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Crumbs of Crumbs 9

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I’VE FALLEN AND I CAN’T GET UP

Were they connected? Were they warnings of some kind? Why did the alien visitors choose kitsch advertising phrases as a means of communication? After some reflection, Tegende decided that it actually made sense. Of all the transmissions mankind had beamed out into the universe, intentionally and unintentionally, advertising catchphrases were likely the most prominent. It would be perfectly reasonable to assume that E.T. would deem advertising as the most significant component of human communication. How the alien visitors interpreted it was another matter . . .

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Indivisible Chapter 8

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Chapter 8

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What are the Chinese doing?”

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

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

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

“Wow. So what happens now?”

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

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

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

“Jess! Jess! Wake up!”

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

“We have to go to the grocery store.”

“What?”

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

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

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

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

“Why are we doing this, Vaughn?”

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

“What’s happening?”

“The day of reckoning has come.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He waited…

…and he waited.

He swiped again…

…and he waited.

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

“Card Failed To Read”

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

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

“Card Processing…”

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

“Come on!” he barked at the pump.

“Card Processing…”

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

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

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

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

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

“Never mind,” Vaughn replied.

“Pump Authorizing…”

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

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

His neighbor apparently had things figured out.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Hear about the stuff going on in Asia?”

“Indeed.”

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

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

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

“Huh?”

“Why no panic?”

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

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

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

“So you do think something’s happening?”

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

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

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

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

“Where’s that?”

“Rhodesia.”

“Oh, you mean Zimbabwe?”

“I mean Rhodesia.”

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

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

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

“Oh, I don’t do that.”

“Please. I have no clue what to get.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Who? That guy there?”

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

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

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

“Johnny McDouglas? The actor?”

“Yep.”

“You’re on drugs.”

“Look at him!” Jessica whispered emphatically.

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

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

Whoever he was, he had money.

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

“It’s him.”

“How could you tell? The watch?”

“It’s the shoes.”

“Aha.”

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

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

Indivisible

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Indivisible Chapter 7

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Chapter 7

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What gang are you with?”

“I no hablo Ingleis.”

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

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

Joe Joe just grinned his silvery grin.

“Why weren’t you packing?”

“Que?”

“In the house…why no gun?”

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

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

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

“I no talk to you. I wan my lawyer.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Who’s ‘we’, Joe Joe?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Joe Joe grunted in pain.

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

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

Joe Joe grimaced.

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

“Who’s your boss, Joe Joe?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I no understand,” Joe Joe replied.

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

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

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

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

“Now Joe Joe, are you gonna cooperate?”

Joe Joe just prayed.

“I’m gonna count to three…”

Joe Joe said nothing.

“One…”

Joe Joe closed his eyes.

“Two…”

Joe Joe held his breath.

“Three…”

Garrity growled as he squeezed the trigger.

Click.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Joe Joe shook his head.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Joe Joe remained frozen in terror.

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

“Look inside!” He shouted.

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

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

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

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

Joe Joe’s eyes filled with tears.

“Well? Isn’t it?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Cuff him again,” Garrity ordered.

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

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

The two officers cuffed Joe Joe behind his back.

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

“He a pawn dealer. It all check out.”

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

“Should we have it x-rayed?”

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

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

Indivisible

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Oathkeeper Chapter 1

OathkeeperA peaceful valley in the mountains of Colorado becomes a battleground pitting the DEA against a rural sheriff’s department. Beleaguered Sheriff Bear Ellison finds himself outnumbered, over-matched, and increasingly isolated as he is forced to decide between risking his life protecting a local hero, or reneging on his oath and handing him over to the Department of Justice.

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Chapter 1

 

Until recent times, Calumet County had never been known as a place of killing and violence. Nestled in the Rocky Mountains in the shadow of the Continental Divide, the once tranquil county is inhabited by eighteen thousand year-round residents: a smorgasbord of ranch hands, pensioners, federal prison employees, and graying hippies. The streets and avenues of the county seat – Calumet City, population two thousand – are lined with Victorian-era homes, picket fences, jagged cottonwood trees, and old ponderosa pines. The village has one stoplight at the intersection of State Road 24 and Main Street. Deer graze on neighborhood lawns by day and black bears rummage through garbage cans by night. The residents of the county engage in a variety of recreational pursuits. Many enjoy the thrills of whitewater rafting or the freedom of bicycling. Others prefer the anticipation of a striking trout, the pursuit of big game, or the solitude of camping within the vast mountain forests and by the countless placid ponds and crystal clear streams, all of which are within a few minutes’ drive.

As with any population, there exists some fraction who are un-enamored by those conventional leisure activities and choose instead to indulge in mind-altering chemicals. Because of the illegality of many of these substances, these folks must make forays into the black markets, where the heightened risk of incarceration lures entrepreneurs of dubious morality and muted inhibition towards violence. The peaceful county was changing.

