Lost in the Bells Part Three

Agent Gonzalez pulled the night vision gear out from its pocket in his backpack and backed out of the tent.  As he walked away from the circle of tents and the fire pan he booted the goggles up.  Out beyond the edges of the fire’s halo he pulled the goggles on over his head and peered out into the surrounding forest.  While the technology had advanced over the decades the idea of looking anywhere near the fire with them on disturbed him.

He began a slow clockwise walk around the campsite gazing out into the words, uncertain just what he’d see.  He was surprised by the number of small mammals that showed, along with what he assumed must be birds, or perhaps squirrels in the trees.  He had gotten part way through a second circuit when he yelled out.

“What the fuck was that!?”

Agent James came running up, his pistol already in his hand.

“What, what did you see?”

“If I knew I’d tell you.  It’s gone now.  It was big, I just caught a glimpse of it and then it moved off further into the woods.”

“So it wasn’t a person?”

“Fuck no.  Not unless there’s a 6-foot-tall infant out here.  It was on four legs.”

“A bear maybe?  They mostly go around on all four legs right?”

“I’ve seen bears on night vision before.  It wasn’t a bear.”

“Shit.  This isn’t good.”

“I know it’s not.  What do you think?”

“I think we’ve got a cougar interested in us.”

“Shit.  When’s Dodd due back?”

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Lost in the Bells Part Two

“I’ve seen some tracks up here, fresh in the mud. Cougar tracks.  It crossed the trail and is somewhere between my location and the camp.  Are you there Gonzalez?  Can you hear me?”

Taking the sat phone away from his ear Dodd knew what had happened before he looked at the screen.  The ‘bird’ as Gonzalez and James had already gone over the horizon and the signal was lost.  In another 20 minutes or so a new window would open up for the two sat phones to talk with each other.

Before that though he needed to be able to get ahold of the fire tower two ridges over.  It had rained much of the night, the monsoon season having finally begun, and with the rain had come lightning.  Chances were that there were perhaps as many as a dozen small fires smoldering in the forests surrounding them, and when the rain dried out any one of those might become a raging inferno that could cut them off from the road.

Fire was always a serious threat in the mountains, and this region hadn’t burned for close to fifteen years.  He’d been out here at the time, and had been sent in to help.  Not so much with fighting the fire, but to help search for lost hikers.  The hikers and their guide had done the smartest thing they could under the circumstances.  They’d gone high, gotten up above the tree line and then burned a portion of the grass around them to starve the wildfire of fuel.  Dodd had ended up having to bring them down over the summit into the next valley, one that hadn’t burned yet.

He’d finally gotten high enough that his radio was going to be able to reach the fire tower.

“8034 Calling Rice Mountain on FS1.”

“This is Rice Mountain, who am I speaking with please?  8034 is currently unassigned.”

“It’s Dodd.  I’m in the area on a special project.”

“Oh, ok, go ahead 8034.”

“Any visible fire activity yet after last night?”

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Lost in the Bells – Short Story Pt 1

“Why are we out here again?”

“She said he had to do it.  He listened this time.  He’s young, still vigorous.  He has to show that.”

“But this?  THIS?  Man this is not what I was expecting when I drew this detail.”

“I know I know.  None of us really were. You were in the service though; you’ve spent plenty of nights outside.”

“Man I was on Okinawa four of those six years.  The other two were in the sandbox. I’ve never seen a pine tree nearly this big.”

“Not much of that in the South Bronx huh?”

“I ever say I was from the Bronx to you?”

“Nope, you’ve never seen where you were from. There’s a pool.”

“I know dat.  He know where I’m from.  That what matter.”

“Cut that out. Your putting on an accent is, well I don’t know what it is.”

“Anyway, looks like the rain is finally letting up.  Have you seen Dodd?”

“He left about an hour, hour and a half ago.  When it was really coming down.  Headed up trail, said he wanted to get high, something about being able to hit a tower up there.”

“We’ve got sat phones what’s he wants a tower for?”

“He’s not interested in getting ahold of town.  Remember, he worked out here for years before he came to Chicago.  He’s worried about something and didn’t say what exactly.”

