Saturday, April 06, 2013

From The Hill of the Ravens

[Seems to me I haven't run anything on here for a while from my first Northwest novel, The Hill of the Ravens. Call this a ten-year anniversary promotion.  Bear in mind this was the first book before the NVA mythos was fully developed, and so it has some rough edges and inconsistencies with the later volumes in the series.- HAC] 

* * *

At a little past eight o’clock, Don and Sarah arrived at the downtown Olympia Hilton for the annual social of the Old NVA Association. The Redmonds always made it a point to show up for the annual reunions. They were a renowned couple since between them both, they were the youngest veterans who were entitled to wear the War of Independence ribbon. As they walked in, almost as if by arrangement, the loudspeakers struck up Sir William Walton’s Crown Imperial March. The walls were festooned with Tricolor flags and long green, white and blue ribbons. Over the great banquet room, crowded with people and Labor Service waiters, heavy with the smell of good food and tobacco smoke, hung a heavy silk banner of blue, lettered in white. It was the one that the Western Washington chapter of the Old NVA Association hung out at every one of their social and political functions. On the banner was emblazoned the immortal passage from William Shakespeare’s Henry the Fifth:

This day is call’d the feast of Crispian.
He that outlives this day and comes safe home
Will stand a-tip-toe when this day is named
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall live this day and see old age,
Will yearly on this day feast his neighbours,
And say, Tomorrow is St. Crispian.
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars,
And say, These wounds I had on Crispin’s day.
Old men forget: yet all shall be forgot,
But he’ll remember with advantages
What feats he did that day, Then shall our names.
Familiar in his mouth as household words,
Harry the King, Bedford and Exeter,
Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester,
Be in their flowing cups freshly remember’d.
This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remember’d;
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother. Be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition.
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day!

There was a scattering of applause as the Redmonds entered the room and were recognized. “Hey, Don!” came the chorus of greetings from a dozen people at the bar. “Hey Sarah! Lookin’ good, Sarah! How’s the Carolina Kid?”

“Getting old, boys,” replied Don merrily. “Almost as old as some of you relics! This time next year we’ll all have creaking joints!”

“Hey, you young whippersnapper, I might remind you that this particular old relic done out-shot your ass by thirty points on the police range last August!” yelled the retired head of the Republic’s steel production corporation, who was also the head of the NAR’s state rifle team. Without asking he thrust a huge stone tankard of Bavarian pattern into Don’s hand, brimming with frothing ale from the Red Hook brewery. Lemuel Harris had been born in Alabama. He had come to the Northwest as a fugitive from American justice for the crime of defending his life on a dark night in Mobile against a crazed drug addict. His sentence had been seven years state time for the killing itself and thirty years Federal without parole for the racist crime of being a man with a white skin who raised his hand against a man with a black skin. Harris broke out of a prison bus and walked three thousand miles, mostly at night, until he reached the Homeland, eating out of dumpsters and killing four police officers along the way who tried to apprehend him. Some years before the business correspondent of the Times of London had interviewed him and asked him about that trek. Harris replied, “I killed when I had to, but I never stole a single dime or so much as a mouthful of food from anyone along the way.”

“Might another of us superannuated old relics impose on your lovely lady for the first dance after dinner?” asked another elderly gentleman, with a courtly bow towards Sarah. The left sleeve of his flawless black evening dress suit was empty, pinned back against his side. By old custom for these functions he had left his perfectly functioning prosthetic limb at home this evening, for tonight the wounds of the past were acknowledged and displayed for the world to see. Zack McAllister’s arm had been blown off during the Kennewick Flying Column’s attack on the fortified FATPO barracks in Yakima, when he had picked up a grenade and tried to throw it back at the Federals. It exploded in his hand. A nineteen year-old student paramedic had amputated and cauterized the bleeding stump, without anesthetic, in the back of a van while the FATPO patrols swarmed outside. A single outcry would have given away their position. The wounded man had never uttered a sound. The paramedic was now the mayor of Coos Bay, Oregon and was no doubt attending his own NVA reunion this evening.

“You’re going to have to fight Charlie Randall for her, Zack. You realize, of course, that this is what you get for being the youngest woman in the room,” chuckled Don to Sarah. “As well as the most beautiful.” He leaned over and kissed his wife quickly and affectionately. Someone overheard him.

“Hey, now, Sarah’s a looker, that I’ll grant you, but she’s got some competition! Reckon I can still kick up my heels a bit with some of these young studs!” cackled Cassie Kowalski, a lean and weatherbeaten old crone in a chic blue velvet brocade evening gown. Her once red hair was now dyed blue, a cigarette dangled from her lips, and her liver-spotted knuckles as they curled around the tumbler of straight whiskey were swollen with arthritis. It was hard to believe that in the time of struggle she had been a statuesque hooker so stunning that her code name had been “Lorelei”, and that her beauty had lured over a dozen Federal bureaucrats, politicians, and senior media executives to their deaths. She once took out a United States Senator herself, with an icepick through his left ear.

