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THE BELLWETHER

 

By

 

James W. Nelson Copyright 2011 by James W. Nelson Introduction

Think of the 1800s, the wagontrains, and the people who crossed the prairie looking for a better life. Now fast-forward to the new millennium and the worldwide economy totally crashing, causing unbelievable chaos and violence. One man sees it coming and envisions building a hidden colony to ride out the likely decades-long crisis.

When the crash came nobody could point a finger and blame a specific thing. The United States and the world were locked in drought, stagnant economy, and rampant pollution. Too many people were wasting too much, demanding too much standard of living, and too much money created too much free time and entertainment, for, as one height was reached boredom prevailed, and more and greater thrills were demanded.

More wood, more metal, more food and drink, and more oil.
The oil flow stopped.
Then the flow of supplies stopped. The civilized world found itself trapped inside a steel,

concrete, and plastic wasteland with no utilities, no food, no water.

 

And no gasoline.

Aaron Hodges is the main viewpoint character, but with so much happening its necessary for other characters to sometimes have the viewpoint, too. Each character is developed thoroughly. The reader will have no problem switching back and forth, and will know at the very beginning of each scene just whose mind they will be in.

Set in the near future, novel runs for two years. Background themes include the economy, environment, and a shadowy “master race” organization. This novel is character-driven, just normal people loving and finding love, surviving, and reacting to circumstances as best they can. You will like the characters, you will care what happens to them, and at the end you will cheer. THE BELLWETHER

Dedicated to my late parents (They never gave up on me)

When I knew the late Mrs. George H. Raveling Jr., of Valley City, North Dakota, she was eighty-two years old, alone in life, and herding forty head of fat, shining, Hereford cows, she was eighty-two years old, alone in life, and herding forty head of fat, shining, Hereford cows, pound Poland China broodsows, with litters of up to 16 piglets each.

Chapter 42 “THE MATRIARCH” is dedicated to her (Mrs. Raveling, may you be resting in peace….)

 

THE BELLWETHER (Character list)

 

THE COLONISTS
Aaron Hodges MAIN VIEWPOINT
(leader of wagon train, then colony) (32)

Kester Hodges (Aarons uncle, minor character, semi -villain)(sixties) (wife, son, daughter-in-law, daughter, brother, Damon)
GeorgeThe hobo (no last name, Aarons hired man, good friend) (sixties) (some viewpoint)
Caroline Jentner (some viewpoint, love of Aarons life, teacher) (30)
Jennie (7, daughter, small for age, a bit crippled)(some viewpoint) Brett Haberman (some viewpoint, engineer, one of Aarons two best friends) (32) Jacqueline(Bretts wife)(some viewpoint)
Terri(7, oldest child, becomes Aarons friend & ally)(some viewpoint)
Sofi (5, middle child)
Wendi (3, youngest)
Jacob and Martha Haberman(Bretts parents)
Erica Norgarten(Bretts implied-at-the-end second wife)(some viewpoint) Billy Maclen Norgarten (17-year-old brother)
Taylor Magellan (some viewpoint, weapons, one of Aarons two best friends) (32)
Carmen Radnor(Taylors girlfriend, a nurse)(some viewpoint)
Taylors bedridden aged parents
Doctor William Solomon Radnor (Carmens brother) (sixties)
Nancy (wife)
2 children
Daniel Friskop (some viewpoint, modern mountain man, scout) (forties) (father to Whooping Crow)
Horsefire (Pinto stallion)
Applechaser (Appaloosa mare)
Julian (wolf-dog)
Satire (lynx)
Kelly Bolander (organic farmer, animal husbandman) (thirties)(some viewpoint)
Sharma (Kellys wife)
Sharmas parents (sixties)
Allia (9 year-old, son)(some viewpoint)
Josephine (sister)
Matthew (brother with wife and children)
Simon (brother with wife and children)
Andrew (derelict brother, later becomes second scout for wagontrain)
Senator Joseph and Elizabeth Bolander (Kellys parents)
Vivian Hartley (crafts and seamstress)(some viewpoint)
Jock (13-year-old son)
Brenna (11-year-old daughter)
3 other children

Sam Chilton (gardener, nurseryman, greenhouse) Clarice (wife)
Hans Willouwing (cook)
Dagmar (wife)
9-year-old girl
7-year-old boy
Griswold (brother with family) (meat cutter)
Gunther (brother with family) (food-preservation)
Forrest Barton (the man with no skills) (fifties)
Jessica 17
Karla 16
Gloriana 14
THE NATIVE AMERICANS
John Running Light
The northern prince Iroquois (some viewpoint) Paul Bacardi (his English/Spanish name)
Roanna (Indian-Mexican-American wife)
Princess Tongowari The southern princess Hohokum (some viewpoint) Shining Flower of the Half Moon (royal Indian name)
Long Bear Leading Great Lakes Elder Chippewa (some viewpoint) Whooping Crow (10-year-old great-grandson)
Fire Shining (granddaughter, Whooping Crows mother)
Hotowatah
Raven Hawk Two Shirts of the Rabbit Buffalo Walker
Four Crows
THE VILLAINS
Lieutenant Charles Rutledge Gibbs
The Gloryhunter (27)(some viewpoint) Colonel Davis
Luther Helm The contractor (fifties)
Anson The marauder Chieftain, factory foreman, nephew to Luther (twenties) Mallory Spicer (twenties)
Caleb Conrad (STIM Commander) (Stop The Indian Movement) (forties) Jared Contorte (The Crazy man) (thirties)
Fred Likken (Carolines fiancé) (early forties)(some viewpoint)
MISCELLANEOUS
Sergeant Sanchez (later receives a battlefield commission; at end joins colony)(twenties) The pioneer woman (eighties) (unnecessary to name her)
Henry Grannin(Brett Habermans California neighbor) (fifties)
Liddy (wife, forties)
Pandion (osprey)
Her mate
The trout
Alces (moose)
Corvus (crow)
Greatest elder on earth Hohokum The medicine man Papago
The messenger/escort Chiricahua Apache First Royal Guardian Jicarillo Apache Presenter of the Legend Nez Perce

MAIN CHARACTERS

Aaron Hodges is the bellwether. He sees the future through the prophecies of his Nez Perce friend, Four Crows. As Aaron sits on a log, Four Crows makes a symbolic painting on the back of his suede shirt, and speaks to him with a ghostly voice from the past, and future, a future that will see the unification of the Native American and the civilized world falter.

Consequently, Aaron makes preparations early, but, unable to believe such a disaster could really occur, he gets sidetracked with a factory job, a Las Vegas gambling trip, buying a small farm, fighting environmental battles, but does stumble onto a beautiful location for a hidden colony. But the people he attempts to recruit for colonists also cannot visualize such a bad thing happening, especially the love of his life, Caroline. When the crash actually happens, martial law is declared quickly. There will be no taking a caravan of vehicles down a hardtop road. So some 60 people go crosscountry in 16 “covered wagons” each pulled by a 4-horse team, over fields, prairie, and forest, about 40 days and 300 miles from southern Minnesota farming country into northern Minnesota wilderness.

Already rich by inheritance, available at age 25, Aaron has left the money in the bank for that proverbial “rainy” day. The Las Vegan trip just adds to the chest.

 

Old Paintis Aarons rusty van that he lives in while working and traveling.

Caroline Jentner is the love of Aarons life. She has a partly-crippled, seven-year-old daughter, Jennie. Little Jennie doesnt have a big part, and doesnt appear until chapter 12, but when she does appear she will capture your heart. You will come to love her, and she helps Aaron and her mom finally get together near the end of story. Caroline often has the viewpoint, and sees the world quite differently from Aaron.

George , a senior citizen hobo, is picked up by Aaron just outside a truck stop at Cheyenne, Wyoming; he has no last name and a peculiar body odor. Aaron and George will both get a job at the same factory where Caroline works, George will help Aaron and Caroline get together after an absence of 19 years. Later, George will become Aarons handyman at his small farm, and throughout their relationship George serves as Aarons living conscience.

Brett Haberman , an engineer from California,is one of Aarons two best friends. When the crash happens the Habermans will have to fight their way out of their own yard, then travel 2000 miles to join Aarons wagontrain.

Jacqueline Haberman , Bretts wife, has long been concerned about deteriorating conditions in the nation, but when the colony is suggested to her, well, things will never get “that” bad. She will involuntarily help in the abduction of her sister, Caroline.

Terri Haberman , 7 years old when Aaron visits the Habermans, she helps her parents fight their way out of their yard. When they arrive atAarons farm she is 9 and develops her first crush on 11-year-old Allia Bolander. When the two children go exploring in a dangerous place Terri shows how strong she can be.

Taylor Magellan , an ex-soldier drunkard 300-pound barbouncer, and Aarons other best friend. Aaron asks Taylor to provide weapons for self-defense, which he does, but attracts the attention of Lt. Gibbs, who will hound the wagontrain for 200 miles. (To buy weapons he goes by the name of Mister Langseth.)

Carmen Radnor Magellan , a very small woman, enters the bar with four strange men, and attracts Taylors attention, sits at his table, smiles, and then ignores him. When they leave—its obvious Carmen does not belong with those men—so Taylor asks her to stay. She does, they have to fight the four men, and Carmen, a nurse, joins the wagontrain in charge of the hospitalwagon.

Daniel Friskop , a modern-day mountain man who dresses the part. When we first join Friskop hes in Nevada capturing his future horse companions, Horsefire and Applechaser. When Aaron approaches him to scout for the wagontrain and lead them to the Wilderness Bowl, 2 other animals have joined him: Julian, a wolf-dog, and Satire, a lynx who rides on the back of Horsefire. Friskop agrees but they never become very close friends, especially when Friskop notices Caroline.

Kelly Bolander , the husbandman, is older than Aaron but a very close friend. Aaron approaches him to provide the horses, both draft and saddle, 16 wagons, and all the livestock to supply the planned colony. Kelly has three brothers, a sister, and his parents; they all join and become vital to the colonys success.

Allia Bolander , 11 years old when he experiences his first crush, on Terri Haberman. They first meet in Aarons farmyard as the wagontrain is gathering, and Allia kisses Terri almost immediately. They become fast friends. Allia helps deliver the first colt of Applechaser (now belonging to Terri) and when they go to that dangerous place Allia gets his first taste of manhood.

Andrew Bolander , a derelict son, doesnt appear till the wagontrain is crossing the interstate highway. The army has stopped the livestock herd and threatening to send everything to be butchered to feed the nowstarving nation. Andrew has been following the wagontrains tracks, stops the soldiers, and will later take over scouting when Friskop abandons them thanks to fighting with, and beating Aaron, over Caroline.

Vivian Hartley Vivian is a darling woman; she has five young children, all with different fathers. She has been used and abused by men all her life. She meets Aaron at the factory. After Aaron and Caroline break up, Vivian fills in and gets pregnant by Aaron, who, when he calls her to come to his farm and join the wagontrain he doesnt know shes very, very, pregnant. (Would Aaron have asked her along had he known? We dont know….)

Erica Norgaarten , one of three of the poker players who will figure later in the novel. Aaron is on a winning streak. Later, he almost gets robed, Erica helps save him, and still later they make love, and Aaron gets a second woman pregnant. Again he doesnt know. Erica, later will join Anson Helms motorcycle gang in order to feed her starving baby, and when Helm attacks the wagontrain, Erica and her brother, both armed with automatic weapons, will help save it. Then they join the wagontrain.
Paul Bacardi (John Running Light) Leading Native American character. He grew up at Embrace Lake Minnesota, became an attorney in Nevada with many rich clients. When he becomes involved with Tongowari (who he helps rescue from STIM) he reclaims his Indian name and begins to suspect his relatives in Minnesota are not his true relatives.

Tongowari , the southern princess. She is escorted out of southern Mexico by Two Shirts to the village by the Sauntering River in Nevada, where an international powwow is taking place. Her marriage to the northern prince will unite all Native Americans from both continents.

Two Shirts of the Rabbit, a Chiricahua Apache who has received training all his life, from his sixth birthday, for his one mission, that of escorting the princess safely to the powwow.

Four Crows , Nez Perce, sets the unification in motion by creating a paintingof “the return of the buffalo” on the back of Aarons suede jacket, which attracts Two Shirts attention, who then takes Aaron to meet the Papago medicine man who sends Two Shirts on his mission and tells Aaron that he, too, has a mission, alluding to the colony that Aaron wants to build. Unfortunately, Aarons painting also attracts the attention of STIM.

Long Bear , a leading Native American elder who lives at Embrace Lake, Minnesota, grandfather to John Running Light. He has always known of his grandsons true heritage and purpose in life. He tells a story of the frivolous white man to Caroline and her daughter when she visits the reservation, and tells her that she will have some future decisions to make, where she must follow her heart and not do what others are doing.

Lt. Charles Rutledge Gibbs , an army officer (one of the three poker players) who has had a long list of failures and is obsessed with impressing his superiors and getting an advancement and a command, so when he sees Taylor Magellan purchasing army weapons from his slack superior, he follows to the farm, sees the wagontrain gathering and is sure they are a camp of insurgency.

Sergeant Sanchezhas been a burr under Gibbs saddle clear back to Afghanistan. The sergeant follows orders, sometimes argues and usually is right. Later he receives a battlefield commission.

Anson Helm Weve all known people like this man. Helm lives right on the edge between civil to uncivil to barbaric. In the beginning hes a factory supervisor who gets the job done but makes no friends in the civil world. Hes also a member of a motorcycle gang, who, when the crash happens, resorts immediately to barbarism.

Mallory Spicer Weve also known people like thisman. Hes a member of the same motorcycle gang and makes his living by petty thievery, odd jobs with shady and questionable connections, but hes civil enough to get government help fora college education…at least a few courses. When we meet him we know hell never go the distance. He also harasses Caroline…until she finally dispatches him.
Caleb Conradis the worst kind, a criminal but underground, the secret leader of a “master race” organization (STIM, Stop The Indian Movement). In the beginning he is the supervisor of a corral construction company in southern Arizona. STIM knows something is about to happen and will begin right there at the construction site, where Aaron Hodges comes to work and meets Two Shirts of the Rabbit, who also is working there.

Jared Contorte is the third poker player who will figure later. Hes not exceptionally bright, also a petty thief (tries to rob Aaron of his winnings) and scams well enough to make a “homeless” living.

Fred Likken This is the “tall, dark, and handsome” college professor who continuously hits on Caroline, to no avail(she mostly cant stand him) until Caroline (mostly finally giving up on Aaron) decides her little Jennie needs a man-figure in her life, so she agrees to marry Fred Likken. Likken will later lead the army to the wagontrains location.

Pandion The avian heroine of the Wilderness Bowl.

 

The Wilderness Bowl A highly fictional place, a modern Shangri-La, located in northern Minnesota wilderness. If only such a place really existed….

 

STIM (Stop The Indian Movement) A master race organization dedicated to the elimination of the Native American.

 

THE BELLWETHER (contents)

 

Part One REUNIONS, GASPS, & A LAST CHANCE

1 The Prophecy
2 Violent Preview
3 Carolines Double
4 Jacquelines Fear
5 Conception of a Colony
6 Proxy Reunion
7 You Will Lead
8 Scenario of a Master Race
9 George
10 Homecoming
11 Hallowed Courage Creek Affair Part One

Part Two THE FACTORY

12 Caroline
13 The Reunion
INTERLUDE: WHITE HOUSE DIARY, 22 MONTHS BEFORE THE CRASH
14 A Legacy: Of Land & People
15 The Assassin
16 Carolines indoctrination
17 Vivian
18 Graduation & Goodbye

Part Three RENASISSANCE

19 The Capture
20 Paul Bacardi
21 The Winning
22 Erica
23 Princess Tongowari
24 John Running Light
25 The Sweat Lodge
INTERLUDE: WHITE HOUSE DIARY, 11 MONTHS BEFORE THE CRASH

Part Four THE ACTIVIST

26 Conversation With Solomon
27 Last Wilderness
28 Tree-Removal & Drainage Bill
29 Hallowed Courage Creek Affair Part Two
30 The End of Boyhood

Part Five PRELUDE

31 The Decision
32 The wilderness Bowl
33 The Crash
34 Escape From California
35 Soldier Meets a Nurse
36 The Scout
37A Baker, A Banker…
38 The Husbandman
39 The Gloryhunter
40 The Great Novice Assembly

Part Six THE TREK NORTH

41 The First Twenty-four Hours
42 The Matriarch
43 Fred Likken
44 Death Stench
45Helms Marauders
46 Present For Terri
47 Interstate Crossing
48 Deadly Shivaree
49Carmens Vigil
50 The Lake of Embrace
51 Aaron vs. Friskop
52Birth, Death, Disillusion…
53 The Adolescent Man, & Woman
54More Death, Despair…
55 The Siege
56 Advent
57 Aaron & Caroline

Synopses of chapters

Part one REUNIONS, GASPS & A LAST CHANCE
1 The Prophecy
Aaron has spent the summer working at a Montana cattle ranch with his new friend, Four Crows, of the Nez Perce, who paints a symbol of “the return on the buffalo” on the back of his suede shirt, which, worn at his new job in Arizona will get him contact with a Papago medicine man who knows the future.

2 Violent Preview Aaron arrives in Starkville, California, to visit his best friend, Brett Haberman, and family. He stops at a shopping mall and gets involved in a robbery that suggests the chaos and violence to come.
3 Caroline’s Double Aaron has reached the home of his school friend. Outside the house he sees three little girls lined up like stair steps. The tallest, Terri, is an image of Caroline.

4 Jacqueline’s Fear Aaron speaks with wife Jacqueline and learns she, too, is fearful of the direction the country sometimes seems to be headed.

 

5 Conception of a Colony Aaron shares his idea of building a self-sufficient colony with Brett, who is receptive, but its the last encouragement he gets for a long time.

 

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6 Proxy Reunion Upon leaving the Habermans, Aaron learns that Caroline is the younger sister to Jacqueline, but the sisters are separated and out of contact. Even so, its the first good lead he has ever had to finding Caroline.

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7 You Will Lead Because of the painting on Aarons shirt, he makes contact first with Two Shirts of The Rabbit, then the Papago medicine man who shares the prophecy of the Native American Unification, and the part Aaron will play. The painting also gets Aaron in major troublewith a “master race” Organization.

8 Scenario of a Master Race Fresh out of a job again and having just gotten beat up for his Native American involvement, Aaron has just gotten awakened by a pounding on his vans door. He helps Buffalo Walker escape from the “master race” organization, STIM (Stop The Indian Movement) and learns more about the prophecy.

9 George Aarons on his way home to Minnesota and picks up a hitchhiker, George, an older man who has no last name, an unusual body odor, and will eventually become Aarons “hired man” and very good friend, and…a sort of living conscience.

10 Homecoming Aaron and George arrive home to Minnesota. They visit an abandoned farm Aaron would like to buy, and, through visiting the Habermans, learn that the controversial dam is going to be built on the Hallowed Courage Creek.

11 Hallowed Courage Creek Affair Part 1 The valleys residents camp on the dam site and blockade the valley with cars, farm machinery, horses and people. But Luther Helm, the contractor, is not a nice man, and will drive his bulldozers over everything.

Part Two THE FACTORY
12 Caroline
Caroline, the love of Aarons life, is introduced. She has a daughter, 7-year-old Jennie, goes to school during the day, works a full factory shift at night, and is fighting off several suitors.

13 The Reunion Aaron and George become employed at the same factory as Caroline. George is first to discover that Caroline is there and causes the reunion

 

FIRST INTERLUDE (WHITE HOUSE DIARY) 22 months before crash

14 A Legacy: Of Land & People Aaron and Caroline take their breaks together at the factory, but Aaron immediately brings up “crazy” colony-talk, which Caroline refuses to indulge. Forrest Barton describes to Aaron what has happened locally in Aarons absence.

15 The Assassin Aaron and Caroline have their only date outside the factory. Caroline would like to “encourage” Aaron but the “crazy” colony-talk persists, so she refuses to share her great secret: Jennie. Aaron introduces Taylor Magellan, his other best friend, to the colony-idea and receives another positive response.

16 Caroline’s Indoctrination Carolines college thesis is on the American Indian, and visits the home of schoolmate, Fire Shining, Lake of Embrace Reservation, where she meets the elder, Long Bear, who tells her more than just the answers to her questions.

17 Vivian The new girl in the factory. Anson Helm, supervisor, has been using the babydoll girls by taking them into the office and lowering the shades, saying, “…management never comes back here on this shift…” Aaron is aware but ignores whats happening until Vivian is the one in the office, but he feels helpless to help her.

18 Graduation & Goodbye After Aaron was reunited with Caroline, nearly the first thing he brought up was his feeling a need for a hidden colony, which Caroline balks at completely, and things never change between them, so, when she graduates from college she also leaves the factory. They “break up” and Aaron takes up with Vivian.

Part Three RENNAISSANCE

19 The Capture Daniel Friskop, a modern-day mountain man is introduced. He has been walking in Nevada desert and decides riding would be better. A herd of mustangs provides his two horses, first, Applechaser, who he uses to capture the stallion, Horsefire.

20 Paul Bacardi The leading Native American is introduced. After law school he took a Spanish/English name and became a successful attorney with many rich white clients. He lives in Carson City, Nevada, is unhappily married to Roanna, leaves for Las Vegas for a divorce hearing, and while passing through a reservation sees mounted and armed men, stops, and is invited to an international powwow. While in Las Vegan he hears on the radio about Aarons fabulous winnings, stops at that casino and makes a brief eye contact.

21 The Winning Aaron has spent the last weeks in Las Vegas, playing all the games, and winning. In the poker game there are seven players including Aaron. Lt. Gibbs and Jared Contorte are both very briefly introduced here, plus Erica Norgaarten, who, with her businessman friend will later save Aaron from being robbed by Jared Contorte.

22 Erica Aaron is knocked out during the robbery attempt and Erica and her friend take Aaron to his hotel room. Erica stays with him and they make love, which impregnates Erica. Aaron learns she is originally from Duluth, Minnesota (where she will be when the “crash” happens) Erica encourages Aaron to pursue Caroline.
23 Princess Tongowari The princess, Two Shirts, Buffalo Walker, and Raven Hawk, have been captured by STIM operatives including Caleb Conrad, who brutally murders Raven Hawk while trying to get information: “Who is the princess to marry?” which will cause the unification? Bacardi rescues them. During their escape Two Shirts is also killed.

24 John Running Light Paul Bacardi reclaims his Indian name, divorces his wife, attends the international powwow, and takes over the job of escorting the princess. During their escape, Daniel Friskop is crossing the highway with his two skittish horses and is almost hit by their car. The two men recognize each other from the early days at Embrace Lake, but both have other priorities so there is no reminiscing.

25 The Sweat Lodge John Running Light, because of uncertain heritage, is beginning to suspect he is Tongowaris intended. He wants to form a bond with her. Buffalo Walker suggests “sweating”. The three sweat through the night. The next morning STIM agents attack. Buffalo Walker is killed. Four Crows with other special Indian agents, kill the STIM agents and inform John of his true heritage. Caleb Conrad escapes.

SECOND INTERLUDE (WHITE HOUSE DIARY) 11 months before crash
Part Four THE ACTIVIST

26 Conversation With Solomon Aaron is taking a bus back to Minnesota. He converses with Dr. William Solomon Radnor (brother to Carmen). They discuss the deteriorating economy and Aarons plan to fight for the environment, now that he has money. (Hes already rich but the Vegas money is different, something he actually earned.) The doctor warns him to be careful playing the part of an activist. Then Aaron brings up his colony idea, which gets a good laugh from the doctor, because he could tell Aaron was “serious.”

27 Last Wilderness Aarons first fight. Developers want to turn the Friskop estate into a very developed park instead of leaving as wilderness. Daniel Friskop owns it, has a cabin there, neglects paying taxes, and is rarely home.

28 Tree-removal & Drainage Bill A senator in the state legislature has introduced a bill that would lumber northern Minnesota wilderness, drain it, and plant fast-growing pine trees that require dry land. Senator Joseph Bolander (father to Kelly B.) has introduced a bill against it and Aaron speaks against it. The disappearing fencerow is discussed.

29 Hallowed Courage Creek Affair Part 2 The same bill allows for massive water projects state-wide. Luther Helm and his crew again threaten to begin construction on the dam. Aaron faces them with a double-barreled shotgun, but alone.

30 End of Boyhood Aaron has lost all the environmental battles, buys his farm, hires George, and they begin rebuilding and remodeling the place. George tells Aaron he should call Caroline…instead he calls Vivian, and gets her pregnant too. The Basterd.

Part Five PRELUDE

31 The Decision Its been a long dry winter. The region-wide drought is still on, gasoline and other commodities are becoming more scarce. Aaron finally decides to go looking for land to build the secret colony.

32 The Wilderness Bowl Aaron discovers the northern wilderness already being bulldozed and drained, also finds an isolated rocky moraine surrounding a modern-day Shangri-la about 300 miles from his farm. Pandion, the osprey heroine, is introduced.

33 The Crash Aaron is on his way home, hitchhiking, but see no traffic, realizes the crash may already have happened and martial law already imposed. This chapter also joins Caroline at her school, Vivian at the factory, and Erica Norgaarten in Duluth where she is forced to join Anson Helms motorcycle gang in order to feed her baby.

34 Escape From California When Brett Haberman leaves his work-place he sees rioting and many abandoned cars and knows that civility is over for awhile. Upon arrival at home he finds his wife, Jacqueline, approaching breakdown. He announces they are leaving. They load their large SUV and have to fight their way out of their own yard.

35 Soldier Meets A Nurse Taylor Magellan, the 300-pound bar bouncer, is at work. Four strangers arrive escorting a woman, who is not with the men. Taylor senses this. When the men leave he asks her to stay, then has to fight for her. She, Carmen, will help in the fight, and is a nurse who will later provide medical needs for the wagontrain. Taylor will later supply weapons and be in charge of defense.

36 The Scout Aaron is seriously planning the trip north by wagontrain cross-county, and knows he could never find the way himself. He needs a scout, and will ask the modern-day mountain man, Daniel Friskop, who he is not exactly friends with.

37 A Baker, A Banke r… Aaron then visits Caroline, the love of his life. Unfortunately, she still refuses to see the necessity of a colony, but invites Aaron to her house where she cooks for him, but she adamantly refuses to go along and Aaron wont leave without her.

38 The Husbandman Before approaching Kelly Bolander, Aaron telephones Vivian, who is very pregnant. She agrees to join the future colony to provide\e the services of craftsperson and seamstress. She doesnt tell Aaron of her pregnancy. He then approaches K. Bolander, who he will ask not only to join his future colony but to provide the 16 wagons and 96 horses needed to get there, plus all the other livestock for their future.

39 The Gloryhunter While buying weapons Taylor Magellan takes a different name (Mr. Langseth) goes to an ammo dump where he knows the captain in charge, and attracts the attention of Lt. Gibbs (from the poker game). Gibbs follows to Aarons farm, sees the frenzied training activities, takes photos, is certain he sees an insurgency camp, and eventually attacks the wagontrain.
40 The Great Novice Assembly All the people Aaron has asked to join the colony begin gathering in his farmyard for the 300-mile, 30-day trek from southern Minnesota farming country to northern Minnesota wilderness. They must learn to ride horses, drive four-horse teams on wagons, fire weapons, give first aide, etc. Approximately 60 people are involved, over 90 horses (both riding & draft) plus the assorted other livestock. Eleven-year-old Allia B. experiences first love when meeting nine-yearold Terri Haberman. Because of Lt. Gibbs spying (Daniel Friskop sees him and informs Aaron) the wagontrain is forced to leave one day early. Aaron had planned to talk to Caroline once more, but because of time, he decides to abduct her from her bed and drug her, causing great contempt from her sister Jacqueline. Aaron meets Jennie for the first time.

Part Six THE TREK NORTH

41 The First Twenty-four Hours Caroline is still tied up. Thunderheads are rising in the north. A severe storm catches them their first night but the rain also washes out their tracks. The army arrives at the farm late. George, who has stayed behind, refuses to “talk” and is murdered by Lt. Gibbs. The derelict Andrew Bolander witnesses. George lives long enough to direct Andrew north to follow the wagontrain.

42 The Matriarch The wagontrain crosses the farm of a “little old lady” who does not like trespassers. (Chapter based on a very real person in her eighties, the one time I met her. Shes passed away now, but she really was as described in this chapter.)

43 Fred Likken Caroline still will not speak to Aaron. While crossing their first major highway, a car—driven by Professor Fred Likken, Carolines fiancé—breaks down right in their path. Aaron considers shooting the man but is forced to welcome him into the wagontrain, but orders him to ride on the kitchen-wagon. Likken suspects illegalities are taking place and plans to inform the authorities at first chance.

44 Death Stench Caroline has taken over driving the weaponswagon and “allows” Likken to join her, as shes still refusing to speak to Aaron. The wagontrain gets slightly off track and stumbles onto a dumping ground for humans. They take time to bury the remains.

45 Helm’s Marauders The motorcycle gang led by Anson Helm attacks the wagontrain while they are burying the remains. Caroline, on watch with a rifle, is attacked by Mallory Spicer who attempts to rape her. She sees Spicers knife, then agrees to cooperate, unfortunately for Spicer. Erica Norgaarten—with her papoose baby and teenaged brother—reappears, and helps save the wagontrain.

46 Present For Terri Aaron invites Daniel Friskop (who normally stays far away from the wagontrain) to spend some evening time with the people. Friskop agrees, tells some stories, gives the pregnant Applechaser to Terri Haberman, and “notices” Caroline.

47 Interstate Crossing Think of how many times youve driven the interstate, or, just crossed on one of the bridges. Now think of getting 16 horse-drawn wagons across and a large herd of mixed livestock—without being seen—and think of arriving at the wrong time of day and having to hide everything until dark, with all those animals and people cramped into tight quarters in a small grove of trees…getting impatient, and frustrated….

48 Deadly Shivaree Taylor, weapons, and Carmen, nurse, get married with Aaron officiating. Fred Likken has slipped away and given the wagontrains location to the army, which attacks right after the ceremony. (For anyone who doesnt know, a shivaree is when friends and neighbors get together to “toast” the new couple.)

49 Carmen’s Vigil Taylor, the groom, is badly wounded. Carmen, the bride, is only a dental nurse, but with the help of others she digs two bullets out of her man. Caroline stays behind to drive the wagon while Carmen tends the unconscious Taylor. They are 3 days behind the other wagons. Caroline is bathing in a lake; Aaron finally approaches her.

50 The Lake of Embrace The wagontrain gets a long rest-period in friendly Indian country. Aaron and Caroline are finally together, to a point. Caroline has befriended Friskop. Aaron warns her about getting too close to Friskop, as he might not understand when he finds out he cant have her, and might desert the wagontrain.

51 Aaron vs. Friskop Daniel Friskop catches Caroline alone at night and attempts making love with her. She at first struggles, then realizes if she rejects him he might, as Aaron said, desert the wagontrain and cause them to get lost, so she stops struggling. Friskop realizes what shes doing so he stops too, and blames Aaron. Later, they fight. Aaron mostly allows the beating as he, too, worries about Friskop deserting.

52 Birth, Death, Disillusion… Through rejection by Caroline, Daniel Friskop has deserted the wagontrain. While crossing their last major highway a car causes the death of Senator Joseph Bolander and Vivians baby is stillborn. Forrest Barton was killed during the army attack, so Aaron speaks at three funerals. Applechaser gives birth to a pure white colt.

53 The Adolescent Man, & Woman Allia, 11, and Terri, 9, continuing to explore their new friendship, go exploring and come upon a miniature Old Faithful (based on the Devils Kettle in Minnesota). But its wet there; Terri slips and falls over the edge. Allia runs for help. We see what happens through the viewpoints of both children.

54 More Death, Despair… Something is wrong with the lake they are camped by. Several people bathe and get sick, including Jacqueline who gets very sick, unfortunately causing Aaron to speak at yet another funeral. They at last leave the dismal lake and enter the great barren area, but no wilderness bowl.

55 The Siege You remember Pandion, the female osprey at the wilderness bowl, right? Well, her previously captive mate has been released from its cage on the poultry-wagon, and will now lead Aaron—who, among other riders, is trying to keep up with the flying bird—to the wilderness bowl. But before they get home Aaron will have to go through both Caleb Conrad and Jared Contorte.

