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A Luminations Story
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Blog Against The War Day 2007
I'm probably the last person on campus who should be doing this.
I'm not political. I'm on a college campus in New Hampshire during the (damn near interminable) presidential primary season, and I pass it all by as obliviously as I pass those six or eight war protesters who have taken up permanent residence by the library steps.
It's like they've become a decoration, an odd little exhibit that the tour guides can point to as they walk backward between the dorms and the halls.
"Hey, look! We're a college campus! Hey, look, we have people protesting against something somewhere."
But of course, that's part of the problem. There's something, somewhere going on and all we ever seem to hear is that somebody blew themselves up and there's some number of dead and another number of wounded. Or maybe it's one of our soldiers, and we get to hear what a nice kid they were and what a future they had.
Then we go about our merry way, and someone sends us an email that says hey, time to blog against the war, and we go online and grumble about the president or crack smart-aleck jokes about where they're gonna find the WMDs (on Mars? In a FEMA trailer in New Orleans? On the Bush ranch in Crawford? Maybe under a pile of manga in Jan & Mellie's dorm room down the hall?).
Then life starts again, and we go back to forgetting that it's anything more than names and numbers on cnn.com and we've got parties to go to and papers to write, and the summer's coming and we've gotta get jobs or put in applications to study abroad next year.
There. Done. Blogged against the war.
And somehow that didn't make me feel any better. But I think I know something that will make me feel better. Tomorrow, I'm gonna go to Starbucks when they open and buy coffee and bring it over to those guys and girls who are camped out in front of the library. I'm gonna tell them that the war sucks, and I'm gonna thank them for trying to do something about it.
And then on Friday there are some guys that Greg knows who are gonna get redeployed soon, and I'm gonna bake something for them (warning: Katy loose in kitchen! Be very afraid!), and I'm gonna tell them that what they have to do sucks, but I'm grateful that they're doing their duty and dealing with this mess that our politicians have put them in as best they can.
Today is Blog Against the War Day. What I want to know is what you're gonna do tomorrow. And the next day.
Wayne DeLucas wasn't the typical frat boy. Short and pimply, he sat in the back booth of Starbucks, looking like he'd be more comfortable roaming the halls at a science fiction convention, or playing his X-Box down in his parents' basement rec room. If I didn't know who he was, I might have smiled at him. I like nerds: bad grooming, inadequate social skills, and all.
But the fact that DeLucas didn't have the look of a preppie jock got me even madder than I'd been, because if he didn't have the look or the charisma, then it was probably his daddy's money that got him in tight with the crowd he ran with. My dad does okay for himself, but I've never used that to buy friends, and I think there's a special place in hell reserved for people who do.
I felt bad that Greg wasn't here for this part. The secret society that DeLucas had belonged to had put Greg's brother in the hospital, so Greg had a real grudge against them. Greg came to UNH after his brother graduated. His brother went straight into the Marine Corps and straight overseas, and Greg had started investigating the society's dealings.
He got me involved because I know a little bit about investigating people, and then it had gotten ugly. We got our hands on some encrypted data that belonged to them. They texted threats to my phone. Then, during the storm a couple of weeks back, two of them jumped Greg when he was working a solo shift at the IT lab.
I was determined to make someone pay for that, and Wayne DeLucas was the first step.
I slipped into the booth and slapped down the paper with the IP trace that linked one of the threatening texts back to his laptop. Spring break. My break in the case. The son of a bitch had logged on from home to send it. All the other messages could only be traced back as far as the UNH network. If he'd stuck to that, I wouldn't have been able to catch him. But that's the thing about cyberbullies. They think they're untouchable, so sooner or later they get sloppy.
He looked the paper over. I could see some surprise in his expression, but no confusion. He understood the implications completely. Good. A techie, then. I wouldn't have to explain everything in small words.
"So what?" He looked bored now, except that he was forcing the expression. I wasn't buying it. He was beginning to sweat.
