From Freedom's Sons, Part IV
Danielle Tolliver pulled into the yard of her family’s ranch house just off Montana Highway 69 after ten o’clock that night. The sun had set, but the rolling hills and trees of the Deer Lodge National Forest still loomed visible in the twilight overhead, looking almost as if they would fall and crush the house. Danny was driving one of the family’s pickup trucks that day, an ancient electric-powered vehicle that had been around for decades. The maintenance of that truck was a Tolliver family tradition handed down from father to son; no one had made parts for the thing for almost forty years, and yet it still ran. Danielle quickly lugged the charging cable out to the truck from the generator in the carport and plugged it in; she didn’t want to draw even more attention to her late arrival by allowing her father or grandfather to find a dead battery the next morning. Then she grabbed her book bag containing her Bible and all her other church-related books and computer discs out of the front seat, and she bounced on into the house.
She grabbed up the plate and fork and went into the living room where her family was watching a show on the Wallplate, the huge screen that filled one wall of the room and served as television, computer monitor, telephone, and general connection to the outside world. Her fourteen-year-old brother Wade was wearing the red headphones and playing a desultory video game in the lower right hand corner of the screen, while her mother Alice was watching a nature show with the blue headphones. Wade was just beginning a major growth spurt and already taller than Danny or their mother. Her grandfather, Elwood Tolliver, a massive white-haired man of 65 with a seamed face, was sitting in an armchair by the empty fireplace, reading a newspod on his 14” X 9” clear plastic tablet, which he had downloaded from the Wallplate earlier. Elwood’s cane, which he needed because of his old kneecapping injury, was by the chair. Danny could see her grandfather was reading the venerable USA Today, which hadn’t printed a paper copy in over a generation. Elwood subscribed because of all the major news sites, USA Today was the most rabidly anti-NAR, and still defiantly ran a silhouette of the old 50-state America on its homepage.
“Hi!” Danny said cheerily, stuffing her mouth with cobbler. “Where’s Dad?”
“Not back from Bozeman yet,” said her brother.
Many years before, when ONI had banned beef production on the grounds that meat was murder and bad for people’s health, and that bovine flatulence was a major cause of global warming, Elwood Tolliver had switched the ranch over from beef to dairy cattle. For some reason their flatulence was apparently environmentally friendly and the cholesterol in their dairy products positively benign, according to politically correct science. This was largely a testament to the dexterity of the dairy industry’s lobby in Washington, as well as their generosity to Hunter Wallace’s campaign war chest. The Tollivers now ran almost forty head of cows, which they milked twice per day with the aid of the whole family, three herd dogs, intermittent help from local kids as they could afford it, and two ageing agricultural robots. Danny had heard that Elwood had at one stage employed some Mexicans, but they somehow became targeted for some kind of trouble from Over The Road, and the beaners had vanished. She didn’t know the story; it had happened before she was born. The milk was saved in special refrigerated and sanitized tanker trailers provided by the Montana State Dairy Board, and once a week Wendell Tolliver hitched up the tanker to his old diesel truck and drove the tanker down to Bozeman, where he dropped it off at the pasteurizing plant and picked up another to bring home.
“You better finish that and get to bed, Danny,” her brother told her. “You missed evening milking for church and so you’re up at four-thirty and I get to set my alarm for six-thirty, yeaaah! So you need to get to bed. Now.” He was looking at his sister strangely, his mouth working like a fish. She realized Wade was silently mouthing the words “Get outta here now!” at her. But it was too late.
Her mother switched off the show, calmly took off her headphones, and looked at Danielle. “How was Fellowship?” she asked.
“Fine!” said Danny. “We put together kits for Bible outreach, and Reverend Newlin played the Wonder Of His Love concert on the hall’s Wallplate for us after supper. That’s the one with the Assemblies choir and JC’s Crew. It was cool.”
“How could you see it from under the table?” inquired her mother.
“Your phone kept going to voice mail, so I drove to the church at seven-thirty. I went into the Fellowship Hall and you were nowhere to be found, so I guess you must have been under the dining room table. Oh, and the electrotruck was gone from the parking lot,” said Alice Tolliver. She stared at her daughter. “Well? Do you at least have enough decency not to lie or try to involve your friends in your lies any more? I suppose I should mention that I’ve spoken to Sherry Applewhite’s mother and to Sherry herself, so that escape route is closed.”
