Monthly Archives: March 2016

Excerpts From Unalienable, Part 2

unrestDraft excerpt. Late chapter. Feedback is appreciated…

Mae looked ahead, into an un-obscured patch of mirror on the wall behind the bar, between a bottle of Seagrams and a neon Rolling Rock sign. She saw a victim staring back. The reflection of herself – beaten, disoriented, weak – invoked some pathetic orphan. It angered her. She got up and went into the restroom and locked the door. She stood before the mirror staring at the stranger. She ran the faucet and dabbed her face with water. She pulled her hair back. Then she reached into her bag and took out her gloss. Wrong color. She tossed it back in and rummaged for the other, the plum. It was stronger. She heard a knock on the door. She ignored it and touched up her mascara, hardening and intensifying her eyes. She pulled at her collar, stiffening it. Finally, she straightened her posture.

She heard the knock again just before opening the door. On the other side stood a woman from a different world – shorter but broader, blotchy skin, coarse, dull, badly-died, reddish hair, cheap makeup and frumpy clothes. They looked each other in the eye, the alien sizing Mae up, looking as if she expected Mae to wilt and step aside. Mae barred the way, defiantly, a cold smirk formed in the edge of her freshened lips. They looked each other up and down, then stared at each other for several seconds. Mae wondered if this pitiable wench might have been her, in some other life, if things had gone awry. No. Of course not. No matter how sideways things might have gone, she could never evolve into the troglodyte that stood before her. Mae could never fail at life to that extent. She would have overcome; she always overcame. She found herself on that path once and remedied it, leaving her husband to save herself from the ignominy of being a hick undersheriff’s trophy wife.

Mae filled up with bravado. Her eyes fired back at the wench as if to say, “make way, prole, or I will cut your fucking throat.” The wench, a survivor herself, glanced left and right. After determining that no one was watching, she acquiesced and stepped aside. There was nothing for her to gain and too much to risk.

Mae returned to her seat at the bar to find a filled martini glass waiting at her place. The bartender returned, buffing wine glass.

“I said on the rocks not up, please.” Mae pushed the drink towards the edge for the bartender to take it.

He took the glass and scowled and waddled off to fix her another. Mae checked the mirror on the wall between the Seagrams and the sign. The person staring back was her, again. Her world was righted.

Indivisible Chapter 10

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Chapter 10

 

Mae would have preferred a better hotel, but the Airport Hyatt was boarded up. She couldn’t bring herself to go back to the DIA bunker, but she hadn’t quite convinced herself to impose upon the only person she could in the whole of the greater Denver area. So she stalled, passing the dull nights with her security detail, turning them into lounge drinking buddies and ultimately one drunken and regrettable three-way.

Mae spent two weeks at the airport Red Roof Inn, waffling over what to do. She finally received the dreaded phone call.  The voice was unfamiliar and nasal. Some low-level Secret Service nobody, she guessed.  The voice informed her that her time at the hotel purgatory was up. She either had to go to the DIA bunker or find her own arrangements. She requested a driver and within the hour, a solitary black SUV limo picked her up.

“People will think I’m a senator or something, riding around in this thing,” she joked as the limo rolled down the sparsely developed airport superhighway.

“Sorry, Ma’am. It’s the only car we had with bulletproof glass,” explained the driver.

They rolled down the pristine highway, which traversed property owned by one of the cronies who had secured the airport’s funding and ensured Denver International Airport’s terribly inconvenient location. Pena Boulevard spanned fifteen miles of bleak, windswept steppe, linking Interstate 70 to the gleaming, canvas spires of the most expensive airport ever built. Those spires rose up from the flaxen plain much like the pyramids, but the design was probably inspired more by that goofy artist Christo than by any ancient Egyptian stimulus project. Christo’s prior art included hanging a humungous white curtain across a Colorado canyon in the 1970s.

Mae was relieved when they passed Bluecifer, a giant, blue, demonic horse sculpture with orange glowing eyes and the grim karma of having fallen over and killing its sculptor during its creation. Bluecifer was the symbolic gatekeeper for Denver International, and once past it, Mae hoped to have nothing more to do with that place. The entire complex felt sinister to her with its cryptic Masonic symbols and creepy murals of Armageddon.  She also hoped to never see the two young men of her security detail again. She was making her getaway from all of it. She could not be persuaded to go back and pass through the red door and enter the airport bunker.

Traffic on I70 was very light that morning, as it had been for several days. The big economic crash was like a concussion bomb that scattered all the civilian agents of commerce. To make matters worse, the reeling banks had closed a half dozen times since that black Friday. On any given trading day, the slightest rumor triggered panic redemptions and movement into commodities. This didn’t sit too well with the bankers, so they leaned on the Fed Chairman, who in turn leaned on Congress, to make the new alternative currencies less attractive than their dying dollar. The Currency Stabilization Act, drafted by the bankers themselves, rammed through by Speaker Leatherface, and hastily passed by Congress who had not been given time to read it, slapped a ninety percent windfall gains tax on the sale of twenty-five different commodities. But this didn’t accomplish anything other than to drive the commodity markets out from the light of the exchanges and into the dark alleys of the black market. The SEC and IRS couldn’t do much to enforce the new regulation, but at least government could say it was doing something. Government always has to do something. Things never change in that regard.

The first bank holiday was the longest at five business days and a weekend. By business day three, tens of millions of Americans had exhausted their emergency stores of frozen pizzas and soft drinks. Their diapers had all run out and so had their baby formula and then the graham crackers and the egg noodles and eventually even the olives and mustard.

In order to save everyone, FEMA set up egg noodle and baby formula distribution centers at all the nation’s football stadiums. They were quickly inundated by angry, hungry, desperate mobs. The cops drove them back with their megaphones. The mobs regrouped. They were driven back again by water cannon and sound blasters. They re-formed. Out came the batons and the pepper spray. They finally dispersed for good.

Batons and pepper spray worked well for subduing the desperate mobs at the FEMA centers, but not so well at the banks where the throng had justice and retribution on their mind rather than hunger. Many banking institutions were set ablaze, often with their pitiable, essentially blameless, minimum-wage-earning clerks still holed up inside.

By the fourth business day of the holiday, many cops had been on duty for stretches of twenty-four straight hours. Their nerves and sanity were pushed beyond mortal limits. They had become, to borrow a Roger Waters analogy, the “rusty wire holding the cork that keeps the anger in”. Not all of them held it in. Rumors of mass shootings both by and of cops swirled around on what was left of the internet. Television and the papers reported nothing of it.  They didn’t want to foment panic in Mainstream America.

Fearing an inability to prevent the cauldron of civil unrest from boiling over, the president took decisive action. He held a press conference flanked on either side by the Fed Chairman and T, the Treasury secretary—whose own red hair, small stature, and pointy nose gave him a leprechaun-like aura. So together The Gnome, The Leprechaun, and Prince Charming declared that the crisis was over and the banks would open and stay open for good the next morning. The fairy tale was to take place on a Friday, and the triumvirate clung to hope that they would only have to make it through one anxious day of holy-shit-this-might-be-our-last-chance-to-get-our-money-out mania. Then the establishment would be saved by the weekend.

Truckloads upon truckloads of paper money emerged from the garages of Federal Reserve regional banks. New bills were printed with bigger denominations of one thousand and five thousand dollars dubbed “Reagans” and “Roosevelts.” To hell with catching the money-laundering drug dealers! America needed cash. The Fed stuffed the new bills into the vaults of every bank of any significance, nationwide.

The Fed chairman, the Treasury secretary and the president crossed their fingers and held their breath. Futures trading revealed nothing as the Plunge Protection Team was key-stroking money and buying everything in sight trying to tame the animal spirits once again.

Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding!

Their mouths dropped. In less than thirty minutes the market reached its limit down again.

“Fuck!” exclaimed the president, flanked by his sidekicks in the Oval Office.  He lit himself a Marlboro.

The trio somberly ordered the foreign currency trading desks closed again. No dollars were allowed to be dumped until the rulers could come up with some other scheme to halt the slide. The domestic banks, however, remained open. They had to. The entire economy had nearly seized with rigor mortis during a week without money.

As an emergency remediation, all the New York banks were given access to special lending facilities. In other words, every bank that the Fed chairman had deemed too big to fail gained access to an unlimited line of credit, at zero percent interest, with principal that was never to come due, all in hopes that the big banks might churn enough digital dollars to survive the bank run.

The move to shutter the banks the week before proved disastrous. Keeping them open might have been even worse, but closing them definitely fomented a panic—giving it legs, as they say. The lesson of being caught without the ability to buy toilet paper because debit card transactions were shut off was not lost on Americans. Americans could be accused of sheep-like idiocy in times of plenty, but they were quick learners. They were not going to get devoured by the wolf again.

When word got out in the middle of the night that the banks were reopening, the lines quickly accumulated. When the doors opened, a swarm inundated the terrified bank tellers. The truckloads of cash were quickly exhausted despite personal withdrawal limits of ten “Reagans” per customer. Customers were turned away cursing. Some turned over the signs. Some banks reported assaults. Some were set on fire, again.

With their debit cards turned back on, there was a mad rush to the grocery stores and gas stations. People weren’t buying potato chips and pepsi, this time. Now they were buying fuel and canned goods and dried goods and paper products and batteries and medicine. The pumps and shelves were cleaned out in minutes. Americans indeed learned quickly.

The supply chain, a super complex machine greased by millions upon millions of credit transactions, began sputtering within hours of the initial collapse. Parts of it blew apart as unsound trucking companies ran out of gas and could not do anything about it other than have their drivers pull their trucks onto the shoulder and walk away.  Despite the gaping holes, sound businesses endured by the wits of their brilliant, industrious managers who hustled fuel with collateralized IOUs to keep their fleets rolling. The goods that were moving were moving based on million dollar deals sealed with handshakes and emails. There were crafty, resourceful men and women, millions of them, dealing in millions of products, making billions of decisions, holding what was left of the sputtering economic order together. They were adjusting to the extraordinary situation. They were surviving.

Then the government just had to do something again.

The government busybody administrators could not resist their pervasive and pathological urge to save the day and be heroes. So, like a monkey wrench—or more aptly a hand grenade—tossed into the machine-works, the busybodies went about meddling and destroying the fragile arrangements created by the resourceful business managers.

“How dare anyone profit in these extreme times!” the politicians declared. First, the evil price gougers were to be cited, then arrested.  Then their assets were to be seized. This started with the gas stations and progressed to the sellers of produce, and then the merchants of diapers. The possibility of high profits, which could be made if one could get a truckload of diapers from New Jersey to Flagstaff, for example, was quickly doused by the government busybodies who made it illegal to make any exploitative windfall profits. The exploiters, who were on their way to Flagstaff to fulfill the desperate diaper demand, and make a buck in the process, caught wind of the new regulations that would result in landing them in prison for five years. They turned their trucks around and went back home. The Arizonian babies were saved from those greedy capitalists! They would just have to do without diapers and the other things they needed, regardless of what their parents were willing to pay.

The government busybodies, through passage of the Commercial Goods Transportation Prioity Act, determined that certain goods had to have priority when being transported on the king’s roads. Priority was largely determined by political connection. The handlers of those goods were moved to the front of the growing fuel lines. This destroyed the complex procurement and hauling matrix of pickup, delivery and backhaul. Within hours of the regulation, trucks were rolling empty. Gluts and shortages of goods exploded everywhere. A mountain of tires accumulated in Toledo while trucks across the country were idled by flats.

Mae, of course, cared not one whit about any of it. She only studied econometrics and concepts like aggregate demand in her PhD program. She, like most quantitative economists, was incapable of comprehending the interdependent, infinite locus of goods and services and time preferences and personal choices that form the complex matrix of an economy. To her, like most modern PhDs, economics was just two intersecting curves on a graph and a bunch of equations containing Greek letters. Besides, she was still getting paid. Her investments were being adjusted in value by keystroke entry so as to keep her whole.

Her job function as an assistant Treasury secretary was, for the moment, obsolete. The Asian countries were her clients and they were not speaking to anyone in the U.S. She had nothing to do except reach her hideout and wait until the whole thing blew over.

She gazed out the window from behind her Jackie-O sunglasses as her bulletproof limo flew down I70. The outside world had changed during the two weeks she spent inside the Red Roof Inn. She observed dozens of semi-trailers parked along the sides of the highway, their tires removed, their doors pried open, and their contents looted. Many were burned.

Several abandoned cars lined the interstate as well, mostly older models, beaten down by years of abuse, they finally gave out. They were the cars of poor people, older models, dented, and rusted. Their destitute owners lacked the wherewithal to get them home. All of these abandoned cars had their windows smashed, tires removed, and gas siphoned out. Whatever was of value on the inside was taken as well.

Mae sipped from a martini glass as they whizzed past the wreckage.

The interstates, the arteries of commerce spanning coast to coast, were becoming the repository of the plaque of economic collapse. Wasted vehicles on the roadside nearly outnumbered the vehicles still being driven on the road.

Mae’s limo made good time until they hit a traffic jam.

“What’s going on?” she asked, as she checked her lipstick in her compact. It had gotten smudged by her drink.

“Got a call out. Should hear any second,” replied the driver.

“Well, I don’t want to be stuck out here in Road Warrior land for long.”

“Don’t worry, ma’am. We’re bulletproof. And I can always call in air support, if necessary.”

They sat there staring into the back end of a rusted out Sierra pickup, mud flaps emblazoned with chrome nude silhouettes. Its expired tag was from Guadalajara.

