Monthly Archives: April 2016

Oathkeeper Chapter 19

Oathkeeper

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Chapter 19

 

Sheriff Ellison left the Francione residence and was back on the road by eleven. The clouds were filling back into the skies, and it was darkening to the south. On the radio, the sheriff could hear weather reports of a storm front backing up into the valley. Laden smoke rolled out of the chimneys he passed on the road, sinking straight to the ground. Small winter birds – frenzied chickadees and finches – scurried about gathering seeds and other edibles. Mule deer were out grazing. Foxes were hunting as the late morning faded to gray.

The scene at the Sheriff’s Department was exactly what Ellison had expected. The flotilla of news vans had returned, someone obviously having tipped them off. Three black Tahoes were on the scene, as well as two unmarked Grand Cherokees. A throng had gathered at the steps before the main entrance. Ellison avoided them and drove around to the back garage. He was sure they spotted him pull in, but he got the door down before the mob could push through.

Ellison went straight to his office. The marshals, Inspector Weathers and Deputy Scott, were already there, both sitting on his office sofa. Agent Acevedo had taken a seat in the swivel chair, with his feet up on the sheriff’s desk. The marshals stood up as Ellison entered.

“Gentlemen,” Ellison greeted them unenthusiastically.

“Sheriff,” Acevedo replied. He was still seated.

“Has the DEA commandeered the Calumet County Sheriff’s Department without my knowledge?” asked Ellison.

“Not that I’m aware of,” answered the agent.

Ellison narrowed his eyes. “Then please remove your feet from my desk and your ass from my chair.”

“Touchy this morning, eh Sheriff?” Acevedo waited another few seconds, as if mocking the sheriff, then withdrew his feet and rose from the chair.

“Are you two not getting along?” asked Weathers.

“You’re late,” Scott stated.

“It’s only 12:10,” answered Ellison, pointing to the wall clock.

“Let’s not waste any more time,” said Acevedo. “You know what we’re here for.”

“I suppose you have the warrant?”

“Right here.” Scott produced a manila folder.

“So where is he?” Acevedo inquired.

“We’re going to do a little horse trading first,” said Ellison.

“I love all this redneck talk,” replied the DEA agent, “but there isn’t anything to deal, here.”

The sheriff sat down behind his desk and swept away the dirt specks that had fallen off Acevedo’s shoes. He noticed that his drawers had been opened as well. He slowly pushed them shut, emphasizing that he knew they had been compromised, then collected his scattered pens, placed them in their mug, and straightened out his papers.

“When you get your man,” he addressed them after he had finished tidying up his desk, “it’ll be time for you boys to wrap things up around here. You and your expeditionary force can move on. I think that’s a fair trade.”

The eyes of both marshals shifted hopefully from Ellison to Acevedo. The agent, who was now standing across from the desk, responded with a clicking, squirrel-like sound made with his tongue behind his teeth. He stared at the floor, then gazed upwards to the ceiling and sighed.

“Uh…no.” he said. “That’s not going to work for us.”

“No?” asked Ellison.

“Did I stutter?”

“What do you mean, no?”

“I’m afraid I can’t do that, Sheriff,” Acevedo answered snidely. “We’re deep into a surveillance program on an operation up by Twin Lakes. It could take until June to wrap it up. I’m sorry, but I’m afraid we can’t just pull up stakes. We’re too far into this.”

Ellison stared blankly, pondering the explanation. He had guessed beforehand that Acevedo wouldn’t yield. The DEA had to know that they had worn out their welcome, but it made sense to him that there wouldn’t be any flexibility. Regardless, he thought he would take one more crack at it, just to be sure he was on record. At least the marshals would know he had exhausted every possibility.

“I’m asking you Vince, as a professional courtesy, to move on to the next county.”

“No, Sheriff.” Acevedo clicked his tongue, sighed, and looked down and up again. “I’ve got my orders. You see, we’re going to scrub this little county of yours. We’re going to scrub it clean of meth. Somebody has to enforce the law around here.”

Ellison wondered how Frenchie would handle this. He envisioned him giving a command and a battery of deputies storming into the office, wrenching the agent’s arms behind his back, and escorting him out of the front doors as if they were nightclub bouncers removing a belligerent drunk.

“I understand what you’re dealing with,” Acevedo continued, “but don’t make it any more difficult for yourself.”

For an instant, Ellison considered tossing his badge on the table and walking out, leaving them empty-handed, but that wouldn’t make things any easier. He would likely be detained and suffer the ignominy of being booked and having his mug shot plastered on Channel 9. His entire legacy – whatever good he had done – would be zeroed out by such an outcome. He’d be disgraced. And what about his wife? How would Nguyet deal with it? Would she ever come back after something like that? After he stepped down, the interim sheriff would probably just call Kennesaw and have him bring Turcot in, anyway. No good would come from him quitting. His control of the knowledge of Turcot’s whereabouts was the only leverage Ellison had. He thought again about Frenchie, masked in his tinted glasses and puffing away on his cigar, grinning. No, he couldn’t resign.

“So why is all the media here?” he asked.

“We thought we’d have a little press conference,” explained Acevedo. “Let them know we’re bringing in the cop killer.”

“Presumptuous.” Ellison stated.

“Is it?”

“Are you going to publically address the Fifth Amendment issue?” Ellison asked.

“What issue?” Acevedo replied.

“Double jeopardy.”

Acevedo huffed and rolled his eyes. “I let the lawyers handle that. I’ve got news for you, Sheriff. No one cares about the Bill of Rights anymore. What they care about is being safe…safe from drug dealers and rapists and junkies and cop killers and terrorists. We’re doing what’s necessary for their well-being. We’re the only ones that stand between the good guys and the bad guys. You think John Q. Public cares about some cop killer’s so-called rights? That he gets a fair trial? They want him hunted down like a dog. They want to know that law enforcement is capable of doing what’s necessary to keep them safe. That’s all.”

“You’re probably right,” Ellison replied. “I suppose you better get on with your press conference, then, while I make a call.”

“Oh no, Sheriff,” replied Acevedo. “You are going to give the press conference. This is your county, after all. It’s the least you could do, considering how little help you’ve given us.”

“That’s going a little too far, Vince, don’t you think?” Weathers interjected. “We got what we came for. There’s no need to beat the sheriff up like that.”

Acevedo rolled his eyes again in dissatisfaction. “No. I want the sheriff out there showing these folks whose side he’s on.” He turned to Ellison. “Then you go get Turcot just as soon as it’s over.”

“That’s totally unnecessary,” said Weathers.

“I think it is necessary,” Acevedo countered. “The folks around here need to see their sheriff cooperating with the federal government.”

“But–”

“Let’s just get it over with,” interrupted Ellison.

The four men left the office and passed through the front doors, making their way out onto the steps where a hundred civilians and the press with their cameras and microphones had convened. Weathers was the first to speak.

“The Department of Justice is here today to announce the indictment of Montgomery Turcot on the charge of violating the civil rights of Special Agent Kevin Sniggs.” He held up the indictment dossier for effect. “With the help of my partner, Deputy Scott, the U.S. Marshals intend to bring Mr. Turcot in and see that justice is finally carried out in this terrible case. The DOJ, along with our partners at the DEA and the U.S. Attorney General’s Office, know that the citizens of Calumet County will greatly appreciate that this matter is finally being set straight–”

“Why don’t you go back home!” someone shouted from the crowd. The cameras swung around, searching for the heckler. Another voice roared, “Double jeopardy!” and another, “Turcot’s innocent!”

Weathers, still holding the indictment dossier aloft, glanced disbelievingly at his partner, who looked equally confused.  He turned to Acevedo, searching for guidance, but the agent had none to give.

“Get out of our county!” shouted another heckler. “Free Turcot!”

“You want the drug dealers to take over?” someone shouted in response. “Lock him up!”

Shouting, pushing, and shoving ensued as the news crews moved in to capture the spectacle.

Acevedo had had enough. He turned to the sheriff and grabbed him by the collar. “Get your people under control!”

In that instant, Bear Ellison had a moment of perfect clarity.

“Take your god damn hand off me,” he ordered.

“You calm them folks down, or I’m going to start making arrests for disorderly conduct,” Acevedo barked as he released his grip on Ellison’s shirt.

The sheriff walked forward into the sea of microphones and cameras, pushing Weathers aside. The marshal had seemingly forgotten that he was still holding his dossier aloft. Before he spoke, Ellison looked back over his shoulder and spotted Kennesaw. He winked at the deputy, and Kennesaw disappeared back through the department’s front doors. Bear bought himself a moment by grabbing the dossier from Weathers’ upraised hand. He thumbed through the papers while the reporters pushed microphones and hurled questions at him.

“You’re not with them, are you Sheriff?” asked another voice from the crowd. “Are you going to sell Turcot out?”

“You’re either with the feds, or you’re with the drug dealers!” shouted another.

Ellison handed the folder back to Weathers, who looked even more confused than before. Acevedo watched intensely. The sheriff glanced back over his shoulder once more, back to the front doors of the department. He cleared his throat and waited for the din to subside, but the reporters grew restless. They asked the same questions again, only louder. Weathers glared at Ellison, who simply raised a hand to silence the mob.

“So where do you stand, Sheriff?” asked a man from the crowd.

Keeping his hand up while he scanned the crowd, Ellison looked over his shoulder again. Kennesaw finally emerged from the building, flanked by a group of six deputies.