Over three hundred elderly men thronged the room, along with a few matronly and gray-haired women and a small army of younger relatives. Across the banquet hall Don saw a dignified old couple in evening dress, Ed and Brittany McCanless, two survivors of the Olympic Flying Column that he would have to interview. He raised his stein to them in greeting. Before he could go over and speak to them he was intercepted. “Hi, Don, Sarah! Have you met my eldest grandson Jeff?” said an old woman whom Don vaguely knew but whose name for the moment escaped him. She glowed with the pride of a long lifetime as she introduced a bashful young giant in full SS dress black, the Swastika armband gleaming crimson white and black on his left bicep. “He just graduated from Sandpoint in June and he’s already gotten his first lieutenant’s bars!” the old woman crowed. “Jeff, this is Colonel Donald Redmond from BOSS. Redmond, got it? As in Matt Redmond?”

“It’s an honor to meet you, sir!” shouted the young soldier, bracing to stiff attention, in an obvious agony of social discomfort at meeting the most legendary name in the Republic after the Old Man himself.

“Hey, at ease tonight, troop!” laughed Redmond, slapping him on the shoulder. “These gigs are completely informal and eclectic, I promise you. Now go get drunk like we all came here for. That’s an order!”

“Yes sir! I will get drunk, sir! Thank you sir!” shouted the young SS man.

“And make sure your grandmother gets drunk as well,” Redmond admonished him. “I want her completely pistus newtus before the night is over.”

“Yes sir!”

Here was a retired dentist who had printed over fifty million dollars in counterfeit U. S. currency and four million in postage stamps on an underground printing press in his basement. There was a senior official of the Northwest Reserve Bank who had once huddled in the bottom of a porta-potty for eight hours, and then given a United States Marine Corps general a .44-caliber enema. He was talking to an assistant Minister of Finance and also to Cindy’s ultimate boss, the head of the Republic’s Labor Service. The assistant Minister of Finance had begun his fiscal career when he led an NVA team that kidnapped the daughter of Seattle’s chief rabbi and successfully collected a two million dollar ransom, afterwards returning her unharmed and unviolated, as he had given his word would be done if the ransom was paid. He had shot one of his own men in the kneecap who had attempted to kill the Jewish girl anyway after the ransom was paid. The Volunteer whom the assistant Minister had shot had become an SS officer who later died a hero at Chilliwack while earning his third Iron Cross. They had never been reconciled, and that was the assistant Minister’s deepest regret in life, a failure that haunted him through sleepless nights.

Cindy’s boss, the Minister of Labor, had been brought into an FBI interrogation center with three bullets in his body, and with his wounds yet bleeding he had still managed to strangle his first interrogator with his bare hands. Over there in another corner was a Luftwaffe general who presently commanded a space shuttle. In the battle of Portland he had been a pilot who made over fifty low-level bombing runs dropping home-made explosives onto the Federal positions from whatever small aircraft he could get to fly, in several cases microlights of canvas and aluminum tubing, and in another a ancient Boeing 737 he and his crew converted to a bomber. Each time he had returned to his airstrip, his plane shredded with bullets. He had once landed a stolen helicopter in the main yard at the Florence Federal Prison in Colorado to extract five NVA prisoners.

At the far end of the hall sat an elderly automobile mechanic, eating from a plate of fried chicken and potato salad and guzzling from a tall tumbler. Kenneth McGrath had long ago blocked out the memory of the horror, the years in prison, the beatings and electric shock to his genitals. All he knew was that this was an occasion once a year when he got free food and top-notch hootch. Ken had never been a Party member and he was never into all that political shit. He never understood why these people had given him an Iron Cross for that one particular incident. Old Kenny wore it on these nights because he figured it was kind of expected of him, in exchange for the food and the booze, but privately he thought it was a bit silly. He wasn’t even German. Some white people were in trouble with some niggers and he had helped them. Seemed like the thing to do at the time. So what? The whole episode was exaggerated. Everybody knew that niggers were never anywhere near as tough as they were cracked up to be, and they’d run like scalded dogs from any white man who stood up them. Even niggers with badges. Whoop-de-doo. And the shooting bit was highly exaggerated as well. His dad had made better shots hunting buck and moose lots of times. Wasn’t like he’d done anything special. Hey, if these people wanted to give him free food and liquor every year because of some stupid shit that happened when he was twenty-three years old, who was he to argue? Politics weren’t important to Ken McGrath. Alcohol-burning V-8 engines and methane turbine generators were important. Start up a good engine and you saw God’s plan for the universe.