56 Advent
57 Aaron & Caroline
No need to describe these last two short chapters

 

00005.jpg00005.jpg00005.jpg00005.jpg00005.jpg00005.jpg00005.jpg00005.jpg00005.jpg00005.jpg00005.jpg00005.jpg00005.jpg00005.jpg00005.jpg00005.jpg00005.jpg00005.jpg00005.jpg00005.jpg00005.jpg00005.jpg00005.jpg00005.jpg00005.jpg00005.jpg00005.jpg00005.jpg00005.jpg00005.jpg00005.jpg00005.jpg00005.jpg00005.jpg00005.jpg00005.jpg00005.jpg00005.jpg00005.jpg00005.jpg00005.jpg00005.jpg00005.jpg00005.jpg00005.jpg00005.jpg00005.jpg00005.jpg00005.jpg00005.jpg00005.jpg00005.jpg00005.jpg00005.jpg00005.jpg00005.jpg00005.jpg00005.jpg00005.jpg00005.jpg00005.jpg00005.jpg00005.jpg00005.jpg00005.jpg00005.jpg00005.jpg00005.jpg00005.jpg00005.jpg00005.jpg00005.jpg00005.jpg00005.jpg00005.jpg00005.jpg00005.jpg00005.jpg00006.jpgThe Bellwether

 

by

 

James W. Nelson

 

Part One Reunions, Gasps & A Last Chance

 

Chapter 1 The Prophecy

“Gaze out straight, Aaron Hodges,” Four Crows said, “Try to envision Chief Joseph and the Nez Perce people in their last days of freedom.”
Aaron Hodges wriggled his five-foot-ten-inch frame on the fallen log, looking for that sweet spot of comfort. Then he surveyed the distant hills and tried visualizing the Nez Perce fighting impossible odds, battling mile by mile toward sanctuary in Canada. He thought so hard—
“Agh!” Four Crows cried, “And keep your hippie yellow hair out of my way or Ill never finish this painting! Either grow it longer and braid it, or….”
Aaron laughed, grabbed his sandy-brown hair hanging below his shoulders and pulled it back front, “Keep your teenaged hide together there, little red brother, and I still havent agreed to believe you actually are a relative.”
From behind, Four Crows gripped Aarons shoulders, slapped them lightly, and said in a low, sober voice, “I am, old man, and my blood runs just as thick as his did. Now sit still.”
So Aaron sat still. He held onto his hair, scratched at a week-old growth of scrubby whiskers, and gazed out again at the rolling hills, at Chief Josephs last battlefield. Having drawn his last paycheck from the Montana cattle ranch, plans included a new job in Arizona, via visiting a friend in California for the Mothers Day weekend. He had spent the preceding two weeks without his shirt, as Four Crows kept it at night, but insisted he had to do the painting while Aaron wore it. So Aaron had sat on the same log every late afternoon, barely feeling the gentle swishing of the paintbrush on his back, receiving the painting.
“We red men came to this land thousands of years ago, We lived with this land, and nurtured it.”
Four Crows speaking, but the droning voice.
Then men from the old white world came. His population exploded here. He advanced across this land desecrating, ripping, tearing, gouging to feed, supply, and stylize his old world.“
“What?” Aaron started to turn. Hands gripped him tightly.
“Stay still, Aaron Hodges,” Four Crows said, “I will finish the painting soon!”
So Aaron sat as still as he could, and let his eyes wander again over the grassy rolling hills where Chief Joseph was finally defeated by cannon over a hundred years earlier. He scratched at well-worn blue-jeans, pulled the pants leg up from inside a knee-high boot moccasin, scratched a sweaty calf, decided he would soon need a bath.
“Civilized man has despoiled this land until he now stands on the brink of his destruction.”
A shiver ran up Aarons back as he accepted the droning voice and let his eyes wander toward the nearby Little Snowy Mountains, and kept listening.
“Mother Earth is gasping from civilized mans plunder. She is begging for revitalization! Civilized man has destroyed himself before, but never in the magnitude nor entirety as now!”
Aaron leaned ahead quickly, jerked around, and stared at his friend.
Four Crows was the only presence behind him. The two waist-long black braids, the colorfully-beaded leather headband, the rawhide-lashed claws securing four black feathers pointing down over his left ear. Piercing black eyes gazed fixedly back, the upper left lip curled in an almost-sneer. Four Crowsdid wear the white mans white shirt and blue jeans, but the fivefoot-five-inch boy with the sharp-featured face did not match the droning voice.
“Sit back again, my friend,” the boy said gently, again gripping Aarons shoulders, urging him to turn around, “I will finish the painting soon. Then you can go on your way to visit your high school buddy.”
A little apprehensive, Aaron again faced the waving grasses, the snow-covered mountains, the dropping sun.
“Islands of civilized man will survive,” the voice droned on, “The so-called primitive man will help preserve their knowledge, which, when used with compassion for our Mother Earth, will build a better world.”
Aaron thought the „socalled primitive man part of the speech lost the drone and sounded more like Four Crows real voice.
Another moment or two went by.
“There!” Four Crows slapped Aarons upper arms, “Finished! You may move Aaron Hodges. You may see the painting!”
Aaron stood and undid the five buttons of the brown suede shirt, a gift from the Montana Crow tribe, slipped it off, turned it, held it by the shoulders and saw the painting for the first time. The profile of a white buffalo skull, a small flat rock upon it, the skull itself atop an inverted oval-shaped boulder sprouting from a rock outcropping.
“It represents return of the buffalo, Aaron Hodges, a legend begun by the Paiute prophet Wovoka , and attested to by the Plains Indians Ghost Dance.”
“But the Ghost Dance failed.”
“It failed a hundred years ago. Now, wear the shirtas your normal clothes.”
Four Crows reached down, grasped a sleeveless denim jacket from the log, “You may even wear your hippie vest over it. But go without the vest occasionally, expose the painting. It will get you contact with a Papago medicine man who will tell you legends like I have not begun too.”
“So that was you talking behind me….”
Four Crows ignored Aarons statement and continued. “The medicine man will also confirm some personal beliefs you hold dearly.” He handed over the jacket-vest, “But a word of warning, Aaron Hodges. The painting will also incite enemies, for not all men view the Indian as friend, as youdo”
Aaron slipped the shirt on, then the vest, began buttoning the shirt, watching as the carefree Nez Perce boy gathered his paints and brushes and slipped them into a leather belt pouch. And he wondered about the boys change during the past two weeks, since beginning the painting, and telling the legends. The other legends were nothing like the one tonight, though, even though Four Crows did not acknowledge doing that peculiar, drone-like, speaking.
“Come,” Four Crows said, starting out, “I will walk you to your hippie van.”
They walked to Aarons beat-up late-nineties van, a moldering brown one losing its fenders and sides to rust.
“You should use some of your inheritance to buy a newer van.” Four Crows said.
“Better not to appear rich, my friend.” Turning the latch, Aaron heard and felt the door creak open. He sometimes wondered too why he didnt buy at least one in better shape, but, what the hell? He then faced his friend, who suddenly seemed, he didnt know, older, a boy turned warrior but something more. Hejust didnt know, and felt a shiver run up his back, like receiving and accepting that painting somehow involved him with something,“Theres no place I can drop you, Four Crows?”
“No, my job with the ranch is finished also. I will return to my people who live beyond the Little Snowy Mountains.”
“And youll walk….”
The boy-turned-man extended his hand, fingers up, thumb back.
Aaron curled his fingers over Four Crows hand and locked thumbs.
“Try to do something about your baby-face,” Four Crows said,, smiling, the upper-lip sneer evident, “A thirty-two-yearold hippie should look his age.”
Feeling a somewhatgrudging but growing respect, Aaron gripped the hand tightly, “And an eighteen-year-old should respect his elders.”
“Ha! Ha!” Four Crows laughed and returned the tight grip, squeezed harder, leaned in, “The Red Mans day is coming, Aaron Hodges, and a few white men are coming with us. You be one of them.”
They released each other.
One more glance of friendly hostility from the Indian who then turned, took a few quick steps, and ran, bounding and leaping. A blood-curdling whoop came forth, then a cartwheel, another, then running faster, another cartwheel, still another, faster, whooping, over a hill, out of sight, then out of hearing.
Aaron stared in the direction Four Crows had gone. He saw the waving grasses, the rolling hills, the distant snow-covered mountains, the setting sun, then imagined he heard cannon balls exploding among Chief Josephs people, scattering and killing them, then appeared a peaceful scene of buffalo grazing and white and red people living and working together.
Aaron shook his head, and shoulders, and wondered about the short vision he had just seen, and wondered if he had actually seen it, or just imagined it. And what „dearly-held, personal beliefs of his, he wondered, was Four Crows referring to?
Oh, there were some dear beliefs all right, but a year-long dream of building a colony in answer to growing economic and environmental chaos had been just that. A dream. Far-flung. Impossible. Unreasonable.
He shook his head again, and felt a high, caused partially by the bittersweet farewell to Four Crows, an enigmatic and fiery young man who Aaron felt sure he would meet again, and hoped he would be ready should that meeting happen.
But the high feeling was more, an excitement filled with thoughts, ideas, conceptions, a rich mixture of exaltation and foreboding, then an all-encompassing explosion of green trees, blue skies and waters, people and animals all together in peace and harmony.
Then that very short vision ended also.

Chapter 2

 

Violent Preview

About forty hours later, Aaron drove through the main entrance to a huge, landscaped shopping mall in Starkville, California.
Hundreds of colors adorned thousands of vehicles, mostly pickups, vans, and sport utility vehicles. Strangely, he had read somewhere that before—or was it during?—the 1930s Depression, people opted to drive pickups rather than cars. The only reason he could imagine was they figured they could live more easily in a pickup, at least haul more. Evidently people were leaning that way again. But people couldnt know a new depression was coming. Course, they wouldnt have known then, either.
Between each two rows of vehicles stood thirty to forty-foot-tall broadleaf trees. The end caps held flowers, cacti, and weirdly-shaped sculptures. The parking lot itself was trimmed with bright yellow stripes over oil-blue paving.
He turned down a clean, smooth lane, and figured he wouldnt get closer than two blocks from the main complex, so parked and continued viewing the splendid, ultimate, marketplace, with thousands of people hurrying, scurrying, consuming. The hustle and bustle reminded him of prairie dog towns in the North Dakota Badlands. Only the mall had no danger sentinels.
His friend Brett Haberman likely was still at work, his visit was unannounced. Eight years had passed since the wedding. Even so, he doubted the dark-eyed Jacqueline would have forgotten Bretts best man. He adjusted the rearview mirror. His hair was decidedly longer, and he dressed differently, but still. He wondered if Brett was keeping his practical engineering skills sharp since his advancement to executive.
A self-sufficient colony in answer to a new depression would need a good engineer, plus an animal husbandman, a greenhouse grower, a cook, many other specific slots. A great big list of people existed in his head. A whole bunch of plans for other peoples lives and nobody aware of them. Oh, yes, for each job skill he had a specific person in mind. Brett was going to hear the idea today, and Aaron was sure his lifelong friend would back him, at least the idea.
He stared for another second at—as Four Crows had overtly put it—his baby face, then leaned to the passenger door, locked it, and glanced back at the sliding side door.
Already locked and the rear door was welded shut. The little home on wheels appeared to be secure. Decaying body putty and terra-cotta primer held the outside together. But inside the three-quarter-ton van it was comfortable, clean, and plush. Beyond the sliding door, bolted either to the carpeted floor or roof, was a stove, table, chair, sink with water tank, and cupboards overhead. Directly across, more cupboards,
a cot, refrigerator, and on the bottom of the cupboards, accessible while prone on the cot, a poster-sized penciled drawing. Not much detail in the man and woman in full embrace, and the woman was still mostly undone. But she had no living counterpart, just the memory of a blondish-reddish-haired, freckle-faced, nine-year-old girl named Caroline.
He blew a breath, grabbed his brown felt cavalry hat, slipped the door latch, jumped out, checked accessibility of an ash club under the seat, pushed the door shut and locked it, then plopped the hat on. Time to buy a Mothers Day gift for Jacqueline.
Feeling refined as possible, he slapped the vans fender, felt the vehicle shudder in return, pushed off, “See you later, Old Paint,” and joined the stream of shoppers.
****
Only a half hour had passed when Aaron returned and inserted his key into the door lock. Through the vans windows, in the opposite driving lane, he saw an overburdened woman approaching. With the key half turned, he clamped down on the box of yellow and white pompons and pink carnations under his left arm, and shaded his eyes.
The woman, maybe mid-fifties, wore a flowery-print dress. Behind and to either side of her, walked another man and woman. Nothing real special about them except they carried nothing and appeared to be pacing the woman in the flowery dress, whose load consisted of two large, bulky, heavy-looking bags, and one smaller one precariously tucked between the top of the left large sack and the womans neck. A long-handled commode brush protruded from one. A flash of a memory hit him of a headline and AP photo showing people stocking up, in answer to continuing inflation and deepening recession. On the same page had appeared a smaller headline proclaiming higher prices for crude oil.
As the woman got closer, within about sixty feet, Aaron noticed her face. A strained expression suggested she was losing her grip.
A yellow compact pickup turned into the lane and began closing.
One of the sacks began slipping. The over-burdened woman leaned forward and hurried her pace, and angled toward a parked car. The two pacers, eyeing her load, closed fast. Certain they would help, Aaron relaxed and finished turning the key. The locking button popped up.
The two Samaritans caught the woman. Each gave a gracious smile and took hold of one of the larger sacks. The womans face registered surprise, or did she feel threatened? Her load finished slipping. Reluctantly she let go and made a wild grab for the smaller package, which fell anyway. The woman dropped to one knee. A bulky purse hooked in her right arm hit the parking lot surface. Its stiff handle pointed up.
Squeal!
Aaron blinked. His hand fell away from the door. The keys dangled.
Not quite stopping the pickup pulled abreast. The two Samaritans hoisted the large sacks toward the rear box. The commode brushs handle caught on the outside lip, ripping the sack. A cluster of bananas and a half-gallon carton of milk hit the pavement. The milk carton burst open. The two thieves leaped aboard the pickup. The woman thief grabbed their victims almost loose purse. Grappling with the fallen package, the woman in the flowery dress was unaware.
SQUEAL!
The rear wheel squashed the milk carton as the pickup tore away, splattering white liquid everywhere, including on the victim, who screamed as she grabbed at her purse, was dragged for a few feet before letting go and kept screaming. Aaron dashed between the parked vehicles and leaped into the other lane.
The pickup bore down on him. California plates. Two, six,one…?
Another second and he leaped out of the way.
Safe, he watched the pickup disappear. Assured the third number was a„one, he wrote the partial on a pocket notebook, then glanced at the fallen woman. She lay flat on her face, not moving and silent. Gawking people had gathered. Nobody was offering help or even approaching closely. A man kicked the flattened milk carton. It whirled and scraped for thirty feet or more. A woman picked up the bananas, helped herself to one, then passed the bundle on. Aaron tore off the notebook page with the partial license number and approached the prone woman.
****
When Aaron was about eight feet away the woman raised her top half from the hot asphalt and balanced on her knees as she leaned back, exposing a deep tan on her front. Her dress had thin straps that climbed her shoulders. She placed her arms parallel to the straps and jammed her fists tight against her jaws. Her eyes were closed.
Uncomfortable about getting involved, “Maam…?” He hesitated. Her tight expression indicated she probably didnt want to be bothered. “Im sorry, maam. It happened so fast. Dont your knees hurt?”
Bitterly, “What difference does it make?”
Aaron glanced around at the growing crowd of gawkers.
A man and woman with four full shopping bags with handles stood in the milk, which now had an oily-blue tinge. A small girl played in it, making gritty little swirls with her fingers. Another man tossed a banana peel into the milk. It barely splashed. Everyone was silent, painfully so.
The woman in the flowery dress didnt move, just kept her eyes and fists closed tightly. Aaron leaned forward, noticed her nose and cheeks had blistered badly at one time. He asked, barely aloud, “Can I help you to your car, maam?”
She opened her eyes, stared, and snapped, “What for? Ive got no keys!”
A murmur went through the crowd. Aaron had forgotten her purse was stolen.
“Thats the second time!” she cried, tears beginning to flow, “Why me? My husband will….” Her voice died away as she looked down.
“I got some of their license, maam.” Aaron held out the torn paper, that somehow looked ridiculous, “It might help.”
“It wont help!” she screamed, staring at him again, and something else was in her eyes. Suspicion?
He straightened. The woman dropped her hands, winced from the heat of the pavement, then rose, leaning far more forward then necessary, holding the position for several seconds, exposing full braless breasts, the stark whiteness of them contrasting sharply to the rest of her.
To Aaron the position was a sneer. He shifted his weight.
The crowd murmured again, sounding angry.
“This sort of thing happens so often,” the woman said as she stood, exposing scorched, bleeding knees. She smiled harshly, crookedly, “The police dont do anything. They just laugh when its reported.”
Still holding the ignored paper, Aaron began to sense that the crowd had grown louder. He heard them discussing their own experiences, then an audible question, “Did the hippie do it?” He jerked his hand back, crumpled the paper, wondered why he had interfered, but asked, “Can I do anythingfor you, maam?”
The woman only continued her suspicious stare, then gave a piteous laugh, picked up her one remaining package and started away. Assuming everyone else would too he watched her for a few seconds, then realized the crowd wasnt leaving, and the din was increasing.
Aaron silently cursed, then spun, and noticed several banana peels laying around, the little girl swishing one in the milk puddle as if a boat. He only wanted to forget the incident and continue on his way. But people were blocking him, men, brawny ones, as if a parking lot vigilante squad. The prairie dog sentinels. And where the hell were they when the crime was committed?
Feeling slightly desperate he searched for the woman. She was already far away, walking fast, head down, hugging her remaining package. All around him the people stood glaring as mad dogs, mad prairie dogs, teeth barred. Old Paint was unlocked. He remembered the button popping up, the keys jangling, just fifty or sixty feet away.He needed a diversion…the flower box.
He sailed it at the beefiest man and followed with his own body. The mans chest felt like hard foam rubber, but it did give and pushed back as Aaron hit him with both hands together, palm out.
Knocked off balance the man went down. Aaron clambered over him.
A second man appeared, and a third, and a club. He couldnt know their intentions.
In his confusion-causing rush, Aaron slammed into the second man and threw his elbow up at the third, the club-bearer. The world was going by like a slow-motion nightmare. People yelling, feet pounding. A crowd of gawkers-turned-mob. He heard and felt his elbow strike flesh, and heard a grunt.
Old Paint was close. The keys. The door.
He leaped in, started it, roared the engine. People were in the way but he wasnt going to wait and floored the accelerator. Blue smoke poured from the tires and exhaust.
The deluge of people scattered.
****
Aaron kept the accelerator floored until back through the malls main entrance and well-hidden in heavy traffic. He questioned even remaining in Starkville, as there couldnt be many brown moldering vans like his around, if any. Old Paint would be easy to identify.
But why would anyone want to? What the hell had just happened anyway?
His hands shook as they gripped the steering wheel, his whole body felt shaky. He forced himself to settle down, and turned the radio on to rock music. Maybe he had overreacted back there. Anyway, a crazy bunch of consumers were not going to run him out of town. Coffee would help, and another box of flowers for Jacqueline. Fine, hed visit Brett Haberman as planned.
He began to relax. But the hostility shown by strangers continued to bother him, as if the crowd had just wanted to see somebody pay for something. He had seen some of the same hostility shown in Montana, along the road, everywhere, a growing progression of madness, but progressing toward what?
Chapter 3
Carolines Double

Viewpoint Road. Aaron only glanced at the sign as he passed a corner service station while turning onto the quiet, tree-lined street. Five-thirty was a fine time to be dropping in on the Habermans, but at least Brett should soon be home.

The str eet matched how he had imagined it when addressing the Habermans Christmas cards. A pleasant place, sunny and shady, backyards fenced, front yards manicured to match the neighbors, sprinklers causing rainbows.
Regular American suburban pie.
Knowing much of the nation, including his home state of Minnesota, was experiencing

drought, he wondered how lawn irrigation could be allowed. Evidently, Viewpoint Road residents, the haves, felt they could afford it. But no matter how much money was available, only so much water was. His attitude seemed insolent at times. It had to do with news stories, the growing army of have-nots. He didnt deny people life in a comfortable neighborhood, but just living there flaunted wealth. Not that wealth was bad. He wasnt sure how he felt, just didnt want to live there, for the comfort, yes, but he alsofelt a danger. Most people couldnt live in a place like Viewpoint Road, but probably wanted to.

The have-nots might just take what they want someday. A neighborhood like Viewpoint Road would be wanted, just like the groceries at the mall. The woman in the flowery dress had them, others wanted them, and took them.

Coffee at a different mall didnt help dispel the feelings of animosity from the crowd, and indifference from the victim. And similar incidents bothered him, like the new breed of roadfamily refugees, even with children sometimes, just walking on the road. And long lines at supermarkets and gas stations, and Brewer Norths increasingly-negative commentaries: „…Products out. Cant be ordered...

No, he didnt deny the Viewpoint residents, for certain didnt envy them, feared for them seemed an appropriate word.

****
At the top of a hill, near the end of an especially quiet block, Aaron slowed and rechecked the address, then gazed at a low, rambling house with a north end fireplace.

487 Viewpoint Road

A unique design and color yet the house vaguely matched all others. But an enthusiastic homebuyer would see the royal blue shutters against the baby blue background, the huge east bay window, the curving, flower-lined sidewalk, and fall in love. Brett definitely had done all right for himself.

Aaron parked in the three or four-car-sized driveway, leaned on the steering wheel and gazed down the street. Viewpoint was aptly-named as he could see north clear to the city proper, and the yellowish haze hanging over it. He glanced at the house again and noted the long breezeway filled with green foliage plants, and the triple-door garage likely housing a large workshop.

As he sat there a guilt pang hit him. Memory of Jacqueline, the conversation the night before her wedding, the fact she had been drinking. She was worried about the next day, a sister not showing up, her future with Brett, her fear that Brettdidnt seem to have a lot of physical interest in her. Spontaneous goosebumps arose at memory of her leaning dangerously close, pulling him around to face her, near enough to feel and smellher breath, “Ive dated Brett for two years, Aaron! In all thattime…” and she went on to describe in detail what she feared.

He didnt remember his response, mainly remembered thinking Jacqueline could likely have been taken advantage of at the time. Best friend with Brett or not, he sometimes felt sorry for not trying. Pictures of her kept coming back. Her in that immaculate dress just before the ceremony, everything white, her satin skin showing through in certain places, her bouquet of airy clusters of babies breath, sprigs of leather leaf, and the orange sweetheart roses fabulouslymatching her naturally-curly, rich chocolate-brown hair that lapped around, about, and below her harmonizing shoulders, and the veil over her face, her dark eyes shining and looking back at him, maybe also thinking of the prior evening, probably thanking him for not trying to take advantage of her drunkenness.

With the sudden feeling of being watched, he let his gaze sweep the house. ****
Just outside the breezeway door, lined up according to size, stood three little girls. A strong feeling of warmth spread through Aaron. It always did whenever he saw something good, refreshing, wonderful, and the familiarity of the tallest little girl was sending shock waves through him.

The sun behind her reflected a reddish cast in her silky-golden hair that fell lavishly to her waist. Her charming, childish figure appeared lithe and delicate. Her arms hung quietly at her sides, and her eyes, couldnt quite see her eyes.

Staring, he pushed open the door, reached back for the new box of flowers now with red carnations added to the pink ones and the pompons, and slid out. One image had taken over his mind.

Caroline .
He pushed the door shut. Old Paint reverberated.
For no reason he could think of he opened the door again, removed the vest jacket, tossed

it in and slammed the door, causing a louder reverberation. A small chunk of rust even fell off.

The three girls giggled. The tall one threw her hands to her mouth, as a grown lady would have, as Caroline would have. He took it as a sign of welcome. Aaron felt love at first sight, but why the picture-close similarity to Caroline?

He cleared his throat andcalled out, “Your daddy home, girls?”

The tall one sobered “No,” her voice clear, husky but with a smooth feminine tone, as he remembered Carolines being, “Our moms here, though.”
Filling himself with the little girls elfin beauty, he approached to within six feet. He saw the sprinkling of freckles playing over the bridge of her nose, spilling out onto each cheek, gradually growing fainter until fading into otherwise blemish-free skin. The calm eyes inquired of him, impishlike as Carolines had. Even the tiny lines running across her lower eyelids he considered beauty lines, giving her the appearance of mature intelligence going far beyond her young age.
“Why are you staring at me?”
“Oh…,” he somewhat stuttered, “I, was trying to decide which of your parents you look like the most.” A big lie.
“I dont look like either of them!” She laughed, dismissing the enigma of her extraction. Then blue-gray eyes twinkled, a partial grin as she pointed at the box of flowers, “Is that a present for somebody?”
“This is for your mom.” How easy it was to be an enchanting little girl,“Mothers Day on Sunday, you know.”
“Shes not yourmom!” the middle one announced.
“Thats all right, Sofi.” The tall one patted her sisters head, “Maybe he doesnt have his own mom.”
Genteel command over thelittle ones, who both showed Bretts and Jacquelines dark hair and dark eyes.
“Cmon.” The tall one gestured, then led the way.
As Aaron followed the three girls into a spacious backyard, his mind slipped to the sweet memory of Caroline. He had been visiting a large county park near Vellingham with his parents, and Caroline was there having a picnic with her foster family. When he saw the noisy bunch he slipped into some bushes and flushed a family of rabbits, which caused all the children of the noisy bunch to scatter after the rabbits. Except for Caroline, for she had seen him.
He had thought about leaving but he also liked having this little girl looking at him, inquiring with her eyes, her eyes almost a blood likeness to this little Haberman girl. The adults didnt notice, or maybe didnt care when Caroline left and came around the bushes, where Aaron didnt mind crawling out andasking, “Why didnt you tell on me?”
Her voice was soft, yethusky, “I didnt think you wanted anyone to know.”
They then spent the afternoon exploring trails and talking about everything their young lives had ever encountered. Sensitive and worldly for her nine years, Caroline told him about being an orphan and living with people who didnt really care about her. She aroused emotions in him that day that made him feel clumsy and foolish, but alive too, and exhilarated, something like seeing baby deer playing or listening to a bubbling creek, but with Caroline with him, enjoying the same things at the same time, those things took on new and special meaning. He didnt understand then why he felt so good. He just knew that he liked Caroline, and probably would forever. But she was a lot younger, for he was almost a teenager.
Then the end, her foster mother calling, their quick goodbye, as each in their ignorant youth were sure some unthought-about force would see to it they met again, but what if it didnt? Aaron remembered grabbing Carolines arm, pulling her back to him and giving her a kiss on her mouth, as gentle as he could in the situation. But the look on Carolines face…he never forgot it, and was never sure what that look had told him. He didnt think she had looked frightened, or appalled. Anyway, they didnt meet again and Aaron himself became an orphan that very afternoon.
“Im Terri,” the tall one said as she glanced back, “And this is Sofi.” She placed her hand on the smaller head, “Shes five, and thats Wendi.” She reached almost back, “Shes three, and Im seven.”
“And Im Aaron and Im pleased to meet all of you.” Especially you, Terri.
Terris face cracked into a full grin, then, followed by her two sisters, she ran ahead calling her mother, and disappeared into a remote part of the yard behind thick shrubbery where a lot of smoke was coming from.
****
“Is thatyou, Brett?” Jacqueline sounded a bit displeased. As Aaron came within sight of her she added, “These darn briquettes, honey. Theyre no good!”
Slightly behind their mother stood Terri with her sisters. Terris grin, upper teeth clamped on lower lip, could be termed impish. She could play now, for her mother, bent over a grill, back turned, unmindfully had taken the role of oldest.
He heard meat sizzling as she worked with fireplace matches and lighter fluid but mainly was producing smoke. Same beauty as eight years earlier, trim waistline, sleek, tanned legs.
“Its not daddy, Mom,” Terri informed her, putting her hands to her face, giggling, “Its Aaron. A hippieman!”
The two little ones joined the giggle. Their mother sucked in her breath, straightened, turned around, her dark eyes gleaming as she smoothed down cutoff jeans.
Aaron glanced at the girls, then removed his hat, brushed over his hair, and thought he maybe should havestayed away another hour, or gone to a motel first, “You maybe should try a different brand, Jackie. Im Aaron Hodges. Best man at your wedding.”

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For just a second Jacquelines eyes appeared as eight years earlier, as if remembering, evenfondly remembering, then she smiled, laid her implements on a table and approached, “I remember you, Mister Hodges.” Curved lines appeared at the corners of her mouth, and grew more pronounced as her smile widened, as she offered her hand, “And you send us a Christmas card every year.”
He felt warm at her touch, and remembered the kiss in the receiving line, one directed at her cheek but landed on her mouth. He was never sure if he had missed, or if she had ducked, into him.
Jacqueline brightened her smile, “Ill take your hat, Mister Hodges, and please…” she indicated lawn chairs, “Make yourself comfortable. Bretts late, but he should be home any minute.”
Noting concern in her voice he handed over the hat and the flowers, “I started a tradition after my parents were killed, of giving to other mothers and fathers on their special days. So, a little something for Mothers Day, and maybe a couple days room and board.”
“Why thank you Mis…Aaron.” Laugh crinkles appeared in her cheeks. Her white teeth sparkled, “Im sure we can find room, and more than two days if you like.”
****
Settling into one of the inviting lawn chairs, Aaron noticed the three girls lined up like three steps again, watching him. Maybe time for a little show. He pulled his notebook again and tore out a page. Not very big paper, but, he began folding.
As one the three girls moved closer. The two young ones appeared interested, maybe even fascinated, but Terri just continued to look at him, and rather calmly.
He finished folding, held it in thumb and forefinger, drew back and lightly threw it. The little plane sailed nicely for about six feet, then took a nosedive.
A soft exclamation came from both the younger girls, but nothing from Terri, who, completely composed, just continued to look at him, so he opened his hands and arms and tipped his head. Terri finally gave him a half a grin.
“Thats origami,” he said.
“Is not! Origami is cranes and other cool stuff!” Terri turned up her grin, but now her face could be saying something like„Thats not so great. What else can you do?
Definitely caught there. That face. Again he saw a carbon copy of Caroline. Unlikely, yet he knew Jacqueline originated from Minnesota. They could be related. Terri was the only lightcomplexioned one in the family, and genes had done stranger things. At the right moment he would bring the matter up.
“Youre staring at me again, Aaron,” Terri informed him, “Why? Do you think Im pretty?
No point in telling her anything but the truth, “Yes, Terri, I think youre very pretty.” He hesitated only a second before adding, “You remind me of a little girl I knew a long time ago.”
Immediately and calmly, “Did you love her?”
The question was so direct, so much like Caroline would have put it, that he could only say the truth again, “Yes. And I guess I still do.
Again, calmly, “Why didnt you marry her?”
A legitimate question, and a flimsy excuse for an answer, “She was too young, Terri, just two years older than you.”
Terris composure was so calm and concerned that Aaron almost felt like he was talking to an adult, a very wise and sensible one. Her next utterance brought home a jolting fact, “Shes not too young now.”

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True, Caroline was grown up, could be married, most likely married, most likely many things, and most likely not remembering Aaron.

Chapter 4

 

Jacquelines Fear

Aaron continued regarding Terri and the mundane seven-year-old regarded him right back, until they heard her mother returning. Then Terri apparently decided the conversation was over and was satisfied to be a little girl again.

“I see youre getting to know Terri.”

