Monthly Archives: October 2016

Bundy Standoff Lawyer Tackled, Tasered by U.S. Marshals

The Bundy’s were acquitted, but the gendarme of the U.S. government didn’t really appreciate that verdict so much. When the Bundy’s lawyer, Marcus Mumford, asked why the defendants weren’t being released, the U.S. Marshals moved in and tackled and tasered him.

And you think this country isn’t a banana republic? Lol.

At least the Bundy’s didn’t suffer the misfortune of having their trial preempted by being incinerated and crushed alive by bulldozer-tanks.

If you will allow me to toot my own horn for a moment, I believe it is worth noting that this government farce was presaged in my story ‘Oathkeeper’.

Read more (spoiler warning)

Indivisible: Come and Take It, Chapter 8

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“They take up arms against their ruler; but in this they deceive themselves, for experience will prove that they will have actually worsened their lot.”

—Niccolo Machiavelli, The Prince

Chapter 8

 

Mae made it aboard Air Force One before the sun was up. She stayed mostly in her assigned seat, reviewing her correspondences and T’s proposal for ending the economic crisis and restoring faith in the banking sector­. It was known as the Amero Plan.

They’ll never go for it, Mae thought, the Fed, the banks, the defense contractors…no way. With the president’s approval, congressional leaders would be marshaled to sponsor the legislation written by Treasury. Congress can always be counted on to side with the executive during any national emergency. Under the auspice of national emergency, the federal government would effectively take control of the central bank. Ninety percent of the Federal Reserve’s assets, totaling over a quadrillion dollars, would be swapped for a newly-fashioned debt instrument called the “Amerobond.” These new IOUs would be marked at zero percent interest, with no maturity. In other words, almost all of the debt of the U.S. government would be written off as it would become interest-free and never due. It would simply sit on the books as a Treasury liability and a Federal Reserve asset until the end of time. The risk was that Federal Reserve Notes—aka dollars—which are bills of credit backed by the Federal Reserve’s assets, were being swapped for worthless Amerobonds, so their value would drop to zero. The accounting maneuver would be viewed as a hard default if perceptions were not properly managed. T’s proposal in this regard was to bolster the dollar by creating a new currency, issued by the Treasury instead of the Fed, and backed by a different book of government assets, namely public lands and drilling and mineral rights. Treasury would then peg the exchange rate value of the dollar to this new currency. There would be no issuance of paper notes of this new money. Other than governments and multi-national corporations, no private entities would do business with it. This parallel currency would exist only  digital analogs on computer servers to be pushed and pulled in billion dollar increments between institutional ledgers by keystroke entry. The working name for the new currency was the “amero.”

The lynchpin of T’s plan was congress. It was one thing to wipe a quadrillion dollars of debt off the books, but it would matter naught if the government deficits weren’t reined in. Without a restoration of some semblance of fiscal discipline, the country would be right back in the same sinking boat within short order. Therefore, T demanded an array of massive budget cuts, a giant shit sandwich from which every federal department was going to have to take a bite. But deep cuts into entitlement programs were not politically feasible. Citizens had paid into programs like Social Security for their entire working lives. Slashing those payouts was only going to push more of the populace into sympathizing with the insurgents. The only other budget item big enough to make a difference through cuts was military spending. The budget could not be balanced without cuts in defense. It would have to be slashed by two-thirds. The overseas troops would be brought home. NATO, Korea, Japan, bases in a hundred other countries, would have to be sold off or abandoned. Entire fleets would be mothballed. Four aircraft carriers would be decommissioned. They were World War II relics, anyway, vulnerable to China’s anti-carrier missiles. Entire army divisions would be disbanded. Hundreds of thousands of servicemen would be discharged. America’s empire would end. The New American Century would be finished fewer than three decades in.

Neutralizing the domestic insurgency would become much more difficult with a drastically smaller military. Also to be considered was what to do with all the unemployed soldiers. How would they be prevented from joining the revolution? The final, essential piece of T’s plan, and perhaps the most controversial, was to negotiate a ceasefire with Doc. Any armistice was unachievable without granting the rebels some official autonomy. The truce would effectively take the “United” out of the United States, at least temporarily, until reconciliation could occur. It would be the complete opposite of what Lincoln had done.

Pointless, Mae thought. The president would be reversing his position on the insurgency. He’ll never go for it. The neocons and globalists would block it. The congressmen representing districts with military bases and defense contractors would revolt. The banks would threaten to pull campaign contributions. It’s politically unfeasible.

Mae recalled the working group sessions where the new currency was being developed. One smartass intern recommended calling it the “rentenmark” in reference to the new money Germany issued to halt their hyperinflation. No one got the joke except for T who wasn’t laughing. One had to have knowledge of the Weimar hyperinflation in 1920s Germany to get it, but the historical knowledge of almost everyone in Treasury and the Fed only extended back to the Great Depression. For them, history began with the big bang of the stock market crash of ’29. The painful lessons learned from the preceding crashes fomented by central bank credit expansions were lost down the memory hole. T fired the comedian the next day.

Mae spent a good portion of her morning watching the sunrise from the window of the C5 Galaxy as it sat on the tarmac. The sun rose red. The president’s motorcade of forty-six vehicles pulled onto the tarmac at 1100. Men in black suits took their positions. Five identical limos—bulletproof glass, tires, and radiators—parked just below Air Force One. Men in blue suits got out and made their way onto and up the gangway. They trickled upwards into the flying bunker and took their assigned seats. One of them was Forteson. He was consumed in his thoughts and didn’t acknowledge Mae when he passed her in the aisle.

A final vehicle pulled up. A nondescript SUV that certainly didn’t look presidential as it was forest green instead of black. It more resembled something a soccer mom would drive than a presidential chauffeur. The moment the SUV stopped, men in black suits surrounded it. One of them opened the door and the president stepped out. He stood, straightened his navy suit jacket, surveyed the tarmac, and was then escorted up the escalator gangway by secret service agents.

Within moments, the jet doors were sealed and Air Force One was rolling towards the runway. For all intents and purposes, the 747 was the White House. It was the only place where The Chief felt safe. All of his relevant advisors and their staff and staff’s staffers were aboard this flight. The others, the vice president and members of the cabinet, were scattered across the northeastern states. Continuity of government was ensured if something were to happen to “Big Bird,” as Air Force One was affectionately known.

As soon as the fasten seatbelt signs were off, the president’s situation meeting convened. Mae was invited by T  and she was pleased to have that kind of access to top staff. Forteson was there as well, but he sat far away from her at the other end of the table.

The president came in. Chief of Staff Gabe Truth called the meeting to order.

“T, you’re first up,” the chief of staff said.

“Thank you.” T scrolled through his notes to orient himself. “Mr. President, did you get a chance to review my latest assessment of congressional leadership?”

“I did. So Senator Thurman is on board?”

“Grudgingly, but yes. I think that it ultimately boils down to the Federal Reserve’s cooperation.”

“Where are they at?”

“I’m close to getting the Chairman’s commitment.”

“You must know that the Fed Board of Governors isn’t going to go for Treasury issued currency without their oversight,” the president remarked.

“I’m working on them, Mr. President. I need a little more time.”

“Well don’t work on them too hard. I don’t want them burrowing in. We’ve got a ways to go to get this through. It’s not the end or even the beginning of the end, but rather the end of the beginning.”

“Is that Churchill, sir?” asked the chief of staff.

The president scowled at him; he’d hoped the quip would be attributed to his personal genius.

“I hate the name ‘amero’,” the president continued. “Can’t we call it ‘the eagle’, or something?”

“You’re right,” agreed the chief of staff, attempting to win the president back. “Amero has a stigma.”

“Keep massaging them fed bankers. Give me an update next week?”

“Sounds good,” T replied. “So I wanted to brief everyone here on the plan. Most people here are unaware.”

“That won’t be necessary today, T,” said the president. “Domestic security, you’re up. Give me the sit-rep.”

T stood for a moment looking confused. Then he took his seat.

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff rose. “Mr. President, we are pleased to report that DSF expects to meet its region three and region four security objectives as planned.”

“How are the metrics on Billings, Bozeman, and Casper? Are they back in the fold?”

“Affirmative on Billings. Casper and Bozeman are expected to be cleared within fourteen days.”

“Terrific. How about Operation Uncompaghre?”

“Uncompaghre III, sir?”

“Yes. Have we exceeded the performance indicators there?”

“U III is in wrap-up mode. As mentioned before, we believe we found the body of their leader, Captain Rick, several months ago. Activity has dropped to near zero since.”

“Why didn’t we do a press conference on this? Wasn’t he on the top ten list?”

“We weren’t completely certain, Mr. President.”

“Why not?”

“The DNA test was not conclusive, sir.”