“Almighty says there was an explosion up ahead. DHS and FBI are on scene investigating. They think it was a roadside bomb. Can you believe that? An IED in Denver.”

“How long is the wait?” Mae asked, impatiently.

“It could be a while, ma’am.”

“Any way we can take a detour?”

“Not from here. We’re a half mile or so from the next exit.”

Mae swallowed the last of her martini and dozed off in the air conditioned, leather seat.

 

Mae awoke to a forward lurch of the limo. She checked her watch. She’d been asleep for over an hour. They were still on I70 but at least they were moving. Mae poured another martini. After about twenty minutes of creeping along, the roadside carnage finally came into view. Two fire trucks, one facing the wrong direction, flanked the smoldering, burned-out car on the right lane of the elevated interstate. Its tires had completely burned away and the twisted, blackened heap of metal rested on its axles in a puddle of grease and fire retardant foam. A group of policemen were huddled on the shoulder. On the ground before them was a white sheet covering a bundle with two stumps of charcoal poking out one end. Mae took a giant gulp and sucked the olive off the plastic skewer.

“Never thought I’d see anything like that in America,” remarked the driver who chomped away at his chewing gum as they passed the carnage.

“Surreal. It looks like a war zone.”

“I’m afraid I’ve got some bad news, ma’am.”

“What’s that?”

“We need to get some gas.”

“Oh no, you’re not stopping!” Mae ordered, now terrified at the prospect of pulling off the highway into some proletarian ghetto in a government limo.

“We’re stopping one way or another, ma’am.”

“Then turn back,” she ordered.

“Can’t do it. We wouldn’t make it half way back to DIA. Just relax. We’ll be fine. Did I tell you we’re bulletproof?”

“You did.”

They pulled off the interstate onto an arterial and found an open gas station not far from the highway. Ahead of the pump was a long line of cars waiting for the petrol that had tripled in price in just three weeks. Mae’s driver accelerated, bypassing them all, eventually angling the limo into the front of the line. The horns of the cars behind furiously let loose. Drivers started getting out of their cars and letting curses and gestures fly. “Who the hell are you?!” screamed a burly man with a mullet three cars back.  He looked like he might stomp up and throw his hairy fist through the limo’s bulletproof windshield, yank the driver out through the hole, and strangle him with his bare hands. The driver calmly radioed in the situation to “Almighty.” Then, to Mae’s surprise, he opened the door.

“Where’re you going? Don’t get out!” she screamed.

Mae’s driver hopped out, spit out his gum and flashed his badge to the cursing mob. “Everyone just calm down!” The mob’s response was a barrage of four-letter curses and threats of violence. “I’m with the Federal Government,” the driver continued as he raised his badge higher, as though it would give him more prestige. “I apologize for cutting into line like this but we must not be delayed. We are on official government business.”

“Fuck you!” was the universal reply.

“The line starts back there,” shouted mullet-man.

One car lurched forward and bumped the limo, jolting Mae’s head back and spilling her new martini down her chest. She was afraid.

“Everyone just calm down,” the limo driver shouted. “It’ll only be a minute and then we’ll be on our way.”

“You can wait in line just like everyone else,” screamed a woman with a crying kid strapped into her beat-up minivan.

“Look,” the driver continued, “we are with the government. We are here to help you.”

“Haven’t you helped us enough?” asked the mullet-man. “Move that damn car to the back of the line!”

The car that had just bumped Mae’s limo backed up and revved its engine. Mae’s driver apparently decided that the mob was neither impressed with his government status nor amenable to his reasoning, because he got back in and locked the door. Mae caught a glimpse of his concerned face in the rearview mirror. Images of the roasted car and the two charred stumps on the highway flashed through her mind. Her limo was bulletproof but it wasn’t fireproof.

“Where are they?” shouted the driver into his radio.

“What’s wrong with these idiots?” Mae interrupted. “Don’t they know who we are?” Feeling the effects of the martini, she rolled down her window a few inches and screamed out at the mob, “Don’t you imbeciles know who we are?”

One responded by tossing a bottle at her window which shattered into foamy shards on impact. Mae rolled the thick glass back up. “Let’s get the hell out of here,” she pleaded.

“Hang on. We’ve got air support coming.”

“Then where the hell are they?”

Looking back, Mae noticed the mullet-man had produced an aluminum softball bat and was making his way to the limo. He stopped at each car along the way, cajoling the occupants to get out and join him. Many did. A gang of angry proles formed behind him as he approached.

“I hope they don’t have anything flammable,” said the limo driver.

“Let’s go! Let’s go now!” Mae shouted.

“Hang on. I hear them. They’re coming.”

“You’re damn right they’re coming. Get us out of here.”

“No.  The choppers.  Listen.”

The mullet-man reached the back of the limo with a posse of about a dozen behind him. To Mae’s surprise, her driver got out again.

“Don’t be stupid!” he ordered the mullet-man. “Hear those choppers? Yeah. I called them. There coming here.”

“Fuck you, fed,” the mullet-man man barked.

“I’m armed,” the driver advised. “Don’t make me use it.”

“You can’t shoot all of us.”

“Yeah, that’s true,” the driver answered. “But I can shoot you. Then I can get back in this car and wait another two minutes for the cavalry to arrive and take out your posse. So I suggest you just calm yourself down and back away and I’ll forget about how you threatened me with your deadly weapon. Threatening a government employee is a carries a mandatory twenty-year prison term, you know. We’ll just get our gas and be on our way.”

The mullet-man looked ready to make his move. But he turned his head to look behind him and found that the others had gone back to their cars.

“Your odds aren’t so good anymore,” said the limo driver.

“Who do you think you are?” asked the mullet-man as he lowered his bat.

“I’m with the government.”

“You feds think you’re royalty or something?”

“Do you want me to reply honestly?”

“No, I want you to lie to me some more,” he answered, sarcastically.

“More or less, we are royalty. We’re the government. Our job is to rule. And you’re job is to do what you’re told.  It’s for your own good.”

“You’re all liars. You caused all this. You destroyed the country.”

“These are tough times, my friend. But we’re all in it together.”

“Yeah?  Well some are ‘in it’ more than others.”

A thumping black helicopter appeared over the surrounding cottonwoods and rooftops. It hovered around and above the limo. Mae glimpsed the sniper on board, taking aim. One gentle squeeze and the bullet would explode through the target’s barrel chest, the energy of the .50 caliber round sending him flopping into the air like a tossed stuffed animal.

“Go back to your car,” ordered the limo driver in a calm voice.

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Oathkeeper Chapter 14

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Chapter 14

 

Benjamin Stern adjusted his glasses, took a sip of water, patted a stoic Monte Turcot on the shoulder, pushed his chair back, and stepped out from behind his table to address the jury for the final time.

“So, here we are,” he began. “We’ve made it to the end. What a trial. What a trial. So…what did we learn? This is the point where I’m supposed to present the final argument for my client, but I’m not going to argue with you. Frankly, there is no need to argue. All I intend to do now is talk to you about what you’ve heard over the course of this trial, to talk about what reasonable conclusions I think we all can draw regarding the evidence presented over the last two weeks.

“You,” Stern continued as he scanned the jury, “you are very privileged. The first thing I want to say is that I know your job is not easy. It’s not easy to be away from your families and jobs for so long. I commend you for your service. You have my respect and gratitude. You are the caretakers of our great American system. The responsibility for making sure that justice is served falls to you, and only you. Not me. Not to the gentleman over there wearing the Salvatore Ferragamo penny loafers. Not even Her Honor. Only you get to decide. This is your moment. And it has all come down to right now.

“It is through your labors here, in this very trial, that our republic breathes. Our republic lives here, right now, right in this very courtroom in Canon City, Fremont County, Colorado, far, far away from the marble halls of Washington DC. The heart of the republic beats here, despite being so far removed from the center of power and the beltway lawyers and advisors and lobbyists and bureaucrats. A tiny number of them made the 1,700 mile journey from DC to here to participate in our living republic. You can see them around you, today, dressed in their fine suits. We commend them for making the journey – for taking part in our grand experiment called democracy.

“I can’t help but be reminded of the words of Thomas Jefferson, the author of our great Declaration of Independence, that revolutionary, that radical, that statesman who, along with the other Founding Fathers, stood up to injustice and tyranny, risking their lives and fortunes for what is right and noble. Thankfully, few of us here have had to risk as much as they did, but your calling is just as noble. As Jefferson said, ‘Courageous and informed people are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty.'”

“What is this bullshit?” Chalmers muttered to his paralegal.

“You were shown a great deal during this trial,” Stern continued. “So let’s talk about some of that one last time before you go into that chamber to render a verdict. We all know that law enforcement officers have a very difficult job. No sane person can dispute that. Too many people’s lives, including officers’ and deputies’ lives, are taken by violence in this country. Law enforcement has been entrusted by the citizens with great powers to help solve these crimes, but as we all know, with great power comes great responsibility.

“There are protocols and procedures that must be followed. We call that the rule of law. A republic is based on it, and we cannot continue as a free people without respect for it. Without the rule of law, we are left only with chaos – rule by those with the greatest power. Without the rule of law, our republic is meaningless, it is lost. Without the law, we no longer have the rights guaranteed by our Constitution. Instead, we would be like serfs, beholden to the whims of our overlords. The law is what a republic is. It binds it. And the law applies to everyone equally – rich and poor, black and white, man and woman, and law enforcer as well.

“Recall for a moment when we talked about how the sheriff’s department was not given control of the crime scene for almost 72 hours…three days. Ask yourself, was that appropriate? What is the law? The sheriff of Calumet County is the chief law enforcement officer of his county, yet he was not permitted access to a crime scene in his own county for three days.”

Chalmers grumbled.

“The sheriff, the highest ranking law enforcement officer of his county, a man elected by the citizens, was barred from a crime scene in his own county by an agency operated out of a headquarters 1,700 miles away. The DEA took total control of the scene at Perks Diner and controlled all the evidence involving the death of one of their own agents – one of their own family members. I can understand their zeal to find the killer, but to exclude the sheriff from the process? Does that stand up to scrutiny?

“Then there’s the matter of the evidence that was collected. The prosecution’s evidence, collected exclusively by a federal agency – not by the chief law enforcement officer of the county in which the crime was committed – where is it? I ask you, where is the evidence that convicts Monte Turcot of first degree murder? This federal agency that took total control of the crime scene, a federal agency with all the tools, infinite resources, paid experts in ballistics, fancy software…all these rocket scientists, what evidence did they produce?

“You have heard about the weapon involved in this case. We kept hearing from Mr. Chalmers over and over about a small caliber pistol that was used, and how that somehow means that my client committed the crime in question. How does it prove that? We all agree on what the weapon was, but so what? What does the caliber of the murder weapon prove? I ask you, how many small caliber weapons are there in Calumet County? This isn’t Washington DC. This is Colorado, where the right to self-defense is respected, where it’s even legal to open carry. I could drive down to the Alco in Calumet City right now, walk in, and buy a pistol. It probably wouldn’t take me more than an hour. How many of you exercise your Second Amendment right to bear arms? How many people do you know that own a so-called ‘small caliber weapon’? Has owning one made you a criminal? According to DA Chalmers’s logic, you…them…maybe we’re all guilty of murder.

“I just don’t understand the DA’s reasoning. You have to be asking yourself that as well. How does it make sense that just because a small caliber weapon was used, which we all agree that it was, that therefore, by some leap of logic, Monte Turcot is guilty? How? Because his neighbor said he heard him fire one into the open space behind his trailer? Does that mean anyone who does a little target practice is guilty of shooting Agent Kevin Sniggs? As they say out in the country: that dog don’t hunt.

“So there’s the matter of the highly irregular custody of the crime scene, and the suggestion that discharging a handgun in one’s backyard somehow implicates Mr. Turcot in the crime, but there’s also the matter of no weapon being found at his house, at all. If Monte did it, where is the murder weapon? The Calumet County sheriff took Mr. Turcot into custody within twenty-five minutes of the shooting at Perks Diner. We’ve shown that it takes twelve minutes to drive from Perks Diner to Monte’s trailer. Adding together the time to leave the crime scene, get into his vehicle, start that vehicle, then drive, park, turn off the vehicle, then get out and go into his trailer, you’re talking about eight minutes at the most where Monte could have concealed the murder weapon in his tiny trailer in such a fashion that no one would be able to find it. I ask you, is that reasonable? Where would he hide a gun? Monte lives in a small mobile home. Investigators were inside Monte’s home within forty minutes of the homicide. They turned his trailer inside out and found nothing. These federal agents are college educated, hand-picked, the best of the best, a cadre of elite law enforcement professionals, yet they did not find any weapon. They searched the roadsides along multiple routes with metal detectors and dogs. No murder weapon. They even drained the city park pond. No murder weapon.

“So what the prosecution is left with is to speculate…to guess. They want us all to believe that Monte, a man who had allegedly just avenged the killing of his wife and unborn child, hyped up on adrenaline, calmly drove – recall that we did not hear a single witness testify that they noticed him driving frantically – home along a populated route, turned off his normal route somewhere, stopped, got out and buried or somehow concealed the murder weapon in a manner in which no one saw him do it, in broad daylight, no less, and in a manner where it could not be found, not even by a battalion of elite federal agents with all their technology and unlimited resources. Some of the routes they searched took them on a thirty minute detour, way beyond the reach of Monte Turcot in the eighteen minutes he had to get home. No. The federal investigators found no murder weapon either in Monte’s possession or plausibly disposed of by him. Furthermore, the sheriff testified that he found Monte in a ‘calm state’. A frantic detour to some place where Monte could gather his wits and carefully conceal a murder weapon would not have left him time to get back home and get into a ‘calm state’ before Sheriff Ellison arrived to take him into custody. Is it reasonable? No. The entire case presented by the prosecution makes no sense at all. Remember: the irregular custody of the crime scene, and no murder weapon.

