The Fury is a work of fiction, hatched entirely by my overly caffeinated brain. But many of my fictional scenes, from the oil blast to Superstition’s orange dress, were inspired by real events. Some were fun. Most would give sane people coronaries. All were fascinating, so I thought you’d be interested, too. Here are the things I found while looking up other things. Many thanks for reading.
Oil rig disappears: British Petroleum’s Deepwater Horizon exploded in the Gulf of Mexico on April 10, 2010. Two hundred million gallons of crude oil and tons of methane gas were fire-hosed into the Gulf and its shorelines. The globby and highly toxic crude killed jobs, businesses, birds, fish, and animals. No one knows how long complete recovery will take.
Innocents lost: The drama of the spill overshadowed the fact that eleven workers died horribly that night. We remember the fireball and the whiny CEO and the oil-streaked pelicans, but not the names of the dead. Here they are, for the record: Jason Anderson, Aaron Burkeen, Donald Clark, Stephen Curtis, Gordon Jones, Roy Kemp, Karl Kleppinger, Keith Manuel, Dewey Revette, Shane Roshto, and Adam Weise. Rest in peace, good people.
THE DOOMSDAY BOMB
How did the first poisons work? World War I chemical weapons like mustard gas and lewisite were straight-up flesh-burners called “vesicants.” When their oily fogs swept across a battlefield, your flesh and lungs would blister and burn. The more exposure, the more hideous your blisters and burns. It could take days to die. If you didn’t, the torture of living with the festering burns made you wish you had.
Nerve gas is worse than that? Way. Way. Worse. It attacks your central nervous system by stopping your muscles from relaxing—arms, legs, shoulders, back, fingers, eyelids, diaphragm, everything. Your body clenches harder and harder and harder, until you’re curled so tight you look like a comma. Or a shrimp, pick your imagery. You can’t take a breath, your respiratory system collapses, your heart stops, and you die. All that from one single drop on your body
One (gulp!) drop? Yes. The lethal dose for nerve gas is unnervingly tiny. Take an eyedropper, fill it with motor oil (which is the same oily viscosity and brownish color of nerve gas), and squeeze a single drop on your finger. Look closely. That drop will kill a full-grown adult. A nerve-gas warhead contains millions of drops. Do the math and watch a nation disappear.
Did Nazis invent nerve agents? In the 1930s, German chemist Gerhard Schrader was researching new pesticides for his employer, IG Farben, the giant chemical conglomerate based in Leverkusen, Germany. (IG Farben was an old hand at mass murder: It successfully lobbied the German government to use its poison gases in both world wars, and provided the Zyklon-B cyanide that dropped from the fake shower heads in concentration camps to kill millions of Jews bound for the crematoria.) Schrader accidentally stumbled on a combination that killed leaf lice like a chemical sledgehammer. Excited, he refined it, and on December 22, 1936, the world’s first nerve gas, Tabun, was born. A month later, he tested it on himself, albeit accidentally: a drop splashed on a lab bench, and Schrader and his assistant nearly died. After months of recovery, Schrader’s team developed a deadlier nerve agent—Sarin—and in 1937, Adolf Hitler ordered all industrial research with weapon possibilities be handed to the Nazis and stamped top-secret. So, yes, the Nazis brought nerve gas to the world. The world was not amused.
Did Nazis invent VX-type nerve agents? No. We can thank the British Empire for that. Ranajit Ghosh, a chemist for Imperial Chemical Industries in London, was, like his German counterpart Schrader, simply looking for a more efficient pesticide. He tinkered with the “organophosphate” compounds on which Tabun and Sarin were based, and came up with Amiton. Britain put it on the agricultural market in 1954, but it proved too lethal and was quickly yanked. The British Army took note, as armies do, sent samples to its biochemical research labs at Porton Down, and out came the world’s most deadly industrial poison: “Nerve Agent VX.” It was code-named “Purple Possum,” as part of Britain’s secret Rainbow Codes classification system, a charming piece of minutia from the war era.