“Remind me then, how did you know it was him?”

The chairman scanned his notes. “He was found with identification on him, sir.”

“Did they do a DNA test?”

“They did.”

“And?”

“It was not conclusive.”

“But Doc activity has dropped to zero since you found him?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Then he sounds dead to me. Let’s have a press conference. I’ll announce that we took out the highest ranking member of the domestic insurgency.”

The room filled with applause and cheers and the slapping of high fives, a celebration of the reality the president had just created.

            “Okay, okay…” The president hushed the group. “What else? What about the tag-and-release program? How do the KPIs look?”

“Sir, I believe Mr. Forteson can provide a better briefing on that operation. It is his baby. Forte, you okay with that? I don’t mean to put you on the spot.”

“David?” asked the president.

Mae watched Forteson as he rose. He didn’t hold any notes, not even an electronic device. His face bore the hint of a smirk. She admired his confidence.

“Mr. President,” Forteson started, “I am glad to report that we have eleven candidates with implanted homing beacons, and they are ready for release back into the red zone. These are real bona fides—practically a Doc all-star team. We expect them to migrate back to their units and leadership. We just need your word and we’ll turn them loose.”

“Absolutely. Of course. Green light,” replied the president. “Will the beacons work?”

“They’ve tested flawlessly, sir, better than expected. If you’d like, we could set up an app on your phone and you can track their location yourself.”

“Oh, I would like that. Please do.”

“Do you have your phone on you? I could set it up right now.”

“Excellent.” The president dug his cell out of his breast pocket and handed it to Forteson. Everyone in the meeting room watched in silence as he installed the app. He returned the president’s phone in less than a minute.

“We’ll chat more about it this afternoon,” the president said. “Nice work, Forte.” He turned back to the chairman of the JCS. “How about the KPIs on Project Block and Tackle?”

“Sir,” began the chairman, “I’ve prepared a brief for you on those operations. We’ve made some progress on expanding zone-of-control along the I80 and I90 corridors. West to Laramie is secure as is north to Sheridan. We expect to have I25 secure to Billings by month’s end.”

“What were our quantitative goals this month?”

“Less than seven material IED losses on I25 between Billings and Cheyenne.”

“Did we meet our goal for the month?”

“Not quite, sir,” answered the Chairman. “But I need to add some color to that.”

“What was the number?” interrupted the president.

“It was fifteen, sir.”

“Fifteen?”

“As I was saying, sir, twelve of those losses took place on the Bighorn Run. That’s been a really active sector, lately. But we’re confident that we can—”

“That’s a disaster. How else did we do?”

The chairman relayed the next KPI: “Fewer than four material IED losses on Grand Junction to Delta.”

“Ahh, the so-called Trail of Tears,” the president remarked. “How’d we do there?”

“We had seven, sir,” answered the chief, averting his eyes and rubbing his chin.

“I thought you said activity outside the Uncompaghre sector dropped to zero.”

“Technically, the Grand Junction to Delta is outside that sector.”

“Since when? What else?” snapped the president.

“Fewer than forty fatalities, theater-wide.”

“What was the total?” asked the president.

“Thirty-nine, sir, not counting the sixteen killed in the helicopter crash, the four killed in traffic accidents and the four suicides.”

“Well, congratulations,” replied the president sarcastically. “Now that’s enough bad news for today. Leave me the brief. I’ll review it later. Who’s next?”

“Department of Education…”

Before taking his seat, the chairman handed his brief to the president’s assistant who passed it to Gabe Truth who then handed it to the president.

The meeting went on for another thirty minutes. As they were dismissed and filtering out of the room, Mae felt a gentle squeeze on her elbow. She turned to find Forteson standing behind her.

“Can we talk?” he asked.

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Indivisible: Come and Take It, Chapter 7

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“They take up arms against their ruler; but in this they deceive themselves, for experience will prove that they will have actually worsened their lot.”

—Niccolo Machiavelli, The Prince

Chapter 7

 

The guards visited Jimmy Marzan in his cell at dawn. They hooded and zip tied him, as they did whenever he was transported, and escorted him to an infirmary cell. There, he was unhooded and reshackled to a bed. He waited there alone for fifteen minutes, then a guard and a physician in teal scrubs carrying a clipboard entered the room. He was the physician who had repaired the wound in Jimmy’s side.

“I’m hoping this will be our final examination,” said the doctor. “How is it healing?”

“Everything seems fine,” Jimmy answered. “Sometimes a piece of lead will work its way to the surface. I just pick it out.”

“That’s pretty typical.” The doctor set his clipboard down and put on a pair of latex gloves. “Do you mind unbuttoning your jumpsuit? I’d like to take a look.”

With his uncuffed hand, Jimmy unfastened the front snaps of his jumpsuit and pulled his left arm out of the sleeve. The doctor had him sit upright, then he examined the scar that had healed into a pink slash.

“Any pain?” the doctor asked as he gently pressed on the wound.

“Not much.”

“Any unusual redness? Does the area get warm?”

“Sometimes it seems warm. It feels like there’s a cramp, like something sharp is working around in my side.”

“Any fever? Night sweats? Would you call the cramping severe?”

“No. I wouldn’t call it severe.”

The doctor removed his gloves and threw them in the trash. “You can button your jumpsuit.” He took up his clipboard and scribbled his signature, then handed it to the guard who turned and gestured out the cell window. “I’m giving you a clean bill of health and releasing you from my care. Gentlemen, he’s all yours.” With that, the physician left.

Four guards in black riot gear stormed in. They rehooded and re-zip tied Jimmy and carried him out. He was placed alone into the back of a truck and driven for five minutes. The vehicle stopped and the door was unlocked and opened. Jimmy was pulled out and placed on his back in a wooden box. He only heard one voice. It was the one that had interrogated him several times before.

“James…”

Marzan, still hooded and bound, didn’t answer.

“It’s been decided that you’ve died of complications related to your wounds. As we do with all expired detainees, we’ll be burying you adjacent to the facility in a plot marked with a number. I don’t expect anyone will be coming to visit. I wish I could say that it has been a pleasure working with you. Unfortunately, we have no more use for you. Try not to panic. Just breathe normally. Eventually, the oxygen will run out and you will lose consciousness. Chaplain…”

Marzan heard the verses of The Lord’s Prayer as the lid was placed over the box he was lying in. A hammer pounded nails down to seal it. He felt himself lifted briefly, then lowered which he sensed by the pitch and roll while the ropes suspending his coffin were let out. He did not cry out but remained helplessly tied, silent and hooded. The box descended, coming to a rest on the floor of the hole. It was silent for a moment. Jimmy felt his breathing quicken. He fought the urge to cry out as it built inside, consuming him. He heard shovels scoop dirt above. He lost control of his breathing. His muscles tensed. The dirt fell onto the wooded lid of his box. Swoosh. Thump. Swoosh. Thump. He writhed in his bindings. It felt as if the air was already gone. The shovels of dirt piled upon one another. The sounds of the world above muffled and dimmed, leaving only his gasps in the dark wooden box. Each shovel full of earth piled onto his coffin, insulating him from the sounds of the world until he couldn’t hear anything but himself.

He sensed the madness bursting through him.

“Stay calm. Don’t fight. Breathe slow.”

It had become suddenly hot, as if he were in an oven, baking alive. Rivulets of sweat ran down his face and neck and body under his hood and clothes. His shoulder ached. The air was heavy and hot, like breathing steam in a sauna. Each breath was as if it held no oxygen. Thick. Hot. He couldn’t straighten his legs. They ached. His arms went numb. His body felt as if it was swelling up inside the tiny, infinitely dark wooden box, filling up all the space and driving out the remaining air, leaving nothing to breathe.

From that point the madness took over.

Jimmy screamed, screamed as if his voice might blow the tons of soil right off his grave and raise him up into the air. Oh, the cool clean air. He screamed again, a plea for mercy. Somehow, they would hear him and take pity. He kicked against the box but was kicking against an impregnable wall of earth bracing the wooden planks. The terror drove the humanity out of him. He screamed again, and again. Sweat flooding into his eyes, down his neck and chest. He braced and pushed against the coffin with every ounce of his might. It would not budge, not even a fraction of an inch. Air! Air! Air! He swallowed for it, like a fish on the shore, gasping out its death throes, kicking, writhing. He began to thrash, smashing his head against the inside of the coffin.

Jimmy Marzan was transformed into something else, something not human.

He stopped, physically exhausted. It was incredibly silent with only the sound of his breathing, a tumultuous, resounding, crushing, asphyxiating silence, louder than any sound he had ever experienced or could imagine. He sobbed to drown it out. His heart raced, his arms and legs went numb, and his face bled. He prepared to lose consciousness. Breathe. Breathe up the last of the air and be done with it, he thought. Jimmy Marzan was ready. He wanted it over. A thousand memories flooded his mind. Then he thought of that night and what he had done to Bob Garrity, leaving him to freeze to death in that garage.