In all the decades that had passed since the town’s founding in the 1870s – after the first ranchers, silver miners, cattle rustlers, claim jumpers and lynch mobs chased the Ute Indians away and built their homesteads, churches, saloons, opium dens and whorehouses – there had been a grand total of only fifteen homicides. But the most recent four years had seen an alarming uptick in murderous violence in the county, rendering all other decades insignificant by statistical comparison.

The first of these recent killings was perpetrated by a Mr. Leone Vigil, an unemployed ex-felon. He had decided that he no longer wanted to deal with his insurmountable debts and his nagging and adulterous common-law wife. He drank himself into semi-consciousness, snorted $1,500 worth of cocaine, and then blew her brains out with a twelve gauge shotgun before turning the weapon on himself. Then Danny Pocket, a blond-haired high school narc, met his demise. One day, he had the misfortune of running into some of the very kids whom he had narced on. They proceeded to pound on him mercilessly, but when they discovered that the frail boy had ceased breathing, the pimply-faced criminal masterminds disposed of the evidence by dumping his body into the six-foot-deep City Park duck pond. It took less than forty-eight hours before the assailants turned on one another and the corpse was discovered. The village was devastated by the killing of a teenager, and schools were closed for three days. The townspeople tried their best to embrace the Pocket family and nurture them through their horrible ordeal, but they would not be comforted. Driving past the pond every day was too much for them to bear, and they soon moved away to Minnesota. Then there was Punchy Bauer, a burly speed dealer who got the worst of it in a bar fight. Typically a contest between rotund, hairy, middle-aged drunks throwing wild haymakers and spilling their change on the floor, this particular incident quickly escalated into a full-on knife fight. It was, up until then, the worst thing ever seen at the historic Wagon Wheel Saloon – 19th century gunfighter myths included. Punchy bled out on a pool table in the back, clutching at his lacerated diaphragm while a Mexican cook pressed his hands against the wound and the green felt of the table turned maroon. Soon after that, a Mr. Michael Roosevelt met his maker, dying by gunshot in what originally appeared to be a tragic hunting accident. Sheriff’s Deputy Ken Kennesaw, however, extracted a confession from the murderer, Michael’s stepbrother. He may not have loved his brother, but he sure did love his brother’s wife. Their plan was to kill Michael, collect his life insurance, then blow it on ecstasy while becoming blackjack dealers in Las Vegas. And then James White – trust fund baby, dedicated snowboarder, and occasional chemistry major from Boulder – was found strangled and sans his wallet in the River Park parking lot, the victim of a meth deal gone wrong.

Not six months after White’s murder, a twenty-four-year-old fellow by the name of Joe Amos Rolfe decided that he had had enough of this world and, while making his journey into the next, he was going to take a few “motherfuckers” along with him. Rolfe had acquired two 9mm pistols: the first legally, from a sporting goods store called Ralph’s, and the second one week later, from a tattooist at a parlor called Climax Tattoo and Piercing in the nearby town of Leadville.

Rolfe’sRolfe’s final day began at 10 a.m., when he was awakened by an itching fit. Agitated by this and having exhausted his supply of speed, he got into his cream-colored Chrysler K-car and drove to the apartment of a female acquaintance named Winona Larroquette. Rolfe dreaded the very sight of her. He thought her to be hideously unattractive, untrustworthy, and as dumb as bread, but he knew she was infatuated and perhaps even obsessed with him…and that she always had a supply of hillbilly crack. The two of them partook in her methamphetamine and watched YouTube videos of the metal group Sepultura for an hour.

“What’s wrong?” Winona asked Rolfe when he rebuffed her attempt to unzip his jeans.

“What is this shit you got? I can’t get high.”

“It’s the same as last time, Joey.”

“I will bitch slap you if you call me Joey again.”

“Jesus, Joe. What is your deal?”

“It’s probably the effin’ meds I’m on.”

Rolfe shoved her off and stormed out. Agitated and still itching badly, he drove himself to the Calumet City Alco store, located on the north edge of town just before the KOA campground. He parked his K-car in the closest handicapped parking space, got out, and made his way towards the front doors of the store. There, he was confronted by some old motherfucker in a wheelchair.

“Excuse me, but you can’t park there,” said the seated man. He wore a navy windbreaker with gold letters identifying himself as a veteran of World War II.

“Says who?” Rolfe replied, as he withdrew one of the pistols from his waistband.

Confined to his wheelchair, the old veteran was unable to flee. Rolfe fired once, shooting him in the chest, and continued on toward the doorway as the dying man collapsed onto the crosswalk.

While Joe Amos Rolfe made his way into the store to continue his murderous rampage, a Mr. Montgomery Turcot, himself a veteran of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, was trying on a pair of Wrangler jeans in a dressing room. He heard the report of Rolfe’s initial shot, but did not believe it to be gunfire. There weren’t any screams or commotion immediately after the shot fired at the entrance, so Turcot continued fitting his pants. But at the very moment he pushed through the saloon doors of the dressing room, three more shots rang out. This time, he was certain of what it was.

