"It looks like the same one, we can't count the same one twice."
"This one is female, with young, ... one, two, ... ahhh, there's number three. Four to six months old. Aren't they cute?"
Don put down his notebook and looked through his field glasses at the last of the young animals strutting through the brush along the trail, not twenty feet from their blind. "Yeah, cute." He did a bit of quick figuring, then added on his fingers for accuracy. He reported their findings to Loznik, "That gives us fifteen skunks, twenty field mice, eight opossums, ten coons, a brown bear, and three elk... elks....elkesesses."
"Which? A pity?"
"Wapiti." The zoologist repeated. "The animal you referred to as an elk is a wapiti. We must be as exact as possible in naming the animals in our reports, hence the binomial nomenclature..." He thought only a second, "Cervus canadensis."
Don let the subject drop. He had never seen the sense in calling an animal that already had a perfectly good name that everybody knew by some long Latin name that nobody knew. But he was given a great honor, or so he was told, working with Dr. Loznik O'Heran. Loznik was a minor genius in the biological fields and a legend in the northwest for being a walking encyclopedia on everything with fur within several hundred miles of his home. All that and Don was getting paid for something he enjoyed doing, spending long days and nights outdoors.
They were out, like two other teams all up and down the valley, counting animals, to compare the current census with one done earlier by government people on the environmental impact of the Tongue River Project on the wildlife in the area. So far so good. The doomsayer environmentalist people had overestimated the shock to the local fauna, the dam promoters had underestimated it. The University study was going to stir up feathers on both sides, but they could live with it since animals seemed to be.
The map of Montana had twin huge blue blotches on its eastern half. Except one of the twins was many years older than the other. The Fort Peck Dam was built in the '40's, The Lewis and Clark Dam and Reservoir was completed in time for a 200th celebration of the explorer's trip west. The fact that the expedition never got near the present site of the dam seemed of no concern to the planners of the festivities.
At the dedication of the massive structure five years ago reenactments of various scenes from the trip were acted out. Native Americans sold everything from teepees and canoes to beads and trinkets. A small bracelet made by Mexican hands, with Japanese engraving on metal from Korea was sold by an Indian from Chicago and would set a white man from Kansas back nearly the same price of the whole island of Manhattan many moons ago, twenty-four dollars and change. The American way.
Now, however, the lake was full, the town of Garland re-established after a retreat to higher ground, and the 200 mile, 15 million acre lake was in use by water-people. The local tax base took a swing upwards, sportsmen found another excuse to travel to the state, and Miles City started to enjoy a new boom of business, not gold, uranium, or coal, this time, but fish bait, boats, tours, guides, hotels, bars, and fast food. Three new convenience stores added jobs, a trailer court sprang out of the prairie, future looked bright, even with a small but nagging surge in the crime rate, the town felt good about itself. After a decline in population of a couple hundred in twenty years, the City added three hundred in six months, nearly thousand seasonal residents, and several more hundred outside the city limits. There was talk of redistricting a couple of state representatives.
The Friends of All the Earth, or FAE as it read on the door of the one room office of the main mover and shaker of the group, one Robert Mason. The membership list numbered fifty-seven. Three of which were no longer with the living, five were in prison, nine no longer wished to have anything to do with the organization, six were listed as 'occupant', and a dozen more had never paid one cent of dues. The remaining twenty-two were zealots, fanatics, trouble-makers, and other good people who felt the Native Americans needed their help to be liberated from the oppressors, trees needed their help to stay standing, and two even considered cockroaches their soul mates. The membership list contained no pedigreed Native Americans, no trees, not even a cockroach.
The group was radical no doubt. According to the F.B.I out of Helena, the group was potentially dangerous, if half-baked, and under routine surveillance.
On a trip to Miles City, Robert Mason got an idea, his first major idea that he could call all his own in some time. He nearly caused a serious accident on Interstate 94 when the idea hit him.
