Lawrence Pratt: “Blind Faith”

Steve Dunn lay awake, staring at the ceiling in the near-dark of his bedroom. His wife, Linda, was on the other side of the bed, sound asleep and oblivious to her husband’s insomnia and building frustration.

How, Dunn wondered, could the events of the past few hours have occurred? After all the work and prayers that I and so many others invested over the past months, what went wrong?

Steve heard the grandfather clock in the living room strike eleven. One more hour left in a day that saw exhilaration turn to heart-breaking disappointment. Tonight was the end of a very special second Tuesday in November when, every leap year, citizens chose the nation’s chief executive.

Not only did the candidate Steve and everyone he knew worked so hard to elect lose the election, their man lost to a man of color – with a Muslim middle name, no less. To Dunn and others in his faith-based community, this was the world turned upside down.

Citizens of the small town in northeast Utah traced their heritage and spirituality back to immigrants who settled the demanding frontier nearly 200 years ago. Through generations of hard work, sacrifice, and endurance, they managed to build a God-fearing community dedicated to one another and their heavenly father. Anyone passing through may not have thought much of the place, but it was their home.

Steve realized any efforts to sleep tonight were a waste. He quietly pushed back the covers, rose from the bed, and gingerly made his way to the closet where he dressed for a walk in the cold autumn air. Hearing her husband rustling for his clothes in the dark, Linda awoke.

“What’s going on?” she asked.

“I can’t sleep,” Steve replied, his voice heavy with the disappointment of the day. “I’m going for a walk. Should be back in an hour or so.”

“Okay,” Linda said, sharing her husband’s sense of defeat. “I’ll have a pot of coffee on by then.”

“Thanks, hon,” Steve said. “It’ll take some time but we’ll get through this.”

Outside, Steve inhaled the still, crisp air and started walking with no particular destination in mind. Passing houses in the neighborhood, he noticed several lights still on and people watching television in their living rooms. Why would anyone want to watch the same bad news more than once, Dunn thought. Things will be absolutely miserable tomorrow when the full impact of what’s happened follows people into their daily routine, he mused. Sunday church services would be the worst.

A few minutes later, Steve found himself on Main Street – in a town this small, anyone wandering aimlessly ended up here. What passed for a commercial district extended four short blocks and contained just about every kind of mom-and-pop store imaginable. The area was too poor and sparsely populated to attract any big-box commercial outlets to the area, and Dunn and everyone he knew were happy to keep it that way. Neat, white, and tidy, the place was right out of the 1950s.

Steve noticed that the lights were still on at Chuck’s Diner and figured folks were gathered to complain about the change in the country they vainly tried to stop. Although he didn’t want to get wrapped up in the misery of the day, Dunn found himself drawn to Chuck’s like a passerby to a car wreck. Inside, the place was alive with the protests of those whose lives had been shaken to the core. Steve looked around and noticed his friends Brad Heber and Len Meacham engaged in a heated discussion. Slowly, Dunn managed to wend his way through the crowd to the duo.

“There’s no way one of his kind should be allowed to move into the White House,” Dunn heard Heber say as he joined the two.

“I’m with you, brother,” Meacham replied. “After all, there’s a reason it’s called the ‘White House’.”

The two exchanged bitter laughter.

“So, Steve,” Brad said, “I see you decided to join all the other angry insomniacs.”

“Yeah,” Dunn replied, “I couldn’t sleep and thought a walk would do me good. Didn’t plan on it but somehow I ended up here.”

“Hey,” Len quipped, “all roads lead to Chuck’s. So, what are we going to do about this darkie becoming president?”

“Not a thing we can do,” Heber lamented. “We’re stuck.”

“I hate to admit it,” Dunn added, “but we’re all going to have to make the best of a bad situation.”

His two friends nodded and they, as well as the rest of that night’s crowd, spent several hours grousing about events they couldn’t change and a future in which they now had no say.