“Then there’s perhaps the biggest question mark of all pertaining to the DA’s case. The most important piece of evidence in the vast majority of trials, it’s even more important than the murder weapon. An eyewitness – someone who saw the accused commit the crime in question or at least place them at the scene. Where is this witness that can implicate Monte Turcot? None exists. The prosecution has produced no witness who could testify seeing Monte Turcot shoot Kevin Sniggs, and no witness that could even place Mr. Turcot at the scene. The diner, where Agent Sniggs was shot, was filled with DEA agents and restaurant employees. Don’t you think it’s reasonable that one of them would have seen Monte there if he was in fact there? What is going on here? Ask yourself that.

“Logically, I think the next question an informed and conscientious jury must ask is: why did the feds instantaneously assume, without any question, that Monte Turcot was the only suspect? They investigated no one else. The instant after they discovered Kevin Sniggs’s body in that restroom, they charged full speed to Monte Turcot’s home. No other direction. No consideration of another suspect.

“You heard testimony that there was a red pickup truck barreling south down Highway 24 at a very high rate of speed, almost immediately after the time of the shooting. Who was in that truck? Might they be a suspect? Might they possess the murder weapon? We’ll never know. We’ll never know, because federal agents paid no attention to anything other than Monte Turcot. Is that the level of good police work we’ve come to expect from federal agents? Is it common practice to just assume one person did it, and focus all resources and attention on that suspect?

“What do the feds have against…sorry…why did they only suspect Monte Turcot? I suppose motive is their answer. Did Mr. Turcot have a motive to shoot Kevin Sniggs? Absolutely. We all agree on that, if we were to put ourselves in Monte’s boots. Kevin Sniggs killed…accidentally killed Mrs. Turcot, and in the process, her unborn child. That is publically, undeniably known. It is an indisputable fact. Kevin Sniggs and those federal agents – perhaps overly exuberant and charged with adrenaline – went to the wrong house on that awful night, an inexcusable, unforgiveable error, and in a botched raid, they made a terrible, terrible, terrible mistake.

“Imagine what those federal agents are going through, right now. Recall the testimony of Doctor Frieze, our expert psychologist. The agents were likely feeling guilt, embarrassment, and shame. They must have been feeling very insecure and isolated, alone, 1,700 miles from their home base, unsure about their continuing mission way out here in the mountains of Colorado. They accidentally shot a Calumet County hero and killed his wife and unborn child. Monte Turcot is a hero and veteran of the armed forces, and that too is an indisputable fact. He served overseas, fighting for your rights and freedoms. And if not for Monte Turcot, how many people would have died in that Alco on that fateful day? How many lives did Mr. Turcot save through his courageous actions? How many lives have those federal agents saved compared to Monte? Mr. Turcot is a savior, a protector of life. The Book of Matthew says, ‘Ye shall know them by their deeds.’ I ask you, do you know Monte Turcot? I think you do, if you know his deeds. Are they the deeds of a cold-blooded, calculating murderer?”

“I thought Stern was Jewish,” Chalmers whispered.

“Doctor Frieze testified that the federal agents involved must have been feeling very, very insecure,” Stern continued. “Then one of their own is tragically killed right under their noses, twenty feet away from them, in a restroom. So they do what is natural for scared beings to do. They became aggressive, which affected their reasoning. They lashed out at the most obvious target: Monte Turcot. But Mr. Turcot put his life on the line for you and me as a soldier, fighting for our republic. He came home and put his life on the line again to save those people at that Alco from a mass-murdering lunatic. Yet despite all his sacrifice and service to his country and community, Deputy Ken Kennesaw testified that he feared for Monte’s safety when the federal agents were closing in, blinded by their rage, careening down the road leading to Monte’s home.

“So what does the prosecution have? What is their case against Mr. Turcot? My only hope is that you take all the evidence, or more precisely, the lack of evidence into full consideration: the irregular custody of the crime scene; no murder weapon either in Monte’s possession or anywhere that he could have concealed it; the aggressive, even arrogant mindset of the federal agents who refused to consider other leads, who focused solely on Mr. Turcot, a husband, a veteran, a hero, someone whom they had already taken so much from; and especially, most importantly, consider that no witnesses can even place Monte at the scene.

“It bears repeating that this is a charge of capital murder. The burden of proof is very high. The prosecution must prove that not only did my client commit this heinous crime, which nothing indicates he did, but that he also planned it in advance, that Monte Turcot is a cold, calculating killer. Did the prosecution meet that burden? They’ve argued that there was a motive. We all agree on that, but is that enough to convict a man of pre-meditated murder? Certainly not for capital murder. No weapon. No confession. No witness. Capital murder requires the prosecution to show that the accused planned this in advance. I’ve shown this to be impossible. Even if it was, why would Mr. Turcot plan to kill Kevin Sniggs in the bathroom of Perks Diner, where there were at least twelve federal agents present just beyond the door? It can’t make sense to any reasonable person. Monte is a bright man. He is college educated. Don’t you think he would have come up with a better plan than that? You must forgive me for asking again, but what is the prosecution’s case against Monte Turcot?

“I don’t need to remind you folks that you, the jury, are here to exercise your constitutional privilege, a privilege that cannot be taken away by anyone. You’ve seen a lot in these last couple weeks. You’ve seen a cadre of men in fancy suits and pedigreed, Ivy League experts flown in here on the taxpayer’s dime. What did they prove? What did they show you? Did they show you any physical evidence? Not one of them produced a murder weapon. Not one of them witnessed the crime. All they did was speculate. Speculation is not proof. Anyone can speculate. I could speculate that the District Attorney’s loafers have never stepped in cow manure. I can’t prove it. It’s only speculation.”

The gallery laughed. Chalmers attempted to grin, but it came off more like a grimace.

“Colorado is your state. You are a jury of Monte Turcot’s peers. Only you can judge him. Only you can decide the fate of this man, this veteran who fought to preserve the very constitutional rights you are exercising today. This man who risked his life to save so many lives in your community, could he possibly be a cold-blooded, pre-meditated, irrational killer who stalked Kevin Sniggs and then stupidly shot him in a public restroom? Or is this a man who has suffered enough? A man who has given so much and had so much taken away? Remember, ye shall know them by their deeds.

“You’ve heard the prosecution’s case. Can you make any sense of it? If you can make sense of it, if you believe they presented enough evidence – not supposition but actual evidence – to disregard reasonable doubt and convict Monte Turcot of first degree murder, then so be it. But I trust you will come to the right decision. Thank you. God bless you. And may the Lord be with you and guide you in your deliberations. The defense rests.”

Stern took his seat and began contemplating his odds of being disbarred.

After Chalmer’s brief rebuttal, the judge gave the instructions. The jury filed out of the courtroom, and Monte Turcot and his counsel were escorted out by a burly Fremont County deputy. They were led to a small, secured waiting room that resembled a jail cell in its starkness. The two of them sat across from each other at a metal table while the deputy, complete with crew cut hair and a barrel chest, stood sentry near the door.

“You’re excused,” Stern said to him, but the deputy didn’t respond. Annoyed, the attorney removed his suit coat and draped it over his plastic chair. “So, how do you feel, Monte?”

“I was going to ask you the same.”

“You go first.”

“I don’t feel anything,” Monte answered.

“That’s understandable, but you should be optimistic. We did well.”

“You didn’t talk about why Wendy White changed her testimony.”

“No need to give it legs, Monte. Let the appellate court sort that out.”

Turcot fell silent, looking as lifeless and stiff as a mannequin dressed in an orange jumpsuit. Stern loosened his paisley tie and unfastened the top button of his eggshell shirt. His hair was disheveled. His round, wire rim glasses hung askew on his face, framing his bleary eyes. He emanated exhaustion, but also relief. He had taken the case as far as he could, and had done all within his power to seize the moment. He had not slept in days, but he still had just enough fight in him to pester the guard once more, whose presence in the room was inappropriate. Still, the deputy didn’t flinch.

Stern turned back to Monte. “Everything is going to be okay. You’ll be okay.” His words were meant to assure his client, but the more confidence he expressed about the verdict, the more uneasy he appeared. He looked over his shoulder at the deputy once more.

“If we win, I imagine you’ll be doing a lot of that,” Turcot said.

“Doing a lot of what?” Stern asked.

“Looking over your shoulder.”

“I’m not afraid, Monte. This is America. Besides, I have a trump card.”

Turcot closed his eyes. Soon his head slumped forward and he appeared to fall asleep.

Stern felt the dampness of paranoia begin to ooze into him as he sat in that concrete room. He tried to drive it out of his mind, ascribing it to exhaustion. The trial was the most difficult thing he had ever endured. It was his life’s mission. Initially propelled by self-interest, once he was threatened at the Wagon Wheel, it became a crusade fueled by the fire of righteous indignation. Whoever Falco was, he represented a Goliath to Ben Stern’s David.

“Do you think they listened?” Monte mumbled, with his chin still tucked into his chest.

“I thought you were asleep.”

“I think I was, for a minute.”

“Are you talking about the jury?” asked Stern.

“Yeah.”

“If they’re thinking, then it would be good for us. Most juries don’t think, at least not very far outside the narrow boundaries set by the judge. Thinking requires effort and introduces discomfort and cognitive dissonance. Jurors tend to take the more comfortable path.”

“Do you think this jury can think?”

“I believe I made them think, Monte.”

“How?”

“I emphasized who the home team was for them.”

“Right.”

“Sometimes they need to be motivated.”

“Chalmers looked pretty upset.”

“He’s a hothead,” said Stern dismissively. “He’s a big, dumb buck chasing does into a hunter’s blind. I told you about what I’d do to him.”

“I heard him say ‘bullshit’ during your closing.”

“The jury heard it too, Monte. He can’t seem to keep the shit off his shoes.” Stern looked over his shoulder again. The mountainous, hairy-necked, tattooed deputy was glaring at him, the muscles in his crossed forearms rippling. Stern wanted to bolt out of the cell and into the fresh air, but he held it together.

“You look like you’re exhausted,” Monte observed.

“I’m fine. I’ve just been keeping my emotions bottled up for several weeks, now. It’s not a natural state for me. I’ve been trying to fuel the arrogance of Chalmers and the paid expert witnesses and the federal agents, all of them whores. Cockiness foments carelessness, and nothing feeds cockiness like an opponent’s self-deprecation. I set the ambush, and they stumbled right into it. Then I popped up out of the tall grass with my sling.” Stern paused, looked up, and noticed that Monte was asleep again. “We’re going to be okay,” he added, speaking more to himself than to Turcot.

Two hours passed. Monte did not move during that time, corpselike in his chair with his head slumped into his chest. Finally, a knock came at the door. The burly deputy opened it slightly and whispered to whoever was on the other side. He turned to Stern, who was watching over his shoulder in anticipation.

“They’ve reached a verdict,” relayed the deputy, his neck muscles bulging.

Stern got up, fixed his collar and tie, swept his hair back, and put on his suit jacket. He walked around to Monte’s side and stirred him.

“What do you want?” Turcot grumbled.

“It’s time.”

“Already?” Turcot snapped back into full consciousness. “How long have I been sleeping?”

“Two hours.”

“That doesn’t seem like a long time. What does it mean?”

“It means you have to go back into the courtroom to find out,” the deputy barked. “Get up.”

“What my client meant was,” Stern clarified, “what does it mean that the jury has reached a verdict so quickly?”

The deputy didn’t appear to care about an explanation. He stepped over to Turcot and shackled him for the walk back into the courtroom.

“Is that really necessary?” asked Stern.

The deputy didn’t reply. Turcot’s wrists were latched, then his ankles. The deputy led them out of the holding room and into the marble hallway. Turcot shuffled along, his gait foreshortened by his chains. Stern walked ahead of him, an entire head shorter than his client, and almost two shorter than their escort. The attorney’s shoulders could not even fill his own suit coat, but he walked with long, deliberate, confident strides. He held his chin up, projecting a pugnacious dignity, but beneath the façade, he was sweating. His neck burned bright red, and he had to re-loosen his tie to keep it from turning into a noose.

Journalists and photographers lined the hall. Flashes went off, and microphones were shoved into Stern’s face. He acted aloof. The urban TV reporters’ pancake-makeup faces scowled and shouted questions. The Denver press corps glowered. Stern sensed in them no pity or understanding towards his client, but he had expected this. He turned and whispered “Never mind them,” into Monte’s ear.

“Never mind who?”

“The presstitutes.”

Turcot smiled. A reporter shoved a recorder into his face, hitting him in the mouth as they walked. He could not deflect it as his wrists were bound. Stern shoved the reporter away.

“Stand back!” he shouted. “Make way!”

As they entered the courtroom, they could see that every one of the DEA agents in Sniggs’s squad were present, each dressed in their brassiest uniform, their faces donning hateful glares. One of the paralegals pointed Sniggs’s father to. His hair was disheveled and his tweed jacket was wrinkled. His face grayed and body sunk into the pew as the anesthesia of alcohol took hold. Special Agent Acevedo stood in the front pew. His unblinking eyes rarely left Turcot, fixating on him from behind. Turcot didn’t look at any of them. He stared straight ahead at nothing as he shuffled over to his chair. He did not appear at all afraid or concerned.

