Monthly Archives: January 2017

Indivisible: Come and Take It, Chapter 21

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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 21

 

Mae arranged to ride along with Dieter past Bismarck and through Rapid City where he met with some business associates. From there, they went through the Black Hills and westward. They stopped outside of Gillette, Wyoming. Dieter made some phone calls and they waited for four hours at a diner at the base of a highway exit. They sat across from each other, hardly speaking, Dieter getting up and going outside to smoke every twenty minutes. After his tenth trip, Mae, overcome with boredom, decided to break the ice.

“So what sort of business are you in?” she asked as she stirred her ice cubes with her straw.

Dieter didn’t answer.

“You can tell me. What am I gonna do, turn you in? What would I say? That some old guy named Dieter I met in Minot told me he’s breaking the law?”

Dieter wheezed out another laugh and looked at her with a joyful look in his St. Bernard eyes.

“Come on. I’m bored to tears. Give me something.”

“You first.”

Mae looked at him furtively. “Okay.”

“What are you waiting for?” Dieter asked.

“You know the vice president?”

“Not personally, no.”

“Well I do. As a matter of fact, I know him intimately. Do you believe me?”

“It doesn’t sound like something someone would make up. If it was bullshit, I imagine you’d say that you blew the president.”

Mae laughed. “Want to know something else?”

“Sure.”

Mae lifted the straw out of the glass and clasped it between her thumb and index finger, not four inches from the end. She pulled it out of the glass and held it up until Dieter’s eyes sparkled, indicating he understood what she was insinuating. Then she fellated the tip of the straw.

“That figures.” Dieter said in his phlegmy baritone. He started laughing and didn’t stop until it trailed off into another coughing fit.

“Now your turn,” Mae said, turning deadly serious.

Dieter stared at her for what seemed like a minute. Then he grinned. “I’m a broker. I bring together parties who want to buy and sell.”

“Too vague,” Mae retorted.

Dieter looked out the window, watching a car pull into the parking lot of the motel across the road.

“Tell me something interesting,” Mae demanded.

Dieter turned back to her and leaned towards her across the table. “I can tell you this: I’ve seen the soldiers on both sides, up close.”

“And what did you see?” Mae asked in an almost dismissive tone.

Dieter stared at her, unblinking, unflinching, the smell of tobacco wafting off his clothes. His thick, weathered fingers interlocked. His voice darkened. “You’re going to lose.”

Mae released the straw into her tumbler and leaned back into her seat, giving no response.

Dieter turned to the window. “My associates have finally arrived,” he observed. “I need to go meet them.”

They left the diner and crossed the road to the motel parking lot. Dieter opened the door to his car and let Mae in. He instructed her to wait there while he met with his ‘associates’ in the motel room.

It was hot and after thirty minutes the smell of gasoline wafting in from the cans stored in the trunk became unbearable. She got out to get some air. She leaned on the fender and smoked a cigarette, listening to the muffled voices coming from the room. One voice bore the hint of a Slavic accent, maybe Russian. That would just be my luck, she pondered, busted traveling with an arms dealer. Knowing she had no alternative transportation, she stepped out of earshot of the motel room in order to preserve plausible denial in the event they were detained and interrogated. She pondered dialing the secret service phone, but thought better of it.