He had been pondering some major action the FAE people could take to get some press, more members, and maybe by odd chance, advance the case of the Native American or the Bison, his personal cause for the year. Now he had the idea of his life. He had another near-miss on the Interstate as he swerved wildly, through the median then into the Westbound lane to head back to the member's house he had just left, after bumming two meals, twenty bucks, and a jacket.
It took him three months to whip his people, sixteen strong, only nine of which were full-fledged members, into a crack unit for the job. Most didn't have any idea of what they were preparing to do, Mason had a great feeling for security, if nothing else. They acquired weapons, some explosives, vehicles, supplies, climbing equipment, walkie-talkies, and even a bullhorn freshly stolen from a local fire station. Mason and his lieutenant, Frank, felt they were ready. A screen was set up in the rented warehouse they had been training in, and slides began to be flashed on the screen.
Mason began going through the plan in his oily-smooth voice, persuading the people that what he planned had never been tried, could work, and was sure to bring the national, and even international press to them.
The next two days were nerve wracking for Mason as he tried to appear to everyone that everything was normal, it was normal to drive around with almost a ton of stolen dynamite in the back of a panel truck. He was sweating heavily as he drove east from Butte to Miles City, over 300 miles away.
Suddenly a red light appeared behind his truck. He had just stopped in Forsyth to pick up a man known only as 'Red' and his woman 'Lady' and a collection of guns that rivaled some armies in Third World countries. They were talking about the operation as if it was already a guaranteed success. Mason had relaxed a bit, and his speed slowly crept up. The siren broke his reverie.
Lady shouted something. Red frowned. The truck pulled over, they had to be cool.
"I'll stall him, think of something." Mason said and reached for the bill of sale for the truck and tried to remember his lie about why the license plate was expired.
Red got out of the truck.
Mason noticed in the mirror the cop typing on his computer terminal, running the plates. That was OK, the current tag was meaningless as far as his name went, but the problem was he would want to see inside the van. That would blow their whole plan.
The cop never knew what hit him. Red snuck around the van, aimed the shotgun out of the sun, and sent a deer slug through the windshield as the sheriff's deputy was still typing. The projectile went through the glass, then through his body armor then his chest and the seat, to stop in the floorboard under the back seat.
Red piled into the truck. Mason felt vomit rising in his throat. Lady said, "Hey, that was better'n L.A."
"Yip." Red nodded. "Drive." He said to Mason.
Mason roared the last thirty-some miles to the dam. They were committed now. That van would be the hottest thing in five states, and half of Canada within the hour.
In twenty-five minutes they were on the public causeway approaching the dam with five cars of co-conspirators behind them. None of the others knew what had happened on I-94.
As planned two cars stayed on the west end of the dam, to block access from that way, two more went to the east end for the same purpose. The van stayed in the middle, the FAE soldiers piled out. The station wagon with the HAM radio unit and other electronics parked near the dam control building.
Several minutes passed before any of the Army Corp of Engineers people noticed the strange people gathered on the dam.
Mason spoke through the bullhorn to the startled men and women, "You people. We are the FAE Tactical Force. This van contains over a ton of TNT. Get into your vehicles without any sudden moves and drive down the causeway. If you do not, you will be shot. If you try to stop us. We will blow this dam to Hell and Back, MOVE!"
The speech motivated the workers and minor officers of the Corps. They got into their green van with their hands up. Red shot out the back window of the van as one of the people inside tried to count the FAE troops.
"NOW!" Mason shouted through the horn, "Place the charges, establish watch posts, and get ready for the cops. We've got to move before they get the National Guard or SWAT or somebody up here. GO!"
The second speech wasn't needed, before the van of Army people was out of sight the charges were being lowered down to people waiting near the sides of the floodgates, at the base of the pillars with drills and sledge hammers, under the bridge, wherever they had determined that explosives would damage the dam enough to cause it to collapse.
Red was taking potshots at small figures running from the tailrace area, a quarter of a mile away.
In Miles City the Custer County Sheriff's office suddenly broke into confused action as the phones started ringing and the Corps people arrived at about the same time.
"Somebody's shooting at fishermen from the top of the dam!"
