Internal Strife

An Excerpt

By Martin Rehder

  The news of the interchange bombing put Dallas again on the TV sets of the nation and the world. Helicopters with camera crews captured the destruction of the highway interchanges and broadcast it live around the globe. Large blocks of concrete and twisted steel beams lay among crushed cars and trucks. In between were pools and rivulets of blood, oil and radiator fluid. Strewn all over the roadways were the crushed bodies of humans, vehicles and various parts of both. The long summer evening afforded the cameras plenty of good daylight before night came and the emergency crews brought out the floodlights.

  Long into the night they worked, extracting broken bodies and removing debris. Many of the victims had been crushed beyond recognition and the rescue crews used licenses and vehicle identification numbers to determine the occupants. Most of those caught in the debris were dead, killed instantly by the falling highway. Many of those that did not die instantly bled to death, as the emergency crews had to wade through both debris and heavy traffic before they could tend to the wounded. Police closed the highway in all four directions and hundreds of cars still jammed the side roads as they tried to make their way around the nightmarish scene.

  Later, when the crews had finished the clean up and recovery, the City of Dallas and the nation would be astonished to learn that more than 200 people perished from the bombing and another 300 had been severely injured, making this one of the nation's worst incidents.

  With the interchange at 35 and 635 fully incapacitated, the entire northwest portion of the city of Dallas was in chaos. Most side roads were full of vehicles trying to get around the bomb site. Some, however, tried to get to the site to gawk and take pictures. The result was exactly as Gerome had planned. It wasn't the bomb itself, or even the death of dozens of citizens that would stop all commerce in the city. It was the removal of the transportation system. Dallas authorities had for years talked and argued about the idea of mass transit, but had done little more than add a few lightly used buses before they got around to getting the DART trains going. Even those were too little too late. Dallas was firmly entrenched in the one-person-per-car mentality. There simply was not enough mass transit that went to all the business districts that had cropped up over the years. Too much sprawl had occurred and there was still much to do before a real mass transit system could relieve the already overburdened highway system. With a major highway interconnection out of order, the city was like a dog with one leg: still able to move, but much slower.

  At 11:00 pm, Gerome decided it was time to drop the second interchange system. The first was for maximum psychological effect, having timed it during evening rush hour. The second was strictly for crippling the highway system and thus the city itself. The interchange at I-635 and Central Expressway was no less an important target than the first, but because of the high density business population around it, access to the main support structures was far more complicated. The highest flyover supports lay in the middle of the east and west bound lanes of I-635 and were thus far too visible for planting charges. They settled for dropping the flyover from south bound Central Expressway onto east-bound I-635. It wasn't enough to destroy the entire interchange, but it would disrupt all traffic on Central Expressway, leaving portions of I-635 still open.

  Gerome dialed the numbers to the two cell phone charges without pomp or ceremony. The flyover dropped neatly onto the northbound Central Expressway lanes with portions of the pillars falling on the southbound side. As they had hoped, the westbound I-635 lanes were blocked. Three of the four directions were crippled.

  The late hour insured there were far less people on the roadway than at rush hour. When later recovery efforts showed the results, less than two dozen people perished in the second interchange bombing. Calvin breathed a big sigh of relief at that, but was careful not to let his emotions show through this time.

  After the second interchange went down, the debate as to the cause of the first went away. It was very much like the morning of September 11, 2001. Before the second jet struck, the newscasters debated whether it was terrorism, pilot error or equipment failure that caused the first jet to crash into the World Trade Center. With two interchanges destroyed, they all knew why and there was no more debate.

  The Tollway multi-car robberies had only put Dallas in the spotlight briefly and the media treated it as isolated event. Now, however, they realized that there existed in Dallas a more sinister and serious situation. Previously, the media had given the Faction's proclamation scant attention. A dozen gunmen conducting a traffic jam and subsequent robbery seemed feasible enough. However, many thought the Faction's boast of stopping all commerce in the city was terrible melodrama, and likened it to the "Mother of All Wars" statement Saddam Hussein had made prior to the first Gulf War in 1991. Now they brought the Faction's statement back out and heralded it as if to say, "I told you so." Those who disparaged it earlier as the ranting of madmen now treated it as an official declaration of war. That wasn't altogether a bad idea, but the authorities still had no idea who they were dealing with.

