Note: Below is part one of Chapter 32 of Absolved, the new chapter I have been promising you Irregulars as a Christmas present. Part two will be posted tomorrow. Enjoy. By the way, the RAB pump-action machine pistol is a real design by a brilliant man who I consider to be a candidate for the John Moses Browning of the 21st Century. Don't believe me? Here are pictures of the unsuppressed prototype in 9mm:
I offer this as evidence I that I try to make my fiction as real as possible. Still, it is important to remember that it IS still fiction. For now anyway. Whether it remains so is not up to me, unfortunately, but up to people who have no understanding of the titanic forces they are playing with.
Like I said, enjoy.
Question: “What’s ten thousand lawyers at the bottom of the sea?”
Answer: “A good start.” – An old lawyer joke.
William T. “Little Willy” McCann looked at a face he thought was handsome in the mirror and reflected through the steam and shaving cream that life was good. Of course, he wasn’t aware that his nickname in the ATF Chief Counsel’s Office secretarial pool was “Little Willy,” and would have been outraged had he known it. He had earned it, though, by virtue of his wandering eye, unwelcome exploring hands and a certain physical insufficiency – duly reported by those who succumbed (usually just once) to his advances -- that he more than made up for with his out-sized ego.
In the arrogance of his ignorance, William McCann was certain that he had arrived at his deserved station in life by hard work and sheer brilliance. He had been a middling law student. Well, maybe less than middling if his transcript was to be believed, and he had been passed over upon graduation when the law firm offers were handed out. The closest he would get to private practice – and the astronomical income possibilities which were possible in that rarefied atmosphere – was a John Grisham novel.
But when he found himself after the bar exam without good prospects he did what many other unaccomplished and unpromising young lawyers did: he joined the ranks of the swarms of other worker bee attorneys who toiled in the federal bureaucracy.
For William McCann had two insights early on that had served him well. The first was that the coin of the realm in Washington, D.C. was power and it could be just as intoxicating as money to the right sort of man. It was for this reason that he had chosen the ATF, an enforcement agency, as his vehicle.
The ATF had been since its founding pretty much a law unto itself, thanks to the political cover automatically granted it by anti-firearm politicos of the Democrat party. If they stood in the shadow of the FBI (and were scorned and ridiculed by it), that was irksome to McCann, but ultimately OK by him.
Working for the FBI would have been beyond his competence (which he understood in an unconscious way that never got in the way of his waking ego) and was, in his estimation, too much like work and too fraught with possibilities of accountability. And if there was one thing government lawyers like McCann enjoyed, it was the unaccountability of their power.
There were many times over the years when operations that had been approved by the Chief Counsel’s Office – signed off on by William McCann -- had gone south. Street agents were always held accountable for the blow-back, never the attorneys. Never, reflected McCann with a smile at his mug in the mirror, HIM.
Take the Phil Gordon disaster. The supervisory agents who had asked for approval were all dead now, taking the blame for that stupendous screw-up with them to their graves. But McCann, who had given the legal go signal? Why William T. McCann had every expectation of making Chief Counsel someday.
Part of this was because the agency had suffered for years under a series of short-term or acting directors. And as they came and went, who provided the answers to all their stupid questions? Who provided the institutional memory to the policymakers? Why the lawyers, of course. And if their version of the institutional memory was self-serving and personally aggrandizing and empowering, why that was their due for simple longevity, wasn’t it?
Over the decades the Chief Counsel’s Office had extended its reach throughout the agency, until by the time of the Gordon raid they had a representative (or two or ten) in every ATF local office, no matter how inconsequential. This was viewed by their rotating superiors as prudent, since it was expected that the lawyers would surely act as a cautionary brake on the “cowboy” street agents.
The truth was, McCann understood, that the Chief Counsel’s Office ran the agency for all intents and purposes and yet they never suffered when operations turned into epochal failures or spectacular embarrassments.