"Sir, some nut with a bullhorn and a truckload of dynamite is threatening to blow up the causeway. They shot at us! They really shot at us! We could've been killed!!! I COULD'VE BEEN KILLED!"
The shift commander was beginning to realize something unusual had happened.
"A Rosebud County Deputy was found dead on 94. The description of the van he called in before he was killed matches the one on the dam."
"The dam is Fed Property. Is that out of our jurisdiction?"
"Do they really have dynamite? Should we evacuate or something?"
The Sheriff sat in his chair listening. He made the decision that his instinct told him to make. A political animal instead of a career law enforcement man, he had no stomach for this kind of thing, he just wanted to serve his time and move on to a Statehouse post. He picked up his phone, pushed buttons until he found a free line, ignoring the chaos around him.
A cowboy stomped in and shouted about how somebody had shot his boat and sank it.
The sheriff listened as the governors office answered their line.
He talked for a few minutes, then listened again.
"The Governor is busy may I take a message?"
"This is Sheriff Derrick Mitchum, of Custer County, we have an emergency situation here. I must speak to the governor immediately." He said with precision. "It involves the L&C Dam."
"I'll have him call you when he is free."
Mitchum knew the routine, but he decided to break it anyway. "Listen chick, you remind him that we came from the same herd and he owes me a big one, and I'm calling it in!" He roared. Everybody in the office was looking at him, some time during his fit he had jumped to his feet.
"Calm down Mitch. What's up?" Governor Vance said softly after the echoes of the sheriff's voice died.
The confusion in the Sheriffs office resumed as yet another angry citizen came in yelling about not being able to get across the causeway because of a bunch of maniacs with guns.
The Sheriff was silent a second and decided to do a little show for the people in the office. "Hold it down! I got the governor on the phone!"
He sat down. Silence took over in the office.
"What's going on Mitch? It sounded like a zoo down there."
"It is Roy. We got real trouble. Some bunch of Indians took the Lewis and Clark Dam. They're threatening to blow it up, they've got a ton of dynamite. ... Roy?"
The Governor hadn't been paying attention past the first couple of sentences.
He was telling to his secretary to call the Sate Police to verify the situation, then to call the Emergency Management Office to find an ESDA plan to evacuate the city below the dam for safety, the Interstate highway would have to be closed below the dam. Find out if this group was a local or international group of terrorists, or just 'kids', call the FBI for backgrounds, is this connected with the murder of a Sheriff in, which county? All the while he half listened to his friend.
"Just thinking Mitch. What are you doing about this?"
"Nothing yet. We sent a patrol car to the dam to check the story. He hasn't called back yet."
"Ahhh hold on a second Mitch, I got another call..."
"Governor, it's somebody called Robert Mason, from the Friends of All the Earth. The people on the dam."
He nodded the call through. "This is Governor Vance."
"Good. I recognize your voice. I'm glad you're taping this, because I'm only calling once. We've got enough dynamite here to blow this dam into next month, if anybody tries to raid our position here, boom, if anybody tries to trick us, boom. If anything goes down that I don't like, boom. We're monitoring all cop radios, and traffic on the route. If you block off 94, boom, if you evacuate the town, boom. Got it Gov?" It wasn't a question, the Governor didn't answer. "Our demands are simple. An independent sovereign state peopled by Native Americans. No more oppression on reservations, no more bullshit from Washington. From you we want a total ban on logging in Montana. No more hunting of Bison in this state. And no more trapping of beaver either. There's a few more things, but that will do for a start. That or Miles City, 8000 plus people, your Interstate, this dam, and everything else we can take with it go together." The click from the line seemed final.
Vance sighed and switched back to Sheriff Mitchum, there was more news, "Vance, patrolman Curtis was just taken to the hospital, he'd been shot twice when he tried to get close to the dam. They got his car. And the radio station picked up the story, it hit the NET a couple of minutes ago, the TV..."
"Yeah. The National Guard is on the way, we can't block the highway, or evacuate the town until dark, they're watching, and this group we're dealing with seems to be local, nobody here has ever heard of them. I'm declaring a state of emergency for Custer County, and everything downstream on the Yellowstone, we can evacuate them."