 

“Yes.” He continued watching the girls for a second as they ran off to play elsewhere,

“Shes a very grown up little girl.”
“Yes, and theyre all three growing madly, right out of their clothes almost as soon as
theyre bought.” Jacqueline had stopped by the smoky grill, “But aside from absolute necessities
weve practically stopped buying.” She then expounded several theories about right, wrong, and
luxurious expenses, talked for several minutes, “Like the briquettes. Plenty of brands all right. In
fact, maybe you stopped at our new mall.”
“If you mean the one thatcovers several city blocks, I did.”
Jacqueline glanced up while turning themeat, “Thats the one. Beautiful place, but
unreasonably expensive.” The meat sizzled. She finished turning them, “Anyway, Im sure
briquettes could be found in most shops. It seems everyone is selling everyone elses products
these days. I keep expecting to find candy bars at the clinic next.”
“Clinic?”
“Oh, nothing wrong with any of us. Childhood inoculations, physicals, lab tests, but I
wonder sometimes.…” She laid down the turner, picked up a seasoning container, “We in this
irreproachable suburb have our own clinic, starched schools, thatplush shopping center.” Plush, maybe, Aaron added silently, but not exactly unscathed.
Jacqueline spread some seasonings, then retired to a lawn chair and moved it so it faced
him. Then, occasionally checking the meat, she continued confessing her opinions: Economics
vs. environment, consumerism vs. common sense; she talked on for about twenty minutes,
allowing Aaron only an occasional yes or no.
In the end, while moving the cooked barbecue meats to the outside of the grill, she
formulated badly-needed social programs for the poor,“…or its going to be the poor majority vs.
the rich minority, Aaron. We think were so safe out here away from the city, immune from
hunger and disease. We have so much, but there are so many more people who have so little.”
Her voice trailed away as she returned to her lawn chair, ending her tirade quietly. A quiet moment went by.
Honk!
Jacqueline returned to the grill. The three girls appeared again and ran to meet the new
arrival, most likely their father.
****
“Aaron, my friend!”
Aaron rose and turned to the familiar voice: Brett Haberman, executive electronics
engineer, high school wrestling champ, and one of two best friends.
Well over six feet with total posture and a generous smile, with his three daughters
crowding around him, the large man took three giant strides and swept Aaron two feet off the
ground.
The little girls squealed. Jacquelines mouth fell open. Aaron braced on his friends
shoulders, laughing, “Dont worry. Girls! We used to do this all the time. Never could beat your
daddy wrestling.”
Brettreleased his grip, catching and lowering Aaron gently, “Yeah, I still think you let
me!” he extended an immense but soft hand, “You were pretty wiry back then, my little buddy.” Aaron shook the hand, then slapped Bretts muscled shoulder.
Beaming, Jacqueline joined them and slipped an arm around her husbands waist,
“Youre late tonight, Honey.”
Brettadmitted having trouble on the freeway, “But Ill fill you in later.” He rubbed his
hands, “Lets get at those barbecues.”
****
“Like tonight on the freeway,” Brett poured a third glass of lemonade and pushed his plate away,
“It took so dang long clearing thataccident, police couldnt get through, people were honking,
blocking all paths, swearing. Im sure the victims could actually hear people cursing them.” He
shivered, took a long drink.
Wondering if his friend had more on his mind than just the accident, Aaron listened
quietly.
“I left work early tonight but got stalled a good hour. Reminded me of the shivarees back
home, eh, Aaron?”
“Shivarees? Jacqueline asked, “What were they?”
“Before your time, kiddo.” Brettlifted his glass, “Hah! Before mine too.” He took a
drink and stared off.
“Shivarees, Jackie,” Aaron interjected, “Were when friends and relatives got together and
toasted the newlyweds.”
“Sounds like fun.”
“They were. I guess some got kind of rough. I never took part in one myself. Dont know
if Brett did or not.”
“Can barely remember one,” Brettacknowledged, “Everybody gathered somewhere, then
went racing into the newlyweds yard honking, yelling, shooting off fireworks. Farms worked
best. Then, in order to silence the shivareers the newlyweds had to serve lunch. Course, nothing
satisfied some. I heard my folks tell of one where they stole the bride that got downright
violent.” His voice and gaze drifted off again.
Jacqueline threw Aaron a troubled glance, then got up and hugged her man from behind,
“And a shivaree is what todays accident reminded you of?”
“The honking and yelling, yes.” Brettrubbed his wifes arm and spoke softly, “There
were so many angry people, Jackie. They finally were able to bring in a helicopter.” “Youre kind of bugged, arent you?”
“Yes, and I keep wondering how this planet can go on!” His voice began rising again,
“How long can we grow? This good life we enjoy, whose sweat gets it here?” He pushed back
into his chair, “I hope Im not upsetting you with all my glum talk.”
“You arent. Im not exactly unaware of things.”
“Things seem to be happening more often now,” Aaron added, “Product shortages, food
lines, parking lot crime.”
“They always get things straightened out though!” Jacqueline said sharply. “Yeah, they!” Brettinterjected, “Thats another thing getting to me. They, other people
controlling our lives! We go to work! We pay our bills! We come home! Theytake care of us!” “What else is there?” Jacqueline asked like a statement.
“I honestly dont know, honey. Theres got to be something. What if they suddenly quit
providing us with all our services? What if they had no choice, for any number of damn
reasons?” He glanced at Aaron, then back at his wife, “Honey, what kind of world are we
allowing the theysystem to build for our children? Were so dependent. I worry about you and
the girls.”
“Why were all right,” Jacqueline said quickly, glancing at Aaron, “Terri got all superiors
this period and another note suggesting a center for gifted students, and Sofi is excelling in Art,
and Wendi is drawing right here at home on the walls.” Her bright smile returned, “So you see,
Brett, were all fine.”
Remembering a certain amount of despair in Jacquelines voice when they had talked
earlier, Aaron looked on. They all had fears and reservations about the future, but all along
different lines. Jacqueline worried about the poor majority, Bretts concern was the they-system
controlling their lives.
And Aaron? He wanted to leave the system, reject it completely.
Yes, something was wrong in the country, and dangerous, but couldnt be seen definitely,
or understood, or even discussed intelligently, but it was ominous, and bearing down on them all. They would fix things all right. Everyone had the same idea. Where else was there to turn
but to they, and who the hell was they?
Chapter 5
Conception of a Colony

Jacqueline excused herself from the discussion and began clearing the table. Brett moved to help.
“Not tonight, dear. You and Aaron go catch up. Ill join you later, and try to think of a morepleasant subject.”
Now with coffee the two men removed to the lawn chairs. A familiar flowery print dress in the next yard caught Aarons eye.
“My wifes right,I suppose. We should be talking about old times.”
Feeling his friend had more on his mind, and on the same subject, Aaron nodded.
“Ive been thinking a lot lately, Aaron. I guess I just needed someone like you to bring it out of me.”
Aaron nodded again.
“For instance, the business community expects to double any previous sales record for Mothers Day. Our economy depends on people buying services and manufactured goods, which depends on a ceaseless flow of raw material and energy, which depends on a foreign peasant force keeping the wheels grinding toward never-ending growth. Growth, Aaron!” he exclaimed, “And right now, we have all our thingsbecause of growth!”
Brettsipped his coffee, then rolled the cup in his hands, “Im reading a series of books, fiction, but really great books about our nations expansion westward. Look everly westward. Unlimited raw land and resources! And the books characters are really enthusiastic about it, and I dont blame them. But long past, Aaron, we have reached the Pacific. But Americans are still migrants. We dont seem to want to accept that America truly is not boundless, and neither do I.”
The cup-roll stopped. Brett set it in the grass, plainly was not through talking.
“Us, here in America, this suburb—no, I shouldnt say that. My neighbors are aware, but all they do is talk. Hah! Like me. We dont worry about an honest-to-goodness energy shortage. We know its going to happen, but not tomorrow. Some faint day in the future when somebody elses great-grandchildren will have to worry about it, get it? Somebody elses. And consumer product shortages? Hah!Those minor supermarket shortages wont amount to a tinkers-damn if we run out of the biggie. And layoffs? The welfare army? We dont worry about those things either, Aaron. Itd be emotional suicide to worry about everything.”
Brett picked up the coffee, studied it, didnt drink, “Ive got a good job and money to pay for things, so why should I worry? I havent, either, until now.” He set the cup back in the grass, leaned back, “What do you think would happen if we ran out of energy, Aaron? Fuel, what would happen?
“I guess I havent thought about it thatdeeply, Brett.”
“I trynot to, but its a physical certainty eventually. Unpleasant, no? Oh, I dont mean to rave at you, my friend. You came for a visit, but I tell you, Aaron, its getting kinda scary. The way sub-contractors and other companies we deal with are canceling, and going broke. And I havent told Jackie, but I expect to be out of a job, maybe in less than two years, maybe sooner. Right, its not just the lower echelon getting laid off.”
“I guess we all figure it wont happen to me,” Aaron offered.
“Precisely. Not to me. I sometimes wish there were something else. But Ive been blabbing so much, Aaron, what about you?”
“Been punching cattle up in Montana. Met a fellow—”
“Punching cattle?” Brettexclaimed, sitting up, “Do you mean riding horses? Herding cows?”
“The same.” Aaron laughed, “All ranchers havent gone entirely to four-wheel-drive vehicles as TV might have us believe.”
“Wow, thats something. I didnt know you were that…homegrown.”
“Nor did I, Brett, and I still havent learned to manage a horse really properly. But this fellow I met, an Indian, Four Crows was his name. Kind of a sarcastic little guy when he spoke of the environmentally-destructive white man. But he took pity on me, taught me some Indian things, and claimed being a direct descendent of Chief Joseph.”
“Wow,” was Bretts quiet reply.
“Thats how I felt too. The boy kept mainly to himself, but I made friends with him, and he told me about a job building corrals down near Yuma, Arizona.”
“Gets expensive traveling cross-country for a job, doesnt it?
“Not just the job, Brett. The boy said theres an old medicine man down there who knows the future.”
“Come on, Aaron.”
“He was honorable, Brett. Native Americans know things us immigrants dont.”
“Couldnt help overhearing awhile back, Brett.”
Both men turned to face a heavily-mustached, grey-haired man in his mid-fifties. An unhealthy-looking paunch pushed against the fence, and sagged over dark blue, knee-high shorts, and extended against a white shirt with only one button closed.
Brettmade an introduction, “…and this is Henry Grannin, semi-retired business consultant.”
Grannin eyed Aaron, and nodded, then sipped from a tall iced-drink sweating the same as his sunburned forehead and skinny arms, “No doubt about it,” he said indignantly, “According to Fesspro-Hawkins, this is going to be theebiggest Mothers Day ever. Same was for Easter and Christmas, and Halloween, that sailed right into the hereafter.” The man fixated Aaron for a second, then brushed the drink across his forehead and continued, “Youre not on the retail side of it, Brett, but did you know that all that apparent cash-flow is charge? Everybody and their cat these days has a cardand theyre using itfor everything, even groceries!”
“So whats wrong, Henry? People are paying their bills arent they?”
“Most are, right now. But if we were to see a couple months where they got behind, and couldnt even buy essentials—”
Aaron was interested in Grannins harangue, but that flowery print dress behind the man caught his eye again. The woman was stretched out on a lawn chair, holding onto a drink with both hands, staring blankly. He stared at her for a few seconds, then again picked up on Grannin.
“Yeah, Liddy walked in about a half hour ago. Hasnt said a thing, and didnt bring nothing home but a bunch of cosmetic junk!”
“You think she was definitely robbed then?” Brett asked.
“No doubt about it. Happened once before in that same damned fancy parking lot, too. Liddyll probably refuse to go there again. Ive seen things happen, Brett, and there aint no certain type. Just common people gettin plain mad, and likely hungry too. Well, I didnt mean to interrupt.” Grannin sent Aaron a disdainful glance, “Good to meet you, Hodges,” then departed.
“Same here,” Aaron called back, then “What do you know about…?” He pointed.
“Mrs. Grannin? Oh, shes—”
“Keep your voice down.”
“OK, old buddy. Shes a nice woman, a bit nervous at times, oh, bitter maybe.Shes changed in the past year.”
“I dont blamer her, Brett. I was right in the middle of that little stickup today and Grannin was right. Just plain people. I wouldnt be able to identify any in a lineup.” He went on to tell the whole story, ending withthe hostility shown him, “..and I think more than anything those people were mad at my clothes. You saw the way old Grannin looked at me, didnt you?”
“I did.” Brettleaned back and smiled, “I do envy you in a way, Aaron, but your outfit, my God, how do you dare dress like that? Motorcycle gangs do, but they run in the safety of packs.”
“It does get me in trouble at times, like today.”
“Lot of thatgoing around.” Brettgot serious again, “Too many minor incidents for the police to handle. Folks are getting worked up. Afraid its an anger thatll need an outlet one of these days. But to get back to clothes, my friend, thatpainting on your back intrigues me.”
“Its a symbol, thatone day the buffalo will return.”
“And Four Crows will live to see it.” Brett grinned.
“Right.”
“Were you ever out to any of the battle sites?”
“Four Crows did the painting right in the middle of one, and said it was a symbol for me too, thatdisplaying it will get me contact with the medicine man.”
“Could be, Aaron. What do you think hell tell you?”
Aaron shook his head negatively, but was considering sharing his idea.
“Youre thinking pretty hard there, old buddy. Cmon, out with it.”
“Ive been thinking too, Brett.”
Brett cocked his head andappeared interested, “Yeah?”
“Real crazy, but the ideas been making more sense lately, and if I could find enough crazy people, like me, and maybe like you….”
“Go on.”
“The answer to your problems, mine, and maybe eight to ten other families, might just be a self-sufficient colony.” Out, point blank. He hesitated only a second, then went on, speaking rather quickly, “We could build a stone house into the side of a hill, pull the hill back over us for heat conservation, individual family units, workshops, greenhouse, solar heating, wind generators. Youd be a good hand there, Brett.”
“Whoa!” Haberman sat up, grabbed his coffee, drank, “Auck! Cold! You serious, Aaron?”
Damn right. Ive rolled it around in my head for the past year, but youre the first person Ive actually told. I dont know. Sometimes I imagine a catastrophe in the near future. Dont know for what reason, though. Other times I think its all pure imagination. And why would someone like youeven consider my idea?”
“Right.” Brett leaned back and rubbed a thoughtful hand across his face, “Why would someone like mebe interested?”
“Yeah.” But Aaron was certain he had seen a glimmer of interest.
Brettremained thoughtful for another moment, then, “Planning to head back to Minnesota one of these days?”
“Month or two maybe. Depends on what happens in Arizona.”
“Ever see my folks?”
“I have.” Aaron felt his friend was stalling, struggling with the social acceptability of a colony, grasping for the chance of new life from it, “Why do you ask, Brett?”
“Oh, theres been a lot between the lines in their messages lately. Jackie thinks so too. Id go home, but really cant right now.”
“I sure will check in with them, my friend.”
“Preciate it. Aaron, so, how much would a colony cost?”
“How much could you put into it?”
“With no hesitation, “A hundred thousand.”
“Wow, I had no idea you were thatwell off, Brett.”
“Im not. Id have to borrow.”
“Hmmm, if ten other families could do that…a million, and with my inheritance, thatIve yet to touch. Another million.”
“Enough?”
“Maybe. Lots of equipment to buy. Land—”
“Where? Where would the land be?”
“How about northern Minnesota? Lots of backwoods up there.”
“Damn good and cold too. How about southernMinnesota?”
“An unpleasant snag, Brett. Say our system did fail. An already-built self-sufficient colony would be a popular place. Thered soon be many people pounding on our door, and this is a cold fact. We would not be able to help them.”
Brettshook his head, “And people wouldnt be friendly. Up north we maybe could help the few, down south wed be overrun.” He rubbed his face, “What else for expenses?”
“Technical supplies for alternate energy systems.” Aaron felt glad they had moved on from the question of crying masses of people, for there was no answer. And if the colony became a reality under the dire circumstances they had discussed, another guilt-question was, how could they put themselves and a few chosen friends above the masses, and, how could they not? Too many questions. “Tools, plenty of glass for greenhouses and skylights, and livestock, horse machinery—”
“Horse machinery? Aaron, Ive never….”
“Neither have I, Brett. Wed have a lot to learn.”
“The Bolanders! You wont find a closer to the earth family then them!”

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“You bet. Kellyd be in charge of horses and teaching the rest of us. Course he doesnt know it yet, and some things would have to regress for awhile. For instance, how would Jackie take to making bread from raw wheat thatshe had just ground with a hand stone mill?”

“Youre kidding.”

“Im not . But the new technologies have developed really good hand tools too, and, anyway, I had figured little Hans Willouwing for the duties of cook.”
“Aaron,” Brettsaid incredulously, “How can we sit here discussing—planning—other peoples lives?”
“Not easy, is it?”
“No, but you seem to have thought of everything.”
“No way, Brett, but its in my head. I havent written anything down yet. So, how about Jackie?”
“Thatwoman can do anything. I recommend her.”
“Figured you might.”
“Course, thisll come as a shock to her, even more so than me, but Ill bring it up to her.”
“Deal, then?”
Brettbroke into a broad smile and shoved his hand out, “Deal, Aaron Hodges, although, at this very minute it sounds incomprehensible, but,Im with you. Find a spot. Get the other people interested…is Taylor Magellanone of them?”
“Right next to you, Brett. Figured him for self-defense.”
“Defense. Yes, I suppose so. OK, well see.”
Aaron gripped Bretts hand tighter, “Now for the bombshell.”
“Bombshell?”
“If the colony idea had been in your head as long as its been in mind, youd have thought of it too.”
“What bombshell?”
“Say we seriously started working on this, drawing up plans, buying equipment, and then it happened.”
Whathappened?”
“The crash, Brett. What weve been talking about, inferring to anyway. What if it happenedbefore were ready?”
Brettnodded and dropped Aarons hand.
Both men realized they had inadvertently set a stage in which the curtain could fall at any time, ready or not, one that may not soon rise again.

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Chapter 6 Proxy Reunion

“Cant believe that buggy is still running,” Brett said as he, Jacqueline and Terri accompanied Aaron to the van, “I figured she was on her last axles when you were here for our wedding.”

Aaron laughed and patted the vans door, “She probably shouldve been, but Old Paint here hasnt heard of obsolescence, planned or otherwise.”
They all laughed. Even brilliant but unhappy-looking Terri cracked her face a bit. After the strained joke came silence. The bond between the two men had been reinstated and strengthened. A new bond had arisen with the rest of the family, and nobody was happy about Aarons departure.
“Goodbye, Aaron.” Terri approached and hugged him, and looked up. Aaron returned the hug, then saw tears and hugged her tighter, then released her as she pulled away. Her eyes brimming over, she mumbled another goodbye, then hurried toward the house.
Watching, he realized more time had been spent with Terri, whose fascination in his travels had kept him talking for hours, then anyone else. But Mothers Day had passed, then Monday and Tuesday. The colony idea had been discussed over and over until by Wednesday morning it had intensified to near urgency. Urgent to get someone like Terri to safety.
“Youve got a solid ally there,” Jacqueline said as her daughter disappeared into the house. Then she moved into the same close spot for the hug.
Aaron glanced at the beaming Brett, then returned Jacquelines hug, “Its been great, Jackie, I can afford flowers for this kind of treatment anytime.”
“They were lovely. The pompons reminded me of my altar bouquets.”
And thatreminded Aaron of the possible genetic link to Caroline, “By the way, Jackie,” He leaned back, “What of your sister who didnt show up at your wedding? She could maybe help me find somebody back in Minnesota.”
Jacqueline stepped back and smiled, but unhappiness showed through too, and a trace of wetness in her eyes, “After the divorce, we girls were split up, and Carrie—”
“Carrie? Short for Caroline?”
“Thats right. She went into foster care. In fact Terri is an image of her aunt.”
“I cant believe this!” Aaron shouted, overjoyed, “Ive been looking for Caroline forever. When I saw Terri I was amazed at the resemblance.” But why did Jacqueline look unhappy? “Vellingham! The picnic grounds! You know where thatis, Brett.”
“Of course. We raised a little hell overthere.”
Jacqueline smiled at her husband and grasped his arm. But why the unhappy look?
“Jackie,” Aaron implored, “Where isshe?”
“Oh, Aaron.” She shook her head, “I dont know.”
Crushed, Aaron slumped against Old Paint, and rubbed at a moldering spot.
“Her last name, though, is still the same, up until her last letter.”
“Shes single?”
“At least then. Eight years ago.” Jacqueline then explained that they had been separated quite young, that she had came to California with their father and his new wife, while Caroline remained in Minnesota with their sickly mother, who died a year later, “…then Carrie was shifted around with different relatives—”
Relatives who didnt love her.
“…and, if you met her in Vellingham, Aaron, it was an accident, because none of our relatives have ever lived anywhere near there.”
“She was nine then,” Aaron said, “She called herself an orphan, but only your mother was dead.”
“Right. Both parents are gone now, but not then. Carrie most likely didnt realize she had a father, or she disowned him. As far as I know, Dad never wrote to her. I think he may have hated her because she looked so much like our mother.”
“My god, Jackie, all this time. How did you lose track of her?”
“We corresponded. Ive seen her twice since weve grown up, but not since she was going to be my maid-of-honor.”
Aarons breath caught. They would have walked down the aisle together.
“…but just before the wedding, well, shed been mixed up with some man from Clarksburg—”
Close to Vellingham; the two schools shared social functions.
“…she got pregnant. The man left her, then she lost the baby.“
“I searched everywhere, Jackie. Phone books, annuals, I talked to everyone. How could I have missed her?”
“You searched at the wrong time, Aaron. She wasnt there yet.”
“And I interrupted.”
“After she lost the baby—”
“How did she lose it?” he demanded, “Born dead? What?”
“Carrie said it aborted, but she was so distraught. I was ready to go to her when a letter came saying not to come, or anything. I wrote anyway, and tried calling, but my letter came back „address unknown. I did go then, but she was nowhere.”
“I love her.” Aaron barely said it aloud, had only thought it when reliving their moments together, remembering the kiss, and their foolish assumption of magically getting together again, “I dont know how thatcan be, but its true.”
Time to leave. He approached Jacqueline, grasped both her arms, kissed the side of her mouth, “Thank you for this, Jackie, and, what is her last name?”
“Same as my maiden name, Aaron. Jentner. J E N T N E R.”
She then returned the kiss and moved toward the house.
Aaron looked at his tall friend, “So long, Brett.”
“So long to you, Aaron. Now write, dang it. Although I wouldnt mention the colony on the internet, but a letter should be all right, and Jackie will have heard about it by then.”
“What…?” So emotional over the news of Caroline Aaron had forgotten the colony completely. Now the mention brought light back to his eyes. But Caroline would have to be included. Without her there would be no colony.
Chapter 7 You Will Lead

A ticklish feeling moved down Aarons back, and ended as a drop of sweat at his tailbone. He knew the supervisor was watching, most likely glaring. Gripping the acetylene torch he finished the cut—he thought, a good one—and turned.

Caleb Conrad was about ten years older, shorter, but much heavier, with bulging muscles. The man had a square, clean-shaven, jutting jaw, short red hair barely noticeable under a green military cap. Aaron always felt a scrutiny, a judging issuing from the wide-apart, half-open eyes, “Cant do a blessed thing right, can you, hippie?”

Aaron shut off the gas flow. The torch popped. He handed it, the gloves, and goggles over. Five weeks since leaving the comfortable Haberman residence, and not once had he pleased the man reminiscent of a drill sergeant, a regular short-legged bull.

A steer bellowed, one of hundreds cooped up in a nearby pen awaiting the new, far larger, corral being fabricated from four-inch, steel pipe posts set in concrete footings, and threequarter-inch steel rod fencing.

Conrad grabbed the torch, brushed by with a falling-over-backward stride, snarling, “Now watch!”
The man didnt belong in the construction setting. A supervisor, yes, but not of the collection of, all but two men, drunks, minorities, and ruffians. And the surreptitious medallion that had fallen out of his starched white T-shirt one day—while near to standing on his head over the top of one of the four-feet-deep holes, needlessly demonstrating how to bell the bottoms— had been stuffed quickly out of sight.
But Aaron had gotten a good look anyway. Heavy and metal, a large S and M superimposed, but more.
“Now you do it, hippie!” Conrad said, having finished three cuts in record time, popping the torch and handing it back, “While I watch.”
Jaws tight, Aaron took the torch, re-fired it, braced, began heating the rod, and wondered why the man wanted to embarrass him.
“No, damn it,” Conrad groaned, “Ill get the rabbit over here to show you. Shut the damn thing off!”
Aaron obeyed, twisted the feed-valve which caused the rattling pop, then threw it down and tossed the heavy gloves to land at Conrads feet, and glowered back. He was ready to snarl back too, could see no reason for the antagonism. Instead, he removed his hat, rubbed through his hair and turned away.
The job was somehow connected with the yet-unencountered medicine man. He would humor the supervisor a while longer.
**** Ten minutes passed.
With an arrogantly-slow, moccasin shuffle, a dark-skinned man with a dusty black vest hung on his torso finally approached from the direction Conrad had gone. The other one. The one who received whatever other dirty jobs were available.
Two Shirts of the Rabbit was taller than Aaron, slimmer, bareheaded, wore ragged blue jeans, had long black hair held in a ponytail by a leather thong, and dark eyes that sometimes shone with a fierceness not only offending and intimidating, but a reminder to everyone of the rabbits ancestors: Chiricahua Apache.
The Indians mouth broke into a grin as he came within hailing distance, “Hear youre screwing up over here, hippie.”
“Nothing new,” Aaron grumbled as he handed over the goggles.
Two Shirts took over the torch, handled it with expertise, and spoke while he worked, “You do no worse than anyone else, Hodges.”
“Oh? Why does he bait me then? Hobby?”
“Something like that, I suppose. Conrad doesnt like you.”
Aaron hunched his shoulders, “Id like to know why.”
“The painting on your shirt,” Two Shirts kicked off a hanging rod, started another cut, “He doesnt like me either. Indians are unpopular these days, and so are people who show any sign of sympathizing, as you, Hodges, with thatpainting.”
“I dont exactly sympathize,” Aaron shrugged, “Just common decency. Human rights.”
“Your true politics dont matter. You wear the painting, and, to Conrad, you wear it proudly. Ill try to explain. The Indian has caused a guilt complex. Romantic motion pictures have played a part. Were usually portrayed as wise and noble stewards of the forests and prairies, and in the beginnings were always many, and proud, and powerful, but by the end weve been beaten and reduced to a starving band of savages with our hands out. No matter how the storys written theres always that unavoidable end.
“We lost.”
Aaron listened, and watched the Indian cutting off steel rods as if slicing through butter.
“The early years saw us living quietly on the reservations, or playing the drunken, skid row Indian,” Two Shirts continued, “But today we have lawyers, doctors, sociologists, and theres a growing literate class, literate in our own languages, too, that is. You see, were absorbing white mans knowledge but also researching our own heritage.”
“So all thatsounds good, Rabbit. I dont see the guilt.”
“More than guilt. The guilt has simmered for generations, and now is coming to a boil with some people since the failure of the Indian Termination policy, especially during the last twenty years.”
“Termination policy?”
“Yes. A termination of our treaty-guaranteed rights as independent Indian nations, and the abolishment of the reservations. The goal was, and always has been, to assimilate us into white society. Eventually we would have disappeared as a race. And since thatfailure weve continued being the Indian problem. Today were leaning toward even more isolation and demanding retribution. But were receiving very little. You see, for the Indian to gain, the white man must give, and that is adding even more guilt, such as the eminent domain principle that so easily took our reservation lands for huge water projects.”
“Ill tell you what, Rabbit, I cant imagine Conrad suffering from guilt over anything.
“Nor can I. Conrad is a product of the guilt.”
They both saw the supervisor approaching.
“Ive been with you long enough,” Two Shirts announced, “Because of your painting I have wished to speak with you.” He shut off the gas. The pop seemed quieter, “Can you meet me at Last Chance tonight?”
“Of course.”
“Good. Try not to be followed. Buy gas, then walk into the desert toward the sun.”
“Ill be there.”
“One hour after work,” the Indian added, “The attendant, though unfriendly and curiosity-stricken, never-theless can be trusted.” Two Shirts handed over the torch, goggles, gloves, and smiled, “Do the job right, now, hippie.”
****
About seven oclock Aaron pulled up to the one gas pump on a small slab of asphalt between the highway and the desert. He glanced toward the sun. No sign of Two Shirts, just cacti and other desert plants. And no other customer, and no movement from the one building on the property. He glanced back at the desert, and the blazing sun.
“What do you want?” an unfriendly-sounding voice asked.
Aaron slipped Old Paints door handle, and stepped out facing a tall man probably earlyseventies, blue-gray hair, black bristly eyebrows, and a black-white handlebar moustache, a distinguished-looking attendant.
“What do you want?” the man repeated, “Gas?”
“Yes.”
“You want me to do it? Costs more.”
Two Shirts said the man could be trusted, so he would add to the kitty, “Sure.”
The attendant fingered his moustache, then moved to the pump. Aaron again glanced toward the sun, again saw nothing, “Is anyone else around? Maybe like theyre waiting?
“Two ofem.” The attendant began rolling the moustache with index and middle finger, straightening one side, and nodded, “Out there in the desert.”
Aaron looked in the direction, toward the sun all right, and Joshua trees, yucca, lots of shimmering sand.
“The old one comes around here a lot. Gets free water, buys about one Coke a week. Never seen the young one before.”
Turning back, Aaron saw the left eyebrow raised, eyes staring suspiciously, thumb joined in the moustache-roll.
“Old guys drunkern hell tonight.” The attendant coaxed the left point of the moustache into a sharp, upward curve, “Never seenim quite so bad. Heard he was a witch doctor, of sorts.”
“Wouldnt know. Pop machine work?”
“Yep.”
Aaron went to the machine standing just outside the station door, then fought with the buttons until obtaining three cans of Coke, then went into the station to wait.
The attendant soon arrived, the moustache looking perfect, “Thatll be forty-nine dollars and ninetythree cents.”
Aaron paid, retrieved the pop and turned to leave.
“Gonna buy yer fortune tonight, eh?”
Looking back, Aaron remembered Two Shirts assessment of unfriendly and curious, but wondered about trustworthy.
“Ya gonna payim?”
“If he asks.”

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“Hell probably get ya to believing yer gonna meet a fair -haired maiden. At thatAaron smiled, “Then Ill pay him.”
****
After parking Old Paint, Aaron walked toward the sun as told, and wondered what he was walking into besides hot sand and cactus. More Indian philosophy, no doubt, but why was he being told? What did the painting mean besides return of the buffalo? What to him specifically, and why such secrecy?
A few minutes passed. He looked back. The station was obscured by scant desert growth, ahead more of the same—
A hand touched his arm.
“Come ahead, Hodges.”
Aaron jerked to the voice.
“Weve been waiting for you,” Two Shirts said, and then lead the way. As they walked the Apache unraveled more of the mystery around their unusual meeting, “…then when I was six, my parents left me with the elders on the extensive Navajo reservation here in Arizona. I was instructed in desert survival, sometimes left alone for weeks. I learned to make fire, find water, construct crude weapons from rocks, sticks, animal bones and sinews. I ate lizards, insects, snakes. Youve probably read of such things.”
Aaron shuddered in return.
“My teachers were always close by but I never saw them.” Two Shirts reached back and tightened the thong on his ponytail, “The lessons came in spurts. Sometimes the young men would take me from the middle of other class sessions, the history and legends of many tribes, white mans history, and math. Once we were back in the deep desert they would describe to me what plants and animals I was to use.”
“And you had to find them.”
“Yes, Hodges. The training continued until I was fifteen. Then I was told to go and live with the white man and perfect my English, and learn the Spanish language, but also to retain Indian ways as I would someday be called upon to perform a service. Now Im twenty-five. The last thing the Navaho elder told me, „You will meet a hippie who wears the buffalo-return painting.”
“Incredible.”
“Your appearance signifies the beginning of something, Hodges, even I dont know what. I doknow Im watched constantly, and when you came on the scene I sent a message by drum.”
“Drum? Youre kidding.”
Two Shirts laughed, “I play with a rock band in Yuma, and I live in a trailer court. My watchdogs probably have figured my reason for the drumming. The other band members probably thought I was nuts for a few seconds, but I had to get out those particular notes. Anyway, my watchdogs dont know my contact, nor do I. My beat was officially answered yesterday. Just a quick burst lasting about fifteen seconds. Luckily, our good supervisor arranged for our meeting today, or I would have had to force it.”
“But, Rabbit, if youre watched, how did you get away now?”
“Remember my training, Hodges. Ive allowed them to watch me, until now, and I imagine theyre about frantic trying to explain to their superior why they lost me.”
“Conrad?”
“I think so.” Two Shirts stopped.
“But who is Conrad? And why am I—”
“You will learn more as it becomes necessary, my friend.” The Apache pointed. ****
Aaron shaded his eyes and squinted.
A hazy-silhouetted small man sitting cross-legged appeared. Though facing away the man appeared ancient. Two feathers protruded from a large hat with a rattlesnake band. Two gray braids of hair reached the ground. A purple vest was draped over a light-colored shirt and slight, boney shoulders and shoulder blades. A scarce line for the neck supported the unseen head and the ridiculously-large hat. A picture postcard, and seemingly in the final throes of drunkenness, weaving, but maybe the desert heat.
Two Shirts touched Aarons elbow, “Come.”
The two men moved to the front of the small brown man and sat, also cross-legged. Aaron offered the pop, and immediately felt foolish. Both Indians accepted, thanked him, but neither drank.
“This is Raven Hawk of the Papago tribe,” Two shirts said.
The old Indians front offered more postcard picturesqueness. The rolled-up ragged blue jeans, too large for him, were held up by a leather belt and a large silver belt buckle with a turquoise half-moon. The face was a deeply-furrowed arroyo, to Aaron, a Hollywood movie set and national monument all in one.
The arroyo lines deepened, the thin lips parted, exposing teeth missing, “Aaron Hodges, Hippie-boy-with-theSoldiers-Hat, I am glad to make your acquaintance. It is said a hippie-boy would appear in the shadows of the Little Snowy Mountains in this year. You, though unaware, have appeared and received the painting from Four Crows, kin to the great Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce.”
Its true. What would Brett Haberman think now?
“Through Two Shirts of the Rabbit you have come to me, Hippie-boy. I must tell you a story. One your history books do not record.”
Staring, Aaron settled within himself, and listened.
“Twelve hundred years ago the Hohokum, the vanished ones, relative of the Papago, were a strong and civilized people. Their numbers were many, and they dwelt in these dry plains—”
Right where Im sitting.
“…and raised corn and built cities, until drought and other disasters occurred, and fierce tribes from the north dispersed them, and laid waste to their cities. The Hohokum did not know what to do. Then a powerful wind blew from the west. The Great Spirit of all mankind rode upon it and told Chief Hotowatah what to do, and told him the future of mankind. Hotowatah then gathered the remnants of his tribe and traveled into Mexico. They climbed over mountains, waded through swamps and jungles, spawning their babies and leaving their dead. They spent many years in their transit.”
Entranced, Aaron stared at the tiny, gnarled man, the barely-evident shoulders, the glazed, void-like eyes, and the words bridging questions and secrets of the universe.
“…At last the Hohokum came to rest in the land of the Maya. A time of peace followed, then more wars spread around them, then the conquistadors came and still more war. The Hohokum fled again and reached the barren Yucatan Mountains, and there passed into the obscurity of time.”
The small brown man took a breath, then continued, “More centuries passed. Determined religious men finally entered their domain, and converted many to Christianity, and introduced civilized diseases. For a thousand years the Hohokum blood had remained pure, but as Christianity spread, so did the young people leave the peaks and addict themselves to drugs and alcohol, and intermarry, until now. Only the aged Hotowatah, the sixtieth descendent of the original Hotowatah, remains of royal blood. He copulated with three of the purest and healthiest of virgins. Nineteen years ago, two gave birth to sons who now are guardians of the third.”
The arroyo lines deepened more, as if the man were smiling.
“A daughter,” Raven Hawk said, “The Princess Tongowari, Shining Flower of the Half Moon, destined to be queen of all Indian people from all corners of the north and south continents, and she is now ready to take her place.”
The old Indian stopped narrating and kept gazing straight ahead, was silent for several seconds, then, “Two Shirts of the Rabbit, you are ready to leave?”
Two Shirts stood immediately, “I am, Raven Hawk.”
“Good. Do not return to your lodging. You will find what remains of the Hohokum people near ancient Mayan ruins, near where the River of the Sun flows. You must travel overland as the raven flies. You will bring the princess and her two guardians out of Mexico to the village by the Sauntering River in Nevada, at which time there will be a powwow with all major tribes involved.”
“I understand, Raven Hawk.”
“Good. Go now, Two Shirts of the Rabbit. Avoid people of all races, and God speed your return.”
Two Shirts reached behind his head and removed the leather thong. His hair, wild, black, shining, fell loosely about his slim shoulders. He gazed calmly and fiercely at Aaron, and handed over the thong.
Aaron accepted it, squeezed it, felt warmth from it, and strength, and instantly felt gooseflesh travel his whole body.
“The thong is medicine, Aaron Hodges. I hope to see you again, but fear I will not.” Then the young Apache turned and loped out across the hot sand, away from the station, away from civilization, south.
****
Awed, Aaron watched. There was no shuffle as the young Apache disappeared among desert growth, no questions asked, no fear shown.
“There are many dangers about, Hippie Boy,” Raven Hawk said, “A persecution of the Indian people has begun, and will intensify in the coming months.”
“Two Shirts spoke of thepersecution, but I just dont see why they have to walk, clear from Mexico, the Yucatan….” Then he realized the frivolity of that statement.
“I have more to tell you, Hippie Boy. This will be our only meeting. You will leave soon. Even now your nationcalls you.”
Aaron lifted his hat, ran his fingers through his hair.
“Unhappy events are in the wind, my son, and you must be brave to meet the challenge of them.”
“Challenge, Raven Hawk? I, too, have a mission?”
“You are perceptive, Hippie Boy, but not all-wise. You must learn many things, for one day a group of your people will look to you for guidance, but you must enlist the help of others, which through cooperation and unity, will cause your sanctuary to flourish.”
Colony. Had to be. He should rejoice, but,“I, dont understand.”

