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Author Topic: Networks  (Read 3249 times)

Joel

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Networks
« on: December 07, 2006, 10:19:25 pm »

Here's a snippet of something I've been working on.  All this happens about seven years after the events in Walt's Gulch.  Lemme know what you think.

Chapter 2 – Networks

The gulches that had grown up around Garrett, Wyoming were prosperous and friendly places, as a rule.  Most of the gulchers were laid-back and apolitical, which was what Art Barnett liked to see.  The political ones tended to greet visitors with rifles, and an amateur with a rifle was scary.

Barnett’s first stop was a crusty little farm presided over by a wizened woman everybody called Auntie Mabel.  Barnett had no idea how old she was, but if she ever started recounting anecdotes from the Spanish American War he would sip his tea and listen respectfully.  She had gradually accumulated folks around her, a few couples and several single men.  The fields, which he assumed had once lain fallow for years, were now covered with acres of garden crops.  Some of her people had also begun to produce some really high-quality finished woolen goods that they mostly sold locally.  She’d want his load of wool, but they would have to work out how she was going to pay.  Barnett accepted trade goods or specie, but not currency, Visa, or MasterCard.

He’d been here several times, in this van, and so wasn’t looking for any tension or trouble.  They knew him.  This was why he felt more than a touch of concern when the faces in the fields that rose to watch him pass were stony, and the workers all seemed to reach down and lift long objects.  Some crouched in the produce and watched outward, but others began following him toward the buildings.  In fact there seemed to be quite an accretion of people moving toward a new low, squat structure.

Oh, shit.  What had he stumbled into now?

Barnett stopped the van in his usual place, a wide-open yard.  Three armed men surrounded the van, one right in front and two on the rear corners.  They all kept a careful distance; this was a maneuver they’d worked out in advance.  Things had changed.  Barnett slowly put both hands on the top of the steering wheel and waited to see what would happen next.

“Get out slow and open all the doors,” said the one in front.

Well, that put an unpleasant complexion on things.  Now it was starting to look like a robbery.  But no gulch had ever robbed him.  And all these families were farmers, and pretty prosperous ones; they wouldn’t have just turned into thieves.

An old woman’s voice called out.  “Now, Pinky!  You lower that shotgun right now.  I told you the Traveler might be coming this week.”

Auntie Mabel stepped out of the house and walked toward the van.  “You can’t go waving guns at our friends.  Now lower that shotgun, Pinky, or I’ll take it away from you.”

“Pinky” was a big guy Barnett hadn’t seen before; must have been a fairly recent arrival.  He was all muscles and crew cut, and looked for all the world like recent ex-military; not the sort of gulcher you usually met, though it took all kinds.  Now he just looked put-upon and a little helpless.  “Mabel, I’ve asked you not to call me…”

“Arthur, he’s just being cautious.”  Ignoring the big guy, Mabel turned her attention to the van.  “We’ve had some troubles just lately.  Be a dear and do as he says, all right?  Just to settle his mind.”

“Sure, Mabel.”  Barnett slowly raised his left hand from the wheel and reached out the window, opening the door with the outside latch.  He slowly exited the van, keeping his hands in sight, and closed the door.

“Why don’t you just go ahead and open up the van, so he can see there’s nobody else inside?  Nobody’s going to bother your goods.”

Huh.  No matter what she says, she’s going along with ‘Pinky’s’ program
.  “Okay.”  He walked around the van, opening the side and rear doors.  The three men approached slowly, their guns shouldered though not exactly pointed.  There was, of course, nobody inside.

“There, you see?  Nothing to worry about.”  Mabel patted his arm.  “Now we can all be friends.”  She began walking briskly toward the house.  “Pinky, why don’t you tell the folks in the bunker that the sky isn’t falling, and get them back to what they were doing?  Arthur, you’re welcome to come in for a nice cup of tea.”

The big guy really was starting to go a little pink in the face.  “Aw, Mabel, I keep asking you…”

She turned and surveyed the man.  “Yes?”

“Nothing.”  Despite the poor way their relationship had begun, the big guy caught Barnett’s gaze and rolled his eyes.  This is the bullshit I have to put up with.  Barnett shrugged sympathetically and hurried after Mabel.  It didn’t do to keep her waiting.

***
“I’m very sorry about all that, Arthur.  But as I said, we have had some troubles.”  Mabel sat him down in her big, overwarm kitchen.  In front of him was a plate of her excellent pastries and a big mug of steaming tea.  Barnett hated tea, but that wasn’t a subject one raised with Mabel.  The customer is always right.