It was windy and bright and the sky was a white haze of contrails. Squads of helicopters moved east to west. She looked up to the highway overpass. A fleet of semis, painted tawny camouflage, rolled past on their way west. Then she saw trailers hauling three 155mm artillery pieces each, with their barrels corked like champagne bottles. Then trailer after trailer of drones, folded up and shrink-wrapped like mammoth insects morphing in their cocoons. Then came refrigerated trailers with potato chip and grocery store logos emblazoned on their sides, grills and windshields louvered in steel as protection from projectiles. The caravan continued: flatbed after flatbed, each with at least fifty camouflaged portable toilets strapped in tightly, every plastic shithouse adorned with the face of a smiling koala bear—the logo of Sherman’s Toilet Tissue. Then a motorcade of officers driving matte brown Lincolns with gold stars on the hood, sparkling chrome spinner wheels and tinted windows. Then caterers and sporting goods vans hauling workout equipment. Then embedded AmericaOne media trucks with satellite dishes fixed to their roofs. Then an army recruiter’s van with the picture of a teenaged Latino and an Asian girl and a Caucasian transgender, each dressed in combat fatigues, M4s slung on their shoulders, locked in one another’s embrace as if they were posing for a selfie at an amusement park. “Be All That You Can Be!” Then mobile fast food restaurants—Pizza King, Tacodobe, Burger Hut. Then a Humvee with its turret manned by a bloated, forty-something man, too fat for his Kevlar which rode up to his double chin. The parade rolled past Mae as she smoked a cigarette, watching in curious disbelief. A truck hauling camouflaged golf carts. Another with communications arrays. And another with plastic coffins, featuring Sepulcorp logos, stacked upright. A tiny sliver of cognitive dissonance crept into Mae’s brain as she exhaled and the hot wind dissolved the blue smoke. Then the civilian busses, filled with teenaged faces peering out, conscripts dressed in brown hues, some wearing their helmets, others just wearing looks of fear. One catcalled Mae as his bus blew past. She took another long drag and sensed the nicotine cooling her nervous system. So many young faces in the busses stared back, most grim, expressionless. Boys and girls sent by old men off to war. Boys concerned about their acne and trying to lose their virginity and girls that looked as if they were inducted the morning after prom. All the materiel that rolled past before those busses, the corporate-sponsored hardware and supplies, the military technology, the officers in their air conditioned luxury…Mae laughed at it. The parade of DC’s toys and tech had rolled into theaters of war before, like Shariastan, only to be rendered useless once the enemy had dug in. The foreign wars were sanitized into a reality television show for Dumfukistan to watch on their 100-inch televisions made in China. The real war, however, was not for public consumption. Despite all the technological advances, the soldiers still had to do the real fighting. And if it came to that, Mae thought, then by the looks of those kids in those busses, maybe Dieter was right.

She also saw the civilian vehicles that were streaming the other direction, a bumper to bumper caravan from the west, loaded to the hilt with possessions stuffed into plastic totes and garbage bags. Pickup trucks crawled along with wind-rippling, bungee-corded tarps covering household things. Sport utility vehicles towed laden trailers. A Subaru passed with a grandfather clock sticking half way out the back window. Another car towed a washing machine and a refrigerator on a trailer.  Car windows framed confused children’s faces. A panting family dog sat on a driver’s lap. A Toyota went by with a leather sofa strapped precariously on the hood. Grandmother napped in her wheelchair in the back of another pickup, arm resting on a big screen TV. Cars passed with bumper stickers professing their faith in this republican or that democrat or Jesus or “coexist” or some football team or alumni or veteran status. None of those ideas mattered anymore. The only thing that mattered was getting away from the civil war that was closing in on their hometown like a forest fire, feeding on the fuel of Americana, turning it into ash. The motel door finally opened and only Dieter emerged, his rotund body waddling out of the darkened room. He went straight to his car without so much as a glance in Mae’s direction.

“All done?” Mae shouted from near the road.

“Yes,” he answered, without making eye contact and opening his door. Mae dropped her cigarette, walked back and got in on the passenger side.

“Where to now?” she asked.

“We’ll drop you off next. It’s seven hours away if we don’t run into any traffic jams.” He gestured to the stream of traffic on the road.

“Where are all those people going?” Mae asked.

“Away.”

“Away from where?”

“Away from Bozeman would be my guess.”

“Why?”

“Feds are committed to clearing Doc out of there. But it’s not going too well for them. Doc is dug in with numbers…local militia, Continentals. I hear even some guard units. It’s street to street fighting, a real messy, bloody operation. Civilians are getting the hell out of there.”

“Refugees,” Mae observed.

