Madman at the Gate

by Gary Clifton


It was Sunday afternoon before Labor Day, and hotter than blue-Billy-hell. The notoriously vicious Jackals outlaw biker gang had rented thirty acres of brushy land within rifle range of downtown Port Lavaca for a violent, drunken orgy.

Callers flooded the 911 switchboards with complaints of loud music and machine-gun fire. The upshot, pun intended, was a very sweaty glut of heavily armed cops and ATF agents standing beyond the next hill, cogitating what to do next. With a Federal search warrant and arrest warrants for two bikers, cause for entry was in abundance, but the tactics were dodgy.

The ATF guy in charge was a desk jockey from Disneyland East: ATF Headquarters. A half-mile through the trees, the strike force had parked ten cars and a Bradley Armored Fighting Vehicle from Fort Hood.

The bikers were too stoned to sense the creeping disaster. Three greasy guys with shotguns stood guard at the metal front gate.

“We’ll use the Bradley to ram the gate, then follow with cars,” the head ATF Washington bureaucrat-in-charge commanded.

A scratchy voice drifted from the rear. “Provoking a gunfight at the Hokey Corral is a dumb-ass idea.”

The supervisor peered intently through the sweating group. “McBride” — he eyed the rumpled veteran ATF agent at length — “I know you and your rep as a world-class smart-ass. You got a better idea?”

McBride peered down the hill through binoculars. “Yeah. I know the skinny dude with the head bandana. I’ll ask why he’s missed church lately.”

“And if they blow your ass away?”

“Then you can run over him with that Bat-car there.” McBride gestured to the Bradley. He knew the Jackals were deadly to a man but still subject to being played.

“Okay, smart-ass,” The boss gestured downhill. “Commit suicide.”

McBride drafted a reluctant rookie for backup.

“God, you gotta park so close?” the rook blurted, wide-eyed, when McBride stopped their car.

McBride climbed out, credentials in hand, and sauntered up to the skinny-faced-guy-in-dog-rag headgear outside the gate.

“McBride! Heard somebody kilt yer ass,” Skinny-Face tough-growled. But McBride saw the infinitesimal crack in his veneer. The biker looked about furtively, like a man seeking a place to take a leak during a funeral.

The other two gate guys, bathed in sweat, each waggled their shotguns, macho style, but nonetheless cautiously.

McBride, sensing their asses were already kicked, tossed out his psychological safety net. “Listen. Be careful how you handle those hog-legs. Y’all see that surveillance van up there?”

He pointed to a long-abandoned milk truck in the ditch two hundred yards back up the hill. “That goofy sniper kid in there wanted to take out all three of you guys. I came down here to spare your lives.” God, he felt noble and humane.

“Dude, I can see that red dot on your forehead.” He mock-inspected Skinny-Face. “You guys see it?” He gestured to the twos bikers behind the fence. “You want I should have that kid take an ear off your buddy, Red, there? Give you an idea how accurate he is with that .243.”

The red-bearded fat guy behind the fence recoiled like he’d stepped on a rattlesnake. With ghost-like movements, both agreed the non-spot was visible in the blazing sun. All three toads shot terrified glances at the deadly milk truck. The fish had swallowed the hook.

“A round from that elephant cannon, your damned old skull disappears like a shot watermelon.” All three tried to withdraw their heads, turtle-like, into a body cavity.

“What kinda Gestapo crap is this?” Skinny-Face squeaked in falsetto, trying to grow smaller. Longtime, heavy substance abuse had made him a study in paranoia.

“The signal is for me to slap the top of my head with my left hand.” McBride, now on a roll, honed the fabrication.

He ad-libbed a mini-finale by slapping his right hand atop his head. All three hit the dirt. “No, no, boys, he shoots only if I use my left hand,” McBride explained, paternally.

“This is some sorry crap.” Skinny-Face regained his feet. “Whatcha all want?”

“We have arrest warrants for ‘Bustass’ and... uh... ‘Creeper Calvin’. Bring ’em to the gate.”

“Y’all run down and bring them two up here,” Skinny-Face barked to his helpers. “And don’t do no damned stupid thing. This is the same bunch shot us all to hell over in Georgia last year. They got snipers fixin’ to kill us all.” He eyed the distant milk truck apprehensively. “Man, it was safer in the joint, pickin’ cotton.”

A helicopter ferrying regular Sunday tourists over the Gulf of Mexico drifted by chance into view. McBride waved it off wildly.

“Damm boys, snap it up, they’re already sending in the gunship.”

The “gunship” continued its routine path toward the Gulf. Both designated messengers rodent-scurried away into the brush, spilling their beer, their shotguns left against the barbed wire.

McBride and Skinny-Face spent a long ten minutes sweating together in the sun.

Then the sorriest accumulation of humanity appeared, smelling worse than the Dallas Landfill. Forty or so filthy, tattooed, denim- and leather-clad men and women bounced along in two old pickups and seven or eight motorcycles. Several trailed on foot, all in varying stages of intoxication.

The two wanted men were obviously in custody, several men sitting on them in the back of one of the trucks. Most looked ready and able to eat a live chicken. Some appeared genuinely apprehensive. All knew they weren’t bulletproof.

“Be careful,” Skinny-Face implored. “These crazy bastards got a gunship in the air and a sniper in that surveillance truck up the hill there.” The rusty milk truck stood patient guard in the ditch.

“Open the gate,” McBride said to Skinny-Face. He gave a final “Don’t shoot Skinny-Face” wave to the non-existent sniper.

Skinny-Face shakily unlocked the padlock and slithered inside among his peers, safer from the deadly milk truck.

McBride leaned inside the car, winked at the rook, and grabbed the radio mike. “Gate’s open. Send one car... slowly.”


Copyright © 2016 by Gary Clifton

[Editor’s note] The author, a former agent of the bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, says that the foregoing dramatizes a true story, one that took place more than once. An informer had told the ATF that the two wanted men were in the area, and “mug shots” in the ATF’s possession confirmed that the two were not on sentry duty at the gate.

The author adds, “Had we rushed the gate, we would have won, but the bikers would have opened fire. And when bullets start flying, they usually hit something or somebody.”

All told, the story seems to recall one of Sun Tzu’s principles: “If you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles.”

Proceed to Challenge 682...

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