“Tell us, Sheriff!”

“Ladies and gentlemen,” Ellison began. “Thank you for coming out today. Please forgive me if I begin to sound like I’m giving a sermon. My grandfather was a minister, but I didn’t inherit any of his talent. I do apologize.” He glanced at Acevedo, whose face was turning red as the CCSD deputies lined up behind them. “Back when I took this job, I was required to take an oath. In that oath, I swore that I would faithfully perform the duties of the Office of Sheriff of Calumet County and support the Constitution. For many, their oath is just words. But not to me. I don’t take my oath lightly.

“A few days ago, a Calumet County man stood accused of capital murder in district court in Fremont County. After a trial, decided by a jury of his peers, he was acquitted in accordance with the laws of this state. That’s how the law works, whether we like it or not. I have nothing to say about whether Monte Turcot murdered Agent Sniggs or not. As sheriff, that doesn’t mean anything to me anymore. What matters to me is the law. And regardless of whether you or the DOJ or CNN or anyone else thinks Monte Turcot is a killer, he was acquitted by that jury.

“Like I said, I swore to support the Constitution of the United States. That Constitution says that ‘no person shall be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb.’ The meaning is perfectly clear. No one can be tried twice for the same crime.”

“Sheriff!” a reporter spoke up. “Sheriff, are you interpreting the Fifth Amendment in place of the Supreme Court?”

“I don’t need some lawyer or judge to interpret for me. It’s written in plain English. Sometimes the Court makes mistakes,” continued Ellison. “Dred Scott comes to mind. Ever hear of it? You should remember that case from junior high school. The Supreme Court ruled that black men cannot be citizens. I can think of a few others. There’s Plessy v. Ferguson, which upheld forced segregation in Louisiana. The Kelo ruling lets big cities seize people’s homes and land and sell it off to giant commercial interests like big box stores. And what about the Korematsu Case? Did the court interpret the Constitution right? Our all-wise Supreme Court ruled that the government has the right to put Americans in concentration camps. These rulings were all obviously wrong, but did everyone just give up and accept them because the Constitution only means what the court says? Of course not.

“I’ve known quite a few lawyers in my day, and I’ve come to the conclusion that if you get enough of them together, they could convince five of nine judges that two plus two equals five. Can the Court deny your right to free speech or religion? If the Constitution means only what they say it means, why not? They could argue: ‘We just can’t have people going around stirring up trouble or questioning authority. That might cause a riot or interrupt someone’s tranquil evening.’ Could they take away your right to defend yourself? They might say: ‘If we could take all the guns away, that’d reduce violence and promote the general welfare, wouldn’t it?’ What about your right to be secure in your effects? Free from warrantless searches and seizures? But they could say: ‘How would we catch terrorists without the ability to access everyone’s emails and phone conversations?’ Imagine what the government could find if they could poke around in everyone’s bank statements and phone records and emails and web searches whenever they want. It’s already happening. They can find something on anyone. And if they can do that, they could jail or silence or blackmail anyone who disagrees with them. The courts might say that it’s in the interest of public safety to create a secret court to issue warrants and keep things constitutional. They might say that if you’ve got nothing to hide, then you’ve got nothing to fear. We’ve all heard that one, haven’t we? You may have nothing to hide today, but what about a decade from now, when there are different people in power?  What if those people in power don’t like you? What if they fear you?

“We all have unalienable rights, like them or not. They don’t come from a judge or a government. They’re inherent. Civil rights are what living in a free country is all about. Just because one right inconveniences or offends or scares someone doesn’t mean they get to overrule it – whether they be cops or federal agents or even presidents. The Bill of Rights is not à la carte. You don’t get to pick and choose which rights you can ignore, no matter who you work for. It’s all or nothing. If the law doesn’t apply to everyone, then there is no valid law. And without the law, all we are left with are the whims of men more powerful than you and I.

“I may not have an Ivy League education, but I can read the Constitution. It’s written in plain English. And frankly, I don’t give a damn how any Harvard lawyer interprets it to mean the exact opposite of what it says in order to push some agenda. The meaning is clear, and I swore an oath to uphold it. This is Calumet County, not Washington D.C. or New York City or even Denver, for that matter. I’m the sheriff of this county. That means I am the chief law enforcement officer here, and that means that any law enforcing that is to be done here needs to have my authorization. Now these fine gentlemen came all the way out here to serve their writ. They’ve served it. They’ve asked me to arrest Monte Turcot and hand him over to them for a second trial on the same crime. But as far as I’m concerned, if I was to do what they demand, I would violate my oath. I’m not going to do that.

“Furthermore,” the sheriff concluded, “as the chief law enforcement officer of Calumet County, I’ve determined that the DEA’s mission in this county has been concluded. It’s time for them to pack up their things and move on. My department will not be authorizing any more surveillance or any other operations by the DEA here for the foreseeable future. That order is coming from the sheriff’s department, and if any agent refuses to obey that order, I will instruct my deputies to arrest them. That’s pretty much all I have to say. Thank you for coming out, and have a pleasant day.”

Ellison turned, pushed through the reporters that had circled behind his deputies, and stepped through the department doors back into the building. Acevedo and two of his agents started towards the sheriff, but Weathers intervened before they could make their move.

“Not now,” he said, and motioned towards the deputies, the press, and the crowd of nearly a hundred Calumet County citizens. “Not yet.”

Oathkeeper

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Oathkeeper Review

From Brian’s Book Blog…

In small-town Colorado who has more power?

4.5 out of 5 stars

Oathkeeper takes place in fictional Calumet County in rural Colorado. Inside you will find Bear Ellison, the town’s sheriff. A stand-off between federal agencies and the local sheriff ensues as a man is tried for a murder that he might not have committed. The sheriff must decide if he is going to take on the seemingly endless number of federal agents while protecting this local hero.

The narration for Oathkeeper was done by Gabriel Zacchai who does a wonderful job. It’s a combination of a narration and a dramatization. There were a few times that Zacchai got into character more than others, but overall it was a really enjoyable audiobook.

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Indivisible Chapter 14

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joinordie2

Chapter 14

 

It was a whirlwind tour for Marzan and Rollins.  First Chicago, then Houston, Atlanta, back to Chicago, then Detroit, St. Louis and many places in between. They tear gassed rioters and fired on looters one day, then handed out bottled water and freeze-dried chicken nuggets to them the next. At least it said it was chicken on the foil packets with the blue eagle emblems on them.

The market supply chain had disintegrated under the now fivefold increase in fuel prices.  Few stores could sell anything profitably.  The market sclerosis, induced by the interventions of the meddling bureaucrats, finally forced the federal government to take really drastic action. The Food and Agriculture Price Stabilization Act, FAPSA for short, was drafted by a consortium of Big Ag corporations, passed by Congress in the dead of night, and signed into law by the president eight days after it was written.

“Never let a good emergency go to waste.” as they say.

Partnering with enforcement from the USDA, the FDA and the ATF, FAPSA established compacts and exchanges—which were to be run exclusively by Big Ag, of course—through which all the nation’s foodstuffs were required to pass. The Big Ag executives were going to get filthy, filthy rich. The enabling congressmen got massive donations. The family farmers, who sold their eggs and milk and beef off the newly licensed exchanges, were to be arrested and jailed.

The day after they left St. Louis, Marzan and Rollins bulldozed two farm houses with a camouflaged army bulldozer. Then they gathered all the milk from several dairy farms and poured it down the sewer. The next morning, they euthanized a poultry farm’s chickens with flame throwers. All this because those farmers violated the new FAPSA regulations in one manner or another. That afternoon, Marzan and Jimmy found themselves handing out chicken rations, again. Then they dispersed those very same serfs with tear gas and warning shots when they protested later that night.

“Ungrateful dumbasses,” Rollins remarked.

Marzan was growing ill about everything. Every time he hopped out of his Humvee and into some farm or trailer park or urban ghetto he would get nauseated. He had missed all his targets intentionally, but this also filled him with guilt. He felt he was letting down his band of brothers by his subversive actions, but he simply could not bring himself to shoot at Americans.

Marzan was growing numb to the ceaseless Army jingoism. The sergeant would decry the “evil Docs”—Domestic Combatants—while beating his chest like an ape. “They are NOT Americans,” he would scream. “They are insurgents! They are terrorists! Smoke ’em!” The sergeant was skilled at dehumanizing the enemy. Operational effectiveness required his mercenaries to forget they were in America. They were still in a Shariastan, only Shariastan with Wal Marts.

Jimmy Marzan was walking the edge of a razor, balancing the demands of a soulless mercenary with the conscience of a poet warrior. He recalled taking an oath at his induction to uphold the Constitution.  He was no longer sure if that meant anything. It was getting difficult to reconcile the idea that he had to invade and occupy and oppress Americans in order to defend American freedom. The more he thought about that paradox, the less inclined he was to believe that he had ever actually defended any American’s freedom, ever. Smoking all those little brown people didn’t seem to benefit anyone, he thought, Unless you count the money the defense contractors made on the whole bloody enterprise.

The longer Jimmy balanced on that razor the deeper it cut. He prayed every day that things would settle down before he fell over to one side or the other. But it had been two months since that first Chicago riot and the chaos seemed only to be getting worse.

