(Disclaimer: This story is both fictional and true. Any resemblance to individuals living or dead is purely coincidental, or positively intentional, take your pick. Some might see a parallel here to recent events such as the Olofson case or Randy Weaver or the Davidians. If so, they may be right. Or wrong. There are all kinds of people in the world -- all kinds of Phil Gordons, all kinds of gangs and all kinds of thugs. You may choose which thugs you think I'm writing about here. The story begins at three o'clock in the morning the day after tomorrow, one year from now. Or not. The decision is up to the thugs.)
Phil Gordon felt old, sick, tired and cranky. Cancer did that to you, but he didn't have to like it. Still, Phil had one more thing to do before crossing the bar and he prayed to the God of Abraham that he would have the time and the strength to do it. He shifted in his recliner, taking in the photographs on the side wall, a life in brief, partially illuminated by the soft glow of the porch light angling in through the windowpane above the front door.
Sitting in the dark, with the pictures shadowed in whole or in part, Phil couldn't see the details. He didn't need to. He knew them by heart.
It was all there -- his grandparents, his mamma and daddy in their youth. There he was with his parents at the ceremony when he graduated from Basic, and again, standing in the A Shau Valley with his squad, all of them so young and full of bravado. There was his wedding photo with Claire, and the honeymoon picture at Natural Bridge, still another of that sun-dappled afternoon with her at the lake. Then there were those of the kids, still young, ranked by age. There was the time when his oldest son Bobby had competed with him at Camp Perry, and Bobby's graduation from West Point. A pink frame held Sissy in her scrubs during medical school, and from a steel-gray one Johnny smiled out front of his technology company in Huntsville, with Sally at his side and Phil, Matthew and Gabriel at their feet. Then there was his retirement party at U.S. Pipe, more recent pictures of the grandkids, and the last reunion of his Army unit. It was all there, where he'd come from, where he'd been and where he was going. The dusty frames covered the wall above the sofa, in a room that had seen so much loving, laughter and then, sadness.
Phil took all of them in, those he could see and those he couldn't, closed his eyes and sighed. Well, it was a life. God had been very, very good to him. Still, he resented this last business of cancer breaking him down brick by brick. He knew he could bear it, it wasn't that. The pain, the gradual loss of functions, the bone-deep weariness, all were within his ability to stand. It had hurt worse when he'd been hit in Vietnam. He'd been more helpless back during his recovery at Walter Reed. And he'd been weary beyond belief humping an M-60 machine-gun up and down the Central Highlands. Cancer came close to leaving him that tired but he didn't think it would be worse given the time he had left. Besides, ever since he'd lost Claire to a drunk driver from Mexico City, he'd been ready to lay down his burdens and go home to join her. He wasn't Job, but he could take it. But he was afraid, he admitted, that he wouldn't have enough left in him to do what now had to be done. It was a duty and he was stuck with it.
"Sometimes you're just stuck with the duty." His daddy had told him that when he was six and he had asked why he, Phillip Sheats Gordon, the youngest of seven sons, had to go out and fetch the firewood on a cold morning in Winston County when his lazy brothers were still snug in bed.
Sometimes you're just stuck with the duty. The Master Sergeant had told him that, too, just before he died on that no-name ridge near the Cambodian border. How long had it been, now? His mind dulled by the pain pill, Phil couldn't do the math. Long time, for sure. Hard to believe. The battalion had been strung out, looking for NVA supply caches when the Nathaniel Victors hit back hard. Under a barrage of mortars, recoilless rifles and RPGs, they overran the leading company. The air-cover was a little bit uncovered at that particular moment, and somebody had to slow down the motherless sons of Uncle Ho until the battalion got its excrement together.
So, the battalion top-kick, one Master Sergeant Walter McCoy, took over Phil's platoon from the shaky lieutenant who had only been in country two weeks and who still didn't know crap from breakfast. With McCoy's leadership they'd stopped the bastards cold. Of course, it cost them most of the platoon, the still-bewildered lieutenant and Master Sergeant McCoy.
While they were digging in before the fight, McCoy had walked the line making sure the holes were sited properly and the M60s had clear fields of fire. As he walked by, Phil complained to nobody in particular, "Why us?" McCoy, a veteran of three wars and wise in the ways of killing, stopped, looked down at him and replied kindly, "Son, sometimes you're just stuck with the duty."