McCann’s second insight was that nothing, NOTHING, happened in the Capitol or the country without lawyers. The laws were written by hundreds of elected lawyers, approved by dozens of appointed lawyers in robes, and enforced by ten thousand or so anonymous, faceless lawyers just like himself.
Without the lawyers, the federal leviathan would grind to halt. We are the new priesthood, McCann thought, regurgitating without attribution a thought that had been planted in his head by one of his forgotten professors in law school.
First we define the sin in a way that only the elect can interpret, then some of us act as inquisitors while others defend the malefactor before the high council. His fate decided, we dispense salvation, forgiveness, fine or death to the sinners. And the peasants continue to pay us for the privilege. The thought of him as a priest made him laugh. But still, there was something that rang true about the metaphor.
McCann wiped the last of the shaving cream from his cheeks and smiled once more at his favorite person. Screw Eliot Ness, he thought, WE are the real “Untouchables.”
Had Little Willy McCann known what Sam Montrose and Jonathan Thompson were up to that same morning as he shaved in his almost-mansion in Arlington, he would have been a bit less certain about that, even though they, like him, were both attorneys.
After Jon Thompson opened the conversation, the two Starbucks coffees went untouched.
For a good long moment, Sam Montrose, a small, neat, compact man with piercing gray eyes and close-cropped brown hair, merely stared at his friend and law partner.
Big Jon Thompson, tall, built like the college linebacker that he had been, finally could not stand the silence.
“Well, what do you think?”
The older man grunted. Finally, he said, “I think you want to get us both very dead before our time.”
“Yeah? So?” challenged Jon Thompson. “It’s not like they don’t have it coming. The country is dying, drowning in their ocean of shit and they just float idly by, watching the rest of us from their palatial houseboat ark.”
Montrose smiled. He knew he would help his best friend do what needed to be done. Thompson, still angry, misinterpreted it.
“Dammit, Sam,” he continued his indictment, “the whole rotten, murderous system doesn’t work without them. Take them out and the system grinds to a halt. It’s not like they have any friends. They’re loyal to nobody but themselves. Even the street agents hate them. And because we’re lawyers, maybe we’re the only ones who can see the essential thing. They’re the nexus, the critical node, the ‘schwerpunkt,’ the center of gravity.”
“I know what schwerpunkt means, Jon, I taught it to you, remember?”
Thompson paused, but only for a moment, and then, “The sons of bitches took an oath, too, just like us. They’ve broken it in every way anyone can possibly break it. They’ve got it coming.”
The Oath. It was what bound them to their duty. It was what bound them as friends.
They had met when they were JAG lawyers in Baghdad. Both of them owed their law degrees to the United States Army. Both had been light infantrymen before law school -- Montrose with the Tenth Mountain Division and Thompson with the 82nd Airborne. Montrose had been toward the end of his tour while Thompson had been the newbie just in. They had been drawn together by the Mosul case, when some special operations troops had carried out their orders regarding a certain murderous member of AQI, and then been prosecuted for no good reason other than it was viewed by senior JAG staff as politically expedient to do so.
Appointed as defense counsel, the two had done their duty, successfully defended the men and seriously embarrassed a brigadier general in the process. Montrose, whose hitch was up and disgusted by West Point "ring-knocker" politics, went home to what was now a budding private practice. Thompson, who loved the Army and wanted to be a lifer, was crucified on a dozen chickenshit imaginary violations by a half-dozen chickenshit majors and light colonels -- toadies of the BG who sought to curry favor, and promotion, by boot-licking. It was an old story, but it damn near crushed Big Jon Thompson's spirit and his faith in both the Army and justice. After Thompson's legal gauntlet was decided by a general discharge, Montrose took him on as a partner.
