"Zero Percent Contained"

"Think about the gravity of our plan. What would the country do if the whole western U.S. caught up in flames? There isn't a single person who could stop us if we were to actually go through with this, not one. I don't think they can really do what they need to do to keep terrorism out of the States, is all I'm saying," I argued.

We had just crossed the Wyoming border down into Colorado on Highway 87 in Carson 's truck with a San Diego State fraternity sticker on the bumper, Phi Kappa Theta . I suppose you could call this a vacation, although I would bet my prize racing dog it was different than most vacations people take.

"Whatever they need to? Of course they should do whatever they need to. The problem isn't whether they should. It's whether they will," Carson said, checking the rearview mirror for cars.

"I am not a terrorist, am not one, nor ever will be one," I told him at coffee weeks before we had started putting anything together. "Terrorists do what they do to invoke fear, to wreak havoc, to control people. That is not what we are doing."

We considered our plan more for ourselves. We simply wanted to know if we could do it if we were terrorists, which we were not. The explosives would never go off, nor would anyone ever likely know of what we had done during those few weeks of our summer vacation.

Carson continued, "Realistically, how in God's name are a bunch of driveling politicians going to seal up anything?"

Technically, I suppose it was not a vacation for me. It was my first sabbatical. Revered to a certain extent by the other fellows in the math department, I was seen as the younger man who had made it and made it when he probably shouldn't have, an elder of sorts in a community of number crunchers, although I think I was younger than most of the men around me.

"It all comes down to money though. They really can't afford to crack down on terrorism completely. It opens up too much other uncontrolled territory. I mean, for God's sake, just look at the damn borders. They're as open as a Twelfth Street whore," I argued, getting peeved. That happens, you know, when I get all riled up over a certain issue. It doesn't even really matter what the issue is. I will always take a side. I feel I have to, an inner compulsion that eats at me when not satisfied, mainly when it's a side that no one else seems willing to take. I say to myself that there has to be some truth to it, somewhere.

On campus last year, I anonymously completed a suggestion card in the bookstore every week, religiously, not that it had anything to do with religion or anything. I just felt like challenging something that day I guess, the first day I saw that banner hanging across the walkway between buildings that struck me as biased on that day - Gay Pride Month - 15% off all marked literature. It got me to thinking why they get a pride month. I wouldn't even necessarily say that I have anything against them. That is their business.

So I filled out a card each week. Name - Wiley Paetenmo. Suggestion - I think it is slanted of the campus to only offer a Gay Pride Month year after year during which literature is offered at a discount when there has not been a Straight Pride Month any year that I have been at this campus. I will assume that it is now being considered and working into next year's discount schedule so that our campus could not be considered prejudice by any group of people. I may someday have to get some institution backing to really get that implemented.

There are a couple other ones that I noticed after that, but they didn't prick my attention at all - Women's Literature Month, Black Pride Month, Children's Literature Month. I am a thirty-three year old white heterosexual male. If I didn't check myself, I'd be forced to think the world doesn't care about me except for my taxes.

I didn't want to talk about this anymore, so I let Carson keep it going. He can rant as well as anybody. He kept turning his head over toward me, giving me glances to make sure I understood. "You know what I mean?" He would ask me. I would nod back that I did.

About fifty miles across the border, I felt the truck rumble and jolt as Carson took the truck off onto the shoulder. I hadn't fallen asleep but was in one of those deep zones, tunnel vision is what drivers get. I haven't ever heard a term for passengers.

We both cracked open the doors and stepped out into the heat that seeped up from the powder dirt between the road and the knee-high grass, golden from the summer sun. I reached into the washed-out brown and yellow camper shell and grabbed one of the units. We had built three hundred of them. Our original plan was for a thousand, but that would have required multiple trips and a much larger budget.

I followed Carson into the grass. I looked at the unit again, much like I had many other times while walking in some brush or grass across the western half of the country. It was a simple red plastic gas can, the variety we were able to find at gas stations and home repair stores all around our area. A small explosive device was affixed to its side with a remote detonator. From my cell phone, I had the capability of programming it to go off at any time. I could set a countdown timer if I wanted to. It was a rather versatile system I had worked out. I thought, "My colleagues might be proud of me on this one, proud in a certain sort of way."

Carson stopped walking and kicked at a pock-ridden tree branch that had obviously separated from its tree some time ago. "Here's a perfect spot," he said.

"It's as good as any. I suppose."

He held the branch up while I carefully placed the unit underneath, out of sight from any person who might be wandering through this field for some reason and happen across it. That would be a tragic turn if something like that were to happen.

 

T H E television was sounding its normal catastrophes and subsequent heroics about the same time it did last year. The fires usually begin mid-to-late July and into August up in the hills of San Diego and Los Angeles counties. Each year I ask myself again why exactly I have chosen to live in the foothills. If I could find a place to live that did not suffer from any natural disasters, I would live there, no matter the cost. It is safety I am looking for, like every other American who is honest with himself.

Denver television has different stations than San Diego . Tonight, I had turned it on to supply background noise for the hotel room, the spray of the shower taking away from what was left of the quiet room. I have already showered and cleaned up for tonight and am waiting for Carson to finish up. I have always had a thing for hotel beds, lying on them on my back provides a certain level of relaxation that I have yet to find anywhere else.