Michael Rollins appeared to enjoy himself. “Adventure!  It’s like being on a rock-and-roll tour. See all them out there. Those mobs of Docs are my adoring fans. They’ve come to see, hear and feel the spectacle and power unleashed by my rock-and-roll M4. Lock and load. All kneel before me. Sacrifice yourselves unto me. All hail Michael Rollins, god of thunder and rock-and-roll.”

“Doc” might have been the official Army term for unruly civilians but the grunts devised a slew of unofficial slurs to describe them. The sergeants encouraged the use of epithets with raucous affirmation. The commissioned officers encouraged their use by not protesting. Words had become weapons. Not because they were capable of injuring their victims, bullets do infinitely more damage than words, but rather their power came from their ability to enervate the soldier’s sense of empathy.

Marzan never adopted the new slurs, but he did everything else he could to keep up the soldierly pretense. He often joked with the brotherhood about “smoking those Docs” but it always came out hollow and made him feel even more like a fraud. He didn’t feel connected to his unit much at all, anymore. The razor was cutting him deeply.

Marzan’s unit spent Christmas Eve at a Marriot. They just pulled up to the front door in their Humvees and marched right in, battle gear and all, took over a floor, cleaned out the bar, and proceeded to ransack the place. Who was the manager going to call? The police? What, and risk getting his business labeled as hating the troops? No way. He just smiled and cleaned up the mess.

The next morning, the manager found a note stroked by a sergeant telling him who to call about getting a reimbursement. The Army’s notion was that money could paper over any sin. That’s how they operated back in Shariastan. Bulldoze a house, kill a family goat, mistakenly drop a cluster bomb on a wedding reception. “So sorry about that. Here… here’s a stack of hundreds that’ll make everything right.”

Five days after Christmas, Marzan’s unit drove west from St. Louis on I70. Rumor was they were headed to Denver and that there was going to be some real action. Colorado’s governor had just resigned under pressure from D.C. His replacement was much more in tune with the D.C. program. Having a much more flexible interpretation of Posse Comitatus—the 1878 Act barring the Army from being used as domestic police—the new governor called in the DSF to restore order.

The National Security Agencies’ internet spies uncovered a fomenting, organized civil disobedience movement. The NSA snoops, snitches, and worms trolling the net gleaned details of a major anti-DC rally that was going to erupt in January. Welfare proles burning cars and smashing windows in the name of hunger was a somewhat acceptable expression of frustration to the feds, but openly challenging Washington’s authority was not to be tolerated—anywhere. In other words, gathering to cry out, “Help Us!” was permissible as it validated D.C. But gathering together to shout, “fuck off!” was considered sedition. Secessionist protests were considered contagious as well. If not utterly crushed by supreme military force, they might trigger a plague of nationwide revolt. There was no way D.C. was going let that happen. No way.

“Aw, that’s bullshit! They canceled the Superbowl,” Rollins whined as he scanned his smart phone. “I guess we’re gonna have to make our own superbowl, then. Yep, the big game’s in Denver, fellas.  Domestic Security Force versus The Insurgents. What’s the Vegas line on that one? C’mon Jimmy, who’s favored?”

Marzan didn’t answer.

Rollins answered for him. “You pussy. I’ll take DSF and lay the 56 points. It’s gonna be an ass whuppin’.”

Their convoy rumbled down I70, completely commandeering the left lane. Any civilian vehicle brazen enough or unwitting enough to occupy that lane was run off the road. Marzan thought about the Indians as they drove. It took forces of the United States more than a century to conquer the vast continent, requiring decades of cavalry assaults, cheap liquor, gulags, and barbed wire to finally annihilate the resistance of the stone-aged natives. “Manifest Destiny” was what they called it. The name gave the massacre a divine purpose which erased the guilt.

The Indians just didn’t have the technology or the numbers or the organization to win. But they fought like hell for a century. They fought for their property, their lives, and their unalienable rights. They fought bravely and gallantly in a long war until finally the Nez Perce, frozen, hungry, their elders all dead, surrendered to the U.S. Cavalry. “Hear me, my chiefs! I am tired; my heart is sick and sad. From where the sun now stands, I will fight no more forever.” The words of Chief Joseph.

America is a big and often inhospitable place. Even the Japanese Admiral Yamamoto, in perhaps the finest endorsement of the Second Amendment ever made, shied away from the prospect of invading a nation with a “rifle behind every blade of grass.” But now the Domestic Security Force was poised to subdue the entire continent in less than a few months. Yamamoto and George Armstrong Custer didn’t have Black Hawk helicopters, infrared, predator drones, fifty-caliber weapons, or an enemy disarmed by the Firearms and Neighborhood Security Act.

The DSF crossed the Kansas and Colorado state line, but their advance was halted in Limon by a blizzard. They sheltered in their vehicles with their Humvee engines idling through the night. The wind whistled down on them from the west. Drifts of snow piled against their wheels.

“What are you doing?” asked Marzan.

“I’m taking a piss. What does it look like?” answered Rollins as he finished up.

“What are you gonna do with that bottle?”

“Here, you want a swig?”

Marzan turned away in disgust. Rollins made his way to the back and opened the door. Ice crystals and frozen air poured in.

“What the fuck, Gollum?!” cursed Wingate. “Close the fucking door!”

Rollins tossed his specimen out the back and pulled the door shut. The temperature inside instantly dropped twenty degrees.

“Man, I didn’t sign up for this blizzard shit,” complained Specialist Wingate.

“It’s just snow. No big deal,” said Sergeant Tjaden.

“That’s because you’re from North Dakota, asshole. I’m from Florida. Look at it out there. You can’t see nothin’. We’re gonna be buried alive.”

“Just relax. It’ll blow over by morning.”

They hunkered down for the night and the storm eventually blew over, as Tjaden had predicted. The column followed snowplows back down the highway. The clouds disappeared by mid-morning revealing an alien world to the soldiers from the Rust Belt, and the South, and the coastal ghettos. It was treeless and desolate, a blazing white earth from horizon to horizon under a cloudless, beaming blue sky. A cold, blinding sun climbed towards its zenith. They might as well have been invading the moon with all its starkness.

Marzan thought about how the Germans must have felt gobbling up thousands of square miles of Russian nothingness in the early days of Operation Barbarosa. How they must have wondered how it could possibly be worth it to conquer so much empty space. That endeavor didn’t end so well for the krauts when the winter came and their diesel fuel turned into jello and their toes turned black and broke off.

DSF arrived at their destination after nightfall, along with the clouds that rolled down from the north and filled up the sky and blotted out the stars and moon. They set up camp at Denver International. By morning, the snow came again and swirled and whipped about on the wind, never seeming to reach the ground. It was bitter cold.

Rumors were swirling around as well. Militias were forming. Police units were dissolving. National Guards were defecting. Government offices were over-run. The words “civil” and “war” were being connected together in a contemporary context for the first time in a hundred and fifty years.

“This is exciting shit!” Rollins declared. “Smokin’ them dumbasses in the ghetto was getting kinda dull.”

Jimmy Marzan spent that morning vomiting. He blamed it on altitude sickness.

Indivisible

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Unalienable (Draft)

Chapter One (August)

Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night; nor for the arrow that flieth by.

At three a.m., Bravo Company piled into three CH-47D Chinook helicopters and lifted off from the tarmac of Montrose Regional Airport and beyond the confines of the forward operating base known as Camp Constantine. It was a short flight covering less than twenty miles, barely enough time for the pimply-faced conscripts of the Domestic Security Force to pray.

This predawn mission signaled the beginning of Operation Uncompahgre III, the third official attempt by the Domestic Security Force and I Corps to capture and or degrade the leadership of the insurgency in the Uncompahgre Sector.

It was moonless and the ground below was as black as a dream, the void broken only by the reflection of starlight on the waters of spindly creeks and a lonely reservoir. Domestic combatants, known as Doc for short, were down there. They controlled the wilderness. In the minds of the nineteen and twenty year old privates fulfilling their national service requirements, Doc was an inhuman wight–a mysterious living thing, lurking in the woods and caves, living off air and dirt, existing only to hunt and kill soldiers. Many conscripts had made it through an entire one year tour and never seen one in the wild, but they would have certainly experienced their wrath, manifested in the form of roadside bombings, sniper fire, and sabotage. Rushed through an abbreviated, four week boot camp, the recruits were inculcated with a heavy dose of fear and hatred of him.

They landed in darkness, on a hastily constructed sand-bag firebase called Camp Grit, sitting atop Hill 301, otherwise known as High Mesa. The mission was to advance into the wilderness and locate, engage and annihilate the enemy. They were delayed by the dangers of traversing the rugged terrain in darkness. They waited for sufficient light and embarked at 05:00. 2nd platoon, also known as “The Skullcrushers,” marched south-southeast along the ridgeline that rose towards Sheep Mountain bursting upwards through the tree line eight clicks away.

The march was arduous and slow-paced with the platoon taking great care not to bunch up at the obstacles or spread themselves too thin. The barely discernible trail meandered and climbed, flanked by firs and spruce and aspen. The ridge occasionally gave a vantage of the turbulent lands they invaded. Spires of tawny granite formed into ridgelines and thrust skyward in all directions. Some were still patched with snow that would not melt before winter. Patches of evergreens clung to the high shelves of rock. The gulches and valleys were a Mirkwood of forest. The summer sun climbed and the temperature rose as they patrol pushed on. By mid morning, the ruckus of chirping birds that had accompanied them before daybreak had subsided into a din of breezes sweeping through the tree tops. The succulent, waxy aspen leaves flickered and danced.

