Authors: Michael Slade
“Saw you in the morning paper, Sergeant,” Lewis said. “What can I do to help?”
“I need a database check on hold-back evidence. A signature that I wish kept out of public knowledge.”
“How wide do you want the case search?”
“ViCLAS across Canada. HITS in Washington State. And VICAP for the rest of America.”
“What’s the signature?”
“A Nazi swastika carved into the flesh of the victim.”
The three crime-linkage systems all worked the same way. When a murder occurred within the ambit of each dragnet, the investigator filled out a questionnaire that fed pertinent information into a database of previous offenses. Then a powerful search engine compared the current murder to all those in the past to spot links that might reveal a serial killer. What Dane hoped his query would uncover was any killing in North America signed with a swastika.
In the case of hold-back evidence, a special procedure took effect. The “Nazi swastika” was segregated off in an access-controlled link that no one else could see without Dane’s authorization. Only Staff Sergeant Lewis could search the ViCLAS files, and he would make personal contact with secure counterparts in Washington State and Quantico, Virginia, to ask them to troll HITS and VICAP on the sly. That would keep the Nazi link “for your eyes only.”
In theory, at least.
In the black world of the Pentagon, you can do whatever you want. Lie, cheat, steal, cover up, or kill at random. No one can stop you, because the black world doesn’t exist.
In this office like any other office off the long, wide corridors of the five-sided HQ of the U.S. Department of Defense sat a man like any other man in Uncle Sam’s military-industrial complex. Just from the look of him, you knew this guy had the right stuff in spades. In the cool, low-lighted atmosphere of this windowless environment, you might mistake him for just another aging career soldier riding a desk into the sunset of his retirement. He still sported the haircut—flat top, short back and sides, salt-and-pepper gray—and boasted the physique of the has-been fighter who continued to heft weights in the gym. You might conclude that his Pentagon power, like his body, had waned.
You’d be wrong.
Exactly what Bill did, no one seemed to know, but everyone knew better than to ask. Bill didn’t wear the stiff, blue uniform of the company man, the harness that told the world you came out of West Point and were a force to reckon with. Instead, he wore a white, short-sleeved button-down shirt and a nondescript tie that made him look more like a payroll clerk than a warrior.
But there were clues.
The wings of his desk were as wide as those of an eagle hunting for a kill.
Uncle Sam Wants You
was the title of the framed picture centered on the wall behind it. But this Uncle Sam wasn’t the one commonly seen on recruitment posters: the bearded dandy of a Colonel Sanders in a top hat emblazoned with a star, accusatorily pointing the index finger of his right hand at duty-shirking
. That “Uncle Sam” was actually Samuel Wilson, the meat packer who supplied the U.S. Army with grub during the War of 1812. The image backing Bill, however, was of an American eagle in a full-throttle dive, its wings crooked for attack, its hooked beak open in a shriek as it goes for your eyes, its forward-thrust talons abnormally elongated, razor-sharp, and spread to sink into the guts of its prey.
Uncle Sam Wants You
was a double entendre.
Sam was the bald eagle.
The picture was Bill’s “read between the brushstrokes” in-joke.
Sam wanted you differed according to which side of the beak and talons you were on.
Big Bad Bill was head of the Pentagon’s “Weird Shit” Division.
He was in the beak-and-talons business.
An art critic with an eye for hidden subconscious form might have been able to discern the shape of a Stuka dive-bomber in the outline of the eagle. That’s because Bill had designed the painting. With its inverted gull-wings and ugly silhouette, the Junkers Ju-87 had triggered “Stuka fright” in the soldiers and refugees fleeing across Europe in 1940. In a steep dive of eighty degrees, the sirens in the plane’s wheel covers, called Jericho trumpets, would begin to scream, terrorizing those below as the bomber plunged. So precipitous was its dive that the Stuka came with an automatic pull-up system in case the pilot blacked out from the high g-force. The plummeting dive enabled it to attack a target with surgical precision. As soon as the payload had been released, whistles in the bomb fins shrilled, shattering the morale of enemies below, who could track death coming down to greet them. As its
coup de grâce
, the Stuka would circle to strafe survivors with its machine guns.
All through his childhood, a Nazi Stuka had dive-bombed Big Bad Bill’s bed. Other plastic models had dangled from the ceiling of his room—a B-24 Liberator, a B-25 Mitchell, a B-17 Flying Fortress, and a P-51 Mustang—but none had captured his imagination quite like the shrieking “Stuke.”