Phil was thunderstruck that he should hear his own daddy's words repeated back to him there, then, at that place so far from home when all their lives seemed forfeit. It seemed to him an omen, a talisman. It was reassurance that somehow, some way, he would make it out alive. He did. A buck sergeant, Phil was the senior surviving NCO when the NVA finally withdrew, leaving the ridge and the valley below strewn with their dead. When he saw McCoy's body after the fight, Phil sat down beside it and wept. He had never been in a position to be close to the top-kick, but now it seemed as if his own father had been killed.
"Son, sometimes you're just stuck with the duty." Phil could see McCoy's leathered face even now, softness at the edges of its perpetual, hard-set scowl. He could see the wisdom, the love, in his eyes. Phil shook his head, shuddering like a dog throwing off the rain. Enough of memory lane. He was stuck with the duty and he would fight. And he had no doubt he would die and that would be a good thing.
He looked around the battlefield that had been his home, and carefully raised himself out of the recliner. It wouldn't do to fall and break a hip now. Company was coming, and he had to be ready to greet them. He hoped it would be today. He had been scared of the attacking Nathaniel Victors, the whistles and the bugles, the explosions and the screams. With his whole life ahead of him then, he wanted to live. But now, at the end of his life, he wasn't afraid of the thugs who had targeted him. He was only afraid that they wouldn't come.
He had known that that they would get around to him sooner or later. He'd run his mouth too much. He was too political. He'd made his disdain for the thugs and their gang plain enough and now they were going to settle accounts. Frank Grant had met him at the pharmacy last month. The thugs had been asking about him, Frank said. What guns did he own? Did he have any machine-guns? They knew that Phil had held a blaster's license when he worked in construction after the war. Did he have any explosives? Frank had been Phil's good friend for forty years. Yet when he assured Phil that he had told the thugs nothing, even after they'd turned his shop upside down, Phil wasn't sure. The fear on Frank's face was evident. The fact that he had hung around the drugstore to "accidentally" run into him, rather than calling him or coming over, spoke volumes.
Not that Phil blamed him. The thugs WERE scary, made more so because they operated under color of law. They controlled the justice system. The local cops, the state police, all deferred to the thugs, scared that they too would come under scrutiny and attack. There was no reason to expect a fair trial these days. Juries convicted innocent men and women based on the word of paid informers or friends of the thugs and suborned prosecutors who refused to turn over exculpatory material to the defense, denying that it had ever existed. The rule of law no longer applied. Now it was the rule of man, which is to say, the law of the jungle. Phil smiled at the thought. He had lived by the law of the jungle and survived. He doubted that any of these young punk thugs had. Be careful what you wish for, you may get it. Phil chuckled. Oh, yes indeed.
It was still dark outside, early morning. That was no protection from the thugs, of course. They liked to do their evil work at night. They thought they owned it. Phil smiled. His sleep patterns had long ago been disrupted by the pangs of the cancer that ate at his vitals, so he often did his sleeping in the daylight anyway.
Phil took three steps over to the sideboard, maneuvering around the coffee table with the surety of a blind man on his own ground. Yet he wasn't blind, not even by the darkness. Above the sideboard hung a framed quotation from John Locke. It was one of his favorites. He could read it with the help of the PVS-14 night vision monocular he wore over his right eye.
Whenever the legislators endeavor to take away and destroy the property of the people, or to reduce them to slavery under arbitrary power, they put themselves into a state of war with the people, who are thereupon absolved from any further obedience. ~ John Locke
"Now would be a good time," Phil whispered in prayer. God heard him.
The PSR1-A seismic intrusion detectors planted in the front yard that he'd first learned how to use in Vietnam began to crackle loudly through the speaker in the hall. Out back, his black lab Barney began to bark, then stopped with a yelp. The bastards, Phil thought, they always had been big dog killers. Phil instantly pivoted to look with his left eye at the closed circuit TVs he had arranged in a bank in the open closet in the hall. There was another set in the kitchen, a third in his bedroom upstairs, and a fourth in the basement.
Armed and armored black-clad men tiptoed up his front porch. Another bunch stood ready by the back porch. Phil smiled, for two reasons. First, he wasn't going to have to wait to do his duty. And second, the thugs were set up in predictable attack formation (they called it a stack) just like the manual told them to.
