Section Two of the continuing story
Abdul swatted what had to be the millionth mosquito in the last hour. He could not imagine what these Americans liked about this country. There were so many trees everywhere that you couldn’t see a thing. The constant humidity sucked the precious water out of him in rivers, and these bugs! Where did they all come from? He swatted another mosquito, and got up and stretched. Pulling guard in the middle of these cursed woods was ridiculous, but he couldn’t convince Ibrim of that. Ibrim was the leader, and he was convinced that the Americans could come marching through the trees and find them at any second.
The group consisted of fifteen middle-eastern men, from Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria. Each of them had dedicated his life to Allah, and to the life of a religious freedom fighter. Others shunned them, calling them extremists and terrorists, but they thought of themselves as true Muslims, doing Allah’s will. They had been hiding in the abandoned hunting camp outside of Gumbranch for three weeks. They were as highly trained and prepared for this mission as they could be, and were now waiting for the right moment to implement the plan. That moment was going to be this afternoon. Thanks to the American news media, they knew that the last plane carrying soldiers to Kuwait had left yesterday, and Fort Stewart was as empty as it would ever be. Right now, there was only a skeleton crew running the post. They were working in a very tight window, as National Guard and Reserve soldiers were scheduled to begin arriving here in two weeks, to begin training for deployment. If all went as planned, those soldiers would never come. There would be no place to come to.
Muhommad, the planning genius of the group, had devised a scheme that was sure to work. There was no need to smuggle in explosives to do this job; Fort Stewart had more than they could possibly use. Al Qaeda had an agent planted in Hinesville three years ago, operating a convenience store. He reported that anyone could drive right on to Fort Stewart, and there were even signs directing them to the ammo depot. Of course there were guard posts at the gates, now. Ibrim’s brother had seen to that, when he crashed a plane into the Pentagon. That, however, was not going to be a problem.
Abdul checked his watch. His shift was over, so he walked back towards the shack. As he neared, another man came out of the door, locking a clip into his weapon. Abdul nodded to him, indicating that all was well, and went inside. Muhommad had the map of Fort Stewart, which they obtained free of charge from a local realtor, pinned on the wall. He had the tank trails that they would be using traced in red marker, and the alternate escape routes traced in yellow. After a brief reconnaissance trip in the back side of the post, they found that entry would be much easier than they expected. Fort Stewart was an immense parcel of land, but only the main post and housing areas were sealed and guarded.
They had found this hunting shack located on a back road, and discovered that the road went all the way to the main highway on Fort Stewart. From there, it was a right turn and a straight shot of about five miles, and they would be at the entrance to the ammo depot. Up to that point, it would be a breeze. Things would get trickier after that, but they were ready for it.
Ibrim stood, and the room fell silent. “It is time for phase one to begin.” He turned to the two men seated on a bunk. “Go, and Allah will be with you,” he said. “For the rest of you, you’re time is also drawing near. Be sure that your gear is ready, be sure your plan is perfected, and be sure that your soul is right. Today, we show the infidels Allah’s might and power. We will not fail. You will not fail. Allah will not fail.”
Akbar and Hodgie, the two men who were to initiate the first phase, rose and Ibrim kissed them on each cheek. They turned, picked up their things, and walked out the door. Akbar climbed into the old Ford pickup, and started the engine. Hodgie got in the passenger side, and they took off in a cloud of dust.
They drove through town, and out the other side. Two miles past the city limits was a softball field complex. Akbar slowed the pickup, and turned in to the parking lot. He drove down the service road behind the field and right up to the edge of the trees. He stopped, put the truck in park, and the two men climbed out.
Hodgie grabbed a chain from the bed of the truck, and walked around to the front, where Akbar was pulling the leaves off to one side. Akbar located the buried rope he was looking for, and tied it to the hook on the chain. Hodgie attached the other end of the chain to the tow hook on the front bumper, and stood back as Akbar climbed back into the driver’s seat. He backed up slowly, and as the slack left the rope, the entire wall of young pine and fir trees began to slide with the pickup. Soon, it was clear that a tarp was beneath the trees, and there was a large vehicle behind the elaborate cover. Akbar dragged the huge tree and dirt laden tarp back to the edge of the softball field.