Dieter pulled out of the lot and they drove under the highway and south on 59. Crossing the windswept steppe of Wyoming and through the Thunder Basin National Grassland, approaching Cheyenne four hours later as the gray thunderheads boiled on the western horizon. The connected back onto I25 but, just as Dieter had feared, their progress was halted by a traffic jam just a couple miles from the I-80 interchange. Dieter pulled off onto the shoulder and shut down the engine to save gas. To their left, across the highway, stood clusters of residential streets lined with mid-century houses and white church steeples poking through clusters of cottonwoods and spruce. To their right lay the Cheyenne Country Club nestled securely within the sprawling Francis E. Warren Air Force Base. Crowding the edges of the fairways was an ocean of white tents and FEMA trailers hemmed off from the course by a six-foot chain link fence capped with razor wire.

They sat in the car, in the heat, breathing in the fumes of the gasoline cans stored in the trunk, now half gone.

“Mind if I smoke?” Mae asked.

“It’s probably a good idea if you did that away from the car a bit.”

“For sure.”

Mae got out and walked twenty steps away. She managed to light her cigarette in the wind with some difficulty, then studied the thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of civilians packed into the camp. And then people on foot began to pass her on the shoulder. First one, then two more, then more and more after that. She stepped back to make way for the silent horde, the undead, marching because their cars had run out of gas, burdened with what remained of their things that they could carry, going willingly into the concentration camp ahead because it was preferable to dying of thirst or starvation on the road. The first of the walkers were men, sweating in the sun, hunched over by their overloaded packs. Then came the families with children and babies. She saw whimpering toddlers, forced to walk as they were too heavy to be carried the entire way. Then crying infants, one with a diaper soiled through, clinging to her exhausted mother who had yellow shit running down her shirt. Few were dressed for traveling any distance on foot, adorned in their worn sneakers, t-shirts with football team and beer logos, sweatpants and spandex, baseball caps and designer sunglasses to thwart the searing sun. “Do you have any water?” one asked Mae. Even if she had wanted to help him, if she were to give him water, the horde would see it and mob her like a pack of zombies. She replied to his request with a silent exhale of cigarette smoke.

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Michael Bay to Produce ‘Indivisible’!

Michael Bay is turning my book ‘Indivisible‘ into a movie called ‘Little America‘!  Well, sort of…

Universal has won a heated bidding war to pick up the rights to Little America, a futuristic adventure movie that has Michael Bay and his Platinum Dunes on board to produce.

Rowan Athale, the British filmmaker behind 2012’s crime thriller Wasteland, wrote the spec and is attached to direct. Bay would produce with his partners Andrew Form and Brad Fuller.

Described by sources as a “sci-fun story rather than “sci-fi,” the tale is set in a dystopian future where a Donald Trump-like president has bankrupted America and China has called in its debts. The Asian giant now owns ths U.S., and many Americans have emigrated to China looking for work.

Read More…

Crumbs…Draft Excerpt

From Chapter 19:

Tegende awoke to the gurgling of a vulture hopping on the dashboard of the abandoned ice cream wagon. He shooed at it and it fluttered off through the frame where the windshield once was. He noticed the present sat on the opposite corner of the dashboard, still wrapped in its glittering bow. Then he noticed that Birdy wasn’t there. He looked at his hands and they had returned to a more youthful state. It must have all been a dream, he thought. He gathered his things and stumbled out of the truck onto the sandy, barren dirt. He heard his canteen slosh. He was sure it was empty, but now he found it nearly full. He thought maybe he was finally losing it. Feeling a renewed vigor from the rest and the fluids, he started north. By late that afternoon he spotted the greenery of an oasis with red iron scaffolding rising up out of it. He had finally returned to the Eagle’s Nest.

A fire filled his veins which propelled his legs over the hot sand towards his destination. He reached into his belt and clutched the hilt of his machete and unsheathed it. The sweat rolled down his skin, dropping into the sand as he marched. His grip upon the hilt tightened and his muscles grew taut.

Onward!

Sand filled his boots and penetrated his socks, grinding in between his toes with each step. The vultures circled overhead in a wide ring, and the ship, so much farther above, hung for a moment, exactly within the halo of the carrion fowl. The rhythm of his footfalls and breaths quickened as he made a straight line towards the foliage—disappearing and reappearing behind the waves of dusty dunes.