I kept my voice low. "I'm not looking for trouble. I just want to be left alone. Greg Stanton doesn't know I'm talking to you. No one knows. I'd like to meet with your friends."
DeLucas went from bored to smug, also forced. He was a lousy actor and he was still sweating.
"I don't know what you're talking about."
I leaned in across the table. I'm not a particularly imposing figure, but I've been told I can be intimidating if I put the effort into it. People say it's my eyes. I stared DeLucas down hard.
"Bullshit," I snarled. "You've got nothing to say that I wanna hear, so just listen. I'll give it back. Everything we took. I've gotta do three more years on this campus and I don't want to have to spend them watching my back. So they can have their files back. All I want is them to tell me we're squared up and they'll leave me alone from here on. Now you get me that meeting. Remember, I don't have to mention your buddies when I bring this trace to the cops. And somehow I don't see them saving your ass if it comes down to that. I've got a secure email address they can use to reach me. It's at the bottom of that paper. I expect to hear back from them in twenty-four hours."
I didn't wait for his reaction. I got up and walked out, leaving him with the printout.
Their email came through on my phone an hour later.
The hockey rink parking lot at midnight. Typical.
I arrived early. I was nervous, but I kept reassuring myself, going over a set of logical conclusions I'd come to about what they would do and how badly things could go wrong. These guys were dangerous. They had no problem with roughing someone up, and they'd been involved in druggings and probably rapes.
This could get nasty fast, but I'd given them every reason to believe that I just wanted to cut a deal, one that would cost them nothing. I was hoping they wouldn't see me as a credible threat.
It also helped that I knew where they were taking me. They called themselves Granite Lodge, and although the current crop of members were pretty secretive, it was possible to track down some names of alumnae. I'd located a particular set of land deals, a cabin in Wolfeboro that had passed from one known Granite Lodge alum to another and from there to a current student. It was their secret lair, so to speak, and the perfect place to take someone they wanted to do some private business with.
They pulled up in a black Escalade. Four of them in UNH hockey jackets and baseball caps pulled down low. The short one was DeLucas. He was easy to spot. I also recognized Jim Hennigan, the guy whose name was on the deed to the cabin in Wolfsboro. I'd had plenty of chances to look at his face. It was all over his Facebook page, mostly shots of him wasted at frat parties. I didn't know the other two, but they were big guys, football-player types, like the two who'd beat up Greg in the IT building. Might have been the same two. I couldn't say for sure.
"Katy McCormick." Hennigan wasn't asking. He knew me on sight. "Your ride's here."
I took a look at the truck. It was brand new, and fully loaded I was sure.
I smiled sweetly at Henningan and said, "Nice car. My Prius gets forty-six miles to the gallon. How does this do?"
"I can afford it." Hennigan snickered. "Get in."
One of the big guys opened up the back door and held it for me while DeLucas went around the other side.
The guy beside me took out some kind of hood and threw it over my head. DeLucas grabbed my arm at the elbow when it happened, like they were expecting me to fight them. But I was prepared for the blindfold routine. I didn't struggle and kept quiet. DeLucas let go of me as he realized it wouldn't be necessary to hold me.
The engine started, and the stereo blasted some speed metal band I didn't recognize. No one talked over it.
I hadn't expected Hennigan to be in charge. He was only a sophomore. Sure enough, when we got to the cabin, we were greeted by some guys who were clearly higher-ups in the ranks of the Granite Lodge.
There was a long dirt road that accessed the cabin. They took the blindfold off me when we made the turn and started bouncing around. I'd seen this road from the satellite image in Google Maps. I'd studied the terrain around the cabin as best I could, and planned out escape routes, all in the hope that none of that planning would be needed.
Halfway up the road was a padlocked gate. Hennigan got out and unlocked it and swung it open. We drove past and then he stopped and got out again to lock it behind us. It was another quarter of a mile through the woods to the cabin.
We were met by two men and one woman. That surprised me. I thought Granite Lodge was all guys. From the way the little blonde was clinging to the football-type who'd been sitting next to me for the ride, I figured maybe she was a girlfriend and not an official member. But that meant these guys were probably bending the rules by having her here. Which further implied that I was still dealing with people who were low-level in the ranks.