At one table sat a fifth-generation Washington farmer who every year grew acres of wheat and sorghum over the graves of six FBI agents he and his team had killed in a night ambush and buried on his ancestral land. At another sat a man who made cuckoo clocks in his garage, their cunning and accurate mechanisms based on the bomb timing devices he had made in his youth. There was a woman with sixteen grandchildren knocking back Singapore Slings, who had been a young police despatcher in Seattle and kept the NVA apprised of every move the cops made. Beside her was her husband, whose lumpy fingers were missing their fingernails. The nails had been torn out and the cuticles soldered in an FBI torture chamber when he refused to inform on his wife. Down the bar was little old Eddie Cartrett, a nonentity who now held the official position of town drunk in Shelton, Washington. Oddly enough, Eddie was almost the only one drinking ginger ale. On this one night of all nights, he stayed sober and served as designated driver for a busload of his former comrades in arms. It was a tradition within his unit, one he honored as an almost religious obligation. He had also stayed sober, admittedly with some effort, on the long ago night when he drove a rental truck full of explosives up to the front gate of the Federal Detention Facility in Auburn and detonated it. Eddie made it away, although just barely. Over two hundred NVA prisoners had also made it out of the concentration camp, and the sudden return infusion of so many hardened guerrillas had given the embattled NVA a new lease on life.

The evening’s big attraction was a display along one of the walls of the banquet room, a series of big blown-up U. S. government posters from the revolution, of the kind that had once adorned every wall and hoarding in the Northwest states. “WANTED BY THE DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY FOR ACTS OF DOMESTIC TERRORISM!” shrieked the posters. Rewards Up To One Million Dollars For The Apprehension Of These Individuals!” Below the heavy black type on each placard were rows of sixteen or twenty photographs of NVA men and women, mostly old mug shots, but a few fuzzy FBI surveillance photos as well. Little groups of guests were gathered before the posters, chuckling and pointing out old friends and comrades to their companions, in some cases pointing out their own mug shots. “You looked like Frankenstein with that shaven head!” one elderly woman chided her husband merrily.

“I was a monster, all right,” returned the man quietly. “You wouldn’t have wanted to know me in those days, Liz. Trust me. You wouldn’t have.”

“There you go, that’s Jerry Wallace!” said another old man, pointing to a picture. “He always used to call himself the original Jerry Reb. Died last year, brain tumor. That’s Willis McCoy. He’s retired and living down in Astoria now. He said he’d try to make it tonight if he could get his daughter to drive him up here. Hope they come. Willis is a boring old fart, but that daughter of his is still mighty easy on the eyeballs for a gal of fifty. That’s Lee Donner. He was killed in the street fighting when we moved into Tacoma, during the assault on the Federal building. I was there.”

“That’s Brigadier Jimmy Wilson,” said another codger, lean and unshaven, the first drunk of the evening, his suit hanging on him like a scarecrow’s rags. “Hot damn, I remember Jimmy! I was in his brigade for a while before me and Charlie Randall shot that TV fag from Channel Five. Jimmy sent us on that one personal. The fag had been talking some real shit on the air but not no more after me and Charlie looked him up. Charlie had a forty-five Peacemaker and that bugger boy’s fucking head busted open like a watermelon! Candyass fudge-packer son of a bitch! Charlie stuck it right in his mouth and said ‘Suck on this, faggot!’ then pop goes the weasel! Charlie and me had to go on the run and the Party sent me over to Number Two Boise on an E & E. Thass escape and evasion.”

“Yeah, like none of us remember what E & E was, Kev?” muttered another surly old man who was listening, his accent still of the Mississippi delta after all these years.

“Jimmy won the first Iron Cross the Republic ever issued,” old Kev rambled on, oblivious. “Brought down two Apaches outside Wenatchee, with nothing but a bolt-action rifle. It was a post-humorous award. Fattie murdered him in prison the very day before we took it over. He used to fart a lot. Kept eating them damned refried burritos. I useta ask him, ‘Jimmy, what kind of white man eats Messican food?’ and he just useta say ‘Messican shit, I just like burritos, so does that make me some kind of goddamned race traitor?’ They kilt him in prison. The very day before we came in. Fattie motherfucker bastards. I found Jimmy in his cell in the Pullman camp, where they’d left him after they ran away. They shot him about twenny times, shot him in the balls, a couple in the gut so they could watch him die slow, fuck Longview, Longview said they wasn’t supposed to murder our people no more, but they did it anyway…goddamned fucking American motherfucking American bastards. We should’ve kept on fighting! Kept on until we conquered Washington DC and Jew York and killed them all! We should have tuck all our country back, tuck all Amurrica back, it was all of it ours, our people made Amurrica, we shoulda took it all back when we had the chance…” The old man began to weep. A young man with him, possibly a grandson, led him away.