Forward!

A hot wind whipped the sand up which lashed at his exposed skin. The green oasis rippled and danced and shimmered in the undulations of hot air rising off the surface. He tasted the moisture between the dry gusts.

Onward!

His teeth ground. His blisters opened. The whites of his eyes filled with threads of pulsing blood. His veins thickened and throbbed. His hair raised. His fear dissipated.

Forward!

Tegende stepped off the sand and onto stones and over them and into the lush greenery of the oasis. The palms before him bent and the branches bowed as if clearing the way. The insects—the chiggering, chattering, clicking, stinging, buzzing—all fell silent. As he advanced, steam vented in plumes from the stones behind him. The colorful birds in their perches turned their heads to watch him with one eye—their beaks pointing the way forward…into the Eagle’s Nest…to Birdy and Selam. He finally reached the iron gate, guarded by a single sentry wearing a spiked helmet and reflective motorcycle goggles.

“Open the gate!” Tegende commanded.

The guard sized him up, sighed, then replied, “Do you have an appointment?”

“I said open the gate or I will hack you to pieces and feed your entrails to the vultures.” Tegende raised his rusty machete, his bloody eyes so filled with intensity that they nearly popped out of his skull.

The guard lifted his goggles up off his eyes to take a closer look at this skinny, angry man.

“Do as I say or prepare to die!” Tegende ordered.

The next instant, Tegende heard the cocking of guns. He turned to find four Nazis aiming their Lugers at him. Still holding his blade aloft, he turned back to the guard and found him scanning through the yellow pages on a clipboard.

“Don’t you read Kung Fu?” asked the guard as he scanned. “It is unwise to bring a scimitar to a gunfight?”

Indivisible: Come and Take It, Chapter 20

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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 20

 

Marzan and the boy were on the road for three days. The boy did not speak during that time. At night they would warm themselves at a campfire and drink boiled water. They’d smother the flames when they heard the beating blades of Black Hawks or Kiowas. It wouldn’t have made any difference. The night vision and the M240Ls could have shredded them before they would have even heard them coming. They had other objectives. Each morning, Marzan would wake up next to the smoldering gray ashes of the fire and the boy would be gone. And then he would find him, not far away, always near the road, waiting, watching, as if someone might be coming for him. Marzan would scold him but it made no difference. They walked on the road, Marzan in front, holding his burning, aching side, the boy a few strides behind, closing the gap a little with each mile so that when they descended out of the pass, the boy was almost walking beside him. He didn’t cry as much when they walked, but the nights were still difficult for him. Marzan did not press him to speak.

They walked into the village of Granby, a town on a treeless, windy, valley floor that had evolved into something of a trade center in the days of insurrection. There wasn’t much more than ten square blocks of rambler houses and a strip of commercial boxes along the main road. Marzan took the boy into a diner and they filled their groaning stomachs with hamburgers and French fries and second helpings of each. Out the window, Marzan watched a parade of cars, loaded with livestock and wares, coming from the west and the northeast and the south, but none came in from county road 24—the road that had brought them here. Marzan noticed uniformed men everywhere, outfitted with green armbands and reflective sunglasses, all bearing assault rifles. The waitress returned to their table. She was very thin and her hair was too big for her narrow face. “Who are those people?” Marzan asked.

“Who?” she asked, as she laid the check on the table. The boy was still shoving fries into his mouth.

“Those guys.” Marzan gestured to a man with an armband sitting on a barstool.

“Oh, that’s the posse. They’re Sheriff Naegle’s men.”

She left with Marzan’s empty plate. The boy finished and Marzan left a Reagan on the table.

 

The two of them spent the night in a canvas tent, one of ten set up on the park at the edge of town. The rate was reasonable and they each got a cot. The bedding smelled of wet dog, but they were both content to have a bed and shelter for once and to not be sleeping on the dirt and rocks and sharp pine needles. There were four others in their tent, all raggedy men. They smelled worse than wet dog and they snored. The boy slept through it, though. Marzan was restless, waking several times. The last time he woke, it was in the cool gray light before dawn. The boy was gone again.