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“You understand enough. There will be signs. Civilized mans black gold is not infini te, nor is the grain in his bin, nor the moisture in his grainfields, but he will not believe until too late. Youwill have time.”
“Time?”
“Time to prepare. You will lead.”
Aaron felt a bit overwhelmed, and a drastically unworthy student, “And you, Raven Hawk?”
“My mission is soon finished, Hippie Boy. My time in this life is short, but there is more for you to know. The unification of the Indian nations will be brought about by the marriage of Princess Tongowari to a prince of the northern tribes. Part of your mission is to help them. Explicit details are unnecessary. You will know. So, in the future, when an Indian offers assistance, accept it. Now go. Your homeland, and your woman, needs you.”
Caroline.
Aaron maneuvered into a squat but didnt rise. The old man seemed so fragile. The merest gust could…he felt an affection for the man, an intense fondness. He wanted to say something, a sentence, even a word, anything to convey his emotions. He reached to the old mans shoulders. Hardly more than bone.“Raven Hawk, there is nothing…?”
“Farewell, Hippie Boy.”
Raven Hawk did not move. As falling curtains, blue lids fell over the void-like eyes. ****
Aaron jerked open the hydrant and leaned down. Cold water rushed over his head. Then he washed his face, splashed his torso, and spread shampoo, begun scrubbing his hair.
Cold right at sunrise. No matter how hot was the day it got cold at night. And without Two Shirts he felt a certain melancholy about the place, alien, almost dangerous. Why had he returned, anyway? To finish the corral for the cattle being fattened up for slaughter? That reason over the greater things Raven Hawk had told him? The old man completed his mission and then he died. At least thats how it looked, with his closed eyes all blue.
„You will lead. The nonexistent colony had to be what he referred to. Had to be. But even with implied confirmation, Brett Habermans emotional backing and promise of financial support, it seemed impossible.
Shocked awake from the icy water, hair rinsed, he straightened and closed the hydrant. Distant mountains appeared blue and hazy. He thought about the barren country Two Shirts was headed into with nothing but his survival skills. Then he jerked the water on again and leaned down for a drink, and noticed a dustcloud, then took only a small drink and straightened quickly.
A pickup about a half mile away and approaching fast. A terrible uneasiness filled him, especially his stomach. Several head of cattle bellowed as one. A mixed flock of late migrant blackbirds flushed from the cramped feedlot.
The pickup was roaring. Dust fogged behind it and hung in the still desert air. The sun was full up but still cold, yet Aaron felt suffocated. Why hadnt the Indians warned him? But Two Shirts did. Anyone who sympathized. Move!
A furtive breeze cooled his chest and chilled him even more as he started for Old Paint and his club. Maybe wouldnt need it. The hell he wouldnt! Why were they early? Why driving like a madman?
The pickup slid as it jammed to a stop between Aaron and his van. The following dustcloud enveloped them for a few seconds, then moved on. Three men emerged. Caleb Conrad and two whose names he didnt know.
The three men approached slowly, deliberately calmly, and why wouldnt they? They had him.
****
“Hodges!” Conrad stuffed the military cap in his back pocket and motioned the others to circle. His half open eyes drilled. Acruel smile came forth, “Good morning!”
Themans cronies were as stocky as the supervisor. They likely would do anything they were told. Aaron felt his body growing taut. Sweat was flowing and cooling. He breathed deeply. Not much chance against the three of them, not much choice either.
“Weve been looking for the rabbit, Hodges.” Conrads ugly smile was in full bloom, “We thought you might know something.”
“Havent seen him this morning.”
“Well, now, hippie, you seen him yesterday. I thought he might have told you his plans.”
“Nope. Nothing.”
“You might as well know this, goddamn Indian lover, cause it dont matter what you know.” All pretense of a smile faded, “”Weve had our eye on that redskin for eighteen months! We dont plan to lose him!”
“Nothing transpired in those few minutes.Rabbit was showing me about the torch.” Aaron hunched his shoulders, watching the cronies advancing.
“We got people everywhere. According to an old station attendant, hippie, who decided to talk after a little coaxin, you spent an hour with the rabbit and some old drunken fool witch doctor last night. So Im pretty sure you know something!”
So the attendant was trustworthy, almost.
The three men advanced. Conrad motioned.
The men became hazy as they moved in, but Aaron moved too and rushed, and grabbed one mans shoulders, which confounded him, and, using him as a brace, he kicked out, striking Conrads face so hard his heel hurt. The thrust off Conrad gave him an opening. Conrads nose spurted red but the man didnt go down.
Aaron ran to his van, threw the door open and grabbed his club…almost.
Thatquickly they were on him and spun him around for Conrads fist in his stomach, which smashed him against his van. The fist came again in the same spot, and again.
“Tell us where thatredskin went, hippie!” Conrad snarled.
Aaron heard the voice and felt his hair being pulled, his head being jerked up. He opened his eyes, blinked several times trying to clear tears.
The cruel smile was back on Conrads face, “Gonna show you a little trick, hippie. Something one sees in only the most sophisticated of combat manuals.” Conrad braced one fist against Aarons chest and began lowering the other, palm out, “It amounts to quick, light taps in the groin—like this!
Aaron cried out. He couldnt help it, and his knees buckled.
“Holdimup!” Conrad yelled, “They say it drives a man crazy, hippie—like this! He slammed Aaron into his vanagain, “Keepim up, damn it! Like this, hippie!” And again!
After the fifth groin slap Aaron felt nothing. He literally had to be held up and heard a faraway voice thatdidnt mean much.
“Now get this, hippie!” Conrad was yelling, “Dont get involved! Or you might find yourself dead some morning!”
Aaron strived opening his eyes and raising his head. Blinking, he saw the fist coming at his face. He didnt really care, and saw something else. The medallion, S, M, and a third letter, T.
Conrads fist struck his forehead. An explosion of colored stars came instantly, then blackness, a vague awareness of a crunch, then he was falling, and hearing no more.

Chapter 8

 

Scenario of a Master Race

Loud, in rapid succession: Bang! Bang! Bang!
Aaron awoke, moved, cried out, “Agh!” His groin area still really hurt. Bang! Bang! Bang!
Groggy, he pushed loose from the warm sleeping bag, rolled off Old Paints cot, “Agh!”

and felt a sharper pain.
Louder, more insistent: Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang!
Who the hell?
“All right!” He shouted, “All right!”
The pounding was coming from the sliding side door. It seemed imprudent to just open it

blindly. He reached under the drivers seat and grasped the ash branch fashioned into a nightsticklike club and called out, “Who is it, please?”
No answer.
“Im sorry.” Exhausted from driving six hours, thinking about home and Minnesota, anxious to follow his first lead on Caroline, still somewhat disconcerted from the disturbing words of Raven Hawk and still wondering if the old man had died in his hands, and remembering his promise to visit Brett Habermans parents, Aaron was not in a reallygood mood, “If you dont speak, I cant open the door.”
BANG! BANG! BA
That ended too abruptly, then came a sound of shuffling in the roadside gravel, a thump against the vehicle as if someone had launched himself—an accelerating engine!
Aaron grabbed his boots and crawled into the drivers seat, strained seeing into the still- prevailing darkness of northern New Mexicos early morning, and clumsily began pulling on his boots.
A vehicle roared past. A running man appeared in the headlights. Long dark hair, white T-shirt. He dived into the ditch. The man had practically begged him for help, and looked Indian.
Without weighing further imprudent thought he started the engine, shoved into first gear and steered into the shallow ditch, forgetting his groin-pain but suddenly feeling stomach pain. If an Indian offers help.
Gunfire?
He couldnt be sure over the roaring engine. He steered to miss a shadowy boulder, pulled the headlights on, saw the vehicle ahead, and dust, and the running man dodging, dark hair billowing, about two hundred feet ahead. Boulders everywhere, he steered for the roads shoulder and slammed into second gear. He couldnt see the running man—if an Indian offers help! There, over a small rise, he slammed into third gear. Little puffs of dust appeared by the man—they were shooting at him!
Probably not police. Didnt matter. He increased speed. One hundred feet. He slammed back down into second gear—fifty feet—he sounded the horn. Twenty-five feet. First gear. He pushed open the passenger door, “Jump in!”
The man did.
A blast and an instantaneous shattering of glass. Aaron slammed on the brakes and steered away from the road, and floored Old Paint. At the same time dawn broke. He drove a short distance and stopped, and watched the marauding vehicle disappear over the next rise.
A few moments passed as the two men sat quietly, watching dark forms taking shape, scrubby trees and bushes, more boulders, and, evidently, no further pursuit. Wondering why, Aaron slipped into gear and started moving further from the road. Maybe because he was white, but those in the other vehicle couldnt have known that.
“There is road to east.”
Aaron turned to his passenger, saw a smooth, round face, close-set eyes, about forty-five, probably about his own height and obviously in good shape, and for some reason his appearance didnt match his slightly-broken English, “Does that road connect up with the Interstate? Eventually?”
“Urhmn!” The Indian grunted and gestured toward the first major rays of the sun, toward huge sandy dunes.
****
“Over next rise,” Aarons passenger said, “There road.”
Aaron slowed, ground down into first gear, began ascending what he hoped was the last high hill, and squinted up at brilliant sunlight, deciding his thirty-year-old van was not meant for off-road driving.
For the past hour they had skirted boulders and rock piles, crept through gullies, tried missing flashflood-strewn brush, with Aaron watching their immediate path and his passenger watching the terrain farther ahead, their sides and rear.
But as yet no explanation. The Indian would speak when ready. Aaron had already decided the episode would involve what Two Shirts and Raven Hawk had spoken of, and what Conrad had warned him not to get involved in. But I AM involved.
How deeply he didnt yet know.
“Watch rock! Turn left!”
Aaron did as instructed, then shaded his eyes, speeded up and felt Old Paints wheels spinning, then slowed as the ground leveled out. He inched his way the last few feet. They both surveyed the horizon. Nothing but scrubland, faraway hills, and the road.
He left it in first gear for the descent. They reached the road in minutes, then turned north and quickly accelerated to the speed limit. Aaron finally relaxed, slouched, and gingerly fingered the shattered side draft window. Ten minutes brought them to a sign announcing the Interstate ahead. “Id like to know who and what I have on my hands.” He glanced at his passenger, “And you, sir, are the only one who can tell me.”
The Indian shook his head and hunched his shoulders.
“Your name would be a good start.”
“I am called Buffalo Walker.”
“Well, thats fine, Buffalo Walker, Im called Aaron Hodges. Why were those people shooting at you?”
“I do not know. I was traveling to County Seat, Nevada.”
“Do you live there?”
“No, I come from Oklahoma. I am Apache, of the Jicarillo tribe. My people were once great buffalo hunters.”
“Yes,” Aaron said quietly, reflecting Four Crows words, “And you will hunt them again.”
“What?” Buffalo Walker jerked toward Aaron, “Most buffalo are locked up in the white mans parks! You suggest I hunt them illegally, and get into more trouble?”
“Speaking of trouble, my friend, what about this morning?”
The Indian faced away.
They arrived at the interstate entrance ramp. Aaron steered onto it and accelerated into the flow oftraffic, “I dont believe you dont know anything, Buffalo Walker. People dont go around shooting at Indians just because theyre Indians.” He then considered some people maybe are doing just that.
Another moment passed, then, “That may not be completely true, Hodges. Many Indians have been found dead on reservation back country in past years, and with gunshot wounds. If more than one Indian is involved the scene was rigged to appear as a murder-suicide, but most deaths are unexplainable. Just,dead Indians.”
Aaron noted the change in Buffalo Walkers speech, “Do you report these deaths?”
“In the beginning, yes, we did.”
Half expecting theanswer, “And…?”
“Aside from keeping a tally little was done. Not even autopsies were performed. It is happening all over the United States, and, to a larger extent, Latin America. But no person has ever been even accused. Now we take care of our own people.”
“And you are a member of a special Indian police force. You know too much for the truth to be any different.” The Indian took a deep breath, crossed his arms, and settled back. A few minutes passed, then, “You can trust me, Buffalo Walker. How long has this been going on?”

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“Since right a fter your great war between the states.” The Indian laughed softly, “The one you should have lost.” He shook his head, “Sorry, I dont mean that, Hodges, but there is an organization of radically-nationalistic men—and, today, many women also—who want to purify the American race.” He laughed again, “A rather impossible task, I would say.”
Aaron swallowed, laughed uncomfortably but agreed, “Yes, rather….”
“But they seem to want to start by getting rid of the Native American. Everyone wanted the land settled after the Civil War.” The Indians English continued to change as he came to trust Aaron, “We were in the way and most public opinion was against us. After all, we were killing white people. But in those days the organization was able to stay out of sight, and let history take its course. Today, thanks to civilrights policies and higher education, public opinion has turned against the organization, I should say, its policies. Unfortunately, the organization has gone underground. Theyre completely unknown to any United States intelligence unit.”
“I dont know how thats possible.”
“Because of the high order of their membership. Only upper class professionals, a small and very elite group. Theyre now opening their ranks to other classes—they need foot soldiers—and the only prerequisite is being recommended by a present member who will swear to their trustworthiness of hearing and executing their supreme goal.”
Uncertain he even wanted to hear it, “Which is?”
Seeminglyin complete acceptance of the organizations existence, their goal, the evident fact that only the Indian could stop thatgoal, Buffalo Walker answered, “Their goal, their scenario, is extermination of the American Indian.”
Aarons jaw fell open.
“Yes, thats the white mans reaction. Imagination? Im afraid not. We know their names, we have their photographs.”
“You know them, and theres nothing you can do?”
“We cant prove anything, Hodges. For the first hundred years of STIMs existence—”
“Stim?”
“Stop The Indian Movement. Weve only recently deciphered the letters, thanks to a defector who later turned up dead.”
“Do these people wear an insignia?”
“Yes, some do. A metal medallion, the superimposition of four letters.”
“And the I cant be seen because its superimposed on the T.”
“Correct, Hodges. Youve seen it?”
“Yes, but go ahead. Ill tell my story later.”
“As I started to say, we didnt know much until recently.”
“Since youve been seriously requesting retribution...etcetera.”
“Thats right. Apparently the Indian has been getting too much.” Buffalo Walker went on to explain thatSTIMs activities had been confined and scattered in the past, that only a few, helpless-feeling Indian leaders knew of them, but then knowledge grew and there had begun a slow migration back to the reservations, “Although most people dont learn the reason until they reach safety, as it likely would only cause panic. And, now, thanks to some sympathetic white people, most reservations are fullyarmed.”
Aaron threw a glance at his passenger,
“Ha! Dont worry, Hodges, we have no intention of taking scalps.” The quick smile disappeared as he added, “But we must be able to protect ourselves. The near future looks…well, we arent sure.”
Aaron leaned forward, struggled out of the right sleeve of his vest, “Do you know the painting on my shirt?”
Buffalo Walker lifted the vest, stared, but remained silent.
Slipping his arm back in Aaron noticed his passenger had become a bit bug-eyed. He tried another question, “Do you know Raven Hawk?”
“I dont.”
“But you doknow the painting.”
“I do. Tell me of this Raven Hawk.”
“A very old man, who I think maybe is dead. But Im not sure I should tell you, although Im surprised if you dont already know.”
The Indian pulled his billfold, removed a card-like affair and handed it over.
Hardened leather. On it a duplicate painting of the buffalo skull.
“Your hesitation is good, Hodges.Even all Indians cant be trusted, and many—most, probably—are ignorant of the prophecies. Well, people wouldnt have known what to do, so most have not been told. It works the same in your Washington government.
Aaron laughed and agreed.
“The painting is a pass, Hodges, and has meaning to a very few of us. Ive heard a white man would become involved.”
Aaron handed back the card, then went on to tell the full story of Four Crows—who the Apache identified as another agent like himself—Two Shirts and his mission, the Indian termination policy—which Buffalo Walker said was one of STIMs earlier, more peaceful attempts at eradicating the Indian—the colony idea he assumed was confirmed by Raven Hawk, finally the beating and warning from Caleb Conrad.
The Apache listened with great interest. At mention of Conrad, “One of their top men. If hes in the Southwest then something big is about to happen. It may also explain my mission of becoming employed at a non-obtrusive job at County Seat, and making myself useful to the white lawmen, and wait, for what, I dont know.”
“As Raven Hawk told me,” Aaron offered, “We know enough.”
“Yes, those old men. Its the same with your race?”
Aaron laughed, “No, not quitethe same.”
“You see, Hodges, the Papago, Raven Hawks tribe, are thought to be descendents of the Hohokum, a truly vanished race thateven your archeologists arent sure about. But they were a verycultured and religious race, and, if still existing, its possible all the old man said will come true.”
“Even the colony?”
“Ha!” The Indian laughed, “That colony is yours alone, Hodges, but I think Id take seriously all thats happened and start seriously planning. But to get back to prophecy, the legend of the princess has been around for hundreds of years. Only the highest of elders, about thirty men from both continents have known the details, officially. You can appreciate the need for secrecy.”
“Of course. The unification.”
“Thats only part. We also must protect certain of our professional people. One of those being Paul Bacardi, a Carson City lawyer, a Chippewa whos taken a white name and affluent white people for clients. He carries a low profile among regular Indians, but he is high on our unwritten list.”
“Unwritten?” Aaron asked as they passed a sign : Denver 100 Miles.
“For the sake of security all names are in our heads only. Bacardis is on the very top. Many of us feel he could be the northern prince, although hes from your state.”
“Minnesota?”
“Yes, The great Lake of Embrace. Bacardis grandfather is Long Bear, one of the top elders in this country. But the northern prince is supposed to be Iroquoian, and that tribe is from New York. There is certain to be some answers made known at the Council of the Sauntering River next May.”
“Itll be thatlong from now?”
“To walk fifteen hundred miles and then back again? Bringing a woman who may not even want to come? Oh yes, many months.”
“Why wouldnt she want to come?”
“Its possible, Hodges, thatthe princess doesnt know of her heritage. She might not believe Two Shirts, and she might be married. The Hohokum might have been found and dispersed again, even extinct. Much could have happened in these hundreds of years.”
“You dont believe any of that, Buffalo Walker. Shell be at the powwow next spring, just as you will.”
****
“Good news, Hodges! Ive found a trucker wholl take me all the way to Las Vegas, and from there I have friends.” The Apache extended his hand, “Its been good, Aaron Hodges. I hope to see you again.”
Aaron, returned from buying groceries at the truck stop, agreed, and clasped the mans hand, “Maybe when we meet again youll be free to hunt the buffalo again.”
“A strange thing, Hodges. Ive never seen a buffalo in the wild.”
With the reminder of their uncertain futures both men became quiet.
A truck began revving.
“I must go,” Buffalo Walker said, and dropped Aarons hand.
Aaron watched the Apache jog away, reflected on his chance meeting of four Indians, their particular offerings, and Paul Bacardi, possibly the leader of a new world, a new world order. And what would thatnew world be like? And what would Aarons part be? Leading a group of people, yes, maybe, if anyone would believe him, and to where? To what?
And Caleb Conrad, certainly the man will hear of Buffalo Walkers escape, and of Two Shirts escape the day before. Two prize losses in two days. His ex-supervisor would not be happy. And just a vague description of Old Paint would be all Conrad needed to know who was involved.
Buffalo Walker waved from high in the gleaming cab of a semi pulling two trailers.
Aaron waved back, and watched the vehicle roll onto the frontage road, then up the overpass, past a hitchhiker at the north ramp—right where Aaron would also have to pass—then out of sight. The Jicarillo Apache who had never seen a wild buffalo was on his own. .

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Chapter 9 George

Still in thought about the future and immediate past, Aaron steered onto the frontage road.The very first thing he saw about three hundred feet away, which just riveted him, was the hitchhiker, an older man and forlorn-looking.

One unplanned involvement in one day was enough. He determined not to pick the man up, turned away, and stepped on the accelerator. Just make a wide swing around him and forget him. But even facing away he still saw the man. Coal black hair, innocent-looking pompadour, smiling, past sixty or more—the man reached down for a small cardboard box and a piteous blanket. What the hells he doing?

Almost past, but Aaron saw the close-cropped beard with fierce streaks of white, the smile fading, the man disappearing past Old Paints side. Shit! He jerked the wheel to the right, steered onto the shoulder, stomped the brake, squealed, and cursed to himself, “Damn it”

****
The hitchhiker flung open the door and crawled in, “Where we headed, Cowboy?” then tossed his meager belongings into the back.

Aaron gave a n exasperated groan, “North.” Then he saw both forearms were covered with tattoos, and one color: Moldy purple. The clothes were gray and worn but clean, and an odor came from him. A peculiar odor.

“North sounds just fine, young feller. North where.”
“Minnesota.”
“Fine. Ill ride along if ya dont mind.” He closed the door.
“Doesnt look like I have a choice.”
“Oh, you have a choice all right, Cowboy. Just say the word and Im out, but you dont

strike me as the kinda person whod do that.”

Dont bet on it. “You tricked me, didnt you? I gave no indication of stopping and at just the right moment you reached for your gear.”
The old mans smile faded a bit, although he appeared to not feel too much remorse, “All right, I tricked you. That little ployworks sometimes.” He held out his hand, smiled again but less smugly, “Sorry, Cowboy, but a man has to do what he can. My names George.” Aaron accept the hand and felt a powerful grip, “My names not „Cowboy” “Sorry again. Had to call you something, and I never did care for „sir
“Whats your last name?” Aaron demanded, feeling incredulous and a little irritated at the mans audacity.
“Never learned it, son, whats yours?”
Without thinking: “Aaron Hodges.”
“Glad to know you, Aaron, and to tell you the truth, I dont care for „Cowboy much either. Some people like being called that, maybe makesem feel like they are somebody. But I can see you aint thatkind.”
“Thank you.” Aaron regarded his new passenger another second or two, and wondered who had actually won thatround. In fact, he knew. George had won hands down, wasnt even a close draw. Smiling, he put Old Paint in gear, and again fingered the shattered side draft window, and decided the old man had been around. No last name. Ha!
****
A sound from the back told Aaron George was awake. Anticipating an interesting conversation ahead, he aimed the rear view mirror. The old man lay on top of the sleeping bag under his own piteous blanket, which he pushed off. Then he became more fully aware of the peculiar odor. Had to be an unwashed body, yet…different.
Straightening the mirror, he noticed a car about a half mile back, and thought it had been there for the past half hour, but farther away, maybe.
“Just got in from Washington state,” George announced as he stepped between the seats and slumped into the passenger seat. Still looking half asleep he pointed, “Whyn hell dont ya fix thatbroken window. Breezy as hell back there!”
“Soon as I get the chance, George—better put your seat belt on. Whatd you do in Washington?”
“Was pullin rye—”
“Out of certified wheat fields.” Aaron finished.
George appeared surprised, “Thats right. Howd you know?”
“Then there were always apple trees needing thinning, or cherries to pick, then, if you were really lucky, one of two things would happen.”
George said nothing.
“Yep. Either youd earned enough to hold until apple-picking time in September, or youd landed a job laying irrigation pipe in the orchards, or, you had to go back on the circuit early and most likely would end up competing with illegals on California vegetable farms, something a white man cant begin to do as well, or, the worst, workin at a mission for your meals, and a far cry from what you wanted while waitin for the citrus harvest in Arizona or Florida.” He glanced at George. The mans sails appeared to be a bit de-winded.
“So,youve been there.”
“Just once,” Aaron admitted, while watching the heavier traffic through Cheyenne, Wyoming, “But I didnt do all the things I mentioned. Just heard about them from other men. Men like you, George.”
“Musta been awhile since you done it, though.”
“A few years, yes.”
“Aint near thatdependable anymore,” George said, “Most fruit farmers now use chemical sprays for things hobos used to do, and then they have two or three illegals for whatevers left. Even a year ago they needed one or two hobos in every orchard just to get what was missed. But even thats gone now.”
“You mean like the apple-thinning?”
“Hell yes! They got a spray thatll kill two or three blossoms in every cluster, and dont ask me how it works. Seems like the devils work moren anything.”
“And thats why youre so far off the circuit.”
“Right. After the rye was pulled out there wasnt much hope for anything in Washington, not for a hobo anyway. And there aint that much available work left in the citrus groves either. I tell you, those chemicals are gonna be the ruinationa mankind. Time was I could make a hundred, two hundred dollars in a day. Have yer van back then?”
Oh yeah. Old Paints been with me a long time.”
“One of the rubber-hobos, huh?”
“Yep, shes served me well.”
“Never cared to get rubber,” George admitted, “Too dangerous.”
“Hows that?”
“Accidents! First thing ya know theres cops and questions. Just easier to take off from somebody elses wreck an throw a bandage on later.”
“A hobos life can be tough at times, I guess. Bountiful, though.”
Werebountiful!” George corrected, “Nope, there aint a life on the road no more. Im afraid the hobos a dyin breed.”
“I hear theres more men on the road today than ever before, George. How can they be a dying breed?”
“Theres more people all right! Hippies and freaks draggin their women around withem.“ George eyed Aarons hat and vest, “No offense meant.”
Aaronlaughed, “None taken, George. Go ahead.”
“Well, they aint the same breed. The old guys are all dyin off with lung disease, and cancer, and tuberculosis. Half ofem are walkin dead men and dont even know it…like my father.” George fingered his stubby beard. His face momentarily took on a deadly-appearing glare, “Ya got a smoke?”
“Sorry. I quit a few years ago, but if you look in that corner cabinet back there, at the foot of the cot, youll find makins. I keptem around, just in case.”
“Fine. Aint had one in three days. That truck stop back there was swept clean. Not even a damn filter layina around.” George moved to the back, found the makings and returned, “My father followed this same circuit way back when.” George worked on the cigarette-building with less than authority, “Couldnt be like other hobos, hell no. Hehad to be married! Hell, I dont even know if he and Ma even were married, but he drug her and me along!”
“George, put your seat belt back on, please.”
“Yeah, fine.” George took his time finishing the fat, loosely-packed but smokeable cigarette, finally licked and sealed the seam, lit up, took a deep draw and went into a coughinggasping fit, “My god, what the hell ya got in here?” A moment passed before George went on, with a melancholy tone, “I was born in some damn little town in Iowa where they had hobo celebrations. Dont know if they still do.”
George drew again, coughed not as violently, then gazed out the window, “Yep, I came into this world with the help of a midwife—so I was told.” Bitterness crept into his voice, “Oh, she was good, I guess, dont really remember. But then I got drug right back onto the road. Hardly took time to cut the cord, and I damned sure wasnt dry yet.”
Chuckling, Aaron asked, “How do you know you werent dry, George?”
“Not kidding. It dont matter if I just took a bath, which I dont often get anyway, but I got this stink. Asked the old man about it once, one „a the few times we ever talked. He said, „Its cause you werent dry yet, son. Reckon yave noticed.”
Aaron felt the old man was going through a painful memory, so refrained from commenting. Instead, as he had been regularly, he glanced in the rearview mirror. Two cars were back there now, less than a half-mile, and now appeared to be gaining. But still he thought little about it, and glanced at George, who was continuing, “I followedim around till I turned sixteen. No idea when my birth date was. Guess the old man never thought it important enough to tell me, and Ma probably didnt know either. I loved thatwoman, but she was so damn meek!”
Again Aaron noticed George wasnt buckled in, “George, its against the law not to have your seatbelt on, and its against mine too.”
“OK, man.” He finally buckled up, took one more deep draw, then put the cigarette out, carefully, probably would save it for later, “Oh, I reckon the old man never beat her, like some. Its just that he drug her around, controlledher, as if the woman didnt have a mind of her own, but she did! The old man just never leter use it.”
Aaron appreciated Georges story, and remembered his own lonely childhood, but it was getting hard to concentrate. Something about those two cars behind them, pacing each other, and them too, and definitely gaining.
“Picked up some education from the Salvation Army angels,” George continued, “Learned how to read and write, and enough „rithmetic to know whether I was getting cheated on my paycheck. But I finally struck out from him. Same damn circuit, though. Just took different roads, worked different orchards. Seenim once. He said Ma died about three months after I left.”
Aaron heard the catch in his passengers voice, but kept his eyes on the road, the mirror, the two cars gaining, fast.
“Seenim just once after that. We didnt even speak. Strangers we were. Fellow hobos, nuthin else! Well, I figure Im at least sixty-five, and thatd put my old man well into his eighties. Hes either in some stinkin rest home, or dead. Hey, ya mind if I crawl in the sack again?”
Dividing his attention among the road, the two cars—another car ahead—and both mirrors, Aaron touched Georges shoulder, “Stay buckled in, my friend.” The car behind them was about seventy feet behind. The second car began pulling alongside, not to pass, but seemed to be continuing pacing. Aaron eased toward theroads shoulder. He glanced ahead to the third car, evidently going slowly, closing on it too quickly. He eased more to the right, wheels on the shoulder. Car behind within two car-lengths, too damn close, second car pulling directly alongside, window opening.
Aaron stiffened when he saw the cruel smiling face of Caleb Conrad, aiming a sawed off shotgun!
Old Paint lurched as they hit an uneven spot in the joint between the highway and shoulder.
“What the hell?” George yelled, “Ya goin to sleep? Hey!”
“Hang on, George.”
Aaron slammed on the brakes, cramped the wheel to the left, felt a jerk as the rear car clipped Old Paint, actually helping them to slide around, then he floored it and almost missed Conrads vehicle—a blast!—and acrunching of metal as his and Conrads vehicles grazed each other. He jerked the steering wheel straight again and slid into the median but kept it floored and didnt tip. Plenty of wheels squealing and smoking and then another blast, a shrieking, hideous noise as the two other vehicles collided. But Conrad kept going.
****
Old Paint leaped and bounded out of the median.
George still yelling, “Jesus, help us!”
“Hang on, George!” Aaron repeated, barely able to stay in his own seat even though buckled in, and holding the gas pedal floored as they slid into the opposite lanes squealing and smoking among two other innocent cars and drivers, and finally heading safely in the opposite direction.
He looked back. The two cars were on fire. Another explosion. He and George were meant for the center of that crash, himself anyway. His passenger would have been an innocent bystander. „…easier to crawl out of somebody elses wreck. He didnt think George would have crawled out of that one. And what of the two drivers? Did they just agree to commit suicide for STIMs cause? Were actual drivers even involved?
A few moments passed. Aaron turned onto the first off-ramp, drove onto the overpass and stopped.
“Ya mind tellin me whats goin on, Cowboy?”
“My name isnt „Cowboy.” Aaron focused on the interstate.
“Ya could „a fooled me! Only a cowboy could „a done what you did back there! Holy shit!”
If George had been carrying arrogant air it was now gone, “I dont think theyll be back.”
“How can you know that?” George ranted, “And dont tell me that was a accident! I seen thatguy shoot at us!” He pointed at the windshield, the scratches and gouges from BB-shot.
Aaron hadnt yet noticed, didnt even remember hearing the shotgun blast, as there was plenty of other noise. Anyway, the man deserved an explanation. Course he couldnt tell him everything, “I helped a guy get away from them, George. I guess theyre mad.”
“Damned mad!” George shouted, “Who werethey?”
“Its like this, George. I wont tell a complete stranger what might be happening. But if you want to stay with me, and youre welcome to, then Ill fill you in a little at a time. Otherwise, youre free to get off. I plan backtracking to Cheyenne, and then heading east before north again.”
“Ill stay on one account.”
Whos doing who a favor? “Whats that?”
“Like I said. Only a cowboy could„a done what you done. You deserve the name, Aaron. Ill stay if sometimes youll let me call you „Cowboy.
Aaron slapped his hands on the steering wheel, and laughed, and George laughed. They both laughed, but it was more than a laugh, nothing was that funny. It was, thanks to George, a face-saving way to ease the tension, not to forget what happened, or could happen, but to make it less important.
Still laughing, Aaron slipped into gear and eased back onto the freeway, south. Chapter 10 Homecoming

“Ya know,” George said, as Aaron guided Old Paint onto a familiar lane, “I aint one ta hang clouds over a mans head, but if you aint seen Caroline in nineteen years, well, hell, thatgirls married. There aint hardy a doubt on Gods earth. Humans aint capable of thatkind„a love an fidelity. Period!”

“Could be youre right, George.” Aaron observed the huge elm, ash, cottonwoods gracing the Haberman farmstead, “Ill see her from a distance first, and if shes married….” But he refused to believe she was married, at least for right then.

“Sure, Ive heard that story before.”

Hearing George clamoring on, Aaron followed the tree-canopied, curving lane, and recalled the hundreds of piles of bulldozed trees theyd seen during their trip. It seemed forest and farmsteads were falling everywhere again to make room for industry, housing, borderline agricultural land, much that would be irrigated from groundwater-depleting deep wells or huge water projects involving costly, environment-destroying dams and canals.

The economics of inundating rich, heavy-soiled, river bottomland to irrigate dry highlands was hard to understand, and strange too that much of the flooded land was Indian reservations.