With the current administration's policies shredding good order and discipline in the military services, they stayed busy defending soldiers on charges of everything from "conduct unbecoming" to desertion to, increasingly, mutiny and treason. The Pentagon, torn at the highest levels by politics, hated to see them coming, for they had learned to play the press card like pros without ever going over the line and their inside experience -- and old friends who proved excellent sources of E-Ring intel -- made them particularly effective. Unbeknownst to them, Montrose and Thompson had been placed on the growing White House "enemies list." Even so, they would never be suspected of what they now agreed to do. They were lawyers, after all. And no one expects lawyers to moonlight as assassins.
Yet that was exactly what Big Jon Thompson, like Montrose a family man with a loving wife and young children, now proposed to do.
Something silent passed between them, as the Starbucks crowd surged and eddied, all the while universally ignoring them. Sam Montrose formalized it with a nod.
He would help.
Because of the Oath.
Thompson grew reflective then.
"You know," said Thompson, thinking of his daughters, "I don't expect we can get more than a half-dozen or so before they figure out it's us. We're not operators, you know."
Montrose smiled. It was, Thompson knew, the man's most dangerous smile.
"No, were not operators. But I know an operator. One of the best in his day. I think he'll help us."
The Unit: Accident-prone Generals
Wiley Fortner was at that same time conducting an after-action review in the study of his northern Virginia farmhouse.
Lord, I’m getting old, Fortner thought, looking at the young eager killers on the other side of his desk, ranged in over-stuffed chairs around the room, but sitting at attention nonetheless. They had been good bird dogs this night, and they expected a pat on the head.
Time was, Wiley thought with more than a twinge of sadness, I was sitting where they’re sitting. Only the room was in South Vietnam and Bill Colby was sitting behind the desk and Jack Durer, Stan King and me were sitting across from him, waiting for the approval of the man who sent us. The chairs hadn’t been comfortable and the old French ceiling fans barely moved the humid air. Lord above, we were all so young. Where had the years gone?
McAllister finished his recitation. It had been short, clipped and precise. The Air Force major general had suffered an accident, slipping in the shower while his wife visited relatives in Connecticut. Broken neck, the forensics would show. Poor man.
Poor, unlucky man.
Wiley Fortner knew about accidents. He’d arranged accidents like that most of his life, and when he grew too old to arrange them, he taught how it was done to younger, quicker men with a talent for that sort of thing. It was all on behalf of the national security interests of the United States. At least, that’s what we told ourselves at the time.
Now his squad of five volunteers was assisting tyranny-amenable generals in finding their own inner accidents in order to frustrate administration intentions in the Pentagon. Thus did Wiley express his disdain for oath breaking corporation generals.
It was, he thought with a grin, more direct, practical and satisfying than writing letters to the editor.
At the grin, McAllister halted, confused.
“Sir?” he asked.
Fortner shook his head. “Nothing, nothing,” he explained, “Just thinking.”
The old man looked around the room, taking each man in turn into his penetrating gaze.
“Y’all did good. Go home, get some rest. For now, our target list has been exhausted. We have to wait for some more appointments before we begin to tip the actuarial tables again.”
The count stood at two lieutenant generals, a major general, three brigadiers, five colonels and a deputy director of the National Security Agency. The trouble had been how to arrange the accidents without repeating themselves as to cause. That had proved impossible.
The old fly-boy tonight had been the fourth bathroom accident in as many weeks. It was becoming a nervous joke told in Pentagon restrooms.
“Did you hear about the general who broke his neck in the john? They’re pretty sure it was an accident because he died BEFORE he was invited to the White House.”
CID was more than a little suspicious, but could never find any forensic clues to indicate anything other than personal misadventure. Exhaustive intelligence gathering, careful planning, and meticulous execution had seen to that. Of course there was nothing that CID did that was news to Wiley Fortner. He might be long retired, but he still had friends in places both high and low.
A dozen traitors to the Republic were dead at the hands of boys he set in motion, and though Wiley knew it was simple justice, the unit’s run of good luck wouldn’t last forever. Sooner or later, something would have to screw up. It was just in the percentages.