Marzan sprung up, put his shoes on and went out to find him. It was a dangerous place for a young boy with all the vagabonds and refugees and ne’er-do-wells milling about or passing through. He wanted to call out for the boy but what would he yell? Marzan didn’t know the boy’s name because he never spoke. He went to the adjacent tent and listened. Snoring. He wasn’t sure what he was listening for. Maybe his sobbing? Then he went to the next tent. More snoring. He did this for all the tents but there was no sound of the boy.

Marzan looked around in all directions. The road was quiet and empty. There was no one around. He turned towards the creek that ran alongside the park. He scanned the brambles for a sign—footprints, the boy’s blue hoodie, anything. Nothing. James listened. There was no sound. Not even birds, not even wind. The sky was a watercolor painting; magenta bled into the eastern gray. Marzan went down to the river to get a look along the banks. He pushed through the branches until he reached the water’s edge. He looked left and right along the bank. Nothing. He walked back to the tent and checked inside again. Everyone was still asleep and the boy’s cot was still empty. He jogged across the gravel lot to the shoulder of the highway and looked both ways. He started walking east. He didn’t get fifty more yards down the road before he saw the back doors of a white van. It was embedded in the trees, obscured from the road.

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Indivisible: Come and Take It, Chapter 19

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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 19

 

“What is this dump?” Mae asked as her cab pulled up to the entrance of a hotel.

“This is Kaul’s Drive-thru Lodge, Miss. This is where I’ve been instructed to take you,” answered the cabbie in thick accent.

“Splendid,” Mae replied, rolling her eyes as she let herself out onto the curb and stood next to a faux-stone pillar under a frayed red awning, clutching her Luis Vuitton Monogram Canvas Pegase 55 carry-on while the driver fetched her matching suitcase from the trunk. She tipped him for his effort, turned, and dragged the bag through the smudged glass doors as the driver scurried back into his cab and pulled away. Inside, she found a lobby  decorated with laminated honey oak floors, sprayed stucco walls and brass-colored hardware accents. Mae checked her hair and lipstick in an oval mirror before rolling her bag up to the desk. Behind it sat a frumpy Caucasian with a mullet, seven-day stubble, and black horn-rimmed glassed that sat askew on his asymmetrical face. He was immersed in his cell phone and did not immediately acknowledge her presence as she stepped to the desk. Mae pinged the bell on the counter, not forty inches from his ear. The attendant finally looked up.

“Can I help you?” he asked, squinting at her through his cloudy lenses, but after seeing her, he straightened his posture in a fruitless attempt to make himself seem more appealing.

“I need my room,” Mae snapped.

The attendant sighed and began swishing a mouse around, clicking through screens on his monitor. “Single or double?”

“How about your presidential suite? Does it have a jet tub?”

The attendant was unfazed by her sarcasm. “Name?”

“I was told it would be reserved for Maiden Lane. M-A-I-D-E…”

“I found it. One sec…” The attendant typed and typed and swished his mouse and typed and typed and scanned the screen and swished his mouse and typed and typed.Then he retrieved a passkey from a drawer. He swiped it and rolled his pear-shaped body, wedged into his office chair, over to the printer and pulled off some paperwork. Then he rolled back and laid it on the counter. “Sign here, please. You are responsible for any incidentals.”

“No. I was told incidentals would be covered.”

The clerk straightened his glasses and read through the agreement. “Oh, you are correct. Sorry.”

He set the page and a Bic pen with a flower taped to the end down on the counter and pointed to where she was to sign, leaving a greasy fingerprint smudge. Mae dug through her purse to retrieve her own pen and signed the document. “Here’s your key, ma’am,” he said, following it with a wide, crooked-toothed grin accompanied by two eyes that didn’t quite align staring through his smudged lenses.. “Room 221. Go left there, take the elevator up to two, then it’s down on the right. It overlooks the pool.” Mae rolled her eyes again and took the pass key.

“Is there a bar in this dump?”

“Yes ma’am. Go through those doors, then right. You can’t miss it.”

“Can I leave this here for now?” she asked, glancing at her suitcase.