George, self-educated from reading discarded newspapers, considered the foul-smelling ditches and giant-wheeled irrigation units—modern marvels hailed by chemically-oriented agribusinessmen—as poor remedies for too much lowland drainage and farming methods with no diversification, and the cure-all chemicals damaging trees and shrubs by aerial-sprayed overdraft, seeping into groundwater, draining to the ocean, sickening birds, killing insect predators of insect pests, honeybees disappearing. Chemicals were guaranteed biodegradable but strangely turning up unchanged in municipal water supplies, what was left of the Arctic icecap, livers of deep sea fishes, human milk.…

Amazed at Geor ges discourse and encouraged by so much similar outlook, Aaron even chanced to bring up the colony idea.
But then George gave only partial attention, making it plain he still actually believed in the „they will take care of it philosophy, so he turned again to the subject of Caroline.
But the old man had his own ideas about true love too, “I tell you, Aaron, Id like to see a doctor examine your head! Nineteen years! Hell, she wont even remember you.”
“Shell remember.“ Of that he felt confident; she would remember; shed remember the kiss if nothing else. He remembered, so, he was certain she remembered,“Something passed between us thatday, George. I know we were young, her especially, but shell remember.” Wow, talking as if just a matter of time. He had no idea if she was even in the neighborhood of Vellingham, obviously not when Jacqueline looked.
“Mighty pretty place here.” George cut into his uncertain thoughts, “Whatd ya say these folks name was?”
“Jacob and Martha Haberman.” Aaron gazed at the barbered yard filled with field equipment, pens of various livestock, white-trimmed-in-green out-buildings, and smelling of new-mown grass. A storybook farm, just as he remembered. He stopped at the dooryard gate to a three-story, blue-gray-trimmed-in-white house.
A tower rose from the southwest corner reaching almost as high as the basswood tree beside it, bay windows on all three floors. How he remembered the nights spent sleeping over with Brett up on that top floor, the big room filled with toys, even a small pool table. What can possibly be wrong here?
****
A dogs bark.
Aaron looked across George and saw the reddish collie that had served Brett and him as big game in hunting play. The dog pushed through the gate, overweight now, hair matted in places, barely making it.
“Aaron! Hello!”
He slipped the door handle, stepped out, turned and saw the big man coming from the barn, “Jake, its great to see you, sir.”
The young and old man grasped each others shoulders, but Jacobs were slumped. Not that long ago he had stood taller than Brett. And the face, beaming in the way all Habermans did, but behind the smile, the eyes, some burden was there.
“Good to see you too, son.” Jacob slapped Aarons shoulders and gripped them tightly before releasing, “Cmon up to the house. Thisll make Martha happy.”
The big man turned quickly and started away.
Aaron hesitated, wishing he could say something to make his best friends father straighten up again, and remembered George, “Jake, Ive got a friend here….”
Jacob turned back. The smile switched back, but appeared to have taken an effort.
“This is George, Jake, We met down near Denver. Hes going to be hanging with me while we look for work, maybe at the factory.”
George stepped down from the van and walked quickly to Jacob, who stuck out his hand, “Im honored to know you, George. Reckon theres work around. Soon wont be no farming, though.” Jacob started away again, adding, “This valley will soon be under water.”
So thats it. Theyre going to build the dam.
Way, way back in Aarons childhood the dam had seemed like a good idea. He had been to a man-made lake, thought it great fun riding in a speedboat, and fishing, and thought nothing bad about bleached skeletons of hundreds, thousands of drowned trees so close to the surface he could see them underwater. And the green algae scum covering much of the lake, the fact that still-decaying vegetation was causing it. He didnt realize they were floating above a dead forest much like the one at home, the one that would die if the dam was built. Feeling a twisted smile he recalled his ignorance, far too young, then, to comprehend such things.
“You come on up to the house too, George,” Jacob called back, “I was just going in for coffee.”
George sent a questioning glance which Aaron waved aside. Mentioning the factory was the only thing that had come to mind.
****
Martha Haberman, with way less height than her husband, the flour sack apron, the renowned Haberman smile, gave a delighted squeal and hurried toward Aaron.
He picked her up. Always a pleasure to hug Mrs. Haberman, his adopted mother with the tiny nose, the blued hair, the tiny woman who always had his favorite cookies on hand, and was oftenthe recipient of the memorial Mothers Day gift.
“Why, Aaron,” she said when he put her down, “Youre just as handsome as ever, and still single I see. How doyou manage?”

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“Ha! Thanks, Martha,” But he noted her strained smile, “I stopped and seen Brett and family. They send their love.”
At mention of their son, both Habermans went unnaturally quiet.
“Sit down, boys,” Jacob said, “Martha, can we have some lunch?”
The men sat. Jacob stretched his arms out, clasped his hands, remained thoughtful.
Martha brought coffee immediately, then homemade wheat bread, chokecherry jelly, butterscotch cupcakes, chocolate chip cookies, “Your favorite as I recall, Aaron,” she said with another strained smile, then returned to the kitchen.
Jacob slurped the hot coffee, then buttered and jellied his bread, “The local construction lobby finally got their way,” he said severely, “They plan to start breaking ground tomorrow. You knowhow Bretts always anticipated working this place someday.“ He shook his head and looked away, “I havent told him. Maybe shouldve, but what the hell good would it do now?”
No doubt now what had been between the lines in the letters to their son. Aaron had always expected the dam would someday become a reality, but the hopelessness of the news brought a sinking feeling.
“Well have time to get out,” Jacob continued, “The governments going to move all the buildings. But the fields, the trees—” He hesitated, a definite wetness in his eyes, “I suppose theyll burnem, or just leaveem standing. The lakell be far over their tops. Kelly sent Forrest Barton to St. Paul for an injunction, and is organizing a last-minute protest, but I doubt anythingll help.”
Aaron felt a surge at mention of the organic farmer-animal husbandman, Kelly Bolander. The mans mere physical presence, bigger even than either Haberman, often got him what he wanted, “Whats his plan, Jake?”
“Hes getting everybody in the valley, and every person reachable who ever lived here, to go camp there tonight.” Jacob sounded skeptical, “And in the morning—physically—block the bulldozers with farm machinery! Its crazy if you ask me.”
“You plan being there, Jake?”
“Havent decided yet. Kellys even got fat little Han Willouwing coming from Minneapolis. It allseems so futile, Aaron.”
“Not till the waters actually lapping at your feet is it futile, Jake,” Aaron said, then called, “Martha….”
The small woman appeared in the doorway.
“Would you please call Kelly, Martha, and find out how I can help?”
Martha disappeared. He heard her tapping out the number.
“The developers get what they want,” Jacob said, “Seems thatway, anyway.”
“Not always anymore, sir. More people are coming to realize that the value they place on their local environment directly affects their quality of life.”
“Theres six graveyards in the valley,” Jacob announced, as if he hadnt even heard, “The original pioneers are buried here. Some dont even have markers but we know theyre there! Now you tell me how the governments going to move dust! And if they dont are they just going to leaveem there?”
Knowing Jacobs reference was to three generations of his own ancestors, Aaron nodded sympathetically. His own parents were buried in the valley too, but in steel caskets, something that could be moved.
He heard the loud ending of Marthas conversation, “…and talk to Taylor Magellan. All right, Sharma, Ill tell him. Its sure good to have him home, isnt it? OK! Goodbye.”
Martha reappeared in the doorway and spoke across the room, “Kelly wants you to meet him at the dam-site, Aaron, just three miles west of his farm. Out by the old Eurocelt Marsh. And he wants you to talk to your friend Taylor. Figures youll find him at McSauds.”
McSauds, the Vellingham bar where he had last seen Taylor Magellan, the unpleasant memory of being accused of always leaving, the sight of his other best friend in a constant state of drunkenness.
“Hes McSauds bouncer,” Jacob said, “Practically lives there now.”
“Reckon we better get moving then.” Aaron gulped his coffee and snatched another cookie upon rising, “Id like to stop at that little abandoned farmstead near where I used to live.”
“Its close to the perimeter of the dam, you know.”
“Know that, Jake. Well, Martha, thank you, and, Jake, we cant give up, sir. Hope to see you out there tonight.”
Jacob nodded, vaguely gestured a wave with a workhardened hand, “How about you, George? Do you plan to join in this questionable protest?”
“Haw!” George guffawed as he joined Aaron, “With what Ive seen this boy do, I wouldnt miss it for the world, Mister Haberman, and thanks for the coffee, Miz Haberman! I aint had food like thatsince…hell, I never have!”
****
“Id like to look at the place alone, George,” Aaron said as he pushed open Old Paints door.
George nodded understanding.
He stepped down and first glanced back at the mile-long lane that followed Hallowed Courage Creek to the main road, then crossed on the bridge east to Clarksburg, or continued south along the creek to Vellingham. The abandoned farmstead was the end of the line, and private, no doubt about that.
He moved on to the gate of the broken down fence, crawled between the barbed wires, then stood facing north. Forty acres, likely forsaken even before his birth, but somehow had escaped the bulldozers and developers.
Overgrown but still obvious wheel ruts moved on. They appeared to be still-used. He began following them. They curved around a huge boxelder tree and dipped toward the creek again, jogged around an acre-sized plot that had been cultivated at one time, then back to shrubby outgrowths of the creek, past several large sugar maples, then apples, plums, apricots, hickories, hazelnuts, gooseberries…. Whoever had built this place must have had vision. Then the ruts continued past a granary, chicken coop, pump house and a forty-foot windmill, then on to a small barn with a hayloft, a shed with a large door, then finally climbed over a small knoll and disappeared. He walked to the dooryard gate to a one-story four-room house with outdoor toilet in back. Everything was weathered. Some things were crumbling, but maybe fixable. He hadnt been back since the fateful day of his parents deaths. It was a place of relics of an earlier era, but an abode of magnetism to him.
With a sigh he moved down the lane, and wondered about the shorter grass in the ruts, was as if someone occasionally visited. Who, he wondered.
A ground squirrel scampered across the ruts. A blue jay flew shrieking and disappeared in the orchard, but kept up its shrieking. He walked on and stopped after about two hundred feet, and gazed west, to the fields, three and each separated by hedgerows. One continued from the abandoned farm clear across the valley, and served as an avenue and nursery for wildlife, and a boundary for neighboring farms.
The neighbor to the north was his Uncle Kester Hodges, the man who had the most to do with raising him, the man who said „twelve was too old for stargazing, the man who shuffled him off to one relative after another, consequently forging no family ties, the man who was the valleys largest chemical farmer, an agribusinessman, the man who had personally ordered the bulldozing of hundreds of acres of forest—after first harvesting the lumber—including a landmark cottonwood. My favorite tree of all time!
He had tried reaching around the monstrous tree and then realized it would take three more twelve-year-olds to do it. It was a tree that, according to his father, was planted by the Indians to serve as a guide, then later guided the pioneers, and still later made a small boy happy. And it wasnt even in a field!
His Uncle Kester had gained a sixteenth of an acre, if that. Aaron trembled at the vivid memory, and felt surprised at his renewed hostile feelings, but he had never forgiven the man. The cottonwood had stood only a short distance from the abandoned farm, had been a stopping, resting, dreaming, place. And one day he had climbed toward the giant crotch, and nailed boards onto the deeply-fissured bark, the rickety ladder. Then the day he actually reached the crotch, maybe ten feet from the ground, then onward, upward on closer-spaced limbs, up, farther, up, until maybe twenty-five feet from the ground, until he thought he surely could see forever.
God, how he had loved that tree. How he had trembled in fear of the height, how he had deep-breathed to control that fear, but never really did, but came to love the fear, the exhilaration of it and the partial controlof it, and his first feelings of something he couldnt even understand, just a feeling, a wild, ululating, silent outcry of sensations and emotions that made him want to scream with joy! It was so damned good, and damn that man for destroying that tree! DAMN HIM!
He trembled, then shook it off. The cottonwood was gone, turned to dust, returned to the earth. The small farm, the house, the windmill, were all still there, and the marsh. He looked for it, couldnt see it for tall weeds in the overgrown field, but he knew it was there, close to the west end, where it always overflowed onto Kesters land.
Not much chance of that now. Signs of drought were everywhere. Brown grass, tumbleweeds, cracks in the ground, dust. He saw dust hanging behind one of his Uncle Kesters eight-wheeled tractors, far and away to the north. The popular monster machines demanded ever more land-clearing, more hedgerows plowed up, more abandoned farmsteads bulldozed, more wildlife hatching grounds destroyed, just to have room to turn around.
The dust behind the tractor didnt blow, didnt settle, just hung as a curtain, a Midwestern smog, a deadly smog representing food lost, lost in a dust so fine, so light that it rose to high altitudes to be swept away and lost.
His gaze moved along the north boundary fence to a cluster of trees, a hundred-foot extension of the creek forest, the remains of second growth forest that once covered much of the valley, land the first pioneers clear-cut, then allowed the roughest land to return to forest, only to be bulldozed when the agribusiness changes came.
Now, beyond the farms broken down fences was plowed field, a desert of bare agricultural land for most of the year blowing away, and in wet years washing away through miles of deep and straight drainage ditches and re-channeled waterways that once ran clear and fresh, now clouded with silt, chemicals, algae.
And the hundreds of marshes that once nourished wildlife, replenished ground water, held back flood water, and made small children happy, all gone, dry, farmed, all but a tiny few. The one he couldnt see for the weeds, the old Eurocelt Marsh, and a few others owned by environmentally-wise farmers.
He took a deep breath and shook off the unpleasant thoughts, then moved on down the lane, and wondered about what looked like cultivated rows of tiny trees and shrubs. Maybe Sam Chilton had bought the place, maybe just to keep the land barons out, maybe Sam had always owned it, maybe just to sell to Aaron.
Rather assumptive, but possible.
Chiltons Landscaping & Nursery was the one place he always visited when in Clarksburg. Sam knew then how Aaron felt about the place because he always told him.
He picked up his stride and felt himself filling with nostalgia as he drew nearer the magical house that still clung to a few white patches of paint, the hollyhocks still managing to reseed themselves, especially the pink one with lime-green throats, his mothers favorite. But they always wilted before he got home to give them to her.
At the door he found a padlock, so moved to a broken window and peered in.
Dust. Spiderwebs. A swallows nest. A kerosene lamp. A trapdoor leading to a murky cellar. And toys, unusual wooden and metal toys that must have fascinated other children during some remote and unreal past time.
A time much different, probably harder, but in some ways maybe better. ****
George smiled as Aaron climbed back into Old Paint, and made an understatement, “Looks kind„a rundown, Aaron.”
“Memories, George. I should have been born in thathouse.”

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Chapter 11
Hallowed Courage Creek Affair Part 1

“Got no desire for going in the bar, Aaron,” George said, “You go on ahead.” Aaron acknowledged and stepped down from Old Paint.
Music and laughter emanated from inside McSauds. Only five oclock but cars and

pickups lined both sides of the street. Right in front, motorcycles, more than a dozen of the big flashy choppers. And in front of the next building a phone booth. He wanted to go check numbers for Caroline right then, but decided on speaking with Taylor Magellan first.

****
“Give it up, Spicer!” someone yelled from the dim, yellow-lighted inside, “That pinball machines got more smarts than you!”

Silently concurring with the observation, Aaron gazed at the man probably in his late twenties about ten feet from him, who was beating, cussing, slapping the flapper buttons, “Go to hell!” Spicer shouted back, then slapped a mite too hard. The machine dinged! Then the„tilt sign lit up.

The first man hooted again and was joined by several others. Spicer jerked toward them, swore again and kicked the machine, then turned toward Aaron and approached. He stopped about four feet away and glared.

An inch or two shorter, the man had greasy, stringy hair, a melon-shaped pot belly and otherwise looked malnourished. Glad he was leaving, Aaron stepped aside and let him pass. Seconds later he heard an engine starting, revving, then a motorcycle departing.

Eyes finally accustomed to the dim lighting, he saw several clusters of men and a few women along the bar. Several tables were filled. In the far left-hand corner was an extra loud group of mostly young men, several dressed in motorcycle gang colors, and one woman. He studied the woman, as he did all women. She wasnt Caroline.

In the far right-hand corner sat a man alone. Thick, muscled arms rested on a bottlelittered table. A huge hand gripped a half-full bottle as if holding onto life.
Starting for the table his mind slipped back to TaylorMagellans return from the Gulf wars, and his descriptions of Arab friends faces when they learned the Americans were really leaving. Taylor re-volunteered three times, and was one of the last to leave.
The half full bottle began to rise. The man tipped back, his eyes lining with Aaron and recognizing but with only half a smile, “Aaron…!” he called out heavily, “Jeeze…,” then started rising himself but changed his mind, or his body changed it for him.
Had Taylor Magellan stood he would have been only a little taller than Aaron but much wider. Three hundred pounds of muscle, but, as Aaron recalled, most of the weight was centered in his chest, more precisely his big heart open to everyone.
“Lo, Taylor.” Aaron couldnt help thinking of his own Gulf war career in the marines, but spent as a stateside supply clerk, not having to get shot at like Taylor, and like Andrew Bolander.
“Youre damned straight its hello!” Taylorexclaimed, rising again, slightly, “Where the hell ya been all our lives?” then sagged again after the two short sentences.
“Been working out in Montana and Arizona. Stopped in California—”
“California? Ya see old Brett? Jeeze, I havent seen him in years.”
Taylor was trying hard for exuberance, Aaron saw that, but wondered how long the drinking could continue, and wondered if the mans maybe-incapacitated parents had anything to do with it, “Yep, I saw him, Taylor. Brett said to say hello if Iever got back here.” Not those exact words but likely meant to, “And here I am.”
“You sure as hell are. Well, jeeze, can you use a drink?”
“Got time for one. Say, have you heard about the dam?”
“And who the hell hasnt?” Taylor raised two fingers at the bartender, as his body sagged even more, “Its a damned shame.”
Aaron knew Taylors parents had sold out early to the land barons because of failing health, which evidently had deteriorated to the point of a nursing home, “Maybe not, Taylor. Some of us are going to protest, and I, along with Kelly and other friends of yours, and Brett if he were here, would like you along.”
Looking away and barely mumbling, “Therell be violence.”
“What?”
More sober than a moment earlier, Taylor looked up, I said, „therell be violence. Jeezus, Aaron, sit down.”
Wondering why he hadnt, Aaron pulled a chair and sat, “Why do you say that?”
Still more sober, Taylorshook his head and gestured, “Didja notice that noisy bunch over in the other corner?”
“Couldnt help it. What about them?”
“A bunch of those guys in the chopper uniforms are one small part of Luther Helms construction outfit youll be going up against. Reckon you noticed the girl withem.”
Aaron nodded.
“First, I dont know where they findem. Different women all the time, and, well, whether she knows it or likes it or not, shell be shared and shared alike tonight. Thats the kind of men they are. Theyve been in here all week, and other groups just like them over in Clarksburg.”
“A motorcycle gang works for the construction company?”
“Not all ofem, and not steady. They call themselves the Marauders, and they only come around in force when theres problems Helms regular crew cant handle. I tell ya, Aaron, there aint one mothers son amongem, and thats the brand youll be facing out there tomorrow.”
Staring at his friend who had sobered unbelievably, Aaron breathed heavily and settled back in his chair. The beer arrived. He paid for it. More violence.Hed had more than enough lately, “Then all the more reason why we need you, Taylor.”
“I have full intension of being there. Kept expecting Kelly to contact me. He hasnt, and knows damned well where I work.”
Aaron had wondered about thattoo, “Kelly maybe hasnt had time.”
“He dont figure I can handle my booze is what it is,” Taylor said, “Kelly should know I stay sober enough for my job. Im bouncer here.”
“And I bet nobody can bounceem like you, my friend.”
“Oh, Ive escorted a few to door all right. Mallory Spicer, for one.”
“The guy I met in the door.”
“Yes. Thatguy is nuts, Aaron, and sooner or later somebodys going to killim, if he dont die of starvation first. And you can bet hell be along with Helms bunch tomorrow.”
Aaron took a large gulp of the beer, then asked as he rose, “Youll be out there tomorrow, then?”
“Ill be there. And you can tell Kelly Ill be sober.”
“Kellys a good friend, Taylor. Hes sure to have a good reason for not calling you.”
“Whatever you say.” Taylor gurgled half the bottle, belched, then sagged again, drunk again. “Mark my words, though,” he added, sagging even more, “Therell be violence. And you better plan for it.”
**** Outside, Aaron waved to George, then went to the phone booth, pushed the door open, jerked the book out, thumbed quickly to the Fs. His heart began to pound, Gs. His armpits began to sweat, and stink, Hs, Is, Js. He slowed, held his breath, Ja, Je, Jen, Jenner—Nothing!
He slammed the book shut, shoved it back into its slot, then noticed the phone wouldnt have worked anyway: Thecord had been pulled out of the phones body. He would have been really stupid to try calling her anyway. George was probably right. Shes either forgotten him or would have no desire to light the spark again. But they both had felt it! He was sure of it!
He returned to Old Paint, felt himself calming.
“Already checked, Cowboy,” George said as Aaron stepped up, “But just cause her names not there, dont mean Caroline aint in town.”
Aaron reached to Georges shoulder and squeezed, “Thank you, my new friend.” ****
Aaron pushed back from the sleeping bag cover and rolled onto his side. A bit of woods sense told him dawn wasnt far off.
George snored peacefully from a foam rubber mattressat the foot of the cot. The mans peculiar odor was strong, but no longer bad after hearing the story behind it.
He remained still for several more minutes. No use to hurry. He would get his bearings, rub the sleep out, try convincing himself of really being there, really planning to carry out his own suggested version ofKelly Bolanders protest.
Continuing to rub sleep he finally sat up, pulled on the boot-moccasins, slipped on the cavalry hat and sensed another odor. Himself. How many days since he had even had his clothes off? Didnt remember, but among so many old friends a futurebath shouldnt be a problem.
Slipping the sleeveless jacket off the side door handle he turned it at the same time. The door creaked open. George stirred, then snored on. Chilly, humid air flowed in, with it the smell of marsh lowland. Eurocelt Marsh, another dear childhood memory and still undrained. He was never sure whether he liked the smell, a ticklish sort, bittersweet. Bitter because it sometimes repelled his olfactory, yet sweet because it meant a wild place, his chosen country, the Hallowed Courage Creek country. It would be good to spend a few moments alone with it before everyone else arose, before the confrontation.
Therell be violence.
Magellans words crept in as he slipped to the ground and closed the sliding door as quietly as possible. He stood for a moment gazing at two or three dozen tents filled with old and probably new friends, friends of the valley, then moved off toward the marsh.
Feeling his way through the sleeping camp he wondered about the improbability of so many people getting together and so quickly, the mutual covenant that would hold city folk, small town businessmen and farmers together. Hans Willouwing for instance,
A comical little fellow, head chef at a lavish Minneapolis hotel, who had dropped everything the moment Kelly called. And Hans brothers, a farm implement dealer with food-preservation skills and a meat cutter, and Sam Chilton, county commissioner, even his own Uncle Kester Hodges, agribusinessman, and Jacob and Martha Haberman, plus thirty-five other families with SUVs and campers, complete with children, dogs, grandparents, all camped on the shores of Eurocelt Marsh, where Hallowed Courage Creek first flowed into and then out of, before its continuing trek to some larger Minnesota river he couldnt think of.
The valley had produced a strong breed and that produce was united to protect their common heritage, to stop the contractor, and the children and senior citizens were there because of Aarons last minute suggestion of blockading the whole valley with people, as well as farm machinery. Therell be violence.
He wished he could shake off that feeling. He reached the marshs edge. The bittersweet smell became stronger. He decided the smell was good, and drew a deep breath of it, and looked up. A high bright moon reflected off the water, giving the immediate area around the camp, a muted appearance of daylight.
A cackling.
He glanced up, saw black, stars, and definitely geese somewhere, migration stragglers, or maybe a flock had adopted Eurocelt for the summer. He remembered the horizon-to-horizon flocks of big Canadas, snows, blues, countless ducks and cranes and herons he had known in the valley as a boy.
A dark, swooping and jerking caught his attention, the jagged flight of a nighthawk. He watched till the kingsized purple martin disappeared, then moved on toward the valleys west slope.
At the edge of the forest he stopped and peered up the darker slope, then looked north. The Friskop estate was about two miles away, eight hundred acres of original virgin forest but above the valley, out of danger from the dam. The problem there being Daniel, or Danl, as the local folks referred to the hermit who never paid taxes on time, and only a matter of time before the Korean war veteran caretaker died and the land went to the highest bidder, most likely a developer. According to Kelly, Daniel had not been seen for six months and would have been a good ally against the contractor.
Violence.
The thought nudged him. He pushed it away and went on to remember his childish idolization of Daniel Friskop being the greatest of modern mountain men. Nineteen years earlier the twenty-two-year-old woodsman shared his raincoat with a shivering neophyte who had strayed from home without even a jacket. After that, Daniel Friskop became a hero to Aaron, the greatest hunter-trapper-everything.
A lightening of the eastern sky began as he stood there. He started up through the shadowy trees. Somewhere in the distance the mornings first robin began to sing. ****
Fallen trees, dew-covered grass, and slippery soils harassed Aaron as he climbed, and continued thinking about Daniel Friskop. He had heard of the mans abilities and escapades even from the road-people, and the Montana Indians referred to him as a modern day Jedediah Smith.
Reaching almost level ground he grabbed a small tree, hoisted himself up and turned around. The sun was breaking. Orange-red rays filtered through the trees, bouncing from leaf to leaf. The lowland mists reflected the first light, giving the mile-distant camp a hazy whiteyelloworange cast. He didnt realize he had come so far.
From the vantage point he could see several miles up the still-twilight-veiled valley. Rich farmland. Thick woods remaining on the steeper slopes. Solitary trees again volunteering on boundary lines with scattered shrubs and weeds, the hedgerow, the agricultural wildlife haven.
But he saw the drainage ditches too, man-made channels that rushed water into the Hallowed Courage causing flooding. Too much drainage too fast. Kelly Bolander and Sam Chilton—sometimes putting his commissionership on the line—had stood up at all public hearings and told them that, and how to remedy the problem with floodgates, trapped culverts, miles and miles of roadside ditches that could hold the flood waters, rather than rushing each farmers problem down on his neighbor, causing a chain reaction. Ironic actually, for now the planned dam was to hold all that drainage water, and even more ironic, some of the same drainage-happy farmers who had caused the flooding now slept in the overnight camp, all allies with a common cause. Stop the contractor
He shuffled his feet, found more stable spots and relaxed more against the tree. Many pleasant memories had come back. Bad ones too, and he couldnt rid himself of the gnawing question of danger. Seeingsome of Luther Helms crew should have warned him, and did, but with kids and senior citizens present, Helm wouldnt do anything too drastic, would he?
The ash tree he leaned against was young, the bark smooth, and somehow the curve of his spine had found that sweet spot. He relaxed fully and gazed at the sunrise. The sun was climbing fast, dissipating the lowland fog. Orange-red giving way to a soft blue, and even with the ongoing drought a greener earth he couldnt remember. That, was Minnesota.
He took full advantage of the moment and tilted his hat over his eyes. His reason for being was leaving him. His mind swept back to the same day Friskop had helped him, to another, much sweeter, meeting. Caroline.
So early in life to have found that once-in-a-lifetime person and fall in love—grown now—the gently shared moments, the helter-skelter bouquet of daisies—maybe married—then the not-so-sweet moments of watching that first tree being bulldozed—but maybe unmarried— and still later when he learned of his parents deaths.
He let his mind wander unhindered and saw horses moving within their tethers in camp, riding horses, workhorses, ponies, kids running, other people running, and deer moving in a nearbymeadow, and floating on Eurocelts glassy surface the big Canada geese. And beyond the camp pulling onto the meadow diesel trucks, cranes—bulldozers!
He jerked out of his fantasies. The reason they were all there was arriving, and in deadly force!
****
“Matt! Si!” Six-foot-sixKelly Bolander bellowed at his younger brothers, “Get those horses saddledup!”
Things were in near full-disarray at the overnight camp. Kelly, among other first risers, had only started thinking about breakfast when they heard the sound of approaching diesels, “Dad…!”He shouted to a white-haired and white-bearded gentleman in a black dress suit hitching horses to a hayrack, “Is everything all right here?”
“Dont worry about us, Kelly,” a tall, dark-haired woman in her mid-thirties hitching four white horses to a different hayrack answered, “You find Aaron. Me and Dad will get these people moving.”
“Yeah!” Kelly agreed, “OK, thanks, Josie.”
Two men rode up leading two extra horses. One, about sixty, a bit overweight, shouted, “Kelly! Heres horses for you and Aaron. Hes about a mile out there.” He pointed.
“Thanks, Sam!” Kelly grabbed both sets of reins.
The other man, slender, about fifty-five, left leg wooden halfway between knee and hip, voiced disdain, “The kids been out stargazin again, Kelly, same as he always did when he was supposed to be working for me! I wouldnt put much stock in him!”
“Dont fret about Aaron, Kester.” Kelly scrambled aboard his mount, “That boy has a head on his shoulders that nobody ever gave himcredit for.” Then he yelled, “Hi-yahh!”
“Hell let ya down, Kelly!” Kester shouted after him, “Believe me!”
****
Running to meet the horses and rider Aaron wondered why he had allowed himself to wander off in dreamland. By rights they should have had time for a leisurely cup of coffee, maybe two cups. But the camp appeared to be anything but leisurely. Tractors and pickups were zooming around, kids running, dogs barking, horses loose.
“Aaron!” the big black-bearded, fierce-looking, kind-hearted, clown-of-a-man wearing a brown derby hat, red shirt with sleeves rolled up and blue bib overalls, shouted as he reined in, “Where ya been?”
“Ha! Been watchin the sun rise, Kelly.” Aaron climbed onto the extra horse, a large, whitefaced bay, “Any sign of that bright orange pickup yet?”
“Nope, not a word from Forrest and we dont even know if hell get that injunction, and what if he cant even find the right people? Somethings gone wrong, Aaron. Them construction peoplere setting up their machinery. Theyre lining them up facing us!”
Something was wrong all right. Therell be violence. TaylorMagellans words rung in his ears.
****
They rode into camp.Kelly rode on to assist his brothers. Aaron stopped by Kellys father, semiretired state senator Joseph Bolander, also father to Matthew, Simon, Josephine, and Andrew, the derelict son second eldest to Kelly. The senators dignified appearance suggested both he and his wife Elizabeth, a frail woman with a stiff, jutting jaw, should have been home on their sun porch, and, occasionally, whenever not at the legislature, Aaron had heard, the man did sit, just before the fields were dry enough to sow in March, and again in late October or so after the harvest was in.
The white-haired man had a firm hold on a small boy Aaron recognized as nine-year-old Allia, Kellys only child, “…and I want you to get all the real young children over to the tent with your grandma,“ Joseph was saying, “Then get the rest ofem up on that lead hayrack with your Aunt Josie!”
Seemed like quite a big order for the fairhaired child who didnt look anything like his father, but heanswered enthusiastically, “Yes sir, Grandpa!” then scurried away.
Joseph started in the same general direction.
“Senator Joe!”
The senator turned, “Aaron, greetings! I was heading for the second wagon.”
“Youll be close to your daughter, then, Sir?
“Yep. Shell be leading us out.”
“Good. Now if theres any trouble, Sir, dont wait for a signal from me or Kelly. We might have our hands full.”
“Ill keep a close watch.” The senator rubbed his beard, “Helm has many friends down at the Capitol, but Im not one of them.“ Then, not necessarily to Aaron, “And I fully expect there will be trouble.”
Violence. Now that the senior Bolander, the very bulwark of the community, had suggested it, violence seemed twice as imminent, but Aaron waved to the distinguished gentleman, then rode to rejoin Kelly.
****
“I dont like the looks of things, Aaron!” Kelly shouted from a distance, “Maybe we should call it off.”
Aaron joined the other mounted men and nodded to his Uncle Kester. Josephine stood on the ground beside one of her mounted brothers.They couldnt call it off. If they did, that would be the end of the valley right there. Luther Helm will not endanger children and senior citizens. With thatfeeling he disregarded Kellys comment, “Howd it be for you, Kelly, and your brothers, and me, to ride out and meet with the contractor? The rest of you—” Several other men, including TaylorMagellan, “Good to see you, Taylor. The rest of you stay here and wait for my signal.” Immediately he knew that hadnt came out right. He wasnt used to giving orders, but evidently Kelly wasnt either.
“And your signal will mean what?” Kester blurted, “Whatre we supposed to do when you giveyour…signal?”
Plain his uncle didnt think much of Aaron giving orders either, “Was fixing to tell you, Uncle Kester. The signal will be waving my hat.” He had not meant to take charge, but Kelly was possibly faltering. He could apologize later,“If its my left arm you can all relax. If my right, Josephine, you lead out with that team of white horses of yours, and keep an eye on your dad. Taylor, you and the other riders spread out parallel to where our line will be, and have your rifles showing.”
Josephine hurried away. Nobody argued. All appeared a bit stunned though, as they had just been given orders that sounded very much like a battle ahead. Some shook their head, Kester the only one in a negative way. Aaron looked at each man, ending with Matthew and Simon. All were staring back. He lightly kicked his horse, “Lets go, Men.”
****
Good reason for concern all right Aaron decided as they faced in the direction of the contractor. About twenty-five bulldozers, five cranes, and About thirty flat bed trucks and semis were lining up across the valley. All the equipment wasnt needed. Evidently, Helm too had decided on a physical show of force.
As the riders drew near, a hunched man wearing a white hardhat, standing beside a silverblue-white, three-quarter ton, four-wheel-drive pickup, reached in and jabbed the driver, who produced a microphone. The hunched man spoke into it—likely giving orders to his captains— then began waving his arms and appeared to be yelling, then threw the microphone back in, stomped to the rear and climbed into the back.
“Thatll be Luther Helm there, Aaron,” Kelly announced, “Ive heard some unkind things about thatlittle man.”
The pickup started moving ahead, then stopped as Helm began pounding on the roof, as forty to fifty motorcycles appeared on the road and soon began pulling onto the meadow.
Aaron felt a bit sick at the sight and turned in the saddle, looked back at Taylor Magellan, who gave no indication of being surprised. Aaron turned back and watched with a growing feeling of helplessness as the motorcycle drivers began taking over as operators of the heavy equipment. Two of them headed for the pickup. One had long, limp, greasy hair, the other was hunched much like Helm, even looked like him.
“Dont know those know those guys,Aaron,” Kelly said, “The hunched one looks like maybe a relativeof Luthers.”
Aaron halted them about three hundredfeet from the pickup, “Well wait forem here, boys. Weve made the gesture.”
“Sure wish Forrest would get here,” Kelly muttered.
Aaron wished that too and decided talking might help, “What do you hear from Andrew these days?”
“Not much. Last letter from him got to us last Christmas. Heard about him, though. Ended up at a mission in Missouri, half dead when he got to the door, dead drunk, that is. “Andrew was a good man, Kelly. Think the war got to him?”
“Sure it did!” Kelly half shouted, “But he aint the only one who went. Look at Taylor Magellan back there.”
“Yes, look at him. Hes been drunk since his discharge, and hes drunk this morning. Taylor was thinking last night, thatyou hadnt called him because of it.”
“Thats the reason, Aaron. I didnt want him getting hurt today.” Violence. “Figured with you showing up he might slack off some.”
“Id question whether hes slacked off. Holds it good though.”
“Bettern Andrew, and dont misunderstand. I love my brother, and hes got a full-sized farm up here. Sober or not, all he has to do is claim it.
“Youre taking care of it for him?”
“We all are,” Kelly answered, looking toward the line of machinery that had suddenly gone quiet, “And we dont mind. Thats not the point. Pretty quiet over there.”
The newly-arrived hunched man crawled into the back with the other hunched man. The greasyhaired man crawled into the drivers seat, pushing the other driver over, who then jumped out and ran toward the rear of the line. Then the pickup roared, tires spinning, Luther Helm waving his arms and pounding on the roof, yelling profanities.
“Looks like were about to earn some hazardousduty pay, boys.” Kelly said it humorlessly, and sounded better, like he was ready for the coming fight.
****
Aarons horse began sidestepping as the pickup roared toward them. All the horses did. They snorted and threw their heads up, one began rearing.The horses couldnt know that the speeding pickup would, likely, stop, eventually.
“Hold onto your horses, boys,” Aaron said uncertainly, “I cant believe hell run us down…!”
“I hope Helm cant believe it!” Kelly commented, “Whoa, boy!”
The profane voice became plain, “Those people want to fight,” Luther Helm was yelling, beating on the cab, “Were sure as hell going to give it toem!”
Violence.
“Head right atem!”
The eyes of the younger man who looked like Helm were wide open, and almost appeared frightened. All four horses were straining to move, to run.
“Slam on the brakes!” Helm screamed.
The driver—Aaron recognized Mallory Spicer—eyes wide and wild-looking, hit the brakes. On the dewy grass the pickup went into a screeching skid and hit two of the horses. It happened unbelievably fast. Twenty-five feet past the horses the pickup finally stopped, was as if Luther Helm had actually planned the uncontrollable skid. Two horses down, Kelly and Simon both thrown. Aaron jumped off and held onto his frantic horse.
Kelly was up quickly, “Good Christ, Helm! What the hell you tryin to do?”
The hunched man jerked around, lower lip sticking out prominently, brown juice dribbling, catching in stubby gray chin whiskers. He spat in the direction of Aaron, ”I know you, Bolander!” he yelled, sounding something like a broken foghorn, “And I dont mind seein you farmers so much, but who is that hippieagitatin longhair?”
Kelly, back in control of his horse and himself, “Thatmans Aaron Hodges, and hes got more right here than you!”
“What?” Helm screamed so loudly the foghorn-sounding voice cracked.
“Thats right, Helm.” Aaron led his horse to within ten feet of the silver-blue-white pickup, “I was born here and plan to live here.” He saw two patrol cars approaching, caution lights flashing, “Ive never heard of you settin foot in this valley until now, to destroy it.” The sheriff and two deputies were approaching, “Now I and all the people you see.” He pointed toward the camp, speaking loud enough for the nearingsheriff to hear, “…are here to inform you that we have an injunction coming against your dam. We expect you to leave your machinery sitting until we hear from the court!” He turned to the law officers, “Sheriff, I believe youre required to see our legitimate request is honored.”
The sheriff glanced from one faction to another and didnt appear certain of anything, “Mister Helm,” he said in a shaky voice, “Maybe you ought to wait and see if these people really do—”
Helm, with several brown stains on his unshaven face, spat in the general direction of the sheriff, “You are crazy, hippie!” he yelled, as if the sheriff didnt even exist, “My machinery aint waitin for no damn longhair! Well drive right over you!”
“Theres women and children out here, Helm,” Aaron returned, “I cant believe youll do that.”
An evil glint shown in the hunched mans eyes as he growled, “Dont bet your life on it, Mister.”
Aaron felt a bit queasy staring back, but here was a chance to show the desecrators that common people no longer would sit back and let power-hungry, money-mad men run over them, or was it more personal than that. Suddenly he wasnt sure.
A smirk spread over Helms face, the other young ones face too, and Mallory Spicer was grinning.
They think theyre winning. Aaron climbed back onto his white-faced bay mount, and reached for his hat. He saw Kellys face, and Matthews, and Simons. Their expressions said they would do what he thought best. He saw the waiting people, the farmers, the businessmen, the senior citizens, the kids, the defenders of Hallowed Courage Creek Valley. They too would do what he thought best.
This is best. He was doing right—violence.The breeze felt cool as he removed his hat with his right hand and raised it far above his head, and waved it wildly.
****
A cheer arose from the waiting people. Josephine led the way with her four white horses hitched to a hayrack loaded with children from seven to twelve years old. Joseph and the Bolander wives followed with four more teams pulling wooden hayracks loaded with people. Then came pickups, trucks, large and small tractors pulling plows, drills, field cultivators, self-propelled grain combines and swathers, more than forty rigs loaded with people who meant to remain living and earning their living in the valley.
Aaron watched as each vehicle reached a point and stopped. Then the people jumped off and spread themselves, filling all gaps. In five minutes the site of the so-called flood-controlrecreational-municipal-water-supply-wildlife-refuge Hallowed Courage Creek Dam-site was a solid wall of people and machinery, blocking access to Luther Helm and his bulldozers.
Then a second line, the twenty mounted riflemen led by Taylor Magellan formed about thirty feet in front of the line of protesters and farm machinery.
Aaron smiled uncomfortably, and from the corner of his eye he saw the sheriff speak to one of the deputies who went running. He put his hat back on and faced Helm.
The hunched man was smiling, a sadistic, brutal smile, and the younger man who looked like Helm appeared to be actually gloating. Helm leaned back, then leaned forward and spat a huge glob of tobacco, landing it almost to Aarons horses feet, causing the animal to step back. Helm took a fresh chew, grinned mercilessly, then gave his own wave to his own waiting men.
“Luther, Im not sure youre within your legal rights now,” the sheriff spoke up, “People could get hurt here today. I—”
The sheriffs voice was drowned out by dozens of diesel engines starting and revving, roaring, but completely audible came Luther Helms voice, “Same damn thing all over the country!” Helm screamed, “Mark my words, Anson!” he yelled at the younger man beside him,, “Any employee stops before I say—hes fired! High voltage lines! Nuclear power, goddamn hippie agitators!”
Violence.
“Get your people out of the way, Bolander!” Helm shrieked, then pounded on the cabs roof, “Spicer, get us the hell out of here!”
Spicer jammed into gear, floored the accelerator, dug in with all four wheels, throwing dirt on the sheriff, scaring the horses again.
“My god, Aaron!” Kelly cried, “Do you think he means it?”
“Got a feeling he does, Kelly. Lets get back to the other riders.”
Helm yelled after them, “Yeahhh! Get the hell out of here, hippie! Yeahhh!”
Aaron doubted many people heard him over the revving engines, but Aaron did. His ears humming he tried to think as they rode the short distance to the other riders. Some of the men were mounted on the slower workhorses, and what good were they? Had he thought they could mount a cavalry charge? Against bulldozers? Maybe time to admit a mistake. Pull back. Regroup. Ha! This was their stand, their only chance! What the hell went wrong?
They reached the line of horsemen. Kelly and his brothers joined them. Aaron stayed in front hearing the revving, roaring engines growing louder. He glanced at the people. A line of flesh blocking Helms path. Kids, old people, just good people wanting to live in peace on their home farm that their ancestors homesteaded. He jerked back toward Helm. The hunched man was waving wildly, beating on the pickups roof. The machines began moving, coming at them! “Uncle Kester!” he shouted, “Get back to those people! Getem out„a there!”
Kester Hodges kicked his horse, looking strange as he rode furiously away, with the wooden leg kicking. “All right, men!” he shouted again, “Were going to hold our ground! Weve got to give those people a chance to get out of the way!” To Taylor, softer, “Taylor, I cant believe Helms men will do this.”
“Helms vicious, Aaron.” Taylorappeared completely sober, “Hes beaten the crap out of his own men for less reason than this.”
Than this, right. Bulldozers closing. Aaron decided a bluff was about all they had, “Take a bead, boys!”
Up and down the line the horses were rearing and whinnying. They had not been trained for battle. But for an instant the line quieted. Incredulously, the riders stared at Aaron.
“First volley goes over their heads!” Aaron shouted, barely able to believe the words evenas he was saying them, “Second volley goes at the passenger side of the truck cabs!” Something would happen to stop this. But what could happen?
Taylor Magellan raised his rifle, aimed it, and squinted down the barrel. Taylors going to do it. Then others began cocking rifles and shotguns, raising them, aiming them, unbelievably the horses staying somewhat calm.
He jerked back toward the contractor. Maybe seventy diesel-powered machines coming, closing as one massive steel blade and bumper, toward scores of hard-to-maneuver farm rigs, wooden hayracks, hitched horses, people!
Pickups and trucks were getting out of the way but nothing else. Almost nothing else had moved, except to get tangled up in the next rig. Josephines white team was too close to the far trees.Senator Bolanders team was crashing against her hayrack, floundering. The other Bolander teams were jerking, trying to run, people running, screaming, dogs barking, Kester Hodges riding up and down the line waving his arms like a madman, but nothing getting out of the way!
“We cant do this, Aaron.”
Aaron jerked to Kelly, who lowered his rifle and uncocked it, “Were supposed to be civilized men here.”
Aaron pointed to the approaching machines, “Theyre the ones who are uncivilized, Kelly. What the hell else can we do?”
“We can back down!”
“Theyre not going to stop! We should go out fighting!” He couldnt believe what he had just said.
“Not this time, Aaron.” Kelly then took matters into his own hands again, slapped his horse and rode down the line, “Lower your guns, boys! Back off! Well be within the law only if we dont fire! Move back!”
The men lowered their guns, all but Taylor Magellan. Swaying back and forth on his stepping horse, remaining solid, he was keeping a bead on something, probably a vision of the baronish agribusinessman who had taken his fathers farm, probably helping to causehis fathers demise.
Accelerating engines! The bulldozers werent stopping!
He jerked toward them. Smoke was pouring from exhausts. Operators were grinning insanely. Fifty feet. Forty feet. Riders trying to turn their horses, crashing into each other. Taylor Magellan still steady, still aiming, trigger finger tightening, forearm muscles bulging.
“Taylor, no!”
Horses were falling. Riders were jumping. Bulldozers crashing the line, at least trying to miss the fallen men but not missing everything. Aaron jumped off and pulled his mount between two bulldozers. In seconds the heavy equipment roared through the advance line, onward, toward the chaotic second line of helpless farm machinery, wooden hayracks, more frantically pawing and struggling horses, and people!
The meadow appeared as a battlefield. Men and horses down. Several horses kicking at wounds, flailing the ground. Taylor Magellan, still mounted, emptying his rifle in the air.
In unbelieving shock Aaron watched the people running. Most who had ridden would be all right, at least they could get off and run. The tractor and horse-drivers were not so lucky. One old man in a wheelchair high up on a hayrack, was oscillating one arm, hanging on with the other, watching the scene, flourishing it as if an exciting movie-sequence, and didnt even appear frightened! What the hell went wrong?
Supposed to have been a bluff. Luther Helm was supposed to have waited patiently for the injunction, then should have happily filed a huge loss on his taxes. Not this. Only one person can stop this mayhem. Helm. Time for Aaron to cause some violence himself.
****
Aaron scrambled onto his big beautiful bay mount, slapped its rump, kicked, and galloped toward the silver-blue-white pickup parked in the rear. The two hunched men were watching the madness, gloating. Helm began pounding wildlyon the cabs roof. Spicer produced a pump shotgun and handed it up to Helm, who jerked it to his shoulder and aimed.
He glanced back, saw the bulldozers and trucks crashing the line, hayracks and tractors going over, more horses going down, cranes swinging their huge clawed arms, smashing. He couldnt see the old man in the wheelchair. He turned back toward Helm and the shotgun, and urged his horse on—fifty feet—he saw the holein the guns barrel. Twelve gauge at least—forty feet—he leaned down and patted the straining neck, and whispered, “Go, boy, but Im afraid youre going to die.“ Twenty-five feet, ten….
Helm fired.
The white-faced bay shrieked and crashed into the silver-blue-white pickup. Aaron let go and sailed through the air. Helm was frantically trying to pump a second round. Aaron crashed into him and both fell into the younger Helm-looking man. All three went over the side. Aaron leaped to his feet, wrested the shotgun away and flung it. The younger man caused blurry movement to his right. Aaron suddenly had the strength of ten men and struck out.
The blow caught Anson Helm in the forehead. The young duplicate of Luther Helm reeled back and fell against the silver-blue-white pickup, then settled to the ground unconscious, a blue-black bump already rising on his forehead. He turned back to the elder Helm, grabbed him by the shirt and throat. Tobacco juice and spittle ran from the cruel mouth onto Aarons hands. The ruthless expression had finally changed to fear, bug-eyed fear.
“All right, you son-of-abitch!” he yelled, surprised at the violent sound of his own voice, “Call your dogs off!”
Helms lips were moving, eyes bulging, more brown juice gurgling. Aaron realized he was strangling the man, so released him and yelled again, “Callem off!”
Helm choked and gasped, “Look!” His chin was one mass of brown, “Its over!”
He dropped the man, turned and stared.
Over all right. The valleys defenders were overrun. Every tractor thathadnt escaped, even his Uncle Kesters eight-wheeled one, every hayrack, miraculously, all but the one with the old man in the wheelchair, but he looked strange, head laying over. But at least it was over.
But Helms machines were turning around, coming back, accelerating, a dozen or more bulldozers, blades down pushing mountains of dirt toward the tents, and Elizabeth, and the smallest children!
“You should have thought of this, hippie.”
Aaron whirled, again faced the shotgun only five feet away.
“I aint callin off nobody!” Helm snarled, “Im gonna blow your goddamn hippie head off and nobodyll even care!”
Aaron heard himself bawl an undecipherable cursing sound as he slashed out with both hands and grabbed the barrel of the shotgun just as Helm fired. The heavy load blew away his cavalry hat. An unreal instant later he again gripped Helms throat and still had a grip on the shotgun. He jerked the shotgun away and threw the hunched man into the silver-blue-white pickup, “Crawl in the back!” he yelled, “You are going to stop this insanity!”
Helm started crawling in.
Aaron lifted his foot and kicked the man over the side, then climbed in himself. On the other side he saw but barely comprehended the white-faced horse lying still, its muzzle gone, a huge splotch of blood on the ground. He slammed the shotguns stock down on the cabs roof, “Get over to those tents, Spicer!”
Spicer just sat there. Aaron fired through the back window, pumped another round and aimed at Helms face.
“Do it, Spicer!” Helm shrieked,
The short distance seemed like eternity. Many more bulldozers had joined in the game of terror, pushing huge piles of dirt toward the tents. But Elizabeth Bolander stood solid, hanging onto a cluster of small children. Clumps of dirt were rolling ahead of the piles, getting closer to her feet. “Pull In where they can see you good, Spicer!” Aaron yelled.
The silver-blue-white pickup lurched and bounced between two bulldozers and jammed to a stop a short distance from Mrs. Bolander. “Now call those dogs off, Helm!” Aaron snarled, shoving the weapon against Helms groin, “Or Ill drill your scrawny body, starting with your testicles!”
The hunched man raised his arms. The bulldozers stopped. The cranes stopped. The trucks stopped. All engines stopped.
Almost painful silence ensued.
Then came a horses hideous whinny. A child crying became apparent.
Sirens in the distance, many of them.
He looked toward the road. His gaze swept the battlefield. Many horses were down, the one whinnying was lying on its side, kicking and snapping at its torn belly.
He turned back to Helm, who stared coldly, “Well meet again, hippie.”
Aaron tightened his jaws, raised the shotgun, glared down the barrel at the hunched man and watched the eyes turn fearful again, “Count on it, Helm.”
A few seconds later, about a dozen state patrol cars turned onto the bloody meadow, followed by a bright orange pickup.
****
“…so, after Forrest got the injunction he decided to check with some of the labor people,” Kelly was saying as they left the law enforcement center later thatday, “Well, when he toldem what we were doing, I guess thatpoor bureaucrats face went white.
Aaron had no comment.
“You see, Helms done things before, but seven horses destroyed and hundreds of thousands of dollars in other damages, well, thats a bit more serious. Course, hes had his license revoked before.”
“And seventeen injured protestors!” Aaron interjected, “Including your dads broken arm, and the old man in the wheelchair. He died, didnt he?”
“Yeah. Heart attack, but Helm cant really be blamed for old Willouwings death. Hans was close by. Said he never saw his father enjoy himself so much.”
“So he died happy.”
“I would say,” Kelly agreed.
“I take the blame, Kelly. Nobody else.”
“Wasnt just you, Aaron.”
“So why does Helm keep getting his license back?”
“I reckon cause he gets the job done. Likely a good piece of money and influence in his back pocket too.”
“But he lost something today. I hear over a third of his regular crew quit.”
“Theyll be back.”
“What?”
“Things have happened before, Aaron. Helms men always come back. Its the best pay in the whole region.”
Aaron accepted that without comment.
“At least the dams temporarily halted,” Kelly added.
“And how many times in the past? And will any of those people ever forgive me for almost getting them killed today?”
“Some are bound to be mad for awhile,” Kelly laughed, “But youve got to think of today as an adventure too. Before long, any one ofem will be tellin the story as if they alone were responsible for getting the dam stopped. Ha!”
They reached Old Paint. Aaron grasped the door handle, twisted, “What about the factory? They hiring? Id like to give George something to do while Im figuring out what to do.”
With a partial grin Kelly looked away, then back, “You couldnt possibly have known, Aaron, and I guess it wouldnt have mattered if you did. But that young feller you cold-cocked today was Luther Helms blood nephew, and just happens to be one of the supervisors at the appliance factory.”
“Well, no need for him to know thatGeorge has anything to do with me.” At least he hoped it would be that simple.“One more thing, Kelly. Soon as we get a chance to talk, Id like to know what you think of starting a self-sufficient colony.”
Kellys eyes widened but he didnt say anything, just waved.
****
Aaron waved to the departing Kelly, then finished opening the door and started climbing in.
“If you aint the damndest, ridinest, shootinest cowboy I ever seen, then my name aint George! Jeezus, Aaron!”
He managed a smile, “Just did what I had to, George, and, I did manage to kill a horse.”
“You didnt. That crazycontractor did.” George had brought the van in, been considered an innocent bystander, and had not had to give a statement, “Another minute might „a been too late, and those bulldozers didnt show any sign of stoppin tillyou stoppedem!”
Aaron plopped behind the steering wheel. Not exactly proud of the days events but he hadnt really considered the part he had played, either. Now he did. Maybe being called a cowboy was possible to live up to.