"How far downstream?"
"It's a big lake. Probably all the way to the Garrison Dam on the Missouri should be alerted. I'm on my way down Mitch. Give me a couple of hours." He hung up slowly.
"Governor. Governor Kate Skilon is on the line from Bismark." His intercom said.
"Hi Kate, we got a little problem that may involve you..."
An hour later the governor's conference table was four inches deep in paper. Everything that was known about Mason, FAE, and the people connected with either was on the table, as well as the specs for the dam, evacuation plans for Miles City, and the towns and villages downstream, detour plans for I-94, and other important data. The phones were being manned in another room, mostly by people who were paid to say "The Governor had no comment at this time."
The sun was turning a fiery orange as the governor's plane lifted off the runway for the long silent flight. Somebody commented about the blaze looking like a fireball. They received many frowns.
The flight was supposed to be a time for the staff to get themselves together, catch a few Z's, and relax. Instead it turned into a deathwatch as the cabin TV showed pictures of guardsmen and police exchanging bullets with the people on the dam. The police were generally hiding behind cars and trees and shooting up at the dam, as the gatehouse and guardrails commanded the approaching roads on both sides, and the 400 foot flat face of the dam overlooked the tailrace area, the Interstate, and most of the town. The Lewis and Clark Dam seemed designed as a fortress with defensible approaches. Impregnable.
"Turn that damn thing off." The governor finally moaned.
Colonel Whitman had been trying to find out for almost an hour who had ordered the police to open fire on the dam, to no avail. It seemed that the men had simply sealed off the area as a routine security measure. Then some nut from the dam opened fire on them, they returned fire, and the battle ensued. Several officers and guardsmen were already wounded, but they couldn't withdraw, pinned down against the cliff. The cameras of a national TV network had a fantastic view on a cliff overlooking the whole scene.
The shooting had slowed as night came on. The lights of the dam were still on as the sun set. The turbine generators of the dam working on despite the siege. The dam, lit in brilliant relief, mocked the officials below. The Governor, Colonel Whitman, and their senior people stood on the Interstate bridge and looked up at the dam, about 800 yards away.
Will they bargain?" Sheriff Mitchum asked the Governor.
"They might. I don't think we should." He turned to Whitman, "Has the shooting stopped?"
"Yes sir. A rescue operation is in progress. No further casualties have been reported."
"Good. Issue a general order. Nobody is to get within five hundred yards of the dam without direct orders from you. The man Francis Penworth, Red, is a known killer. His record is as long as he is. And the Army said he's basically insane."
"Yes sir. We've got a rundown on all the people we think are up there. We have estimates that eleven persons are involved. It appears they are heavily armed, but there is no evidence of explosives on the dam itself."
"We can't take that chance." Vance looked up at the huge structure.
"I agree with the Governor." The Sheriff said, the Mayor of Miles City nodded.
"So do I." A female voice said off to one side.
Everybody turned to the new voice.
"I'm sure you're wondering who I am, and I will explain that shortly. Mr. Mason is unstable, nearly manic-depressive, and trying to maintain control of the group. Red is out for blood. He doesn't care what happens or who wins, he just wants to kill, Steve is a political activist of the first order, an idealist, and an extreme radical anarchist, the demands are mostly his. All of us are armed and most know how to use their arms. They have placed just over half a ton of dynamite around the dam in strategic places. As you know Red was in the army, classification, structural demolition expert. He placed the charges. Now are you satisfied?"
"No. Who are you?"
"One of them. Lady." Several of the cops started to make a grab for her. A loud noise from the top of the dam shocked them back. A second later a small violent explosion shook the bridge.
"GOD!" The Colonel shouted, "They've got a mortar!"
"I'm Lady. Red's woman. Try to touch me again and the dam goes. Now about our demands..."
"Shit. Missed." Red played with the small weapon a little more. Mason lowered the spyglass and looked at him.
"You were really trying to kill the Governor?"