He was sure they knew where he was in the house from his thermal signature. What they didn't see was the concrete block and sandbag fighting position he had built that covered both the front and back doors. As Phil darted into the miniature pillbox and kneeled, the porch lights went out as the power was cut. The TVs and cameras still operated on their batteries. Phil grasped the semi-auto Browning Automatic Rifle in the firing slit with his right hand and found the first button on the elctrical control box with the index finger of his left hand.
Wait, he thought, wait . . . The front door burst open. He pushed the button, brought his left hand up to the rifle's handguard and began to fire. The BAR was loaded with 21 armor-piercing rounds, one up the spout and twenty in the magazine. He could have used an M-1 Garand (he had twelve in his collection before he parceled them out to his kids as birthday and Christmas presents), but the BAR had a greater magazine capacity and he knew he had to get this bunch in one sweep. The thugs were all wearing military body armor. It didn't help them much. By the time Phil had emptied the magazine, the entire first stack of the raid party was dead or dying. Some of the tungsten steel AP handloads had penetrated two or more thugs. Night vision devices splintered, kevlar helmets split, the trauma plates of their body armor were fractured and holed and their illusions of invincibility were swept away along with their sorry lives.
It was absolutely silent when Phil reloaded, stood and ran to the rear entry window that flanked the back door. The rear stack was splattered all over the flower garden that Claire had planted with such devotion and love, some of them screaming, moaning, moving. The improvised Claymore mine in the flower pot that he had detonated when the front door flew open had shredded them from the left side, leaving the rear door intact. Body armor and helmets had saved some from instant death. Phil fixed that by shooting through the window, hitting each of them carefully in the head. A growing hail of small arms fire now peppered the front and rear of the house, most of the rounds expending their energies on sandbag and concrete block reinforcements or on freestanding steel doors positioned to cover the windows. Fire even penetrated the roof, coming from a helicopter which materialized overhead, only to be stopped by a two-ply thickness of military surplas kevlar blankets that Phil had spread out in the attic. It had taken Phil a whole month to improvise his fort, telling inquisitive neighbors that he was strengthening his gun room in the basement against potential thieves. The bastards thought they had me on the first floor. They thought I was above my defenses, Phil mused. Oops.
OK, Phil thought with satisfaction, their Plan A just dissolved in front of their eyes. Let's see how quickly they start to work on Plan B. There was one piece of unfinished business, however. To the left of where the pictures now hung crazily in splintered frames (those that hung at all) the front windows were shattered by the bullets of the support detachment, whose ineffective fire had dwindled off to shocked silence. That thermal imagining device had to be out there. Phil crept up on his hands and knees, staying below or behind the sandbags and doors. Edging up, he peeked out with his AN/PVS-14. The surveillance van was just about where he had envisioned it would be -- just twenty yards down the street on this side. He could see the glow of the thermal imager on the face of operator through the special glass of the back door. There was a small clot of thugs standing to the side of the van, looking on in unaccustomed horror at the bodies of their dead comrades scattered across Phil's porch and front steps.
Phil ducked back, and a second later a burst of fire from across the street came through the space his head had occupied. Having determined his next targets, Phil crawled over to the steel door that most directly fronted the window-hole facing the van and changed magazines. From his World War II-vintage BAR belt, he selected three magazines, two from one pocket and one from another. All were loaded with an even mix of armor-piercing and armor-piercing incendiary surplus rounds, originally produced to defeat the Germans and the Japanese. Remember, he told himself, you're after body count as much as the van. When he opened the large, reinforced mail slot in the steel door, his thermal signature was in full view of the thermal operator. It didn't save him, for he died about halfway through the first magazine, just shortly after Phil cut the standing bunch of thugs in half. With the rest of that magazine and the following two, Phil sieved the van, its occupants and equipment, starting high and working low, finally exploding the gas tank with .30-06 rounds intended for Mitsubishis and Focke Wulfes. Phil noted with satisfaction that even though almost seventy years old, they still worked perfectly.
As the riddled hulk of the van blazed and rocked with smaller secondary explosions, there were shouts of fear and panic at both ends of Phil's street. The thugs were pulling back to consider Plan B. Now Phil had to buy time in back.
