Friday, April 9, 2010


The plans to the Los Angeles device hit the Web while the media was still trying to decide on a sound-biteable name for the attack. 9/11 2? The Second 9/11? 2/911?

Like, well, everyone, I checked them out. Only, I didn't do it out of shock, or morbid curiosity. I did it out of what I suppose you could call professional interest.

All guys, to a certian level, love to watch things blow up. It's somewhere deep within our XY makeup to enjoy the hell out of something that goes "boom." It's why we have the Fourth of July. It's why we love action movies. And it's all normal and probably completely healthy -- to a certain level.

Then there other guys. Guys like George Matesky, Edward White, Ted Kaczynski. Do some Googling if you don't know who these guys are -- but these are the guys who like to see things explode a little too much. Sure, they may have had other motives for the stuff they did, but I know, deep down, they worked in the medium of explosives because they just loved to see shit blow up.

I suppose you could add the name Martin Chase to the above list (that's me, incidentally). I've been blowing things up since I was a little kid, since I learned how to take the gunpowder out of my daddy's shotgun shells and make it into a pipe bomb. I wasn't a sadist, though -- it's not like I blew up animals or hurt anyone. I used to spend hours building structures on the empty plains behind my house just to blow them up. Just to watch them explode.

There's a certain beauty to an explosion -- a sound and a flash that's impossible to produce any other way, each one as unique as a fingerprint or a leopard's spots. That's what I loved -- the beauty, not the destruction. (OK, to be honest, the destruction was kind of a cool side effect -- but I was in it mainly for the explosions themselves.)

Not all of us guys who are that in love with bombs turn out to be criminals, but I'd guess a lot of us do. Me, I went the other way, initially -- went to college and got degrees in chemistry and physics, got a job with a demolitions company. Brought down my first building, all nice and legal, at 26. It was an old, rotting apartment block in Dallas. That was thirteen years ago, but I remember it like it just happened.

I was heading the team wrapping the foundation of the building with explosives. I could barely contain my excitement, and I guess it showed.

"Nervous?" Kieth asked. Kieth was my boss, and owner of the company -- he'd hired me directly out of grad school. Good guy.

"Not really. Excited. I've wanted to do this since I was a little kid," I told him.

"Didn't we all, though?" he said, smiling. "Otherwise, we'd be in the wrong business."

That first demolition was gorgeous. The basement and first floor blew just as I'd planned -- all my math that I'd checked and re-checked had worked out perfectly. The building collapsed in on itself, and the debris field couldn't have strayed more than fifteen yards in any direction. Perfect, clean, and above all, beautiful.

Living a perfect life for someone like me, you'd think. And for a while, it was great. But here's the problem -- it wasn't enough. Over the next ten years, we demolished seventeen buildings. That's it -- just seventeen. Not even two a year. A lot of our time was spent consulting, planning, doing forensic work with State and Federal authorities. . . paperwork. Boring as hell, and not what I signed on for.

So it took a while, but yeah, I suppose I became a criminal. My modus operandi wasn't that different from when I was a kid, though -- I wasn't out to hurt anyone. I was just trying to capture those moments, those beautiful moments of ignition and detonation. I started finding condemned properties, places that were scheduled to be torn down anyway, and getting there before the bulldozers could. And I'd travel to find a good target -- I took down empty warehouses in Phoenix, burned condemned houses in Davenport, Iowa.

I varied my methods and tools -- TNT, RDX, incindiaries, penetrators, shaped charges. It was so random that I was pretty sure no one would put it together.

So, back to the Los Angeles device. I studied the hell out of those plans for at least a week, even calling in sick to work for a couple of days (which, as you recall, was not out of the ordinary when Los Angeles happened -- a lot of people didn't show up to work for weeks). I lamented the loss of life, like anyone else -- but the device itself fascinated me.

I would've studied the device longer, though I probably had memorized every relay, every little design flaw. But the FBI (or whoever does that sort of thing) managed to pull the info off the Internet in about a week, just around the time the media started blaming a North Korean terror cell for the attack.

From a professional standpoint, it was a pretty amateur job, and probably shouldn't have detonated at all, but someone got lucky. It wasn't near as elegant as, say, the Mk-54 SADM, developed back in the 1950s by the U.S. Government. From the amount of material and the shaped charges they used, they should have gotten a yield of at least two kilotons -- they got just over half that, but it was enough to turn downtown LA into rubble.

