[The following short story was sent to me by F. J. Dagg, the author of the marvelous novel The Lowlands Of Heaven, a book I cannot recommend highly enough. I post it here with his permission. -- FWP]
I’ve never cared much for bagpipe music--perhaps because the only time I hear it, the piper is playing, “Amazing Grace,” and I’m at a colleague’s funeral. Any time now, it will begin, like a recurring nightmare. “...a wretch like me,” indeed...
I’m surprised they still use it, so much else has changed. For instance, the “21-bell salute” to replace the 21-gun salute. Agent Manley’s life partner insisted on bells--not guns--so we had bells today, before the closing remarks and “Amazing Grace.” Probably just as well, given the circumstances. Some things never change, though--like the sanctimonious bullshit the Chief warbles over the caskets every time.
...dangerous times, but these brave agents rose to the occasion, indeed, gave the last full measure...
But then, I suppose the Chief of Homeland Safety is entitled to talk about “dangerous times,” since her agency does so much to make them so.
In the President’s third term, we had gotten very busy with Operation SAURON (Safety and Action United to Redefine Our Nation), a program to address the problem of privately owned firearms, the repeal of the 2nd Amendment--along with most of the old Constitution--having made them illegal.
...and the families, of all kinds, who also care and share and bear the burden of their sacrifice...
You could write that night off to bad luck, I suppose, but the one sure thing about firefights is that nothing is sure. No matter how much you train, no matter how much experience you have, if you’re smart, you expect the unexpected. And the truth is, we weren’t smart that night.
As always with SAURON ops, our objective was a private residence. We went in at 0300--we always did these between 0200 and 0500. We knew two bad guys--“subjects,” we call them--were inside. Again, the usual--Constitutionalists who couldn’t, or wouldn’t, let go of the idea that the Bill of Rights was still the law of the land. FEDREGINTEL said they had at least one black rifle, two, maybe three handguns, and possibly a shotgun. They hadn’t been bad guys a year before, but they were now, according to the law it was our job to enforce.
It started badly when our front side team hit the wrong entrance. But then, it’s funny to think that but for the President’s signature on a piece of paper, it would have been the wrong house--the wrong country, in fact. As it was, they were supposed to pop a flash-bang in the male subject’s bedroom at the same time we entered the female subject’s room in back. They got the den instead, which we in back didn’t know at the time.
My team was hitting the sliding glass door of the female subject’s bedroom. A cakewalk after you’ve done it a few dozen times, as we had since SAURON went live.
But as I said, you never know what will happen. Usually, a flash-bang grenade immobilizes the subject, especially when it goes off in her bedroom at three AM. I guess this one was a sound sleeper--or deaf, maybe, she was no spring chicken--because all our grenade did, apparently, was wake her up and piss her off. Stacey--agent Manley, one of those we’re honoring here today--moved to zip-tie the subject an instant after the grenade went off. But she took one step and dropped like a sack of cement. We barely heard the shot with the noise of the grenade still ringing in our ears.
...though I didn’t know these brave agents personally, I feel as though they were a part of...
Until that night these things had gone down very smoothly: Bang! The subject freezes, the team moves in, the subject’s hogtied on the floor, either cursing you or crying and pissing or just trembling like a free speech nut in FedCourt, then you haul ‘em out, drop ‘em off with the FEMA people and you’re done. The funny thing is how many of them are actually defenseless, their guns locked up as if nothing had changed. I guess old habits die hard.
But this subject was on top of things, and had a little surprise for us--a .380 subcompact--which the geniuses at ‘INTEL had somehow neglected to include in our warrant. She must have slept with the damned thing in her hand. And maybe she did, at that--there had been two SAURON raids in her neighborhood already that month. We’d gotten complacent and had forgotten that not everyone was oblivious to the new realities.
Now, a round as small as a .380 won’t do much against decent body armor, but a visor won’t stop it and if it takes you in the eye it won’t quit ‘til it bounces off the back of the inside of your skull. Which is what happened to agent Manley. It was a lucky shot. No one can hit a moving target that accurately, so says common sense. But luck doesn’t give a damn about common sense and agent Manley was flat out of luck.
...toward a better, more secure future for the people...
Luck. Our female subject had drawn a full measure of it that night, and, it seemed, most of ours, too--because when she fired again, she went low and hit Mohammed just below his Kevlar vest. A couple of inches higher or lower and it wouldn’t have made any difference. As it was, the round snaked between his upper and lower armor, severed his femoral artery, made a quick trip around his pelvis and lodged in his bladder. He dropped beside Stacey’s body and lay howling like a dog.
...for understanding...and for tolerance....