Like all nations, the Republic had developed its own ruling élite, for such is the nature of human society. But on this one night all were comrades once again, for every man and more than a few of the elderly and middle-aged women wore the green, white and blue ribbon on their lapel. That experience gentled their conditions indeed. All of them had been there on St. Crispin’s Day. On many St. Crispin’s days during the War of Independence, when the impossible had suddenly become not only possible, but inevitable. The time when white men and women rose up in arms against the Beast, the Federal government of the United States, fought it, and defeated it. These were the aging, fading ghosts of that incredible time, the ones who had done what no one had ever believed could be done. The time to which Don Redmond was now compelled by duty to return.

Don stopped before one of the wanted posters. “Look, there’s John Corbett!” he said, pointing out the old police mug shot of Sarah’s father to her, possibly even the one taken after he had been arrested for pulverizing her second grade sex education teacher. In the photo Morgan’s mighty beard was black as the Harlan County coal instead of its present patriarchal white. The powerful burning blue eyes sizzled out of the photo, searing the soul of the viewer. Then as now, one could imagine him as a Biblical prophet on a hilltop calling down divine retribution on a sinful nation, which in a sense he had indeed done. “That was back in his Million Dollar Man days.” Morgan had been the second NVA commander to reach the coveted million-dollar reward status. Commandant Tom Murdock had been the first.

“I remember him like that,” said Sarah softly, gripping her husband’s arm.

“So do I,” whispered back Don. “That was how I first saw him.”

“Yes,” said Sarah. “I can see him like that in my mind’s eye, like it was yesterday. That is how he will always be in my heart, in my mind. Never an old man, but John Corbett By God Morgan! Even as a child I could see that his very name struck terror into all of the people around me, at least the others, those who were not of the Party. And so it should have done. Tall and overwhelming, unbelievably strong and powerful, the muscles of his chest and his arms nearly splitting his t-shirt. That was Dad. The Green Man of the Wood, the God personified, just as my mother was the Goddess. There was hate and love in him that awed me, little girl though I was, because I sensed that it was something magical, something primal. Love for me and my mother, and terrible hate against those who would hurt us. When I was little I was always so afraid for my father when he was out in the mountains, knowing that the whole world was trying to destroy him, to take him from me. But somehow I always felt he was there with me, watching over me. I feel it still. Now he watches over us all.”

There was another face on one of the posters, a thickset red-haired man with a flat face and cold green eyes like ice. Everyone saw the mug shot on the poster. No one commented on it, but it gave Don pause. “Hmmm,” said Don, casting a careful eye over the gathering.

“What?” asked Sarah.

“I don’t see any North Idaho Rangers here,” said Don. “There are at least five I know of, here in town and in Tacoma, who have just as much right to be here as the rest of us. Then there’s Admiral David Leach. He’s not here either. I wonder if Oglevy’s people are having their own reunion? As usual?”

“They’re probably in a trailer park wherever the local meth lab is,” said Sarah dryly. “I know it’s legal now for the few who still feel the need, but I hear that little subculture of the Republic’s population still likes the traditional home brew.”

“Now, now, Snoops, racial unity and all that,” chided Don.

“I’m sorry, Don, but those guys scared me back then and they scare me even today,” admitted Sarah. “I know more than most that the Aryan race is capable of the most extreme violence of all the many human species, however we seemed to lose the knack for a few generations back. But when it gets real and up close I still freeze. I’m always afraid that Eva will bring home some boy whose father or grandfather rode with Oglevy. She’d be attracted to that kind. The strength and power, the rage and violence that so fascinates women.”

“Oglevy mostly recruited from the native Northwesters. That was one of the reasons he was so valuable to the revolution. We called them woodchucks. Back in the South they used to be called buckra men,” said Don soberly. “The lean, mean poor whites who rode the slave patrols at night and kept racial order. Nowadays those who were born here call themselves woodchucks with pride, Cindy did tonight, but it used to be a derogatory and contemptuous term, I’m sorry to say. Oglevy redeemed that term. He was born in this land and he brought to his side those who were born here, and that was why he was so useful to us and so terrifying to ZOG. They scared ZOG then, and their descendants scare ZOG even today,” said Don soberly. “I wish we didn’t still need men like that, Snoops. Maybe one day we won’t. But until the world changes and accepts the right of our people and our nation to be here on this earth, there will always be work for the guys and the gals with the tattoos who come out of those trailer parks.”

“These who are with us here tonight are the best from that time,” said Sarah.

“Oh, jeez, Snoops, I don’t want to mess it up for them!” whispered Don dismally to Sarah. “Suppose I find out that the Olympic Flying Column legend isn’t true?”

“Don, do you remember one of the Old Man’s axioms that they teach our kids in school?” replied Sarah. “The one about truth being an absolute value? That what is true must always, in the long run, be good? And what is not true can never in the end be good?”