The advance was halted briefly when the point spotted four objects in the cliffs across the valley which, from a thousand yards, could not be ruled out as combatants. The conscripts crouched and took cover, their wide, fearful eyes staring.  The sergeant examined the target with his field glasses. “Is it Doc?” asked the lieutenant. Sarge rolled the focusing wheel as he searched. The conscript faces whitened. “Sarge?”

“No.”

The conscripts sighed.

“What is it?”

“Big horn sheep.”

2nd platoon continued on, under a canopy of blue sky and slow-moving splashes of white cloud. By nine a.m. they reached the point where Sheep Mountain rose upwards through the tree line just before them. They stopped to rest and hydrate and it was there that a specialist discovered a cairn of piled stones. Sarge examined the pile up close and began carefully removing the stones that did not appear to be concealing or holding or levering down wires or triggers of any kind. When he had removed about half the pile he discovered a canvas surface. He stopped at that point to consult with the lieutenant.

“What do you think it is?” the Sarge asked.

“Dunno. Ammo cache. RPGs. Rifles. Frags. Have a private check it out.”

“Maybe we just go ahead blow that fucker up and move on.”

“Was I not clear?”

“Lieutenant, we ain’t got any techs and we got no blast suit.”

“We’re not debating this, sergeant. We’re deep in Doc’s turf and I got half a platoon filled with boy scouts. I won’t be drawing any extra attention to us. Get it checked out.”

“Yes Sir.” Sergeant muttered as he turned and pointed to a specialist named Rogers. “Get over here.” Rogers approached. “I need you to go check out that pile a rocks over there. Tell me what’s under that canvas.”

“Fuck that, Sarge. That’s a booby trap if I’ve ever seen one.”

“It ain’t no booby trap, Rogers.”

“It sure enough looks like one to me.”

“The only booby trap that’s ever gonna get you is one that’s stuffed inside a basketball.”

“Man, you’re a racist mother­ fucker. There ain’t no way I’m poking around in that. It’s a trap.”

“That’s an order.”

“Fuck you.”

“I’ll deal with you back at base.”

“I got something you can deal with…” answered Rogers as he grabbed his crotch.

“Get lost.” Sarge turned back to the other men. “Fouts! Where’s Fouts?”

“Right here, Sarge. And it’s Faust, Sir.”

“Fouts, I need you to go check out that pile of rocks over there and tell me what’s under that canvas.”

“No way, Sarge. I’m single digit midget. I got seven more days of this shit.”

“You get over there and check it out. That’s a direct order.”

“Nope.”

“What kind of fucking army is this?” grumbled the exasperated sergeant.

The lieutenant grabbed Sarge by the shoulder and turned him around. “Do not give orders that won’t be obeyed. These guys see that and they’ll lose respect.”

“You learn that at OCS school?” Sarge asked.

“Get one of them cherries to do it.”

Sarge turned back to the platoon and called one of the conscripts forward. “Honey Tits, I need you to go over to that pile of rocks and check it out. Let me know what you find.”

Honey Tits, a private whose legal name was Ochs, was a pasty-faced and fleshy draftee recently plucked from the melodramatic, Madison Wisconsin Emo subculture. He had sulked into his induction with his fingernails still polished black.

“Yes Sir,” he gulped, already panting.

“You see that pile of rocks, there?”

“Yes Sir.”

“Good. Now I need you to drag your fat ass over there and check it out. Tell me what’s buried in there. And don’t get blowed up.”

“Sarge?”

“Get going.”

Ochs tiptoed towards the cairn, setting his rifle down once he had reached it. He carefully examined the pile for protruding wires or anything that might look IEDish. He had no clue what that might be, but he scoured the pile, anyway. Once he was satisfied that there was no evidence indicating a buried bomb, he took a seat, criss-cross-applesauce style. He wiped the sweat off his palms, then looked back once more at Sarge and the others some twenty yards off, as if to say “good bye and nice knowing you.” He turned back to the pile and gulped in fixated anticipation. He reached his hand down and touched a stone. He moved it carefully, and when he realized that he had not been blowed up, he set it on the ground to the side. He sighed, deeply. Then Ochs reached down and took another stone off. And when he found himself still intact after that, he took off another, and another, and another. Each stone came off quicker than the previous and after a couple dozen, he had most of the canvas exposed. He took out his knife and carefully poked a hole and looked in. He looked back at the platoon. All their eyes were on him. He widened the hole and pulled it open and looked in again. He froze.

“What is it?” Sarge shouted.

Ochs didn’t respond.

“Hey, Honey Tits, what the fuck is it?”

Ochs looked back towards Sarge. His face was grim.

The soldiers watching raised their rifles and crouched lower behind cover.

“What the fuck is it, Ochs?” barked the sergeant.

Ochs’ lip quivered.

“Go check it out,” ordered the lieutenant.

Sarge growled, then jogged up to Ochs who was catatonic.

“What’s wrong?” he asked

“Look,” Ochs mumbled as he pointed into the hole in the canvas.

Sarge looked in and saw what Ochs saw.

“Is that a face?” he asked.

“What is it?” shouted the lieutenant from the cover of a tree trunk.

“It looks like a corpse,” shouted the sergeant. “Doc must have buried him here.” He turned back to Ochs. “Dig him out.”

“Sarge?” he asked, looking scared.

“Don’t be a pussy. It’s just a dead body. Dig him out.”

The lieutenant ordered Rogers and Faust to the pile of stones to assist. Ochs sat with sweat rolling off his forehead and down his blotchy face and into his collar while the other two men removed the remaining stones and tore open the bag revealing the complete, decomposing body.

“Who do you think he is?” asked the sergeant.

“Dead Doc,” answered Faust.

“That’s what they look like?” asked Ochs.

“What’d you think they looked like? Fucking leprechauns or something?”

“Check him for tags. Find his wallet,” Sarge ordered.

Rogers knelt down and rolled the stiff body only its side exposing the moist, decomposing underside. The smell knocked them back and they pulled their t-shirts up and over their noses. Rogers gagged as he reached into the corpse’s back pocket and found his soggy wallet. He let the body fall back and held the wallet out for the sergeant who snatched it from him and thumbed through it. He took out an ID.

“It says here this is…holy shit…,” Sarge continued. “It says: Captain Alan A. Rick, U.S. Army.” He turned and shouted. “Hey lieutenant, we found us the infamous Captain Rick. He got himself dead.”

The lieutenant scrambled up to the grave arriving just as Faust had begun to urinate on the corpse.

“Knock that shit off,” Sarge ordered.

Faust aimed in the other direction. “What’s the big deal, Sarge?”

“Shut up, Fouts,” Sarge ordered. “Show some respect.”

“You mind if I go back to the unit, Sir?” Ochs mumbled.

“Beat it.”

Ochs sulked back to the platoon while the four remaining men stared down at the sunken eye sockets and brown, mummified face of the dead man.

“What do you want to do with it?” asked the sergeant. “Want us to bag him”

“No. Leave him. I’ll call in the coordinates.” The lieutenant knelt down and set the dead man’s hand on a rock. He took out his knife and, with a succession of chops, he removed the dead man’s index finger at the second joint and put it in his pocket. “For DNA ID,” he explained. “We’re moving out in five.”

“Captain Rick’s dead,” Sarge commented. “Guess we can all head back to Camp Grit. Mission accomplished.”

“You’re a funny guy, Sarge.”

 

More to come…

Oathkeeper Chapter 18

Oathkeeper

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Chapter 18

 

Bear Ellison slammed his hand down, killing his alarm. He got up, dressed, and stepped out the door into a morning fog, then climbed into his truck and drove south, the opposite direction of the Calumet County Sheriff’s Department. After driving for a half hour, the fog lifted and the clouds began to break apart.

As the sheriff headed further south, the pines receded from the tawny valley floor, drawing back up into the foothills and north-facing slopes where they grew thick in the cool summer shade. The only trees hardy enough for the dry valley floor were the cottonwoods, clustered along the banks of the creeks and seasonal washes. The dried grasses, matted by winter snows and early spring winds, spanned the plain in a sea of rolling straw. A swarm of ten thousand black birds swirled in an undulating cloud.

The sheriff turned off the highway onto a dirt road going east. The trek took him four miles to a narrow gap passing through cliffs of gray shale. A wide canyon opened on the other side, carved out by a once mighty river – now just a meandering creek. The road bent left and hugged the cliffs, eroded through a million years of sediments. Across the valley, the southern wall sloped gently away, covered by still leafless aspen. The sun dried valley floor was dotted with yucca and cactus, and a smattering of black cattle soaking in the warmth of seminal spring.

The road pulled Ellison onward, climbing higher into a Goshen of lush alfalfa grass nurtured by tributaries that wove through it like an unraveling braid. His cruiser clanged over a cattle guard and past a barbed wire boundary fence set with lodge pole trunks and a sun-bleached bull’s skull mounted on each gate post. Immaculate bursts of white clouds sailed the cerulean sky from west to east. A pastel crescent moon climbed towards a lunar noon. Red-tailed hawks circled above, gliding, hanging from the sky by invisible lines, effortlessly scanning the shadows between the brambles far below in search of a feast. Every so often, the raptors dove down upon the voles, trapping them on the ground with their talons and hauling them up and away to be devoured.