Danny had known she couldn’t keep it up for too much longer. Farm families were tight-knit, their schedules for the day generally allocated before breakfast, gaps in that timeline were hard to conceal, and adolescent deception was generally more difficult than for city kids with only one parent who was working most of the day in someplace other than the home or on the property. Danny had a rudimentary grasp of one of the first principles of intrigue: when suspected, always try to make the evidence point to a lesser offense. Human nature being what it is, there was more chance of being believed. “Okay, Mom, fine, I cut Fellowship!” she said, feigning faux exasperation. She was about to come up with a tale of an evening of ice cream debauchery and flying around in Keith Bellinger’s home-souped convertible, which had limited levitation capability, and in which Keith sometimes buzzed cattle and isolated houses, but her mother cut her off.
“I should also mention that I’ve spoken to Sheriff Lomax about your activities,” Alice told her.
“You called the sheriff on me?” cried Danny, scandalized.
“No, it was he who came to see your father and me,” said Alice coldly. “He called yesterday and asked if he could come out, and your dad and I sent you and Wade driving out to the south barn to pick up those two bad milking machines so we could speak in your absence. Speaking of absence, Wade, please go to your room. Your grandfather and I want to speak to your sister in private.”
“About what?” demanded Wade. “About her riding around on both sides of the Road and smooching with Johnny Selkirk? If you guys didn’t know until yesterday, you’re the only ones in the county who didn’t!”
“Meaning you knew and you didn’t see fit to say anything?” said Elwood from his armchair, his eyes still on his newspod tablet. Wade wisely kept quiet.
Alice stared at him. “I’m sorry to hear that, Wade, but be that as it may, please go to your room now. I know you’re family but you’re not yet of an age to participate in all the family business.”
Wade was about to argue, but his grandfather said “Scat!” and Wade scatted.
Alice resumed, “The sheriff was concerned that your behavior might have wider ramifications than you can possibly understand at your age, Danielle. Sheriff Lomax was certain we didn’t know what you were doing, and I am sorry to say that he was correct. I was going to wait for your father to come home so we could talk to you about this together, but after tonight …” Something struck her. “What did Wade mean about you riding around with that—on both sides of the Road?” she demanded heatedly.
“Sometimes John drives me over to Basin, yes,” said Danny, amazed at how calm she sounded. “Sometimes I meet him over there and we eat in Shirley’s Diner or we have a sandwich in the Four Deuces.”
“Dear God in Heaven, that’s Unauthorized Contact and Unauthorized Travel! You could go to prison!” Alice shouted.
“Mom, nobody cares about those stupid old laws any more!” replied Danny in irritation. “They’re from before I was born, before the war, even! Half the population of Boulder goes Across The Road to buy meat and booze and cigarettes and grass that’s not taxed through the roof! You know that. It’s been like that for years. Nobody cares if I want to go to Basin! It’s only six miles away, not the far side of the moon!”
“I most certainly care!” Alice shouted, taken aback by her daughter’s open admission. “You’re too young to be in a saloon, especially a saloon over there!”
“I don’t drink beer or liquor, Mom, and neither does John when we’re together! They don’t just sell booze in the Four Deuces, they’ve got good sandwiches and salads, they have a lot of western Montana Celtic and Southern live music groups on weekends and on weeknights a lot of local musicians come in and play for drinks. And yes, I like some music besides gospel and sacred and inspirational and Country and Western,” Danny added.
“It’s against the law!” said Alice harshly. “You’re not legally allowed to set foot in anyplace that sells alcohol for another eight years, young lady!”
“Not in the Republic,” Danny reminded her. “There’s no legal drinking age. In the NAR it’s up to whoever owns a business who he wants in his establishment. If you create a problem the Guards deal with it, but nobody tells anybody else what to do. Well, most of the time not.”
“It’s not a Republic of anything!” yelled Alice. “It’s a—it’s a no-man’s land of crime and hate and bloodshed! It is part of the devil’s own kingdom on earth!”
“It is that, Alice, but they call themselves a Republic, and until such time as this country somehow recovers its moral strength and courage and does something about that, so they will continue to do,” her father-in-law said quietly from his chair, still not looking at them. “You need to be realistic, Al. This is too deadly serious to quibble over semantics.”
“I’m not having sex or carnal relations or whatever you want to call it, Mom,” Danny said with dignity. “John knows that I’m a Christian and he respects that. That’s why he doesn’t drink around me. Besides, if he did seduce me or anything, his own family would be just as angry with him as you guys would. It’s low behavior for men as well as women Over There. I have to be honest, from what I’ve seen they’re a lot more successful at getting men to restrain themselves in their country than we are in ours!”
