was wrong. The night was too still. The soldier wondered why
the bulldozers were sitting in the open like ducks in a row. They were
usually parked on the edge of the clearing, where they were last
operated. He was told at the reconnaissance briefing that there was a
night watchman, but he saw no sign of one. The office trailer was dark
and he was told there would be a light on.
soldier’s instincts told him to abandon this mission, to remain within
the forest. But a sense of duty, a penchant for taking risks, and
several hearty swallows from the flask in his coat pocket, prodded him
into the clearing.
company, based in Newport, Tennessee, High Point Lumber Company started
this logging operation only three months before. The fact that they
were from another state and logging in the forests of North Carolina
infuriated the soldier and made him all the more determined to strike
was shrouded in clouds and he could see only a silhouette of the two
bulldozers, massive and cold, parked side by side. These machines were
approached without a sound and slipped between them. When he saw how
neatly they were spaced and aligned toward another cluster of
machinery, he was certain of a trap. The soldier crouched low and was
moving away from the bulldozers when searchlights snapped on from all
directions, bathing the area in light. An amplified voice commanded
where you are. You’re surrounded. Put your hands in the . . .”
swung the AK-47 off his side and sprayed bullets in an arc above the
lights. The beams jostled and lost focus, and the soldier dove for the
ground. When the area was once again illuminated, only the machines
were visible. Another spray of bullets caused the lights to dance and
cross each other. The FBI agents had underestimated their adversary.
there fast,” boomed the voice from a megaphone.
By the time the agents reached the equipment, they heard rustling
sounds, alerting them that the soldier had entered the forest.
and follow. Try to get lights on him. If he shoots again, return fire.”
Harding put down the megaphone and smoothed thinning brown hair back
over his head. He didn’t really expect someone who had just
demonstrated such stunning elusiveness in a circle of would be captors
to be apprehended in an open forest. The chase would at least serve to
familiarize his men with the terrain and help them better understand
the adversary they were up against.
mid-forties, Miles was reaching the point in his career with the FBI
when a field operation such as this should be delegated to a younger
agent. He received the assignment with some irritation. After the first
briefing, Agent Harding had concluded that the Panther Patrol was a
small, rogue group, intent on discouraging logging in Pisgah National
Forests. Not the sort of challenge that should command his expertise.
However, in closed consultation with the FBI director, he learned that
the scope of his assignment went beyond protecting the local logging
companies from the Panther Patrol.
less-experienced agents were placed under him whose only focus would be
on the Panther Patrol. On paper, Agent Harding’s skills were needed to
work these men through this task, training them on the job. This was
true to a great extent, but the operation was also a viable reason to
bring Miles into the area for his larger role. Ironically, the fact
that the saboteur eluded capture this evening was a positive
development for the overall assignment.
hadn’t planned it that way. Agent Harding had every intention of
bringing the Panther Patrol era to a close this evening. He had
calculated correctly on every aspect of this operation except the last.
his analysis of the other companies that had been hit by the Panther
Patrol, Miles chose this particular logging site to lay his trap. He
also predicted that one person was carrying out these attacks. But he
was wrong in assuming that this individual would be taken by surprise
and offer little resistance. Instead the man was cool-headed and
was already revising his tactics as he walked around the bulldozers. He
had requested that they be placed in the center of the clearing. He was
a seasoned agent and never dwelt for long on what didn’t work. Miles
harbored no doubts that the saboteur would be apprehended soon. This
first encounter demonstrated that it would take a little more time and
be more interesting than he had predicted.
yards into the forest, the soldier paused to listen. When he heard no
dogs, he turned north and moved at a slower pace. He stopped often,
listening for noise of pursuit. When he could hear only forest sounds,
he knew that he had evaded his pursuers.
turned west and soon intersected Route 284, a dirt highway that ran
along the boundary of Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Pisgah
National Forest. He would followed this road north toward his cabin at
fell into an easy walking pace and began to consider his surprise
encounter at the logging operation. He stroked his beard and rethought
the scene until he grinned with satisfaction at how he had eluded the
ambush. He was disappointed that he couldn’t carry out his mission but
not discouraged. On the contrary, the soldier was more determined then
ever to see the next mission through.
waiting for me. Those weren’t state cops. FBI, ATF, maybe. The game is
changing. They were ready for me. I had to run. Just like Robert E. Lee
said, “I must retreat so that I can fight another day.