“What’s going on, Mabel?”

She sat down across from him, and for a few moments focused all her attention on her own mug.  “Medicine Bow.”  At first she said nothing more, as if those words should explain all.

“Mm?”

“Forestry service has always been a pain in the ass, almost as long as I remember.  S’not enough the feds already own most of the state, seems like now they want the rest.  Bad enough back twenty years ago, when they started all that stupid talk about ‘re-wilding’ and ‘biodiversity’ something or other.  Forest rangers started carrying guns and pushing people around.  That was just a nuisance.  But now lately…”  She took another sip.

“Have you heard the forestry service has been folded into Homeland Security?”  She looked up, her eyes angry.  “What the hell next, the post office?  The better to read your goddamn mail.”  Mabel didn’t swear much, and in Barnett’s admittedly limited experience it was better to be elsewhere when she did.

“Anyway, now they’ve got some real muscle.  I don’t know what’s going on other places, but around here it’s Medicine Bow National Forest.  Some bureaucrat decided his empire wasn’t big enough or something, and they’re expanding the forest preserve.  Damned thing’s half the county now; how big does it need to be?  Where the hell they want us to go?”  She waved her hand.  “Don’t answer that, I already know.”

She stood up and began pacing the kitchen rapidly, which Barnett took to be another bad sign.  “They want us to move to the cities.  Hell, if we wanted to live in cities we’d already be there.  We know where they are.”

She turned back suddenly.  “You know the Pritcherts, up near Sheep Creek?”

He shook his head.  “No.”

“Not surprising.  Real quiet folks, didn’t associate much.  Hated government like a fly hates a flyswatter.  We all thought they were paranoid.”  She snorted.  “Turns out they weren’t paranoid enough.  They’re gone.”

Barnett raised his head.  “What do you mean, gone?”

“Gone!  No longer there!  Neither present nor accounted for!  We don’t know what happened to them, it all happened so fast.  Their place is gone; bulldozed, every stick hauled off.  There’s nothing where their homestead used to be but a couple of pipes sticking out of the ground and some bare dirt.”  She sighed.  “And a couple of the boys had to sneak in to even find out that much.  The national forest signs got moved up the road, and there’s a chain and a sign across what used to be their driveway.  It’s all federal land now.”

“So quick?  How can even the feds do that?”

“Well, we don’t know just how quick it was.  Like I said, the Pritcherts didn’t associate much.  We don’t know if they got arrested for something or just eminent domained and run off.  But it sure seemed to happen quick.  And it got our attention, let me tell you.”

“Huh.”  Barnett hated this sort of conversation.  In this brave new world, the forces of law and order did horrific things to innocent people all the time.  There wasn’t a damned thing he could do about it, but stories like this always left him feeling like he should be rushing off to do battle with somebody.  He really just wished folks wouldn’t keep bringing it up, but what were you going to do?  “Well…So I guess that’s what the new greeters and building are about?”

She gave him a sour look.  “Yeah.  We don’t know what’s going on, and haven’t had a hint that it’s gonna happen to us.  But some of us have been pushed just about as far as we’re gonna go.”

“So where’d you get ‘Pinky’?  And if you don’t mind my asking, why do you call him that?”

Auntie Mabel laughed, relaxing at last.  “Aw, he’s all right.  Actually, he’d be pleased if you’d call him Tom, that being his name and all.  And I guess I should let him off the hook.  He’s my grand-nephew, I think.  Hard to keep track.  Anyway, he’s my niece’s boy.  Did a hitch in the Special Forces.  They sent him down to Peru, Costa Rica, Orange County, a few other places to fight the terrorists, don’t ya know.  Growing up, we never thought he was too bright.  It took that to show him that sometimes one man’s terrorist is just another man’s pissed-off peasant.  Anyway, when folks ‘round here starting having trouble, my niece thought I could use some muscle of my own.  He come in here barking orders and trying to organize everybody.  I had to take measures to get him to remember who’s the brains of this little place.”

“And since you’re the brain, that would make him…”

“Pinky, yeah.”

“He’s gotta love that.”

“Told him I’d stop when he did.”

“And was it him that thought that bunker was a good idea?”

She smiled slyly.  “No, actually I thought that up.”

