momentarily taken aback and mumbled something unintelligible, which neither Governor Dewhirst nor the television microphones could pick up.

“Excuse me, Ms. Shipley?”

“I’m sorry, Governor, I. . I believe I would like the marshals to present you with the president’s instructions and to give you some time to confer, as I obviously need to do,” she added, “and then perhaps we can determine our respective positions.”

The lead marshal came forward and presented Governor Dewhirst with a large, manila envelope, stepping back as Ms. Shipley turned to leave.

The two-hundred-thirty-year-old controversy regarding who fired the first revolutionary “shots heard round the world” at Concord and Lexington has never been fully determined to both sides’ satisfaction. Both British and American participants have blamed the other. The Battle of Capital Mall provided the same confusion. Precisely where the first shot came from was later debated ad nauseum, with both sides claiming the other had fired first.

Both sides were wrong.

The first bullet struck the mass of microphones that had been placed on a riser in front of where the governor stood. General Del Valle immediately recognized the sound and grabbed Governor Dewhirst from behind, shoving him toward the rear. The second shot, seemingly from a similar quarter, struck Del Valle in the back of the neck, instantly dropping him. Governor Dewhirst stumbled to his knees, an action that saved his life. The third shot passed over his head, striking a State Military Reserve corporal standing on the steps of the Capitol, killing him instantly.

Equally confusing were the return shots from a distant location. Their fusillade was fired into the massed 82nd airborne troops who were unlucky enough to have been assigned to the western sector of the blockade. Almost as a body, they dropped prone into the street, behind cars or trees, and assumed a position to return fire. Not having received an order to engage the enemy, their fire discipline held.

In the ensuing investigation, Colonel Harman, who had given specific orders not to fire unless directed, was able to determine that it was the ragged and undisciplined outburst from the SMR that caused the most damage on this fateful morning. Despite their restraint in returning fire, multiple casualties were inflicted upon the 82nd. SMR forces suffered one dead trooper, plus General Del Valle’s neck wound. The disparity of injuries gave the appearance that the battle was a lopsided firefight, with the SMR the clear victor. The only bright side to the disastrous event was that no civilian casualties occurred.

Confusion among reporters, civilian bystanders, and legislative staffers was rampant. The only group for whom confusion was not a problem was the six-man action squad from the Shasta Brigade, assembled by Jean Wolff and Commander Jackson Shaw. Escape was a simple matter of once again blending in with the troops they impersonated. Five of the brigade squad had fired in the initial volley, quickly merging with nearby troops and feigning confusion at the source of fire. The dozen or so SMR troops who, without orders, had returned fire, did so of their own volition. The lives lost within the 82nd Airborne, plus the injured, were a direct result of SMR ineptitude and lack of fire discipline. More directly, however, the Shasta Brigade had succeeded in escalating the tenuous situation into a brief, but violent firefight from which emerged no winner.

President William Eastman, Vice President Clarene Prescott, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Air Force General Hezekiah Johnson, sat in the Oval Office, stunned as the drama unfolded before their eyes on large-screen TV.

Eastman was livid. “General Johnson, this is exactly what I did not want to happen! Get those troops out of there now! And I mean now!”

“Mr. President-”

“I said now, General. Better yet, get the commander of that unit on the phone immediately. I’ll speak to him personally.”

“Yes, sir, but I recommend that-”

Eastman stood, his voice assuming a lower tone, but his face strained, and the veins in his neck distended. “General, if you can’t or won’t carry out my orders, I’ll find someone who will. Am I making myself clear?”

“Yes, sir.”

Within three minutes, Major General David Chidester was on the line.

“General, this is William Eastman, president of the United States. Do you recognize my voice, and are you willing to recognize my authority?”

“Yes, sir. I recognize your voice and am under your authority, Mr. President.”

“Good. I want you to approach the commander of the California troops, whatever they’re calling themselves, and personally advise him that you are immediately commencing withdrawal of your troops. Do you understand?”

