Backlash - an American Fable

Chapter One

On a cool October evening on the West side of Chicago, the middle-aged man in the navy blue jacket and jeans walked briskly down the sidewalk. A black baseball cap was pulled low over his forehead, hiding his ice-blue eyes, which were constantly and methodically scanning his surroundings. They missed nothing.

Having parked his car discreetly on a quiet side street, he was heading for the university campus just a few blocks ahead. As he crossed to the far side of the street, his ears picked up the unmistakable thudding of helicopter rotor blades coming from the Southwest. His pulse quickened and his body tensed as it always did whenever he heard that sound – it had once been the background music of a major part of his life.

Coming toward him on the sidewalk ahead was a bearded young man with shaggy hair, lugging a backpack snugged over his gray sweatshirt, hands in his pockets against the chill air. As he neared the man a detached observer might have noticed that the younger man seemed to reflexively step to the edge of the concrete to let the older man pass. Was it courtesy, or an unconscious reaction to some long-forgotten primal defense mechanism?

As they passed each other, the man in the ball cap seemed scarcely to notice the backpacker, but in fact he had already assessed the young man’s height, weight, even his athletic ability. More importantly, his keen eyes could see no signs that the younger man was armed. Just a student, he decided.

When he got to the street that marked the beginning of the school campus, he stopped under a streetlamp, pulled a folded sheet of yellow legal paper from his jacket pocket, opened it, and looked at the map that was drawn in black marker. After a few seconds, he nodded to himself, replaced the paper in his jacket and stepped onto the walkway that lead to the center of the tree-studded campus, the brilliant fall colors already lost in the blues and grays of twilight.

He noted each building as he passed, many of which had well-worn signs at their entrances, proclaiming which wealthy benefactor had written a check large enough to garner a kind of academic immortality. He smiled when he thought about the fact that many of those who showered colleges with generous financial gifts were successful capitalists, who were then shocked when their own children came home from their alma mater, wearing Che Guevera t-shirts and spouting Marxist dogma. Payback’s hell, he mused. Indeed.

The building he was looking for appeared just ahead, and he turned up the narrow walkway to the entrance, where ancient oak doors were adorned with massive, well-worn brass handles. The sign on the right side of the doorway read “College of Education” – he pulled open the heavy door and stepped inside.

Once in the lobby he took note of the number of people still in the halls. A trio of young girls walked past, one of whom was chattering loudly, more to herself than her two companions, who were deeply involved in texting with their mobile phones. They paid no attention to the older man, who had long ago perfected the covert operative’s ability to be “invisible in plain sight” – for them, he didn’t even exist. Which was just fine with him. When they were questioned by the police, as everyone in this building no doubt would be, they would likely not recall seeing him at all, let alone any salient details of his appearance.

Halfway down the main hallway he found the room marked “Maintenance -Authorized Personnel Only” – he looked both ways, and when he was certain that no one was looking his way, used the key he had copied to open the locked door. Inside he saw that his “equipment” was right where it was supposed to be. A wheeled cart with a big gray plastic garbage can at the front, and racks of cleaning supplies at the back, along with towels and a toilet plunger.

Quickly, he removed his jacket, revealing a green work shirt with an official looking logo of the university on the left chest with the name “Lemont” beneath it, and the words “Maintenance Staff” on the back. He stuffed his blue jacket into a plastic bag, and placed it into the garbage can. He put on pair of cheap black plastic glasses, the kind that geeks in those teen movies always wear, and finally, he clipped a ring of several plastic identification cards to his belt, along with a key fob sporting more than a dozen keys of various sizes.

He was ready.

He took a breath, then casually backed out of the door, dragging the maintenance cart behind him. Once in the hall, he wheeled the cart around and pushed it toward the service elevator. He pushed the “UP” button and was surprised that the doors immediately parted – he quickly pushed the cart inside.

When he got to the second floor, he exited the elevator and turned right, following a path that led him past the offices of various professors, until he got to the one he was seeking. Room 223. The man smiled. That a militant, anti-war, anti-military, anti-American and admitted former terrorist like Professor William Byers would have a room with that particular number was irony of the highest order. As anyone familiar with firearms would know, especially someone with a military background, the “223” was the civilian designation for the cartridge used by the military M-16 rifle.

He paused before entering to listen. He heard what sounded like soft music coming from the room. Then, just barely, the sound of a drawer opening and closing. Good. As the intelligence that he had been given assured him, the professor almost never left before 1930 hours, and it was not quite 1900 yet – he still thought in “military time” even though it seemed like ages since his days in Recon. Old habits died hard.

After waiting a few more minutes, just to be certain that there were no students or other guests in the professor’s office, “Lemont” gave a cursory knock and walked in, whistling softly, just like anyone simply going about their boring job might do. “Evenin’, professor,” he muttered toward the balding man seated behind the large wooden desk with the leather trimmed blotter.

“Hmmph,” the professor grunted, barely glancing up from the papers he seemed to be studying, as he nodded in the general direction of the man with the cart. Professor Byers did not seem to notice the new face, nor the fact that even the real Lamont was not due to make his rounds until nearly midnight. Neither did the professor notice that the “maintenance man” had locked the door after he had entered, or that the man now stood directly in front of his desk. He also did not see that the man no longer had his hands on the garbage cart.

Only when the maintenance man muttered something unintelligible did the professor look up. It was then that he saw that the man’s hands were covered in blue surgical rubber gloves, and that they were holding something dark and shiny that looked like a thick metal tube, which was now pointing directly at the professor’s face.

“What did you say?” asked the professor, now showing something approaching puzzlement, but not yet fear.

“I said, I’ve walked over better men than you,” the man repeated, slowly pronouncing each of the words, this time with a tone so malevolent, so full of quiet rage, that Professor William Byers finally began to feel the cold grip of terror. For if the fierce eyes of the man standing over him were not enough to make the Professor understand the gravity of the situation, the sudden recognition of what the man was pointing at him made things all too clear. Because he now realized that it was not a “tube” that he was staring into, but the business end of a silencer – more accurately a suppressor – affixed to a .22 caliber Ruger pistol.

“Give my regards to Karl Marx,” said the man. Professor Byers may have been about to protest, or perhaps even plead. But before a single word could come out of his now open mouth, there were three quick coughs from the pistol, and almost simultaneously three small holes appeared in the professor’s forehead, making a neat little triangle. The upper half of the professor’s high-backed chair was not so neat. As the professor slumped forward, it became obvious that the three 60 grain hollow point rounds had exited the rear of the professor’s head, leaving a red mist of bone, brains and blood splattered all over the chair’s beige fabric.

The man quickly picked up the three empty cartridge casings that had landed on the floor in front of the desk, took off his green work shirt, and after a quick inventory of the keys, gloves, false ID’s and the gun, placed everything into a black plastic trash bag. He then removed his blue jacket from the other bag, and put it back on. He continued to wear the “Dollar Store” eyeglasses.

Then he slowly opened a small crack in the door of the office and listened. When he could hear no footsteps or conversation out in the hallway, he opened the door and came out, pushing the cart as he walked calmly toward the service elevator, once again whistling quietly. Just another blue collar worker going about his business. When he reached the ground floor he retrieved the plastic trash bag from the garbage can, threw it over his shoulder, and, looking like some low-rent Santa Claus, walked out the heavy oak doors.

Perhaps 15 minutes later he dumped the trash bag into a dumpster he had earlier selected for its location, and for the fact that it was one that he knew would be emptied the very next morning. He walked back to his car, climbed in and started the black BMW’s big V-8 engine, snicked the transmission into first gear, released the clutch, and disappeared almost silently into the frosty Chicago night…