The jury came in and took their seats. Stern scanned them for an early sign of the verdict. They were everyday people: casual, unfit, diverse. Their eyes were wide, and they looked almost terrified, as if they feared having to answer for something.

“All rise!”

The judge entered. Her Honor took her place behind her altar. As the courtroom’s occupants returned to their seats, she fumbled through her notes, cleared her throat, and adjusted the microphone.

“Has the jury reached a verdict?” she asked.

The foreman rose. “We have, your Honor.”

“Please hand the bailiff the verdict.”

The bailiff took a manila folder from the foreman and walked it over to the judge. Turcot stood as tall as he could in his orange jumpsuit with shackled wrists and ankles. All of the agents’ eyes remained on him. Turcot looked straight ahead. Stern began to breathe audibly, anxiously. Sweat ran down his neck into his slackened collar. He loosened his paisley tie further.

The judge opened the folder and scanned the document inside. Her eyes moved from top to bottom three times. She adjusted her glasses and frowned a little, as if a bout of indigestion had welled up, then handed a page back to the bailiff and nodded for him to read it. The bailiff walked to the podium and adjusted the microphone to his height.

“Mr. Turcot, please face the jury,” said the judge, but Monte turned to them but stared through them into the wall. She turned to the bailiff. “Please read the verdict.”

The bailiff nodded and turned back to the microphone. He cleared his throat. The silence was oppressive, broken only by one muffled cough.

“The Superior Court of Colorado, County of Fremont, in the matter of the people of the State of Colorado versus Montgomery J. Turcot, case number BA013211, we, the jury in the above and titled action, find the defendant, Montgomery J. Turcot…”

Stern took in a deep breath.

The judge removed her reading glasses.

Chalmers tapped his Salvatore Ferragamo penny loafers.

Acevedo’s teeth ground together.

Turcot stared into the wall.

“…not guilty of the crime of first degree murder, a felony, committed upon Kevin Allen Sniggs, a human being, as charged in count one of the information…”

Stern exhaled and put his arm around Monte, shaking him vigorously.

The judge stowed her glasses in her robe pocket.

Chalmers stopped tapping his shoes and snapped his pencil in protest.

Acevedo’s grinding seized.

Turcot stared into the wall.

The gallery roared to life, equal parts jubilation and wrath. Curses clashed with cheers. The judge pounded her gavel to no effect. Stern pulled Turcot out from behind the table and pushed him towards the side exit, away from the building chaos. Turcot shuffled along, still staring blankly.

“Murderer!’ someone shouted.

The judge pounded her gavel.

“God bless you, Monte Turcot!” yelled another.

“Order! Order!” demanded the judge.

Stern made eye contact with the burly deputy who had escorted them from the holding room. The crowd closed in around them, blocking the way. Triumphant but terrified, the attorney tried to shove his way through to no avail. The deputy noticed the struggle, but remained anchored at the door. Stern held up Turcot’s handcuffed wrists and pointed to the lock. “Get these off!” he shouted.

The deputy averted his eyes.

Wild pushing and shoving ensued. One of the DEA agents pressed into the mob and shoved Turcot forward, almost knocking him over. The jurors were whisked out of the courtroom through a side door, followed by the judge who ducked into her antechamber, leaving the bailiff and Fremont deputies to deal with the mess. Someone climbed up onto the prosecutor’s table and shouted, “Guilty!” An instant later, another person from the gallery yanked him off the table and clubbed him in the face with his open hand, only then to be tackled by a uniformed DEA agent.

Stern and Turcot were trapped in the chaos. Someone shouted, “You made a big mistake, Stern!” Stern looked around, but couldn’t see who it was. Thankfully for them, Turcot was a beacon in orange. Sheriff Ellison, who was seated in the gallery, honed in on him, forcing his way through the mob. He reached Turcot and Stern and led them to the side door of the courtroom.

“Give me the key!” he shouted at the burly deputy.

The man ignored him.

“That’s a lawful order, Deputy!” barked Ellison.

The deputy reluctantly handed over the key, and the sheriff quickly unlocked the shackles, letting them fall to the floor. He grabbed Turcot and Stern by their collars and shoved them through the exit. The marble hall had become a froth of lashing elbows, thrusting shoulders, shouting, blinding lights, recorders, and careening boom mikes. Ellison led them into the fray. The media screamed questions into their ears and grabbed at them, but the sheriff guided them through and back into their holding room. He shoved the door closed with his shoulder, nearly smashing someone’s prying fingers in the jamb. At last, they were alone, catching their breath in the stuffy, quiet cell.

“So what do we do now?” asked Stern.

“We wait,” answered Ellison as he checked his watch. “Let it die down a bit. Then we’ll get you out of here.”

“So I’m free to go?” asked Turcot.

“Yes. But I recommend you not go out there alone. Wait here for a few minutes and I’ll escort you out.”

“Where are we going?”

“I’ll take you to the station if you want. You can stay there tonight.”

Oathkeeper

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Bukowski On JFK and Men With Television Souls

Bukowski

“I see men assassinated around me every day. I walk through rooms of the dead, streets of the dead, cities of the dead; men without eyes, men without voices; men with manufactured feelings and standard reactions; men with newspaper brains, television souls and high school ideas. Kennedy himself was 9/10ths the way around the clock or he wouldn’t have accepted such an enervating and enfeebling job — meaning President of the United States of America. How can I be concerned with the murder of one man when almost all men, plus females, are taken from cribs as babies and almost immediately thrown into the masher?”–Charles Bukowski

Indivisible Chapter 9

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Chapter 9

 

The president appeared on morning television on every channel, even ESPN and HBO.  Their executives strongly protested the hastily drafted White House programming order (and usurpation of the First Amendment). “Show it or else…” was the reply from the White House. “The First Amendment does not apply during a national emergency.” The resistant networks meekly complied. It’s best not to upset the man holding the telecom kill switch.

At first glance, the president’s inescapable face appeared to beam strength and resoluteness. His eyes were reassuring, squinting with a confident glint. His navy blue suit and red tie shouted, “I’m in charge! Everything is okay!” He spoke in a smooth, gentle current, smiling often.

But something was askew. His cosmetics were a little off. It seemed too thick or badly retouched or the tone was flat—like a dead man’s makeup. His shave was not close, and his shoulders slumped a little bit.

He sat behind that familiar White House desk, framed by an American flag, and a bureau of family photos, and the Oval Office window draped in gold curtains. The window opened out into what appeared to be a quaint, wooded, suburban backyard. Somehow, the sky framed in that window was blue and clear that morning while the rest of Washington D.C. was being bombarded by a deluge of rain.

The Oval Office set—which might have actually been a blue screen on Air Force One for all anyone knew—was designed to conjure images of a fatherly chat in the household study.  The president played the role of Ward Cleaver in the minds of the middle class who were obediently awaiting instructions. But the choreographed invocation did not conjure personal memories of real fathers for the audience so much as it conjured a nostalgic vision, implanted into the American mind by the family-themed television shows they absorbed over the course of their lives. The Oval Office chats parroted stylized TV life which itself parroted stylized life of the 1950s. Few had studies in their homes, anymore. And most Americans never had a real chat with their real dad while he was dressed in a suit and sitting behind a desk. Many Americans had no memory of meaningful chats with their dads at all, other than superficial conversations every other weekend. And if they were so lucky as to have a real chat with their real dad, the view out the study window would probably be that of the siding of the next door neighbor’s plywood mcmansion.

Yet so many presidents had given addresses from that fabricated set, apparently because it worked so well. For an audience conditioned by a lifetime of mass media, the conjured image instilled calmness, trust, and submissiveness. It made the infantilized and helpless population of dependent serfs feel at ease. “The president is father and father knows best. Everything will be okay. Just keep doing what you’re told.”

Vaughn poured himself a cup of coffee as he contemplated calling in sick from work. He was exhausted from running around all night, but he decided he needed to go in. This is not the time to inconvenience my employer, he thought. There was twenty percent unemployment out there, by some unofficial accounts.

The president started to speak as Vaughn took his first sip of designer coffee. Good thing he stocked up on the stuff before the Seattle firm went bankrupt.

“My fellow Americans, over the past night, while most of you were sleeping, rogue elements, operating in foreign markets and exchanges—elements unfriendly to America—launched a coordinated surprise attack upon the people of United States. This attack was not one waged by ships and planes or on any battlefield, but it was an attack nonetheless. This was an act of terror, not with bombs, but by keyboards and the internet and on public trading exchanges. These foreign agents and rogue elements have sought to injure America,” he paused for a moment, then smirked, “but they will soon discover that they cannot subdue our great nation by cowardly acts of terrorism. America is a resilient nation. It has survived a Civil War and the Great Depression. It and has mobilized the arsenal of democracy to win two world wars. It’s a nation that always rallies, always comes together. America will unite to confront this challenge, as it always has in times of tribulation and struggle. We have the most powerful economy in the world. America is the world’s engine of prosperity and growth. Our industriousness and our diversity are the envy of all the countries of the earth. And no matter what the forces of evil may attempt in order to harm us, we shall endure. We will vanquish our foes and recover. America has faced adversity and always come back stronger. Tested,” he paused for emphasis, “but with greater resolve. Our democracy has always been reborn wiser and stronger by her trials…

Blah, blah, blah, Terrorism…

Blah, blah, blah, Freedom…

Blah, blah, blah, Sacrifice…

Blah, blah, blah, Diversity…

Blah, blah, blah, Progress…

Blah, blah, blah, Responsibility…

Hope…Security…Faith…Future Generations….

Thank you. God bless you and God bless the United States of America.”

Presidential speeches never change.

While the president spoke, corporate purchasing agents, who had no time for imperial propaganda, were on the phone with their overseas suppliers. After hanging up, they frantically updated their spreadsheet models with new raw materials costs.

“Holy shit!”

Millions of “Effective Immediately” emails flew out to distribution centers and warehouses and convenience stores and retail outlets. Out in the real world, while the big media talking heads blathered on about the emperor’s new clothes, shopkeepers were doubling and tripling the numbers on their price tags, databases and marquees. Prices were rising in real time.

On-the-street reporters, only marginally less vapid then the in-studio anchors, hit the streets seeking to expose the “evil capitalist price gougers who were using the economic emergency as an opportunity to line their pockets. The reporters shoved microphones and cameras into disgruntled customer faces and captured their lamentations. Grocery store traffic was elevated, but the clerks noticed that the big movers were potato chips and soft drinks and beer. Eat drink and be merry for tomorrow we die.

Local police departments were notified overnight by agents of the Department of Homeland Security and FEMA to increase their presence. Vaughn noticed two patrol cars cruising through his neighborhood as he got ready for work.

Vaughn’s 72-inch, high-definition, flat screen made in China droned on. “We have gone past the point of no return,” said the chief European economist at the Royal Bank of Scotland. “There is a complete loss of confidence. The bond markets are disintegrating and it is getting worse moment by moment.”

“What should the government do?” asked the anchor who couldn’t understand why the government had allowed it all to happen in the first place.

“The banks need more liquidity. The Central Banks—the Fed, B of E, Bank of Japan—they need to create more money and lend it to the commercial banks so they can continue to operate. They have to have the cash to buy up the glut of sovereign debt before the system collapses. But first, we need to close the markets and let the Central Banks get together and sort everything out.”

“So, more bailouts? What do you say to those who argue that that isn’t capitalism—that markets should be allowed to liquidate?”

“We’re dealing with the real world here, not some textbook ideology. Call it whatever you like, intervention, QE, whatever, we have to destroy capitalism in order to save capitalism!”

It was quite a morning. The contagion cruise that embarked from Asia while America snored the night away tucked in their Therapedic, space-foam mattresses purchased on their Visa cards,continued its world tour through China and Australia, past India and the oil fiefs and Europe, and across the Atlantic. Markets in India, Russia, Germany, and London all crashed, triggering circuit breaker rules that suspended trading in the darkness of the American night. The ship of destruction finally sailed up the East River, on to Manhattan Island, and right down Wall Street.

Advisors tried to convince the president to preemptively close the markets. “No can do,” he bristled with executive bravado. “The markets must open. Refusing to open is a sign of capitulation and surrender. America never surrenders!”

The professorial Federal Reserve chairman, his ever-whitening beard and ever-receding hairline making him look ever-the-more gnomish, loosened his tie and poured himself a drink at the 9:30 open. Perhaps the great sovereign ship would not sink, he hoped. The Fed had key-stroked hundreds of billions of dollars throughout the night and had managed to prop up the jittery futures markets. The expectation was that this could tame the animal spirits in time for the NYSE open. But all hope was dashed as the market sank nine percent at the opening bell.

“Fools! Don’t they know they’re killing us all?” The Fed chairman cried out as he gulped his breakfast bourbon. The Plunge Protection Team, the Fed’s equivalent of Special Forces, stepped in and started buying which stabilized things for a few moments. Then a rumble thundered through the sovereign hull when word got out that the Chinese were not buying anything. The dollar immediately began a rapid decent against the yuan.