Turcot surveyed the front of the store where the gunshots had originated. From his vantage point, he could just see the cashier’s raised hands. There was another pop, and the hands dropped out of sight. Ducking against the steel merchandise shelving, he watched as the shooter, dressed in a navy blue hoodie and saggy jeans and carrying a 9mm pistol in each hand, crossed an aisle towards the front end of the store, apparently moving towards the pharmacy. Turcot reached into his old pants for his sidearm, a Kel-Tec P-32, and clipped the holster into his new jeans. He drew it, cocked it, and cautiously made his way toward the undergarment aisle that stood between him and the pharmacy. More shouts sounded from up ahead, and were promptly answered by three more gunshots. Silence returned to the store.

Turcot leaned against the shelves of boxer briefs and athletic socks, trying to breathe quietly, concerned that his small caliber pistol would not be capable of dropping the shooter before he could return fire. He checked right and left, estimating that the gunfire was either two or three aisles over. Assuming that the man was still heading toward the pharmacy, Turcot believed that he could move up from behind and take him out. At the same time, he also noticed the front door of the Alco in the opposite direction. He could make a run for it. In seven seconds, he could be outside the store and out of danger.

Though the possibility of escape was clearly there, Monte Turcot simply couldn’t bring himself to flee. Creeping up to the edge of the aisle, he peeked around the corner and discovered a woman hunkered down against the racks with her hands over her head. She looked up at him, paralyzed by fear, as if she wasn’t sure if he was the shooter or not. He pressed his finger to his lips, motioning for her to remain still, and quietly snuck across the aisle to look around the next row of shelves. No one was there, but he could hear more shouting and pleading. With his back to the shelving, Turcot contemplated his situation for a moment. He checked left and right again. Nothing. He glanced around the next aisle, finding it empty as well.

Then came three more shots.

The pops were crisp and loud, most likely coming from the next aisle over. Turcot drew in a deep breath and exhaled slowly to steady himself, then poked his head around the shelves stocked with toothpaste, floss, and other hygiene products. There stood Joe Amos Rolfe in his blue hoodie and saggy jeans, his back turned, a pistol in each hand, his wrists cocked and raised up over his head like some Hollywood gangbanger. It was clear that he was looking for another target.

Turcot took aim from behind. The thought of yelling “freeze” or “drop it” entered his mind for an instant, but he fired instead, putting three rounds straight into the gunman’s back from eighteen feet away. Rolfe instantly crumpled onto the floor, dropping both pistols and letting out a long, wheezing moan. With his P-32 still pointed at the fallen man’s body, Turcot walked up to him and kicked both guns out of reach. Standing over his victim, Turcot reached down, grabbed Rolfe and flipped him over, then placed one knee on his chest and took a good long look at the shooter. Rolfe’s face was pale, sweaty, wide-eyed, and his mouth hung open, gasping for air. His eyes were those of a frightened boy. Paralyzed and helpless, he stared up at Turcot as if pleading for mercy.

Someone screamed, then screamed again and again, filling the store with shrill, hair-raising cries. Another person ran towards the front of the store, shouting “Call 911!” at the top of their lungs. Turcot could hear another voice coming from the front registers, murmuring “No, baby. No, baby. No,” in a panicked, motherly tone. More footsteps rushed up behind him, but Turcot didn’t take his eyes off the shooter. Rolfe didn’t move, except for his quivering.

“You got him!” shouted a male voice from directly behind.

“Why? Why?” the woman sobbed.

“Hold him down there,” the man ordered. “The police will be here any minute. I’m going to help that lady at the counter.”

“Wait!” Turcot spoke up before the newcomer could leave.

“What?”

“Go out front. Tell the cops not to shoot me.”

“Yeah. You got it.” The footsteps moved off toward the front of the store, leaving Turcot alone with Rolfe again. The motherly voice continued sobbing, repeating its desperate mantra of “No. No. No,” over and over. Moving carefully, Turcot slid his left hand beneath the gunman’s neck and lifted his limp head off the floor. Rolfe grimaced as small trickles of blood ran through his teeth and down his chin.

“Do you hear that?”

“I asked you a question,” Turcot said, gripping Rolfe’s pencil-thin throat as the woman’s cries sounded through the store. “Do you hear that?”

The wounded gunman nodded faintly. He was fading away, barely holding on to consciousness.

“Listen…”

Rolfe’s eyelids drooped.

“Wake up!” Turcot ordered, shaking him.

“Why? Why? Why?” cried the motherly voice.

Rolfe’s eyes widened.

“Those are the last sounds you will ever hear.”

Monte Turcot gently lowered Rolfe’s head onto the linoleum floor, pressed the barrel of his pistol into the man’s forehead, and pulled the trigger.

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Oathkeeper