“This is true,” admitted old Elwood, finally looking up at them. “One way they do it is by legalized dueling, so any young man Over There who leads a young lady astray and declines to marry her afterward is likely to find himself looking down the barrel of a flintlock pistol in the hands of the girl’s father or brother. Those soft lead balls can rip a man’s jaw off his face at twenty paces. That’s if they want to be all formal about it. If not, the irate relatives may just face the naughty boy down in the street and play fast draw, and as long as it’s some semblance of a fair fight, the cops will just come along and haul away the bodies. Your favored eateries are situated in a land where murder is for all intents and purposes legal. That doesn’t bother you, Danny? No, really, I’m curious.”
“John doesn’t carry a gun over on his side!” expostulated Danny. “It’s not necessary over there! Nobody’s gonna try and shoot him over there!”
“So he carries one when he’s over here?” asked Elwood. “Danny, do you also know that he’s a criminal? That he and his brothers regularly smuggle contraband goods from this country into the—over onto his side of the Road?”
“Yes, I know,” said Danny steadily. “He just came back from a run today. He told me all about it. He said it was mostly medicine and stuff people need to survive over there, but they can’t get because of the sanctions.”
“Well, he would say that, wouldn’t he?” asked Elwood. Danny’s mother was quietly sobbing.
“So what now, Mom?” she asked. “You and Dad gonna kick me out of the house for being sinful?”
“Don’t be stupid, child,” said Elwood irritably.
“I am very seriously considering sending you to complete your education at the church’s school in Fargo, North Dakota,” said her mother.
“You can’t do that, Mom!” screamed Danielle in horror.
“I can and I very well might do that very thing! Your father and I together, of course, if it looks to be the only way of curtailing this out-of-control behavior. I don’t care what kind of anarchy goes on in that annex of hell Over The Road, Danielle, here you are still a minor until you are twenty-four, and we can do whatever we feel is in your best interests. Fallbrook Academy has an excellent scholastic record and it might just be the best thing for you in any circumstances,” her mother told her grimly.
“How does Wendell feel about losing a milking hand?” asked Elwood. “He’s the boss now, Alice, and he is also Danny’s father, but I still have a say in what goes on around the ranch, since I was the one who made and ran it until I deeded it over to him. We’d have to hire somebody, and with that and Danny’s tuition and board at Fallbrook it would stretch our finances mighty thin. You know darned well this little girl works like a cart horse around this place. We’ve never had any complaints about that. Hell, we’ve never had any complaints at all about the child until she went off on this little treason tear of late.”
“Then what do you suggest we do about her, Father T?” asked Alice.
“Let me take a crack at her,” suggested Elwood.
“I’m standing right here, you know!” yelled Danny.
“Then stand there and shut up!” snapped the old man. “You have lost the right to speak or think or do anything around here, young lady. You clearly have no idea at all just how bad this thing you’re doing is, Danielle. I mean it, girl, this isn’t just some sixteen-year-old wild child shit!”
“Language, please, Father Tolliver!” interrupted Alice. He ignored her.
“Okay, this may be partly my fault, for not assisting in your upbringing as I should have done. Your father and your mother are too young to remember the first time, the Trouble itself. They were just barely born. True, they’re old enough so they can remember the time when the sky lit up, and the tanks rolled Across The Road, and when Boulder was full of nothing but Nazi gray and camouflage…”
“They’re not all Nazis!” protested Danny.
Elwood stood up and nailed his granddaughter to the floor with a glance from a face of pure rage and burning eyes she had never seen before. “Did I not just tell you to shut the hell up? You’re speaking of things you know not one damned thing about. I know who and what those people are. You do not. I was there. You were not. Do you read me, little girl? Now you’re going to go to bed, and tomorrow you and me are going to do the morning milking together. You will make us both breakfast, and then I am going to take you for a ride, and I am going to show you things you should never have to see and I am going to speak to you of things you should never have had to hear. Like I said, this may be down to me, because I should have spoken before this. I will make this one effort to get through to you, child, and if I cannot, if you will not or cannot understand what you have done, then you can go to hell. In fact, you most assuredly will.”
Old Elwood was driving. Earlier in the morning he and Danny had only exchanged a few words during the robot-assisted milking and their early breakfast. Now the old man began to speak. “Honey, I honest to God don’t know what to do about this. If I asked, I’m sure you’d either tell me you love this man, a great and immortal love for all the ages like no young girl ever experienced, like none of us would ever have heard that before, or else you’d say you’re grown up and it’s just plain none of my business or your parents’ business who you spend your time with. That’s not quite true, because at sixteen, yes, it is still our business, and I’m not just talking about the law. No, you’re not grown up, you’re just at that bad time in life when you think you are but you ain’t, and that’s how kids get in trouble more often than not. But I’m not asking about you and this Selkirk fellow, because I just plain don’t want to hear it. Try to understand, Danny, this isn’t about you and him, it’s about you. You can’t do this, but you don’t understand that. Somehow, I have to show you why it’s wrong, and I’m not sure I’m gonna be going about this right, but it’s all I can do. I think the Jewish people back in the last century had the right idea when they demanded that the Holocaust never be forgotten, and that children in school needed to be educated about the past, starting at a very young age.”