The floor traders started asking questions. “Who’s buying up the treasuries? Chase? Citi? Deutsche? RBS? Goldman? Dubai? What did you say? Come again? You mean they all stopped trading treasuries a week ago? Holy shit! Who then? Direct dealers? Like who? Moriah LLC? Who the hell is that? You say they bought fifteen billion? Really? Some outfit called Crazy Horse bought ten? Who are they? I’ve never heard of them. What’s going on? Where are the big banks? Wait a sec, this isn’t right. Just heard two hedge funds liquidated due to redemptions. Are you sure about that? Oh My God! This is it! This is it! Abandon ship! Abandon ship! Get out now! Sell it all! Sell it to those pension fund chumps! Sell it all to the Fed before they stop buying. Sell! Sell! Sell! Sell! Sell!”

A full-fledged avalanche of panic ensued, cracking the hull of the multi-trillion dollar sovereign vessel. The unsinkable U.S.S. (United States Sovereign) Titanic sank in a spectacular, cascading selloff with three-times record volume.

The gnome fed chairman downed his drink and poured another, and another, and watched the bond ticker on his closed circuit network. Prices down…4%…11%…18%…. Interest rates up plus .5%…plus 2.0%…plus 5.0%!

The Fed tried to pump out as much of the tsunami of debt as it could by key-stroking the hundreds of billions of dollars necessary to clear all the offers. The Plunge Protection Team went all in. They hijacked the fiber-optic bandwidth to make sure their buy orders got through first. Then they stalled the private sellers. They worked covertly through friendly foreign central banks: the Bank of England, the Bank of Australia, the Banco de Panama—yeah that’s right, Panama. They had private banks on the dole, too—not the household Wall Street names but most of the regional outfits. The Fed gave them huge guarantees and unlimited lines of credit and agreements to repurchase everything they bought with guaranteed returns, but the rumors of the Fed’s scheme had gotten out. As the Fed key-stroked more and more dollars, and the names of the buyers of treasuries got more and more obscure, and the purchase amounts got more and more spectacular, the dollar itself listed, then tipped over, then began sinking faster than the treasuries they were supposed to be backed by.

The unsinkable Titanic of American sovereign debt, the flagship of profligacy and arrogance, was sucked into a vortex. Over the course of twelve hours, the dollar price of a Japanese car, a barrel of Saudi oil, and a container ship full of Chinese chotskies DOUBLED. The U.S. stock market big boys all tanked as the cost of rolling over their debt exploded. The exchanges plummeted further, going limit down and suspended trading in dollars.

The Gnome had seen enough. He stepped in and pulled the plug at 10:01. International currency exchange in dollars was suspended worldwide. Wire and ACH transfers were suspended. To prevent capital flight, transfers from checking and savings accounts to foreign banks were limited to one thousand dollars. Banks on the east coast opened for an hour so the patrician class from Martha’s Vinyard could withdraw some walking-around money. Then all the banks went on holiday. There was a flurry of internet activity as intrepid nerds tried to move their offshore money market dollars and PayPal accounts into foreign currencies and commodity money and Bitcoins, but that too was brought to a screeching halt when the internet kill switch was thrown on financial transactions.

At the silent, somber floor of the NYSE, the highlights of the president’s speech played on yet another Chinese-made big screen above the ticker which read “U.S. Markets Closed…FOMC in emergency session…Yankees beat the Red Sox 4-2.” The remaining traders on the floor erupted in sarcastic applause.

Vaughn took a moment before leaving for work to look in on his young daughter. He quietly pushed her door open and snuck into her room. She was still asleep, lying sideways in her crib with one tiny foot dangling out, buried in an avalanche of blankets and her toy monkey. Her cherubic cheeks moved slightly as she suckled blissfully on her pacifier. Vaughn felt she was getting a little old for pacifiers. A feeling swept over him as he watched her, like a breeze of fresh cool air in some stale, stagnant chamber. It was a righteous feeling, a sensation of clarity and purpose. How bad will things get? What will I have to do for my family? What am I capable of doing? The answers blew into him as he looked down at little Brooke.

With the country crumbling into talc under the weight of its hubris and corruption, with the Nero president blustering away with his platitudes, with the zombie masses taking their opiate of big media propaganda, Vaughn realized then and there that there would be nothing, no one, no event that would come between him and his family. He loved them more than his own life. He would pay any price for them. He found casting off worry to be liberating.  He released the millstone of worry that had been chained to him.

The dying republic, a victim of its pointless, bankrupting wars, its corporate welfare and bloated nanny-state, finally succumbed. Her citizenry concerned themselves only with who was going to win American Idol. America was meaningless to Vaughn now. Now it was time for survival. He felt an arm slip under his elbow and around his chest. It was Jess. She pulled in tight against him and rested her head between his shoulder blades.

“You were right,” she whispered.

Her acknowledgement meant everything to him. He needed to be and do right by her and her assessment was the only one that really mattered. He was vindicated for dragging his family out to the store in the middle of the night. He almost took pleasure in seeing things unravel the way that they had, but he knew that that was selfish and foolish to think about things that way.  He wondered if the karma wheel would spin back onto him somehow. Tough times were ahead for all.

Indivisible

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Oathkeeper Chapter 13

Oathkeeper

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Chapter 13

 

DA Chalmers leaned over his table and flipped through his notes. When he found the pages he was searching for, he stepped out from behind the prosecution’s table and addressed the judge. “Your Honor, the State next calls Wendy White.”

“Wendy White, please,” called the judge.

The murder trial of Montgomery Turcot was held in the old Fremont County Courthouse, Courtroom A. Its walls were plastered white and the windows were paned with cloudy glass. The woodwork throughout was mahogany-stained hardwood, with carved details filling the wainscoting and the face of the bench, and finely-lathed legs and spindles accented the chairs and bar.

A heavy-set bailiff in squeaky shoes waddled down the nave of gray rug that rolled through the middle of the gallery pews. He partly opened the mahogany doors at the far end, caught his breath, poked his head out into the vestibule and muttered something to the Fremont County Deputy stationed outside the door.

Chalmers turned back to his table and shuffled and organized his papers, then twirled his pencil between his fingers, smirking faintly. Ben Stern’s face was buried in his yellow notepad, his hair was disheveled. He looked up revealing a strained look on his face.  He took a pillbox from his pocket, removed a white pill and placed it on his tongue. Then he took a drink of water. At Stern’s side sat Monte Turcot wearing an orange jumpsuit, his wrists and ankles were shackled. He stared forward showing no emotions. Half the audience was comprised of DEA agents, all of them were pressed, polished and coiffed, donned in their best uniforms. Vincent Acevedo’s chest was adorned with a fruit cocktail of commendations and medals. Kevin Sniggs’s father had made the journey as well, sitting several rows back amongst the agents. Stoic and rigid, he wore a wrinkled tweed jacket and a wide-striped tie. His only movements were to periodically remove and polish his thick lenses and to surreptitiously sip from his plastic flask that he kept stashed in his breast pocket. Sheriff Ellison was there as well, dressed in his CCSD forest green uniform shirt and khaki, polyester pants.

The bailiff opened the door all the way and Miss Wendy White appeared, backlit by the natural light that filled the vestibule.

“Miss White?” asked the judge.

Wendy nodded, looking meek and mousy in her white blouse and long linen skirt. Her hair was bound up into a bun.

“If you would please, ma’am,” said the judge, gesturing for her to approach.

Wendy advanced down the aisle, through the silent gallery, passing through the gate of the bar held open by the deputy bailiff. She crossed into the chancel and between the tables of the prosecution to her left and defense to her right. She stopped at the podium before the dais supporting the judge’s altar. The deputy bailiff directed her to place her left hand upon a Bible resting on the podium.

“If you’ll raise your right hand the bailiff will administer the oath to you,” said Her Honor.

“Do you solemnly swear or affirm that the testimony you give shall be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God?”

“I do.”

“All right, ma’am. If you’ll please come right around here and take a seat in the witness chair…” the judge directed. “If you would take care to speak directly into the microphone… Mr. Chalmers, please proceed.”

Chalmers stepped over to the podium. He briefly reviewed his notes, then he sniffed and coughed to clear his throat. Miss White grinned nervously from the witness stand’s wooden box.

“Miss White,” he began. “Will you tell the court where you were employed back on November 23rd this past year?”

“Yes,” she meekly answered. “I was working at Perks Diner at that time.”

“Please speak directly into the microphone, ma’am,” reminded the judge.

Wendy leaned in and answered again. “I was working at Perks.” She had overcompensated and the amplified thunder of her voice made her to recoil.

“What did you do there?” asked the DA.

“I was a server,” she answered, voice now properly calibrated.

“Would you tell the court what that job entails?”

“I took orders and served food to customers. Sometimes I bussed and wash–”

“So,” Chalmers interrupted, “while you were working as a server, you saw the patrons that come in to the Diner?”

“Well, yeah. While serving, yes.”

“Did you see the entire Diner while you were serving?”

“I didn’t see much of the kitchen.”

“But you saw the dining area…where the customers are seated.”

“Yes, Sir.”

“The entire dining area?”

“Yes. Well, not at once, but it’s not that big so I see it as I go to each table and back and forth.”

“Miss White, on November 23rd, what shift were you working as a server on that day?”

“I was working from eight ‘til noon.”

“And at nine a.m.?”

“Yes, although I had a break around–”

“Can you describe that day, while you were on your shift at around nine a.m.?”

“Describe the day?”

“Yeah. What was it like, that day?”

“Well, it was sunny. It was busy.”

“Busier than normal?”

“Yes. The diner was filled up with policemen.”

“When you say policemen, do you mean DEA agents?”

“Yes. Sorry. And there were contractors in there, too.”

“Contractors?”

“Yeah. They were fixing the roof in the back over the kitchen. There was a lot of noise that day. Lots of power tools and hammering and–”

“Did anything unusual happen that day?”

“Unusual? You mean like other than the shooting?”

Chalmers stepped out from behind the podium. “By shooting you mean the shooting of Agent Sniggs?”

“That’s the only shooting I’m aware of, Sir.”

“Please bring up Exhibit 30,” Chalmers asked, licking his lips as he went back to his table and reviewed his notes. He took a drink of water and strutted back to the podium. Monte Turcot’s bearded and disheveled mugshot appeared on the one hundred inch television monitor adjacent to the jury. Vincent Acevedo leaned back in his pew with a vindictive grin forming on his face. The elder Sniggs took another swig from his flask. Stern’s head was buried in his notes. Turcot stared blankly into the wall. Once behind the podium again, Chalmers adjusted himself and cleared his throat once more. He casually rested both elbows on its surface and leaned into the microphone.

“Miss White, do you recognize the person in this picture?”

Wendy leaned towards the monitor and squinted her eyes.

“Are you having trouble seeing it, Miss White?” asked Her Honor.

Chalmers sighed. “It’s four feet tall.”

“If you’d like,” the judge continued, we could have you step down and take a closer look.”

“No. That’s okay. I know who that is.”

“Who is it, Miss White? For the record.” asked Chalmers.

“That’s Monte Turcot.”

“Let the record show that the witness identified Monte Turcot in Exhibit 30.” Chalmers shifted his weight onto one loafer and drummed his thumbs on the podium in excited anticipation. The loafer on his relaxed leg began to tap, rhythmically. He continued. “So, Miss White, would you please tell the Court whether or not you saw the man pictured on the monitor at Perks Diner on the morning of November 23rd?”

Wendy squinted again, then looked down. Then Chalmers noticed her eyes dart towards Ben Stern for an instant and then back to the monitor. Chalmers’s excited fidgeting stopped cold.

“Miss White, please answer the question,” said the judge.

Wendy’s eyes switched between the monitor mugshot and the real life Monte Turcot, seated at his table. Turcot’s eyes remained fixed on the wall ahead. Stern’s head seemed to be melting down into his notes. Acevedo leaned forward in anticipation. Chalmers lifted his elbows off the podium, pulling himself erect.

“Miss White?” asked the judge.

“No,” she answered.

A din of whispers and movement drowned the deafening silence.

“No?” Chalmers asked, mouth gaping.

“No,” Wendy replied.

“No?” Chalmers repeated.

“Objection,” Stern shouted, without looking up from his notes.

“Sustained,” replied the judge.

Chalmers pushed back from the podium and rolled his eyes. “Miss White, when you were deposed, you said that you saw Montgomery Turcot–”

“Objection.”

“Sustained.”

Flustered, face-reddening, Chalmers stormed over to his table and dug through his manila folders and produced Wendy’s deposition.  “Did you not say that you, and I quote, ‘saw Mr. Turcot at the breakfast bar and served him scrambled eggs’?”

“I guess I–”

“Did you say that you saw him or not?”

“I guess I did say that, if it says that there.”

“So yes or no, Miss White?” asked Chalmers, shrugging his shoulders and looking confused.

“Yes, then.”

“So let me ask one more time, did you or did you not see Mr. Turcot at Perks Diner at roughly nine a.m. on November 23rd? Let me remind you, you are under oath.”

Wendy looked up as if she were rolling her eyes back into her brain to search for the memory. Then she shook her head.

“No. I do not recall seeing him.”

Chalmers turned to the judge with a look of shock. Her Honor shrugged.

“I’d like the record to show that Exhibit 66, Wendy White’s deposition, contradicts her testimony today.” Chalmers stormed back to his table and took a seat and fumbled around with his papers

“So what do you want to do, counsel?” asked the judge.

“No further questions, Your Honor.”

“Defense. Your witness.”

Stern looked up and pushed back from his table. He stood up, straightened his tie, adjusted his glasses, and proceeded to the podium.  Chalmers glowered at him, grumbling inaudibly as Stern passed.  With his back to the jury, Stern gazed back and gave him a furtive wink.

“Miss White,” Stern asked. “Is there any reason why your previous deposition would have indicated that you thought Monte was at the Diner?”