The pickup turned onto a quartz stone drive and stopped on a cement apron loop at the door of a stucco ranch house. Ellison shut off the engine and waited for the dust to be carried off by the breeze. He got out and walked the flagstone steps up to the front door, then reached out and rang the bell.

The door opened, and a Nordic woman appeared. She was sixtyish, lean and tall, her silver hair pulled straight back, her alabaster skin mottled and coarsened by decades of the intense, high valley sun. Her piercing eyes were softened by amber safety lenses and she had a set of hearing protection earmuffs wrapped around her neck. At her side was holstered a stainless steel .357 Magnum.

“Hello Astrid,” Ellison greeted her. “Going shooting today?”

“I just got back. Frenchie’s in the den,” she explained, welcoming him in. The sheriff stepped into the quiet house onto lacquered terra cotta tile. Mrs. Francione closed the heavy paneled door behind him with hands hardened by a lifetime of bending the natural world to her will. She showed Ellison through the house to the back where the den was, swung open the French doors, and let her guest through.

The room was darkened by plantation shades and walnut paneling. A hundred framed photos filled up the walls. Many were pictures of a young Enzio “Frenchie” Francione: strapping football nose tackle with a mane of black hair, graduate, crew cut sergeant, a slightly heavier golfer, and a heavier still and balding sheriff. Mrs. Francione, also pictured, was stunning in every era of her life, crisp in posture, fastidious in attire, with pale blue eyes and an ice-dagger stare. She never smiled, at least not in any of the photos, but she did not look unhappy. The Franciones had three children: two daughters and a son, and their faces filled most of the other frames on the wall. The Francione progeny were each pugnacious and dark and good-natured-looking – archetype Italians just like their father – but they each beamed a steely aura through their mother’s Nordic eyes. They were all grown now and moved far away and had their own children, but those pictures were hung somewhere else in the house.

On the far wall hung an assortment of hunting trophies: antlers, horns, and stuffed heads. A bull elk surveyed the room with obsidian eyes, hung above the mantel on a river stone fireplace. Just aft of the hearth reclined the former sheriff of Calumet County – tanned, bald, paunchy, face hidden by his tinted lenses with their oversized gold frames. He was a little grayer then Ellison remembered him, but essentially timeless. Frenchie didn’t bother to get up when he sensed the visitor in his den. In fact, his eyes didn’t leave his phone.

“So what brings you all the way out here, Deputy?” asked Frenchie.

Ellison knew well that Francione couldn’t stand to have anyone being called “sheriff” who wasn’t him, regardless of the current state of things. “It’s good to see you again, Sheriff.”

“Go ahead. Sit down.”

Ellison took a seat on a deep leather sectional with built-in recliners and cup holders, opposite the former sheriff.

“What can I do for you?” Frenchie asked, still without lifting his eyes.

“I wanted to get your advice on a little situation I’ve got going on.”

“You have a situation?”

“I do.”

“Hmm. I’m guessing it’s one of two things,” Frenchie squawked. “Either you want to know what to do about those feds raising hell in my county, or you want to know what to do with that Monte Turcot fellow. Am I right?” He put down his phone and looked up with a grin. “Or maybe it’s both.”

“Pretty much both.”

“You know, I think I can count on one hand how many times you’ve asked me for advice. How long have you been sheriff now? Four years?”

“Do you still miss it, Frenchie?” Ellison deflected.

“Miss what? Being Sheriff? Nah!” Frenchie snarled. His compensating tone made it clear that he still did, despite his words.

“Do you still have your finger on the pulse of the county?”

“I think so.”

“So tell me what the consensus is. What’s the attitude out there?”

Frenchie sighed and adjusted his dark lenses that covered half of his face. The tint was so dark that Ellison couldn’t even see his eyes.

“Can I give you my honest opinion?” he asked.

“Of course.”

Frenchie reached for a cigar and tucked it into his mouth, then reached for his lighter. He flipped it open with a metal shwing, struck a blue flame, and lit the end. He set the lighter back down on his end table and took several puffs until each draw made the end glow bright orange. Sweet fragrance filled the den.

“Let me ask you something,” he began.

Ellison nodded.

“Do you like my job?”

“Your job?” Ellison asked.

“Do you like being sheriff?”

“I suppose.”

“It sure doesn’t seem like it.”

“Oh?”

“Are you smoking in there, Enzio?” called Astrid from another room.

Frenchie rolled his eyes. “No. I say that because it shows.”

“How so?”

“Enzio!” Astrid repeated.

“Because you look so grim all the time.”

“Grim?”

“Yeah, grim. You know, like you’re headed to a funeral or something. ”

“The job has its stresses,” Ellison explained.

“Yeah? So?”

“I’m not you, Frenchie.”

“You certainly got that right,” the former sheriff answered through several more puffs.

“I came out here for your help,” continued Ellison. “Marshals came by last night.”

“What did they want?”

Footsteps sounded from the adjacent room, and Mrs. Francione appeared in the doorway with her fists on her hips. She didn’t say anything, just stood there and glared.

“I know, honey,” Frenchie explained quickly. “I’d smoke outside, but I’m talking business, here.”

Astrid stared at him in silence.

“I said, I know.”

Still no response. A furrow formed in her brow.

“I’ll make it up to you,” Frenchie promised in a pleading tone. Ellison couldn’t tell whether he had managed to convince his wife or not, but Astrid turned and left after another few tense seconds. Frenchie sighed, took another puff, and turned back to the sheriff. “So what did the marshals want?”

“Turcot,” answered Ellison. “They want Turcot.”

“So why don’t they go get him?”

“Because I’m the only one who knows where he is.”

“I see.” Frenchie flicked the ash from the end of his cigar. “So what are they saying they want him for?”

“They want to retry him,” Ellison explained.

“I take it they didn’t like our jury’s verdict?”

“I would say no.”

“So what do you want to ask me? Do you want to know if I would hand him over,” Frenchie surmised.

“Yes. That, and other things.”

“What are the other things?”

“I’m trying to gauge how the county will react,” said Ellison.

“Now you sound like a politician.”

“Is that a good thing or a bad thing?”

“It’s never a good thing when you sound like a politician,” Frenchie took another puff, “even if you are one. Only the worst politicians make up their minds based on what their constituency thinks.”

“Can they really retry him? That’s a Fifth Amendment issue, isn’t it?”

“You think a piece of paper’s gonna stop them?” Frenchie replied. “They don’t give a damn about that. They’ll just have their lawyers find a workaround.”

“How do you feel about that?”

Frenchie took a long draw and blew out a stream of blue-gray smoke that rose and dispersed just above his bald head, then set the cigar down on the empty lowball glass on the adjacent end table. “I’ll indulge your questions, Bear.” He took his glasses off and set them on the table next to the glass, the cigar, and the lighter. “What would Sheriff Francione do? Hmm. Would I turn Turcot over, or tell them marshals to go fuck themselves? Let’s see. If I was concerned about public sentiment, I’d look like a rat selling out a local guy to some smug pricks from DC. On the other hand, if I didn’t hand him over, those marshals might make my life miserable.”

“What if they threatened to arrest you?” Ellison asked.

“Arrest me?” Frenchie laughed. “If they even suggested that, I’d kick their fat asses right on out of my county. No, they wouldn’t arrest me. Now, arrest you? That all depends on what level of respect they have for you – if they think you’ve got it in you to stand up to them, if they think you have any allies that will back you up… Do you?”

“What about the press?”

“What about ‘em?”

“I’m worried they’ll work against me and my department.”

“If you’re worried about the press, then you’re already finished,” scoffed Frenchie. “You’d better just hand Turcot over, resign, and move on out of the county, because no one here will even serve you donuts after that.”

“Can the press be managed? Can it be made to look like the feds got Turcot without my cooperation?”

“Bear, let me tell you something,” Frenchie continued. “The press? They’re just in it for the popularity contest. They don’t care one whit about anything other than seeing their name on a byline or their mug on TV. They don’t believe in anything other than their own egos. They can’t be made to tell people what you want them to. They have to want to tell them. Ego, Bear. The press wants to be acknowledged, that they have power and influence – all that Fourth Estate horseshit. They like to think they’re an important component of our democracy. Maybe that was even true forty fucking years ago, but today, they make nice with whoever has the power, whoever’s winning, because everyone loves a winner. The ones with power – the winners – they control their access, and access is their business. Now the metro guys, they don’t respect anyone in any place with less than 3,000 TVs per square mile. That means Calumet County might as well be the surface of Mars. The local guys, on the other hand, they make their living off the scraps. They’ll sympathize with you if they think you can win.”

“What will make them think I can win?”

“When the people rally for you,” answered Frenchie. “The people will let the press know if they’re with you or not. If they are, then you can pretty much do as you please.”

“And what about the network guys?”

“You’re a dusty cow town sheriff. At best, you might be a Don Quixote to them – some crazy guy with a badge, jousting windmills, a public curiosity, a freak show. They don’t give a shit about a popularity contest in Calumet County, or even Colorado for that matter. It’s a goddamn flyover state to them – ski resorts and pot shops, that’s all.”

“So what do the people think?”

“Of you?”

“Of me. Of Turcot. What do they expect me to do?”

“For starters, they aren’t going to get behind any sheriff who doesn’t want to be sheriff, whether they agree with you or not.”

“How do I convince them I want to be sheriff?” Ellison asked.

“Start by convincing yourself. Do you want to be sheriff, Bear?”