“Mabel.  I thought you’d know better.”  He raised his finger like a pedantic schoolmaster.  “Once upon a time, there was this little town in Texas…”

“Gimme a little credit, Arthur.  I don’t plan to get us Wacoized.  Never did like the heat.”  She shifted in her seat.  “No, that so-called bunker is mostly basement.  We went to a great deal of ditching to lay a bunch of underground culvert to the barn, where there’s a very nice bus.”  She shook her head.  “It would kill me to lose this place.  But if it ever looks like it’ll kill us all to keep it, we bug out like our pants are on fire.”

***
 About a week later, Barnett was ready to leave the area.  In his rounds of the gulches in the Garrett neighborhood, he had made some nice little hauls.  It was fortunate that he’d doubled his pharmaceutical stock before making the trip; he already had a customer for half, but had found takers for painkillers and antibiotics at every stop.  These people were starting to think in terms of taking wounds, and that was ominous.  He made a mental note to consider hauling weapons on his next pass through the area, though he also wondered if he’d even have customers here, next time around.

They all had the same fear.  What kind of weird-ass world was it, when the forest rangers could become a deadly threat?

He shook his head.  Too much to say that it wasn’t his problem – it very much was his problem – but there wasn’t anything he could do about it.

Anyway, he was going to make out like a bandit on his next round.  A complex series of horse-trades had scored him the mother lode of all cargo; a complete, functioning metal lathe with all the machine tools needed for making rifle barrels, along with almost 100 barrel blanks from another, happier era.  There were people in Crook County who had been turning out cottage-industry guns for a couple of decades, to the despair of the federal alphabet agencies that chased them around.  It was like the revenuers versus the moonshiners up there, and had been for a long time.  He knew a couple of craftsmen who had been pining openly for exactly what he now had to trade, and there was going to be such a bidding war…

All he had to do was stay alive long enough to get it there, and that was going to be the trick.  The machine tools could be explained away to a Checkpoint Charley without difficulty.  But those barrel blanks didn’t look like anything except exactly what they were.  All firearm components were utterly and absolutely forbidden by the forces of law and order, and he was now moving into the heart of the region where they’d be most carefully sought.  He needed some help here.

***
In a dreary back office of a dreary building sporting a weathered sign that read Casper Concrete and Building Supply, Barnett sat sipping weak coffee in the company of two men of villainous appearance.  They weren’t the most lovable bunch, but they got the job done.  Barnett wasn’t too worried.

“Sure,” said one.  “No problem.  What’s in it for us?”

“A piece of the action, same as before,” said Barnett.  “Fifty percent of the proceeds from the goods you haul.”

“Oh, yeah,” said the leader.  “I remember the last time.  A bunch of homemade submachine guns that coulda got us a ten-day life sentence in New Mexico.  Jesus, what we had to do to unload that steaming pile!”  He tapped a dirty fingernail on the table.  “No way in hell.  Money, Barnett.”

“Currency?”

“At a big discount.  Gold’s better.”

Oh, this was going to strip him of his whole traveling reserve.  Bad enough he had to buy a truckload of other stuff, just to move a hundred rods of steel.  He sure hadn’t planned to pay gold for it.  “A half ounce a ton for the rebar.  One and a half additional for the mix.”

“Two.  Each.  Half up front, and you pay the fuel.”

He slapped down his cup.  “Gimme a…What the hell they making rebar out of these days?  I could buy the truck for that!  One and three quarters for the mix.”

The negotiation went on for another twenty minutes.  But in the end, a large truck loaded with three tons of twenty-foot concrete reinforcing bars made its slow way to Crook County, on a somewhat parallel course with Art Barnett’s white van.  Mixed with the rough iron bars were one hundred smooth round rods of fine steel.

***
The people he sought would never have dreamed of letting him onto their place – or even of letting him know where it was – and he would never have dreamed of asking.  So the very first thing he needed was a place to store three tons of iron.  Fortunately such a place came easily to mind.  He’d been down this road before.  Deep in the Black Hills of Northeastern Wyoming were settlements that appeared on no map.

***
The man sat, to all appearances completely idle, on the porch of a neat and tiny clapboard cabin deep in the heart of nowhere.  Barnett knew it was a pose:  The approach was a winding road through the woods that crested at least three ridges in plain sight of the cabin.  If one looked closely, one could have picked out where trees had been topped or removed to provide those lines of sight.  So if the man was sitting at peace on his porch, it was because he had accepted the white van’s presence in his realm.

Barnett leaned out the window.  “Brian Parker, Esquire, I presume?”

The man looked up and smiled, exactly as if he had only that moment noticed the presence of a large vehicle not ten feet away.  “Parker’s the name, subversion’s the game.  I wasn’t expecting you, Traveler.  Have something nice for us today?”