We get our mitts on the stuff: Britain had VX. America had nukes. Each wanted the other, so we swapped recipes. Britain built a nuclear shield, and American factories pumped out VX like Sears Roebuck had a half-off sale. All in case The Godless Commies—aka, the Soviet Union—sent screeching Red hordes into Western Europe and we had to gun them down like Indians in a John Wayne movie. We couldn’t risk World War III by dropping atomic bombs, so we churned out VX instead, and during one test in Utah, we accidentally killed 6,000 sheep. One of the rockets we made to deliver a VX warhead (or atomic or high explosive, depending on need) was named the “Honest John.” (No, you can’t make this stuff up.) In fact, the old Saturday morning cartoon “Beany and Cecil” in the 1960s had sly references to “Dishonest John” and “No Bikini Atoll,” the latter a singing salute to Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands, where America performed dozens of open-air atomic bomb tests and spread radiation and fallout for hundreds of miles.
We get rid of the stuff: In the middle of the Cold War, we decided our vast atomic arsenal would get the job done after all. So President Richard Nixon asked the world to quit producing biological and chemical weapons and get rid of their stockpiles. Shockingly, the world went along (unshockingly, the Soviets agreed publicly but secretly continued their “Novichok” nerve gas program into the early 1990s) and began decades of disposal efforts that continue today. Unfortunately, disposal back then meant dumping the poisons into our water supply.
So. Much. Garbage. It embarrasses me that we’ve used our oceans, rivers, and lakes as trash heaps and sewers. Millions of tons of junk, from deadly to merely irritating, litter the ocean floors and pollute our waters. Besides the gas bombs and other debris I mentioned, check these out:
>See the underwater boneyard of warplanes. Yes, hundreds of planes
>Newest potential for disaster: Deep sea mining ready to start
>Meet the lake so radioactive 60 minutes strolling the shore will kill you
Poisoning Davy Jones’ Locker: In the late 1960s, the United States military crammed a fleet of mothballed freighters—the storied Liberty ships, which supplied Allied troops with everything from beans to bullets during World War Two—with no-longer-needed munitions, including radioactive material, mustard gas, and the dreaded VX nerve agent. The ships were towed several miles off our shores and then sent to the briny deep on the scientific theory of “out of sight, out of mind.” The military termed the dumping program “Operation CHASE: Cut Holes and Sink ‘Em.” (A special salute to my dad: In The Fury, I named the Liberty ship scuttled with the VX canisters the SS Lee Houston. In actuality, that real ship had no name, only a numerical designation. Lee Houston Gericke happens to be my father, a U.S. Army combat engineer Korea, and the best father any son could want in this life. This is my homage to him.)
A Chaser for CHASE: We also unloaded bombs from barges, tossed barrels from moving ships, and built underwater poison heaps from Hawaii to Toky0 to Okinawa, in addition to the sites ringing the continental United States. The idea was noble enough: Poison gas is barbaric (and besides, we’ve got nukes!) so let’s get rid of it. Nowadays, we safely neutralize industrial and military poisons in land-based facilities. (Most recently, the nerve gas we seized from Syria in 2014.) But that technology wasn’t available when President Nixon convinced the world to abandon its chemical and biological weapons programs and deep-six its inventories. So into the sea it went.
>How we gassed the deep blue sea
>Operation CHASE: Cut Holes and Sink ‘Em
>Nerve gas attack kills six, injures hundreds . . . in 1995
>Known U.S. disposal sites: Pacific, Atlantic, Gulf, and Mississippi River
>Who is Davy Jones and why does he have a Locker?
Are those poison bombs still down there? Yes, and they still wash ashore time to time to injure or kill. The ocean floors are littered with thousands of obsolete munitions, from traditional TNT explosives to mustard and lewisite gases to the dreaded nerve gases, including VX. (And a barrel of contaminated U.S. Army cake batter. Go figure.) Contrary to the chest-thumping assurances of Cold Warrior scientists, many of the weapons remain active today, just waiting for something to trigger them. Bombs occasionally wash up on our shores to kill an unsuspecting worker or homeowner; commercial fishermen have snagged them in their nets with tragic results. No one can predict when—if ever—the weapons will become inert from cold, salt, and oceanic pressures.
Did we really use anthrax? Not to my knowledge. I put fictional anthrax in my real VX bombs, because most readers have heard of anthrax thanks to the terror envelopes mailed around the country after 9/11, and VX is an older and less remembered (if far more deadly) scourge.