Then he heard shovels.

They dug at the dirt above him. They grew louder as they dug. Louder, louder, louder with each shovelful. Then they scraped. They had reached the wood planks of the coffin. He felt the cool air and moist earth sifting in through the cracks. He felt the box being raised by the ropes, up, up, up and out of the vault. Crowbars clawed and pried at the planks. The nails squeaked and yielded. The brittle slats of pine cracked and snapped. Hands reached in and pulled Jimmy Marzan upright and brushed the dirt off of him. Someone placed a stethoscope on his chest.

“Bob…” Marzan mumbled.

“James,” came the familiar voice in his ear.

“Bob…?”

“There’s no Bob here, James.”

“Take my hood off.”

“We can’t do that, James.”

“What do you want from me?” he mumbled, barely audible.

Someone leaned in and whispered in his ear. “We want nothing, James. Nothing at all. We have everything, already.”

“Why did you dig me out,” he mumbled.

The voice whispered. “We didn’t think waterboarding would have the same effect.”

“I’ll tell you anything you want.”

“We already know everything.”

“Then what do you want?”

“You’re the star of the show, James. You’re the villain, the devil. The men here, guarding you, they are the heroes. And everyone they tell about what is being done to you is the audience. And this, what we are doing to you, this is what we call justice. We’ll let a few videos of this leak out. Americans hate traitors. They’re going to take great pleasure in seeing what we did to you.”

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Indivisible: Come and Take It, Chapter 6

READ FOR FREE IN ITS ENTIRETY! NEW CHAPTERS TO BE POSTED WEEKLY.

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“They take up arms against their ruler; but in this they deceive themselves, for experience will prove that they will have actually worsened their lot.”

—Niccolo Machiavelli, The Prince

Chapter Six

 

“And who is this?” Jess asked as she knelt and extended her hand.

“This is my new dog, Fitz,” Croukamp answered.

“What happened to Nicco?”

Croukamp bent over and patted the mutt on the neck. Her tail wagged vigorously. “I had to get a new watchdog. Nicco is too old. He’s deaf.”

“Where did you find this little girl?”

“The Wilmots had her. She wasn’t getting along so well with their other bitch.”

“So where’s Nicco?”

“The Wilmots are watching him for now.”

“Oh.”

“Look at her. You got some meat on your bones, don’t you girl?”

“What do you mean by that, Mr. Croukamp?” Jess asked.

“My dear, just that it might be easier to butcher someone else’s dog than my own…if it ever came to that.” Croukamp stood upright. “So are you ready to go?”

“Don’t say things like that.”

“Don’t worry, Mrs. Clayton. I’m sure Fitz will have many happy years.”

“I’m ready, then. Sharon’s got Brooke. They’re hanging laundry.”

The two of them walked to Croukamp’s rusty truck which sat parked under his carport. He opened the creaky door for her, then let himself in on the driver’s side. The shocks squeaked as their weight shifted in the cab. He turned the key and the truck roared to life, rattling and smoking.

“I can’t believe this thing still runs,” Jess observed.

“She’s a sturdy old beast. No computers to fry. Runs better than my dead Lexus.”

“Are you going to fix it?”

“Maybe. I don’t know. It’s expensive. Say,” he continued, “do you mind if we make another stop after we cash in these FEMA cards?”

“It’s your truck, Mr. Croukamp. I’m just along for the ride.”

Croukamp backed out of the driveway and onto the road. The power steering whined as he tugged and turned the wheel. The gearbox clunked into drive and down the snaking foothills road they went. Jess had not been into the city for a month. The farthest she had gone since was the 285 overpass where squatters had taken up residence. The squatters were always followed by the looters.

The aspen leaves had burst out on the sunny-side slopes of the flume they travelled. The creek that rippled along the canyon floor was filling with crystal clear water, runoff from the melting highland snows to the west. Beavers had gnawed off a dozen or so trees near the ponds along the way. Jess spotted a roof that had collapsed during the heavy spring snows. No one lived at that property anymore except raccoons and skunks, or perhaps a black bear. An old family car sat in the driveway, tires and wheels and windshield removed by scavengers. The gas  had likely been siphoned long ago. The hood was raised and the engine compartment was gutted. Battery, hoses, and belts were stripped out. Solenoid, starter, air filter, spark plugs, water pump, and the windshield wiper motor would have been taken as well, if they were deemed working. The side windows were smashed in and birds nested in the dashboard. The wild things made good use of the detritus of human decay. They would happily use it until the decades of the elements gobbled it up and returned it to dust.

Croukamp saw what Jess was looking at. “All this concern over man’s impact on nature is much ado about nothing.”

“What do you mean?” Jess asked.

“Wood rots. Metal rusts. Cement crumbles into sand. Nature always wins in the end.” The road bent away from the abandoned lot and into a narrow section of the gulch. “My father used to always say that man leaves behind no permanence. The closest he can get, if he cares about such things, is to see to the endurance of his kind.”

“What did he mean by his kind?” Jess asked.

“His family. His community. His way of life.”

They connected onto Highway 285 and followed it down out of the foothills towards the city Along the way they were passed by a convoy of semis with trailers emblazoned with blue eagles. Their windows were covered with metal grates and tires by plate steel. Along with the semis drove an armored escort consisting of two Humvees. Any state-sponsored venture outside the zone of control was accompanied by mechanized escort and at least a drone overhead.

They approached the first checkpoint which was just before a highway overpass. The checkpoint was the unofficial border between the ZOC and the wild, wild west called the “red zone” or “RZ.” Beyond the overpass, directly downhill from the checkpoint, sprawling outwards on a flat plane extending to the eastern horizon, lay metropolitan Denver. Half the population—well over a million people—had left. The metroplex spanned an area of roughly five hundred square miles of “gun free zone,” unless you were a DSF trooper, a militant, or a gangster—all with comparable power in the region. If you weren’t armed, then you were prey, completely dependent upon one of those three armed gangs for your very survival. The population’s loyalty was fairly evenly split into thirds.

Croukamp stopped the truck at the checkpoint and a trooper in all black approached.

“Papers, please.”

Croukamp chuckled.

“Do I amuse you?” the trooper asked.

“You actually said ‘papers please,'” Croukamp replied, grinning. He handed his license, registration, insurance, gas ration card, and ZOC travel permit—which edict required citizens to have to legally drive on the 285 corridor.

“Where you headed?”

“FEMA distribution center. We’re stocking up.”

“What are you bringing back? How do I know you’re not supplying insurgents?”

“Because I’m seventy years old and my neighbor here has a five-year-old daughter.”

“Why would that stop you?”

“I suggest that if you suspect me of a crime that you make an arrest. Otherwise, I’d prefer to be on my way.”

“Why are you living up there? There’s no power. Nothing’s open”

“We like the views,” Croukamp answered.

“You just need to know where to go to get things,” Jess added.

“It’s suspicious,” the trooper said.

“I don’t see why living in the house I own would be suspicious,” Jess replied.

“You should move down here. DHS will get you properly housed, temporarily, until the grid is restored.”

“I’ve heard about their accommodations. No, thank you,” Jess said. “We have all we need.”

“It’s still suspicious,” remarked the trooper.

“If I leave, the scavengers and looters will come in and take everything.”

“And how do you intend to stop them, now?”

“Can we please get going, officer?” interrupted Croukamp. “We’d like to get our supplies and get home before dark. There’s going to be a long line and we still have to come back through here.”

The trooper handed Croukamp back his papers. “Look here at my visor,” he said. “Say cheese.” The trooper got their picture with his visor cam and then motioned them through the checkpoint. Facial recognition software meant that they were now pinged at this time and location and recorded in an NSA server buried in the Utah desert. This data collection had been occurring for years, but if one had nothing to hide, one had nothing to fear.

They drove through and stayed on the highway as it converged into a boulevard flanked by empty strip malls and boarded up big box retailers. Liquor stores and hamburger joints were about the only active storefronts. The liquor stores were heavily barred and most had evolved into drive-thrus. It was safer for the legally disarmed purveyors to defend themselves from the heavily armed bandits who prowled the night. The fast food joints no longer accepted cash and so were an undesirable target.

What survived of other forms of commerce—unasphyxiated by the ever-encroaching volumes of regulations and swarms of government-paid code enforcers working on commission, evolved just off the strip mall zones. Entire manufacturing operations, fulfilling local needs, were sprouting up in backyard toolsheds, garages and basements. Mechanics and apothecaries, dentists, brewers, surgeons, tailors, and gunsmiths built black market businesses just beyond the edge of state control. Anything could be had, so long as someone had real currency.