“I remember,” said Don. “Snoops, one day many years from now, you and I will come to one of these gigs and we will be the only ones here. We were the youngest. That means that we may well be the last to depart. The last to enter the Hall of Valhalla. How will we bear it?”

“We will bear it because that is the Destiny that the gods have given us,” said his wife. “Don, tomorrow you will do your duty to this country and this people, as you have done all your life. Tonight, don’t worry about it.” Don felt a tap on his shoulder.

“G’day, mate!” said Charlie Randall, grinning and shaking Don’s hand. Randall was a tall and weatherbeaten looking man of sixty-something. Even on a cool Northwest autumn night he still affected an Australian safari suit.

“Hey there, Charlie. Snoops, I need to natter with Charlie a bit,” said Don. “Can I trust you with this horde of ancient satyrs? Just dancing? I’m not going to come back out here and catch you in flagrante delicto, now? You know the Republic’s law gives me the right to plug you both if I do?”

“Hey, you won’t have to,” laughed Sarah. “If I even offered and flashed them a bit of this alabaster bosom they’d drop dead of a heart attack!”

“I’ll make a note of that, Sarah, in case we ever needs to whack one of these geezers for reasons of state,” replied Charlie with a grin. “Quiet, clean, and untraceable.” 

After some preliminary socializing Randall and Don Redmond got together in a closed-off private room next to the main reception area. Outside increasingly drunken old vets of the NVA were whooping it up. The band called themselves The Domestic Terrorists, and they specialized in Northwest rebel songs, the ones based on old bluegrass and Appalachian ballads and also on Irish songs from the Provo period and earlier. There were six musicians with various combos of banjo, guitar, fiddle, slap bass, bass mandola and tin whistle. Their audience’s enthusiasm was fueled by copious quantities of Red Hook, Henry Weinhard ale, and the Olympic Club’s famous microbrew, along with generous shots of Old Log Cabin bourbon. The air was blue with tobacco both smuggled and domestic product of the hydroponic gardens of the state monopoly. “So what can I help you with, Don?” asked Randall.

“Just want to pick your brains on some ancient history, Charlie,” Don told him.

“How ancient? Want me to tell you the old abo legends about Ayers Rock?”

“No, a little bit more recent. You were a hunter for a long time, weren’t you?”

“Almost ten years after the revolution, before they kicked me arse upstairs to this bloody desk job.” Redmond’s question was rhetorical. He knew that Randall had successfully carried out assignments as far afield as the United Kingdom and his native Down Under. Randall was chief operations officer for the War Prevention Bureau and the man largely responsible for ensuring that hostile elements within the United States and United Nations power structure never succeeded in building up the necessary critical mass in military capability, political will, or propaganda frenzy to launch a bona fide war of extermination against the Northwest Republic. The main tool for accomplishing this objective of state was the use of carefully targeted, surgical assassinations. Intelligence agents, psychological profilers, and political scientists identified those relatively minor personalities within the United States who might not make trouble now, but were likely to develop the capacity to be dangerous to the Republic in five or ten years.

The hunters removed those people on the sound principle that baby rattlesnakes tend to grow into large and venomous rattlesnakes. Politicians, community leaders, media people, Hollywood entertainment gurus, religious leaders, government officials in minor posts, writers and intelligentsia, the entire necessary propaganda and logistic infrastructure for launching a serious assault against the existence of the Northwest Republic was constantly being cut off at the knees. The result was that despite repeated efforts on the part of the world establishment to work their way up to a serious attempt on the Republic’s life, it all somehow never seemed to gel. The WPB also had a special unit responsible for tracking down and punishing informers and traitors from the old days. That unit had shrunk over the years as virtually all such targets had been liquidated, but there were still a few accounts remaining to be settled. It was national policy to hunt them down with the same zeal with which ZOG had pursued veterans of the Third Reich well into their nineties. It was a vitally important message to send to the rest of the world: betray the white race or conspire to harm the Northwest American Republic and you spend the rest of your life looking over your shoulder, a life that was very likely to be short. “‘Strewth, best time o’ me life, that was,” reminisced Randall. “Over fifty kills with me own hands and I was in on hundreds more, one way or another. Everything from NVA traitors and informers to up and coming young blokes in suits we figured was going the wrong places. We drink to absent friends tonight. Well, there are some of our so-called friends from them days that bloody well deserve to be absent, and I made sure of it. Why, what’s up?”

“I’m interested in one of our absent comrades in arms in particular,” said Don. “Ever chase Trudy Greiner?”

“That she-devil traitor who sold out Tom Murdock and the Olympic Flying Column for a million bucks? For a while, yeah.” Randall scowled. “She spent a long time at the top of our hit parade, believe you me, but she turned out to be the one who got away, damn her eyes! What about her?”

“I’ve caught a really odd one, Charlie, one that goes back to the Olympic Flying Column days, if you can believe that,” Redmond told him. “I’ll fill you in, but first, you were on the team that did in Monkey Meat Coleman, right?”