“We do get history class at school, Grandpa,” said Danny. “We do learn about the Trouble and about the Seven Weeks’ War, and Mr. Makepeace and Ms. Harding remember the time when Jefferson County was occupied by Northwest troops, and sometimes they tell us some of their personal experiences. Grandpa, I grew up not ten miles from the border. I know how it got there. I know what happened back then.”
Somewhat to her surprise, her grandfather didn’t get angry. “No, honey, the fact is you don’t,” he told her. “Learning dates and facts in school isn’t the same thing as actually knowing. You have to have lived through it, and I don’t mean sitting on the sidelines back east somewhere reading news websites, either. Yes, I know that sounds like the sum of a dozen clichés, but what can I tell you? It’s pretty much a given that the young never really listen to the old. That’s true of every generation of people everywhere, and it has been for thousands of years. I don’t know why your parents and me would expect it to be different for us. But somehow, in this one case, I have to change that. You’re sixteen years old, so of course you think you know it all. I knew it all myself when I was your age. Sometimes that’s even kind of cute, but this isn’t cute and it’s not a phase. You have to do a major course correction, sweetie, and you have to do it now, and all your folks and I can do is hope and pray that somehow we were able to give you enough—oh, moral infrastructure I guess you’d call it, over the past sixteen years so you’ll make the right choice. God, I hope we did, and somewhere in you, you’ve got what you need to make the right decision now.”
Abruptly, Elwood pulled off to the side of the road. “This is it,” he said. “Get out here.” They both got out of the truck. There seemed nothing unusual or significant about this empty stretch of highway; it was just around the bend from a low pine-covered hill. Along the east side of the road ran a low wash or ditch which had been excavated and maintained by decades of road crews along the lower stretches as an emergency channel during flash floods, so the waters would not suddenly surge over the roadway and strand motorists, or wash them away. “Come here,” said Elwood, beckoning to his granddaughter to follow him. He limped off the side of the road and pulled himself up a small rise, leaning heavily on his cane, and they looked down into a wide, rocky ditch, completely dry at this time of the year. There was silence except for the stir of a soft breeze and the whirring of crickets in the grass. “There. That’s the place.”
“What place, Grandpa?” asked Danny.
“A place of the kind I could show you a couple of dozen of, on both sides of the Road,” Elwood told her. “Remember, in those days Jefferson County was easily twice the size it is now, with half of it on the west side of Interstate 15, as it was called in those days. I suppose in those history classes you mentioned and maybe from listening to old coots my age talk, you’ll know that when I was your age, fifty years ago, back before the Trouble started, Jefferson County was not only bigger than it is now but there were a lot more people, people of all races, including a lot of people from Mexico and Central America. Mostly they came here as migrant laborers, and after a while some of them stayed on. We even had street signs and store signs in Spanish. Yeah, they could be irritating, not speaking English even when they knew how and trying to get the rest of us to learn Spanish, and yeah, they liked their drugs, and they lied to get on welfare, and all the rest of it. They weren’t perfect. No race of people is. But they never took anything we didn’t give them for the sake of their labor. That was the trade-off. They worked cheap, and everybody looked the other way when they stole to make up for it. But they worked hard, like white people wouldn’t do any more, and they made farming and ranching possible on a lot bigger scale. Sometimes the only way a farmer or rancher could keep his head above water was to hire Latino illegals. White women had started to have their own careers by then, or actually most of ‘em just had jobs, but we always said careers to be polite, and they pretty much stopped having babies. After a few years there just weren’t enough white people left who wanted to do the kind of hard work the Mexicans did, and so they became necessary to the economy and a normal part of everyday life.
“But there were always those who refused to accept them, who wanted to live in a past that was over and done, and who responded with bigotry and hate,” the old man went on. “That’s why the old government passed laws against hatecrime and hatespeech, and for a long time that took care of the problem and made the racist and resentful whiteboys shut the hell up and keep their evil thoughts to themselves. But then the national security agencies screwed up, and they didn’t nip that fat old bastard in Washington and his computer in the bud, like they should have done. One day people finally started listening to him, and then all of a sudden we had the goddamned Party everywhere, even here in Jefferson County, and then Coeur d’Alene went up. I was still in Iran when that happened. Well, I’m sure you learned all the names and dates and bare facts in school.”