The young killers of the unit filed out, with McCallister bringing up the rear.
“Good night, sir,” he said.
“Good morning,” Fortner corrected him.
God he was tired. He never slept when the boys were out executing an accident plan. Never. Colby hadn’t been like that. Colby had always slept like a baby when his assassins were afoot.
Well, no matter. He had an eleven o’clock appointment in the District with a young lawyer acquaintance of his, but that still gave him time for a nap. He would need it, he knew. Montrose had sounded urgent, needy. What the hell was this about, he wondered. Another soldier or marine in a legal jam? Well, as Jack Durer used to say, “If you can’t stand not knowing . . .”
The old assassin went in to take a shower and dress for the rendezvous.
The lunch was over, dirty plates biding time until the waiter cleared them away.
“Interesting,” replied Fortner when he heard the two lawyers present their idea. “The plan has an elegance to it that intrigues me. You’re only targeting the guilty and you strike them at the very marrow of their cowardly bones. Kill a couple dozen and the rest will find other lines of employment, bringing the work of their agencies to a standstill.”
Thompson interjected enthusiastically, “It will tie the administration up in knots.”
Fortner snorted. “To call these murdering thugs an ‘administration’ is to assign them a legitimacy that they do not merit,” the old man said coldly.
They were in a private dining room of a restaurant down on the rim of the tidal basin, owned by a Cuban émigré who had taken a bullet from a miliciano’s Czech-made rifle near Playa Larga in 1961 and lived to survive the experience. He and Wiley had been friends since the Contra War and here they had no fears of eavesdropping, electronic or otherwise. Javier saw to that.
“Will you help us, Wiley?” Thompson asked with more of a plaintive voice than he’d intended.
Fortner smiled. It was a broad, wolfish smile.
“Sure,” replied the old man, “and I’ve got just the boys to do it.”
So he told them about the Unit, and the accident-prone generals. As he spoke, the two young attorneys marveled at the deadly competence of the old assassin and his boys.
“So,” Fortner concluded, “have you got a top tier target list?”
“Yes, we have,” replied Thompson, removing a piece of paper from the inner pocket of his suit. “Twenty-three names in twelve agencies.”
Wiley looked it over. “Hmmm. White House Counsel’s office. I like that.” He took another sip of George Dickel. “Oh, will you lookee here. I once had a run-in with this asshole about the time Bill Colby turned up dead back in the Clinton days.”
He pointed to a name on the list, and presented the paper to show the lawyers who he meant. “I’ll tell you what,” he offered, “I’ll do him myself.”
After a moment savoring the future, Fortner raised his glass. “Let’s toast to our new enterprise.”
Samuel Xavier Montrose, who had been silent for a while, suddenly came to life. “Let me propose a toast that an ancient relative of mine, James Graham, the 1st Marquess of Montrose, first uttered back during the English Civil War.”
Wiley Fortner nodded. He knew the toast. What competent soldier did not? But he let the younger man go on without interruption.
They all hoisted glasses and stood.
"He either fears his fate too much,
Or his desserts are small,
Who dares not put it to the touch,
To win or lose it all!”
James Graham, the 1st Marquess of Montrose.
They all drank, deeply.
When their glasses were empty, Wiley Fortner said, “The next thing is to introduce you to the unit and get you two a couple of SARTs.”
“Sarts?” asked Thompson.
“Yes,” replied Fortner. “SARTs.”
“Hold On TIGHT!”: Surgical Asshole Removal Tools.
Three days later, in a comfortable workshop snug against the cold outside, Wiley Fortner held what looked like a piece of pipe with a handle attached to it.