Part Two The Factory

 

Chapter 12 Caroline

The classroom clock said seven-forty-five as Caroline Jentner slipped into a plastic chair, plopped her books on the table, and opened a notebook to a paper being prepared on the American Indian. Having hurried in order to have extra time before English Semantics, she sighed, began skimming her notes and running her fingers through her hair.

A multi-hued hair, soft orange-red in sunlight, deep rusty-auburn indoors and under clouds, and many blonde strands still tarrying from childhood. Held behind her ears by little combs, it fell in curls to just below her shoulders. Her fingernails were polished with a sheer color matching her hair. Her beige top covered with tiny reddish-brown leaves matched, the soft scoria denim jeans matched, and the tiny walnut rope-belt gathering her top over the jeans was placed exactly around her trim waist.

Glancing up from the notes, she sighed again and noticed another student entering. She dismissed him and opened a textbook, Northeastern Tribes, to a marked page. Settling into the chair she leaned a little forward over the open book, crossed her legs, and absentmindedly continued preening her hair while scanning the page: Iroquois, 14th Century AD, New York State…feared confederacy of five tribes: Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, Seneca, who, at their height, about 1680, were five thousand strong, including one thousand most formidable warriors…, “Hmmm,” she mused aloud, glancing down past her two-button-opened top at a piece of lint clinging to about the center of her breastbone, “The age of Louis the 14th, hmmm,” and plucked the lint off.

Deep into her studies she barely noticed the other student, a man in his late twenties and a little taller than her five-feetsix inches. She didnt notice at all when he sat in her row, keeping one seat between them.

The man was not fat, but had an unhealthy-looking stomach that hung spitefully over his belt. When Caroline didnt acknowledge his presence he acted embarrassed, even annoyed, and ran his right hand—thumb one side, fingers the other—over his face from his nose down, “Dont you ever get your nose out„a those books, Cara-lina?” he asked, not very loudly.

She didnt really hear, was winding her fingers in her hair, and began kicking her crossed leg. Utterly unaware she leaned supplely over even more and continued reading: …everything belonged to women—imagine that!—except for clothing, mens weapons, personal belongings, right down to farming tools and longhouses—a longhouse over a hundred miles long? Amazing!

Ignored, the man acted as if he felt insulted, but apparently decided on playing it cool, and spoke louder, “Mizzz Jentner….”
Still oblivious, she stared at the book and made an obvious discovery, “Oh…!” She laughed and put her handover her mouth, “A symboliclonghouse!”
The man glanced around the filling room. He may have feared someone had noticed the imagined slight. He then moved to the next seat and reached for Carolines arm.
She was reading, Hiawatha, a Mohawk? Actually a prophet who—a hand!
“Caroline Jentner!” the man evidently spoke louder than intended for he quickly withdrew his hand and ran his hand over his face as before.
Startled Caroline sat up straight and turned to see who—Mallory Spicer.
“I didnt mean to scare you,” Spicer said, “I, you, really were sunk into thatbook. Whats it about, anyway?”
Dont do those things! “The eastern Native American.” She wanted to try being pleasant, but didnt feelpleasant, and didnt care for Spicer, and wished he wouldnt always being implying hed like a date or something, and wished he would move to a different seat, and hated feeling aversion toward another human being. The man sometimes looked clean but she was certain he wasnt. She could even sometimes detect a greasy odor, and she could see he had not understood so added quietly, “Indians, Mallory, the ones who lived in New York state five hundred years ago.”
Spicer smiled.
More to it of course. The Iroquois still lived there. She had heard about them during a power line protest several years back, didnt know if they had won, figured they hadnt, and sensed the extra information hinted she wanted to talk more. She didnt.
“Oh,” he said, then asked again, “Whats it about?”
She cringed, more than a little, and wished she could avoid the man altogether, but, “Its a history book, Mallory. Im graduating in a year and am doing my thesis on the American Indian early. Its really quite interesting.”
“Oh,” he said again, smiling, shaking his head.
And if you ask the same question again Ill scream! Maybe saying she was graduating would help. And, please, summer vacation, hurry!
The class instructor walked in right then. Eight oclock.
Exasperated at the mans physical closeness she leaned as far away as possible and closed the book. Spicer always seemed to manage getting close, but not so close, and she felt certain that somehow he thought he would be her escort for the morning, as they also shared the next class.
That class, however, was taught by Fred Likken, bluster of the century, who made no secret of his feeling quite highly of Caroline Jentner. But she wondered if the professor liked her for herself, or if she matched some perfect social partner check-off list. Anyway, Spicer would keep his distance in Likkens class. She wished they both would.
****
Having her books all ready when ten oclock arrived, Caroline got up quickly and started for the door, slipping, almost rudely, past other classmates, and soon reached the outside exit. A quick glance behind told her she had lost Spicer. Feeling somewhat guilty, yet glad to be rid of him, she sighed and headed for her next class.
****
“Good morning! Good morning, everyone!”
The bravado voice of Professor Frederick Likken carried well down the hall. Caroline wondered what had made him so jubilant as she slipped into a front row seat, too close, actually, and she hoped the professor wouldnt think she was trying to get close to him, also hoped the front would deter Spicer.
Seated, she gazed up at the tall man in his early forties with the jet-black hair, bushy sideburns, and trim moustache. Likken was good looking no doubt about it. In fact he was tall, dark, and handsome. No matter how overused that statement was, he was it. But so shallow. Highly intelligent, yes, and a manner that made most of his female students swoon. But Caroline saw any viable emotion from him as being about a dime thick. She kept a full arms distance between them, was cordial with him, but the man kept pushing, insinuating it was only a matter of time till she came around to his way of thinking.
So, having still a year of his classes to attend, she did the best she could, was easier dealing with a friendly man than one who despised her. Did he wink at me?
She drew back, wishing right then she could fly away.
“Hi…!”
Groan. She didnt have to look to see who, but did anyway and answered in a sing-song voice, “Hi, Mallory, looks like were at the same table, again!”
Spicer appeared intense, “Cara-lina, I wanted to ask if youd have lu—”
“Ive got good news this morning, class!” Likken cut in.
Thank God. She turned away and breathed a sigh of relief. She just knew what word Spicer had not finished. Why oh why does there have to be days like this?
“Just got the word a few minutes ago,” Likken went on, “The dam on Hallowed Courage Creek has been postponed, maybe even cancelled.”
Aware of the embroiled controversy she had been close to participating—although feeling protest was in vain—but three exams had prevented it. And right then she remembered Likkens class was one of the exams and Spicer had not been there for it. She wondered absently if he had participated in the protest. Not likely, but maybe for the contractors side.
“Its quite a story too,” Likken was continuing, “A group of landowners and townspeople, led by a hippie-looking guy—so I heard—plain went out there and put up a united barrier and the contractor had no choice but to back down.” He paused, grinned, looked around, apparently wanted support.
She applauded, then wished she hadnt and glanced around at the other students. Spicer smiled, joined in, then others did.
“Thank you, Caroline,” Likken said, then, practically as an announcement, “Would you please wait a moment after class? Thank you.”
He didnt wait for her to even nod a „yes. She smiled slightly and swallowed. She knew what Likken wanted. Seemed to be happening more and more lately, at the plant too. Men plain attracting to her, sometimes causing her to think of Aaron, the little wild boy hiding in the bushes thinking nobody saw him. Nobody did, either, except herself. She wondered if he had ever lived in the Vellingham area, if he was alive or dead, and sometimes wondered if she had ever really met him. But of course she had. The kiss, and the pressed bouquet of white daisies testified to that.
But it was so, so, long ago.
The daisies were the only keepsake from her ephemeral childhood. Once old enough she had escaped from the clutches of various relative foster parents and moved to Vellingham in hopes of finding Aaron again, but instead getting involved with thatman, couldnt even think of his name, not that it mattered.
Did Aaron ever think of her? Had he ever? Such a long, long, time ago.
“…course I dont know all the details,” Likken said extra loudly, “There w as some damage I understand, and long as the valleys been in the news so, lately, I wondered if some of you would like hearing how it came by the name ofHallowed Courage.”
The response was a slight shuffling of feet.
Likken smiled—and at her—something he had a way of doing that made Caroline want to sink into her chair. Did he wink again?
“It seems the early pioneers had a pretty rough time,” Likken began, “No worse than others, I suppose, but the first five winters here were ungodly cold, long, and interspersed with blizzards. And the summers were short, hot, dry—and besides all the natural elements—although some people today consider the Indians as natural.…“
At mention of Indians Likkens smile faded. Something akin to intolerance replaced it. Caroline was surprised at his obvious bigotry.
“There were several attacks in this region, quite vicious ones I might add.” For a second the man stared toward three Chippewa students, then, with a look of dismissal, as if they werent even there, he looked back at the rest of the class and the smile resumed, “Of course theyve been tamed today.”
The hint of a sneer issued from some of the other students. Caroline fumed, and vowed she would do nothing Likken asked of her after class.
“The gist of it is, students,” Likken finally concluded, “The hardy pioneer who managed surviving those days, christened their church and the whole valley, The Hallowed Courage.” ****
At the end of the period Spicer again tried voicing his request, “Caroline, I—”
“Im sorry, Mallory,” Caroline interrupted but wasnt sorry. Likken would be the lesser of two evils, at least she hoped so, but after the implications toward the three Indian students she wasnt so sure.
“Caroline!” Likken approached, “Oh, excuse me.”
She wished she had thought of something else the instant she said, “Maybe another time, Mallory.”
An angry expression swept Spicers face as he grabbed his books and stalked toward the classroom door.
Glibly, “I hope I didnt spoil anything there, Carrie. I didnt realize the two of you—”
“The „two of us nothing! Now what did you wish to speak to me about, Professor Likken?”
“Oh, please, „Fred,” he beseeched, “I was wondering if youd care for a late dinner tonight. Possible?” Without waiting, “It is Friday, you know. You dont have anything on for tomorrow, do you?”
“Ive told you before, Professor. I study every weekend.”
“Yes,” he said in a deep voice, “Yes, youve told me. And Ive told you, my dear, that youre going to study yourself right into a straitjacket. Now, how about it?”
Likken was right about her needing time off, but did it always have to be with someone she had no feelings for? Aaron. The name and childish face came as one synchronous thought and image. It always happened at these low points in her life. Such idiocy to think of someone so far back in her past, “Oh, all right, Fred. Ill meet you, Where?”
“Oh, you say, my dear.”
The mans manner seemed trite at times, and she felt fairly nauseated at being called „dear by him twice in only a few seconds, “All right, Fred, that little bar and grill between the factory and town. Ill meet you at twelvefifteen. OK?”
“Fine, Carrie. But are you sure you dont want to take your car home? I could pick you up, you know.”
I know you could, Fred, but I dont want you to—and stop shortening my name!“No, Ill drive myself. See you then.”
The nerve of the guy. She started for the cafeteria, would have to let him know in no uncertain terms one day how she felt. What was wrong with him anyway? For three years he had pestered her, with no encouragement. He didnt consider these occasional little outings meant anything, did he? Maybe he did. All of a sudden she wondered if it might have been better having lunch with Spicer. At least she felt more confident in keeping her fellow student under control, more so than the gallant professor.
****
The moment Caroline stepped into the hallway of her three-story apartment building—
Mew!
She hurried—Mew! Yes, coming from her apartment, and a note on the door reminding her of the „no pets clause.
She fumbled with the lock. Mew! Mew!Wasnt coming from right behind the door, further away. She pushed it open. Mew!
She checked everywhere. Mew! The landlady would have her up by her fingernails. Mew! Where is it?
She finally stood still in the middle of the living area and closed her eyes. Mew! To her left. She opened her eyes. Nothing. Mew! Nothing but the high bookshelf in the corner right by the heat flue. Mew! Could probably hear it all over the building.
She stepped onto the couch, then one foot on the back, braced on the curtains, reached down behind the books and plucked out a tiny, orange-black-white, short-haired kitten. MEW!
“Yes, Tatters,” she said softly and climbed down again, “I love you.” Then she cuddled the mitten-sized bundle of fur against her face and immediately felt it relaxing and begin purring.
The poor thing likely had been on the bookshelf crying for attention for most of the day. The other renters would probably like to hang her up by her fingernails and her hair. And what had it been doing alone in the middle of the street, anyway?
She held it away. The kitten blinked a couple times and looked back at her through glazed-like, faint blue baby kitten eyes. She snuggled the bundle back to her face, and wished she could sit with it for at least an hour, “Hmmm, Tatters?” She would have to rearrange things to keep the kitten away from the heat flue, and for the present she would leave a responsive note for the landlady. She was just glad the kitten was up and about, not like twenty-four hours earlier.
At first, thinking it a childs lost cap or scarf, she had passed the kitten. Then, against her better judgment, she had parked, made her way back and saw what it really was, cowering, helpless, pressed against the concrete, cars sweeping by on both sides. And the moment she picked it up the kitten had spasmed and appeared to go into shock.
A late visit to the vet got the prognosis of exposure, shock and „wont live till morning. But she brought it home anyway, laid it in a box with foam rubber and red velvet, and force-fed it with an eye dropper. Now, feeling its minuscule claws digging into her shoulder, and both feeling and hearing the tiny animals vibrating purr-motor, she knew she would never make good the threat of taking it to the animal shelter.
She held it away again. Among other varied markings and colors it had one tiny, bluegray patch over one nostril thatappeared as a tatter of cloth, “So, Tatters,” she said, holding it close, “It appears youre going to join my household. Id change residence before giving you up now, sweetheart.”
But time was flying. Three-thirty. Wouldnt pay being late for work two nights in a row, and for the same reason. So, keeping her precious new pet next to her cheek, she moved about the apartment from one window to another, absorbing the afternoon sunlight, checking watering of green foliage plants—twenty-six of them and five cactus—and introducing the kitten to its new environment and pointing out off-limits areas, for sure that corner bookshelf again that included her daughters photograph and the daisy plaque. And how on earth did the kitten even get up there without knocking anything down? Amazing!
She even held the kitten while heating a small amount of milk and changing into blue jeans, another beige top with tiny red fruit-markings, and an older brown rope belt.
Seven minutes to four. No supper tonight. “Well, little sweetheart,” she said, putting the kitten down by the box bed and platter of milk, “Gotta go. Gotta earn us a living.” Last duty was testing the temperature of the milk with her finger, then pushing the kittens face in. Tatters instantly pushed its head up, stiffened all four limbs, and choked. “Sorry, sweetie, but thats the only way I can feed you tonight.”
The kitten shook its head and licked its lips.
“Good, huh!”
The tiny face went in the milk again. This time a foot hit the edge of the platter and spilled about a third.
Shestood, “I think you have the idea, Tatters. Tomorrow well go visit Jennie. Youll like her!”
****
On her way to work Caroline again thought about Aaron. Strange how he had been strong on her mind lately, as if something were about to happen. Such an implausible matter in the first place, thinking and dreaming about a man she had never met in adulthood, and only talked to the one time. But that time was so real, but they were so young, him especially, and the daisies. Never before or since had anyone given her such an expressive gift.
But maybe their feelings werent mutual. Maybe never were. She didnt know. How could she? Maybe he forgot her. And his name, „Aaron „Aaron what? How many gazillion „Aarons in the world were there? And what would she say if she found him? What would he say? And what would he think of her illegitimate daughter?
The factory came into view about a quarter-mile distant.
Angry at herself for being such a school girl dreamer she snapped on the car radio with a harsh twist…
“…bringing the number of unexplained Indian deaths in the Midwest to nineteen. The names of the two victims from Embrace Lake have been withheld pending BIAinvestigation. Its thought theywere trying to raise the water level on one of the reservations rice marshes when the accident happened. Most reservoirs are down due to the extensive drought thats reaching into all adjacent states and Canada.
Turning to business and recreation, Fesspro-Hawkins Marketing reports record-breaking sales for Mothers Day and expects tourism to break all records come Memorial Day, and it looks like the Indy 500 will be run after all—“
Click

She shut off Brewer Norths usually negative commentary as she turned onto the appliance factorys parking lot. Adding to her thoughts about Aaron and the upcoming date with Fred Likken, she wondered whether the Indian deaths would be thoroughly investigated, and why so many? And was it really necessary wasting all that fuel running the Indy 500? And did the disdainful expression on Professor Likkens face mean he maybe knew something about the unexplained Indian deaths? Unthinkable.
The upcoming date did not make her happy. Most nights she was home in bed by twelvethirty.
About one minute to four she slammed the car door and hurried toward the factory entrance with about a dozen other last-minute people, and noticed two unfamiliar men emerging from a beat-up van two car rows away.
One was an older man with very dark-colored arms. The other was young and wore an uncomfortably-hot-looking and funny-looking brown hat, but he had a nice smile. Something about it.
Unable to stop herself she stared for an extra few seconds, then, considering it no more than a curious glance, she turned away just as she reached the entrance.