“Yes, I did.” Danny hesitated. She had never before heard her grandfather say even this much about the old days, and she was fascinated, but she didn’t want to upset him and make him angry, because she wanted him to keep on talking. “Uh, Grandpa, you know they tell that story a little different Over The Road.”
“I’m sure they do,” replied the old man dryly. “Anyway, when I got out of the military shortly after that Coeur d’Alene mess and came home, things weren’t all that bad in Jefferson County yet, but already the sheriff’s department had a PATU going. That’s Police Anti-Terrorist Unit. I joined right away because if I did so within ninety days of my army discharge, I got to keep my full military pay as well as get a sheriff’s deputy’s salary. I lived with my folks, until they had to leave when it got too dangerous because of what I was doing, and after that I lived in the bunkhouse at the station. I saved every penny of my pay I could and that’s how I got the down payment for our land where your dad and your uncles and aunts and you kids as well were born and raised. Better yet, I got to keep my full medical benefits and health insurance, for me and my family, and in those days that was a big thing, even more important than the money. It wasn’t like today when we can go down to see Doctor King at the clinic for twenty-five New American Dollars a visit plus the cost of whatever medicine he gives you; in those days if you had a family member who got sick or hurt up bad, or you did, you could lose your house and everything you owned. Then you got sent to the government doctors who were all brown-colored Third World people who didn’t speak English and who didn’t have real medical degrees.”
“That medical insurance didn’t help your leg when you got shot, Grandpa,” said Danny, pointing to her grandfather’s knee and cane.
“No, it didn’t,” said the old man sadly. “They said they was out of money by the time I got hurt. Well, government promises never were worth much.”
“So, why did we have to come all the way out here for you to talk about this?” asked Danny, gesturing to the empty wash.
“Don’t worry, honey, I ain’t gone senile on you, I’m getting to it. Anyway, the months and the years went on and nobody ever could seem to get a grip on the goots. They were always a jump or two ahead of us. In the early part of the Trouble our PATU unit spent a lot of time down around Missoula and we even used to go up to north Idaho, doing sweeps, trying to catch that son-of-a-bitch Oglevy. We never got near him, which I suppose is a good thing, since most of those who did never came back to tell about it.
“But things were quiet here in Jefferson for the first couple of years. We knew some of the local people were involved in it. They’d been reading bad books and getting e-mails and looking at websites they shouldn’t have been for a long time. Mostly no-goods, trailer trash, thieving redneck drunks like the Selkirks, plus some of our home-grown right-wing kooks who should have known better. FEMA came in and sent some of them down to Nevada and New Mexico, and made them live in secure facilities where they could be watched and they’d stay out of trouble. That might have been a bad public relations move, because it pissed off a lot of people. But finally the Trouble itself came to Jefferson County. Right here.” Elwood pointed to the dry wash.
“What happened?” asked Danny, intrigued.
“The local farmers and ranchers who employed Hispanic people weren’t fools, and there had been enough incidents elsewhere around the Northwest for them to understand that their workers were at risk,” the old man told her. “So they started up all kinds of security procedures, fortifying the migrant worker camps with razor wire and sandbags and closed-circuit TV cameras, posting armed guards selected from among the Mex like a kind of militia, moving them from site to site in convoys or at least armored buses, that kind of thing.”
“But why not just send them home, or at least out of the danger zone?” asked Danny.
“Because we needed their labor still, and because at that time it was the proudest boast of the United States of America that we never negotiated with or gave in to terrorists,” replied the old man. “At least it was until that bubble-headed bimbo Chelsea Clinton got in,” he added bitterly. “Anyway, one day in September, it would be—yeah, be forty-three years ago next month—a big busload of Mexican migrant workers was coming down this highway, from that direction.” He pointed to the wooded hill. “They were coming from the Salter Mackintosh spread where they’d been picking late apples and maize, heading over to the Whyo Ranch where they were going to cut and bale the last of the year’s hay for Bubba Whyo’s horses. That’s what he raised, horses for Hollywood movies. There was a PATU escort, two Humvees, one in front and one in back. The one in front had an M-60, that’s a machine gun, mounted on it, and the one in back had a fifty-cal, that’s a bigger machine gun, but it wasn’t much of an escort. Just two PATU deputies in each Humvee and a fifth man on the bus. You need to understand that there’d been a few minor incidents but no actual flat-out NVA activity in Jefferson County, Montana up until that time.”
“Were you one of the deputies, Grandpa?” asked Danny.
“No, I was not, to my eternal regret,” replied Elwood with a sigh. “I knew them all, though. Especially Jerry Parsley. Known him since kindergarten. Anyway, the convoy had just come around that hill over there when an old junker car guided by a remote control device that had been sitting on the side of the road revved up and rammed into the lead Humvee. Then it must have been at least twenty NVA gunmen opened up on them. We had no idea there was a unit that size operating anywhere nearer than Missoula. Well, our intelligence in that war always was shit,” he growled.