Two hours after her husband left the house, Linda Dunn guessed Steve was hanging out at Chuck’s and unplugged the coffee pot. As she returned to bed she said a quiet prayer that her god would undo tonight’s blasphemous injustice.

Shortly before dawn, the crowd at the café departed and returned to their homes to prepare for a day that wouldn’t see much work done in town. As Steve Dunn placed the key in the lock of his front door, his mind wandered back to Brad Heber’s remark about them being stuck with a decision they found completely intolerable. Maybe, he thought, there was something someone could do about it.

#

Over the next two days, Dunn spent every spare moment searching the internet for answers to what he considered to be nothing less than the nation’s future and the special place church members believed was their spiritual birthright in that future. By late afternoon on the second day of his quest, Steve felt he had enough information to move forward. It was time to make some phone calls. Dunn’s first contact was Brad Heber.

“Say, Brad,” Steve asked, “how about meeting me at my acreage for some target practice tomorrow?”

“Sure,” his friend replied, “after Tuesday, I could use a chance to let off some steam.”

“That makes two of us,” Dunn said, knowing full well how everyone in town felt. “I’m going to see if Len wants to join us.”

“Sounds good,” Heber confirmed. “How does nine work? I’ve got some things to do around the house after breakfast.”

“That’s fine. See you then.”

A few minutes later, Steve made the same arrangements with Len Meacham. Tomorrow the three would meet and set in motion actions intended to alter history.

#

The next morning, the trio gathered a couple miles outside of town at the entrance to Dunn’s thirty acres. Steve unlocked the gate and the group formed a small convoy of pickup trucks that drove to a firing range Dunn set up years ago. Each man exited his vehicle carrying a pistol of choice.

After a few minutes of firing at generic human targets from about fifteen yards away, Heber excused himself and walked to his truck. He returned a few moments later with a stack of newspapers and a grin on his face.

“Just thought we might make things interesting,” he remarked as he ripped a photo of the president-elect from a front page article and placed it on one of the targets. His friends smiled in approval.

This is the opening I’ve been waiting for, Dunn thought.

Over the next ten minutes, the men proceeded to hit targets with various images torn from several newspapers.

“I guess this is about as close as we’re going to get to setting things right,” Meacham said with a tone of resignation as the group took a break.

“Hang on, I think I’ve got an idea that’ll really make our point,” Steve said as he retrieved his hunting rifle from his truck.

Brad and Len watched Dunn set to work. Their friend was almost legendary in his hunting success using a high-end game rifle with a scope and bipod. On a good day, a skilled marksman could pick off a deer at five hundred yards with such a weapon although Steve’s personal best was an elk at just under that mark – over a quarter of a mile, nonetheless.

The trio walked out about two hundred yards from their firing position and set up a target with a photo of their nemesis. A few minutes later, Dunn had his weapon in place and sighted on the target. The initial round was fired with a resounding and satisfying report that carried for miles in the quiet countryside.

“You hit about a foot low and to the right,” Heber commented as he observed the target area through a pair of field glasses.

Steve made a couple of adjustments to his scope, loaded a second round, and fired. The bullet impacted just about where a man’s neck would be and effectively decapitated the target.

“Looks like you just bagged yourself a nigger,” Meacham remarked with a chuckle that revealed an undying hatred of people who weren’t like him and his kind.

While society at large made significant progress in diminishing the use of the “n-word,” the term was often used in the conversations of the locals, particularly over the past few months.

“Too bad we can’t do that for real,” Heber added with a bitter tone that settled into the entire community over the past several days.

“What makes you think we can’t?” Steve asked. His two friends fell silent.

“Yeah,” Len replied, “now that’s some wishful thinking.”

“I’m serious,” Steve continued. “Hear me out and if you’re not on board, we never spoke about this today and will never speak of it again. Fair enough?” His friends nodded in silence. “Okay, that slick darkie didn’t exactly win by a landslide and there are a lot of folks like us who are plenty mad about how things turned out. Not to mention all the stuff about killing him that was shouted at a lot of rallies before the election. I’ve been spending time on the internet the past couple of days and the anger level out there is pretty high. I also did some checking on presidential security and it turns out that more than a few members of our faith are on the job.”