When he got to the rear of his house, he saw that some of the reserve thugs were cautiously working their way toward the back door, still thinking he was preoccupied in front. Had they been soldiers, they would have charged when they heard the BAR open up on the van. But they weren't soldiers, they were thugs. And they were surprised. No one had ever stood up to them like this. They were frightened. They were more worried about reaching retirement age than what was happening in front of their faces. So they were slow, they were tentative, and even with the raid commander shouting in their ears through their radio buds, they moved like molasses.
Phil had counted on that. What was it Sun Tsu had said? "Know your enemy and you will fight a hundred battles and have hundred victories." Something like that. Well, Phil had no illusions. He knew this was going to be a pyrhric victory -- his own personal Alamo -- but so far his study of the enemy had paid off. He proved it when he grabbed the Claymore clacker by the back window and blew up Claire's garden shed at the back of the property with a thunderous blast (it was just six sticks of dynamite packed in a barrel of ball bearings) that atomized the shed, turned the attackers inside out with the concussion and shrapnel and broke every window facing the alley (and some that weren't) for about a half a block around.
The first blast at the back of the house hadn't registered in Phil's brain, so concentrated had he been on the thugs coming in front door. But he heard this one all right -- heard it and felt it -- the concussion driving some of the air out of his chest and ball bearings and pieces of shed flying through every crack and crevice they could find or create, ricocheting off walls and steel doors. One ball bearing tore a short groove sideways across his forearm and a long wood splinter stuck in his ass. Knocked back, scrambling, he broke it off, the point still in him. Crazily he thought, oh, well, it won't have time to fester. Ears ringing, gasping, struggling for breath and fighting disorientation, Phil sheltered behind sandbags along the back wall. After a minute, he pulled out a battle dressing from his pants pocket and put it on his bloody arm.
First blood to them. But then he laughed, realizing that it was really just a self-inflicted, John Kerry kind of wound. But how many have I killed? More than a dozen anyway, maybe two dozen. Gotta be more if I'm gonna to make the point so everybody gets it. OK, time to cloud their vision. Phil moved around the house on the first floor, pulling strings that he had run through eyelets screwed into the hardwood floor. The strings pulled loose from rolled-up space blankets installed at the top of every wall in the house. Once the strings were pulled free, the space blankets, weighting with steel washers sewn at their bottom edges, unrolled to provide full-length protection against being seen by thermal imaging devices (he'd already installed them under the roof the length of the house). Finishing the first floor, he ascended the stairs and repeated the move in the equally hardened second floor rooms.
The thugs were hampered, Phil knew, by the narrow spaces between the houses in his neighborhood, which stood in an older part of town. Sooner or later, somebody in the gang's headquarters would suggest burning him out like the FBI did at Waco. But would they burn down a half block of innocent folks' homes just to get to him? Questions would be asked by authorities they did not control. News coverage would broadcast it to the nation. Were they ready for that?
Well, this wasn't going to be a drawn out siege and Phil wasn't going to hurt his neighbors if he could help it. Then he grinned. I've already blown the neighborhood to hell and gone and left dead bodies all over their nice lawns --maybe it's a little late to be worried about that? Still, this wasn't going to be a long drawn-out siege. Phil would see to that. He was, in military parlance, inside his enemy's decision making cycle, and he intended to stay there. He could hear sirens nearby now, and see the reflected emergency lights of vehicles all over the place when he peeked around the barriers in front of the upper windows. The thugs would be gathering at their command vehicle by now, trying to figure out what went so terribly wrong and how they could retrieve their reputations with their fellow gang members by killing Phil Gordon.
OK, so get inside their heads. Everything went to crap, their first teams are dead, they've had to call in help, other gangs maybe. But they want to get this done. They will not pull back. The very top-ranking members of their gang will be huddled together at the command vehicle, trying to fight through their horror and panic and figure out what to do. I can help them decide.
