- Publisher: Grand Central
- Release Date: 9/24/2013
- ISBN-13: 9781455501519
- Available Formats: Audio, e-Book, Print
Dawson Scott is a well-respected journalist recently returned from Afghanistan. Haunted by everything he experienced, he’s privately suffering from battle fatigue which is a threat to every aspect of his life. But then he gets a call from a source within the FBI. A new development has come to light in a story that began 40 years ago. It could be the BIG story of Dawson’s career one in which he has a vested interest.
Soon, Dawson is covering the disappearance and presumed murder of former Marine Jeremy Wesson, the biological son of the pair of terrorists who remain on the FBI’s Most Wanted list. As Dawson delves into the story, he finds himself developing feelings for Wesson’s ex-wife, Amelia, and her two young sons. But when Amelia’s nanny turns up dead, the case takes a stunning new turn, with Dawson himself becoming a suspect. Haunted by his own demons, Dawson takes up the chase for the notorious outlaws. . .and the secret, startling truth about himself.
Golden Branch, Oregon—1976
The first hail of bullets was fired from the house shortly after daybreak at six fifty-seven.
The gunfire erupted in response to the surrender demand issued by a team of law enforcement agents.
It was a gloomy morning. The sky was heavily overcast and there was dense fog. Despite the limited visibility, one of the fugitives inside the house got off a lucky shot that took out a deputy US marshal whom everybody called Turk.
Gary Headly had met the marshal only the day before, shortly after the law enforcement team comprising ATF and FBI agents, sheriff’s deputies, and US marshals met for the first time to discuss the operation. They’d been congregated around a map of the area known as Golden Branch, reviewing obstacles they might encounter. Headly remembered another marshal saying, “Hey, Turk, grab me a Coke while you’re over there, will ya?”
Headly didn’t learn Turk’s actual name until later, much later, when they were mopping up. The bullet struck half an inch above his Kevlar vest, tearing out most of his throat. He dropped without uttering a sound, dead before landing in the pile of wet leaves at his feet. There was nothing Headly could do for him except offer up a brief prayer and remain behind cover. To move was to invite death or injury, because once the gunfire started, the open windows of the house spat bullets relentlessly.
The Rangers of Righteousness had an inexhaustible arsenal. Or so it seemed that wet and dreary morning. The second casualty was a red-headed, twenty-four-year-old deputy sheriff. A puff of his breath in the cold air gave away his position. Six shots were fired. Five found the target. Any one of three would have killed him.
The team had planned to take the group by surprise, serve their arrest warrants for a long list of felonies, and take them into custody, engaging in a firefight only if necessary. But the vehemence with which they were fired upon indicated that the criminals had taken a fight-to-the-death stance.
After all, they had nothing to lose except their lives. Capture meant imprisonment for life or the death penalty for each of the seven members of the domestic-terrorist group. Collectively the six men and one woman had chalked up twelve murders and millions of dollars’ worth of destruction, most of it inflicted on federal government buildings or military installations. Despite the religious overtone of their name, they weren’t faith-based fanatics but rather wholly without conscience or constraint. Over the relatively short period of two years, they had made themselves notorious, a scourge to law enforcement agencies at every level.
Other such groups imitated the Rangers, but none had achieved their level of effectiveness. In the criminal community, they were revered for their audacity and unmatched violence. To many who harbored antigovernment sentiments, they had become folk heroes. They were sheltered and provided with weapons and ammunition, as well as with leaked, classified information. This underground support allowed them to strike hard and fast and then to disappear and remain well hidden while they planned their next assault. In communiqués sent to newspapers and television networks, they’d vowed never to be taken alive.
It had been a stroke of sheer luck that had brought the law down on them in Golden Branch.
One of their arms suppliers, who was well known to the authorities for his criminal history, had been placed under surveillance for suspicion of an arms deal unrelated to the Rangers of Righteousness. He had made three trips to the abandoned house in Golden Branch over the course of that many weeks. A telephoto lens had caught him talking to a man later identified as Carl Wingert, leader of the Rangers.
When this was reported to the FBI, ATF, and US Marshals Service, the agencies immediately sent personnel, who continued to monitor the illegal weapons dealer. Upon his return from a visit to Golden Branch, he was arrested.
It took three days of persuasion, but under advice of counsel he made a deal with the authorities and gave up what he knew about the people holed up inside the abandoned house. He’d only met with Carl Wingert. He couldn’t—or wouldn’t—say who else was sequestered with Wingert or how long they planned to harbor there.
Fearing that if they didn’t move swiftly, they’d miss their opportunity to capture one of the FBI’s Most Wanted, the federal agents enlisted help from the local authorities, who also had outstanding warrants for members of the group. The team was assembled and the operation planned.