“There are an almost infinite number of ways to kill a man,” he told his new students, Thompson and Montrose. “We really are rather fragile critters. Modern firearms make the process almost effortless. The trick is, if you want to kill a man and get away with it, you must either a., shoot him from distance with an accurate rifle, which presupposes you have an unobstructed shot – not an easy thing to arrange -- or b., kill him up close and personal with a suppressed weapon in such a manner that no one knows he’s dead until after you’re long gone. In today’s surveillance society with so many video cameras around, this too is problematic. Each method calls for different skills and some men who make excellent long-range killers break down after they’ve killed their first man up so close that his brains spatter on them and he blows his last stinking breath in their face.”
The two lawyers, both of whom had killed men in infantry firefights, nodded. They knew the difference.
“Now, it is plain from the target list and what we’ve been able to learn about these people that most of them will have to be rooted out. They won’t oblige us by being easy marks for a sniper’s rifle. So, we are going to have to use short-range weapons like knives and suppressed short-range firearms. The Unit, who you’ll meet tomorrow, is skilled in all manner of mayhem, but we don’t have time to train you in the discipline of the knife. This, on the other hand,” and here he hefted the pipe for emphasis, “is just the thing for a couple of tyros like you two.”
Presented from a side view, it was apparent that the pipe was a firearm.
“Unless you count the assassin’s blade, this is the original SART – Surgical Asshole Removal Tool. It is a Welrod suppressed pistol, designed for the British Special Operations Executive by Major Hugh Reeves in the dark early days of World War Two. This one is a later American copy in caliber .45 ACP with a screw on type modern suppressor. I picked it up in Vietnam and it has been in my private collection ever since. It is not on any federal list, except maybe one for lost property.”
“Now, with modern suppressor designs, the noisiest part of any suppressed firearm is usually the mechanism. The Welrod does away with that noise by firing from a locked bolt, yet it has the capability for follow up shots using a bolt-action mechanism, here.” Fortner pointed to a large round knob on the back of the pipe.
“It is fed by this .45 Colt 1911 magazine in the grip,” he said as he detached it for emphasis. Here is the manual safety, and here, the grip safety. You operate the bolt by turning the knob a quarter turn to the left and then pulling it back.” As he spoke, Fortner demonstrated.
“If there is an empty case in the chamber it is ejected. When you push the knob forward, a cartridge is stripped from the magazine and loaded into the chamber and the striker is put under tension. When you can’t push the bolt any farther forward, turn it a quarter turn to the right and the weapon is now locked, loaded and ready to fire.”
“How quiet is it?” asked Montrose.
Without a word, Fortner pivoted and fired the pistol at some sandbags he had set up in a large wooden box along the far wall. The only sounds were the click of the striker, the slap of the bullet on the sandbag and a sustained snake-like hiss as the suppressor gave up its gas.
“HOLY SHIT!” exclaimed Thompson. Montrose was equally stunned, but said nothing.
“Yeah,” Fortner echoed ironically, “it is ‘holy shit.’”
The Welrod Silenced Pistol -- the original SART.
“OK,” he nodded to Montrose, “you’re the little guy, so you get this. The reason being that half of the game is concealing your weapon until you get close and this is the smallest totally quiet weapon I’ve got.”
Montrose looked as proud as a frog eatin’ fire, as Fortner’s daddy would have put it. Thompson, on the other hand, looked disconsolate.
“Don’t worry, big boy,” Wiley reassured Big Jon, “I’ve got a better toy for you.”
Fortner popped open a briefcase on his desk and withdrew from it what looked to be an Israeli Uzi but wasn’t. “Now that,” said Fortner indicating the Welrod on the desktop, “is a piece of history, but THIS is something special.”
The old man ran his hand lovingly over the metal and plastic.
“This is a RAB pump-action suppressed machine pistol in .45 ACP. The RAB stands for the inventor’s initials, Ramsis A. Bear. Bear is a Georgia good old boy firearms inventor and manufacturer I ran into one day at the Civilian Marksmanship Program store in Anniston, Alabama, back when I still worked as a consultant for the Company. We got to talkin’ about machine pistols and suppressors and I told him that if he could ever come up with totally quiet submachine gun he’d be a rich man.”