“For sure. I’ll put it back here.” The attendant pushed himself up from his rolling chair and stepped out from behind the counter to take it.

“It’s Luis Vuitton,” Mae explained, hoping that would inspire some higher degree of care from the attendant. Unimpressed, he grabbed her suitcase and yanked it across the floor, scuffing it along the edge of the counter before shoving it into the closet behind his desk. He turned and winked.

“Got ya covered, ma’am.”

Mae passed through the doors and turned to her right, entering Gusher’s Lounge. Inside was a cove built for maybe fifty patrons with blue, short-nap carpet patterned with gold fleur des lis. The space was filled with low castor chairs surrounding round, honey oak cocktail tables. The walls were floor to ceiling smoked mirror tile. The bar was finished in honey oak with more faux-brass trim. Behind it stood a balding middle-ager in a black apron. Mae immediately dismissed the dozen or so patrons as fucktards. She strutted up to the bar, wiped the stool off with a napkin, and took a seat.

“What’ll you have?” asked the bartender, who Mae noticed was missing an eyetooth.

“A martini. Gin. Your best gin. What do you have? Oh, Bombay will have to do, I guess. Dry. On the rocks, not up. Garnished with a lime peel.”

“Absolutely.” The bartender turned to fix her drink.

Mae looked ahead, into an unobscured patch of smoked mirror on the wall behind the bar, between a bottle of Seagrams and a neon Rolling Rock sign. She was surprised by what she saw–a victim staring back. The image of herself beaten, disoriented, weak, evoked an image in her mind of some pathetic orphan. Disgusted by her diminishing aura, she got up, went into the restroom and locked the door. There, she stood before the mirror, staring at the loser staring back. She ran the faucet and dabbed her face with water. She pulled her hair back into a ponytail. Then she reached into her bag and took out her lip gloss. Wrong color. She tossed it back in and rummaged for the other, the plum. It was stronger. She heard a knock on the door. She ignored it and touched up her mascara, hardening and intensifying her eyes. She pulled at her collar, stiffening it. Finally, she took a deep breath, exhaled, and straightened her posture, throwing back her shoulders. The person staring back in the mirror wasmuch improved.

She heard the knock again and she unlocked the door to see a woman from a different world. She was shorter and broader, had blotchy skin and coarse, dull, badly-dyed, reddish hair, cheap makeup and ill-fitting clothes. They looked each other in the eye, the alien sizing Mae up, looking as if she expected Mae to wilt and step aside. Mae barred the way, defiantly, as a cold smirk formed in the edge of her plum lips. They looked each other up and down, then stared at each other for several more seconds. Mae wondered if this pitiable wench might have been her in some other life, if things had somehow gone awry. No. Of course not. No matter how sideways things might have gone, she could never evolve into the troglodyte that stood before her. Mae could never fail at life to that extent. She could overcome anything. She always triumphed. She had found herself on that path once before and remedied it, leaving her husband to save herself from the ignominy of being a hick undersheriff’s trophy wife, spending weekends downing pitchers of light beer and listening to classic rock cover bands.

Mae’s confidence recharged at the sight of the loser before her, filling her up with strength. Her eyes fired back at the wench, silently saying, “make way, bitch, or I will cut your throat.” The wench, a survivor herself, found her resolve weakening. She glanced left and right. After determining that no one was watching, she acquiesced and stepped aside. There was nothing for her to gain and too much to risk. She would make her stand another time.

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

“I said on the rocks, not up, ” Mae pushed the drink towards the edge for the bartender to take it back. He took the glass and scowled as he waddled off to fix her another. Mae again checked the smoked mirror between the Seagrams and the Rolling Rock sign. The person staring back was the Mae she recognized. Her world was righted.

“You come off of Air Force one?”

Mae turned toward the voice. A burly fellow with stringy gray hair, a weathered face and the dark, elusive eyes of a long-time alcoholic sat two stools down.

“Were you talking to me?” Mae asked.

“Yes,” he answered in a phlegmy tenor that trailed off into a burst of coughing.