The black markets proliferated, propelled by the availability of a pool of desperate labor and a dozen forms of money—all deemed illegal by government decree. Government hates competition. In addition to the traditional precious metals, a half dozen varieties of scrip, issued by respectable merchants and fully redeemable for gasoline, coffee, and alcohol, had acquired the public’s trust. Cigarettes thrived as alternative legal tender, as did cannabis and over-the-counter medications. A carton of smokes, smuggled in behind false walls by the truckload by Hmong immigrants living in Vancouver, was worth five gallons of gas. And there was, of course, the hardest currency of all—bullets. And just as predicted by Gresham’s Law, the bad money drove out the good. Reloads of .223 became the popular unit of exchange while new rounds of 5.56 and 7.62 were hoarded as a store of value, slowly appreciating against their weaker counterpart.

None of this money was any good at the local school district football complex which had been converted into a FEMA distribution center. Concrete barricades surrounded the lot and a fleet of growling semis pulling trailers with blue eagles painted on their sides, guarded by troopers in black, pulled through to drop their loads. Croukamp parked his truck in the lot farthest away. He and Jess got out and walked into the queue.

After a two hour wait, they managed to acquire the Homeland Security-determined essentials of dried noodles, rice, flour, canned beets, bricks of white soap, single-ply toilet paper, powdered milk, toothpaste, and three five-pound blocks of cheddar cheese. They swiped their Chase-issued FEMA ration debit card and pushed their goods back to the truck in two rickety shopping carts.

Croukamp drove north, away from the FEMA center. He turned off the boulevard and into a residential neighborhood. They wove through a subdivision of weathered ramblers on a crumbling, residential lane where the unkempt sumac and junipers seemed to swallow entire houses. The lane was littered with looted cars, cans and bottles, bursting trash bags and broken goods—appliances, furniture, tires, shopping carts.. The brown lawns were overgrown and the sidewalks were decomposing into gray rubble.

Each brick facade of the circa 1965 house faced the street with a wide, novel glass window opening into a living room. Many were covered in plywood, steel bars or both. The driveways were cracked by the winter thaw and freeze and heaving in the shifting Bentonite clay. Asphalt shingles curled under the intense, year-round sun. Aluminum gutters dangled loose from rotting soffits. Some doors stood kicked in. Some insides were charred. Some siding was tagged with gang signs. This neighborhood had been wasting away long before the dollar default. Most buildings were rented to struggling immigrants; they were the only homes they could afford as the rents exploded in the pre-crash run-up.

Croukamp pulled his truck into one cracked concrete driveway. It was a house better kept than most, but not kept too well. A well-maintained property would draw the attention of bandits and the code enforcers that worked on commission. In the yard stood a six-foot-tall twig of an elm tree, staked and mulched, with two dozen spring green leaves sprouting from its delicate limb tips.

“I’ll be right back,” Croukamp said. “If you see anything, honk the horn.”

“I’m sure I’ll be fine,” Jess answered.

Ian got out of the truck and slammed the old door twice to get it to close which made the truck shake and the suspension squeak. He went up to the door, knocked, someone answered and Jess watched as he went in.

“How’ve you been, Ian?” asked a stubbly-faced man with dark hair and eyes and an even darker expression.

“I’ve been well, Markus.”

“You sure you haven’t had enough of it up the hill?”

“I’m doing just fine.”

“You want a drink? I got some JB?”

“No thank you. I’ve got to pass through the checkpoint, again.”

“Can you believe them Broncos?” his host asked.

“I’m afraid I don’t keep up on it,” Croukamp said. “Didn’t they move, anyway?”

“They’ll always be my Broncos,” he said as he went into the kitchen cupboards and took out the whiskey. He poured himself a glass — neat because there was no ice. “What a season. I had to run my generator to watch half the games. You know how much that cost me?”

“But they’re in Los Angeles, now, I thought,” Croukamp remarked.

“Of all the places to move them…Los Angeles. It isn’t permanent, though.”

“I don’t think they’re coming back here any time soon. Have you had a look around? It looks like a hurricane went through this place.”

“They said the power will be on in a month.”

“They’ve been saying that every month for a year, now.”

“Yeah, well people need their bread and circuses. Here more than anywhere. When they come back, it’ll be like the Saints after the Katrina, a public lovefest.”

Croukamp looked around the living room noticing the bars on the windows. “I hate to be rude, but I’ve got someone waiting in the car and I promised her we’d get back by dinner.”

“I’m sorry, Ian. I’ll get your stuff. One second.” He left and returned with a bedroll he handed to Croukamp.

Croukamp unrolled it, revealing two Armalite rifles. He took one out, pulled the charging handle and locked the bolt back. He looked down into the chamber to clear it. He listened as he released the bolt. He tapped out the two pins and removed the lower. Then he wiped his finger into it and examined for corrosion. He reattached the lower and flipped the sites up. He raised the rifle to his cheek and stared down the line of sight. “Should have mounted the foresight on the barrel rather than the rail. It’s truer.”

“You’re free to mount it wherever you want,” Markus replied. “Those are excellent rifles, Ian. I cleaned them up real good and oiled them, but they were in great shape when I got them.”

“Where did you get them?”

“I get all kinds of stuff. You’d be surprised what you stumble on when you work in law enforcement.”

“Actually, I probably wouldn’t be surprised.”

“Now don’t get caught with those. Possession of an AR would probably get you a year in prison.”

“Nah. It’s only six months for a first offense. I wonder what kind of dumbass would let the police find these.”

“Actually, the dumbasses turned them in.”

“Huh?”

“They lost their nerve, I guess.”

“How much for the two, and the magazines?”

“Four ounces gold, 150 silver or 4,000 .223.”

“Now what would I shoot if I paid you with my .223?” Croukamp asked while he produced four Kruggerands from his money belt.

Markus took the coins. “You got a way to get them rifles past the checkpoint?”

“I made a secret compartment.”

“How James Bond of you. Are you sure they won’t find it?”

“I’m old and they have idiots working the posts.”

“You sure you don’t want to move down here? I’ve got plenty of room here.”

Ian sighed. “Maybe I should be asking you if you want to come up the hill.”

Markus took a seat in his easy chair and reclined with his coins and his drink. A look of exhaustion came over him. He took gulp of his whiskey. “You can’t get her back,” he said, fixing his dark eyes onto Ian’s.

“Where in the hell did that come from?” Croukamp asked, still examining his rifles.

“There was nothing you could do, Ian.”

“Says you. I could have been there.”

“I could have been there, too. And then we would both be dead. Burned alive.”

“Maybe. Maybe not,” Croukamp answered stoically.

“There were hundreds of them, Ian.”

“They’re cowards. Had we topped a few, the rest would have ran off.”

“Only to return the next day, and the next, and the next…”

“One day more is better than one day less.”

“So is that what this is all about? You staying up in those hills, protecting that widow? You think that will bring you peace?”

“It already does. She has a child. Her mother-in-law is with her now, too. I can’t leave them. But I probably wouldn’t leave regardless.”

“They can come here. I have room.”

“They won’t leave.” Croukamp set the rifles down and glared at Markus. “What makes you think this place is safe? You know they’ll find out about you. Then you’ll be a marked man.”

“They respect me.”

“Who? The gangs?”

“I’m a cop.”

“No. You’re just a survivor, working both sides and building a list of enemies.”

“I’m the only justice there is.”

“Justice?”

“Don’t judge me, Ian. Don’t judge me by some failed ideal from the good old days. The rules have all changed.”

“It’s been lucrative for you,” Croukamp said.

“Yeah? So? It’s dangerous work. I got you what you needed, didn’t I?”

“Maybe you’re not a survivor. Maybe gangster is more appropriate.”

“There will always be gangsters, Ian. Some wear tattoos and hide in the shadows. Others wear suits and ride in limos. And others carry badges.”

“I’m sorry, Markus. I’m out of line. It was a pleasure doing business with you. Thank you for these.” Croukamp rolled up the bedroll around his rifles, stood, and tucked them under his arm.

“You be careful.”

“You do the same, Markus.”

They shook hands and embraced,  then Croukamp walked out. Markus scanned the street then closed and locked the door behind him. Ian lowered the gate of the truck and set the bundle down. He used a small screw driver to loosen the screws holding the inside surface of the bed door secure. He pried it up just enough to slip in the two rifles. Then he screwed it back down as far as it would go. He got in the truck and they drove off.

Traffic was light on the road back, but they did not speed for fear of getting shaken down by a traffic cop or getting the truck impounded. They would reach the checkpoint within four minutes. Jess watched Ian as they drove. His thick, weathered fingers worked the steering wheel, his eyes concealed by mirrored sunglasses, his thin silver hair combed back, his face cracked and spotted by decades in the sun. His beard was full and white.