“The goots killed all four of the PATU men in the Humvees, blew the door of the bus open with C-4, and threatened to set it on fire if the Mexicans didn’t come out. They did, and so did Jerry Parsley, the one PATU man on the bus. They cuffed Jerry and shoved him down in the dirt alongside the road, set a guard on him, then they used plastic ties to bind all the Mexicans’ hands behind their backs. There were twenty-six of them, men and women, some as old as their sixties, my age, and some as young as you, fifteen or sixteen. They marched them over here to this wash, right down along in there,” he said, pointing. “Then they made them get down on their knees, and one by one, they shot every one of those people in the head, and left them there for the buzzards.
“They murdered twenty-six people, Danielle, right here where you’re looking at, for the crime of having a dark skin and speaking a different language. The NVA called that kind of thing a Gofer, from G.O. Four, General Order Four. That’s about two sentences they put up on a web site which they used as their official excuse for murdering anybody they didn’t like, or anybody who got in their way. You know, I’ve always been amazed that when you listen to discussion shows or watch documentaries on the Plate or anything allegedly historical about all this, if you’re not careful you’d think it was only white people involved. You know those famous rebel songs their folk singer groups do with all the fiddles and guitars and banjos and flutes and whatnot, the ones you sometimes hear on the radio and netfeed from Over The Road? The ones I hear some of you ignorant kids over here on our side who don’t know any better secretly playing on your laptops and handpacks, with the buds in your ears you think us old folks can’t hear if we’re close enough? Maybe some songs you and your boyfriend have heard when you’re sampling all the fine cuisine over at that honky-tonk in Basin?”
“I’ve heard some of them, yes,” admitted Danielle cautiously.
“Those songs are lies, Danny. They don’t tell the truth, not all of it, not by a long shot, and with something like the Trouble, not to tell the whole truth is sometimes the worst lie of all. Those stupid songs with their infantile boasting are all about the white heroes and the white dead on both sides. The black and brown dead are just animals to them, so they don’t bother to remember, and to us they’re a source of shame, because an American president abandoned them and made all their death and suffering for nothing, so we don’t remember them either. I think maybe some of those old liberal assholes must have got it right. Racism really is ingrained deep into white people’s bones. Okay, come on, get back in the truck.”
As they were rolling down the road, the old man chuckled. “I can hear you thinking to yourself now, Well, that wasn’t so bad. The old fart told me an atrocity story from before I was born, which has nothing at all to do with me, and now maybe he’ll be satisfied and quit pestering me about my bonnie Nazi laddie. Am I right about that?”
“Uh, is that it?” asked Danny.
“And what did you think of my little anecdote from days of yore?” asked the old man with a tight smile.
"Grandpa, look, it’s horrible, and I know you were there and I wasn’t…”
Elwood chuckled. “But you can’t wrap your mind around it, as we used to say back in my day. Or what else was it? Oh, yeah, you can’t get your arms around it. Danny, that’s great. You shouldn’t have to deal with something like that in your mind. Racial mass murder should be something completely unimaginable to you at age sixteen, and I’m glad it is. You’ve never met a Mexican, although I hear that may change soon, and I might as well be telling you a fairy tale. Now comes the hard part. I am going to have to try and make you understand what that one horrible act and everything that proceeded from it did to this community and to every one of us who lived through it. Although maybe it won’t be the hard part. This has to do with people. People you know.”
“I know what John’s grandfather did to you, Grandpa,” said Danny quietly. “I’ve known for a long time who did it, and every day I see you limping with that cane I’m reminded of it. Johnny…” She bit her lip.
“Don’t tell me. He says he’s sorry,” replied Elwood with a harrumph.
“No. He just says he wish it never happened, but it did, and I had to decide if I could live with it.”
"Obviously you decided you can,” said Elwood in a neutral tone.
“Johnny didn’t shoot you, Grandpa. The Captain did.”
“Captain?” asked Elwood. “I heard Ray worked his way up to colonel in the Seven Weeks?”
“That was…that was his Volunteer rank,” said Danny, squirming. “He prefers that one.”
“Yeah, that’s Ray Selkirk, all right,” growled the old man. “A lot more proud of himself for shooting unarmed people in the head than fighting against people who shoot back.”
“Wars have to stop sometime, Grandpa,” she went on doggedly. “When? Where? Am I supposed to still hate the British for the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812? Am I supposed to still hate the Germans for World War Two? Am I still supposed to hate Muslims for Iraq and Afghanistan and Iran?”