I suppose it's a good thing they pulled the plans down when they did. It forced me to go back to the office, and to stop obsessing over how I could have designed the bomb better. Yes, I know. That's morbid and fucked up.

"Hey, Martin. How are you holding up?" Kieth asked when I finally returned to the office. It was a question everyone was asking everyone else those days.

"You know. As well as can be expected," I said. "You?"

"I don't know, man. I think. . . I think I'm going to shut us down for a little while. People don't need to be reminded. You know?"

I nodded my head as if I understood. I didn't, of course. I wanted to get back out there and get back to work -- we had a huge project scheduled in two months. I couldn't believe he was going to shut us down without letting me do my job. But I was just his employee, and I realized that it wasn't the right time to debate him. I figured I'd let it sit for a few days and bring it up when the time was right.

That time never came. Kieth shuttered the company and never opened it again. I was out of a job, and no one was even wanting to think about hiring a demolitions specialist that soon after the Los Angeles tragedy. I was stuck.

It was January or February when I talked to my father about it, finally. He'd called just to check in, and I was pretty frustrated at that point. It wasn't just the loss of my job -- I'd also lost my connection to the raw materials to indulge my hobby. I hadn't blown anything up in almost a year.

"So how're things looking on the job front, son?" he ased.

It was a question he'd asked before, but usually one I deflected with "still looking." This time, though, I was itchy and frustrated, and I let it out.

"It sucks, is how it looks. I'm going out of my mind here, dad. I loved what I did, and now these stupid North Korean fucks go and mess it all up."

"No one's pulling down any buildings anywhere?"

"They're not blowing them up. And if they are, they're not hiring."

"I kinda don't want to bring this up, but. . . ."


"You know there's a lot of talk about war. With China. Maybe, I don't know. . . the Army? I'm sure they could use your experience somehow."

It was one of those facepalm moments -- one where I felt like slapping myself in the head like I was one of those old cartoons. Of course. The Army. They'd certainly pay me to blow shit up, wouldn't they?

"But I'm too old to join, aren't I?" I asked. Dad was in the Army back in the days where we weren't really fighting anyone, so he'd know.

"Forty-one's the cut-off, I think. You're 38. And with your experience and your degrees, they'll probably take you."

So I went to the recruiter the next day. I told him about what I did, and he gave me some tests to take. I was ready to sign up then and there, but he told me he'd call me the next day.

You know when someone tells you something you already know, but you really don't want to hear anyway? Yeah, that's what happened the next morning when the recruiter called. The Army wouldn't take me. Apparently, I'm a nutcase. Like I said, something I already kind of suspected, but something I didn't want to hear.

And that's what did it, I guess. That was the straw that broke the proverbial camel's spine like kindling. That night, I got hammered, went out, and torched an auto body shop down the street from my house. I didn't care any more if they caught me -- I just needed to see something in flames. I sat on the curb, drinking beer, and waited until the cops came to pick me up.

"Sir, did you see what happened here?" the first officer on the scene asked me.

I'll never forget the look on his face when I answered him. I've never seen that mixture of shock and confusion on anyone's face since.

"Fucking right I saw what happened. I made a nice, thick mixture of polystyrene, benzene, and aviation gas and lit that fucker up like the Fourth of July," I told him, laughing.

Not all of us become criminals -- but I have a feeling that most of us do.

While the cop was cuffing me, the fire hit the fuel pumps behind the auto shop, causing a fantastic secondary explosion. Shrapnel flew well across the street, and one piece cut my face open from just above my right eye from my lip. The cop standing behind me was fine -- I took the worst of it.

And even with my face streaming blood and damn near falling off in the back of the cruiser, I couldn't stop laughing.

A year later, Congress passed the Convict Conscript Act, and I was given the same test I'd taken at the recruiter. I have no doubt the result was the same, but they needed bodies -- so I was taken from the Allan B. Polunsky Unit in Polk County, Texas to a military airfield and flown out in a cargo plane to Camp Justice in Russia. I was coded into Army Kilo, which is pretty much a death sentence.

But I was right where I wanted to be -- setting off explosions again. Most of my fellow conscripts in 28 Kilo gave me a wide latitude, but I didn't care -- I've never been what you'd call a social animal.

And that's where I've been for the past three months. My CO looked at my file and realized I knew what I was doing around explosives, so I've been able to blow up plenty of stuff. I know it's supposed to be punishment. . . but I'm kinda loving every damn minute of it.


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