Wendy coughed and leaned in towards the microphone. “It was a terrible thing that happened that day. I…I wanted to help. The police seemed so sure that Monte did it so I just went along with them.”

“Why?”

“It was such a crazy time. Everyone was angry. The commotion. It was like a tornado or something. Then there was all the police and detectives and testifying and – but after I got home and thought about it, I realized that I really wasn’t so sure. In fact, I wasn’t sure at all. I feel terrible for this.”

“No further questions, Your Honor.”

Oathkeeper

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Indivisible Chapter 8

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Chapter 8

 

Vaughn suffered from insomnia since the home invasion weeks before. The slightest noises disturbed his slumber and he found himself patrolling the house with his shotgun at least once every night. Jessica, on the other hand, was able to fall asleep without much difficulty which added to Vaughn’s frustration. After his nighttime patrols, he would spend the remainder of his night channel surfing. Lack of sleep was beginning to affect his personality as he was growing increasingly fixated on the radio and television reports of daily five to ten percent moves in the global markets.

The exchanges would almost always start the day with steep crashes at the opening bell, sinking like a stone. The talking heads in the media would hysterically announce, “Flash Crash! Flash Crash! Here we go again! Someone has to do something about those program traders!” After dropping five percent, the market would magically reverse course, rocketing up from the depths like a buoy spit out by some giant fish. Once fully rebounded, the talking heads would return to sobriety, as if nothing had happened.

Vaughn was completing his evening patrol when he decided to pour himself a quadruple Wild Turkey nightcap before flipping on the television. He turned on one of the business channels. The pictures of panicked Asian faces flailing about piqued his curiosity. Something very newsworthy was happening. Vaughn turned up the volume.

“…the selloff started about midway through the session with rumors swirling about the cash-strapped Bank of Japan liquidating half of their U.S. Treasury holdings. Prices on the U.S. ten-year plunged, taking yields up one hundred basis points over the span of about eight minutes. Record volume led one trader to speculate that the Central Banks of the U.K., Saudi Arabia, and China were stepping in to halt a U.S. bond collapse. Yields seemed to level off for about half an hour, but then the frantic selloff resumed driving ten-year Treasury yields up another whopping 190 basis points.” reported an Australian analyst.

“So what impact has this had on the currency markets?” asked the anchor. “Is everyone moving into dollars?”

“Well, the conventional wisdom is that such a dramatic move down in treasuries would drive many investors into U.S. dollars as a safe haven, but that has not been the case today. There is a dollar sell-off happening concurrently with the greenback down almost ten percent against the yen and euro, and off a whopping fifteen percent against the Chinese yuan. These are all unprecedented moves.”

“What are the Chinese doing?”

“Normally, the People’s Bank of China keeps the yuan pegged to the dollar with controlled adjustments, but they’re not intervening. The yuan is taking off.”

“Where are the investors going, then? What’s the safe haven?”

“Yeah,” nodding and holding earpiece, “well, it’s been a huge day for metals, agricultural commodities, and oil. Oil is up almost fifty dollars during the session.”

“Wow. So what happens now?”

“Hmm,” holding earpiece again. ” with commodity futures still climbing and treasuries still tanking, it looks like the bloodbath will continue when DAX opens.”

“Thank you…uh huh…one moment…(holding ear)…Uh, we’ve just received word that the Federal Reserve will be holding an emergency session in…”

Vaughn was struck with uneasiness by the spaced-out look in the reporter’s eyes. He sensed this was the genesis of something most unpleasant. It just had that kind of feeling about it, like when he first saw that black smoke billowing out of the World Trade Center on television. He didn’t know what to do about it but his gut told him to do something.

“Jess! Jess! Wake up!”

Jessica popped up in bed, eyes wide in terror. “What’s going on?”

“We have to go to the grocery store.”

“What?”

“We have to go to the grocery store. C’mon, get up.”

“Vaughn, no. What’s wrong with you? It’s the middle of the night.”

“We have to go to the grocery store, Jess. I’m not leaving you here alone. It’s not an option. C’mon, get up. I’ll get Brooke ready.”

With a little further prodding, Jessica dragged herself from bed and got dressed. But she let her displeasure be known with a series of sighs and scowls. In the background, the television droned on about the crash contagion that was spreading to the Indian markets.

“Why are we doing this, Vaughn?”

“It’s beginning,” he explained. “Listen to the TV. I think we should stock up on some things before morning. We should fill up on gas and get some groceries and stuff. There might be a panic. Your prescription’s running low, too.”

“What’s happening?”

“The day of reckoning has come.”

Jessica rolled her eyes, but she went along with the drill because ever since the break-in, Vaughn had become obsessive about preparedness. Resistance was futile. He would not let her go back to sleep if she refused to go along. Vaughn loaded his family into his truck in the darkness and they set off. Brooke fell immediately back to sleep.

Vaughn flipped from station to station on the radio as they drove, searching for market updates. Classic rock. Hip hop. Traffic report at 1 am. “Why do they have traffic reports at 1 am?” Vaughn switched to the AM band: infomercial for vitamins…in search of chupacabra…business news. “Finally, a business station!”

“…the foreign market volume is extremely heavy—record levels. The yen plunged first then bounced, then the dollar just absolutely tanked. I’ve never seen the dollar move like that. The Chinese yuan is up sharply, as much as thirty percent…”

“Will you please tell me what’s going on?” Jessica asked.

“This is the big one!” Vaughn offered. “Is Anderson’s open twenty-four hours?”

“They closed down a month ago. You have to go to King’s.”

Either way, it was a seven-mile drive on winding country roads in the dead of night. They made it in twelve minutes.  Vaughn expected to find a calamity of cars in the lot but it was nearly empty. Jess rolled her eyes at the lack of panic.

Vaughn dropped Jess off at the front entrance and pulled into the gas station. Only one other car was there. Thankfully, the gas prices were the same as the day before. “Whew.” It was probably a little crazy to think the manager would have come out and raised them in the middle of the night, Vaughn thought as he slid his credit card through the pump’s swiper and waited for it to process.

He waited…

…and he waited.

He swiped again…

…and he waited.

Brooke started to get restless. Vaughn watched her rousing in her car seat through the side window. He checked the card indicator again.

“Card Failed To Read”

Vaughn swiped his card again. He didn’t have any cash and there wasn’t any attendant to pay at that hour, anyway. The reader processed again. Could it be that the banks had been closed or electronic transactions had been frozen to stop bank runs or something? he thought.

“C’mon, God damn it,” he muttered, realizing that he might not have enough gas to get home.

“Card Processing…”

Brooke was awake and looking at him from her car seat. Her lower lip began to hang in a pout like it always did when she was about to start crying. Next would be the chin quiver, then a full-throttle wail. He made a funny face at her which made her smile. Crisis temporarily averted.

“Come on!” he barked at the pump.

“Card Processing…”

What will I do if I don’t have enough gas to get home? It was a seven-mile walk in the darkness through mountain lion country with a two-year-old in tow. He checked out the other car.

“Hey!” Vaughn shouted towards the other patron. “Is your pump working?”

“No! It doesn’t seem to want to read my card.”

“God damn it,” Vaughn whispered to himself.  “Do you think they’ve closed the banks?” he asked.

“Huh?” replied the other patron.  He was obviously not up to date on the Asian markets crash.

“Never mind,” Vaughn replied.

“Pump Authorizing…”

“Thank God!” Vaughn shouted as the pump clicked on and the nectar of capitalism began to flow into his tank.  After topping off, Vaughn pulled in to the front of the grocery store. He took Brooke in, set her gently into a shopping cart and cushioned her with her blanket and her toy monkey. A handful of people were grazing around inside, a few more than one would expect for that time of night, but certainly not a panicked mob of hoarders. Vaughn was a little bit disappointed by that as he felt that the presence of a chaotic throng might somehow validate his insistence on dragging his family out in the middle of the night.

What should we buy? he asked himself as he scanned the rows. He started to the right in produce, but produce doesn’t keep so he didn’t gather anything there except for some grapes which Brooke liked. He worked his way down the dairy end but that too seemed to be a poor choice for a doomsday stockpile.  With his cart still empty, and Brooke slumped to one side, asleep, he skipped the greeting card aisle and turned down the next row—paper products. It was there that he ran into his next-door neighbor, a man he had never spoken too and whose name he had forgotten, but whom he recognized by his straw cowboy hat and full, wiry beard. Vaughn stopped and took note of the contents of his neighbor’s cart which was jammed to overflowing. He must have been working back Vaughn’s way from the other direction. It contained, among other things: several boxes of oatmeal, bags of rice, dried pasta, instant potatoes, dozens upon dozens of cans of vegetables and fruits, sugar, flour, vegetable oil, peanut butter, cans of tuna, spam and chicken, box after box of macaroni and cheese, a large brown bottle of hydrogen peroxide, bandages and iodine

His neighbor apparently had things figured out.

“Howdy,” Vaughn said as his neighbor scanned the top shelf. “It looks like you’re stocking up for something.”

Their eyes met.  Vaughn glanced admiringly at his neighbor’s hoard. He nodded and smiled back, tipping his straw hat.

“I think I’m your neighbor. I’m Vaughn Clayton.”

“Good evening to you,” he answered with a nod. I’m Ian…Ian Croukamp.”

“What brings you out at this time of night?” Vaughn asked.

“Bad news,” he answered bluntly, with an odd quality to his enunciation.

“Hear about the stuff going on in Asia?”

“Indeed.”

“Oh I’m happy to hear I’m not the only one. I’m surprised there aren’t more people in here stocking up.”

Croukamp chuckled, “They won’t panic just yet.”

Vaughn detected a kind of British accent, but not quite. “Why’s that?” Vaughn asked.

“Huh?”

“Why no panic?”

“Because CNN hasn’t told them to panic, yet,” he explained.

Vaughn laughed uncomfortably. “So what brings you out here at night if there isn’t any panic?” Vaughn persisted.

“A day early is better than a minute late. I’m stocking up before they change the prices.”

“So you do think something’s happening?”

“I hope not, but I expect so. I’d like to get some of that toilet paper before it goes up to $25 a roll. Can you reach that bundle up there for me?”

Vaughn reached up and pushed an eighteen pack off the shelf. Croukamp caught it and stacked it on top of his cart.

“So what do you think’ll happen?” Vaughn asked.

“My guess is it’s just like back home.”

“Where’s that?”

“Rhodesia.”

“Oh, you mean Zimbabwe?”

“I mean Rhodesia.”

“No kidding? Were you there when Mugabe took over? That must have been a quite an experience.”

“Mugabe… there aren’t ample words to describe that man. Murdering, Marxist butcher is insufficient.”

Vaughn recognized that he was getting way out of line with his questions. He tried to rein things in a little. “So, do you have any suggestions for me? What should I stock up on?”

“Oh, I don’t do that.”

“Please. I have no clue what to get.”

Croukamp scratched his head but finally answered. “Buy Krugerrands. Lots of them. Ten, twenty, fifty ounces ought to get you started. That will help protect you a little. Good evening and good luck to you.” Croukamp pushed off down the aisle and disappeared around the end.

Vaughn ran into Jess about halfway through the store. She was filling her own cart and had built a surprisingly good hoard considering her doomsday skepticism. Her cart was nearly full with non-perishables with the exception of a few indulgences like potato chips. They decided that they had accumulated enough of a stash for one night and proceeded to the checkout lane.

In the line ahead, a chubby fellow with long hair pulled back into a pony tail was unloading his cart onto the conveyor belt. He built an assembly line of liters of soda pop and frozen waffles. Then hot dogs, French bread, tomatoes, eggs, yogurt, three frozen pizzas, shrimp cocktail, hair conditioner…

“Excuse me,” interrupted another voice from behind them. Turning, Vaughn saw a slight fellow hiding behind dark sunglasses and a ball cap. “Mind if I cut in front of you?” he asked, presumptively pushing his cart through before Vaughn had even responded. “I only have a couple things and I’m in quite a hurry.”

“Sure,” Vaughn answered reflexively. His cart contained three bottles of designer water, three individually wrapped, miniature, gourmet cheeses, and a bottle of baby lotion.

“Rudy, can you assist checkout?” barked the clerk impatiently into the intercom.

Jessica pulled Vaughn back towards her and whispered in his ear. “Do you know who that is?”

“Who? That guy there?”

“Shhhh. He’ll hear you.  Don’t stare. Yeah, him.”

“I have no idea, Jess. Is he from your spinning class or something?”

“No, stupid. That’s Johnny McDouglas.”

“Johnny McDouglas? The actor?”

“Yep.”

“You’re on drugs.”

“Look at him!” Jessica whispered emphatically.

Vaughn looked him over again. He was maybe five foot six. He was very thin, but square-shouldered. He was dressed casually but not cheaply. His sweats were label. His black sweater was silk and he was wearing Bruno Magli shoes—OJ loafers. He sensed that McDouglas was aware of it but was trying to act oblivious, the way celebrities act when they don’t want to be pestered by obnoxious, laypeople.

Jessica yanked on Vaughn’s arm, again, but he kept staring, searching for additional signs of Hollywood royalty. The alleged Mr. McDouglas had manicured, almost feminine hands. He wore a silver chain bracelet which was a rare accessory for a man to wear in a mountain town. His sunglasses, worn in the middle of the night, were another indication. Then the giveaway, a white-gold Movado watch with its black face and the solitary dot marking twelve o’clock. Who in the heck would wear a five-thousand-dollar Movado watch to the grocery store at 3 a.m.?