“So,” asked Meacham, “are you saying one of our brethren could make a kill?”

“No,” Dunn replied, “I plan on doing that myself.”

“You’re crazy!” Heber blurted.

“No, not really,” Steve replied, with a determined calm that sent a shudder of fear through his friends. “All I need is the right information from one bodyguard and help from you two to pull it off. If either or both of you are in, stay here with me. If not, just walk away and the idea dies here or moves ahead with less than three. But remember this – we are brothers in the one true church of God, and the Constitution and the fate of our nation hang by a thread. We can’t shirk our duty.” Meacham and Heber nodded in silence. “It’s settled then,” Steve confirmed.

Over the next half hour, Dunn presented his plan to the others. Although his concept was simple, there were several key items that needed to fall perfectly in place in order to successfully assassinate the first black president of the United States. It would take time to implement and any attempt was at least six months away – well after the inauguration.

“I’ll talk to my brother-in-law and find out who on the president’s security team is a church member and might be useful,” Steve told his friends. “We’ll need his contacts in order to pull this thing off.” Linda Dunn’s brother, Jared Kimball, was an “apostle” on the faith’s ruling quorum in Idaho and had full access to church membership records. If Kimball wasn’t cooperative, there would be no other way to carry out Steve’s idea and the plan would die. “Jared and his family will be joining us for Thanksgiving,” Steve continued, “and I’ll be able to speak with him privately. Until you hear from me, we’re not to discuss this among ourselves and certainly not to mention it to anyone else. Also, avoid getting drawn into discussions about this past week – things will get heated and we need to keep real low profiles.”

The three said their goodbyes and went their separate ways.

#

Two weeks later, after Thanksgiving dinner was cleared away and before anyone was ready for dessert, Steve asked his brother-in-law to join him for a stroll downtown and back.

“I need to walk off some of that meal,” Dunn remarked.

“Sounds good,” Kimball replied, not knowing that the next hour would draw him into a conspiracy the magnitude of which he never have imagined. “Let me grab my coat.”

As soon as they were away from the house, Steve unfurled his idea.

“Word’s out that the quorum isn’t happy about the election results,” Dunn remarked.

“Not happy is putting it mildly,” Jared replied. “This abomination is all anyone can talk about. The church has always believed that America is a white nation watched over by a white God and destined to be ruled by white men. Blacks just aren’t real, right-thinking Americans. We’re completely at a loss on how to deal with and explain this horrendous event to the faithful.”

“I think I can help you out,” Dunn said, assurance resounding in his voice. Over the next few minutes, Steve laid out his concept for the assassination attempt. “So, are you on board?”

“Yes, yes I am,” Kimball replied, “not to mention completely blown away. I’ll start sifting through the membership rolls first thing Monday morning to find the best point of contact on the president’s security detail. It may take some time, so don’t call me, I’ll call you.”

“Better if we just use regular mail,” Dunn commented. “It’s slow but has the most security. There’s no way of telling who’s monitoring phone calls or e-mails these days. Oh, and send it to me at work. I don’t want Linda asking any questions or getting involved with this.”

A week before the inauguration in January, Steve received the letter he was waiting for. It contained a post office box address in Arlington, Virginia and instructions that all correspondence was to be directed to “Boxholder”. Further in the text of the letter Kimball wrote “Without my prompting, leaders have talked about what we discussed on Thanksgiving and commented that any such hero would surely have a mansion in heaven. God speed.”

Dunn saved the post office box address using a code only he would know and set about working with his contact back east as well as Heber and Meacham. By early February, things were in motion. Then, over President’s Day weekend, an incident occurred that nearly derailed the project. Steve was having lunch at Chuck’s when he heard the news from Tina Draper, a local high school kid who worked the counter a few days a week.

“Say, Steve,” she asked, “you heard the latest?”