“Actually, yeah, you are on those last two, but that’s another story,” replied Elwood with a sigh. “Anyway, where was I? Oh, yeah. The human side of their glorious War of Independence. You remember I mentioned Jerry Parsley, who was on that bus Ray and his boys ambushed?”
“What did they do to him?” asked Danielle anxiously.
“They left him lying by the side of the road hog-tied, smelling the burning flesh of his own men in the Humvees and hearing the shots and the screams and pleas for mercy of the dying people he was supposed to protect, a sound he never was able to get out of his mind. Ray Selkirk even gave him a little pep talk about how the NVA didn’t like killing their fellow white men and maybe he needed to wake up his ideas and get on the right side. That’s how we found him. He was cleared in the official investigation and he came back to the unit, but he warn’t no good after that. Fell apart, became a drunk, and after a couple of months he got re-assigned to desk duty at the station. Eight months after the ambush back there Jerry went home one night and stuck his own gun in his mouth and pulled the trigger.”
“You've no need to be,” said her grandfather, shaking his head. “You never knew the man and all this happened before you were born. But a lot of bad came from that day’s work. For one thing, virtually every Hispanic in the county, legal or illegal, packed their bags and ran like hell, so Ray and his crew accomplished their mission. Within a very short time this part of the world was nice and lily white again, just like they wanted it. That left most of the businesses and damned near all the farms and ranches deadly short on workers. Crops rotted in the fields, cattle never made it to market because they broke the unmended fences and wandered off into the hills. Horses out on the range ran wild or died without winter fodder. Hogs and chickens had to be slaughtered early because there was no one to feed and maintain hundreds of them at a time and so egg production went as well. The turkey farm out on Highway 91 closed down. The meat-packing plant and sausage factory in Boulder and the smelting plant in Basin closed down for lack of anybody to run the line or the casting mill. Retail businesses that had depended on their Mexican customers closed down and, so more people lost their jobs. You get the idea. Okay, maybe part of that was our fault because white people got too high and mighty to work out in the hot sun on a farm or a ranch and get their hands dirty. But it was the way it was, and for Jefferson County the Trouble was an unmitigated disaster.
“In order to save anything at all, our young people had to start coming back to help out, back from college, back from the cities, back from their jobs and careers and the lives they’d made for themselves, giving up their own American dream to make sure their parents and their friends back here didn’t lose everything. Farms and ranches and homes were foreclosed or else simply abandoned because there was nobody to work them. Almost everybody in the county had their lives changed forever because of a small handful of half-insane people who decided that they were going to re-order everything to suit themselves, that they alone were right and everybody else was wrong, that nothing mattered but their own desires, and that any other person who disagreed with them or tried to resist them was just an obstacle to be clubbed down or shot out of the way.”
“But was it such a bad thing for those people to have to come back home?” argued Danny. “From what happened to America’s cities since then, I’d say they were lucky in the long run.”
“Maybe, but it was their decision to make!” snapped Elwood. “It wasn’t up to the goddamned NVA to make it for them! Pardon my language. Your mother is right, I cuss too much, but so did everybody when I was growing up. And because we were too morally squeamish to keep on fighting for the right when the going got too tough, because we were foolish enough to elect a weak and silly woman as president just because of her family name and because her mother decided she wanted to pass on her job to her daughter, because of our own failure to stand up against evil, that evil has now taken root in three new generations of those vicious bastards, and we may never again see our country united and plain human decency in charge again!”
“Grandpa, Johnny is not evil!” cried Danny. “I’m sorry if that makes you mad, but he’s not!”
“Okay, fair enough. I’ve never met the boy, after all. He doesn’t seem to mind breaking the law, our law, but of course their great pride and boast is that they have won the right not to obey our laws by shooting a lot of tied-up people through the head and blowing a lot of other people up with Semtex. And there’s no law to break over on his side, so maybe the smuggling thing has nothing to do with money and it’s just high spirits. Or something.” Tolliver sighed. “Right. Maybe he’s not evil, Danny, maybe not in the sense I mean. Is a tiger evil when he stalks and kills and eats a human child? True, the tiger can’t change what he is, and no doubt God in His infinite wisdom has some reason for making tigers, but the fact remains that what the tiger is cannot be tolerated in any civilized society, and he has to be hunted down and killed or caged. Look, John Selkirk is a lot older than you, am I right?”
“He’s twenty,” said Danny. “And yeah, I could understand you and Mom and Dad objecting to him on those grounds, but they do things differently Across The Road. A lot of girls my age over there get married…” She suddenly fell silent.
“Gone that far has it?” asked Elwood with a weary sigh.
“He hasn’t asked me,” said Danny.