  All four of the local network affiliates used the word terrorists in their newscasts, but that created more confusion than was helpful. Many people associated that word with Middle Eastern Muslim fanatics rather than home-grown disgruntled citizens. Caller after caller to the stations asked if Al Qaeda, Hezbollah, Hamas or some other Muslim group was active in Dallas. After enough calls and a few on-air retractions, they began to call the acts the work of "insurgents" but they had already done the damage. Dallas was in the Twilight Zone. A once average American city with few remarkable features or distinguishing qualities had just become the center of attention in the war against the government.

  Most people hadn't even been aware there was a war or enough people to wage one. Those people were the ones who had either enough money or enough luck not to have been worried about the legal system treating them unfairly. They wanted merely to continue their uneventful lives and let the fires burn in someone else's house. Their house was fine. The thought of some fanatical group based right in their home town drove some of them to the brink of panic. They wanted no part of whatever this group had in mind, nor did they want any part of what they suspected would be the Government's response to it. For these people, their way of dealing with it was simply to not deal with it. They left the city. While the emergency crews were still removing the dead and wounded off the broken highway interchanges, a small trickle of cars left the city. By the next morning, it had become a torrent.

  With a major part of the highways already blocked, the stream of cars became a crush of vehicles, all trying to make their way out. The roadways that were still intact had become a quagmire of traffic. Those that hadn't gotten out early found themselves stuck in unending lines of cars. If that were the only thing going on, it might have been sufficient to wait it out and eventually get out of the city. But with the previous week's Tollway incident, few were in the mood for a traffic jam and tensions ran higher than an East Texas pine tree.

  The combination of events and circumstances in Dallas caused the situation to quickly spiral out of control. As Texas had laws that allowed its citizens to carry concealed weapons with the proper training and license, many people had handguns and the permits to carry them. Many more carried them anyway given the extreme climate of fear. The roadways were jammed with people, a large proportion of who were armed and scared.

  It took only a curious driver caught in a one of the many gridlocked to start a panic. Some poor fool had the bad sense to get out of his car and wander around to try to see where the congestion was and how to get around it. The problem with that was he still had his revolver stuck in his pants since packing up his family and taking to the road. Some other senseless fool mistook him for a Faction member on another highway hold-up and tried to play cowboy. Weapons drawn, they faced. Each mistook the other for a Faction member. Neither backed down and neither turned tail. Even before the bullets stopped flying and the victim had fallen down dead, hysteria took over. Those that saw it overreacted, screaming for it to stop. Those that didn't see it but heard it assumed the worst. They shifted gears from low fear to high anxiety and took their cars and trucks into the medians and ditches to escape. Many became stuck, or found the side roads just as clogged as the highways. They left their vehicles and took off on foot to run in the opposite direction of the gunshot and screams. Those that neither saw nor heard it saw a stream of panic-stricken men, women and children run past and assumed there must be something terrifying behind in that direction. They too, shed their metal skins and took off on foot, screaming in terror.

  In another part of the city, a different drama unfolded. So many people had decided to leave the city that many of the gas stations were running out of product. The tanker trucks weren't able to get through to make deliveries and several stations had begun to turn away customers. Only the stations that had received fills earlier in the week still carried enough gasoline. Lines formed where gasoline was still available and tensions rose proportionately with them.

  For many of the people waiting in lines, the nervousness was for the same reason as it was for the people stuck in traffic gridlock: another set of car muggings could occur while they sat waiting. In this case, however, they were free to pull out of line anytime they wanted to and move along, provided they had the gasoline to get where they wanted to go. Waiting in the gasoline lines required more than just patience and nerve. It required the sense of a master poker player. One had to know when to hold 'em and when to fold 'em.

  Marvin Klemens had waited in one line already and was waiting in his second. Marvin had gotten up early and packed his Chevy Bronco SUV with a few days of clothes, some food and water, his fishing gear and his Ruger 9mm pistol. His beer belly jiggled with each step as he went back and forth from the house to the truck with an arm load of supplies. He worked up a good sweat in just a few minutes of work, which, for Marvin, wasn't very unusual. Marvin was a big boy, standing 6'2" and weighing in at 280 pounds, most of which was gut. A Texas-size portion of it hung out from beneath his shirt, which dropped over his enormous stomach. Marvin tucked in his shirt in the back of his pants, but the front was just to much trouble and it was already hotter than a campfire outside, so he let it hang free. He climbed into the truck, put on his cowboy hat and pulled the Bronco out of the driveway.

  Marvin planned to wait out this business of terrorism in some other town, maybe East Texas or Arkansas, depending on the traffic to get to either direction. He would spend a few days fishing while the police or National Guard or whoever was in charge cleaned up the mess and rounded up all the terrorists. Marvin was actually looking forward to the small, unscheduled vacation away from the nightmare that the city had become. He left his driveway in the northern suburb of Garland with everything he needed. Except for gas. He had less than an eighth of a tank and needed to fill up soon. His Bronco was notorious for drinking gas like a kid drinks Kool-aid.