“I was. Former FATPO Major Coleman was the only blackfella who ever rated a special hunt of his own. We brought the whole carcass back and stuffed it. ‘E’s down in storage in our basement up in Lacey. One of these days we’ll figure out some special propaganda event and trot ‘im out on display. Wot about ‘im? I don’t mind talkin’ about that one to you, Don, never was one for all this inter-departmental territorial crap, just so long as you bear in mind it’s still under the Official Secrets Act and keep all shtum.”

“Corby Morgan himself laid this job on me, so it’s all good. Charlie, before you killed him, did Coleman ever give you any idea what went down with the Olympic Flying Column? Who the informer might have been?”

“We know who the informer was,” said Randall in surprise. “Trudy bloody Greiner! But in point of fact, yes, we were instructed to ‘ave a quiet word of prayer with Monkey Meat on that subject before we sent ‘im on ‘is way. Just to dot the i’s and cross the t’s.”

“And?” prompted Redmond.

Randall looked embarrassed. “Never got the chance. Work accident.”

“Beg pardon?”

“We caught up with Monkey Meat in Detroit. ‘E was a so-called promoter after he got out of Fattie, ran a couple of nigger boxers and rappers, that kind o’ crap. What ‘e really was, was a dope dealer and pimp who moved drugs and girls through a couple of night clubs. Do you want the whole thing play by play?”

“No, I’m only interested in the Ravenhill business,” said Don.

“Good, makes a long story a lot shorter. Coleman knew we were after ‘im and ‘e took precautions. We had to set a honey trap for ‘im, used one of our female hunters to lure ‘im away from ‘is entourage. It’s somebody you may know. She’s married now with kids and I don’t see any need to remind ‘er of that part of ‘er life unless it’s necessary.”

“It’s not necessary,” said Don, shaking his head.

Randall continued. “Well, we got Monkey Meat into the trunk of ‘is own pimpmobile Cadillac all nice and trussed up, gagged with a towel, and we drove ‘im off to a nice quiet spot for our little Come To Jesus session. We got where we was going, popped open the trunk, and the monkoid’s already dead. ‘E knew right well what was coming and ‘e was so terrified ‘e puked, but ‘e couldn’t because of the gag, and ‘e ended up choking to death on ‘is own vomit. We were definitely going to ask ‘im about Trudy Greiner. We hoped against hope that ‘e might have some idea where she was and ‘e’d try and trade that information for ‘is own worthless life, but it never ‘ad a chance to play out.”

“In your professional opinion why, exactly, were we never able to catch up with that little lady?” asked Redmond over the babble of the crowded barroom next door. “You guys are damned good, and that’s a fact. You’re right, she is our official One That Got Away, and I’m curious as to why. In view of what she did, surely you pulled out all the stops?”

“Too bloody well right we did,” replied Randall with a scowl and a muttered curse. “That bitch is slippery as a bloody eel. It became a kind of point of honor with us that one day we’d catch up with Trude, but we never did. Back when I was first with the Bureau I once spent two months in the living ‘ell of a Houston summer trying to find ‘er, just before that worse bitch Chelsea finally handed the city over to Aztlan. I finally thought I had ‘er, and we moved in for the kill, but something tipped ‘er off. We missed ‘er by about thirty bloody minutes. Signs of hurried packing and ‘er bloody supper was still warm on the table. God alone knows what spooked ‘er. I still get angry thinking about that. For years she managed to evade us. Then about ten years ago we were told to stop looking.”

“What?” asked Redmond in astonishment. “Who the hell ordered you to stop looking?”  

“I made it a point to find out,” said Randall evenly. “It was the Old Man himself.”

“You’re joking!” gasped Redmond.

“Does me ruggedly ‘andsome Antipodean countenance betray the slightest sign of jocularity, my son? No, we were pulled off the Trudy hunt by the then State President Patrick Brennan. I was able to learn that this was done at the personal request of the Old Man.”

“Did he ever give any reason?” asked Redmond. “Brennan, I mean?”

“Not that I was ever able to get out of him, and believe me, I asked. Unfortunately, he’s dead now and he can’t speak, and I was never offered the opportunity to speak with the Old Man. He was pretty much sequestered even a decade ago, officially to protect his privacy during his golden years and all that wallaby poop, but unofficially to keep him from doing anything in public that might prove embarrassing. From what I gather, he’s pretty much senile now. The Party used to trot him out on formal occasions like a kind of stuffed dummy, but not for a long time now. I think they’re worried he’s so far gone he’ll drop his trousers and wave his John Thomas at the audience. Even if you could get to him and ask him, he may not even remember what he did or why the hell he did it.”

“I’m not surprised. The old codger is a hundred and what now?” asked Redmond.

“He was born in 1953. You do the math,” said Randall.