The guys who'd met us at the cabin were masked. Nothing fancy, just plain half-masks like you'd wear for a costume ball. Blondie had a scarf wound around her head in a halfhearted attempt to keep from being recognized. Hennigan and the crew from the SUV pulled out masks of their own and put them on. Apparently this was more of a formality than a real disguise.
They marched me into the cabin. It was decorated in pretty typical hunting lodge style, complete with animal heads on the walls. There was a gun rack too, with a couple of hunting rifles in it. Hennigan must have caught me eying that nervously, because he stifled a laugh and walked over to the rack, picking up one of the rifles and examining it with a very phoney show of interest.
There was a desk in one corner with a couple of laptops charging up, and a big-screen TV that hooked into the satellite dish by the side of the cabin.
The taller of the two masked guys from the cabin motioned for everyone to have a seat. I was guided to a rocking chair by the fireplace. There was a hodgepodge of easy chairs, loveseats, barstools, and folding chairs in the room.
The tall masked man addressed me. "You have something for us?"
I nodded. "I want to hear from you first. No more stalking, no more messing with my friends. I don't want Greg to get hurt over this again. You agree to stay away from him, stay away from Kelsie, stay away from me, my friends and family. We have a deal?"
"See, that's the funny thing, Katy. We have no idea what you're talking about. Stalking? Hurting people? We don't do any of that. We just like to have some good, clean fun. Isn't that right?" There were murmurs of agreement from around the room.
"No deal then," I said. "You wanna play innocent, that's fine. But I'm not handing over anything unless…"
"Your phone, Katy." Hennigan interrupted.
"Give us your cell phone. It's in your right jacket pocket. Now, please." His tone was perfectly polite, but he was out of his seat, standing over me and backed up by one of his thugs, and his body language was anything but polite.
I reached slowly into my pocket and took the phone out. Hennigan took a look at it and tossed it to the tall masked guy. He passed it to DeLucas, who examined it closely.
"Digital voice recorder," DeLucas announced.
"You know, Katy..." The tall guy spoke slowly, choosing his words. "This is not the sort of thing that generates trust."
"Well, I thought that demanding you put it in writing might not go over very well. Look, the flashdrive with the files are in my other pocket. You can erase the recording. Let's just get this done so I can go home." I spoke quickly, trying to sound impatient, trying not to sound like they'd rattled me.
"You know something, Katy?" The tall guy was still speaking in measured words. He wasn't eager to get things done. From the grin under the mask, I figured he was starting to enjoy himself. "I'm beginning to wonder if you really want to make a deal with us. I'm starting to suspect that you're not here to do business, but rather you've come with the intention of collecting evidence. That what you're here for, Katy? We know who you used to work for. We can do background checks too. That detective would be disappointed in you, Katy. The voice recorder on your phone? Was that the best you could come up with?"
At this point I had nothing to say.
DeLucas spoke up. "What if it's not?"
"What do you mean?" Hennigan asked.
"Misdirection," DeLucas explained. "She lets us find the phone, and then we never check for the second recorder she's got hidden on her."
They turned their attention back to me slowly as I fought the panic that was welling up.
Hennigan motioned to one of his goons and they took two steps in my direction and I started to get out of my chair, when the cabin door smashed off its hinges and all hell broke loose.
"POLICE! ON THE FLOOR! GET THE FUCK ON THE FLOOR!"
That first yell stuck in my memory over all the chaos in the room. Everything else was flashes.
Riot helmets, flak vests, guns drawn.
Henningan getting hit in the kidney with a nightstick when he wouldn't get on the floor fast enough.
DeLucas screaming, the blonde chick screaming.
My cheek bouncing off the hardwood when one of them threw me down, and then a guy's knee in the small of my back crushing me, and the zip tie they used to cuff us cutting into my wrists.