“As a matter of fact, I did,” she answered. “How would you know that?” She watched as he stirred the ice cubes in his clear drink, a vodka something. His visage reminded her of a troll. Hideous. Neckless. Hunched. The grey blotchy flesh of his face had the consistency of pizza dough. It looked as if it might slough off his cheekbones at any moment.

“You look the part,” he answered.

“Oh, do I?” Mae asked, feigning interest in continuing the conversation.

“I’ve lived here twenty-seven years. It ain’t hard telling who the muckety mucks are.”

The bartender returned with her martini, bowing as he presented it before her as though she were a royalty. She gestured him away with a flick of her hand.

“What is your name?”

“I’m Dieter.”

“So tell me, Dieter, how do I get a flight back to civilization?”

“Like to where?”

“How about like New York or Boston?”

Dieter sipped his drink. “I’d say your best bet is fly out of  Bismarck. You’ll have to connect in Minneapolis, though.”

“How would one get to Bismarck from this place?”

“You could take the bus,” Dieter answered, mockingly. “Or…” He shrugged.

“Or what?”

“Well, it just so happens that I am headed that way tomorrow morning.”

“To Bismarck?”

“Through there. Headed to Rapid City.”

“What’s in Rapid City? Visiting Mount Rushmore?”

Dieter wheezed out a laugh, then cleared his throat. Then his eyes flashed. “Business,” he answered in a tone with a purposefulness that thumped like a bass drum.

Mae raised her glass to her lips but pulled it away to ponder. She certainly wasn’t going back to DC, not any time soon. What would she do, there? Stare longingly out her brownstone windows at the passing black limousines while she pumped her quads on her elliptical? New York and Boston would be pricey, and close…too close. Too many limos with muckety mucks there, as well. She needed time away from Babylon to clear her head and plot her next move. There was only one place to go that made any sense.

“How far is Rapid City from Denver?” She asked, expecting Dieter to aspirate his drink. But he didn’t. He didn’t seem fazed at all.

“Four hundred miles, give or take,” he answered. “Why don’t you just fly?”

“Fly into Denver? That’s a crapshoot half the time.”

“Yeah.” Dieter grinned. “Or maybe that’s a manifest you don’t want your name on.”

Mae raised her glass to him, took a drink, then set it down in front of her and swished the garnish. “Never mind, then,” she said as she turned away from him and faced the bar mirror. She kept watch on his reflection between the bottles.

“What would it be worth to you?” Dieter asked.

Mae made eye contact with him in the mirror. “I’m sure we could come to some sort of arrangement.”

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Indivisible: Come and Take It, Chapter 18

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 18

 

Marzan walked down the road while the boy shuffled along behind, checking on the him from time to time to make sure he wasn’t falling too far back. When he lagged too far, Marzan would slow his pace to allow him to catch up. It began to drizzle and soon after that the boy began to sob once again. Marzan heard him and stopped to wait for him. When he finally caught up, Marzan noticed that the rain had mostly washed his face clean except for the soot that ran down from his nostrils and gathered around his mouth. The boy hadn’t cared enough to wipe it away, having been preoccupied with his grief. His hair was badly singed, burned off in places and clumped in others. His clothes were damp.

“Just a little farther,” Marzan said. “Then we’ll find a place to stop for the night.” He turned to start walking again but he didn’t hear the boy’s footfalls behind. Marzan turned back. “C’mon, boy. We gotta keep moving.” But the boy just hung his head and wept. Marzan approached him again. “You can’t stay out here on the road alone. No one is coming. You’re wet. It will get cold at night and you’ll get hypothermia. You need to be by a fire tonight to dry out.” The boy just stared at the ground and cried. “Listen to me,” Marzan continued, “you’ve got to keep moving. It won’t be much further. I promise. You can do it.” The boy started shuffling forward without raising his eyes from the ground.

It darkened as they plodded along together for the next two miles. The drizzle stopped just as they came to the bombed out wreckage of another car. It had been pushed off onto the shoulder to clear the road. Not far away, just before the trees, Marzan could just barely see three makeshift wooden crosses planted in the ground. He shielded the boy the best he could from seeing it, worried that it might trouble him and slow their progress if he were to notice the graves.

