Melinda watched as the Cartel Convoy with their signature black vehicles navigated the serpentine curves on Highway 101 along Oregon’s rugged South Coast. She was lying on top of a sleeping bag on a table in the woman’s rest room, sighting through a narrow rectangular opening in the wall that the crew had cut for her.
Her heavy-caliber sniper weapon was mounted on a tripod and she took aim at the lead SUV. She fired twice and the vehicle’s engine spouted smoke and jerked to a stop, blocking the road. Melinda then turned her attention on the last vehicle and fired three shots, again disabling the SUV as smoke and flames leaped from the engine.
Quickly, she looked to the middle of the convoy where a large, black Ram pickup was stopped. In the pickup’s bed, two men were frantically swiveling a large, mounted gun in her direction. She aimed at the man in the seat of the gun who was peering through his finder. She shot him. And then Melinda fired a volley of shots into the engine which caught fire, spread to the back, the pickup exploding in a flash of flame and a pall of black smoke.
It all happened in a matter of seconds and there was pandemonium on the road as the Cartel members jumped from their vehicles and began to direct small arms fire in her direction, the rounds plunking off the concrete walls of the rest room.
She grabbed her heavy weapon, folded the tripod, and left her perch, keeping low and working her way down to a parking area that was out of sight of the coastal highway. Melinda made it to the Subaru as something hit the rest room with a loud explosion, most likely a rocket propelled grenade, a favorite of the Cartel’s.
Melinda threw the weapon in the rear of her Outback and jumped in the driver’s seat, starting the car and roaring out of the viewing area and heading back toward Coos Bay, then on to Eugene. Some of the Cartel in the front of the convoy saw her and fired wildly in her direction. But she rounded a bend and was quickly out of their line of fire.
She was back at the Best Western in Eugene by late afternoon, where she backed into a space in front of Room 101. The door opened and two men ran out, raised her rear hatch and quickly moved the rifle into the room, then carefully placed a package in the back. There was a tapping on her car door window and Melinda lowered the glass. Jared was standing there and asked her how it went. She told him what had happened; she had blocked the road, blown up the heavy weapon in the pickup, and then put a few shells in most of the other SUVs.
Jared nodded his approval then said. “The guys put the package in the back. The instructions are there, just be careful when you set the detonators. They can be tricky.”
Melinda nodded. “I will not leave my cafe to the Cartel.”
Jared smiled and looked at his watch. “Too late for you to head back. How about dinner? I do have a room here.” And he cocked his head, nodding upstairs.
“I have to get back. Maria is at the cafe by herself. She has no idea what I am doing, but she knows I am up to something. She’d have a heart attack if I did not return tonight. I can do the drive in four hours.”
Jared smiled. “Always about Maria.”
Melinda shifted uncomfortably and told Jared she would take a rain check on the dinner; she put the Subaru in gear and headed east on Route 20. Fortunately, there was no snow and the way was clear, not requiring her to use chains. Once over the Cascades it was an easy drive to “Melinda’s Café”, which was on the Deschutes River. The colorful restaurant was located a few miles west of the small town of Bend, Oregon.
As Melinda pulled into the dimly lit parking lot, Maria, her hair pulled back from her slender face, ran to the car and asked where she had been. Melinda got out and hugged her, telling Maria they would talk in the morning. But now she needed to get to bed and Melinda took Maria’s hand.
“No,” Maria said pulling away. “I need to stay in my room tonight.”
The next morning they had coffee and Melinda avoided talk of yesterday, telling Maria they had to flee as the Cartel was after her. Melinda explained she had made arrangements for them in Idaho, which unlike Oregon, had not declared itself and “open state”.
Melinda told Maria she would not let the cafe fall into Cartel hands. Instead she would wire the structure to explode after they left, and she nodded to the large package that she had hidden in the pantry. Maria’s eyes went wide. “Blow up the cafe?” She gasped.
“And I want you to leave first. Take the Subaru and wait for in the town of Brothers. Just go east on Route 20, about twenty miles. I will set the charges and follow on the dirt bike. This morning we’ll load the Subaru, just essentials. I want you to be away by noon. I will follow about an hour later. There is a small dinner in Brothers. Wait for me there. Then we can drive to Idaho together.”
Maria sat stunned with her mind racing. The beloved Cafe blown up…what could be done to save it? “You can’t.” Maria protested, but Melinda was already sorting out the explosives and detonators in Jared’s package.
At noon, Maria was ready to go. They hugged and Melinda noticed the tears in Maria’s eyes. “I’ll be there in a couple of hours.” Melinda said.
Maria sighed and got into the Subaru, heading slowly out of the parking lot toward Route 20, but instead of turning right and heading east, Maria took a sharp left and accelerated rapidly heading west toward Eugene.
Melinda yelled to Maria and ran after the Subaru waving her hands, thinking Maria must be confused. Suddenly there was a flash and a booming off to her left from the banks of the Deschutes River. The Subaru bucked a few feet off the road and then exploded in a ball of fire as Melinda had loaded extra gas cans in the back, just in case
The burning Subaru rolled down the two-lane black top, Maria’s funeral pyre. To the left a few hundred yards away, Melinda saw movement in the junipers and without hesitation she ran to the rear of the café, took her back pack and slung her strap case over her shoulder, jumped on the dirt bike and flew east on Route 20.
Today Melinda’s Cafe stands as a museum, full of Cartel mementos, pictures, and a history of the Oregon Campaign. The Cartel designated Melinda’s Cafe an “historic place”, a memorial to Maria, who was accidentally killed by friendly fire. Maria was a true hero of the Movement.
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