“I’ll be honest, Frenchie. I don’t like the politics.”

“A politician who doesn’t like politics? You have a problem, Bear. Winning hearts and minds is the biggest part of being sheriff. Maybe you’re looking at it all wrong. I can understand why you hate politics, all that glad-handing and keeping your enemies close and all that. But think of it like this: I hate hanging barbed wire, but I don’t hate it as much as I hate chasing my cows all over this valley. If you can’t see that side of it, then why are you doing it? If you can’t find joy in hanging barbed wire, then you shouldn’t be a rancher. You don’t want to be sheriff? Then do yourself a favor and get the hell out. Hell, I’ll come back and straighten things out. I’m bored to tears out here.” Frenchie looked and listened for Astrid, making sure she hadn’t heard that. He reached down for his cigar and took another long drag. “So what’s it gonna be?”

“I’m not quitting,” Ellison stated.

“Then change your attitude,” said Frenchie bluntly. “Listen to me. I keep tabs on you. I follow what you’re up to. What I see is you’re always reacting to everything. You’re always on defense. You’ve got to seize the initiative if you want to make any headway with this whole situation.”

“How?”

“Jesus, Bear!” Frenchie sighed. “You’re the goddamn sheriff! You’re the most powerful man in my county! Do whatever the hell you want. What do you want your legacy to be?”

“I want to be a good sheriff.”

“Oh, bullshit.”

“What?”

I want to be a good sheriff,” Frenchie mocked. “That doesn’t mean anything. What’s your reason for being sheriff, Bear? ‘Good’ is a judgment. It’s how people will describe you based on what you actually accomplish. You can’t just aspire to be good. You have to aspire to do something and let the judgment be what it is. What do you want to change, Bear? What do you want to make better? What cause do you want to champion? No one’s going to give a hootin’ hell about some civil servant who just wanted to be known as a good civil servant. What are they going to say about Sheriff Ellison after he’s gone? ‘Oh, that Sheriff Ellison, he was such a good sheriff. No sheriff ever made decisions based on public consensus as well as he did. Oh how we miss him so.’ Give me a break. You’ve got power, Bear. What do you want to do with it? Figure that out, and then go out and do it. The judgment will be what it will be.”

“I don’t know if the county will support me.”

“Stop worrying. If whatever you do is done enthusiastically, and done in their interest, they’ll see it. If you stand up for them, they’ll rally around you. Hell, they voted for you, half of them did anyway. They’ll stand up for you if you give them a reason. They don’t want to think they voted for some self-promoting, bureaucrat jackass like Chalmers. They want to feel like they invested in a leader. You’re the sheriff, the shepherd, and they’re the sheep. They want to be tended. If they didn’t want to be sheep, then they wouldn’t vote for anyone. And if they don’t vote, then you wouldn’t have to worry about them. So what do you want to do? Go figure that out.”

Frenchie went back to checking his phone while Ellison pondered what he had just said. Finally, he spoke.

“The Department of Justice…”

“What about them?” Frenchie asked, still scrolling through his phone.

“I think they’ve overstayed their welcome.”

“I wholeheartedly agree. If you want them out, and it’s in the best interests of the county, then run them bastards off. You’ll get all the support you need.”

“Any suggestions on how to do it?”

“Oh, you’ll think of something. Worst case, you got as many deputies as they have agents. And you know the terrain.”

“What are you implying?”

“That you don’t need to worry so much.” Frenchie set his phone down again. He struggled for a moment to lean forward. On the third try, he pulled his recliner upright, then put his cigar back into his mouth and took several puffs. “Bear, don’t worry. Everyone wants them gone. It feels like we’re being occupied by a foreign army. Make those feds march on out of here, and you’ll be a bigger hero than Monte Turcot ever was.” He grinned from ear to ear, a grin that he reserved only for his most trusted cohorts. Bear had never seen Frenchie smile that way towards him before.

“What should I do about Turcot?”

“What do you want to do? You ask me, the feds lost. Shouldn’t that be the end of it? Now they want a do-over? You don’t get do-overs, Bear. That’s not how the system works. They’re giving this county the finger. They’re giving you the finger. They’re wagging it right in your face, and everyone in this county sees it. Are you going to let them do that? Are you going to let them just do as they please – make a mockery of our county, our courts, our citizens, our sheriff’s department?”

“It’s complicated.”

“No. It’s black and white. You took an oath, Bear. Remember your oath? ‘I, Thomas Bear Ellison, being duly sworn, say that I will support the Constitution for the United States and the State of Colorado, and faithfully perform the duties of the office of sheriff of blah blah blah….’ Remember that?”

“I thought you said they don’t give a damn about the Constitution.”

They don’t, but I didn’t say you shouldn’t. Use it to rally the public. Look, the feds got beat and they don’t like it. They’re arrogant. Losing doesn’t even compute in their brains. They win 97% of their cases by verdict or plea bargain. That isn’t justice, it’s kangaroo courts…it’s show trials. They have infinite resources. They’re accustomed to always getting their way, and they do whatever they please. Now some hick jury finally stood up to them, and nullified them, and they throw a temper tantrum. Retrying Turcot is about sending a message, Bear. The message is that they are invincible and that resistance is futile. That visit by the marshals at your house wasn’t just about getting Turcot. It was about getting you – getting you to heel like a dog. If they showed up on my doorstep, I’d a met them with my Mossberg. Then I’d make a few calls. I’d round some people up. I’d round up a posse and chase them off.” Frenchie took another series of puffs on his cigar, making the ash grow precariously long. “That’s what I would do, Bear. You’ve got your own way of doing things. You’ve just got to do it. You’ve got to let the feds know that this is your county – Sheriff Bear Ellison’s county – and that you want those DC boys packed up and gone. Make a big goddamn populist spectacle out of it too, for the media. Let them know you aren’t giving an inch – that you’re on offense, now. Remind the feds that they’re a long, long way from home. Those agents have pensions, families, and mortgages, and dreams of high-paying desk jobs pushing papers from in boxes into out boxes. When they get to thinking about a war out here in the mountains, they’ll come to their senses.”

Ellison pondered for a moment, then stood up. “I appreciate your time, Sheriff. Thank you for your advice.”

“Don’t thank me for anything, Bear.” Frenchie reclined back in his chair and smoked his cigar. “Just go do your job…and do it like you love it.”

Oathkeeper

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Indivisible Chapter 13

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Chapter 13

 

“It’s over,” explained Vaughn’s boss with averted eyes. He wore a look of surrender on his face. “We didn’t get the federal contract so we’re shutting it down. There’s nothing more we can do.”

Vaughn wasn’t surprised. He had seen the books. Costs for fuel and insurance were soaring and the customer base was dissolving like a sand castle in the tide. And the customers that remained weren’t paying timely, so they might as well have been swept away as well. Without the contract, it didn’t take a CPA to see the inevitable.

“Who got the deal?”

“Reznick.”

“Reznick’s not minority-owned is it?”

“No, but he’s a big donor. I suppose that’s how it works now. It’s all politics. Here’s your deposit stub. I’m sorry, Vaughn. I appreciate all you’ve done for me these years. I wish I could do more.”

“I understand,” Vaughn replied.

“I hope you can get your money out and buy what you need before the banks close again.”

They shook hands.

Vaughn went to his desk and began packing up his things. A lot of stuff can accumulate in ten years, even in a small space. It took him three trips to get it all out of his cubicle and into his truck.

He stopped to survey the deserted parking lot on his final trip. His firm was one of the last ones hanging on in the office park. A massive “For Sale – Bank Owned” sign decorated the entrance. But despite the building’s inspirational architecture, manicured lawns, and its green construction rating—which meant that its low-flush-volume toilets required three flushes—no prospective renters had called on the property in eight months.

Vaughn sighed, got in his truck and started up the engine, praying he had enough gas to get home. Before putting it in gear, he looked down at the box he had set on the passenger seat. On top of the stash of file folders and fading documents was a photo of his wife and daughter holding a kite string and looking upwards into the sky. Those were such hopeful times.

The family had some savings but not enough to get them through the winter. Vaughn was going to have to find something, and what a horrible time it would be looking for work. The only people who had jobs seemed to be people working for the government. Fat chance getting one of those gigs, he thought. Vaughn called the government workers “tax feeders.” They seemed to be carrying on as if nothing was happening to the economy at all. Vaughn decided that if he saw one of them protesting a government wage freeze or pension reduction, he would run him down right then and there. No, not really, but it felt good to channel his rage. You can’t really blame them, he thought. They just want to take care of their families. They’re no different from me.

Vaughn felt burdened. Will we lose the house? There was a 180-day moratorium on foreclosures enacted by executive order. There seemed to be a new executive order every day. The bankers holding delinquent mortgages were placated by a relaxation in accounting rules and another round of congressionally approved bailouts on the order of another trillion dollars. A trillion here, a trillion there…pretty soon they will be talking about some real money, Vaughn joked to himself. How many trillions was it up to now? Who knows? At least we’ll have a place to stay for a while. That’s a positive.

Vaughn pulled out of the parking space.  Am I a failure? he asked himself as he drove out of the empty lot. Define ‘failure,’ he answered himself. Define it in today’s context. I suppose being unable to feed and shelter my family would constitute failure. We’re not there yet. Besides, nobody starves to death in America. If worse came to worst, we could always move in with my mother. Vaughn chuckled at the thought of Jess and his mother living together under one roof. This’ll all blow over. Even if we lose everything, I’ll get it all back once things recover. Believe in yourself, Vaughn Clayton. Don’t worry.