Chapter 13 The Reunion

“You coming, George?” Halfway t o the door Aaron realized George had stopped, “Well?”
“Yeah, I was just thinking,” George answered, “Ive never had to work inside before. Gonna take some getting used to.”
Aaron had thought the same thing the day before during application, and all during his bath at Kelly Bolanders, during all twelve hours of sleep, and during the second bath that morning. But the economy was making everyone do things differently, and as he had noticed in the van, Georges odor was still with him, “You arent worried about your smell, are you?”
That, and other things.” George did not smile, “Thatcrazy personnel officer wouldnt believe I dont know my last name, and he said hes going to run a check on me. I havent done anything, Aaron.”

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“Theres no way they can run a check with no last name, George. Now you better come. Were almost late.”
“He said thered be problems paying too, with no social security number.”
“Theyll figure out something, George.” Aaron saw thatGeorge was really nervous, “I didnt think anything would worry you, my friend.”
“Nothing much does, „cept when fancy people start askin questions I aint got answers for.”
In sympathy he nodded, and glanced toward the main employee entrance, and saw her, saw nothing but her, and looking his way—those eyes. Then she turned away almost in a huff and disappeared through the factory door, leaving a swirl of blurry haze behind her. But maybe the hair was too red, but still.
“Ifn you dont find your girl here you might check out that pretty one with the red curls, cause she sure gave you the eye.”
Still staring at the slowly-closing, hydraulically-controlled door, Aaron wondered why he felt like tearing after her.
“Didja even notice her?”
“I noticed, George.” Boy did I ever. “And she was pretty, but Caroline was mostly blonde, and Ive never heard of a blonde darkening her hair.”
“Hell they dont! Anyway, little girls grow up and all of a sudden they got darker hair. That happens too, you know, and I really think you should try to get rid of this obsession you havewith Caroline.”
True, he supposed, and he had felt an undeniable surge seeing that girl with the red hair, and seeing those eyes, even at the distance. But as they reached the door those feelings ebbed and both hesitated, glancing at each other, neither happy about their new inside job. Aaron, of course, with his inheritance, did not have to be there, but he felt he should try to blend back into the community before he began introducing his colony idea. Plus he wanted to be there for George, as the old man was kind of growing on him.
****
“Ah, Mister Hodges!” a pretty, bleached-blonde with a dazzling smile said from behind the dayreceptionists desk, “And,ah…ah, Mister George!”
A man stood slightly behind her.
Aaron chuckled, and gently slapped his friend on the back.
“Mister George,” the receptionist bubbled on, “The personnel manager would like to speak with you again, and, Mister Hodges, you can go along with your supervisor here, Mister Anson Helm.”
Aaron had barely noticed the man before but noticed now, and saw the puffed-up, discolored knot on the forehead. But his eyes swept past Helm to the woman with the curly red hair—more auburn now—just passing through swinging doors in the far background, and looking back. Something about those eyes.
“Youre late, Mister hippie.”
Aaron jerked back to his new supervisor.
“Come on,” Helm said, “Ill put you to work.”
“Great.” Aaron then glanced at George, who looked terrified, and squeezed his arm, “See you later, my friend.”
Helm led out. Aaron followed about a half an arms length behind, through the swinging doors, and saw the curly-headed woman far down the hall turning a corner, and again sending a glance. Those eyes!
She disappeared.
They reached another set of doors leading the opposite direction as the woman with the curly hair. Probably best, for now, to mostly avoid her. Helm turned to the left. He remembered Kelly Bolanders warning as he followed, but had felt sure the factory was big enough that he wouldnt even see Helm, as he now felt quite a hostile air from the man. But maybe it was the whole factory thing and Helm just a small part of it, the large, artificially-controlled environment, no sunlight coming in, no sign of sunlight ever having been there.
They entered a large room, one of six major spaces as he recalled from the previous days tour. This one was still being filled with equipment. Nothing was operating yet except far back in the right-hand corner, a far-removed place they had swept past without hardly slowing, and outof-sight, probably-out-ofmanagements-mind where who knew what went on.
His thoughts swept back to Arizona to another boss who despised him. Caleb Conrads reason was political. But then, so was Anson Helms. And the fact he had been knocked cold with one punch causing the highly-visible bump, certainly would be a huge matter of pride for Helm.
“Mister Helm?” A feminine voice.
Helm stopped, so Aaron stopped too, and glanced toward the feminine voice, a young, wide-eyed, babydoll girl, and somewhat—no, definitely—naïve-looking.
“Ill be right with you, sweetheart,” Helm said in the gentlest of voice, then went to her and ushered her into a partitioned office.
Aaron watched the two disappear then stared toward the already operating assembly area, but saw nothing, nothing but hazy blur, things moving but unreal, without form or purpose, just blur. He knew he could not soften the harshness. He thought of Raven Hawk—you will lead— the mysticism he had felt at that time was not, and never would be, present in the factory. For a few seconds he foolishly felt he would never see the outside world again. The colony-idea crashed through his mind but it was only imagination and never could be real, never, never. He began to sense a hot glue odor.
“See thatbig freezebox computer over there, hippie?”
He didnt acknowledge Helm immediately but waited till the blurriness and crazy feelings dissipated, then turned and gazed into the blackened eyes. He had not noticed earlier that both eyes were also black, and wondered what kind of war stories Helm likely was telling around the factory.
An evil line appeared in the lips, “Thats the Abster,” Helm said, “You new baby. Forrest Barton there, the man with his hands in his pockets, will show you how its run.”
Aaron had not met Forrest Barton yet, just knew this was the man who had appeared in the bright orange pickup with the injunction that had temporarily halted construction of the dam. The man appeared in his early fifties, wore patched farm clothing, a beat up dress hat with fishing tackle pinned to it. He now was bent into an access panel of a machine spurting plastic parts in three locations, and did not have his hands in his pockets.
“Bartonll be moving to an easier machine,” Helm continued, “And Ill expect, hippie, that by the end of the shift, thatyou will have the Absters functions down pat.
“Gotcha.”
“The line in the lip emerged as a foul smile, “Thatshouldnt be too hard for a hippie, should it, hippie?”
Refusing to give even the satisfaction of a verbal response, Aaron nodded, and started toward the Abster and Forrest Barton, and felt a queasiness begin in his stomach, something he knew would be a long time going away.
****
The Abster stopped. Barton straightened and kicked several parts littering the floor under the machine, then turned and started to smile but his gaze momentarily swept past Aaron, and changed from a smile, “This isnt how shes supposed to work, you know.” He turned away, removed his hat, swiped his sweating forehead, “Damn!”
“Figured that.” Aaron figured Helm was still watching, “Try to keep it going. Ill watch, maybe see whats wrong.”
Barton agreed and moved to the other side of the machine and started it. Aaron rested his hands on the Plexiglas panels and watched closely. As the Abster clunked along he noticed that two vibrationguide channels were plugged and another likely with too much air pressure, “Hold it, Forrest!” He shouted to get above the machine noise.
The machine stopped. He lifted the doors, cleared the channels, adjusted the pressure, “OK, go ahead.”
The Abster started again. During the next ten minutes Aaron made periodic adjustments and soon the Abster ran smoothly. From the corner of his eye he saw Supervisor Helm shake his head, then enter the office, close the door and pull all shades.
The girl was still in there, he thought, and thought it strange the place had been made private, but then turned his back and pushed the naïve-looking babydoll girl from his mind completely.
****
Walking fast Aaron pushed through the factory doors and saw her, Old Paint waiting faithfully. He slowed and spontaneously relaxed. Itwasnt that he had feared the vehicle of female gender would have disappeared during his absence—there had been many jobs where longer periods had passed—but just that he had never been inside before with Old Paint sitting alone on a cold blacktop parking lot.
One good thing, though, as Forrest Barton had put it, the Abster had purred as never before, and that had only served to further alienate Supervisor Helm. But he couldnt not run it right just to preserve the mans ego. He reached the van, patted the fender and leaned against the door.
Five minutes passed.
The flow of people leaving for home slowed to a trickle and still no George, and no curly-headed woman with orange-reddish-auburn-whatever-hair…and, of course, no Caroline. He had made the long trip to the lunchroom three times without seeing the curly-headed woman again and was beginning to wonder if he had seen her at all. The memory of her eyes still nudged at him, but most likely just a lonely girl checking out a new man.
Another minute passed and there he was, looking a lot different than he had going in, “I see the roof didnt fall in on you, George.”
“Nope! The night wasnt so bad. The personnel officers going to contact that little town in Iowa and find out if theres a record of me ever bein born. Reckon that midwife could have reported it. And, I got me a easy job packin coffee percolators.”
“Thats great, George.”
“Not through yet, son. I got to work with that pretty girl with the red curls, all night!” Remembering the eyes again, Aarons heart gave a surge.
“And I told her,” George went on, a mischievous grin spreading, “That I had a nice young man whod like to meet her.”
“Jeezus, George!”
“Now take it easy, Cowboy. She aint goin to crash into your life and ruin everything for you and Caroline. She aint that kind. But when I get the chance I plan to introduce you two.”
“Cant do that, George. I couldnt even be nice to her. Ive got to check the towns records, and everything else first, before I can even think about meeting somebody else,” and more to himself, “If I evercan.”
“Suit yourself, Cowboy, but when youre ready just let me know.”
“Come on!” Aaron said, not exactly pleasantly, “Weve got to get out to Kellys, and tomorrow were finding you a room, cause Im staying with Old Paint!” He didnt know what more to add to that, so just jumped in and started the engine. George knew how strongly he felt about Caroline, and now with his first lead ever, how could the old man try bringing someone else into his life? Course he knew he had tried to find the curly-haired girl again too, but George didnt need to know about that.
“Didnt mean to upset you, son.” George crawled in.
“You didnt.”
“Glad to hear I didnt.” George smiled to himself as Aaron jammed gears a bit harder than normal, roared the motor and took off.
****
From her car Caroline watched the van leave. She felt a warmth flow through her remembering the evening spent with George. Such a gentle old man, and his peculiar odor had not bothered her at all. It had been nice working with a man who didnt try to hit on her.
But she wondered about Georges young friend. A nice smile she had thought when she first saw him but the second and third times he plain stared, and when he left the factory just a burst through the doors, and he walked as if he carried some unseen burden, but maybe just tired. George had said he had been through a lot lately, and then to arrive just in time for the protest at the dam-site.
She tried imagining the days events and pictured the young man with the different hat— maybe a cavalry hat, the kind with one side turned up, now that she thought of it—riding and shooting and fighting as George had described.
She smiled, cavalry hat, then wondered why she had smiled. So he was quite a rounder. Big deal. George called him a cowboy, but he looked more like one of those official hippie types with the ragged, sleeveless jacket and the moccasin boots. And she had thought that hippies were somewhat an endangered species, but some still around she guessed, and strange, the only name George referred to him as was „Cowboy. And speaking of names, when she told George her name his face lit up, almost as if he thought he knew her, and anyway, she had enough men bothering her without asking to get involved with yet another, for sure not with a should-beextinct hippie-type wearing a funny-looking cavalry hat. Cavalry hat! Who does he think he is, anyway?
She laughed out loud. Cavalry hat. Disgusting!
A more pressing disgust nagged. Already twelve-fifteen. Dear Professor Fred would think she wasnt coming. She had half a notion not to show. That should give the man a clue she wasnt interested. And anyway, she knew—or kind of knew—a cowboy now, and she felt surprised that she had let thoughts of the cowboy disturb her so much. Im NOT disturbed!
She sighed and started the engine.
****
Sounds of music and gaiety effused from beyond the door of the bar and grill. Caroline paused and glanced back at her car, a small, gray, four-door sedan. She had wondered if being in the company of Freds car, a dark blue two-door sports car, had caused her own car to glisten and blinkfrom the bars huge neon sign. It wasnt. Strangely though, Likkens was.
Again she considered not showing. Instead she opened the door and grimaced from the increased loudness, and stepped inside. She didnt consider herself a prude who couldnt enjoy parties and dancing. It was the company. Always someone like Professor Fred Likken and two others from the factorys management, who she dated even less.
Where is MY man?
Sometimes she felt it was her own fault, that she was too picky, that there never could be a man so perfect as the perceived-perfect twelve-year-old Aaron of nineteen years earlier. She shuddered, angry at her obsession. No other word for it. Obsession! Obsessed over a childs face, a quick and clumsy kiss, and a bouquet of wild, weed-like, white daisies! But surely there was someone better than self-centered Fred. Surely!
She finally moved down the bar, and glared back at a lone man staring at her, who very obviously was wondering if she were looking for company, and another, and another. Im not looking for company! She jerked away from them and hastened her pace. But she was looking for company, just not with them, and suddenly felt sorry for all the lonely people in the world. Were they all looking for their own version of Aaron?
The childish face flashed before her and synchronized with the cowboy. The cowboy. She blinked and felt a lump in her throat, and swallowed. What would it be like with the cowboy here tonight?
“Carrie!”
Likkens voice. At the same instant she saw Mallory Spicer stand up from one of the wall booths and start toward her, smiling. Annoyed, she glanced around for Likken, and saw him, still fairly distant, at one of the few fairly-private tables, and cringed, for the man was waving and grinning, and winking at her.
Feeling she would rather leave, she started for Likkens table, but the skinny, pot-gutted man stepped in her path, reeking of alcohol and gagging her.
“Well, hello there, Cara-lina! Imagine meeting you here.”
Spicer was several sheets to the wind but pronouncing his words exceptionally well, maybe taunting her because she spent so much of her time studying instead of mooning over him. Almost as tall she felt like pushing him aside, and if there was any gentleman in him, which she doubted, he would let her, and where was Fred?
Oh yes, Fred was one who preached that chivalry was dead, and lived his convictions. But she wanted no chivalrous overtures from Fred anyway, and wondered, again, why she had agreed to meeting him, “Oh, hel-lo, Mal-lory,” she finally answered, knowing she was glaring, “I cant imagine meeting you here, either, and if youll excuse me, I was meeting someone else! Goodbyee!” Then she pushed past him.
**** Grinning broadly, Likken jumped up and gracefully jerked out a chair as Caroline arrived at his table. She positioned herself in front of the chair, accommodating him, wondering why she bothered, and sat as he pushed the chair under her.
Youre a noble bore, Fred, why did I come here? Instead, “Thank you, Fred. Did you order for me?”
“Yes, Carrie, and knowing how rarely you get out, I assumed youd like your favorite, popcorn shrimp and a light salad.” Then he smiled, teeth showing widely.
Arent you even going to mention Spicer, Fred? Do you refuse to acknowledge it happened? Instead of her bitter thoughts she sighedsilently, “Ive been dreaming about shrimp all day long, Fred.”
“Wonderful! Something to drink?”
No! “Wine would be nice, maybe.”
Likkens eyes widened as he raised his hand immediately, fingers in the snap position, reminding her of a television commercial. She almost laughed; she almost laughed so hard her stomach hurt, making her wonder why? Why was she so angry and hostile? Nobody had done one bad thing to her. Usually good things. But nobody ever gave her what she wanted, and she didnt know what she wanted. She wanted peace, whatever that was. Even George, that darling old man, had seemed eager to do for her, please her, make her happy, and what did he want?
But George seemed sincere. She had learned to read people pretty well since her first sexual experience, the one thatgot her Jennie…so thankful to have Jennie. So, with George she decided it was true sincerity. He had even offered to introduce his young friend, and now she wondered why her thoughts kept returning to the young man with the funny hat.
“Here you are, Mister Likken. Best in the house.”
She turned to the bartender—a heavy, red-faced individual wearing a stained apron—who set the wine in front of Likken and then stepped back, waiting with a smirk as the professor made a show out of reading the label.
When Likken gave a nod of satisfaction the bartender gave an exaggerated bow and left.
She understood Fred in a way, and knew he had come from a stiff military family, and had served in the air force, in what exact capacity she didnt know. So she tried to indulge him. Maybe all the years of bending to family and superior officers had stilted him so. But one sphere she refused indulging, that of the sectarianism shown the three Chippewa students. She decided to bring it up, “I heard two more Indians have been found dead in the Embrace Lake area, Fred. Unexplained deaths. What do you think about that?”
“I havent heard about this most recent misfortune, Caroline.” Likkens smile faded just as it had in the morning, “But Im aware its happening. About time Id say.”
Her first impulse was to scream,but she decided to go along for the moment, “About time, Fred? Theyre about the smallest minority in the nation.” And,sarcastically, “And its their land.”
“Its never been their land, Carrie. They were here like the buffalo, wild animals to be destroyed. Colonel John M. Chivington should have been revered for his battle with the Cheyenne at Sand Creek.”
“Black Kettle was a man of peace, Fred! Your Colonel Chivington was a butcher who shouldve been hanged for murder!” While surprised at her outburst she went on, “Six hundred volunteers attacked a sleeping village flying a flag of truce right beside the stars and stripes, and murdered over two hundred people, most of them women and children! How can you say that was reverent?”
“They only got what they gave. The Indians did much massacring also.”
“Thathas to be the great irony of US History!” she interrupted, “That so-called civilized men believed it was right to massacre because theywere massacred. Fred, dont you know that it was the white man who taught the red man to take scalps? And paid them for it? And then paid white men to take scalps?”
“Yes, well, thatall happened a long time ago.”
“But has it stopped? What about all the unexplained deaths? It almost seems like a conspiracy, a few at a time and nobody will notice.” She left her thoughts unfinished. In the dim light she saw thatLikkens face had gone ugly.
“Maybe it is a conspiracy, Caroline. Maybe some people have come to realize that Indians are a scourge, needing to be exter—held down!” He brightened, “Ah, heres our meal. A little shrimp and wine will make you feel better. Yes, my dear?”
She wondered how she could continue sitting at the table with this man, but accepted the food, and dipped a shrimp, watching as Likken tore into his rare steak ravenously but still with finesse, as he ignored her, ignored the implications of their conversation as if he were a part of it, whatever it was, obviously a touchy subject.
And she was pretty sure of the word he didnt finish, and the overtone of it frightened her. ****
Standing quietly in front of the cash register, Caroline watched Likken slap down a couple bills, then excuse himself to the restroom.
It was one-thirty. She had decided she could stand no more of the man and wanted to get home to her kitten, but used plain exhaustion as an excuse. She didnt feel close enough to Fred to share something as personal as her new pet kitten.
“Going home to bed now, Carrielina?”
Spicer now appeared being all the way into the wind, but still doing a terrific job of pronunciation. She wished she could close the mans mouth, and where was Fred? Oh yes, the professor had probably seen Spicer coming, and thought „better to let the lady do her own fighting.
“Nighty-night with the old savant, eh?”
Having drunk some wine herself, Spicers reek wasnt nearly so bad as earlier, but he was still too close, waytoo close, “Where did you learn such a big word, Mister Spicer?” She didnt attempt concealing her contempt at all.
“I go to Semantics too, ya know!”
How well she knew. But just for a few days more.
“Thirty-four dollars and ninetyfive cents, please.”
She turned to the cashier and picked up the bills Likken had left. Only thirty dollars! Irked she dug in her purse for another five dollars. That would mostly take care of her weekend spending money with Jennie.
“Are you about ready, Carrie?”
Likken, standing at the exit, twenty feet away!
It occurred to her right then that she never, ever! could give anything to Professor Frederick Likken!
With an unhappy sigh she accepted back the nickel in change, then pushed past Spicer and started for the door, but could hear Spicers laughter behind her, a lewd, irritating kind. Men! What do they want?

At the door she refused Likkens offered arm. He then shrugged off the refusal as if it had not even happened but did at least push open the door.
Outside she gulped the fresh air. They moved down the steps toward Freds blinking and glisteningsports car. Strangely, hers still appeared drab. She didnt care. She liked hers better!
Likken, with one smooth movement of his hand on her elbow, directed her tothe drivers side of his car, “Carrie, would you care for a nightcap at McSauds? I—”
“You have GOT to be kidding, Fred!” There, her feelings were out. The tone of her voice hadto tell him something, yet she hated being outright cold, “Im sorry, Fred, but I just dont have time for socializing. Im sorry.”
“I understand completely, my dear.” He smiled like a plastic manikin, “Well, its been a fantastic evening! I hope we can do another real soon!”
What is it with you? Youre plastic. You dont hear what I say.
“You do need to delve into the subject of Indians a little further though,” Likken started toward his blinking sports cars door, “Theyre a race of cutthroats whove long outlived their questionable usefulness. Well, goodnight.” He entered his car, started the engine, backed out, pulled away, still smiling, waving, leaving her standing there alone.
Gone.
“Goodnight, Professor Likken,” she said to the fading taillights, “You get in the last lick.” ****
A momentarily-increased sound of gaiety told Caroline someone had come out of the bar. She moved around the front of her car, asking herself for the umpteenth time why she had agreed to the date.
Through side vision she comprehended a quick movement but thought little about it. She just wanted to get out of there, get home to her kitten, get rested up for the weekend date with Jennie. Even when a hand took a hold of her arm she still didnt realize her situation. She just pulled away, or tried to—
The grip tightened, then both arms were gripped, turning her forcefully, hurting her, “Oh, ow!”
Her cry was muffled as her assailant clamped one hand over her mouth. The other hand pinned her right arm and gripped her left. She felt a slightly-flabby yet slim body pushing against her. He thrust her across the parking lot and into shadows. He pushed hard, forcing her to walk off-balance alongside the bar and grill, clear to the rear of the building and out of sight from any lights. He released her and spun her around. She saw just well enough to identify Mallory Spicer, just as he hit her with a closed fist.
She felt the left side of her face snap, then a dizzying descent to the ground. She landed on some hard thing. Spicer grabbed both her arms and jerked her back up, released her and hit her again, close to the same spot but this time including her eye socket, then again and she tasted blood. She felt her face would burst and she twisted her ankle on that hard thing on the ground. She fell again.
Spicer was muttering now, slurring, “Good „nough for the ole perfessor, huh? Too good for me, huh?”
Slap!
She didnt know where the hand hit, just perceived an open palm. She fell back prone. Her hand landed on thathard thing…a steel rod. Hardly able to think she grasped it, felt a fingernail bend back, but her fingers curled around it.
Spicer gripped her arms again and dragged her up.
She gripped the rod and jabbed it as a spear. She felt it stop and heard Spicer grunt, then kept jabbing it and felt the pot-gutted man relaxing his grip. She thrust out extra hard and fell again as Spicer released her. But she scrambled right up and swung the rod with both hands and felt it vibrate against bone, probably ribs. She swung again, and again. Spicer ran.
Her legs spread, balancing her, she gripped the rod as a baseball bat, ready to swing again. But no need. Spicer was in full flight, bent over and holding one side, his other arm beating up and down to propel him. He disappeared around the corner.
Gone.
She dropped the rod with one hand but held onto it as it hit the ground. A faraway passing car cast light on it. Something wet. Blood. She dropped it and sank to her knees, and sobbed once, twice, then held her breath. Cowboy. Aaron. The two were inseparable. She thought of one, she thought of the other. Who was the funny man with the funny hat?
Her hands over her eyes she remained on her knees for several seconds, then at last got up, found her purse and started for her car, but backtracked to the steel rod. She picked it up and held it. It had saved her. She would keep it under the drivers side seat.
And next week she would seek out this young man with the funny hat. She would learn why he was invading her mind and violating her thoughts, making her want him.
****
Comfortable on a manycolored quilt she had made from Jennies many baby clothes, Caroline drew her legs up under her and scanned the open textbook. The Iroquoian confederation intrigued her, for, at one time, their arch-enemies, the Algonquians, had spread clear to Minnesota. But her mind wasnt really on her thesis.
A motorcycle pulled up to the service station across the street about a half a block from the park. She barely noticed it. Her mind was still on the conversation with Fred Likken the night before, and it still bothered her. And that morning it had occurred to her that the reservation at Embrace Lake could have some marvelous old medicine man who could give her firsthand information on the tribes lore and legend. They might even trust her enough to tell the Indian version of why there were so many unexplained deaths. A talk with classmate, Fire Shining, would not be out-of-line. Maybe a summer visit could be arranged.
A delighted squeal.
She glanced toward the sound, to her Jennie—about twenty feet away—moving in a fast, tight circle, her good left leg on the inside, jumping, balancing herself and dragging the braced right leg along on the outside. Tatters, tumbling along after the braced leg, was pouncing every few feet and falling and rolling. The kitten had made a miraculous recovery, and now was making her daughter—who had turned seven the prior month—very happy.
The three had arrived at the Vellingham park about nine-thirty to a beautiful sunny Saturday of togetherness, and that was the only thing really wrong in their lives. They had only weekends together.
Jennie was Carolines great secret. Only the aged foster couple in Clarksburg knew of her, the same people Caroline herself had lived with for the first four years of Jennies life, during which time she had continued working as a barmaid until realizing her daughter would need many special and expensive things, so had begun college, but only one more year.
“Mom…!”
Brought out of her thoughts she focused on the tiny girl whose small size and deformed leg, still caused her to wonder if her early years of smoking and drinking—plain hell-raising— had helped to cause it. Her doctor had said „No, that she had stopped early enough in the pregnancy, and the birth defect was just that: A birth defect. Her difficult pregnancy had also been „just that.
“Mom…!” Jennie called again, laughing, “Look at Tatters! Shes so funny!” Then, laughing harder, almost screaming when the kitten finally assaulted the braced leg and held on, but Jennie snatched the fur ball up and started toward her mother as fast as her stiff right leg would carry her.
Watching the beautiful child coming across the grass, the waist-long brilliant red hair flowing behind her, the wide, fairy-like grin bursting, the yellow dress with faint blue miniature maple leaf designs rippling—that Jennie always insisted on wearing when they were together— and the limp reminding her of television reruns of Chester on the old „Gunsmoke series, caused an affection in Carolines breast that nothing ever had compared to. She liked it, too, that Jennie preferred dresses over jeans, because, as Jennie put it, jeans over her braced leg made her leg look funny.
“Mom, Tatters is such a good kitty!” she cried, jumping into her mothers arms, “Shes so much fun!”
They all three went down. Carolines books and papers went flying. They ended up prone and hugging each other, the kitten between them.
“How do you know Tatters is a she, Honey?” Caroline asked, laughing.
“Oh, I just know she is!” Jennie cried, “A boy wouldnt be as nice as she is!”
With that statement Caroline agreed, at least in part. Aaron, “Lets get up, Jennie.”
“OK, Mom.” Jennie then went back to the tight circle game with Tatters chasing her leg.
Gathering her papers Caroline wondered why Aaron always popped into her mind at such personal and happy times. Would he like Jennie? Would Jennie like him? That feeling between them would have to be mutual. They would have to like each other, and Jennie needed a manfigure in her life. The comment „A boy wouldnt be as nice as she is troubled her.
It troubled her too thatJacqueline Haberman didnt know about Jennie, but she had put off telling her sister too. She just guessed she wasnt ready yet to share Jennie with anyone. She watched her child and the kitten play together for another moment, then opened her purse and found a compact mirror, gazed into it, and absentmindedly noticed the driver of the motorcycle standing in the service stations doorway and the attendant approaching him, then she focused on her face in the mirror.
Her bruises from the night before were still well-covered. She had used plenty of cold cream and other makeup but feared it had come off during the roll with Jennie. Then, keeping her raised hands in line with the service station and seeing both men disappear inside, she checked her tingling fingernail.
It had taken very careful fingernail clipper surgery but even so the broken nail needed a bandage to keep it from catching on something and getting ripped off…she noticed the motorcycle driver returning quickly. That long hair—
Squeal!
She focused on the squealing, roaring motorcycle, then the shouting attendant, then the driver—Mallory Spicer, and looking her way! “Jennie!” she cried in a loud whisper, “Come here, honey!”
Jennie obeyed immediately, limped the short distance and crawled into her mothers arms. Tatters arrived nearly as quickly and crawled between them, ”Mom…?” Jennie said, almost in tears.
“Its all right, Baby,” Caroline assured her, holding her tightly and watching Spicers motorcycle disappear. She felt beside her for the steel bar. It was there, handy. She had cleaned off the blood, and she wondered if things really were all right, and she hoped the man would now leave school. She had wondered from day one why he was even there.
****
So the week went by, all the time George keeping up his innuendo that Caroline and the cowboy should meet. But not until after the ten oclock break on Friday night, while returning to her work area, did she even see the cowboy again.
Just turning the corner, for no reason she glanced back and there he was, just pushing through the swinging doors. He stopped, and stared toward her.
Without thinking she stopped and stared too, but his stare was so—she didnt know what—certainly not pleasing but not lascivious either, and sweet old George had said a hundred times that the cowboy was a nice guy. Yet she felt uncomfortable, and yet couldnt help continuing to look into the “little boy” eyes. Something about them.
****
Frozen in his tracks Aaron was feeling all kinds of strange emotions too. Number one was quenching a nineteen-year obsession so that he could adequately respond to the present. He had found no mention of Caroline in the citys questionable records, and the factory had refused access to their list of employees, and of course he couldnt just go around saying her name and telling everyone his unbelievable sob story, so Caroline was, basically, a ghost, and just about thirty feet away was a lovely, living woman with auburn curls held back over her shoulders by a black ribbon. A soft-looking, dark beige top was gathered high and around her waist by a brown rope-like belt.
Those eyes. But she wasnt Caroline. Damn it!Yet he started toward her, “May I—”
Her eyes widened slightly. Then she turned away and was gone.
His tension released in a gush of sweat as he stopped short and stared at the empty hallway. Just as well. Whoever the woman was she evidently was filled with a whole lot of inhibition, and definitely was not Caroline.
****
A little after midnight George stood waiting by Old Paint for the kept-after Aaron to arrive.
As far as he knew the whole week had gone by without Aaron and Caroline even seeing each other, and George knew why. Anson Helm had the cowboy coming in early and staying late. Illegal, of course, but Aaron was determined to show his supervisor he would not be broken.
Little matter though for George had kept the two young people well-informed of the others doings and whereabouts, something Caroline always paid polite attention to and Aaron always acted mad about, but then listened anyway whenever George spoke of the curly-haired woman, but neither had expressed any verbal interest in the other.
But, Friday night. High time the two were reunited, and thanks to a few well-chosen words from his own silver tongue, Georges supervisor had agreed to keep Caroline a little later. Now, if they would just come out about the same time.
At twelve-thirty, humped over and dragging as usual, out came Aaron. Caroline was still inside. George perked up, “Hey, Cowboy, is thatmaster„a yours gonna let up on ya pretty soon?”
“Ill outlast him.” Aaron walked straight to the vans door and climbed in, “Well, lets go, George.”
George glanced toward the factory entrance. Hurry up, sweet Caroline. “Yup!” he answered, as if ready, then stopped, “Say, Aaron, has Luther Helm paid for any„a those damages yet? I thought maybe Ansond probably tell you.”
“I dont know. Anson would never tell me and I would never ask him.” Aaron appeared somewhat aggravated, “And what does thathave to do with us going home?”
George glanced back at the factory door, where Caroline had just magically appeared, “Hey, sweetheart! Cmere a minute.”
“George! What the hell! I said I didnt want anything to do with her!”
“Dont be so danged high-falluting, Cowboy,” George returned with a swipe of his hand, “Get your butt out here.”
“Hi, George!” Caroline arrived, a gentle smile on her face that George reckoned could only be equaled in heaven.
Looking sheepish, still a bit provoked, Aaron came around the side of the van and stopped short, his eyes gawking. Caroline stopped short too, but her eyes were only slightly gawking, but, gawking nonetheless, but then they evened out as that gentle smile of hers returned. Oh, that smile. But still about six feet between them. And both appeared to be thinking something bad was about to happen. Juststand there a minute, younguns. Get to know each other a bit through your eyes first, then Ill tell you who you are.
Carolines smile reflected off the parking lots lights. Her eyes appeared wet, as if she were about to cry. Enough light enhanced the dark reddish luster of her hair, and bounced off a few blonde guardhairs, and exposed faint freckles around the bridge of her nose. Her blue jeans fit as if she had been poured into them, yet did not flaunt her figure, just seductively made known the curves—something a girl-watcher would skim over lightly, but a girl-connoisseur would study and notice where the jeans fit loosely here and snugly there—and swept down to the frayed bottoms where the toes of white canvas shoes peeked out. And the beige top—gathered by the rope-like belt, a frilly focal point —rose and fell as her breasts rose and fell with her breathing, as if a fine-tuned motor were inside warming up, generating life and energy for the most beautiful female creature George had ever laid eyes on.
And the hippie-cowboy, straightening a little with each obvious breath and appearing taller and stronger, his eyes still gawking wildly but calmly too, and maybe even also were a bit wet. George felt with a little help and guidance from the curly-haired woman, that Aaron Hodges would grow stronger and straighten more each day for—who knew? Probably forever.
But the two just stood there, six feet apart, staring at each other, contemplating, surveying, scrutinizing. George reckoned a little push were about due, “Hey, Aaron, do I have to tell you thatthis woman here is Caroline?”
Both faces lit up. Both sets of eyes calmed, Aarons especially, as if a terrible pressure inside him had finally released. Then both took a step, then another, and both reached out together and grasped each others hands, then just stood there, both smiling and studying each other.
George may have expected wild kissing and hugging, maybe even had hoped for it. But he saw all that just beneath the surface of both of them, and surmised there probably was much, much, more than even he could imagine. And, hell, they have the whole rest of their young lives to get better acquainted.

