Behind The Book: THE FURY
Behind the scenes of THE FURY
If a grief-blinded cop can’t find the terrorist who murdered her husband, millions will die in a nerve-gas strike on the United States.
The Fury is a work of fiction, hatched entirely by my overly caffeinated brain. But many of my fictional scenes, from the cataclysmic destruction of the Deepwater Horizon oil platform to the Creamsicle-orange dress and stilettos worn by my hero, undercover police detective Superstition “Sue” Davis, were inspired by real events. Some were a hoot. Most would give sane people coronaries. All were fascinating, so Crimespree thought you’d be interested in a behind-the-scenes peek at the facts that fueled the fiction in my new global terrorism thriller:
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. The globby and highly toxic crude killed jobs, businesses, and wildlife. Its hellish power was exactly the hammer I needed to crack open this tale of terrorism and heroism.
Innocents lost: The drama of the oil spill overshadowed the fact that eleven workers died in agony 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.
The doomsday bombs: The “stars” of my plot are the VX Nerve Gas bombs that were fictionally scooped from the sandy floor of the Gulf of Mexico during the real-life destruction of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, and floated into the hands of fictional Mexican cartel strongman Jiménez “Jimmy” Garcia. Such VX bombs do exist—more on that in a minute—and sociopathic narco-gang chiefs are very real in Mexico.
Just how bad is VX? Badder than anything you can imagine, including death by fire ants, burning alive, or leaving your Kindle on the subway. VX nerve gas attacks your central nervous system by stopping your muscles from relaxing—arms, legs, eyelids, diaphragm, everything. Your body clenches harder and harder and harder, until you’re curled into a comma. You can’t take a breath, your lungs collapse, your heart stops, and you die. All that from one single drop anywhere on your body.
One (gulp!) drop? Take an eyedropper, fill with motor oil (the same oily viscosity and brownish color of nerve gas, BTW), and squeeze a drop on your finger. Look closely. That single drop will kill a full-grown adult. A nerve-gas warhead contains millions of drops. Do the math, destroy a population.
I heard Hitler invented VX? True? No, but he had his oily mustache in the early nerve gases. On Christmas Eve, 1936, a German chemist looking for a better pesticide invented the first nerve gas. He called it Tabun. He followed up a year later with the much more potent Sarin nerve gas. They couldn’t be used on bugs—too dangerous for farmers to handle—but proved ideal as war weapons. The Nazis classified the research as top secret. But even Sarin is small beer compared to the mighty VX, which was invented by the British Empire. Ranajit Ghosh, a chemist for Imperial Chemical Industries in London, was, like his German counterpart Gerhardt Schrader at I.G. Farben, 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 literally swapped recipes. Britain built a nuclear shield, and American factories pumped out VX like Sears Roebuck was stocking a half-off sale. If the Godless Commies sent their Hordes into Europe, by god, we’d spray ’em with VX, and if they kept on coming, we’d drop The Big One. One of the rockets we made to deliver a VX warhead (or nuclear, depending) was named “Honest John.” (No, you can’t make this stuff up.) The old Saturday morning cartoon “Beany and Cecil” in the 1960s contained 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 cast 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 do the job 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 and began decades of disposal efforts, which continue today. Unfortunately, disposal in the early days meant dumping the poisons into our water supply.
We poisoned our own oceans? 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 II—with “obsolete” munitions, including radioactive material, mustard gas, Sarin, and the mighty VX. The ships were towed several miles off our shores and blown to the briny deep on the scientific theory of “out of sight, out of mind.” The military termed the disposal program “Operation CHASE: Cut Holes and Sink ’Em.”
A chaser for CHASE: We also unloaded bombs from barges, tossed barrels from moving ships, and built underwater poison heaps from Hawaii to Tokyo to Okinawa, in addition to the sites ringing the continental United States like so many land mines. 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. (For example, the nerve gas we seized from Syria last year.) But that technology wasn’t available when President Nixon convinced the world to deep-six its inventories. So into the sea it went.
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 WWI mustard and lewisite gases to the WWII and Cold War nerve gases, including VX. (And one 55-gallon drum 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 and 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.
Heartbreak at Bari: Adolf Hitler had plenty of nerve gas, thanks to Dr. Schrader’s 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 use unless they gas us first. The U.S. Liberty ship John Harvey containing that load 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 pack rats, 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 of the era complied. But German spies found out anyway and informed Hitler.
Fearing that Bari was only the tip of Factory 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. We literally dodged a chemical bullet.
Hitler was der Weenie: Yes, der Führer owned the famed Eagle’s Nest, that gorgeous alpine chalet on the peak of the Kehlstein Mountain, which housed Third Reich headquarters in the Bavarian Alps, and where the Reich planned so many of its atrocities. 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 conquered most of Europe, a correction by the newspaper of record would seem . . . inadequate.
Psychopaths Incorporated: 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, 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.
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 toes, others so spacious they contain lights, ventilation, and tracks for 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 contractor told me in 2013: The construction crews are advised by tunnel engineers from Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed terrorist organization. Hezbollah has dug 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. We didn’t, so the cartels pay the engineers handsomely to stick around and dig. They are in northern Mexico to this day . . . waiting and watching.
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 vaunted ATF to trace the weapons and, when the time was right, round up the 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 murder scenes of American law enforcement officers, including that of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry, who was 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.
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.
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 call the locals hayseeds who’d screw up a one-car funeral. With all the tribal warfare, it’s a wonder any criminals get caught.
Is the music club that’s key to one scene 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 street cop to savior of humanity. (And why, yes, I did write the “Do-Me Blues” song featured in that chapter. Thanks for asking!)
Three streets walk into a bar: A city editor at the Chicago Sun-Times, my old newspaper haunt, told me this joke, the punchline of which is so quintessentially Chicago I had to drop it into a scene: “Only three Chicago streets rhyme with vagina: Paulina, Malvina, and 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.
Shane Gericke is the bestselling author of The Fury, Torn Apart, and other thrillers. He lives outside Chicago, and spent years as a newspaper editor, most prominently at the Chicago Sun-Times, before switching to crime fiction.
An original member of International Thriller Writers, he was chairman of the ThrillerFest literary festival in New York City and founding director of its agent-author matching program, PitchFest. He’s judged the Edgar, Thriller, MWA, and St. Martin’s awards, and belongs to Mystery Writers of America and the Society of Midland Authors.
He lives in the Chicago suburb of Naperville, the home of world-famous detective Dick Tracy, with whom Shane shares no resemblance except steely jaw and manly visage. Please visit him at www.shanegericke.com, www.thefurybook.com, Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, and Goodreads