A ragtag bunch from all over. Delta Force colonels and Navy SEALS and some British guys from the SAS. The FBI and CIA and the Cult Awareness Network, men with pompous frowns and strange ideas who spat when they talked. Too many energies in the room, too many conflicting vibrations. We got them fitted in FEA jackets and ATF hats and we heard them out all the same.
“We could play tapes,” one of them suggested. “Tibetan chants. Bugle calls.”
“Heavy metal,” said another. “These guys can’t stand the stuff.”
“We could put fighting vehicles on the ground,” an army vet suggested. “Patrol the compounds, flex our might.”
There were too many men in the basement, too many versions of the world crackling in the air.
“We could talk to them,” I suggested, smiling like a wolf. “We could do this the proper way?”
“We need to gather information,” the CIA said. “Bugs in milk cartons and juice boxes.”
“We need to kit up our best guys, enter with surgical precision.”
The military guys wanted to end this tonight.
Us negotiators were uncomfortable. Violence edged closer, waiting for an excuse to return.
There was a bearded man, heavy-set in shirt and tie, lingering toward the back of the room. A man happier pulling strings from the periphery of things.
“Let’s go with the tapes,” he said. “I’ve got someone I could call.”
The someone was Charlton Heston. The plan was to have him play God.
The bearded man had the ear of the colonels and the colonels had a taste for this kind of thing. They’d cracked Noriega with Twisted Sister and Jethro Tull. Now they’d crack these doomsday wackos with Hollywood gravitas and Gregorian chants. De oppresso liber.
A split formed, a disagreement. How could it not? Four dead federal agents. Suddenly it was us against them.
I went out to the port-a-potty for a smoke and found someone had written my name in Magic marker.
SAGE IS A DAVIDIAN.
We didn’t hang up the phones. “We’ll put you on the radio,” we said. “Write a sermon, a real knockout sermon, and we’ll blast it on every airwave.”
“He’ll never follow through,” the CIA scoffed.
“He’s leading you on,” the colonels said.
He recorded a message, pulled out last minute. God had told him to wait.
“We told you so,” the CIA laughed.
“Where the hell is Heston?” the colonels shouted.
Everybody was shouting. A messy merging of each man’s chaotic dreams.
I sat with the phone to my ear, listened to it ring.
Speakers blared jet engines and pop music and the screams of dying animals. Tanks did doughnuts on the front lawn. We tried to negotiate the release of the women at least, fingers jammed into our free ears as we yelled down the lines. They cut the power and the water, kept these people up all night with Nancy Sinatra singing ‘These Boots Were Made For Walking.’
I told my guys to continue negotiation, to keep them on the line. Try to show that there are humans outside of those walls, somewhere behind the tanks and noise.
What I remember of the last day is the quiet. The quiet of their zips and velcro in the basement. The quiet of dust beneath their boots. The quiet as they stalked low to the ground beneath the decapitated air of circling helicopters. A rising quiet that grew and grew until it became total noise. The pop of guns and hissing flames, the tanks and choppers, the electric crackle through the weave of our clothes.
The mayhem brought its own clarity. Its own stripped back charm. There’s a logic in the descent of things. A righting force that takes control. I’d been fighting this force since the first days of the siege, but now I wondered why. If I had learnt anything it was that ultimately the energies of these men were not discordant, that together they hummed as one. A vibration attuned if not to the resonance of the earth then at least to the resonance of this country. And this was God’s country after all.
As I watched the building burn, I thought back to the first morning. Agents had gone to the door with a warrant and maybe they started shooting or maybe the Davidians started shooting but soon everyone was shooting and by the time I got there it hadn’t stopped. I went into the basement of the Police Department and the sheriff had a phone in each hand. He handed one to me.
“It’s him,” the sheriff said.
I swallowed and took the phone. I tried to take my time. I said, “David, hello. Tell me, how exactly do you pronounce your name?”
He waited a beat and said, “Sir, have you ever heard a man die?”
The receiver was sort of hard to hold. I wanted to set it down easy on the cradle and take up my hat and my jacket and walk out the door but I swallowed again and ran my hand over my face. The air was thin in that basement and when I inhaled it caught a little in my throat.
He said, “If you have ever heard a man die then you know exactly how to say my name.” He said, “It’s like that last exhalation of breath, like that death knell.”
He said, “Koreshhhhh.”