But it became immediately obvious to each member of the team that Wingert’s band had meant what they’d said about choosing death over capture. The Rangers of Righteousness wanted to secure their place in history. There would be no laying down of arms, no hands raised in peaceful surrender.
The lawmen were pinned down behind trees or vehicles, and all were vulnerable. Even a flicker of motion drew gunfire, and members of the Rangers had proven themselves to be excellent shots.
The resident agent in charge, Emerson, radioed the operations post, requesting that a helicopter be sent to provide them air cover, but that idea was nixed because of the inclement weather.
Special Ops teams from local, state, and federal agencies were mobilized, but they would be driving to Golden Branch, and the roads weren’t ideal even in good weather. The team were told to stand by and to fire only in self-defense, while men in safe, warm offices debated changing the rules of engagement to include using deadly force.
“They’re playing pattycake because one of them is a woman,” Emerson groused to Headly. “And God forbid we violate these killers’ civil rights. Nobody admires or respects us, you know.”
Headly, the rookie of the team, wisely held his own counsel.
“We’re feds, and even before Watergate,government had become a dirty word. The whole damn country is going to hell in a handbasket, and we’re out here freezing our balls off, waiting for some bureaucrat to tell us it’s okay to blast these murdering thugs to hell and back.”
Emerson had a military background and a decidedly hawkish viewpoint, but nobody, especially not he, wanted a bloodbath that morning.
Nobody got what they wanted.
While the reinforcements were still en route, the Rangers amped up their firepower. An ATF agent took a bullet in the thigh, and, from the way it was bleeding, it was feared his femoral artery had suffered damage, the extent of which was unknown, but on any scale it was a life-threatening wound.
Emerson reported this with a spate of obscenities about their being picked off one by effing one unless…
He was given the authorization to engage. With their assault rifles and one submachine gun—in the hands of the wounded ATF agent—they went on the offensive. The barrage lasted for seven minutes.
Return fire from the house decreased, then became sporadic. Emerson ordered a cease-fire. They waited.
Suddenly, bleeding from several wounds including a head wound, a man charged through the front door, screaming invectives and spraying rounds from his own submachine gun. It was a suicidal move, and he knew it. His reason for doing it would soon become apparent.
When the agents ceased firing, and their ears stopped ringing, they realized that the house had fallen eerily silent except for a loose shutter that clapped against an exterior wall whenever the wind caught it.
After a tense sixty seconds, Emerson said, “I’m going in.” He levered himself up into a crouch as he replaced his spent clip magazine with a fresh one.
Headly did the same. “I’m with you.”
Other team members stayed in place. After checking to see that their guns were loaded with fresh magazines, Emerson crept from behind his cover and began running toward the house. Headly, with his heart tightly lodged in his throat, followed.
They ran past the body sprawled on the wet earth, took the steps up to the sagging porch, then stood on either side of the gaping doorway, weapons raised. They waited, listening. Hearing nothing, Emerson hitched his head and Headly barged in.
Bodies. Blood on every surface, the stench of it strong. Nothing was moving.
“Clear,” he shouted and stepped over a body on his way into an adjacent room, a bedroom with only a ratty mattress on the floor. In the center of it, the ticking was still wet with a nasty stain.
In less than sixty seconds from the time Headly had breached the door, they confirmed that five people were dead. Four bodies were found inside the house. The fifth was the man who’d died in the yard. They were visually identified as known members of the Rangers of Righteousness.
Conspicuously missing from the body count were Carl Wingert and his lover, Flora Stimel, the only woman of the group. There was no sign of the two of them except for a trail of blood leading away from the back of the house into the dense woods, where tire tracks were found in the undergrowth. They had managed to escape, probably because their mortally wounded confederate had sacrificed himself, taking fire at the front of the house while they sneaked out the back.
Emergency and official vehicles quickly converged on the area. With them came the inevitable news vans, which were halted a mile away at the turnoff from the main road. The house and the area immediately surrounding it were sealed off so evidence could be collected, photos and measurements taken, and diagrams drawn before the bodies were removed.
Those involved realized that a thorough investigation of the incident would follow. Every action they’d taken would have to be explained and justified, not only to their superiors but also to a cynical and judgmental public.
Soon the derelict house was filled with people, each doing a specialized job. Headly found himself back in the bedroom, standing beside the coroner, who was sniffing at the stain on the soiled mattress. To Headly, it appeared that someone had peed in addition to bleeding profusely. “Urine?”
The coroner shook his head. “I believe it’s amniotic fluid.”
Headly thought surely he’d misheard him. “Amniotic fluid? Are you saying that Floral Stimel—”
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