He drove past the “For Sale” sign noticing it had been tagged with an image of a sickle and hammer. The idea that it would be his final time driving out of that lot affected him with a disorienting feeling of loss. The last time he had experienced such a sensation was at high school graduation when the realization that a door was permanently closing on a phase of life.  It seemed so significant at that time. Now he felt a mixture of sadness, hopelessness, cynicism, and fear.  But he also felt relief and liberation. He didn’t know if he wanted to sob, celebrate, or smash something. He had worked so hard there only for it all to be for naught. You are always taught that if you work hard and persevere you will succeed, Vaughn thought. He wasn’t so sure if that axiom held anymore. Resourcefulness and craftiness probably had more to do with success than hard work these days.

Vaughn passed at least twelve police cruisers on his thirty-mile commute home. He also passed police Humvees and police MRAPS and even a police tank. He didn’t imagine they were catching speeders with these newly commissioned armored vehicles. As he approached the outer beltway, he took special note of the strip malls and office buildings that lined the route he had traversed for years. The architecture of the buildings was familiar, like landforms to a sailor making an inland passage, but he examined the details on this particular drive. He looked into the windows. So many were closed, empty, or boarded up. More than half, he guessed. He looked at their walls, covered in graffiti. He noticed the sickle and hammer, again, and again. “The grocery stores,” he muttered. “Grocery stores never go out of business. Everyone has to eat.” Yet there they were, or at least their abandoned husks. Vaughn counted four empty grocery stores along the way.

He whizzed past apartments and condominiums advertising free rent for three months. Many were empty, abandoned.  Some had their windows and facades blackened by fire and left that way. Where did all the people go? he wondered. He took note of the numbers of abandoned houses with their unkempt yards, broken windows and vacant driveways. So many empty houses. Who is going to buy them all? Why did they build so many in the first place? Who made the loans for their construction? Who funded those mortgages? Where did all the damn money come from? Where did it all go?

His needle was on “E.” The trip home was going to cut it close.

He searched for an open gas station. None were to be found as even the gas stations were dying. Three and fourfold increases in prices couldn’t save them. The convenience stores and the fast food joints—they never closed fast food joints—were disappearing.  Golden arch rainbows ended at a big pot of boarded-up emptiness. So many were gone. Some were even bulldozed, leaving nothing but scarred earth, which was overrun by noxious thistle weed. Nothing overran the thistle. Some shops were fortunate enough to be reborn as dog groomers and prepaid cell phone outlets, only to die again. This didn’t happen overnight, he thought. It’s been dying for years.

There was one sector of the economy that was still thriving, though: the banks. The banks and their big, blocky, menacing, obnoxious buildings, were all still brimming with activity. These survivors were not the puny local banks and credit unions, mind you, but the bloated, behemoth national banks. Banks with patriotic, bankerly names like Ameribank, Freedombank, Libertybank, National, U.S., Allied, Republic, and Victory. Their names sounded as if they were devised by Roosevelt’s war propagandists. They all remained intact and gleaming, with their buff-polished granite, their plush lawns neatly groomed, their hedges sculpted into fluffy green balls, and fresh stripes of luminescent gold lining their smooth, black parking lot asphalt. Their lots were full, too, corralling the jalopies of their employee wage-serfs. These hourlies were charged with determining the creditworthiness of human borrowers by a ten-question computer algorithm. No skill at character evaluation was needed. No need for business modeling and what-if analysis. No need to even look them in the eye. Customer relationships? Far too extravagant an expense. A spreadsheet and a regression equation can replace a professional human. Any monkey can press ten buttons. What if the equations are wrong and the loans go bad? Who cares? These banks are too big to fail. Welcome to the MegaBank team. Here, put on this blue polo shirt and nametag and stand over there. Don’t forget to smile.

Everyone was warned by media talking heads time and time again, “If the banks fail, the economy will collapse, and then America will regress into a third-world country like Haiti.” Americans believed it. So the banks were infused with trillions of bailout dollars and their worthless assets were bundled up and delivered unto the banker’s bank, the uber-bank, the mother of all banks, the Federal Reserve. There was no need to worry about taking on risk. The Fed is god! It can print the money necessary to keep all the banks going and going and going. A trillion. Two trillion. Four. Eight. Sixteen trillion. They would double down after each crisis. Anything less than that and the Ponzi scheme would collapse.

And while the Fed presented its teats to its banker cronies, the rest of the economy starved and withered away. The bankers prospered on rackets like Fed-backed investments that would not be allowed to lose money, and the carry-trade which involves printing money, loaning it to the banks at zero percent interest, and then the banks loaning it out to stock brokers at plus-two points.  The banks paid multi-billion-dollar bonuses to their Manhattan executives while the auto lots and the grocery stores and the restaurants and the apartment complexes and the carpet cleaning businesses and the construction firms and the manufacturing plants scattered across flyover country withered and died. The Wall Street banksters took it all for themselves. The chumps on Main Street, the ones who were told by big media talking heads that it was still indeed a “free market,” starved to death awaiting a computer algorithm’s approval of their lines of credit.

Yeah, it sure was a good thing that the banks were bailed out. If they weren’t, America would have turned into a third-world country! Vaughn laughed at that irony as he scanned the economic ruin and the broken-down, burning cars and the cops driving around in tanks and the piles of litter and tires and busted furniture and soda bottles filled with urine that collected on the shoulder of the highway.

His needle was now below ‘E.’

Vaughn wondered why he didn’t notice it all before. He supposed he was always dimly aware of it but he never really processed it. “But why? It didn’t happen overnight. I guess it took losing a job to wake up to it. It’s a recession when a neighbor loses his job. It’s a depression when you lose yours,” he mumbled.

The government, on the other hand, was doing its best to redirect the boiling domestic rage. For months, they presented a financial scapegoat through their proxies in the media. “Those evil, sneaky Asians! How dare they dump America’s Treasury debt and crash our dollar! It’s an act of war! We must retaliate! We want tariffs!  We need to teach them a lesson!” The media, of course, never used bigoted terms like “evil” and “sneaky” directly. The media were all college-educated, East Coast progressives who would never permit themselves to even be accused of a proletarian gutter trait like racism. But that was exactly what the message was. Every story used code words like “unexpected” (i.e. sneaky) and “destructive intent” (i.e. evil). The language filled the American minds with scary imagery. “Don’t the Japanese know they are killing themselves?” asked the commentators, invoking images of kamikaze pilots crashing into American battleships.

The media read their politically-correct scripts while file footage played of Mao and Buddhist monks and Asian men dressed in western suits bowed to each other. The narrative was that China and Japan, two nations that have hated each other for a thousand years, were all of the sudden new best friends conspiring against America. It was all very subtle, designed to allow the media to maintain their aura of self-righteousness while deflecting American rage away from the real culprits.

The jingoist campaign was very effective at stirring up and distracting the American proletariat. The economic war fever spread like a plague delivered by fleas on supersonic flying rats. The Chinese and Japanese, who were merely protecting themselves, as any self-interested, rational people would, were dehumanized by the American press.

Vaughn drove up into the foothills. His morning commute in to work was brightened by sunshine, but the premature drive home was clouding over. There was a hint of snow as specs of white danced over his hood.

The needle went back up to “E” as his truck climbed and his gas tank inclined.

He turned on the radio.

“Unpatriotic short sellers are pushing the equity markets down as—”

He flipped to the next station.

“Reports indicate heavy casualties as the 101st attempts to break out from encirclement. This marks the first time since the Korean War that American forces have been—”

Next station.

“Greedy speculators drive the price of oil up to a record high for a twenty-second consecutive trading day. The Secretary of State is meeting with OPEC officials to work out the details of—”

Next station.

“In order to combat the persistent disinformation undermining law enforcement and security efforts, the president is issuing a signing statement to attach provisions to the Cyber Security Act that enables the Department of Homeland Security to block malicious, unpatriotic websites…”

Flashers just ahead. Checkpoint. Checkpoints had become commonplace. Vaughn slowed and stopped. The officer approached. Vaughn rolled down his window.

“Where’re you headed?” the cop asked authoritatively, sunglasses reflecting the sunless gray sky.

“Home.”

“And where’s home?”

Vaughn gave him his address.

“License, please,” the cop asked.

Vaughn handed it over. The cop scanned it into his database, gave it back, and waived Vaughn through.

Vaughn passed the last gas station and turned off the highway onto the winding canyon road leading up to his neighborhood. The silent, ancient ponderosa pine filled the view through the windshield. Nobody was on the road at that time of day. It was a workday, after all, and those that had jobs were at them and those that didn’t were on the internet pretending to look for one. Vaughn turned onto his lane. Dogs came out to bark at him as he passed. Snowflakes danced in the air. He turned the last bend in the road and approached his driveway.

Something wasn’t right. He couldn’t put his finger on it at that instant but something was out of place. An open window. A strange car? No. What then? Then he saw it. It was an unusual tire rut in the muddy shoulder leading to the top of his driveway. He stopped his truck and examined it, trying to comprehend where it might have come from. A delivery truck? He couldn’t think of what Jess would have had delivered.