"But Lady was down there. She would have died too."
"Way it goes."
"Why don't you just blow the dam."
"Maybe they'll give in to our demands." Mason looked back at the bridge. The figures were hurrying away. "The Indians'd like that."
"Hell with the Indians."
"Lady's coming back."
"No recognized Native American group has any connection, or will take responsibility for the group on the dam. Our investigation has also showed that FAE is a group of anarchists and killers who have no meaningful political objective. The two leaders of the group are in conflict, one is an incompetent failed local politician who dabbles in small time crime, the other, Red, was discharged dishonorably, short of court martial, is wanted in connection for several murders in four states, and is wanted for questioning in a dozen other charges. He is the main suspect in the slaying of deputy Johnson from Rosebud County, Montana, earlier today, and in the shooting of another deputy who remains in critical condition. As of now the plans are being drawn up to evacuate all habitations downstream from the dam to the Missouri River." The spokesman took a long breath. "State and Federal officials will take your questions in another news conference at 9:00 Mountain Time in the Custer County High School Gymnasium." So went the statement read by the Governors press aid over loudspeakers to a crowd of reporters, curious citizens, and police-types at the headquarters set up at the high school, from the roof of which, standing between TV Cameras you could see the dam.
Local radio was broadcasting the statement. On the dam, the terrorists listened.
"They're lying!" Steve shouted. "I have the support of every Indian on the damn continent they're trying to make us look like fools! Red! They're trying to make me, yeah, and you too look like a fool. Do you want to look like some silly ass with a gun?"
Red seemed to consider it. "I look silly. They look dead." He patted one of the many detonators he had placed in strategic locations, any one of which would blow the whole series of charges. Then he looked down towards the highway. He shouldered his rifle and fired at it.
Steve seemed satisfied and walked to the gatehouse where Mason sat with Sue and some hairy guy he didn't know, watching a TV report about the evacuation of Tusler, a little town on the Yellowstone, a few miles downstream. The evacuation didn't seem to be going well, the people didn't want to cooperate.
"Let'em stay! They'll find out we're for real if they try to stop us!" Mason yelled at the TV.
Steve didn't know what to think. First Red starting a war with the National Guard all by himself, then shooting mortars at the Governor, now nobody taking his demands seriously. If they were going to give in, they shouldn't be evacuating that town.
It had never occurred to him beforehand that they wouldn't give in, and set up a state for Indians only. He sat on a cot that had been set up in a storeroom downstairs from the office, stared out the small porthole and sulked.
"Yes sir. I know every trail and stump on the west side of the lake." Don said to the Colonel.
The officer looked at Dr. Loznik O'Heran and pushed his lips out. "Does he?" He nodded towards the young man.
"Better than I do. But I still don't think he should go. It's too dangerous." The professor said.
"But...." Don protested. The Colonel seemed to start seeing it Loznik's way.
"OK, we'll take both of you. Two parties. Don's will lead. The Doctor will take the second group... We leave in an hour."
A sergeant outfitted them in heavy camouflage coveralls and asked Dr. O'Heran if he would want a sidearm in case of trouble.
"Of course." He said, "If Mr. Cooke is issued one as well."
The Colonel frowned heavily, something he had been doing a lot lately, especially on camera. "Alright, a .38 for Mr. Cooke, a .45 for Dr. O'Heran."
Don was happier with his weapon than Loznik was with his.
Frank had been sitting watch on the west end of the dam for some time when Sue brought him a hot ham and cheese sandwich. He wasn't hungry, he drank the cold drink she gave him, took two bites of the sandwich and threw it to the rocks below.
Young skunks are always hungry, and mama is always watchful. The youngsters followed the smell of food and started eating at the crust. The adult found the meat and cheese more pleasing. She felt the approaching raccoon before she saw him, one bark warned the unwelcome stranger away. The young ones finished the sandwich and started sniffing the breeze for more. The breeze was from the east, off the dam, and the small kitchen in the office where Sue was preparing more food for the terrorists.
Young skunks are always hungry.
Continued in Part 2.
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