We are planning on finding a club to spend our time tonight. Carson is an out-of-work mechanic. He's spent most of his time since college bouncing from job to job, trying to find a place that would take him for who he is, poor work ethic and all. We are hoping to find a couple of ladies to escort around. I usually have more luck than he does, probably related to the level of my education. I think it has something to do with that security issue again. I think that's what women are looking for, deep down, a man they can enjoy company with and who will ultimately cause them to feel safe, secure. He just doesn't have that to offer, not yet anyway - in fact I doubt if he will ever have what they're looking for, but how do you tell that to someone?

I heard the plastic rings slide and clink along the shower rod and the pipes relax, thankful they were through pumping water tonight. "Thank God," I mumble to myself. It's a wonder anyone in the building still has hot water. "Hurry it up in there, would ya?"

"Yeah, I am. I don't know why we stay in places like this, can't even keep the water hot for their guests," he complained.

"There are fires all over the news tonight, wildfires, burning the hills again." My knees were starting to ache from hanging over the end of the bed, so I pull myself up to where the top of my head is just barely resting on the wall.

"Fires, eh? I wonder what the causes are."

"I haven't heard yet. They've just been showing footage."

"Wouldn't that be the hell of all hells if one of our units happened to blow? I was thinking about this today.Could one of them ignite just from sitting out in the sun?" He asked.

"No, of course not. Don't worry about it." I could tell by the flutter in his voice that his nerves were getting to him. Maybe the whole idea was finally cracking him. It's definitely not just anyone's personal lifetime goal to plan a mock run of a terrorist plot, just the idea of turning on the television one night like tonight and seeing the western twelve states on fire causes me to shudder. I sit up on the bed and rub the back of my neck.

Carson is still in the bathroom blow-drying his hair, its whine filling in for what quiet the shower had left. I turn my attention back to the television. The short blond-haired Susan Douglas is interviewing a senior arson detective.

"We know the firemen have been working around the clock since yesterday morning fighting this blaze. Are there any leads yet as to what may have started this fire?" Susan shifts her microphone to in front of the detective.

"Up until early this afternoon we had yet to determine the cause, but we have since located the starting point as a burnt-out El Camino. It seems someone placed some sort of explosive device in the back seat. We haven't yet found any witnesses or established what type of explosive was used, but we are calling this an arson fire." The detective seems comfortable in front of a microphone.

"What?" I holler. I rewind my memory banks as fast as seems possible to me, frantically trying to remember the spots we had left each of the units. " Carson , we didn't leave one of the units in a car did we?"

The hair dryer turns off, and the room is surprisingly quiet for far too long. "I don't think so," he pauses. "No."

It seems strange, not the type of answer I was wanting to hear. I shove the bathroom door into the wall as I storm through the doorway, barging in on him as he grabs his towel that starts to fall from his waist. "What the hell's going on, Carson ?" I yell, pointing my finger toward him, back in the direction of the television, and then back at him again. "Don't shit me around!"

"Whoa, whoa. Can we take it easy for a second? Can you let me in on what we're talking about first?"

"You know goddamn well what we're talking about, you bastard! Bastard! You'd better tell me real fast what the hell's going on."

"I timed one of them. That's all. It's just one, man. Relax. How much damage has it done?"

His small smirk is too much for me, and I shove him across the tile floor. His feet slide a short way on the thin sheet of water, and he falls into the shower curtain and backwards over the edge of the bathtub, leaving him wrapped up, legs jutting up from inside the bath tub.

"I don't see what the big deal is. You said they weren't traceable." He raised his right hand in gesture, then trying to pull himself to his feet.

"My God you can't be serious. You can't be. There is no way under heaven you are saying this right now." I have subconsciously begun pacing side to side. I slam my open palm against the tile wall, wet still with condensation from the shower. "You actually did this?" I yell and stare at him, but I can tell immediately by his blank response exactly what I need to know.

"Dammit, I'm not a terrorist," I think to myself, stuffing back into my duffle what belongings I had unpacked. I sling my bag over my shoulder and walk briskly toward the door.

He is leaning against the bathroom door jam with his arms crossed in front of his chest. "Move it, dammit. I'm out of here. You can take your truck and go where you want. Don't think you'll be hearing from me anytime soon, and if I so much as see your face again, I swear by my holy mother's face I'll kill you." I give him one final shove. His shoulder loses contact with the door jam, and he careens backwards into the bathroom again.

I take the elevator down to the hotel bar and find a seat on one of the bar stools, my bag still hung over my shoulder. "Can I get a Barbary Coast ?"

I can't recall ever having this many things flash through my mind at the same time, the plan, my sabbatical, my job, my picture plastered on the TV screen a few days from now as an arson suspect. I wonder if they'll find any of the other units we had spread across California , Oregon , Washington , back down to Arizona , up to Montana , and back down again. That might just be the worst thing I could imagine at this point.

The bartender, a man in his late forties, nods his head slightly, "Yeah, I can make you one. Things going alright for you?"

"They'd scare the hell out of you if I told you."

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