But the subject wasn’t done. You can believe it or not--I know I wouldn’t--but her third shot was a replay of the first--straight through Jamal’s left eye. It’s the kind of thing that could make you believe there is a God--and that maybe He was on her side that night.
All this happened in less than two seconds, and by that time, those of us still alive and uninjured had pulled ourselves together. The woman’s final round missed--at last--then three magazines from as many M-4s “neutralized the subject as a threat,” as it says in the book.
Ninety rounds should have that effect on an old lady. I admit we were “spraying and praying,” shook up as we were with three of our people down right out of the gate, so not every round was on target. In fact only a few of them were, but then our job was always more about terror than marksmanship.
So we shot the shit out of the old lady’s bed and walls and carpet and ceiling, until about a dozen 5.56’s finally trumped her little .380. But they were all body wounds--and I can’t forget her eyes looking into mine as they dimmed and went out.
Back before Homeland Safety, when I was a real cop with a real purpose to serve and protect, I’d seen that in a few real bad guys we’d shot. But I had never seen it in a ninety-two year old woman’s eyes--a woman whose face looked like my grandmother’s--and it’s good to know I’ll never see it again.
...sacrifice for the peoples’ security...
That was when the male subject charged through the bedroom door wearing little more than a tac light and a .45 auto. As I said, the front side team hit the wrong room, so this individual was free to drop in on us. He ran to the sound of the gunfire in his mother’s bedroom and hit us with two hundred lumens from his light and two rounds from his pistol.
From here on, I can only tell you what happened at second hand, because his double tap hit me on either side of the solar plexus. Kevlar is like a seatbelt. If your car hits something solid at forty miles per hour, your seatbelt might save your life, but you’re definitely going to the ER. If not for my vest they’d’ve been ringing those bells for me, too, today. As it was, I got three broken ribs and four cracked ones, the wind knocked out of me, and a gash on the back of my neck when I dropped into the shards of glass that had been the old lady’s bedroom door.
The male subject got off two more rounds. One took Shannon low--like his mother’s hit on Mohammed--and like Mohammed, she bled out in about the same time, though her screaming seemed to last longer than that. But then, a shattered pelvis has to be painful. The man’s last shot caromed off Kung’s helmet--gave him a concussion and a terrific whiplash, besides knocking him on his ass--and by then the last of the team standing neutralized the subject.
...Forward! Toward a safer tomorrow, despite the resistance of the reactionary few who...
The job was done, then, but it had been a bad, bad night for Homeland Safety.
Maybe it was the Demerol--or maybe it was something deeper--but over the next couple of days, I had many unwelcome thoughts, and not for the first time. I thought of how things slip away--your passion, your perspective, your youth, certainly. Your conscience, perhaps.
As I recovered from that shit show of a raid, I remembered--my “youthful idealism,” my hitches in Iraq and Afghanistan, the oaths I took as a soldier, a policeman, and a federal agent. I remembered my grandfather, who had fought in World War II.
And I remembered the ninety-two year old woman we’d murdered in her own home--in her own bed, God help us. For all I knew, she may have been the wife of a man who’d fought with my grandfather--those of “The Greatest Generation,” perhaps the last entirely American generation.
Memories of my grandparents came hard and heavy, then memories of my youth and the passion to bear arms to serve justice. Then the indoctrination, the endless drumbeat of it, and the warning my heart sang out against it, which I shoved aside in my arrogance. God, how it hurt--the pain of my broken ribs vanished next to it--to remember, despite my attempts to deny it, what my grandparents had stood for. And I began to feel dirty--dirty in my soul.
That kind of self-examination moves a man to change, and so I began to draw up my resignation from the Department of Homeland Safety. It should’ve been easy, but I kept seeing the light in the old woman’s eyes going out, like liberty flickering out in what is still called the Land of the Free, but hasn’t been for some time now. More memories, assaulted me, of crimes I’d committed against the people of America--my people--in the name of a rogue State, a government grown like a cancer. And I knew then that they wouldn’t let me quit. It was too late--for me, anyway.
Forward! Guided by the audacious dream of a fundamental transformation...
Finally, I recalled Afghanistan. I remembered we were told that “cultural exchange” would lead to the “winning of hearts and minds,” that we would “learn from each other,” and then peace and equality would come.
But all the Afghanis learned from us was how to hate America more than they already did, and what I learned from them in my days in counter-terror--never mind my learning of the darkest regions of human nature--concerned the local style of dress, and how to make a certain kind of garment, a vest, that was popular there, and often worn to funerals--the funerals of their enemies.
My former comrades here think the bulges that hide the plastic explosives are something for the treatment of my injuries--and in a way, they are.
Ah, now, the piper...
Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound...
...and still I see her eyes. May God forgive me, and may God save America.
I press the detonator...