“Mr. Croukamp,” she asked.

“Yes?”

“I’ve been with you to that house three times and you’ve never introduced me to the person that lives there.”

“Maybe next time.”

“Why not?”

A black Homeland Security Humvee sat parked on the shoulder. Its .50 cal M2 tracked them as they passed. The dulling bronze sun was sinking into the foothills. It would be down behind the hilltops in an hour.

“He lives dangerously,” Croukamp continued.

“You sound like my father.”

“If I was your father, I would come get you and take you to some place safe.”

“Nobody is taking me anywhere.”

“Then someone needs to look after you.”

“That’s very patronizing, Mr. Croukamp.”

Ian focused on the road ahead.

“Ian…”

“Yes?”

“I do want you to know that I appreciate everything you’ve done for us.”

Croukamp was expressionless, his gaze fixed ahead. “You’re welcome,” he replied. “But I’m happy to do it.”

“I am not helpless, Mr. Croukamp. I will not be a burden to you.”

“The only burden to me would be to be of no use to anyone.”

They were approaching the checkpoint, ahead. There was no line. There was never a line to leave the ZOC, only to enter it. Croukamp let off the accelerator. A blue eagle eighteen wheeler rumbled past them in the left lane going close to a hundred miles per hour. It was waved through the checkpoint at full speed.

“Who is he?” Jess asked.

“Who?”

“The man who lives in that house.”

Ian answered without expression. “I had a farm in Rhodesia, a large farm. My employees lived with us. Markus was my quartermaster. He ran the operation when I was away. It seems like I was always away in the later years. ZANU started taking over the ranches and farms and throwing people out. I was travelling, appealing my case. One trip I had to fly to Salisbury, then London, then New York. Talking. Talking. Lawyers and magistrates and bureaucrats. The cancer had gotten my wife by then. Markus stayed with my daughter Kay and the staff. There were fourteen mouths to feed and we had little coming in, but they all stayed with us on the farm while I appealed my case. I guess they thought it better to stick it out there then to try and find work in Mugabe’s communist paradise.”

They decelerated and came to a stop at the signal of two storm troopers.

“Should I be worried about this checkpoint?” Jess asked.

“You don’t know anything. We’re just neighbors. I gave you a ride into town so you could redeem your FEMA card. That’s all.”

“What if they search the truck?”

“Don’t think about that. Assume they will. But assume those idiots won’t find anything.”

One of the troopers approached. His face shield was down. He carried an M4 with both hands. “Papers…” he demanded.

Croukamp retrieved them from his visor and handed them over. The trooper scanned them and handed them back.

“Where are you headed?”

“Home.”

“And you?” the officer asked Jess. Behind them, another officer was poking through the pickup bed at the boxes of items they had acquired at the distribution center.

“Home,” Jess answered.

“You two live together? Family?” the guard asked.

“She’s my neighbor,” Croukamp answered.

The officer searching the bed began lifting items up and pushing things aside.

“What’s he looking for?” Croukamp asked.

“Contraband, ammo, weapons, anything that could aid Doc,” the guard answered.

“He’s wasting his time,” Croukamp remarked.

“There’s an insurgency in case you didn’t notice,” the trooper snapped. “There’s danger everywhere in the red zone,” he said, looking over the inside of the truck.

“Seems like it’s plenty dangerous down here, too,” Croukamp observed.

“Why would you say that?”

“We’ve heard about the gangs going around, terrorizing people,” Jess replied.

The officer checking the bed disappeared from Ian’s mirrors.

“You suggesting the police aren’t doing their job?” the trooper asked.

“I’m just repeating what I heard,” Jess said.

“Who did you hear that from?” asked the trooper.

“I don’t remember. Someone at the FEMA center.”

“Probably some traitor Doc you’re whoring around with,” the trooper said.

“Excuse me?” Jess snarled.

“Hey Robisch, come check this out,” shouted the trooper at the back.

Jess’s eyes filled with scorn. The troopers were all the same person to her. They were all the very one who had murdered her husband. She reached for the door handle to get out but Croukamp stopped her.

“Not now,” he urged her in a whisper. “Think about your daughter. It won’t mean anything to him to beat you senseless, then drag you to jail.”

She looked at him, her eyes smoldering.

“Think about Brooke,” Ian reiterated, tightening his grip on her arm.

Jess relaxed. “What are they doing back there?”

“Who knows? But if he comes back here and asks me to get out then you need to betray me.”

“I won’t.”

“You will. You will and you will go back to your daughter and protect your family.”

The two troopers popped up behind the truck and the one named Robisch made his way back to the driver side window.

“What’s the hold up?” Croukamp asked.

“I have a question for you,” the trooper stated. “How do you protect yourself up there?”

“What do you mean?” Croukamp asked.

“Up the hill, outside the ZOC, how do you protect yourself from Doc or the looters?”

“We lock our doors at night knowing that the police are there to protect us,” Croukamp answered as he glanced at his mirror trying to find the other trooper.

Two Black Hawk helicopters rose over the hogback, just ahead to the west. They flew over the checkpoint loud and low.

“…And we pray,” Croukamp added.

“That doesn’t sound like much of a plan,” said the trooper.

The officer behind them appeared again. Ian saw that he was running his hand along the tailgate.

“You don’t think prayer is an effective plan?” Croukamp asked as he forced his eyes to look away from the mirror. Jess stared forward, silent, motionless, unblinking.

“Not really,” answered the guard. “I think I would be armed, myself.”

The officer in the mirror jiggled the handle on the tailgate.

“I thought firearms were illegal,” Croukamp said.

“Indeed they are,” answered the trooper. “But we all know that we gotta do what we gotta do to protect ourselves.”

The trooper at the back pulled on the tailgate.

“You can level with me, Mr….” the trooper looked over Ian’s papers, “Mr. Crowkamp. What are you armed with? A single rifle or a shotgun isn’t going to concern the DSF. I myself have a twelve-gauge at home.”

“Having a gun without a permit is illegal. I try not to break the law. Does your friend back there need help?” Croukamp asked as he turned to look back over his shoulder. “It’s an old truck. The tailgate tends to stick.”

“Hey! You need a hand back there?” the trooper asked.

Croukamp watched the officer yank on the gate twice more. Ian glanced at Jess. Her eyes were widening with anxiety. Ian took his glasses off and smiled gently, trying to calm her.

“You wouldn’t be transporting any guns or ammo, would you?” called the trooper.

“Like I said before,” Ian answered. “That would be illegal.”

“Don’t lie to me. It’ll just make things worse for you. Come clean now.”

“I’m a law-abiding citizen. Am I free to go or are you detaining me?” Croukamp grinned and put his glasses back on.

The tailgate popped loose and swung down with a clang. The officer at the back reached in and lifted a couple boxes and felt the bed. Croukamp’s smile broadened further. The trooper climbed onto the gate and pulled the boxes up. The trooper pushed the boxes from side to side and pounded his palm on the bed. Jess’s eyes remained fixed. Then the gate slammed up twice, catching on the second try.

“It all looks good here,” the officer at the back shouted.

“I guess you’re free to go,” Trooper Robisch said as he handed Croukamp back his papers. Ian started up the truck and he and Jess slipped out of the ZOC.

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Indivisible: Come and Take It, Chapter 5

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“They take up arms against their ruler; but in this they deceive themselves, for experience will prove that they will have actually worsened their lot.”

—Niccolo Machiavelli, The Prince

Chapter Five

“So how’s the president?” Mae asked.

Forteson had recently returned from another tour on Air Force One. Mae wasn’t invited and remained in DC.

“Paranoid as ever,” he answered as he sat up in her bed, found the remote on the nightstand, and turned on the television.

“…The president was in Minneapolis today to present his economic recovery plan in advance of the Summit of the Americas that is scheduled to take place next week in Banff. Upon arrival at the event, the president’s motorcade was accosted by a small but very animated throng of unruly protestors. Estimates put the mob at around 900, with many behaving erratically. Officials suspect that many were under the influence of illegal narcotics. The president, reportedly working twenty hour days since the crises began, was forced to cancel his appearance and return to Air Force One. National Guard units and the Executive Security Detail of the Secret Service were brought in to disperse the mob, make arrests, and restore order. White House Chief of Staff Gabe Truth told AmericaOne that the president was very disappointed about having to cut the trip short, but that he was encouraged by the initial positive reception his plan has been getting from allies and representatives of the international banking sector.

The president is said to be catching up on some much needed rest and…”

“Does this mean he’ll be flying back tonight?” Mae asked.

“In all likelihood.”