I was dragged over in front of the fireplace, and the blonde was half dragged, half thrown next to me. A woman officer, tall with a Spanish accent checked us for weapons, removing the pepper spray I'd had in my jacket pocket for use if things got rough with the Granite Lodge crew. Things had gotten rough all right; just not the way they'd expected.
I didn't want to attract any attention to myself. I kept remembering my Dad telling me what to do if I ever got arrested: Cooperate, talk as little as possible, make note of details, and politely request to speak with a lawyer when given the chance. I kept my head down, and I could only see bits and pieces of what was going on.
They'd found some weed on one of the guys. One of the cops was calling for an evidence bag.
They were finishing patting everyone down, and the woman cop and another guy with "DEA" in big yellow letters on the back of his vest came over to where we were laying.
We were hauled to our feet and walked out of the cabin to an unmarked black van that was parked in front of the Granite Lodge boys' Escalade.
The woman officer sat us on a bench in the van and pulled the door closed, then took a seat opposite of us.
The blonde started sobbing in near hysterics, and it went on and on as we sat there in the darkness.
I lost track of time, but eventually another officer came in. The woman cop gave a nod and stepped outside.
"Please, I've got nothing to do with this! I barely know these people. I met Bobby at a party two weeks ago. I don't have any drugs on me! I've never been arrested! Oh, God…" The blonde ended the plea with more sobbing and hysterics.
"Nothing to do with this, huh?" The officer's tone was even, his expression hidden behind the face shield of his helmet. He pulled out a UNH student ID card that he must have taken when he searched her. "Turns out your boyfriend told us that too. And seeing how you're not on our list, Ms. Hinkley, we're gonna do you a big favor."
He knocked hard on the back door of the van three times. The woman officer opened it up.
"Take Ms. Hinkley down to the end of the road, and return her purse. There's a gas station with a convenience store a mile north. She can find her own ride home."
The blonde was hauled to her feet and roughly escorted out of the van.
The male cop closed the door but turned on one of the inside lights before he addressed me.
"And as for you," He began, "what have you got to say for yourself?"
I looked up at my own reflection in his face shield and asked, "Aren't you a little short for a stormtrooper?"
Seeing him fight to keep from laughing was priceless.
"God damn it, Katy!" Greg threw off the helmet and gave in to giggles.
"I knew you wouldn't be able to keep a straight face through to the end!" I was laughing too now.
Greg took out a pair of clippers and cut me loose and I hugged him and kissed his cheek.
"Holy shit, Greg! When you said those guys would be convincing, you weren't kidding!"
"I told you. These guys were kicking in doors in Sadr City six months ago. These are seriously people that you don't want to fuck with. And they stand by their own."
"Yeah," I nodded. "How's your brother doing?"
"He's in the other truck, listening to the whole interrogation going down and loving every second of it."
Greg and his brother had mostly coordinated from the outside while the Marines took care of business. Greg had only gone into the cabin after they'd hauled DeLucas and Hennigan and the rest out the back door for a rather thorough body search.
"How long until they realize?" Greg wondered.
"Who cares?" I said. "It's all misdirection anyway. They'll spend so much time and effort worrying about who pulled off this raid that they're gonna miss what's right in front of them. And your brother and his crew will be redeployed in a few days anyway. So they're left hunting phantoms."
"They'll suspect you were in on it."
"Even that's misdirection. They'll think this was my way of paying them back. You know, rough them up a bit for what they did to you, cost them some money. Hey, did we find drugs?"
"Meth, coke, GHB, burandanga. We tossed the whole stash into Lake Winnipesaukee."
"Sweet. And how did we do with the real objective?"
Greg gestured toward the cabin. "Audio bugs installed in the DSL filters on the phone lines. Keystroke loggers on the computers. The data dumps through their own internet connection. Nice toys, you managed to get your hands on."
"Thanks. Granite Lodge is gonna be so concerned about what we just took from them, that they won't realize that the real robbery is only starting." I smiled at Greg and got to work securing the gear for our getaway.
Story and image by Rick Silva, Copyright 2008