Whoever he was, he had money.

“I think you may be right,” Vaughn whispered back to Jessica.

“It’s him.”

“How could you tell? The watch?”

“It’s the shoes.”

“Aha.”

“Look around…I bet he’s on one of these magazines in here.”

“Wow. So he really does live here. I thought that was a myth.”

Indivisible

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Oathkeeper Chapter 12

Oathkeeper

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Chapter 12

 

Benjamin Stern drove his Subaru into town and parked in front of the Wagon Wheel Saloon on Main Street. He turned off the engine and waited with the windows up. A winter front had dropped the evening air temperature down to bone-chilling cold. The street was dimly lit. Stern remained still and kept his foot off the brake pedal, hoping not to give himself away as he sat in his car. Through his rearview mirror, he watched the front door of a run-down gray Victorian mansion across the street. It was divided into apartments. Unit C, on the second floor, was the residence of Miss Wendy White, the waitress at Perks and the key witness who had placed Monte Turcot at the Kevin Sniggs murder scene. Stern scanned the second floor windows for any signs of activity, but the curtains were drawn and it was dark inside. He remained in his car, alternating between checking the apartment windows and watching the sparse foot traffic for Miss White or anyone who he might not want to know that he was there.

A few minutes passed before a sheriff’s cruiser appeared and parked across the street in front of the Victorian. Stern hunkered down even lower in his seat and adjusted the mirror so that he could watch. A deputy exited the vehicle and went to the front door, pushed the buzzer, and stepped in. After about five minutes, he emerged alone and got back into his cruiser. Seconds later, Stern’s phone rang.

“Hello?” he answered.

“This is Deputy Kennesaw from CCSD calling. May I speak to Mr. Stern?”

“Speaking. So, was Miss White home?”

“No. No one was there.”

“What should we do?” Stern asked.

“I can come back and check later, I suppose.”

“Can’t you just go in? You know, call it a welfare check or something?”

“You should know better than that, Mr. Stern.”

“Look, she’s already missed an interview. It’s crucial that I speak with her before the trial.”

“I can’t just go into her home, Mr. Stern. Not without a court order.”

“What if she’s injured or incapacitated or something?”

“No one’s reported anything,” Kennesaw explained.

“She has a toddler. What about the child’s safety?”

“No one’s reported anything.”

“But she hasn’t been at work.”

“Missing work is not cause to enter her residence. No one has reported her missing. No one’s reported an unattended child, either.”

“Then where do you think she is?” Stern asked.

“You want my honest opinion?”

” No. I want you to lie to me. Of course.”

“Off the record…” Kennesaw added, “maybe she left town.”

“Why would she do that?”

“Threats. Abuse. Pressure?”

“Because of the case?”

“Who knows? Maybe. There are a lot of people in this county who think your client is a hero. To them, he’s the victim in all this. They think these charges are trumped up – that their hero could never do what he is accused of. Some of them probably don’t think too kindly of a local who’ll be testifying against their hero, especially on behalf of the DEA.”

“So, what is the sheriff’s department doing about that?”

“We don’t have any complaint, Mr. Stern. There’s nothing to investigate; it’s just my best guess. Maybe she got a nasty phone call or a threatening note left on her windshield and decided to take off and stay with friends or relatives.”

“But you called them, didn’t you?”

“Mr. Stern, it’s not so far-fetched to think her family would cover for her, is it?”

“So what’s Chalmers going to do about it? She’s a huge part of his case.”

“I’m sure he will put someone onto her trail. She’ll turn up. If not, it would seem to me that it would be in your favor.”

“Not if she turns up for trial at the last minute and I never get the chance to interview her. How do I cross examine effectively?”

“Maybe you’d get a mistrial, then.”

“That’s not a not guilty.”

“It’s better for your client than a guilty.”

“Still, I don’t like it. I don’t like wild cards like this.”

“I don’t know what to tell you, Mr. Stern, but I will make some more calls. I’m sure she’ll turn up soon.”

“Okay. Thank you, Deputy.”

Stern waited, hunkered down in his seat until Kennesaw drove off, before exiting his car. He stood on the curb for a moment, then walked over to the Victorian and buzzed in. A shaggy man in his mid-twenties answered the door.

“Hello, my name is Benjamin Stern,” he announced. “Do you by chance know a Miss Wendy White?  She lives with her child in Unit C.”

“Yeah, bro,” answered the man. “What do you want with her?”

“When’s the last time you saw her?”

“I can’t say.”

“You can’t say, or you won’t say?”

“What difference does it make, bro?”

Stern grinned. “You’re a good neighbor. I understand. But can you do me a favor?”

“It depends.”

“If you see her or know how to get something to her, can you see that she gets this card?” Stern drew a pen and business card from his pocket and scribbled a quick note on the back. “I’m the public defender representing Monte Turcot. Please tell her to call me. It’s all on the card.”

“Yeah, I can do that.”

“Thank you. So, do you snowboard?”

The door slammed in Stern’s face. Without hesitation, he turned, crossed Main Street, and went into the Wagon Wheel Saloon, all the way to the booth at the very back. He ordered a Manhattan and browsed his smartphone while he sipped at the drink.

“The sheriff is worthless,” came a voice from the bar.

Stern looked up, wondering if someone was speaking to him directly, but instead found two men seated on barstools, conversing loudly with pints in their hands.

“He ain’t doing nothing about it,” continued the first man. “Those feds run the town now.”

“They ought to make Frenchie come out of retirement,” said the other. “He’d straighten things out real quick. He’d run them feds outta here.”

“No doubt about it.”

The front door to the bar opened and a burly fellow stepped in from the bitter evening. Stern watched as he strode past the bar and the other booths, drawing closer and closer with a stiff, lumbering gait. He wore a black stocking cap and a brown canvas jacket, and his footfalls clumped on the creaky wood planks of the saloon floor. Closer. The man’s face bore a gray goatee, and he seemed to be missing his neck. Despite his size and sound, the other patrons ignored him, too busy drinking and carrying on about sheriffs and feds.

Stern watched in surprise as the newcomer stopped and slid into the seat across from him in his booth. He was sixtyish, with the face of a pugilist, a hard drinker, or perhaps both. His nose was broad and flat, while one of his eyes drooped a bit. His complexion was wrinkled, and had the texture and color of bulk cardboard. He breathed through his mouth, exposing two silver-capped incisors that reflected the bluish fluorescent lights of the saloon.

“Care to join me?” Stern asked sarcastically.

“You can call me Falco,” the burly man answered with a resonate growl.

“Pleasure to meet you, Mr. Falco,” Stern replied. “I’m–”

“I know who you are,” Falco interrupted.

“Well then, what can I do for you?”

“We need to talk.”

“Talk about what?” Stern asked. “My salvation? I must admit, you don’t look like your typical Jehovah’s Witness.”

Falco remained expressionless. “I’m here to talk business with you.”

“You must have been following me. How else would you know I came in here?”

“Paranoid?” Falco asked.

“Who are you? Who do you work for? Do you work for Chalmers?”

“Who I work for is not your business.”

“So what do you want?” Stern asked.

“Do you know the whereabouts of Wendy White?”

“Funny, I was just wondering that, myself.”

“It looked like you were visiting her.”

“So, I’m not paranoid,” Stern said. “I need to interview her before the trial, but she’s gone AWOL.”

“If you discover her whereabouts, I assume you’ll do the right thing?”

“Which is?”

Falco grunted. “Notify the proper authorities.”

“If I knew where she was, I’d conduct my interview, with the DA’s awareness, of course.”

“You think I work for the DA?” Falco smirked.

“Who else?”

“Miss White will be found. She’ll testify.”

“I’m sure she will. Is that the business you came to talk about?” Stern asked, finishing his drink.

“No.”

“Well, please go ahead, then.”

“I’m supposed to tell you that you’re in no imminent danger,” Falco said, his only expression being a further drooping of his eyelid.

“I’m in no imminent danger? What the fuck is that supposed to mean?”

“It means what it means.”

“Hey there, fellas.” Tommyknocker the bartender materialized at the booth. “What’ll ya have?”

“I think I’d like to close out my tab,” Stern said as he reached into his pocket. “This conversation is making me uncomfortable.”

“And you?” Tommyknocker asked Falco.

“Ice water with lemon.”

“Here,” Stern said. While digging around for his wallet, he deftly activated the record function on his smartphone. It was a sleight-of-hand trick that he was well-practiced at, having surreptitiously recorded every significant conversation he’d had over the past ten years. “Hold on. I can’t find my wallet.” He reached into his other pocket and produced it, then took out his credit card and handed it to the bartender. Once Tommyknocker had left with the card, Stern turned back to Falco. “So, you ambushed me here to tell me that I’m not in imminent danger? Please explain.”

“I want to talk to you about the trial,” Falco said, glaring at him.

“You want to talk about the trial?” Stern looked puzzled. “I don’t even know who you are.”

“You’re a young man, what, thirty years old? You’ve got a bright future. This trial could open some doors for you.”

“So long as I win or give a good show,” replied Stern. “But your DA is probably going to clean my clock.”

Falco grunted in a manner evoking laughter. “Yes, that’s true. He’ll probably clean your clock. But you just need to make sure that things go as expected.”

“Go as expected?”

“Don’t be coy.”

“What exactly are you saying?”

“Turcot is not going to walk. He’s going to prison, and he’s going to be executed by lethal injection. That’s what’s going to happen.”

“I suppose there’s a chance of that.”

“There needs to be a 100% chance of that,” Falco growled.

“100%?” Stern asked, looking surprised.

” One hundred percent,” he reiterated.

“I’m not sure what you’re implying.”

“You’re a smart boy, Stern. You know exactly what I’m implying.”

“Are you suggesting I throw the case?”

“I’m telling you that Turcot’s conviction is expected.”

Stern leaned back in his seat, thoroughly perplexed.

“Are you confused?” Falco asked.

“Actually, yes I am,” said Stern. “I am confused.”

“What about? It’s pretty simple.”

“I’m confused about why you’re here. At first you said you wanted to talk business. You know, business. When do we get to the business part? Where’s the quid pro quo?

“Huh?”

“What’s your offer?”

“My offer?”

“You come here and tell me you want to talk business, but you haven’t talked any business yet.” Stern shrugged. “You can’t seriously expect me to throw a case without some sort of remuneration.”

“Huh?”

“Hello? Is anyone home?” Stern said mockingly. “What are you offering me?”

“Why would we offer you anything to lose a case you’re going to lose anyway?” Falco replied.

“Then why are you here?” asked Stern in a snide tone. “Why are you here, threatening me with imminent danger if you’re so sure you’re going to win?”

“My people don’t want any loose ends.”

“So let’s talk business, then. Make me an offer. Make me an offer and I’ll get you the 100% guaranteed victory your people are expecting. No loose ends.”

Falco sighed. “It doesn’t work that way.”

“Of course it does.”

Tommyknocker returned and set Stern’s slip on the table, along with his card. The two men waited until he had gone, then continued.

“There will be many powerful people who will be displeased if Turcot escapes justice,” said Falco. “If Turcot gets off, they’ll look weak. It’ll undermine their legitimacy. It’ll damage their prestige.”

Stern scoffed. “Why would I care one whit about anyone’s prestige?”

“Because it’s difficult to achieve anything with powerful enemies standing in the way.”

“A man is defined by the power of his enemies.”

“A man is defined lots of different ways, but he survives by his good sense. He isn’t likely to last long without it.”

“I’ll tell you what,” Stern said. “I’m going to write down a number here on the back of this slip.” He pondered for a moment, then scratched a number out, folded the receipt over, and slid it towards Falco. Falco took it, looked it over, and rolled his eyes. “You take that number back to your people. You tell them that’s what a 100% guarantee will cost them. If they deliver that, I’ll make sure it happens. It shouldn’t be a problem. I hear they have infinite resources.”

“Conviction. Murder one.”

“Guaranteed. 100%,” Stern assured.

“I can see what they say.”

“Oh, and I want the money up front. No later than three weeks before the trial starts.”

“Not happening.”

Stern smiled confidently. “Then tell your people to consider this loose end untied.”

Oathkeeper

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Indivisible Chapter 7

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Chapter 7

 

“Are you MS13?” asked Undersheriff Garrity, referring to the violent street gang that had infiltrated the County. He knew it was so, based on the tattoo inked into the suspect’s forehead. Joe Joe, as he was nicknamed, was a potential bonanza of information regarding all the recent kidnappings and unsolved murders taking place.

The media had blamed the rash of brazen lawlessness on the poor economy. Garrity thought differently. “It’s those immigrants causing all the trouble,” he was often heard lamenting. Now he had one that he could interrogate. Garrity was on a mission. He wanted leads. Leads led to arrests. Arrests led to newspaper clippings and public adulation. Public adulation filled the void of loneliness consuming his soul.

Joe Joe finally answered. “Fock you, Fatman.”

Garrity felt his polyester uniform stretching taut between the buttons. He didn’t like being reminded of his weight; it made him self-conscious. His tense energy manifested itself in his hands which fidgeted and made their way to the top of his head, feeling for the spot where his hair was thinning out. After realizing it, he yanked his hand down and rested it on the table. He resented himself for his inability to control his unconscious displays of weakness, and he didn’t appreciate being insulted by a suspect during an interrogation. Contempt-of-cop was a direct challenge to his status as a high-ranking, county law enforcer.  He didn’t have a lot of tolerance for disrespect.

“Who are you with, Joe Joe?” Garrity asked him, his pudgy face beginning to smolder.