“Will he stay in DC for a while?”

“No. He’ll want to be in his bunker, always moving. Want to do a line?” Forteson reached over and snatched his blazer off the arm of Mae’s leather accent chair and produced two vials, offering one to Mae.

“It’s too early,” she said.

“Suit yourself.” Forteson twisted the cap off one and poured its contents onto the glass surface of her night table.

“Actually, I changed my mind,” she interrupted, “but just a small one.”

Mae’s cell phone buzzed as Forteson chopped the stimulant with his black card. She rolled away from him towards the other night table and grabbed her phone. T was texting her.

You with Forte? He asked.

None of your damn business, she replied.

“Who is it?” Forteson asked, after his snort.

Her phone buzzed again.

POTUS flying into Andrews. Wants us there at 0800 tomorrow.

“Looks like I was right,” Forteson replied, looking over her shoulder and reading her texts. He pulled Mae back over on to him. The starched Hanover 800-thread-count cotton sheets slid off her naked body. Her perfect, porcelain face, bejeweled by her piercing dark eyes and framed by loosened strands of her silken hair, was illuminated in the bluish glow of her cell phone. Forteson, one nostril still powdered in coke residue, slid his hands up from the outside of her cool thighs, raising them over her hips, thumbs passing into the flume of her navel, then climbing up her lean, smooth body, plowing gently through her breasts, up over her erect nipples, and interlocking around her neck. With his thumbs pressed gently into her jugular notch, he pulled her into him. Her unbound chestnut hair fell forward, hiding her face. He brushed it back, pulling her down further until their mouths engaged. She was still clutching her cell as he pressed his erection into her. Her phone buzzed again. She pulled back.

“Doesn’t T ever fucking sleep?” Forteson asked.

“No,” she snarked. “He takes hourlong power naps.”

“Is he at the office?”

“He’s home in Connecticut,” she answered, thumbs texting away.

“Have you been there?”

“It’s nice. It has a small apple orchard. He’s got a full security detail now. Not sure what his wife and kids think of that. I imagine it puts a strain on their love life.”

“I’m sure they appreciate it,” Forteson replied, feeling for the other coke vial on the nightstand. “There are lunatics everywhere that want to kill him and anyone else in the government. Even us.”

“I wish they’d just round them up and put a bullet in them.”

“It may come to that,” Forteson answered. “So tell me, when do you ever get back to see home?”

“What do you mean? This is my home.”

“I mean home home.”

“I don’t have a home home.”

“Everyone has a home home. You weren’t born in the Treasury Department nursery.” Forteson pried the cell from Mae’s hands and powered it off. “Tell me about your life before you became T’s step-and-fetch-it.”

“It’s boring.”

“Tell me or I’ll smash your phone with that lamp.”

Mae grinned. “You’re such an alpha.” She repositioned herself and writhed on top of him, slowly grinding her pubic bone on his, her mouth opened and the tip of her tongue moistened her lips as she stared down into his eyes. Forward and back and forward and back on the shaft between her thighs.

Forteson passed the cell to his other hand, set it on the night table, grabbed hold of the neck of the lamp preparing to obliterate it.

“Okay,” Mae said, as she stopped. She pulled her hair back and tied it up. “But my life story is really fucking boring.”

“It won’t be boring to me.”

“Yeah, it will be. Trust me. So…” Mae yawned. Her eyes wandered away as she began to reminisce. “I grew up near Omaha. My dad owned a trucking business. My mom was a housewife. Exciting stuff, huh?”

“Fascinating. Any brothers? Sisters?”

“An older sister. She married young. Divorced. Raised two boys.”

“What were you like in high school?”

“I was in a clique made up of the bitchiest girls. We were called the Twinkies.”

“Twinkies? Where did that come from?”

“Some jock, probably. I don’t know.”

“What else?”

“I was a cheerleader..”

“Oh really? I’d so love to see you in your uniform. Please tell me it was one of those pleated skirts that fly up when you kick your legs. I bet you fill it out nicely, now.”

“I filled it out nicely then.”

“Oh, you were a heartbreaker. I bet you had your way.”

“High school was horrible. I hated everyone.”

“Oh come on.”

“I did. It was crude. Keggers and skunk weed. Hand jobs and date rapes,” she said without flinching.

“The jocks?”

“Mostly. The quarterback. The point guard. Thankfully, it was always over in about thirty seconds.”

“You survived. Then college?”

“I went to Arizona.”

“Cheerleading scholarship?” Forteson quipped.

“Daddy paid for it.”

“More jocks?”

“No. I kept a low profile. I graduated cum laude, political science. Then I took a job in Denver.”

“For the government?”

“Cheese manufacturing.”

“Cheese manufacturing? In Denver?”

“That’s where the headquarters was.”

“What does political science have to do with cheese?”

“Everything. The government fixes the price. They needed interns to help the execs sort the whole Byzantine system out.”

“Then what?”

“I met my ex-husband. We got married.”

“Why didn’t that work out?”

“I got accepted to Harvard’s global economics program.”

“Oh right. Impressive.”

“But Bob didn’t want to move to Boston.”

“What did Bob have against Boston?”

“Bob lived in Colorado his whole life. Colorado and Massachusetts might as well be Botswana and Sweden. It was not a good cultural fit for him. We tried the long distance thing for a while but when I finished the program I took a job at Treasury. We divorced soon after that.”

“So tell me more about Bob.”

“I’d rather not.”

“Was he abusive?”

“No. He could be controlling and jealous but he never beat me or anything like that. I think he was afraid I’d leave if he did. He was careful. He knew I was way out of his league.”

“Did he cheat?”

“No. I don’t think so. If he did, it wouldn’t have been anyone I would be concerned about…maybe some whore at the pub. That would be all. But I seriously doubt he cheated.”

“But you left anyway.”

“Like I said, he wouldn’t come.”

“Do you still talk?”

Mae stared at Forteson coldly. “He’s dead.”

“Oh right, I apologize. I forgot.”

Mae softened. “It’s been over a year. It’s all right.”

“How did it happen?”

“Everything around Denver’s been a mess since the crisis began.”

“The insurgency?”

“Bob got caught up in that chaos—gangs, terrorists, insurgents. He worked for the sheriff’s department. It was right in the middle of all that chaos. His job required him to make very tough decisions—extra-judicial decisions, if you know what I mean. He had a lot of enemies.”

“And they got to him?” Forteson asked.

“Yes.”

“How’d they do it?”

“Broke in at night. Tied him up. He was tortured. Then they murdered him.”

“Oh. I’m surprised I wasn’t aware of this.”

“T got it scrubbed by his pals at NSA. He didn’t want it associated with me. He protected me.”

“Sounds like a good boss.”

“He is. He’s my mentor.”

“And father figure?”

“Since my real father died, yes.”

“Oh fuck, I’m sorry about that, too. I’m really blowing it, aren’t I?”

“It’s been years.”

“When was the last time you saw Bob?”

Mae looked down and away, searching for an answer that couldn’t be exposed later as a lie. “I was in Denver that night.” She reached for her cell phone on the nightstand but Forteson blocked the attempt. “I don’t want to talk about this anymore. It’s depressing.”

Forteson handed the cell to her.

“What do you think knocked the grid out there?”

“In Denver?” Mae asked as she read her texts.

“Yeah.”

She knew that if anyone knew that answer, Forteson did. She knew the answer, too. Everyone in the Beltway did. But she sensed he was testing her. There was nothing to be gained by expressing her beliefs so she avoided it. “I don’t know,” she answered, shrugging her shoulders and averting eye contact. “What does AmericaOne say?”

Forteson grinned, revealing that he knew that she knew. Still, he toed the official line. “More than a few military techs have crossed over to the other side. If you throw the Russians and the Chinese in the mix, it’s reasonable to assume that Doc has access to a lot of advanced weaponry.”

“Should we all be worried?” Mae asked, cavalierly.

“Worrying won’t make any difference. But I doubt they would waste their good stuff on two anonymous bureaucrats like you and me.”

“What about Air Force One?”

Forteson chuckled. He reached up and massaged the back of her neck. Her eyes closed and she set down her phone, again.

“I want you to know I’m sorry about your husband and your father.”

“Just shut up. I told you I don’t want to talk about it, anymore.”

“I want you to know that I care about you.”

“Do you?”

“I do.”

“You’re not just fucking me?”

“Come on, Mae.”

“Prove it, then.”

“Prove it? How would I do that?”

Mae raised her cell again but Forteson grabbed her arm.

“Mae…”

“What?”

“I’m thinking that you shouldn’t go.”

“Go where?”

“To Andrews, tomorrow. To Air Force One.”