Are you sure we didn’t? Well . . . no. The United States built hundreds of biological weapons in addition to chemical, so who can really say we didn’t try various combinations? And if our leaders insisted that never happened, would we actually believe them? Here’s a few reasons why not:
>San Francisco to Abilene, Winnipeg to Springfield: U.S. Army secretly sprayed cities with “inert” fluorescent chemical to test dispersal patterns for possible biochemical strike on Moscow
>Army bombards St. Louis with radiation
>U.S. employs 1,000 Nazis until the 1990s–and keeps it secret
WAR OF “NERVE” WITH HITLER
Incident at Bari: Hitler had plenty of nerve gas, thanks to turning Dr. Schrader’s agricultural pesticides into military-grade Tabun and Sarin. So President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered a freighter of mustard gas—a proven, if less efficient, World War I chemical—into the European Theater. FDR’s orders to his generals were clear: Retaliatory only. Do not gas them unless they gas us first. The U.S. Liberty ship John Harvey would dock in an Allied-captured port on the Italian boot heel: Bari.
At daybreak on December 2, 1943, the John Harvey had been in port for days, stuck in the immense rush hour of freighters offloading supplies for Allied troops in Europe. Neither the John Harvey’s captain nor the Chemical Warfare Service (now U.S. Army Chemical Corps) officers guarding the cargo could leapfrog the line for fear that Hitler’s spies would be alerted to the 2,000 M47A1 gas bombs in the hold, each of which held sixty pounds of mustard gas.
At mid-day, Sir Arthur Coningham, pooh-bah of the Royal Air Forces, assured wire-service reporters that Germany was defeated in Italy and would never attack Bari, the main resupply port for Britain’s Eighth Army and the U.S. Fifteenth Air Force. “I would regard it as a personal affront and insult,” Coningham declared, “if the Luftwaffe would attempt any significant action in this area.”
At mid-afternoon, a Luftwaffe reconnaissance pilot spotted stevedores unloading ships like armies of ants, and turned back to base to report his find.
At sundown, one hundred and five Luftwaffe bombers—JU-88 Junkers—blew up the docks and twenty-eight loaded ships, including the John Harvey. Clouds of garlic-scented mustard gas spewed across port and town, blistering, maiming, and killing hundreds of soldiers, sailors, and civilians. Roosevelt and Churchill ordered the disaster hushed up, and the press complied. But German spies found out anyway and informed Hitler.
Fearing that Bari was only the tip of Fortress America’s iceberg of nerve gas, Hitler decided never to nerve-gas the Allies lest they nerve-gas Germany back to the Stone Age. In truth, America didn’t have nerve gas till the British invented VX in the 1950s.
>The Port of Bari: Where Allies were slaughtered with mustard gas
>Video: Watch disaster unfold at Bari >WWII posters warn troops about poison gases
>Liberty ships carried everything from bullets to beans to the troops
Hitler was der Weenie: Yes, der Führer owned the famed Eagle’s Nest, that gorgeous alpine chalet on the peak of the Kehlstein Mountain that housed Third Reich headquarters in southern Germany. (The Eagle’s Nest was a fiftieth birthday present from Nazi pal Martin Bormann.) But Adolf was deathly afraid of heights, so he rarely visited.
Dewey Defeats Truman: In a dispatch titled “Hitler Tamed in Prison,” the New York Times reported in 1924 that Adolf Hitler had been tamed in prison and would live the remainder of his life humbled and harmless. But someone forgot to inform Hitler, and after he invaded Europe, a correction by the newspaper of record would seem . . . inadequate.
A DOCTOR WORSE THAN MENGELE
Crime does pay, Part I: During World War Two, General Shiro Ishii of the Imperial Japanese Army conducted live experiments at his Unit 731 human experimentation laboratory in Harbin, Manchuria. Thousands of innocent people were kidnapped and murdered for Ishii’s ghastly “medical research”—primarily Russians, Chinese, and Koreans, but also American and British prisoners of war. Ishii froze and unfroze victims to gauge the spread of gangrene. He chained others to fenceposts to pattern shrapnel wounds from mortars and hand grenades. He roasted them till their blood boiled. He injected them with chemicals to see how they reacted; he cut babies out of mothers and transplanted them into other wombs to see if the kids would keep growing; he sprayed entire cities with poisons and plague. Most ghastly of all, he ordered live autopsies performed on what he called “the logs,” so the data his doctors collected would be “the freshest possible.” The sprawling death camp, the remnants of which exist today as a museum and memorial, was nicknamed “Asian Auschwitz.” But Ishii remains far less familiar than his Nazi doppelgänger, Dr. Josef Mengele.