“Yes, sir.”

“General,” Eastman said, his voice softening, “how many casualties do you have?”

“Mr. President, all reports are not in yet, but I am advised of six dead and eight wounded.” He paused and added, “But I only have reports from the 82nd, Mr. President.”

“I understand, General. Get those wounded troops immediate care.” Eastman paused. “General Chidester, I do understand. I know you’ll take care of your troops, and I don’t mean to interfere with that aspect of your duties, but I will not preside over the opening shots of the Second Civil War. Do I make myself clear?”

“Perfectly clear, Mr. President. I’ll act immediately.”

“Thank you. . and General,” Eastman again paused, “my sincere condolences on the loss of those in your command.”

“Thank you, Mr. President.”

Four hours later, the only remaining semblances of military activity were the deep gouges in the lawn of the Capitol, left by M1A1 Abrams main battle tanks, unused in the melee other than to protect certain members of the regular forces who had remained inside during the firefight and reporters who had taken cover behind their bulk.

General Chidester had personally explained the president’s orders to Colonel Harman, who had assumed command in General Del Valle’s absence. As quickly as it had been lost, order was restored.

General Robert Del Valle had undergone surgery and was expected to recover. General Chidester’s evening visit to Del Valle’s hospital room went unnoticed until days later, when hospital staff remembered to advise Del Valle of the courtesy shown by his counterpart, with whom he had earned the honor of commanding what the press had dubbed the Battle of Capital Mall.

Casualties among the 82nd Airborne included seven dead and eleven wounded, two requiring medical retirement. California’s casualties totaled one dead, Corporal Anthony Gambino, and one wounded-Major General Robert Del Valle.

The only positive event of the day was the eventual result-that of returning control of the situation to political leadership intent on diplomacy as opposed to the option of military action.

Having watched the developments throughout most of the morning, John Henry Franklin focused primarily on Governor Dewhirst’s statement to Ms. Shipley. He picked up his telephone, pressed a speed dial number, and waited.

Si,” a male voice answered.

“General Valdez. John Henry here. Have you been watching the events of the day?”

“Absolutely.”

“Good. Now it’s time for your visit to President Jalisco. I think he’ll need to appoint a new ambassador, don’t you think?”

“I do. An ambassador from the Republic of Mexico to the new Republic of California, I think.”

“It’s time for phase two, Emil.”

“Good, John Henry. Very good.”

Jack’s funeral was a small family affair. But the memorial earlier in the day had been anything but small. The moment Governor Dewhirst had learned of Jack’s death, and knowing that Daniel Rawlings would be involved in the gubernatorial strategy session prior to the press conference and unable to assist his mother, Dewhirst had assigned two of his staff to assist Mrs. Rawlings in the preparations. Even so, immediately following the press conference, the governor had told Dan to go home and attend to family business. Dan learned of the governor’s thoughtful action from his mother over the weekend.

Despite his grief, Dan could not shake his thoughts about the disastrous military confrontation on Friday, which perhaps was a blessing in disguise, since it allowed Dan to defer his mourning to a more private time. The funeral had been planned for Tuesday, but no one had fully anticipated the military turn of events that had taken place in Sacramento.

Notwithstanding the speed with which the opposing military forces had disengaged, the growing civil unrest and violence in major urban centers brought the governor to the necessity of declaring martial law. In Los Angeles, San Francisco, Fresno, and several other communities throughout the state, federal installations and buildings had become the target of siege by citizens who were inflamed by the Battle of Capital Mall. Emboldened by the erroneous information that the casualties in the 82nd Airborne Division came as a result of SMR strength-these feelings having been stimulated by a few well-placed militia instigators-public fervor had brought these communities to riot conditions. The race war flared again, and the basic criminal element surfaced to take advantage of chaos in the light of the inability of local law enforcement to maintain order. Curfew had been placed in effect from dusk to dawn.