“1953!” whispered Don in awe. “Holy Jesus! Is such a thing possible? Look, I know we have the best health service in the world and that we have made medical discoveries that have put us decades ahead of everyone else. Hell, cancer cures in our hospitals are one of our main foreign currency earners. When little Brandon or Jennifer has leukemia, all of a sudden us evil Nazis ain’t quite so evil. But still it seems astounding to me that someone could live that long. Ye gods, think of what memories that man must have!”

“Most of those memories are probably a curse to him now. The world he knew is gone forever, for better or for ill. That isn’t something that should happen to anyone. No man should live too long past his time. I don’t envy him. You always were obsessed with the past,” said Randall with a laugh. “You should have been a history teacher, not a cop.”

“Those who refuse to learn from the past are doomed to repeat it,” replied Redmond.

“Yeah, so they tell me. Anyway, if you by chance to get an opportunity to talk to the Old Man, for Christ’s sake or Odin’s, please ask him why he gave that order! I really would love to know,” said Randall.

Behind them arose shouts from the elderly audience, demanding, insistent. “Rebel song! Rebel song!” the old codgers yelled.

“Are yez all drunk enough?” yelled the bandleader into the mike in the ballroom outside. There was a chorus in the affirmative. “Then I guess it’s time for a rebel song!” The cheers resounded as the banjos and guitars struck up an old favorite.

“It was on a January eve, 
As the sun was going down,
When a truckload full of Volunteers 
Approached a Northwest town.
The stars were bright, and the cold of night, 
It chilled them to the bone.
And their leader was a Texas man: 
Jack Smith from San Antone!”

“Let me ask you something, Charlie,” said Redmond. “That time in Houston when you thought you had Trudy Greiner? Where was she living? What kind of a place?”

“Ratty little bungalow in Baytown, it was,” replied Randall. “She was working as a cashier in a Mighty Mart. We found ‘er by hacking into the Federal ID card database and doing a holographic comparison on ‘er facial features. She’d dyed ‘er hair and had some kind of plastic surgery, but we still made a twelve-point match on a Rosa Lee Johnson in Houston and took it from there. Why?”

“I guess she wasn’t able to hold onto the million dollars she was paid for her ratting out the Olympic Flying Column, then.”

“Hey, when you gotta keep on moving from place to place one step ahead of the Hunters, a million bucks can disappear pretty quick,” said Randall.

“Maybe,” replied Don. “Or maybe she never had the money to begin with. Seems kind of odd, is all. I’m trained to look for odd things. How could a woman with a million bucks in her poke end up working as a cashier in a Mega-Mart? I sense a certain incongruity there.”

“Maybe she gambled it all away in some Indian casino. Look, Don, why the questions? Do you know something?” asked Randall keenly. “Has BOSS finally got a line on the Greiner woman that I haven’t heard about?”

“In a way, yeah. I’ve been handed a pretty weird assignment, Charlie. How’s your own Official Secrets Act these days?”

“Got it off by heart,” said Randall.

“Trudy Greiner’s coming out of hiding. Or so she tells us. Going to walk right across the border into our arms. On October 22nd, to add insult to injury. She says she’s innocent.”

Randall whistled. “'Strewth! You don’t say?”

“I just did say. Or rather she says. We got a letter from her with a bloody thumbprint to authenticate it. She says she’s Coming Home and she wants a trial. A public trial to clear her name. She denies that she betrayed the Olympic Flying Column. If she’s right we are going to have to re-write a lot of our history textbooks, and those new editions will be heavily stained with the egg dripping from our faces.”

“She claims she’s innocent?” demanded Randall, indignant and dumbfounded. “The bloody cheek of ‘er! That’s impossible! We know she did a flit with a million dollary-doos the day after Ravenhill. So what is she going to say about that? Tell us her Aunt Millie died and she inherited all that lolly and decided to take a vacation right the morning after her entire unit is slaughtered? You can’t…do you think she’s innocent?”

“I am investigating the possibility that she may be just that,” said Redmond. “I’m also supposed to be dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s, in a manner of speaking, but I’m already finding some oddities. As to the facts of the matter, I always start with an open mind. Who knows? She may yet get her trial, courtesy of the information I dig up. I may yet prove that she’s guilty as sin. But the can of worms has been opened, Charlie, and when one does that the worms crawl out and things get kind of squishy.”

From the ballroom the words of the rebel song came loud and clear, the audience singing along lustily:

“In the dark they moved along the street, 
Up to the jailhouse door,
They scorned the danger they would face, 
What fate might lay in store.
They were fighting for their people’s right 
To make themselves a Home,
And the foremost of that gallant band 
Was Smith from San Antone!”

“You know, John Corbett told me once that he knew Jack Smith,” remarked Redmond.

“Yeah?” asked Randall, interested. “Never met him meself. I never got out Montana way back in them days.”