“Why not? You afraid you won’t be able to control yourself? That we might get caught screwing in the theater or something? What a scandal that would be.” She searched his face but she couldn’t read him. She broke loose of his grasp, spun off of him and switched on the lamp on the nightstand. “I said why not?” she repeated, sitting on the edge of the bed covering herself with the starchy designer sheet.

“It’s getting dangerous.”

“Why? You said Doc can’t get us.”

“It’s not Doc.” Forteson explained. “I know things, Mae. I’ve heard things. There are plans being put into motion.”

“Plans?”

“Reassignments. Promotions. Terminations. Loyalties are being tested. Alliances are being re-formed. An innocent slip could be perceived as an alignment with the wrong clique.”

“I’m with T. Is he in the wrong clique?”

Forteson sighed and the conversation abruptly ended.

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Brian’s Book Blog Reviews ‘Oathkeeper’

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Oathkeeper kept me guessing through the entire thing.  Every time I thought I had the story figured out it would twist and turn and totally change my opinions. Keeping me on my toes in a story that I thought was going to be very simple was a nice surprise…..READ MORE

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Indivisible: Come and Take It, Chapter 4

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“They take up arms against their ruler; but in this they deceive themselves, for experience will prove that they will have actually worsened their lot.”

—Niccolo Machiavelli, The Prince

Chapter Four

 

Jimmy Marzan’s eyes opened in complete darkness. He sat up and stared at the sliver of bluish light beneath the door just beyond arm’s reach. He had lost count of the number of times he had woken this way, in his tiny, tomb-like cell. His mind had resigned itself to the confinement, driving out every thought of the outside world, banishing the thoughts the very instant they appeared.  He felt his wounds. They had healed into tender scars after surgery and months of convalescence.

Then, as it did every morning, the itching appeared. It started in his scalp and then spread down into his face the instant he began scratching. He was not permitted to cut his hair or shave. His hair and beard had grown thick and long. He showered only once per week. Perhaps that was a means of determining how long he had been held prisoner. How many showers had there been? He racked up the specific memories in his mind but lost reliable count after a dozen. He had been there many, many more weeks—months even, and he couldn’t really be certain that his showers were spaced at seven day intervals. He gave up, conceding that it had been many months.

The light came on in his cell. Intensely bright, it pained him like an unbearably loud noise. He was sitting on a vinyl bedroll on a steel bunk with a wool blanket in his lap. His bare feet rested on a cool concrete floor. To his right was a stool and sink, no mirror. The walls were painted cinderblocks, seven feet high. The ceiling was a slab of gray concrete with an unbreakable halogen light fixture set in the middle of it. He scratched his face and then examined the scar in his side again, all that remained of the wound he obtained in the firefight near Sheep Mountain; how close that bullet had come to gutting him. Luckily, it had only torn through his oblique, two inches below his rib, exposing but not damaging his intestines. Now he had a pink scar that had widened over time to resemble a miniature shark bite.

Boots shuffled outside the door. Jimmy kneeled onto the concrete floor and placed his hands behind his head. Fists pounded. Keys jingled. The lock clicked. The door flew open and men in black riot gear stormed in. He was hooded and zip-tied, put in a wheelchair and pushed out into the hall. Down the corridor they rolled him, past a dozen identical cell doors on either side, then through a sliding steel door, and another that finally led out of the stale air of the cellblock and into the outside world. He felt the sun on his arms and a cool, dry, dusty breeze permeated his jumpsuit. They rolled him across an open area, perhaps fifty yards or so. The sun warmed his head beneath the black hood and filled him with vigor and calm. But then it got dark and cold again as they went into another building, through two doors, down another hall, another door, and into another cell. They lifted him up and sat him in a chair but they left his black hood and zip-ties on. He knew this place and what came next.

“Good morning, Mr. Marzan,” came a familiar voice.

Jimmy didn’t answer.

“How is your recovery going?”

Jimmy didn’t answer.

“Do you know where you are, James?”

No reply.

“Do you know what day it is?”

Silence.

“Do you know what country you’re in?”

No answer.

“Have you ever visited the town of Hermosillo, Mexico, Mr. Marzan?”

Marzan sensed at least two other persons in the cell.

“Do you know why you’re here, James, in this foreign country?”

No answer.

“You are here because here is outside domestic legal jurisdiction. Does that mean anything to you?”

No answer.

His interrogator leaned in and spoke directly into Jimmy’s ear. “In other words, civilian law does not apply. No lawyer for you. No right to speedy trial.”

James didn’t believe he was in Mexico. The helicopter flight from Camp Constantine wasn’t long enough. He was hooded for that trip, too, but he had sensed that he was facing aft and he felt the sun hitting his right shoulder during the flight. Judging by the time of day, they had to have flown north, not south.

“You know you’re a dead man, right?”

Jimmy Marzan remained silent.

“I know you can hear me, Doc.”

Jimmy lifted his hooded head in acknowledgement, hoping his response would be enough to prevent some form of terror that would be delivered by one of the other two in the room.

“You don’t have to speak to us today, James. We’ve been over your story enough times, already. However, we do have some information you may want to hear so listen carefully. Are you listening?”

James nodded.

“Your little insurgent unit—Company Z, as you call yourselves—well, I’m very sorry to report that it has been completely annihilated. All of your comrades were killed in an engagement with Charlie Company, 1st of the 20th Americal Division, near a mountain town called Ridgeway. I’m sure you know very well where that is. It seems that your unit was using several abandoned mines as weapons caches. We found quite a bit of Doc materiel there. Lucky for you, you were in here with us. Report says it wasn’t much of a battle. Your comrades were starving to death. Many were frostbitten, hypothermic. It was cold, but clear and sunny that fateful day. DSF first tore them apart with artillery and drones. It ended up a real turkey shoot. Charlie Company dropped in and wiped out the remnants. Prisoners? You’re probably wondering if we took any. Yes. Six survived in all. They’re at Guantanamo now. Have you ever been to Cuba, James? It’s nasty hot there. It’s nasty, nasty hot. Maybe we’ll send you there, too. You can sit and sweat in your little 5 by 8 cell until we decide we have no more use for you.”

James sat quiet and still, hands tied behind him, trying not to make any sound or reveal anything by his manner—neither defiance nor submission. An exhibition of either would unleash terror upon him. He had already told them everything they wanted to know, even if he had to make a good portion of it up. They always got what they wanted. Resistance was futile. What was happening to him now wasn’t about getting more information. There wasn’t anything actionable in what he still knew and he knew they knew that. What it was about was power.

To the insurgents, the federal government’s forces were known as “Freddy.” For Freddy, it was all about power and power was constructed by obtaining dominance and submission. It wasn’t about breaking a single man. Jimmy knew this. No single man was worth all the effort. He was but a single brick set in a giant foundation impacting the will of a multitude. The men who served at the interrogation centers bore witness to the dehumanization of the enemy. They had acquaintances in other units and contact with civilian friends and family. The chaperones of torture, stationed at numerous bases, were the conduit of terror. Their tales of humiliating and torturing the enemy spread beyond the compound and throughout the country like wildfire. They had perfected their craft with years of experience practicing upon foreigners in foreign lands. They brought it home with them like it was a venereal disease.

The fuel of war is morale. Without morale, defeat is certain. But with morale, victory is always attainable. To Freddy, Docs like Jimmy Marzan were the enemy. They were traitors. Tales of their capture, their imprisonment, their torture, were purposefully leaked out, stoking the morale of the regimists. The acts of domination and dehumanization of the traitors demonstrated and validated the power of the regime. Making an enemy submit, even if he is already helpless, was deeply symbolic. It appealed to the tribalist baseness of human nature. Terror is employed by all sides in war, without exception – without exception. The purpose of torture is torture and nothing more. Tales of woe done unto the enemy were leaked out by design, by both sides.

Quelling the domestic insurgency was a Twenty-First Century war. Gone were the days of the sprawling pitch of battle where mechanized units flanked and outflanked and charged and repelled. The old model was too expensive and put too many eggs in one basket. Post-modern warfare had evolved into a paradox, becoming ever grander, global in scale but with the battles being fought at the unit to unit or even man to man level. Twenty-First Century war was executed in isolated firefights, ambushes and assassinations, and with keyboards and red buttons pushed by paunchy, pimply-faced contractors in corporate cubicles. It was fought impersonally with laser-guided missiles fired from unmanned aircraft, concussions of expanding, superheated gas blasting the flesh of targets and bystanders clean off their bones right where they stood. Post -modern war was fought everywhere, but few battles were ever fought by more than a score of human beings. The discernible pitch of battle—the fronts, the lines, the echelons—were gone, replaced by markings on a heads-up display or digital analogs in a computer. The muddy trenches and foxholes of ages past now existed as algorithms in the digital ether. Objectives were no longer plotted on maps. Victory had become a persistent state of existence rather than the the event of capturing an objective. Even torture had evolved in this new era. Beatings and blunt force trauma were replaced by a psychosis-inducing mind game. Conquering the mind is always the ultimate goal of torture. The old means of bodily trauma was deemed an inefficient route to that end.