Colonel Harman, acting in General Del Valle’s stead, directed the SMR and Highway Patrol to concentrate in troubled areas, trying his best to bring order out of chaos. But riots continued through the weekend, and it quickly became apparent that order intended to resist birth, and chaos had no intention of accepting Last Rites.

Tuesday morning at ten o’ clock, a public viewing of Jack Rumsey’s remains was held in the lobby of the Yolo County courthouse by request of the governor and with the approval of the Yolo County Board of Supervisors, where Jack had once served two terms before being elected to the state legislature.

Dan had once read that the older one was when death came, the fewer associates remained alive to attend the funeral. Jack Rumsey, however, had apparently made an impact on the next generation as well, as hundreds of Woodland residents came to offer their condolences. Matilda Westegaard stood with Dan and Mrs. Rawlings for a few moments, and Dan had occasion, once again, to see a tear in her eye. Notwithstanding the immediacy of state affairs, even Governor Dewhirst came to pay his respects to Dan and his mother, appearing without protocol and saying nothing publicly. He stayed only for a few minutes before immediately returning the twenty-five miles to the Capital.

Perhaps the most surprising visitor at the viewing was Colonel Pug Connor. Dan had met Connor only twice, and the discovery that Nicole was somehow involved in his work was, to Dan’s mind, one of several continuing revelations about this remarkable woman who had come to play such a large role in his life. In departing the courthouse, Connor asked if it would be possible to meet with Dan the following day, privately, in Dan’s Davis apartment. With advance warning from Nicole, Dan had given thought to the practicality of such a meeting, dreading a repeat of how Senator Turner had taken advantage of his naivete. But with Nicole’s assurance that Connor could be trusted, Dan agreed.

By one o’clock, the small entourage had driven the twelve miles to the tiny country cemetery in Esparto, west of Woodland at the head of Rumsey Valley. By request of Mrs. Rawlings, only immediate family members were present, including Dan’s sister and their father, both of whom, after a phone call from Dan, had flown back to the States from New Zealand. A few of Jack’s Shriner colleagues attended as well, along with the officiator who performed a portion of the ceremony. Standing at the graveside, breathing in the pungent aroma of almond orchards, dusty fields, and fragrant blossoms-Rumsey Valley ambiance-Dan experienced a flood of memories.

As he listened to the local minister recount Jack’s life and his contributions to the valley, he envisioned those early days when the Rumsey family, along with dozens of other families, had fought to tame the land-first to provide a living for their families, and then to develop a thriving enterprise.

Nicole stood close to Dan, her arm linked with his as they watched Jack’s flag-covered casket lower into the ground beside his beloved Ellen. The small military honor guard from the Woodland Veterans of Foreign Wars detachment folded and presented the flag to Dan’s mother as Jack’s next of kin. Moments earlier, the honor guard had shattered the peace of the valley by firing three volleys from their seven rifles, in honor of Jack’s naval service to his country during World War II. Protectively aware of his mother standing next to him, Dan breathed deeply and raised his face slowly, scanning the foothills encasing the valley-hills he had roamed as a boy, hills where Jack had taught him to identify the flora and fauna of the valley and tutored him in so many other ways.

His eyes rising higher to the light cloud cover that Jack had always watched in earnest, searching for rain, Dan struggled to retain his composure as this phase of his life concluded. So much of his life was changing in such a short time. Echoes of the violent events of the previous day were reverberating in every city and town in California. Repercussions would haunt them all for weeks and months to come. But for the moment, Dan, along with his mother and father, his sister Kate and her husband, and Nicole, stood silently as the patriarch of the Rumsey family was laid to rest. Tomorrow would be soon enough to re-enter the conflict-to continue the fight that Jack had so adamantly insisted Dan pursue. Dan gave silent thanks that Jack had been spared the necessity of watching his country move toward dissolution after his eighty-four years of working and fighting to establish Rumsey Valley-Jack’s small contribution to the whole.