That was another clue to Bill’s trade.
The music playing softly in his office wasn’t Wagner. The music was Bach, another German.
There was something binary about Bach that spoke to the genes in Big Bad Bill. Bach’s music, so ordered and contrapuntal, had technology as its soul, so naturally it appealed to the highly organized ciphers that sparked in Bill’s brain.
The bookshelf to Bill’s right offered another clue.
Commander Ian Fleming had been a British intelligence officer during the Second World War. As such, he’d organized a ragtag commando unit to plunder Nazi technology. Called 30 Assault Unit RN, it ignored the rule book in its roughshod exploits. In the battle for Cherbourg, the unit was assigned the task of capturing German naval headquarters. Their behavior in savoring the spoils of war was described as “merry, courageous, amoral, loyal, lying toughs, hugely disinclined to take no for an answer from foe or
.” Later, Fleming’s private army was subordinated to the team of British tech-pirates dubbed T-Forces. Five thousand strong, T-Forces advanced with Monty’s Twenty-first Army Group and the U.S. Army, looting any Nazi secrets churned up in the onslaught.
Out of that experience, and the roguish exuberance of 30 Assault Unit RN, Fleming created 007, James Bond.
Because the Weird Shit Division was in the same line of work as Fleming’s factual and fictional creations, Bill was a fan of the Bond books. Most of his first editions were signed by the author. Not only did he have all the Richard Chopping covers, but he also had the rarest Bond book of all: the recalled first edition of
The Man with the Golden Gun
, with the cover whose embossed golden gun had oxidized.
Bill identified with Bond.
They were both licensed to kill.
* * *
The Weird Shit Division was spawned by the atomic bomb.
On August 2, 1939, about a month before the start of the Second World War, Albert Einstein wrote his famous letter to the president of the United States:
Some recent work by E. Fermi and L. Szilard, which has been communicated to me in manuscript, leads me to expect that the element uranium may be turned into a new and important source of energy … Certain aspects of the situation which has arisen seem to call for watchfulness and, if necessary, quick action on the part of the Administration … This new phenomena would also lead to the construction of bombs …
Roosevelt appointed a Uranium Committee and gave it $6,000 for experiments. By 1940, the press was full of speculation about nuclear fission. If uranium was bombarded with neutrons, the theory went, that might induce a nuclear reaction, producing more neutrons in a massive chain reaction that might escalate into a huge explosion in the blink of an eye. The result: an atomic bomb.
But by the time the U.S. entered the war in 1941, you couldn’t find a mention of fission in the papers. It was as if the subject had never arisen. In Pentagon-speak, the bomb had “gone black.”
Ironically, the large-scale U.S. atomic project started on December 6, 1941, the day before Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. August 1942 saw it named the Manhattan Project. Right from the beginning, the secret had leaked like a sieve. Sure, it held until the dropping of the bomb on Japan, but in the meantime, the Soviet Union had acquired the most classified American technology in U.S. history. It exploded its own bomb within a few scant years.
But if the Manhattan Project was a faulty security model, there was successful subterfuge with the Philadelphia Experiment.
How’s this for science fiction?
In 1943, scientists experimented with making navy ships invisible to radar by charging them with intense electromagnetic fields. The ship used as a guinea pig was the USS
, a navy destroyer berthed in Philadelphia. Huge electric generators and radio-frequency transmitters were used to wrap the ship with an electromagnetic cloak. The first test that July rendered the
invisible to the naked eye, with only the trough of displaced water under its hull proof that it was still there. Fifteen minutes later, it reappeared, and the crew complained of severe nausea and memory loss. The second test that October caused the
to vanish from its berth in Philadelphia and reappear a moment later some 250 miles away, at a shipyard in Norfolk, Virginia. During the time lapse, the ship and its new crew had been transported into a “parallel dimension.” Some of the crew had been atomized and were never seen again. Those who made it back with the
were either physically disabled or driven mad by the ordeal. Five of them had suffered a worse fate. While being transported through the other dimension, the ship had materially transmuted to accommodate human flesh. The Philadelphia Experiment had fused them right into the metal of the destroyer.
Weird shit, huh?
Some sort of paranormal mystery?
An outlandish myth with a psychotic whiff of paranoia wrapped in conspiracy?
In fact, the Soviets had a word for truth masked by fiction.