They had put another hundred yards behind them when Marzan decided it was time to make camp. “C’mon, let’s go this way,” he said to the boy. They turned off the road, scrambling over a course littered with dead logs and branches of trees felled by the beetle blight. It was getting dark with the cloud cover blocking out the moon and starlight. They kept on for several minutes until Marzan decided that they were invisible to anyone on the road. He stopped and began to feel around for dry branches to build a fire, but everything was damp. He pried apart a rotting log and managed to rip out some suitable kindling. Once the crumbling pieces of pine bark were burning, he carefully added more and more and then added the driest twigs and pine needles that he could find until the fire built enough energy to burn the damp branches he had snapped off the dead pine trees. He scavenged together a pile of fuel now that there was light to work by and stockpiled it nearby. The two of them sat down against a thick log to warm themselves and dry their clothes. Marzan aspired to build a lean-to for shelter from the rain, but he was too exhausted and stiff to move. His side was aching and his feet were blistered. He carefully fed and stirred the fire until it burned brightly, an oasis of heat and light in the damp blackness. They both soon fell asleep

Marzan awoke to the cool air and soft light preceding sunrise. He was shivering. The fire was reduced to coals and white ash. The sky was pale blue and the terrain of skeleton pines, saplings and junipers looked different than he had envisioned it in the darkness. They had not gotten as far off the road as he had thought they had. He could see the strip of cracked asphalt not a hundred yards away, through the mix of living and dead trees.

He expected to find the boy still sleeping but discovered that he was gone. He stood and stretched up to look around for him. His body ached. His blisters were raw and burned. His mouth was like cotton. “Boy!” he shouted. No answer. “If you can hear me, we gotta get moving. We gotta find some water. I’m headed back to the road.” Marzan took his first stiff and wobbly steps. His side immediately cramped. He groaned as he pushed himself forward, slowly stepping over the fallen logs and branches. As he moved his body, his aching muscles surrendered to his will. His joints loosened. “Boy!” he shouted again. He looked in all directions but saw no sign of the boy. Marzan walked out of the trees and onto the clearing off the shoulder of the highway. He looked back down the road the direction they had come. Not far back sat the wreckage that had been pushed onto the shoulder. Then he saw the boy standing there.

“What are you doing?” Marzan asked when he reached him. The boy didn’t answer. Marzan chose a different approach. “Are you hungry?” The boy stood silently before the graves, staring at the shoddy crosses. “I have some food. But we should get water first.” The boy didn’t respond. “Okay. I’m headed that way, down the road. I’m going to find us some water.” Marzan left the boy and started south. The road was straight and flat. His pace was slow because his blisters burned as his shoes rubbed on the raw skin, and so the boy was able to catch up. Marzan looked back after a hundred yards to see if the boy was following. Just as Marzan was about to pass out of view of the wreckage, he saw that the boy was back on the road and walking his way. He slowed his pace even more to allow him to get closer.

Marzan eventually came upon a slowly churning creek that passed under the highway and pooled in clear deep water off the west shoulder. The warm sun was rising in a cloudless sky. The boy caught up to Marzan as he was filling his canteen. They went off the road a bit and Marzan collected some kindling and dried branches and built a fire. He removed the plastic cap of his canteen and set it onto the edge of the fire ring. The boy sat across from him, tossing pine needles into the flames. After several minutes, steam began to vent from the canteen spout. Marzan let it boil for a while, then he used his sweatshirt to take hold of it and set it to the side to cool. “I hope that’s good enough,” he remarked. He opened his satchel and took out two MRE packages. “Do you want a blueberry turnover or a bacon and cheddar?” The boy didn’t answer. “Here, try the blueberry,” Marzan said before starting a tear in the package with his teeth and tossing it to him. The boy grabbed it, opened the package and proceeded to devour the contents. Marzan took a bite of his ration and continued talking with his mouth still full. “We’ll get you back to your family. We’re gonna go down that road a ways, maybe thirty miles or so, right between those mountains there.”

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