“Guess not,” he replied. “What’s up?”

“Seems a busload of our church kids on a weekend ski trip got a little bored on the way home and began some chant about killing the president. One of them even made like he was hanging an image of the guy. Someone on the bus put the whole thing on the internet with his cell phone. Pretty cool, huh?”

Steve could only think about how this might affect his plans and was stunned at the stupidity of such an act. Not only would this attract major and very negative attention to the church and its communities, the feds were certain to send FBI and Secret Service to lean on those kids and their families. Dunn and his group would have to be especially vigilant. They couldn’t permit this incident to derail God’s work.

“No, Tina,” Dunn said, “not cool at all. The federal authorities are going to be all over those kids, their parents, and our town not to mention the major black eye the church is going to get from the media.”

“Oh, I guess no one, like, thought about that,” Draper said, sounding more stupid by the moment.

A few days later, Dunn received a curt letter from Boxholder. “Everything on hold – do not contact.”

“Yeah, that’s what I figured,” Steve muttered as he read then burned the message.

In the coming weeks, Dunn made a weekly foray to his acreage where he practiced firing ten rounds at a man-sized target from four hundred yards. Ammunition wasn’t cheap and, as the lone assassin, Steve knew he’d only be able to get off a single shot when any opportunity might present itself. Within a month, he was hitting the target ten-for-ten even in a mild breeze. When the call came, he’d be ready.

#

Over Easter weekend in early spring, the Kimball family again visited the Dunns. As before, Steve and his brother-in-law made the same aimless after dinner walk.

“So,” Kimball asked, “any word from back east?”

“Just a quick note after the ski trip bus incident to sit tight,” Dunn replied. “I’ve been practicing out at my property every week so I’ll be ready to go when the word is given. I just hope those dumb kids haven’t tanked everything.”

Kimball nodded.

“Just to let you know,” Jared remarked, “grumblings about the president and how we’d be better off without him haven’t stopped. Everyone still feels that any church member who does the country such a favor will be blessed by our Lord.”

“Thanks,” Steve said, “that’s going to make getting through this a lot easier.”

The conversation then turned to the upcoming baseball season.

#

Things remained quiet through mid-May when Steve received an envelope with an east coast postmark. He drew a deep breath and felt his pulse quicken as he read the contents. Again, the message was short and to the point.

“Yellowstone Park. June. Survey site on referenced internet address. Be prepared to be in place three days prior to shoot. Details to follow.”

Dunn noted the internet address, made a record of it in his personal code, and burned the letter. A few keystrokes on his computer took him to a very public natural resources site that indicated the president would be making some kind of major environmental speech at Yellowstone in the next few weeks. It conveniently listed the place, date, and time. Dunn called Heber and Meacham to arrange for a meeting at the shooting range on Saturday morning. Time was short and they would need to move quickly.

The next morning, Dunn’s co-conspirators watched as he put ten shells in a target four hundred yards away.

“I’m ready,” Steve said with grim determination after the last round found its mark.

“Where do we go from here?” Heber asked.

“I’ve got a topographical map of the target area in the truck,” Dunn replied. “We’ll start with that.” For the next several minutes, the trio poured over the chart and found a likely area for Steve to accomplish his task. “We’ll need to make a trip to the area over Memorial Day weekend to choose the exact firing position and a place for me to hide for a couple of days before I kill the president.”

“Why not just get into position the morning of the shoot?” Meacham queried.

“Orders from back east,” Dunn said. “That’s all we need to know. We’re soldiers in the Lord’s work and there’s no place for questions.”

“Sounds like you’ll be roughing it,” Heber remarked.

“Yeah, I’ll be packing light and be on cold rations with no light at night for a bit. That reminds me, I have a list of everything I’ll need. We’ll split it up and squirrel the stuff away over the next week. Spread out your purchases over a few days so no one in town will ask questions.”