“And what will you say if he does?” asked her grandfather.
“I don’t know,” she said softly.
“Look, will you at least come to us and talk to us before you do anything?” he asked urgently. “Don’t just disappear out of your room one night and the next thing we hear you’re Over The Road and married into that…family!”
“I wouldn’t do that to you,” said Danny.
“Glad to hear it. Anyway, what I was getting at, is that your beau has done his mandatory military training over there, right?”
“Yes,” she told him.
“So he’s part of the killing machine now, no matter how un-evil you think he is. He is a soldier in what I must in all honesty admit to be the most professional, dangerous, and brutally efficient military force on the planet. They pride themselves on being a nation of soldiers, and to give the devils their due, it paid off for them twenty-eight years ago. Have you thought about what will happen if there’s another war?”
“No,” she admitted.
“You know if you go over there before you’re married and get knocked up, you’ll have to do national service in their Labor thingie? Why do you think all those girls on their side who get married at sixteen do so? They don’t feel like getting sent to work in a tuna cannery in Alaska. Not to mention the moral aspect. Would you be willing to actively support a nation that is responsible for forty years of untold bloodshed and horror?” he pressed her. “You need to think about these things, Danny. A man is known by the company he keeps, and so is a woman. And the company you will be keeping is evil, make no mistake.”
“I don’t know what you mean by that!” said Danny, on the verge of tears.
“God gives men free will because He wants us to choose good, Danny. Every one of us has to try, and heaven knows, many of us fail. But those people Across The Road don’t even try to choose the light and the good any more. They’re not only comfortable with their demons, they’ve taken them into partnership. They have systemized their inhumanity, and they have created an entire society based on a moral inversion. Forty-five years ago they were confronted with the manifest will of God, and they refused to accept it.”
“Huh?” asked Danny, confused.
“Their ideology is absolutely right about one thing, honey,” her grandfather said. “The white race really was on the verge of extinction back then, the only race on earth that was. Fifty years ago, us palefaces were only eight percent of the world’s population, and white women of child-bearing age were only about three percent. If these people hadn’t done what they did, it is entirely possible, indeed likely, that I would be one of the youngest remaining Caucasians on the planet, and that if you existed at all you would be the color of my morning coffee. The simple fact was that for whatever inscrutable reason, it was clear that God or Nature or whatever cosmic force is applicable had made the decision. White people were on their way out. But that fat old swine and his computer said no. Somehow, God knows how, he managed to get some people to listen to him. I recall reading somewhere that even he himself never understood how he did it, he just kept on hammering and hammering away, and one day it just kind of came together. Collectively this little bunch of misfits and gangsters and white trash decided that they knew better than God or destiny how the world was to proceed. Our race had a chance to die with dignity back then, and perhaps those who inherited the earth might eventually have remembered us gratefully and even a little fondly for all the good things Western civilization left them. But those sons of bitches like Ray Selkirk weren’t having any. They refused to lose with gentlemanly good grace. They chose to shed blood rather than lose. And once white men started shedding blood again, they discovered that we’re quite good at it. Too damn good at it, in fact. The rest, as they say, is history. I’m sorry, kiddo,” he sighed in conclusion. “I shouldn’t have ranted on and on like that. I don’t talk about these things much.”
“That’s okay, Grandpa. But are you saying you think the white race really should have died out back then?” asked Danny, puzzled.
Elwood answered slowly. “Danny, have you ever seen any horror movies about the Donner Party, or that soccer team crashed in the Andes long ago, or people in a lifeboat out at sea, when the choice has to be made either to become a cannibal and eat one’s fellow sufferers, or to die oneself? It’s a horrible moral dilemma for a person, but it is the one the entire white race of people faced back in the early part of this century. How far does sheer survival justify a person, or a group of people, committing terrible acts that are not only a crime but a sin? This is where the abyss opens up between people like me and Ray Selkirk, the head of the family that you are at least partly considering joining, The abyss between everything we have tried to teach you to be, and the terrible nation of hate-filled killers you are considering becoming part of. Ray Selkirk wanted his children, if any, to look like him, and for that reason he chose to shoot twenty-six helpless people through the head. That decision is not morally admissible, for any reason. It can’t be allowed.”
“Then what is the right choice if you’re stuck in a lifeboat and there’s no more food?” asked Danny. “Let the others eat you?”
“Yes,” said Elwood quietly. “If you truly wish to prove for all time that you are morally superior, you voluntarily surrender your own life rather than take that of someone else. There aren’t very many white people left in the United States, Danny, and at some point all those colored people will probably break out of the cities and overrun the countryside and devour us, maybe quite literally. But I at least shall not die a monster. Ray Selkirk will.”