“Yeah,”continued Redmond. “John C. said that for all his faults, Jack Smith was the best man with a gun he ever knew. He told me Smith had two outstanding features. The man was as brave as a lion and he thought maybe ten minutes ahead, on a good day. He played it all by ear, and he had the devil’s own luck for a long time. Smith was a boozer. Gunpowder and alcohol don’t mix, but for a long time his luck held. During the first couple of years Jack Smith was personally responsible for just about all the Federal body count in Montana. He had a very simple philosophy in life: kill the enemies of the white race. He got by on sheer raw guts, shot it out with a team of six FBI agents in Kalispell and killed every one of them. The Party made the not uncommon mistake of confusing personal courage with leadership, and so they made him a Commandant. Wrong move, but in those days brave white men were in short supply. Then his luck ran out. That particular operation they’re singing about in there wasn’t betrayed, at least not in the dramatic sense. Smith simply didn’t have enough sense or discipline to tell his kids not to go into combat drunk or to put their guns away and not fire into passing houses as they went into town. Some palefaced stukach called the cops on them when he saw four or five vehicles of armed men rolling by hollering rebel yells and shooting out mailboxes.”

“Well, at least it’s a great song,” pointed out Randall.

“Yeah, he gave us that,” agreed Redmond. “And was it worth it, I wonder? Two dead white men and a dozen more in prison for a great song?”

“You know damned well it was,” replied Randall. “That great song and a hundred more like it helped to make this country, Don. There are times when a man must give his life for a song. Quite literally. The Irish learned that over many centuries and we were able to learn it faster than that, thanks to the Old Man. It was his idea to cannibalize and re-write all those old Irish rebel songs. Now they are a part of our heritage.”

“But their daring plan had been betrayed. 
The FATPOs lay in wait,
And a hundred guns poured down that street 
A hail of death and hate!
And when the shots had died away, 
Two men lay as cold as stone.
There was one kid from Wisconsin, 
And one from San Antone!”

“You used to be pretty good with a gun yourself during the revolt,” said Don.

“Yep, that was when I got my start at hunting. Acquired a taste for it,” chuckled the old assassin. “Nothing like a dead Jew lying on the floor with ‘is brains oozing out to give you that solid feeling that you’re accomplishing something in life. Makes it all seem worthwhile, know wot I mean?”

“Didn’t they call you the Prince of Wands?” asked Redmond.

“That was my media nickname, yeah, but I encouraged it,” Randall told him. “You know about the Tarot cards?”

“My wife is a witch,” Redmond reminded him. “She does a reading for me once a week. The whole family, in fact. Cindy El on Monday, Allan on Tuesday, Matt on Wednesday, Eva on Thursday, John on Friday, and me on Saturdays. She does her own on Sundays but she never says anything about what she sees.” 

“Uh…right. Anyway, I would drop a Prince of Wands card on every dead body I manufactured. The media had a special case of the ass for me back then, since I specialized in taking out reporters and TV people who seemed to be unaware of the pressing need for balance in their reporting of the conflict.”

“The Old Man declared reporters and media personnel to be enemy combatants and therefore legitimate military targets,” said Don.

“Yeah. That was one of the smartest things we ever did. The Old Man knew that media people were essentially even more cowardly and attached to their wretched little lives than most middle Americans. Once they understood that they would be held personally responsible for the content of their reportage, then all of a sudden they got a hell of a lot more restrained. They would either see the Party’s point of view, or else they’d see me, and they bloody well didn’t want to see me. Our team used to specialize in hunting down talking heads from the Sunday morning cable shows who made a career of bad-mouthing the NVA and white people in general. That was interesting work. Took us all over the empire, New York and L. A. and Atlanta. After a few of those talking heads ended up with their genitalia stuffed in their mouths and a Prince of Wands on their schnozz, all of a sudden the Sunday morning cable discourse assumed a much more reasonable tone. We really threw a monkey wrench into the Zionist propaganda machine. Their media flacks were all too scared to do their job of spreading hatred and lies. I think it could honestly be said that Longview was made possible because we stopped those swine from keeping the pot stirred to fever heat. That allowed the peace movement to grow in the States and eventually gave Bush the Fourth enough slack so he could sign the Treaty. Anything else, Don?”

“No,” said Don, “I guess I better get back in there and rescue Sarah from that horde of geriatric Lotharios before she gets pissed off at one of them and turns him into a toad.” From the main ballroom came the rousing final chorus:

“The Lone Star State has lost a son 
Of courage and of pride,
For he fell beneath Montana’s sky, 
Brave Foreman by his side!
They have gone to join that gallant band 
Who held the Alamo,
Undying fame exalts his name! 
Jack Smith from San Antone!”


Anonymous Bob Garrison said...

I always liked this one, maybe because it was the first Northwest novel I read.

9:12 AM  

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