That marvel of disinformation had been the brainchild of Big Bad Bill’s predecessor in this office. Code-named Hardware, he was a legend both in and after his time. What Hardware had realized was that the best way to hide a super-classified secret in plain sight was to mix the truth with so much unbelievable science fiction that anyone divulging it would appear to be nuts. If the Pentagon was going to develop weird shit weapons like the atomic bomb in its non-existent black world, then what America needed was a keeper of its secrets: a Weird Shit Division in Washington that would function as an airlock between that black world and the white world of Uncle Sam’s public face.
The British had used disinformation during the war. To protect the nation’s radar secrets from the Luftwaffe, RAF intelligence agents had leaked the myth that fighter/bomber command pilots could see in the dark because of all the carrots they ate as kids. Hardware had learned from that that disinformation takes on a life of its own once you seed it in the public’s imagination. Even today, it’s damn near impossible to avoid parents who pass on that disinformation as worldly wisdom: “Eat your carrots. They’re good for your eyes.”
Bouncing off that, Hardware had crafted the mandate of the Weird Shit Division: If you spin the weird shit going on in the black world into even weirder shit and serve it to the public as “low-hanging fruit,” their collective imagination will spin your subterfuge into the weirdest shit of all.
Ergo, Hardware’s lie about the phantom ship.
The Philadelphia Experiment had indeed taken place. The test was known as “degaussing”—that is, trying to cancel a ship’s magnetic field by cloaking it with such intense electricity that nearby light and radar waves would distort. That optical illusion was supposed to render the vessel invisible to both the human eye and electronic sensors. What more could the navy ask for than invisible ships? Unfortunately, the degaussing degaussed the brains of the crew as well, because thoughts are nothing but nerve impulses triggered electrically. The Pentagon didn’t want mind-scrambled sailors babbling far and wide about what had happened to them, so the Weird Shit Division had mixed a lot of hooey with the facts to neutralize the truth.
To this day, the Philadelphia Experiment is equated with kooky stuff like wormholes and parallel dimensions.
* * *
Big Bad Bill had a Stealth cover-up of his own to augment Hardware’s disinformation.
The UFO had crashed in the small hours of the sweltering night of July 11, 1986. Those in the immediate area, and for many miles around, had heard a supersonic boom up in the black sky, then felt a thunderous pressure wave flatten the scrub on the ground. A moment later, whatever it was slammed into Saturday Peak, in a desert canyon twelve miles away from Bakersfield, California. The whole horizon lit up like the Fourth of July, with flames flashing heavenward as if they were shooting stars and the thunderclap from that enormous explosion deafening the ears of shocked onlookers.
Within minutes, Bill had scrambled a Pentagon “red team” to lock down the site. Helicopters full of soldiers brandishing assault rifles and wearing night-vision goggles had swooped down on the area, which bordered the Sierra Nevadas and Sequoia National Park. Challenge their authority and you would get shot. Bill’s order was simple: Don’t let the secret out at any cost.
With dozens of brushfires blazing on the edge of the forest, a cleanup crew from the Weird Shit Division set to work, gathering up every trace of what had crash-landed and then sifting the dirt within a thousand yards of the point of impact, before finally seeding the UFO’s crater with obsolete bits of metal that would have alien-hunters and conspiracy theorists scratching their heads for years.
The seeded clues were from a vintage 1960s fighter.
The fighter was a Voodoo.
Disinformation, with black superstition attached.
Hardware would have been proud.
* * *
The man who let the secret out was President Ronald Reagan. In November 1988, with the Soviet Union crumbling and the Pentagon itching for daylight tests—and the man himself on his way out of the Oval Office and yearning to be given credit—the commander-in-chief had revealed that a secret squadron of F-117A Stealth fighters had been flying out of a classified Nevada airfield for over five years. Unfortunately, one had crashed near Bakersfield in 1986.
The Stealth was a weird-shaped thing. The product of pure math, physics, and algebraic formulae, it was a bunch of geometric angles somehow fashioned into the silhouette of a jet. It had none of the aerodynamic curves of a regular warplane. Instead, it carried a multitude of flat, ugly panels. Each surface—or facet—was angled in such a manner that it would reflect an incoming radar beam away, and thereby shrink the “radar signature” of the Stealth fighter down to the size of a wasp’s.
You can’t shoot down what you can’t “see.”
That the Stealth—unlike the bomb—had been kept secret for half a century, since the days of the Philadelphia Experiment, was testimony to the effectiveness of the Weird Shit Division and its commanders, Hardware and his successor, Big Bad Bill.