Over the holiday weekend, the three spent a day in Yellowstone surveying the area they selected earlier from the map. After an hour or so of working through the trees and underbrush, Brad Heber called out to the others.

“Hey, I think I found something,” he shouted. In a few minutes, Dunn and Meacham made their way to the sound of his voice. “Steve, this set of rocks will give you a place where you can set up and have a clear shot at your target. That second set of rocks about twenty yards away will give you shelter for a couple of nights. The tree coverage will be a help, too.”

“Yeah, I think you’re right,” Dunn remarked. “He won’t be more than a thousand feet away – well within my range.”

“So,” Meacham added, “this is indeed the place.”

The trio smiled in prophetic satisfaction. In his own way, each man felt closer to his Creator.

#

In the following days the three conspirators made final preparations for what they were certain was their divinely inspired destiny. A week before the fateful day, Dunn received his last letter. It provided his target’s exact schedule for the two hours prior to his speech and a one-minute window of opportunity when the nation’s chief executive would be most vulnerable.

Three days before the president’s arrival in Yellowstone, Heber and Meacham dropped Dunn off near the selected site. Their parting words were short and the three joined in prayer before Steve made his way into the brush. With absolute confidence that God was on his side and his place in Heaven secure, Dunn settled in to live out of a sleeping bag and eat cold rations. From sunset until dawn, he would spend the next two nights in absolute darkness. The security sweep the morning of the president’s speech found no trace of the assassin.

Dunn rose on the third day and made final preparations for the task at hand. Thirty minutes before the appointed moment, all was ready. Steve mounted his weapon on its bipod and adjusted the scope for the light wind that was forecast. Through a pair of field glasses, he monitored the developing ceremonies and noted off to the side of one building a flurry of activity that could only be related to his target. A moment later, Dunn spotted his quarry then moved to ready himself for the shot.

Assuming a prone sniper’s position and loading a shell in his weapon, Steve continued to monitor events through the rifle’s scope. Despite his practice and determination, with only seconds away from killing the president, Dunn felt his heart pounding and forced himself to control his breathing. He calmed himself with a silent prayer. Steve carefully tracked his target and, a few seconds later, a shot rang out. Given the distance, the bullet reached the target area an instant before the sound of its being fired. The president would be dead before anyone realized that a shooting occurred – it was an assassin’s dream.

Through his scope, Steve was stunned to see that, when the sound reached the crowd, the president ducked at the same time as those around him. He missed the target! This was impossible. As though by fate, a gust of fierce wind swept the area just as the firing pin struck the shell’s casing inside the rifle. How could God have failed him? Again!

The area below Dunn’s position was immediately embroiled in pandemonium. Steve watched as Secret Service agents formed a cordon around the president and hustled him away. Within seconds, the sound of helicopters starting their engines could be heard and Dunn realized that, not only was his target being spirited away, but other mechanical birds of prey would soon be airborne to find the source of the shooting.

By sunset of that day, Dunn was in custody and gave up Heber, Meacham, and Kimball. He had no idea who Boxholder was but, with enhanced methods of interrogation swiftly applied to Kimball, the final link in the conspiratorial chain was easily broken. Despite their being taken into custody, all five were convinced they would be treated like martyrs serving a greater cause. Their expectations suffered a bitter disappointment.

#

In the months that followed, the “Yellowstone Five” as they were labeled, were shocked to find themselves convicted of multiple federal felonies. Their illusions – if not outright delusions – of grandeur were shattered. A short time before the group was to be sentenced, Linda Dunn visited her husband.

“No matter what happens,” she told Steve, “I will stand by you. You’re my hero and a martyr to the faith. You were truly doing God’s work and there will be an eternal mansion for you – for us – in heaven.”

Steve smiled in silence as tears welled in his eyes.

“Everything that was done was for our families, our country, and God,” he replied. “My only regret is that I failed.”

“It wasn’t anyone’s fault,” Linda reassured him. “For reasons we’ll never know, it was simply not meant to be. Although, if you want to minimize the length of your sentence, you probably don’t want to voice your regrets to the judge.”