“Oh, yes indeed.  Still in the storage business, are we?”

“Could be, could be.  What’s up?”

“Taxes and the cost of doing business.  I’m looking for someone who specializes in the construction of large but unobtrusive concrete structures.”

“I’m sure I haven’t the slightest notion of what you’re talking about.  Why, these structures of which you speak could be used to escape and evade the rightful duties and privileges of citizenship.  What sort of villain would seek such a thing?”

“The sort with an entire truckload of twenty-foot rebar, about four hours away and closing.”

Parker slowly unfolded himself from his languid pose, rising to his full height a good foot taller than Barnett.  “Oh, but that’s awful.  Tragic.  So many forms to fill out, so many licenses and permits to seek.  Building materials are controlled substances these days, my love.  Only a fool would take delivery of them in such a casual fashion.”

“And could you tell me,” laughed Barnett, “Where I could find such a fool?”

“I’ll just get my hat.”

***
Brian Parker was one of Barnett’s very favorite customers.  With degrees in architecture and construction engineering, he had to all appearances left the profession three years earlier to protest the National Infrastructure Protection Act, which effectively regulated small contractors out of business.  NIPA – for purposes of safety and security – now required all types of building materials on residential and agricultural projects to be registered by type.  Small contractors found themselves required to follow a torturous procedure to register each bar, each bag of cement, each board and sheet of plywood.  Larger, more connected companies seemed to have no problem receiving single “project” registrations covering everything.

Since then, Parker had concentrated on the sort of building projects which required no permits of any kind, most of which were performed behind fences and after hours.  One could not find his business listed in the telephone book.  His particular specialty was retrofitting subterranean facilities under existing buildings.  He tended to use up a lot of concrete, obtained through irregular channels. 

Parker climbed into the van’s shotgun seat, and Barnett turned the van around for the trip out of the woods.  “How does it happen that you’ve got this truckload of goodies, Traveler?  It’s not your usual thing.”

“Long story, my friend.  Boils down to camouflage.  The rebar’s not really the cargo.”

“Ah.”  Parker rolled down his window and stuck out his elbow.  “Going to see the Clancy brothers, are we?”

“I hope to see them and a couple of others.  Reach behind you and give that tarp a twitch.”

Parker stretched out a long arm and pulled up the tarpaulin covering the lathe.  “Oh, my.  Oh, dear, that is nice.”  He shook the tarp back into place and turned around in his seat.  “Everything there?”

“Uh huh.”

“Yes, I can see why you’d want to let everybody know.  But if you’ve got it here with you, what’s on the truck?”

“Raw materials, of the sort only they could appreciate.  Think you could find a place for me to keep it for a few days?”

“We’ll work it into the price of the rebar.”
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Yet another Freedomista blog: The Ultimate Answer to Kings is not a bullet, but a belly laugh.

Bill St. Clair

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Re: Networks
« Reply #1 on: December 08, 2006, 05:42:55 am »

Nice. Hope there's more coming.
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"The state can only survive as long as a majority is programmed to believe that theft isn't wrong if it's called taxation or asset forfeiture or eminent domain, that assault and kidnapping isn't wrong if it's called arrest, that mass murder isn't wrong if it's called war." -- Bill St. Clair

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coloradohermit

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Re: Networks
« Reply #2 on: December 08, 2006, 07:34:04 am »

Good start! I'm onboard with it already.
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George Potter

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Re: Networks
« Reply #3 on: December 08, 2006, 09:51:57 am »

 :ph34r:
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Vrsovice Rebel

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Re: Networks
« Reply #4 on: December 08, 2006, 10:02:37 am »

Woot...
Keep 'em coming, JDW!
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Dare2BFree

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Re: Networks
« Reply #5 on: December 08, 2006, 11:42:18 am »

Wonderful stuff - can't wait for more!   :thumbsup:
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If I had known that these days would have changed my life - I would have dressed better.   ~ me

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Joel

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Re: Networks
« Reply #6 on: December 08, 2006, 02:01:03 pm »

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Yet another Freedomista blog: The Ultimate Answer to Kings is not a bullet, but a belly laugh.

George Potter

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Re: Networks
« Reply #7 on: December 08, 2006, 02:20:18 pm »

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henshawe

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Re: Networks
« Reply #8 on: December 08, 2006, 03:12:02 pm »

 :laugh:  :ph34r:

Americus
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