Crime does pay, Part II: When the war ended, America wanted ever-more-exotic weapons to hurl at its newest archvillain, the Soviet Union. Ishii possessed thousands of pages of data from his experiments, so U.S. General Douglas “I Shall Return” MacArthur arranged a war crimes pardon in exchange for Ishii relocating to Maryland to work for Uncle Sam. Being no fool, Ishii agreed. He died of throat cancer at age 67—whether in Maryland or back home in Tokyo is uncertain, as official records conflict—without being charged with a single crime. His victims still disintegrate in the cold, bitter soils of Manchuria.
I’m a lumberjack, and I’m okay: Ishii nicknamed his human guinea pigs “logs of wood.” Why? Because the civilian leaders of nearby Harbin were told the sprawling facility was a “water purification research center” that contained a large lumber mill for heating the water and buildings. (There is no record of whether they actually believed that, but at the time, if a Japanese general insisted that the moon was made of banana peels, you agreed.) When Ishii’s scientists needed test subjects, his soldiers drove into the countryside and “felled more logs.” The real lumber from the mill was used to fire the crematoria that disposed of the bodies after the “experiments” were finished.
Uncle Mengele? No nation is pure in matters of human experimentation, including the United States. We conducted hundreds of experiments on our own citizens—mustard gas, malaria, testicular implantations, radiation, you name it, we did it. Some test subjects were willing . . . but most were duped into thinking they’d be fine. My scene in The Fury where the U.S. Army secretly sprayed St. Louis with an “inert” chemical compound to test patterns of dispersal? True story. We even hit our own soldiers and sailors with VX and other nerve gases, to see what would happen.
Psychopathic cartels: Are Mexican narcotics cartels as bloodthirsty as portrayed in my book? Do they really barbecue people on spits, decapitate soldiers, crucify informants, dynamite police stations, assassinate politicians, and terrorize entire cities? Yes. Narcotics trafficking is a multibillion-dollar industry that generates more profits than many Fortune 500 corporations, so there’s plenty of money and power to justify anything, including mass murder. If anything, I soft-pedaled the horrendous violence carried out daily by the narcotraffickers against anyone who crosses them, from cops and soldiers to politicians and innocent citizens. It’s why my fictional hero Superstition Davis is so hell-bent on destroying sociopathic “1821” cartel enforcer Jimmy Garcia in The Fury.
Is “1821” a real cartel? No. I invented Jimmy Garcia’s cartel and named it for the year that Mexican rebels drove out the Spanish conquistadors that caused so much bloodshed and ruin in their three hundred years of occupation that followed Spain’s invasion of the Aztec Empire. But the actions my “1821” warlords take represent the brutal essence of the conquistadors, whose genes for cruelty clearly passed to their cartel descendants.
Tunnels, tunnels everywhere: Smuggling tunnels play an important role in The Fury. But are they real? Yes. Hundreds of tunnels—some just wide enough for a man dragging a knapsack with his feet, others so spacious they contain lights, ventilation, and tracks for small rail cars—have been found under the border since 2000. Officials believe hundreds more remain undetected, pipelining heroin, cocaine and other narcotics to the cartels’ biggest market: the United States. Most tunnels are dug by hand to elude U.S. Border Patrol sound detection equipment. Some are threaded into the network of drainage pipes that keep the various border towns from flooding during monsoons. More alarming is what the principal of a private security company told me in 2013: The construction crews are advised by tunnel engineers from Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed terrorist organization. Hezbollah digs hundreds of holes in the desert to smuggle explosives, militiamen, and suicide bombers into Egypt and Israel, and it moved into Mexico after 9/11, in case the U.S. decided to retaliate against Iran and the ayatollahs wanted to counterattack. Nothing happened, so the cartels pay the engineers handsomely to stick around and dig.
FAST AND FATAL
Operation Fast and Furious: In 2009, the U.S. Justice Department decided it would be a swell idea for American gun dealers to sell arms to Mexico’s narcotics cartels. The deep-cover sting would allow the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives—the vaunted ATF—to trace the weapons and, when the time was right, arrest truckloads of narco warlords, using the guns as evidence. Problem was, ATF lost track, and an estimated 1,400 assault weapons vanished into the hands of the world’s most violent criminal gangs.
Deadly consequences: Some of those weapons turned up at the murder scenes of American law enforcement officers, including that of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry, the special operations veteran shot to death in Peck Canyon, Arizona, in December 2010. Two assault rifles linked to the Fast and Furious sales to the cartels were found at the site. The killers were caught, tried, and sentenced. Agent Terry remains dead.