“I know,” Steve said. “I’ll try to be on my best behavior.”

Less than an hour later, the conspirators entered a packed courtroom for sentencing. All present were stunned when the judge entered – it wasn’t Robert Davis, the trial judge, but rather Emma Vincent. To the dismay of the defendants, their families, and supporters, Judge Vincent was black.

“An hour ago,” Vincent began, “Judge Davis was stricken with a serious cardiac event and will not be available to attend this session or any others for an undetermined period of time. He and I consulted frequently on this case and it’s been determined that I’m qualified to pass sentencing at this time.” As defense counsel rose to object, Vincent raised her hand slightly and continued. “I realize that the defense has concerns about this matter but the guilt of the defendants is not in doubt and sentencing guidelines limit my options. So, let us proceed.”

Steve Dunn was enraged. It seemed that the past year of his life had been ruined by these darkies. Was it all a conspiracy to destroy his people and faith?

“Do any of the defendants have anything to say before I pass sentence?”

“I do,” Dunn said in a strong, full voice.

Oh, no, Steve, Linda thought to herself – shut up, please shut up.

“Yes, Mr. Dunn,” Vincent replied.

“My only regret is that I failed in my mission to kill the president and I don’t think that he, you, or any of your kind should occupy high office.”

Vincent nodded without a word then proceeded to sentence all five to lengthy prison terms that, given their ages, would likely mean death behind bars. Their church was investigated as a possible domestic terrorist organization and, although no charges were ever filed, the faith never recovered enough credibility to continue as an active institution. Within a few years it ceased to exist, a victim of fatal hubris.

#

Despite the belief by the Yellowstone Five and their supporters that their deity had abandoned them at a worst possible time, the day of their failure was indeed influenced by a strength beyond their comprehension.

It wasn’t simple chance stirring the winds that thwarted the conspiracy on that spring day as divine powers were at work that day, but not the kind that would benefit the Yellowstone Five. While human events had been watched over and sometimes influenced by an unacknowledged deity for thousands of years, the source that defeated Steve Dunn wasn’t one that any of the world’s organized religions ever thought possible.

The controlling hand that day belonged to a force that was neither white nor male but rather black and female. She was a power who would no longer tolerate her finest, yet most erratic, creation to continue spoiling her world. Despite its history, one particular nation under her care chose as its leader someone who would have worn a slave’s chains less than two hundred years ago. This event had stirred emotions she had not felt in centuries and she was not about to let a racist and delusional religious zealot take that away. Judge Robert Davis’ illness was not a chance event either, although she ensured he would live many good years into the future. Her influence in all this was irony in the extreme for most of humanity blinded by egotistical faith and deafened by ethnocentric dogma.

It was now time for eternal justice to make its way across the face of the globe and that justice would wear a face of many colors. In her changing world, she mused, individuals and groups that identified with the Yellowstone Five would come to find themselves accountable in ways they never imagined. Concepts of a white god empowering white male rule would go the way of dinosaurs. The days of permeating violence and injustice in the name of gods that didn’t exist were over.

Oh, she pondered, how men who fear and fail to understand strong women will be unpleasantly surprised in the hereafter.

nerd glasses with tape

lAWRENCE pRATT

A recently – 2014 – retired technical writer, for nearly twenty-five years, my ever-growing passion for the written word has found its creative outlet in a variety of endeavors. I have numerous published travel and local interest articles in my portfolio including my first short story presented in the 2008 Dan River Anthology and a “Your Kind of Town” item with photos featured in the December 2010 edition of Smithsonian Magazine. An avid follower of current events, I find that my fictional works gravitate towards, but aren’t limited to, socio-political themes. As a member of the California Writers Club for several years, I’ve found workshops, conferences, classes, and critique groups to be invaluable resources. My greatest writing accomplishment to date is the publication of my novel “Dark Deception” in late 2012. This was followed by the subsequent establishment of my website at www.miroerarts.com.

black tree

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