He pulled into his long driveway and stopped at the front of the house. The front door was wide open. Something was definitely wrong. It was below freezing. The wind was starting to whip the snowflakes around. He parked and jogged up to the door. He could hear his daughter screaming. He entered the house. He gasped. The house was in shambles. The furniture was turned over. The cupboards were thrown open. Piles of smashed dishes and picture glass and lamps and books and papers and overturned potted plants littered the floor.

He rushed into his daughter’s room. Brooke was standing up in her crib with a crimson, contorted, screaming little face. Vaughn shouted for Jessica. There was no answer. He picked up the toddler and darted from room to room. “Jessica!” Still no answer. Brooke’s screams turned to sobs as she plunged two fingers into her mouth. Vaughn found the bedroom ripped apart. The mattress was turned over and cut open There were chunks of foam exploded everywhere. The contents of the closet were strewn across the floor. The carpet in the corners was ripped up, revealing the plywood subfloor. He dialed Jessica on his cell. It rang. He bounced Brooke up and down to calm her sobbing. It rang. Brooke clutched tightly. It went to voicemail.

“Where are you!” he shouted into the phone.

Brooke started screaming again, startled by his tone.

Vaughn sat down with her and calmed her again by holding her head on his shoulder and rocking gently. He looked out the window at the snow that was beginning to accumulate on the pines outside. The magpies were fleeing to their nests.

Both doors into the house were still open and a bitter cold draft blew through the house from one end to the other. Vaughn rocked little Brooke. Brooke’s tiny hands were purple and cold. He carried her to each door, kicked the debris out of the way to clear a path, and closed them.

“What is happening?” he asked.

He sat down again and took a deep breath. His heart was pounding. He had difficulty getting enough air. His mind sifted through all the details trying to cobble them together into something coherent. There was no possible explanation for events other than something horrible.

Pounding, pounding, pounding heartbeats.

“Breathe,” he commanded.

Indivisible

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Oathkeeper Chapter 17

Oathkeeper

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Chapter 17

A predawn knock on Sheriff Ellison’s front door filled him with dread. Nothing good ever happened after 2 a.m. If it had been Kennesaw or another deputy trying to reach him, he would have received a call beforehand. Ellison got out of bed, trying his best not to wake Nguyet, but then he remembered that she had already left – gone to Atlanta to be with their granddaughter. Pushing the thoughts of her aside, he felt his way over to his dresser in the darkness.

The visitor knocked again. Ellison fumbled around for his pants and moved blindly toward his armchair. Reaching out, he felt for his holster, snatched it from the chair, and fastened it around his waist. The sheriff slowly stepped down the hallway towards the front door without turning on the light or making a sound. Before the next knock could come, he flicked on the exterior porch light, blinding whoever was there to his movements inside. He peered between the curtains of the dining room window, careful not to disturb them. Any ruffling might reveal his location.

Two men stood outside: one on the porch about to knock again and another one step down on the stairs. Both of them wore baseball caps and blue windbreakers with yellow lettering on the sleeves – the uniform of the U.S. Marshals Service. Ellison moved over to the front door, turned the deadbolt, and opened it about halfway.

“What brings you gentlemen out here?” he addressed them.

“Sheriff,” greeted the agent standing at the door. “I’m Inspector James Weathers, and this here is Deputy Kelly Scott. May we have a word with you?”

“What would you possibly need to talk about at this hour?”

“We just need to have a brief conversation with you,” Weathers explained.

“We’d prefer to have it in our Jeep,” added Scott.

Ellison found the request unusual. It sounded more like the prelude to an interrogation as opposed to a brief conversation.

“There’s no one else home,” he said. “We can talk right here. Or better yet, come inside.”

“We’d rather talk in the Jeep,” Scott repeated.

Ellison spotted the Jeep Cherokee parked outside, and reluctantly stepped out onto the porch.

“We don’t think that will be necessary,” commented the agent, eyeballing the sheriff’s holster. Ellison felt his heartbeat quicken. The rush of blood pressure sent his focus into overdrive, and his instincts rapidly took hold of his mind.

“I never leave my house in the middle of the night without it,” he said, beaming his resolve directly into Scott’s skull. Relinquishing his firearm was not in any way negotiable.

The deputy stared back, revealing no lack of conviction on his part. A silent standoff ensued, lasting an uncomfortable half minute. Law enforcers are conditioned to never yield, to never back down. When faced with resistance to their demands, their response is simply to escalate, all the way to violence if necessary. The vast portion of the civilian population quickly and wisely capitulates before it comes to that, regardless of the legality of the demand. But this was a standoff between two law enforcers – an irresistible force and an immovable object. The standard model could not resolve the situation.

Deputy Scott stared at the sheriff like a poker player attempting to unnerve a weaker opponent. Ellison continued glaring back, unflinching. He knew that if the marshals forced him to give up his firearm, then it was not just a simple conversation they sought, and that he was, in fact, being detained, questioned, and possibly arrested. He needed to know that before he would proceed with them into their vehicle. He considered just coming out and asking them directly, but he didn’t want to do that. Asking directly might raise suspicion in their minds, although he had no clear idea what they might think he was guilty of.

Exhausted by the silence, Ellison decided to press them. “Well, I can keep my sidearm, or you two can come down to my office and we can chat during business hours. How does that sound?”

“You’d probably lose a lot of sleep if we had to go away now and do this later,” replied Scott.

“I haven’t been sleeping much since my wife left for Georgia, but the suspense is killing me.”

“It’s okay, Kelly,” Weathers intervened. “He can keep his sidearm.”

Sheriff Ellison had gotten his answer. He wasn’t being detained. Still, he found the irregularity of the situation curious. He reasoned that it had to do with his aiding in Turcot’s disappearance. He knew how meticulous the Department of Justice was. They had probably sent the marshals to gather information on him, and were likely attempting to glean Turcot’s whereabouts and probably build a file on the sheriff as a person of interest. They wanted to make a statement by knocking on his door in the darkest predawn hours, startling and stressing him and his wife. They must have been unaware that Nguyet had left.

“Shall we go, then?” Ellison asked.

The two marshals escorted the sheriff into the Jeep. Ellison was offered the front passenger seat, while Deputy Scott took the rear seat directly behind him, where the sheriff could not see him without turning awkwardly. Weathers got in the driver’s side.

“So, what’s this conversation going to be about, gentlemen?” asked Ellison once the doors had closed.

“I’ll come right out with it, Sheriff,” said Weathers. “We need you to tell us where Monte Turcot is.”

“Excuse me?”

“A warrant for his arrest will be issued in the morning. We intend to bring him in.”

“On what charge?”

“Violating Agent Sniggs’s civil rights.”

Ellison looked confused. “Explain.”

“They’re going to try Turcot again,” Scott added, “since your redneck jury blew it.”

“That would be double jeopardy, wouldn’t it?” replied Ellison.

“It’s a different charge,” explained Weathers.

“Still sounds like you have a Fifth Amendment problem to me.”

“Whose side are you on?” inquired Scott.

“What?” Ellison asked, indignantly,

“Do you want justice for Agent Sniggs or not?”

“The law, however imperfect, has already been applied,” Ellison answered. “If we just hit the reset button whenever the verdict is wrong, then the law means nothing.”

“The law means whatever the court says it means,” retorted Scott. “If they say we can try him again, then we can try him again. You can leave the constitutional questions to the Supremes. That’s not your job. You know that.”

The sheriff considering giving Turcot up right at that moment, but he looked at his watch instead, and decided that he needed more time to think. “I can’t tell you where he is. Not tonight.”

“That’s bullshit!” snapped Scott from behind, almost shouting in Ellison’s ear.

“I sent him away with a deputy. They’re out in the woods, out of cell range.”

“He’s a fugitive!” Weathers exclaimed.

“Not until you produce a warrant.”

“Why are you hiding him?”

“I was helping him get out of the public eye for a few days until things calmed down,” explained Ellison. “I was made aware he was receiving death threats. My deputy will check in with me in the morning. I’ll give you something by noon at the latest.”

“Who do you think we are?” asked Scott. “Do you think we just came from Bumfuck County down the road? We know you know where he is. Don’t think we can’t get you on obstruction if necessary. That would be the end of your career.”

“Ending my career might just be doing me a favor,” answered Ellison as he twisted around to face the marshal. “In the meantime, I’d be happy to send someone out to bring him in…after you produce an arrest warrant. Otherwise, you can go.”

“We can live with that, Sheriff,” Weathers interrupted, before the argument escalated. “Noon tomorrow will be fine.”

“Good,” said Ellison. “We’ll see you then.”

The sheriff wrenched the door open and pulled himself out of the Jeep. He heard the engine start as he walked towards his porch. As the two marshals backed out, a bright light flashed on from farther down the driveway. Ellison hadn’t realized that another visitor was parked in the darkness, obscured by the trees. Its engine revved, and he managed to identify it as the purr of a Vortec 5300 V8, a Tahoe engine. It pulled out and drove off into the night with the Jeep following close behind.

Ellison walked up the stairs onto his porch, and stood there for a moment under the light, contemplating the evolving situation. There wasn’t much reason for him to protect Monte Turcot from the feds. Still, the notion of giving up the man he had done so much to protect bothered the sheriff. He reached in the doorway and shut off the porch light, then went back into his house and locked the deadbolt. The night was still and completely silent. The sky was its blackest just before the predawn glow, painted in innumerable stars.

Ellison lay in bed, staring out the window until the sky grayed in the east.

Oathkeeper

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