“Your leader Captain Rick is dead,” said Marzan’s interrogator. “Your rebellion is over.”

Marzan had an urge to clear his throat and cough but he held his breath instead, trying not to bow his head or slump his shoulders defeatedly.

“In case you were wondering, he was killed by a drone strike.”

Marzan knew it was likely a lie. It was part of the mind game. Still, the possibility of it pained him.

“Your unit is wiped out. Uncompahgre III was a total success. All hope for victory is lost for you.”

Marzan assured himself it wasn’t true. Times for the resistance were indeed tough, but before he was captured, the insurgents were adapting and routinely achieving their mission objectives. They were preparing to move into the next stage of the long struggle—Phase 2 of Dau Tranh[1]. Their morale had bounced from its nadir and was strengthening.

Freddy was pulling back and consolidating its forces and assets in the larger towns. The feds had relinquished vast swaths of the western states, deeming them outside the zone of control. It was simply too big of an area for the Domestic Security Force to control. They would be spread too thin to maintain operational effectiveness if they tried. Originally one division, the DSF had swelled to four—army corps strength—and yet, the territory outside the ZOC remained increasingly unpacified.

Homeland Security, with the consent of the president, withdrew ground forces. They turned their satellites on and watched and waited, launching concentrated incursions like Uncompahgre III here or there, but otherwise standing back from the giant tracts of land that evoked the sprawling Indian reservations so common two centuries earlier. Doc wouldn’t be too much bother so long as he was dispersed in the empty quarter of America. The president’s justification for the pullback was that it was better to have the enemy diluted in the wilderness than operating covertly in the metropolitan areas. So long as there was no significant loss of life or assets in the ZOC, Freddy could declare a state of “ongoing victory.”

James was convinced his interrogators were lying about his unit. They were trying to break his will and compel the submission of his mind.

“I should let you know that we also paid a visit to your family,” the interrogator said.

Everything you say is a lie, James repeated to himself.

“Your mother, we had someone go to Irvine and see her.”

They wouldn’t go after families, he thought.

“She was very disappointed to hear about what you’ve done.”

Lies.

“So let’s go over your list, again, just to make sure I told her everything.”

James sighed.

“You were a very busy little terrorist. Let’s see, how many civilians have you murdered, James? First up, 01 20. A Pitkin County official by the name of Donalds. Killed by a .50 caliber round from long range. Head shot.”

James couldn’t resist. “I was not a part of that operation, but Donalds was no civilian. He was CIA.”

“02 22. Three state congressmen and their security team murdered by ambush in Colorado Springs. Your team put 130 rounds into their car at close range.”

“I had nothing to do with that.”

“05 15. U.S. 285 ambush at Grant. Your team destroyed four MRAPs. Twenty KIA.”

James didn’t respond.

“05 21. U.S. 285 ambush near Crow Hill. Destroyed one MRAP by remotely activated IED. Led assault on survivors employing use of white phosphorous—recently outlawed by the Geneva Convention.”

Marzan remained silent.

“06 15. Foxton Road. Shot down a U.S. Army Black Hawk with a Chinese-supplied RPG. 19 KIA.”

“The Chinese have never supplied us with anything,” James replied.

“Funny, we find Chinese and Russian hardware all over these mountains. RPGs. AK47s. Crates of 762. Night vision. Miniature drones. Rocket propelled phosphorous. Mines. Nearly all of it is Chinese or Russian.”

“I thought you said we were in Mexico.”

The interrogator cleared his throat. “That’s correct. May I continue? 06 28. North Turkey Creek Road. Took out an entire convoy. Five MRAPS. Twenty Six KIA. I’m afraid that I have to concede that was an impressive operation, tactically speaking.”

James felt the other bodies in the room closing in.

“06 28. Gunnison. County Sheriff Joseph Everson murdered by sniper round.”

“Not me. But he was an operative, an NSA plant. Why don’t you mention the elected sheriff who was assassinated by your people three weeks earlier?”

“Actually, we pinned that on you as well.”

“Everyone there knows Freddy killed him.”

“That’s not what the official record says,” answered the interrogator. “And the official record is the history. Remember, James, the victors write the history books.”

“Who says you’re going to be victorious?”

The interrogator laughed.

“You forgot one,” James said. He couldn’t stay quiet.

“Ah yes. Jefferson County Undersheriff Robert Garrity. Tortured, found with a self-inflicted shotgun blast to the chest. Now that was a particularly cruel assassination. You made him do himself in.”

James didn’t respond.

“Are there any others?”

“I’m not responsible for any of them.”

“But you are, James. You’ve already signed the confessions.”

“What I signed and what I did are two different things. What do you want from me? I’ll sign whatever you want. Just type it up.”

“We visited your father too, James.”

James shook his head.

“We went to his stucco ranch in Scottsdale. There’s a swimming pool with a slide in the backyard. Your half brothers and sisters grew up there. They spent their summers splashing in that pool while you and your mother moved into that shitty condo in Irvine. Did your daddy remember to send you a card on your birthday? It appears that he did quite well for himself out there in Arizona with his new family. ”

“Good for him,” Jimmy answered.

“James, do you want to know what he said about you?”

“No.”

“Don’t lie, James. Of course you want to know.”

“I don’t care.”

“No, you only wish you didn’t care. You know as well as I do that the paths you’ve chosen are all a direct result of him. He may have escaped you, James, but you can never escape him.”

“What difference does it make?”

“Do you want me to say that your father said he loves you?”

“No.”

“Well, he didn’t. What he did say was that you are an embarrassment to him. He said that he hopes we show you mercy but that he never wants to see you again, and you should spend the rest of your life in prison.”

“I don’t care.”

“I think you do, James. I think it affects you. You must admit that the most important role model and authority figure in your life abandoned you as a child. How could that not affect you, James? How could that not impact your attitude about authority?”

“Why don’t you ask a shrink?”

“There you sit, not a man, not a soldier, but a boy who was abandoned, thrown away, left for a new family. A boy who grew up and who ultimately abandoned his family for a new one, just like daddy.”

“Congratulations. You figured me out.”

“You shouldn’t be so smug, James. You’re in enormous trouble. You’re a traitor to your country.”

“I love my country.”

“Then why did you betray it?”

“I didn’t.”

“You served your country, then you abandoned her in her time of greatest need. You’re no different than your father, James.”

Marzan shook his head.

“James, how many United States military personnel have you killed?”

“It’s a war. People get dead. They were trying to kill me.”

“You’re a traitor.”

“I’m a patriot.”

“No. You’re an insurgent, no different than the Hajis you fought overseas.”

“I’ve learned a lot since then.”

“Why do you hate America, James? Why do you hate freedom?”

“I don’t. I love America. I love freedom. That’s what I’m fighting for.”

The interrogator stepped back and began to pace. His tone changed from accusatory to contemplative. “Here’s something for you to ponder,” he continued. “When you look back over your life, what good can you honestly say that James Marzan has ever done? What good have you accomplished in this life? What difference have you made?”

James heard the door open, letting through the noise of panting and scraping claws on the concrete floor.

“When we visited your mother, James, she became very distraught. She’s angry, angry at you for the shame you’ve brought upon her and your family. She said she did everything she could to raise you right. She said she encouraged you to join the Army and serve your country. That it would make a man out of you. But now she regrets doing that. She blames herself for what you’ve become. She’s been in a deep depression since we told her everything.”

“Why are you doing that to her? She’s been through enough.”

“It’s not about her, James. It’s about you. We need you to realize that you are completely alone. We need you to know that so before we turn the dogs loose on you or we bury you in a hole or we drive you out into the woods and put a bullet in your head that you realize everything you did was for nothing, that you will leave this mortal coil reviled, unappreciated and totally alone. That is your punishment for being a traitor.”

“What are you waiting for, then?” James responded.

James heard the dog approach, choking and wheezing as it strained against the leash. He felt the animal’s hot breath as it nuzzled into his crotch, its teeth an inch from his testicles. James tensed and the animal growled in response.

“Are you sure about that, James? We could oblige you. We could end it right here.”

“I already told you everything. I signed everything you put in front of me. What else do you want?”

“We want you to beg us for forgiveness. Will you beg us, James?”

[1] Dau Tranh is the term used to identify the long term political and military strategy of the Vietnamese used to achieve independence. Although not a communist movement, the American insurgency adapted and implemented a significant portion of the revolutionary doctrine, referring to it by the same name.

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