What had been hidden was now clear. It was a semi-tractor, with a tank trailer. Hodgie unlocked the door, and started the engine. While the air pressure built up, he walked around the truck, and inspected it for any signs of tampering. It seemed to be clean, and he returned to the pickup. Akbar had unhooked from the tarp, and he grabbed a gym bag from the bed of the pickup. He unzipped the bag, and pulled out two gas masks. He handed one to Hodgie, and put his on. Hodgie gave him a thumbs up and walked back to the big rig, putting on the mask as he walked.
Hodgie mashed the clutch down, and slipped the truck into second gear. He had driven lots of trucks before, but none were this modern, and easy to shift. It almost seemed a shame to purposely wreck such a nice truck.
He released the parking brakes, waved to Akbar, and eased the truck out onto the service road. The highway was clear, and he turned right and drove back towards town. There was just enough time to get up to speed, before the plan turned into action. He glanced in the mirror, and saw Akbar coming up along side of him. The gas mask made it hard to see, and everything seemed slightly distorted. The big curve was rapidly approaching, and they had to time this perfectly. There had been no way to practice for this in training, but Akbar had pulled a job very similar to this one before, and he had coached Hodgie on what to do. It was time.
Akbar suddenly sped up, passing Hodgie and the big tanker. Just as they entered the steep left hand curve, he began to weave into the right lane, then back into the left lane, and then he slammed on the brakes, screeching to a stop. Hodgie was right behind him, and he cranked the wheel to the right as far as it would go, and stood on the brake pedal. The trailer tires shrieked in protest, and then the right side came off the ground. The truck tires dug for a grip, but the leaning trailer pulled the whole thing over. Just as it seemed that the tank would crush Akbar as it fell, he hit the gas and the pickup lurched forward, to safety. The tanker crashed over onto its left side, sending sparks everywhere. The deafening scream of the metal sliding on the asphalt drowned the sound of Hodgie’s own screams, as the glass from the door window sliced his arms and chest. The truck shuddered to a stop, blocking all four lanes of the highway. Gasoline poured from the fractured tank, and ignited instantly from the sparks and the red-hot, friction-heated metal. Hodgie kicked out the windshield, and sprinted from the truck. Traffic was stopped, and people rushed towards him to help him escape.
“You savage infidels! Allah has brought his justice upon you now,” he screamed in triumph. Laughing deliriously, he continued shouting. “This truck is full of poison gas, everyone is going to die!” He threw his head back and dropped to his knees. “Thank you Allah,” he prayed. “Thank you for allowing me to deliver the nonbelievers to you.”
The would-be helpers stopped, their mouths hanging open in shock. The gas mask had muffled his voice some, but they understood what was happening. It was the thing that they saw on television, but never dreamed of seeing in real life. It couldn’t happen in this town, not to them. A woman screamed, then turned and ran. This broke the paralysis, and they all turned and ran. A few of them managed to get their cars turned around and get back past the crowds, but within seconds, a colossal traffic jam had occurred. People were running in all directions, and panic was on the wind.
Hodgie laughed again, this time to himself. The only thing in the tanker was gasoline, and it was burning to beat all hell. However, Allah himself couldn’t convince these people of that now; they were nearing a riot-like frenzy. They were knocking each other down and trampling the fallen, trying to get away. Hodgie looked for Akbar. He was over on the other side of the road, beckoning for him to hurry. Hodgie trotted across the road, the searing heat from the burning gasoline singeing his hair as he passed. He was too far into a state of euphoria to even notice.
“We did it!” he exclaimed, upon reaching Akbar. “Your plan worked perfect!” He clapped Akbar on the shoulder, and they took off across the grass towards a side street at a jog. The getaway car was several blocks away, and they would have to reach it on foot. They set it up that way, so that they wouldn’t become stuck in the traffic jam if it got big faster than they expected. Always plan for things to go wrong, Muhommad had told them. Always be ready for the worst. It was good advice, because this melee was growing faster than any of them had ever expected. Upon arriving at the car, the pulled off the masks and collapsed on the seat, gasping for air. After a moment, Akbar started the engine, and they took off to the meeting spot.