  Marvin went to the first station nearest his home and found they had already sold out. He traveled southeast out of Garland toward I-30. The Terrorists had hit the highways to the north and west, so he figured it was going to be east and south for the least amou
nt of traffic. The problem was that everyone else in Dallas was thinking the same thing. The next station had a line of 15 to 20 cars and Marvin waited for 45 minutes to get his fill of gasoline. He sang happily along with the country music on his CD player while he waited. He was only two cars away from the pumps when the attendants waved everyone off. They were empty. No more gas. He jammed the big truck into gear and sped off. He would be the first to get to the next station before the others in the previous line even figured out what was going on.

  Marvin avoided the major highways and headed for highway 66. He'd be able to find a station there before heading across Lake Ray Hubbard and out of the city. The next station Marvin found had a long line of cars, too. He passed it, cursing his luck and the shit-heads who caused this mess. Marvin finally saw a Stop-N-Go with less than 10 cars waiting in line. He breathed a sigh of relief at this. Once past this, he'd be heading out to Dalrock and across the lake, where gas stations would become scarcer. He needed fuel soon and this might be his last stop. This time, Marvin waited in line and he wasn't singing. He watched the activity of the people in line ahead of him and looked for anything that would suggest an emptying tank. The longer he waited the more nervous and agitated he became. He looked at his gas gauge and thought he wouldn't have enough to travel very far if this one didn't pan out.

  "Come on, Mother fuckers!" Marvin shouted to his dashboard. This was taking too long and he worried that he'd get up to the pumps only to get stiffed again on the fill-up. His agitation started to take over and Marvin started mulling alternatives. He decided he would take matters into his own hands and if he couldn't buy gas, he'd simply take it.

  Marvin spotted a young couple in a car just now filling their car with fuel. He was still five cars back and watched with envy as they pumped, the man washing the windows while the woman held the pump. Both of them smiled and talked over the top of the car, knowing they would be able to get out of the city now that they had a full tank. Marvin pulled out of line and passed the convenience store, watching the couple as he went by. In the first residential street past it, Marvin pulled in and made a quick u-turn. He parked at the curb and waited for the couple to finish. He pulled his 9mm out of the glove box and checked the clip.

  When the couple finished pumping, they got in their car and headed east in his direction. He knew they would head his way. Going back toward town wouldn't make any sense. East was where safety and freedom lie. Just not for them. Not this time. As their car approached the residential street, Marvin edged out his Bronco. He made as if to turn left in front of them and they slowed. He could see the man looking at him through the windshield with a questioning look. Marvin stopped his truck in the road and the man made as if to swing around him. He goosed the truck and moved forward, blocking him. The man quickly backed up to maneuver around him and that's when Marvin jumped out of the truck, pointing the 9mm at them.

  "Just stop right there mister." He said as menacingly as he could. Marvin walked around to the driver side. He kept his pistol trained on the man. "Now, get out of the car, both of you."

  The woman got out. She looked as if she were about to cry. The man hesitated and Marvin opened the door of the car and grabbed him by the collar. "I said get out, asshole."

  "Please, don't hurt us. We don't want any trouble," the woman pleaded.

 "Good. Then come here." He walked around to the rear of his truck and opened up the rear gate. He had them both carry his clothes, food, and water out of the back. "Put this in the back seat of the car." Marvin grabbed his fishing gear, his pistol still trained on the couple. He stuffed the poles into the back seat, bending the poles to get them in to the cramped space.

  "I'm sorry to do this to you, but I got to get out of here." He said. "You can keep my truck. The keys are still in it."

 He waved them out of the way with the pistol and got into their car. He shoved it into reverse and squealed the tires as he backed up. He swung it around his Bronco, the tires complaining loudly as he spun out. He laughed as he made for the lake. He had a full tank of gas and a heavy foot on the pedal. He was happy to be on his way out of this place. Before he'd gone another mile, he cursed himself, wishing he'd gotten his country music CDs from the truck before he drove off. The couple's car had a full collection of shit he'd never even heard of before, mostly Christian music from the CD covers. He thought it was going to be a fucked up couple of days if he had to listen to this shit the whole time. Regardless, he was on his way out of town and for now, that was good enough.

Thanks for reading this excerpt. I hope you enjoyed it.
Click here to read the rest of Internal Strife
Or buy the Kindle edition from

Back to Internal Strife Back to my main page