ON A LIGHTER NOTE
View the Vu: Readers of a certain age may remember my bad guy’s good luck charm: the Scripto Vu-Lighter. The flint-wheel cigarette lighter was an icon of the 1960s, with its body molded from transparent material to show off the fishing fly, ad logo, or pinup girl bobbing in the lighter fluid. While less ubiquitous than the Zippo, it was more kitschy and fun.
The Viagra Triangle: Urbandictionary.com defines the Viagra Triangle as, “A neighborhood on Chicago’s Near North Side known for its preponderancy of singles bars and dance clubs. The Triangle is formed geographically by Chicago Avenue on the south, State Street to the west, and Rush Street as the hypotenuse—though the bars to the north along Division Street are commonly considered a part of the Viagra Triangle experience.” Me, shorter: “Hello” meets “Hump-Me” for Chicago’s business elite and the bejeweled divorcees who love them or at least their stock portfolios.
Cops ‘n’ Feds: Do local police officers and FBI special agents really despise each other, or is that only in the movies? Well, let’s just say that in real life they regard each other . . . warily. When the inevitable clashes arise between street cops and federal agents because of their differing agendas, cops deride agents as “Feebs”—short for “Feeble”—and the feds in turn regard locals as hayseeds who would screw up a one-car funeral. With all the tribal warfare, it’s a wonder any criminals get caught.
Is the music club real? Betcher sweet dimpled bahoola it is. (“Bahoola” is Chicago for “ass.” Or so my sainted grandmother insisted.) Kingston Mines Blues Club opened on Chicago’s North Side in 1968, and still proudly flaunts its tie-dyed roots: linoleum floors, mismatched chairs and tables, orangey kitchen lamps strung from the ceiling, and a cheesy front stage that looks a barnyard. Thunderous blues accompany the goodies from the in-house rib shack. It was my first choice for Superstition’s secret transition from cop to savior of humanity. (And why, yes, I did write the “Do-Me Blues” song featured in that chapter. Thanks for asking!)
How about that super-cool blues song in the book? Why, do you mean, “Do-Me Blues” in the fight-club scene between Superstition Davis and FBI Special Agent Deb Williams? I’m proud to say I wrote the lyrics. But, being no musician, I haven’t recorded it. Someday, perhaps.
Three streets walk into a bar: A city editor at the Chicago Sun-Times, my old newspaper haunt, told me this joke, which is so quintessentially Chicago I had to drop it into a scene: “Only three Chicago streets rhyme with vagina. What are they? Paulina. Malvina. Lunt.”
Cream or Dream? Superstition Davis’s undercover outfit—micro-dress and stiletto heels—is the neon orange of a Creamsicle. Or a bottle of Orange Crush, for those who prefer maximum sugary goodness. But what makes a Creamsicle different from a Dreamsicle? The insides. Creamsicles are ice cream, Dreamsicles are ice milk. (Were ice milk; sadly, Dreamsicles are no longer manufactured.) The shell is the same, though: a sugary orange sherbet.
A moveable feast: Peck Canyon is actually fifteen miles north of the border, nearer to Rio Rico than Nogales, which is smack on the border. In my book, I moved everything to Nogales in order to minimize the number of locations the reader has to remember. For those who know their Arizona geography, my apologies. Ditto any other real-life mountain, stream, or highway that I might have moved to serve the needs of fictional entertainment.
BLESS MY FACT CHECKERS . . .
A tip o’ the cap to Bill and Janice Page, who fact-checked Real Fury till their eyes crossed. I mined every one of these nuggets from a mountain of research, and I’m not smart enough to catch every error, omission, or conflicts among sources of information. Fortunately, my friends are, and I thank them and their tired eyes for helping make this nonfiction essay as accurate as possible. Naturally, anything they might have missed is not on them, but me.
. . . AS WE END ON THIS SAD NOTE
Jerrle Miller Gericke, my beloved wife of 40 years and the woman to whom I dedicated all of my novels because she was my muse, died of metastatic breast cancer on August 31, 2015–four days before the September 4 release of The Fury, which also would have been her 60th birthday, doubling the agony of that dreadful day. The silver lining is she’s reading this book while propped on a comfy cloud, laughing at the dark humor in The Fury, because even with the tragedy of her passing, funny is funny, and she adored a good line of dark cop humor. Till we meet again, my love, till we meet again . . .