“Well, it turned out that this northwest Georgia boy could give John Moses Browning a run for his money. One day, less than two weeks later, mind you, I get a call at home from Bear to come on down to visit him in his shop over near the Alabama line, because he wants to show me something. That something was this. He went from idea to finished sample in something like ten days.”
“Remember what I told you about the action being the noisiest part of a suppressed firearm? Well, Bear solved the problem by making a hybrid firearm that is both pump and blowback operated, depending upon need. He started with a UC-9 receiver and made a top for it from aluminum bar stock he found in a cluttered corner of his shop floor. Look,” Fortner rotated the weapon so they could see it from the top perspective, “See these button head screws? They hold the whole damn thing together and can be removed with a simple allen wrench. The stock, which folds along the top, comes from a PPsh 43 Russian submachine gun. The rest of it is an UZI spare parts kit in .45 ACP, although you can change the caliber to either 9mm or .22 Long Rifle with a simple drop in. It uses UZI .45 magazines. The standard is a 16 round magazine, but I also have a pouchful of 30 rounders that Bear kindly made for me by welding two 16 rounders together. This front block is a monolithic baffle system suppressor which fits on in place of the standard end cap. It’s almost as quiet as the Welrod, but not quite. Still, it’s an order of magnitude more capable than the Welrod so you can’t expect cheese in your grits.”
Fortner paused, and grinned, if possible, even wider.
“But that’s not the sexy part. THIS is the sexy part.” As he said it, he racked the UZI forearm back like a pump-action shotgun. The process was almost noiseless.
“The pump action is buffered to keep it as quiet as possible,” Fortner explained. “No ‘clack-clack.’”
“Depending upon the selector setting here,” Fortner pointed, “you can fire suppressed from a locked bolt like the Welrod or full auto like any other machine gun. This is so you can have the ability, in one weapon, to take out your target super quietly, or switch to full auto if things go south and you have to break contact. With the selector on “slide” you can empty the entire magazine one quiet pump at a time. But remember, this is a machine pistol spitting forty fives so on full auto, even with the stock extended and planted firmly in your shoulder, that muzzle climb is a bitch. That’s why the safe position on the selector is marked ‘S’, the slide action position is marked ‘SL’, and the full auto position is marked ‘Hold On Tight!’”
“You’re shitting us, right?” asked Thompson.
“Take a look for yourself,” said Fortner, holding the weapon out for the big man’s inspection.
Thompson took off his glasses, bent down and squinted at the tiny letters. Sure enough. “Hold On TIGHT!
Montrose spoke up, “Not to ask a silly question, but isn’t something like this supposed to be registered?”
“Of course. The receiver was registered before it was transferred to Bear’s shop and it was registered again when he shipped it out to an authorized dealer. Both transfers were perfectly legal. Bear is many things but not stupid. He wouldn’t hear of an illegal transfer. Over the years he’s carried on a one-man war with the ATF, testifying in court cases as an expert witness, messing up their carefully contrived set-ups against honest citizens. They hate his guts. He’d never give them an opening to come at him by doing something illegal.”
“So,” asked Montrose carefully, “is your name on the paperwork?”
“No,” smiled the old man.
“Then . . .”
Fortner's face became long and sad. “Tragically, it was stolen from the dealer it was transferred to. These things happen rarely, but they do happen. Dirty stinkin’ thieves. When they catch him I hope he lives long enough to be strung up by the balls.” Wiley Fortner then ruined his display of faux outrage with an exaggerated wink.
Both lawyers broke up.
“All right,” Fortner ordered, now all business. “For the next half-day we’re going to familiarize you newbies with your weapons. Tomorrow you meet the Unit and we get down to planning our campaign in detail.”
Big Jon Thompson picked up the RAB and looked it over for the first time in HIS hands. He folded out the stock and put it to his shoulder. “Hold on TIGHT!” he murmured.