Phil pulled the rope on the folding stairs that led to the attic. Confident that he couldn't be imaged through the space blankets, he made his way over to a fighting position he had built not far back from the eave. Weeks before, working at night, Phil had cut a section out of his roof and pulled it inside and mounted it on a hinged framework, making a hatch in his roof. He did this front and back. The next day, went up on his roof and nailed shingles over the gaps created, telling his neighbors that he had leaks that needed fixing. Now he eased that hatch up part way, propped it up with a stick and took a look up and down his front street. Down at the brightly lit intersection, just where he expected it to be, was the command vehicle, surrounded by armed thugs. Other gang members came and went. While he watched, a second van pulled up, then a tractor trailer. Perfect.
OK, thought Phil, it's a math problem. First let's get a base number. He took the ITT range finder he had prepositioned there and lazed the center of intersection. The readout said 215 meters. Perfect. Just perfect. He brought out a plotting device he had made with a thin sheet of plywood and a magic marker. Setting it up to his right, he picked up a Chinese-clone M14S rifle with a loaded magazine. On the end of it, Phil had mounted an M76 grenade launching attachment. Twenty improvised fragmentation rifle grenades lay in a rack made from a large surplus metal 20mm ammo can built high into the position's sandbags. He had crafted them right after he heard he was on the gang's list. If they were going to treat him as no better than a terrorist, he might as well act like one -- within limits. Holding a rope that he had installed to the hatch's leading edge, Phil used the stick to push up the roof section until it began to swing down from the gravity. Using the rope he eased the hatch down until it was fully open resting on the roof.
Slowly rising, he peeked again from the perspective of where he would hold the rifle's muzzle. Estimating the angle from one side of the large target to the other, he took two white cloth tapes with a thumbtack on one end and a washer weight on the other and stuck the thumbtacks into the pine of the roof. These would be his aiming stakes. Dropping back into his sandbag cocoon, Phil rested the butt of the M14 on the attic flooring, and fitted a rifle grenade on the launcher. The chamber was loaded with a grenade blank, and the magazine held nineteen more. Twenty grenades. Twenty cartridges. Phil knew he would only be able to get away with this once, so there was no point in worrying about a second fire mission. He would be lucky to get all twenty off before he was killed.
Holding the rifle at the angle prescribed by the plywood plotting device, he flicked off the safety with his index finger. Aiming with the left hand tape as his guide, he took a breath, let it out, and pulled the trigger. With a "whoommpf" the rifle grenade was gone. Phil fell into the rhythm of killing: his right hand cycled the operating rod, and ejected the spent grenade cartridge. He let the slide go and the next cartridge was loaded. Shifting the right hand to the rifle's rear grip, he grabbed a grenade with his left and brought the projectile down onto the launcher, seating it firmly. His left hand went back to the forearm of the M14. He shifted the rifle, using the right tape as a guide for aim and the plywood for range. He had three rounds gone before the first one landed. Using the tapes and the plywood, moving the muzzle randomly down and up, side to side, Phil hammered the intersection.
Looking from across the street, the gang snipers could not at first figure out what was happening. Had he somehow gotten out of the house to directly engage the bosses? Then one spotted the faint blip of the last grains of burning powder that could be seen above the roof line. They began to fire, plastering the roof with small arms fire that became a general engagement. Behind his sandbags and steel, Phil continued to launch the grenades. By the time he got to ten, all three vehicles were afire and the intersection was littered with bodies while sparks fell on them from a mortally wounded transformer high up a power pole. Eleven, twelve, thirteen. The roof was being eroded above him, around him, swept away by a leaden storm. Fourteen. Fifteen. From down the street, a thug fired the heaviest weapon that the gang owned, an M203 grenade launcher. He had not been trained to use it, so the first round passed over the house and detonated far down on the next street, killing a cop directing traffic. Because the house was not hit, Phil didn't notice it. Sixteen. He noticed the second round though. In fact, it killed him. But Phil Gordon didn't mind. He'd done his duty. He was home with Claire and he got to meet his Maker, his Savior. Absolving, he was absolved.
The gang never did get his guns though. When they tried to force the gun safe open in the light of day, it blew up, killing everybody within fifty yards of the place. In future, the gang resolved, they would never, ever, pick on somebody who had nothing to lose.
In Phil Gordon's pocket, they found a folded up piece of paper that, in part, said this: "But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and provide new Guards for their future security." Across the bottom of the paper, Phil Gordon had scrawled a phrase in Greek: "Molon Labe."
Note: Feel free to post this anywhere you like and distribute as far and wide as you can. After all, everybody likes a good story.