Leaving his mother’s side for a moment, Dan stepped toward the grave and tossed a small assortment of flowers onto the casket, now in its final resting place beside Ellen.

“I love you, Jack,” Dan whispered. “God rest your soul.”

Chapter 30

Davis, California

Dan woke to the insistent ringing of the telephone on his night table, startled by its intensity and surprised that he had actually slept, soundly it seemed, for at least the past few hours. In spite of the turmoil and lack of sleep over the past few days, he had been unable to drop off the previous night, and the last recollection he had was of the numbers on his digital clock reading 2:33. They now read 6:45.

“Hello,” he answered groggily.

“Dan? It’s Jean Waters. Sorry to wake you so early, but I knew you’d be busy and probably would leave quickly. Got a moment?”

“Sure, Jean. How’ve you been?”

“Probably better than you, Dan. Please accept my sympathy on the loss of your grandfather. When I called your office yesterday, they advised me of the family tragedy.”

“Thank you, Jean,” Dan said, sitting up in bed and sliding his legs over the side.

“Dan, I wanted to let you know that Voices in My Blood is going into a fourth printing. Over 400,000 copies on the shelves, and more importantly, most of those are already in homes. I’m really sorry to have to approach you with business at such a time, but we’ve received a firm offer from MiraMax for film rights. Five million, Dan-fifty percent of which will be yours.”

Dan paused. “Jean, if you think it’s a good offer and the best we’ll get, I’ll trust your judgment. I’ve got to leave that to you for awhile. I’m sorry if I’m not as engaged as I should be, but-”

“Not to worry, Dan. I understand. If that’s agreeable to you, I’ll accept and FedEx you the contract.”

“That’ll be fine. Send it to my legislative office. I’ll be spending most of my time there for the next several weeks.”

“Okay. My regards to your family. I’ll get this off today.”

“Thanks, Jean. Have a good day.”

Dan sat on the edge of the bed for a moment after replacing the receiver and contemplated the success of his novel. From his original $400,000 advance against future sales, he had already earned nearly $750,000, far exceeding expectations, and now $2.5 million for the film! Added to the additional $800,000 advance on his next two-book contract, he’d made over $3.5 million in the past six months on his first literary effort. It all seemed unreal to him, and he shook his head as he rose and headed for the shower.

Jack was gone, and America was slipping further away. Life’s highs and lows never seemed to coincide, but at least they offset one another, and perhaps that was for the best.

After showering and shaving, Dan broke a couple of eggs in boiling water to poach and popped two slices of bread in the toaster. He poured himself a glass of orange juice while waiting for his eggs. A light knock on the door, one which he’d grown to love along with the voice that accompanied it, broke his concentration as he stood leaning against the sink, staring out the kitchen window. The door opened, and Nicole stepped into the room, dressed casually.

“Enough for two?” she asked, smoothing his hair in place.

“Always,” he replied. “Get any sleep?”

“Probably more than you. You’ve got enough bags under your eyes to take a trip to Europe,” she said, kissing his cheek.

He rubbed his eyes with the heels of his hands and then stretched his arms over his head, loosening his back muscles. “My eyes feel like the airlines sent those bags to Dubai while I was headed for Tokyo, but I’ll recover. When’s Connor coming?”

“Should be here any time. He called me on my cell while I was driving here and said he’d be about fifteen minutes. I’ve not mentioned it, but Pug also has family in New Zealand. You have more in common than it appears. He’s not out to trap you, Dan.”

“What’s he want, Nicole?”

“I need to let him make that pitch. Actually, I’m not certain of the extent of his intentions. He’ll tell you what’s on his mind, although he’s pretty careful about distribution on a ‘need-to-know’ basis.”

“Intelligence training, I suppose. Maybe he’s run into a few ‘Turners’ over the years.”