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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
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.