INTERLUDE WHITE HOUSE DIARY: 22 MONTHS BEFORE CRASH

 

July 1

 

11:30 A.M.

Just briefed on a number of our Domestic Perennial problems, as my aide, Lester, insists on referring to them. I was amused, actually, by Lesters expeditious demeanor, as if knowledge alone will suffice to correct.

Synfuels and nuclear power versus the sun and wind being the number one Domestic Perennial. In the meantime we have the diminishing supplies of oil and the dirty supplies of coal. My opponents want to go full-scale nuclear and synfuel.

There is no place on earth to store eternally-long-lasting radioactive waste. Mass shipments are certain to begin falling into the hands of terrorists, and uranium is finite, same as oil.

Synfuels demand vast environmentally-unstable acreages be torn asunder to grow more genetically-modified corn and sugar beets, and huge amounts of—most likely groundwater—for irrigation, and tons of chemicals.

Coal also demands vast acreages for strip-mining, land that will not recover in my grandchildrens lifetime, nor, likely, in the lifetime of this short-running nation. And why cannot coal be considered a virtually-inexhaustible storehouse of raw material for the countless other products—besides fuel—that demand oil? I hear many reasons as to why coal must be developed as a fuel power source rather than the sun and wind, the most lame of them being Synfuels, coal, and nuclear power will provide millions of jobs.

Another one: The amount of land needed for solar panels and/or windmills would be exorbitant. Some experts say the whole southwestern desert would become a mass of glass. I say “Phooey!”

Young Senator Polantz from the great state of Vermont has a solution that would create countless jobs and require no land expenditure:
Each house and building could have its own power system: Solar collectors and/or wind generators. This could grow to become the largest industry in the world
Because every person is a potential customer.
Possibly the utility companies would scream. Then let them be the manufacturer, the installer, the service technician, the supplier of replacement parts, ETC.

Our nuclear power plants are not fail-safe, inhumanly possible to make them so. We cannot afford the desecration of countless acres of land for the mass production of coal, and the growing of synfuel crops.
As for oil production, the earth should be compared to a grape—a lonely grape—for there is just so much juice before it is empty. Even now fewer ships are expending prodigious amounts of fuel in the process of taking longer to bring everly-more-expensive crude oil from wells that are irrefutably drying up.
We are running out of time. We no longer can afford the luxury of doing what we want, but as we must.
ADDITIONAL 1:30 P..M.
The existence of STIM (Stop The Indian Movement) was just brought to my attention, in the form of a recklessly-closed letter addressed from a Post Office box in Arizona to another Post Office box in Minnesota. The message obviously was in code, as it made no sense, and I infer from the name (and wondering why they use printed stationery) that the organization is possibly/probably detrimental to the American Indian.

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No intelligence unit has a file on it.
ADDITIONAL 11:35 P.M.
Last thing before bed.
Lester brought another of our Domestic Perennials to my attention at the dinner table. It seems everyone (meaning loggers, miners, stockman, etc) is clamoring for more public lands to be opened for use, that is exploitation. Everyone also says, “A little more cant hurt.” “Oh but it can,” I tell Lester, “We have been saying that for over two hundred years. Our public lands (all of it!) should immediately be put into a public trust of unspoiled wilderness. And then, very carefully, we selectively cut trees, prospect for minerals, allow more grazing, only when it will not affect the native flora and fauna, and land. We must not go out there hell-bent-for-election— which reminds me, I must start preparing for the future election.
Yes, the right way could be more expensive, in the short term, but will make our resources longer-lasting. Approaching totalitarianism, you say? No. But totally-free enterprise must be restrained. Unlimited freedom in this nation has been good, but because of it we have waded through many of our resources much too quickly.
Now, the generations that our founding fathers referred to as unborn grandchildren, must, I emphasize must, leave a better world for our unborn grandchildren, my god, even for our children.
We have reached the end of our endless horizon. We must stop looking forever westward. We must make do with what we have—and we have much—but we must nurture it.
I look across the room. I see my beautiful wife in a state of peaceful repose. Her arms are on top of the blanket, I see the frilly borders of her sleeping gown. She has no need to huddle for warmth, for she is housed in the solid quarters of the figurehead of the United States.
I am that figurehead. I have a duty to act as that figurehead.
But sometimes I feel as the child who must be seen but not heard. How lucky that child was to have parents looking out for him, or her.
Chapter 14
A Legacy: Of Land & People

Six oclock. Monday evenings first break.
Hurrying into the factory lounge area Aaron dodged a group returning to their work area. He glanced up and down all the tables, stared at clusters of people, finally moved further into the room, and saw her, seated alone at a small round table far back in the corner. Her chin rested on clasped hands; she was smiling, her eyes wide and looking right into him, waiting, the woman he had been in love with for the past nineteen years.
She waved.
He lifted his hand and started to her table, and smiled back, or tried to, wasnt real sure what his face was doing, self-conscious as hell, same as the preceding Friday night. He had been in shock at first, then realized he was holding both her hands, a moment he would never forget.
He reached her table.
“Hi, Aaron.”
She had not changed in nineteen years. Her face was still elfish and mischievous, still showed freckles. He hadnt been certain from the parking lot lights but saw them now, slightly diminished from before, and tiny lines on her forehead and at the corners of her dark blue eyes. They werent age lines he didnt think, probably caused from much smiling. “Hi,” he answered at last, and pulled a chair, and sat.
The greeting was simple, same as had been at the half-hour reunion, after which he felt they had both been satisfied to go their separate ways and get alone, and get accustomed to their long separation actually being over. So it was enough now, too,just being in the others presence for at least several seconds, until Aaron ventured an earthshattering deduction, “Uh, youre on the four-to-twelve shift, too, huh, same as me.”
She laughed, and he saw right away that laughter was what she was made of.
“Thats right, Aaron, and I go to school during the day.
“Wow, a lot of hours. Are you going to be a teacher?”
“Why,yes. How did you know?”
“Oh, I didnt…but, I might need a teacher someday.” Sobriety displaced part of her smile, but he blundered right on anyway, “Yeah, Im getting it all figured out in my head. I plan to start a colony.” He stopped. Why did I say that? Way too early.
“A colony?” she exclaimed, and kind of laughed again, “Goodness, Aaron, what have you been doing all these years? A…colony?”
It was still a joyous laugh, and he felt sure she laughed a lot about many things, yet his confidence slipped a bit.
“Well, what kind of colony, Aaron? What would you do there? Tell me about it.”
“Oh, it would be for people. I dont know, maybe fifty, or sixty. And where? Somewhere safe.” Again, probablythe wrong thing to say, “And wed do about everything we do out here.”
Incredulously, “Out here? And safe? Safe from what?”
“Well, Carrie….” He swallowed, wondering why her smile had brightened and then dimmed down again, “Its maybe dumb but Ive been carrying around this idea that, well, I dont think our civilization is going to last forever.”
“Youre right.”
Surprised, “Right?”
“Of course!” She laughed again, lowering his confidence still more. “Weve known, oh, I dont know how long, probably forever, that the sun is going to burn out and freeze us, or explode and cook us, eventually, in a billion years, or so!”
“Oh, thatisnt what I mean. Much sooner than that, but Ill tell you about it on our next break. The long one.”
Her smile disappeared. She even kind of gawked at him.
As if waiting for its cue, the break-over bell sounded.
****
As Aaron passed through the swinging doors he noticed way down by the work area that the babydoll girl was entering Helms office. He wondered if the shades would be pulled when he got there.
He also wondered what he would say to Caroline during the next break. It seemed he had her attention, but he wished they could have begun their relationship on a lighter note. Disasters could just as well have not been mentioned at all. But, anyway, what does one say after a nineteen-year separation? Especially to one cared about. He guessed one would talk about what he wanted to share the most, and, like it or not, that most was his colony idea.
Passing Helms office he saw the place had definitely been made private, and that suggested something wanton happening. And it was happening about every day. If the girl was foolish enough to cooperate, whatever was happening would just have to happen. He didnt really want to think about it so he didnt, and moved on toward the Abster.
Forrest Barton was just starting it. The man reminded him of pioneer pictures, hair clipped to tight above his ears, loose-fitting work clothes, rough beard and ragged face, all but the fishing hat.
He loved that fishing hat. Whenever he saw Barton he saw the fishing hat first.
“Do much fishing, Forrest?” He wasnt all that interested in fishing, but needed to get his mind off Caroline. It would be great having her to spend breaks with, even if they maybe wouldnt always talk. It had just been nice just to experience that nearly overpowering realization of her presence.
“Used to,” Barton answered, “Not much anymore. Got eighty acres of mostly truck garden along the Hallowed Courage that takes most of my time. But maybe not for long. That dam is still a real threat.” Barton moved on around the machine, reaching in, checking valves, wiping grease. The man seemed to know about machinery. If the Abster quit he would just keep taking it apart and putting it together until it performed right. Seemed the Abster had been maintained in that manner for some time, as several obvious components laid around with no evident function. “Reckon you can turn the air on,” he called from the other side.
Aaron did as requested, then moved into the position he had occupied for the past week, where he had watched every Abster function break down irascibly until he swore the whole machine had been overhauled twice. He also wondered why Barton had not been reassigned as threatened.
“Whered you live around here?” Barton called over the noise.
“I lived down by the creek too, till my parents got killed.”
“Say, you aint that little guy people used to talk about are you? Hung out with Daniel Friskop?”
“The same. I didnt hang out with Friskop though. Just once. Got caught in an early-April rainstorm, one of those false spring days when you just couldnt wait to get outside. Well, I got soaked. Friskop happened along, built a fire, and dried me out. We werent buddies though, not thatI wouldnt have liked to be. I hear Daniel hasnt been around for awhile.”
“Nope, not in quite awhile, and he aint paid no taxes either. Im afraid if that caretaker should die the estate will be up for grabs.”
“Yeah.” Aaron felt troubled at the prospect of one of his boyhood stomping grounds likely being developed for housing.
“The old caretaker comes to my house for Sunday dinner quite a lot,” Barton went on,” And hes often mentioned how Daniel would see you come sneakin onto the estate thinking nobody ever saw you. So then Daniel would keep an eye on you till you left.”
“Didnt know that, but they were good days. Ill never forgetem.”
“The valley was more beautiful back then.”
“Hows that?”
“Big agribusiness has got to bulldoze everything, right down to the creek in places, and all the old farmsteads. Hell, you know the creek road? Goes past the Bolanders and Hodges, yourrelatives?”
“Yes, on both counts, Forrest.”
“Son, you wont believe this. Twenty years ago there were forty-seven farmsteads along thatthirty mile road. Today theres nine!”
Although certain he knew, “What happened toem?”
“Bulldozed!” Barton said it so loudly that some of the other workers looked up from their tables. “Dozens of nice houses and other buildings, hundreds of huge shade trees, bulldozed, burned and buried!” Eyes glazed, jaws tight, Barton stopped feeding parts to the Abster. The machines sensors soon noticed the empty line and shut down.
Barton stared at nothing for several seconds, then faced Aaron, “It didnt happen overnight. Two or three a year, some years none. People dont notice so much when its slow like that.”
“How come younoticed, Forrest?”
“Cause my parents farm was one ofem!” He stared past Aaron again, then went on, “Things were just getting started good then, chemical fertilizers, pesticides, deep-ditch drainage, you know, answers to mankinds problems.” He brought his stare back to Aaron, “Some folks couldnt afford all that stuff but used it and tried paying the bill anyway. Me and my dad were two who tried. We farmed the socalled modern way for three years. All we got was bills wed never had before. Finally, old Del Hodges…reckon he was a relative too.”
“My grandfather. I never knew him, but I dont hold too much love for my Uncle Kester and the rest ofem, so….”
“Fine. Ill tell it like it was. Old Del knew we had a heavy debt. He came over one night and offered us that debt plus a fair price for the land. We got enough to make the move to town anyway.” Barton loaded some parts on the Absters first belt, then went on, “A few years later Id worked and saved some money, so I visited Ma with the idea of buyin back at least the farmstead, and thats when she told me.”
“What?”
“Thatthe old place had been dozed and burned.”
“My god, Forrest.”
“Hey!” someone yelled from the assembly line, “We need parts over here! Run that Abster!”
Barton hit the required switches, then fed the line furiously for a few seconds, then said across the noise, “The folks heard about it from a neighbor whod lasted a few months longer than us. The old bastard burned the house I grew up in just a few days after we left. Our farm was one of the first to go thatway, and old Del was one„a the first to start the practice, locally, anyway.”
The Abster stopped again. Barton went through the motions of starting but kept talking, “Ma finally confided thatshe thought the news of the burnin and dozin was what killed Pa. The doctors couldnt give a good reason, just plain a broken heart. My great-great-grandfather homesteaded that place. Just dust now.”
Aaron dumped a bucket of component parts into one of the air-vibration channels, then offered, “Makes a man wish he could press charges, huh, Forrest?”
“It was old Dels property, Aaron,” Barton said quietly, staring again, stopping work again, “But Ive never quite decided whether any man has an inalienable right to destroy what another man has spent a lifetime building.”
****
An hour passed.
In that time Barton performed as a zombie. Aaron supplied component parts, wiped grease and oil, and cleaned the floor. About seven-thirty he was all caught up so took a relaxed position.
The office door opened. The babydoll girl, hair tousled, cheeks rosy, eyes a mixture of excitement and embarrassment, peeked out, glanced in all directions, then moved quickly to her position in the assembly line, a spot the line didnt depend on for operation, but never-the-less would have to be caught up.
Some of the other women workers glanced at her as she sat and began working without returning any glances. Aaron wondered at the other womens expressions, sorrow, maybe, contempt, some maybe even jealousy.
The office shades began rising. Aaron busied himself with stockpiling, and watched from the corner of his eye. Supervisor Anson Helm soon came out and approached the Abster. Aaron kept working but noticed Helm eyed both Barton and himself before changing direction and heading toward the breakroom.
Little doubt the babydoll girl—about nineteen—had gotten herself into an extemporaneous position, but then, experience was the only way she would learn, and next time likely would not be so gullible and wide-eyed.
A little angry about it, yet refusing to even consider getting involved, Aaron began a different subject with Barton, “What about that place thats tucked into the creek bend north of the Friskop estate, Forrest?”
“Sam Chilton owns it. Keeps some nursery stock out there.”
“Id like to buy thatplace,” Aaron confided.
“Samd probably sell it to you. Got a feeling he hangs onto it just so the land hogs dont get it.”
Thatwas pleasing to hear, “Ah, I wanted to ask a while back, Forrest, what happened to the people who lived on all those bulldozed farms? They certainly didnt all get into debt, did they?”
“Nope, some just got the idea thatif they didnt use all that modern, efficient, crap, then they plain werent going to make it as farmers. Some were even embarrassed about it, plus kids were sick of chores and wanted to live in town. Wives wanted more of a social life. Town relatives were sayin „get a good job in town. And there were landhogs a plenty waitin to scarf up on that cheap land, land thats increased unbelievably in value today.”
“Did the Bolanders get any?”
“Yep! And theres an organic family whove kept the diversification tradition alive, and real efficient farming going. They didnt do any dozin, so now every one „a those boysve got their own home and all the younguns will. Self-regeneration is what they practice, and do you know, they have only one smalltractor for each farmstead?”
“Yeah, didnt know,” Aaron laughed, “Sort of like a mascot, bet they own it too.”
“You bet! And their herd of workhorses keeps the land workedand providesem with plenty of fertilizer, and the horses are selfregeneratin too.”
“Ha! Yes!”
“Nope.” Barton softened his speech, “The Bolandersdidnt make the agribusiness switch, things that cost a lot of money and poison the land and erode it. Were you around during the last big drought we had?”
“No, but I heard northern Minnesota almost burned up.”
“Right, and thanks to so many farmsteads and shelterbelts being dozed, southern Minnesota wanted to blow away. Then the rains came and them deep, straight ditches almost washed us away. Old-timers harp about the nineteen-thirties,well, Ill tell you that erosion is worse today. People really got up in arms about damming the Hallowed Courage that year. They got crazy-like, as if all we had to do was bring in the Army Corps of Champions and then besides floodcontrol wed have drinking water, recreation, fish, ducks. Well hells-bells! Hallowed Courage aint but one „a the tributaries, and theres thousands of acres draining into it that shouldnt have been drained in the first place!”
The Abster stopped.
Barton had let it run out of parts again, but kept staring at Aaron, then went on with his reverse eulogy, “Im afraid were going to have more problems on our hands then well ever care to think about if we dont start cooperating with Mother Nature, and did you know theres people who want to drain and clearcut the whole state?”
Aaron shook his head negatively.
“Yep, its called the Tree-removal & Drainage Bill.” Barton began refilling the parts-belt, “Weve got Senator Joseph Bolander working against it at the Legislature, but hes just one man.”
The colony slipped into Aarons mindas Barton started the Abster. The mans philosophies would be an asset, but, in a narrow-minded way of thinking, Barton didnt seem to have a special skill.
****
“Hi again,” Caroline said.
“Hi,” Aaron answered as he sat down across from her, noting her smile was as bright as two hours earlier. But, unfortunately, he realized he had not thought of a lighter conversational subject.
“Get your work all done back there?”
“Oh yeah, Forrest Barton has taught me all about the Abster.”
“Forrest is a lovely man, Aaron. He has three teenaged daughters. You should have brought him up with you.”
“I asked, but he claims theres nothing up here for him.”
“Thats too bad, but keep working on him. So, tell me about your colony idea, and your idea of our civilization not lasting.”
“OK.” She did ask for it,“I met this old Papago medicine man down in Arizona…” Caroline showed intense interest as he spoke of his experiences with Indians, and that encouraged him, but of course he didnt know of her prior interest in Indian history, “…and the princesss marriage to some northern prince is supposed to bring about a unification of all Native American tribes.”
“Thats fantastic, Aaron, and Ive read of the Hohokum, a very civilized people for their time. So, when is all this supposed to happen?”
“Next spring sometime, but its hard to understand why they have to walk clear from southern Mexico, facing the elements same as over a hundred years ago.”
“The Indians may be learning our ways, Aaron, but they havent forgotten how to survive. Theyve combined the Stone Age with modern technology. They may just be around when the rest of us….” A twinkling entered her eyes, “When the rest of us are in your colony. So what else did the old man say?”
“He said a persecution of the Indian people has begun.”
“Ive heard something on thatline,” she shivered, “And the Indians will have something to do with your colony?”
“Raven Hawks last words were „You will lead. I figure he meant the colony, as Ive been thinking about it for over a year.”
“Thats very interesting, Aaron. Youve actually planned a colony?”
“Ive got blueprints in my head, and I plan putting it all down on paper soon, and, well, what do you think?”
“I think youre funny,” she answered, kind of laughing, “And I wonder if your wise old medicine man was drunk, and where would you find the money to build a colony?”
“youre right, you might be right, and I dont know.” As of yet, nobody but the bank knew of his inheritance, “But what if Im right, Carrie?” Her smile brightened; he had no idea why, “What if we woke up some morning and the supermarket was closed, and the gas station? What if someone told you thatyou cant live here anymore, but to go to a refugee camp?”
At first he feared she was going to break out laughing, but, “Those are fantasies, Aaron,” she came back soberly, “Our society has gotten too complex. Its fun to watch a science fiction movie sometimes, but the real thing? I cant believe it. Besides, you havent given me a reason. Survivalists are ranting about a nuclear holocaust, a new Ice Age, the Greenhouse Effect, whats yourreason, Aaron?”
“Forrest gave me some reasons. Youd believe him, wouldnt you?”
“I dont know. What did he say?”
“Man-made disasters. Too much lowland drainage, erosion, chemical sprays, theres a good one. They put enough pesticide on farmland these days to—”
“A disaster.” She interrupted, “Chemicals could make some people sick, and I do believe theres too much used, but a full-scale disaster? Thatjust isnt it. But I dont mean to discourage you. A colony might be a good way to show another way of living, but just not in the sense youre saying. I continue wanting a choice, Aaron.”
“So do I. Im just saying what if there wasnt any choice? Id like to be ready.”
“It would be nice to be prepared for all emergencies. Unfortunately, quite impossible, but Id be willing to spend my summers in your colony.”
“Now youre the one whos fantasizing, Carrie.” That extra smile, just cant figure it, “If the colony became a reality itd be permanent duty, not just a summer camp.” A bit blunt, perhaps, talking to someone for only the third time, but he felt he had always known her.
“What about people?” She sounded far from humorous, “Do you plan to play God, and hand pick them? Or would you place an ad in the Vellingham Herald?”
He felt like telling her about Brett Habermans support, and that, by then, Jacqueline likely would be in on it. Or would Jackie be acting like little sister? No, Jacqueline was aware of things. And he still had not written the Habermans, and he should be informing Caroline how worried Jacqueline had been about her, but all he had in his mind was colony, “Youre beginning to sound a bit sarcastic, Caroline.”
“Oh, Im sorry, Aaron.” She dropped her head, “I guess I am. And I do support your idea, but—” She raised her head again, and looked right at him, “But you have to give me something concrete. Who would be your people? Im serious, who?”
“I have a list of names in my head, specialties, professions—“
Professions? I suppose you have Caroline Jentner down for teacher!”
“Yes.”
“Thats revolting, Aaron. You didnt even ask me!”
“I havent asked anyone”
“What? For pity sakes, why?”
“Because theyd all be skeptical, like you, and youre about to report me to the sanity board, right?”
“No, in-sanity. So why have you told me?”
“Ive always hoped to tell you, Carrie. Ive, looked for you.”
“You have?”
“Yes. Dont you believe that, either?”
“Im sorry, Aaron. I havent been very nice, I guess.”
“But I wonder why. You almost at times act like youre mad at me.”
“I suppose I am, was, I dont know.”
“But why?”
“Because years have gone by, Aaron. Ive never heard from you.”
“But I didnt know your last name, or, anything.”
“And I didnt know anything about you.” She looked down again.
“Right, but now—”
“Now were together again, Aaron Hodges.” She looked up sharply, “And all youve done is rave about the world coming to an end. I thought something special started between us on that farback day.”
“Something did.”
“You dont show it.”
“What? I—”
“The break is almost over,” she interrupted, “Now listen. Ill think about all youve said—not that I believe a disaster is coming—but if I can help you I will. In the meantime you should talk to people. Get some feedback.”
Same as nineteen years earlier. She just took over, but, like then, he didnt mind. He thought she was so young back then, but she was the mature one then too. Those eyes. Looking right into him, and him seeing into hers, like the first instant of seeing little Terri Haberman, the moment of learning Caroline was Jacquelines sister, and findable.
Feedback, she was waiting for feedback, a sensible response, but he couldnt think, “But…what about you?”
“Dont worry about me. I said Id consider it a summer camp.”
Brrrriiiinnnggg!
“And the next time I want to talk about it, Aaron,” she didnt smile, “I will tell you.” ****
“Cmere, hippie.”
So preoccupied over Carolines partial offer of help, Aaron had not noticed Supervisor Helm and Forrest Barton standing outside the office door.
“Barton here claims you dont need anymore help on the Abster,” Helm said, always managing a sneer in his voice, “And being the most mature person on the crew, he wants that job back in the corner, where nobody else wants to work, where all the stink is, right Barton?” Supervisor Helm slapped the man on the shoulder.
Barton lowered his eyes and said nothing.
“Right!” Helm sneered, “Get at it, then! Both of you!”
Barton moved away quickly.
Aaron stayed a few seconds longer and gazed at Helm calmly. So, the dirtiest job goes to the person least likely to protest.
Helm glared back. The blueblack bump between the hunched mans eyes appeared to darken, and also appeared to be no smaller, as if permanent. The man jerked away, entered his office and slammed the door.

INTERLUDE: White House Diary

STIM (Stop The Indian Movement) Message decoded:
To Frederick Likken
Traced one Aaron Hodges, hippie-transient-laborer, to Vellingham, Minnesota. Locate Indian contacts through watching Hodges movements. Then eliminate all concerned. Caleb Conrad
STIM Commander, Southwest
Chapter 15

The Assassin

Caroline gathered her legs up under herself, and under the full-length beige dress with light rust sleeves, hem, and multiple tiny patterns throughout. Then she picked up her lemonade, sipped it, and gazed at Aaron. He sat about three feet away, on her quilt, on his thatched mat, with the picnic basket between them.

Late August already and still no closer than three feet, not that three feet was bad. And his conversation, always spectacular nature adventures or the people he had met, mainly Indians, and thatwasnt bad either. But never anything future, their future, if there ever would be such a thing, nothing future except his continued ravings about a dumb colony and a hypothetical disaster. Yes, she had mistakenly brought it up again and had learned to regret it, but had never allowed it to go one too long. And the moment was becoming too long, too intense. If he wouldnt say something she would!

His hand started to rise, as if he were planning to touch her. But he was not going to touch her, not as long as his mind persisted on colony, colony, colony! “Why do you always dress like a hippie, Aaron? Dont you have any other clothes?”

His hand dropped back. She sighed silently.
“I have changes. And I dont necessarily consider them „hippie, I just likeem.” Another long, silent moment passed.
He rearranged himself on the quilt, ending up further away so that a spontaneous thought

or movement wouldnt put him, or her, into the jeopardous position of touching again. He would have to move again first, or she would, but she wouldnt!

Two hours into their first time together away from the factory, one hour since the tour of Old Paint—and the name was kind of neat—and the van was neat, even that awful drawing was kind of neat. But she was surprised when he asked her to lie on his cot in order to see it better. Well, she did, was pretty sure she could trust him, although lying down did seem kind of risqué, but at least it appeared thathe had thought of her occasionally, even though he didnt identify the unfinished woman in the drawing. What really bothered her was thathe wasnt saying anything! They maybe should have brought along a little booze. A little booze maybe would have loosened them both a little, made touching a less spontaneous thing. Touching, and then bed, making love, another child, another Jennie. How she loved Jennie. How she wanted to share Jennie with Aaron, and touch him, and love him, but not long as he doggedly reiterated colony, Colony, COLONY!

“Right over there,” Aaron said, pointing to a cluster of bushes, “Oh, I know, after nineteen years theyve grown some, but Im pretty sure thats where we first met. Do you remember?”

No, she didnt remember those particular bushes. She did recall the park seemed to be much larger then, because the two of them had walked at least a mile in the direction he pointed, but now appeared to be field land. But she certainly remembered their moments together. Vague, yes, but she did remember, and the scraggly bouquet of daisies. Did he remember them? Did he remember giving them to her? Did he even remember kissing her? But she would not ask him. Instead she brought up thatsubject she abominated, “So, have you been talking to your other colonypeople?” She felt sick that she was again encouraging him to talk about it. Yet she refused to share cherished memories, and was unable to think of anything else.

“Yes.” His face showed disappointment. She wondered why, “Ive talked to Sam Chilton,

Forrest Barton, and the whole Bolander clan, but they all seem to think the same as you, Carrie.” “And thatis?”
“A great way of showing a different way of life, and they all offered help, but…” He

grinned, “But probably only as a summer camp.”
Thank goodness! Now maybe youll forget about it.
“But Im not going to forget about it, Carrie. I dont know what I can do, but Im not

going to forget.”
Her heart sunk.
“And George doesnt even offer help,” he went on, “Just polite sympathy but mostly a

deaf ear, and a belief thatthe government will work things out.”

 

So why couldnt Aaron believe it? And forget it? And come back to the real world?

Allow himself to relax, to love?
“But the government cant work things out this time, Carrie. Things have gone too far. I
dont know whatthings, but I cant help how I feel.” He looked away and stared hopelessly at
nothing.
She liked it when he shortened her name. Strange, she hated it when the professor did.
But Aaron was different, and she wanted to go to him, she wanted to bad. She wanted to
encourage anything he wanted. And had she been free she maybe would have, but she was not
free. She had Jennie. Jennie needed a man-figure who had a grasp on the real world. Several long, silent, uncomfortable seconds went by, maybe even a whole minute. He moved back to his original position, but too quicklyand he didnt stop, he actually
was reaching for her.
“Carrie….”
“No! Aaron….” Impulsively she moved away, stopping him, “This just isnt working.” His eyes showed,she didnt know what. He settled back on the quilt. She wanted to hold
him, and help him, but couldnt, and couldnt let him touch her, “Im sorry, Aaron.” She meant it
completely, desperately, “We do fine at the factory, and I want to keep spending my breaks with
you. I really do, Aaron, very much, but, I think we shouldnt see each other outside the factory
again. Not for awhile.”
He shook his head positively, but with no enthusiasm.
Thathurt her, but she couldnt help it. She would not let him touch her, would not give
him another opportunity to touch her, and knew at the factory he wouldnt try, “I know that
sounds contradictory, Aaron, but youve told me how you feel, about some things at least, and
now Ive told you how I feel. And, for now, thats how things have to be.”
****
From high and to the west of the picnicking two, a man watched the red-haired woman in the
ground-length beige dress get up with the basket and move in the direction of the rusty van. Then
the hippie folded up the quilt, then rolled up the mat, and followed.
The man rubbed his hand over his face, then through stringy hair, then pushed back from
his observation point and descended the hill in the opposite direction from the picnickers. He
moved to a colorful motorcycle, one that could be eye-catching, except that it was dusty, greasy,
unclean, unhealthy-looking, much like its owner. He then pushed it through the park to the road,
climbed on, started the powerful engine, revved it, and drove away.
****
Just a little more blush on the cheek and the female half of the drawing would be complete.
Aaron laid the lead part of the pencil against the paper, began to rub lightly, then darkened, then
erased part, then added more, finally let his arm drop and relaxed against the cot. He smiled at
memory of Carolines face when he asked her to lie on his cot in order to see the drawing better,
but she did do it.
The battery-poweredlamp didnt provide the best lighting for drawing and the woman
didnt look much like Caroline, and there were no distinguishing marks on the body. Course he
hadnt seen Carolines body, nothing but her face, neck, and arms to her elbows. He had thought
he would at least see the rest of her arms on a warm, sunny Sunday picnic, but, the non-see-thru,
slightly open-necked dress had elbow-length sleeves too.
He did get to see her hair in a new light though. It seemed brighter than it had under the
factorys florescent lighting, and he did catch a couple glimpses of her sandaled feet, and they
appeared as soft as the skin on her neck, and he was appreciative for that much. He didnt move for several minutes, then propped himself up and glanced at the dashclock and noted nine-fifteen. He had been working on the poster-sized drawing and
intermittently writing a letter to Brett Haberman without accomplishing much on either for six
hours. Unable to sleep good thanks to his night job he had woke up at three a.m. and decided to
work on the poster and letter.
The long overdue letter to Brett needed to be finished. He hoped Brett was still positively
aligned on the colonyidea but surmised Jacqueline wouldnt be, and was beginning to question
his motives himself. Maybe rather than survival it was more the common affliction of hobos, and
hippies, of plain shunning real responsibility. He just wasnt real sure anymore and the idea was
keeping a barrier between himself and Caroline, of thathe was pretty certain. He didnt know
what else could be the reason, and also couldnt get it out of his head that he was right. But right
about what?
What possible occurrence could make a colony necessary, and secret, and hidden? He kept staring at the poster for another moment, then replaced the pencil in the walldrawer beside him. Then he grinned, again recalling Carolines reaction to the one-quarter-bodysized poster.
First a quiet gasp but then she gaped at it for three or four seconds longer anyway, then a
louder gasp as if angry at herself for staring at it, then a vexed glance at him when he suggested
lying on his cot to get a better look, but she did do it, and did notsay she didnt like it. Course,
she didnt say she did, either.
Then she moved along on the tour of Old Paint and said she liked his home on wheels.
He could tell she liked it because she touched everything, and ran her fingers over the luxurious
interior plushness. He considered her touching as a sort of proxy signal that she would like to be
touching him. Once she glanced at him unexpectedly, catching him taking pleasure in admiring
her,and then he wasnt sure if her expression changed to a frown or a covert smile because her
face colored and, of course, he placed his eyes elsewhere. Later, after the tour had ended, she
admitted to appreciating his consideration of the van being of the feminine gender. So, no, the
day was not a loss.
None of the day was bad of course, just her obvious withdrawal from his perceived touch,
which he had not pushed at all, knowing that once they started touching there would be no
stopping. And he felt pretty certain there was something between them more serious than just his
colony-idea. So, it would be wrong to push anything before whatever was wrong was settled, and
not seeing each other outside the factory would pretty much ensure thathe wouldnt get much
chance for touching anyway. Caroline was correct in keeping them apart. Somehow he knew that,
but, again, did not know why.
He finally started reading Bretts letter and noted he had pretty much filled the
Habermans in on everything that had happened since their visit, all the Indian meetings, the
attempt on his life, his new friend George who at times served as a living conscience, the damsite confrontation, admitted to decent inside employment, and mostly that he had found Caroline
and informed her of her sisters concern, and that he would miss her when she took vacation the
following week to visit a northern Minnesota Indian reservation.
He propped himself up more, balanced the pad, and began writing:

Caroline has shown more interest in the colony idea than I thought she would after our first meeting, at which time she laughed quite a bit, but since, she has directed me to several books on self-sufficiency that she will order for me through her college bookstore, such as Wild Foods, Wilderness Survival, Homesteading, Alternate Power Systems, even one about natural childbirth. Speaking of children she has said nothing about a child in her previous life.