“I say fock you,” Joe Joe replied defiantly.  He puffed up the torso of his five-foot-five frame and smiled mockingly, revealing a mouthful of silvery dental work.

Garrity sighed. His chubby cheeks blushed with his building rage.

“What gang are you with?”

“I no hablo Ingleis.”

Garrity discovered his hand had found its way back to his bald patch again. God dammit, he thought as he yanked it down again.

“You hablo ingleis just fine, Joe Joe. I know who you are. Who do you run with, these days? Romero?”

Joe Joe just grinned his silvery grin.

“Why weren’t you packing?”

“Que?”

“In the house…why no gun?”

“Cuz shooting gringos’ll get you the electric chair.”

“You’re right on that, Joe Joe,” Garrity answered as he leaned back, interlocking his chunky fingers behind his head so they wouldn’t meander. The armpits of his polyester uniform were marked with patches of sweat. “So,” he continued, “you break into this guy’s house solo, no gun, you knew he was home—what the hell? You stupido? Maybe so. You did tattoo your gang affiliation onto your face. You been sniffing that spray paint?”

Joe Joe leaned back and tried to stretch his hands up behind his head to mimic Garrity, but his chains snapped tight.

“I no talk to you. I wan my lawyer.”

“You’ll get your lawyer when you tell me who you’re working with these days. Give me some names.”

Joe Joe’s eyes scowled for a brief second but his face quickly brightened again. “You get my lawyer. I have my right.”

“I’ll get you something all right,” Garrity answered, his cheeks reddening, veins thickening in his temples. As far as Garrity was concerned, rights were just something written on a piece of paper, especially whenever they were applied to illegal aliens.

“You get my lawyer right now. I no talk to you.”

“C’mon, Joe Joe. Don’t make this more difficult for yourself.”

“You get my lawyer. You get my lawyer, now. I no afraid a you, Fatman.”

“No. I’m sorry, but not yet, Joe Joe,” Garrity explained, suppressing his rage. “You’re gonna answer some of my questions first.”

“You no fock with me, cop. You fock with me, we fock with you back. I have my right.”

“Who’s ‘we’, Joe Joe?”

“You fock with me, we fock with you. Comprende?”

“You better watch it, Joe Joe. I’m the undersheriff ‘round these parts. Sheriffs don’t like being threatened, especially by gangbanger illegals. Do you comprende?”

Joe Joe rolled his dark brown eyes while Garrity glanced up at the camera tucked into the corner of the interrogation room. He conspicuously did the kill-it slash with an index finger across his throat. The red light indicating the camera was recording switched off. “I’m giving you one last chance, Joe Joe. Who’s your boss? What were you looking for in that house? I want information.  And I’m warning you, if you don’t cooperate, we’re going to use another form of interrogation—a more aggressive form. You comprende that?

“You no fock with me,” Joe Joe replied. “We know every-ting bout you, Robert Garrity.”

Garrity had enough. He briskly pushed his bloated body up from his chair, took a moment to straighten and calm himself, then slowly walked around the table to Joe Joe’s right side.

“You makin a big mistake,” Joe Joe warned. “We know where you live—7700 McKinley Dr.”

Garrity snatched Joe’s right hand and bracing Joe Joe’s elbow onto his hip, he bent Joe Joe’s hand down at the wrist at a 90 degree angle, a hold designed to create the sensation of impending wrist dislocation. Joe Joe squirmed.

“You listen to me,” Garrity growled. “You don’t threaten the undersheriff. You threaten me, I’ll bust your damn huevos. Understand?”

Joe Joe grunted in pain.

Garrity held his wrist at the precarious angle with his left arm and with his right, he removed his baton from his belt. Joe Joe groaned.

“Now,” continued Garrity as he bent Joe Joe’s wrist ever closer to the snapping point, “we’re gonna have a conversation which’ll involve me asking questions and you answering them. Understand? You’re gonna tell me what gang you’re with. You’re gonna tell me who your boss is. You’re gonna give me names and addresses and anything else you know about the kidnappings going on around here, lately.”

Joe Joe grimaced.

Garrity swung the baton down and jabbed Joe Joe squarely in the groin with the blunt end, not so hard as to cause injury, but with enough force to cause Joe Joe agony.

“Who’s your boss, Joe Joe?”

Joe Joe held back. Garrity swung the baton down again and Joe Joe let out a croaking noise like the sound someone makes while vomiting.

Garrity prided himself in being an efficient torture-master. He cherished his reputation with the deputies for his willingness to go that extra mile, and although most of them personally disliked and avoided the morally uninhibited undersheriff, many sought out his talents in especially tough cases. The recent county crime spree had opened the department’s minds to techniques of enhanced interrogation and Garrity pretty much considered every case as especially tough. He employed his enhanced interrogation techniques almost weekly.

He held Joe Joe’s handcuffed wrist at the brink of dislocation with one arm, and with the elegance of a symphony conductor, he hammered Joe Joe in the groin twice more with his baton. Joe Joe wretched and convulsed. He pulled his other cuffed left hand over to shield himself but the chain snapped taut.

“What was that, Joe Joe? Are you resisting?” Garrity asked mockingly. He released Joe Joe’s wrist, reached over and grabbed his other hand, pulled it forward and slammed it on the table. With fingers splayed apart, he rapped them with the baton twice so hard that it sounded like he was pounding nails into plywood.

Garrity was a man fascinated by how the Romans could calculate, within minutes, the time of death of a convict by the gore unleashed in a pre-crucifixion flogging. He admired the science of Roman sadism and had, himself, become weel acquainted with the limits of prisoner physiology.Joe Joe screamed and ground his silver teeth together in agony.

“You’re illegal, Joe Joe. That means you don’t exist. You have no rights in this county. I can do whatever I want to you. I can even make you disappear if I choose. There’s lots of places back in the woods to bury someone where no one would ever find him.”

“I no understand,” Joe Joe replied.

“You think you’re tough, eh? I know you understand just fine. Here, let me see if this makes you remember.”

Garrity took out his revolver and set it on the table. He was the only officer in the County that still used a revolver, but Garrity believed that his .357 hand-cannon added to his mystique. At one point, he had nicknamed himself “Dirty Garrity”.

He reached into his pocket and pulled out a cartridge and showed it to Joe Joe. Then he picked up the pistol, placed the bullet into a chamber and spun the cylinder, holding the barrel down. Unbeknownst to Joe Joe, he didn’t actually put the bullet in the gun, he was only a borderline psychopath. Instead, he deftly dropped it into his sleeve like a magician, but the effect of his Russian Roulette technique on suspects was usually profound. Garrity had employed it many times to coax suspects into confession.

Garrity put the gun into Joe Joe’s mouth, jamming it way in, deep enough to trigger his gag reflex. Although in great pain, Joe Joe had not shown any fear until this moment. He now had the look of terror that Garrity had seen in the eyes of a gazelle just at the moment where a lion latches onto its neck and digs its teeth in. Garrity thoroughly enjoyed watching predation on the Discovery Channel. Joe Joe mumbled Latin prayers as he choked on the barrel of the revolver.

“Now Joe Joe, are you gonna cooperate?”

Joe Joe just prayed.

“I’m gonna count to three…”

Joe Joe said nothing.

“One…”

Joe Joe closed his eyes.

“Two…”

Joe Joe held his breath.

“Three…”

Garrity growled as he squeezed the trigger.

Click.

Disappointed, Garrity removed the .357 from Joe Joe’s mouth.

Joe Joe held his eyes closed and resumed praying. His left hand was beginning to swell. He was hyperventilating between verses.

“Joe Joe,” Garrity whispered in his ear, “I’ve got something to show you. Open your eyes. Yeah, that’s it.” Garrity went back to his side of the table and took his seat. “Look here. Look what I’ve brought for you.” Garrity reached under the table and produced a gray, hard shell briefcase and set it on the table before him. “Do you know what I’ve got in here, Joe Joe? Huh? Can you guess? Why don’t you guess for me. Take a wild guess.”

Joe Joe trembled, sweating, eyes flitting about, his shaved head and tattoos and patchy beard no longer gave him any aura of toughness. He looked less like an MS13 thug and more like some drugged up schizophrenic in a psych ward.

“Joe Joe, I want to tell you about this little present I have for you in this briefcase. You see, when I worked for vice back in DC, we used to bust these S&M outfits all the time. Well, I came across this one day, and I decided that I just had to hang on to it. You never know when something might come in handy.  Know what I mean? Then it dawned on me. Yeah, it dawned on me that what I have in this briefcase would make a very persuasive tool for interrogation.”

Joe Joe stared at the case, unable to see the contents.

“Joe Joe, have you ever heard of Steely Dan?”

Joe Joe shook his head.

“No, you probably haven’t, have you. All you Mexicans listen to that damn ranchera music, don’t ya?” Joe Joe was actually from El Salvador. Garrity went on for a few moments impersonating a trumpet playing La Cucaracha. He continued, “Steely Dan is a rock and roll band, Joe Joe. Not one of my personal favorites as they are a little jazzy for my taste, but they had a hit song back in the seventies called “Black Friday.” Ever hear it? No? Well Joe Joe, I’m here to let you know that today is your personal Black Friday.”

Garrity took out his baton again and rapped it on the table three times. The door opened and in burst two deputies clad in head to toe black polyester. They had an SS aura about them. “Uncuff him,” Garrity ordered.

The two deputies freed Joe Joe from the chair but held his arms tightly.

“Let me tell you something, Joe Joe. Steely Dan is not just a rock and roll band,” Garrity explained as he clicked the briefcase open. “The name Steely Dan has an origin. Do you know what it is? No, of course you don’t.” He opened the lid of the case. Sweat rolled down Joe Joe’s forehead and into his eyes. Garrity spun the case around on the table. Joe Joe looked inside but what was there was covered with black felt. “Can we get this on video?” Garrity asked. “I think maybe Joe Joe’s fellow gangbangers would like to see this. No, not the room camera. Who’s got the best camera phone?”

One of the deputies took his phone out of his pocket and began to record the scene.

“Go ahead, Joe Joe,” Garrity continued. “Take a look under the felt. Check it out.”

Joe Joe remained frozen in terror.

Everyone jumped as Garrity picked up his baton and rapped it on the table again.

“Look inside!” He shouted.

Joe Joe extended his good hand.  Reaching into the case, he pulled off the felt cloth. He instantly recoiled back in his chair. “No! No! No!” he shouted as he tried to break loose of the officers holding him.

“Yes! Yes! Yes!” Garrity replied with a sinister grin. “Now you know all about the Steely Dan. And now it’s time, Joe Joe. It’s time to assume the position.”

The officers bent Joe Joe over the table. Garrity came around to his side again and leaned down into Joe Joe’s face which was smashed flat against the metal surface.

“Isn’t this how they do it back home?” Garrity asked.

Joe Joe’s eyes filled with tears.

“Well? Isn’t it?”

“I tell you! I tell you! I tell you ever-thing,” Joe Joe sobbed.

“Too late, Joe Joe. I wonder what your buddies will think of this video.”

“No! No! I tell you! I tell you! Please.” He prayed again in Spanish. “I tell you. I tell you what I stealing.”

“He didn’t ask you about that,” barked one of the officers.

But Joe Joe’s comment fired a synapse in Garrity’s mind, stinging him as if he were chewing on tinfoil. As a lifetime bureaucrat, Garrity had evolved into a finely-tuned opportunist. He wanted to learn more about Joe Joe’s attempted theft.  It had to be something good.  “What are you talking about, Joe Joe?”

“I tell you what I steal. I tell you. Good news for you. I tell if you stop. Okay?”

Garrity let Joe Joe grovel and pray for a few moments. “Okay. Tell me.  Go!” Garrity finally ordered.

“Okay. I go. Here, here it is. I hear from a dealer I know that this man got these coin—a whole lot a them.”

“Coins? Since when are you Mexicans into coin collections? The only things I’ve ever seen you guys collect are those velvet bullfighter paintings.”

“I know. It sound funny. I hear it from dealer. We’re no talking cheap coin. We’re talking bout gold coin…Krugerrand. The man I rob, he buy from my dealer friend and he tell me so I go to that man’s house to get them.Fifty one ounce gold coin,” he said.

“Bullshit. You were goin there to get his daughter.”

“No! No! I no kidnap. I no kidnap no kid. I no pedofilo. I kill them pedofilo.” Joe Joe spat. “I no lie. He have fifty ounces. Price go up every day. Monday up. Tuesday up. Wednesday up. Price go up every day.”

“He’s full of shit,” interjected one of the deputies.

“Shut up!” Garrity snapped as he went around the table, sat down, and leaned back in his chair in contemplation. He pondered how he might use this new knowledge. It probably was bullshit, he thought, but then again, fifty ounces of gold…

“Why’d you go there when he was home? Why not wait till the house was empty?”

“‘Cause I leaving for El Salvador that morning. I get out of the gang. I no wanna kill no one. I just need money.”

“Cuff him again,” Garrity ordered.

“So that’s it?” whined the other Nazi with flaring nostrils.

“If you really want some Steely Dan, perhaps we could practice on you?” Garrity replied.

The two officers cuffed Joe Joe behind his back.

“You gonna tell me who your dealer friend is?”

“He a pawn dealer. It all check out.”

“Get him out of here, then. And get him some ice for his hand.”

“Should we have it x-rayed?”

“It ain’t broke. I know what I’m doing.”

The two deputies hustled Joe Joe out of the interview room and into a cell.

Indivisible

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