“Dodd freaks me out sometimes.  He’s quiet in the woods.  He can be behind you and you know damned well he’s there but you don’t hear him.  I’ve been around guys like that enough in the Marine Corps, don’t meet many civilians like that.  If he is a civilian. And that whistle he carries.  He’s always got it, but he never uses it.”

“Yeah, that thing’s almost a fetish for him.  Fetish, talisman, whatever, he doesn’t take it off.  Even when we were all down to our shorts drying out after having waded that creek he kept it on.  It’s like he HAS to have it with him.  And don’t say something about sex fetishes.  I’ve seen your public resume, You’ve enough education to know what I mean.”

“Yeah, I can see that.  Never thought I’d see the President in just his skivvies but there he was, wet as the rest of us.”

“Hell, I never thought there’d be two ex-presidents living in Chicago while a third was in the White House.”

“Does make the possibility of an all Chicago World Series even more interesting though doesn’t it.”

“That it does gentlemen, that it does. I don’t suppose either of you made coffee did you?

“There is hot water on the jet boil Mr. President.  I’ll see if I can find some grounds.”

“Thank you.  So Dodd left during the storm you said?”

“yeah, just how log were you listening sir?”

“Long enough to know there’s a pool about where Agent James is from.  I will let you know when you or someone else works it out Agent Gonzales.  Any of the boys up yet?”

“Nah, awake maybe but no one’s crawled out yet.  Sun’s up in half an hour, but God only knows when it will clear that ridge.  Well God and maybe Dodd.”

“I’m sure he could work it out.  Tell us how to too if we asked.  I’m glad we did this.  Yeah, it’s wet, it’s cold, it’s hard, but I’m learning a lot.  It’s different and it’s good for the boys.”

As the former President began to filter water through the coffee grounds the sat phone chirped and Agent Gonzales reached for it.

“Looks like it’s Dodd calling in.  Must have found what he was looking for. – This is Gonzalez go ahead.”

“Get everyone up in the next half hour, we may need to move soon.  I should be back about an hour after sunrise.  We may have a problem.  Actually we may have two problems.  If you guys have any night vision gear with you get away from the fire and switch it on.  Don’t alarm anyone about that.”

Moving towards his tent Gonzales spoke softly into the sat phone

“You think someone’s out here with us?  A threat to the former President?”

“I’ve seen some tracks up here, fresh in the mu…..”

“SHIT! He’s gone.  Damned sat phones.”

“Alright what was all that about?”

“He said we may have a problem and that he’ll be back about an hour after sunrise.  We need to get everyone up in the next half an hour.  He also wanted me to turn on the night vision gear but he cut out before he could say why.  I guess the ridge is blocking the satalite. “

“Guess we need to get to work on that then.  I take it he didn’t say anything about taking down the tents?”

“After yesterday when they almost got taken down while wet with the dew I’m not going to dare move them without checking. “

“Gentlemen, after the way he reacted to that yesterday I’m not sure even I would want to try it.”

“Just where’d he come from anyway sir?”

“He works down on the South Side with the Obamas.  His wife works for the library, he does, well he does just about everything, helps with their after school programs, is part of Barack’s Team of Heros, works with the housing projects, the bike project, just about everything.  He was a ranger out here for years, it’s why Barak brought that youth team out here last year.  I’m sure you discussed it with his detail before we came out.  My wife said that I needed to bring some kids from the North Side out.  Since she’s trying to get at least some votes from outdoorsy people in November I guess I had to.  This whole First Dude role is still a work in progress after all.”

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So you want to move to Canada?

As some of you know, I lived in Vermont when I was younger.  A lot younger.  When I lived in Vermont it wasn’t uncommon to make day trips, and weekend trips to Quebec.   When my grandfather lived in Derby Line we would go for Chinese in Magog Quebec.   Heck, when my younger brother was in 4th grade they went on a field trip to the Granby Zoo.  (I’ve not been there but it’s supposed to be a very good zoo.) And speaking of Derby Line it is best known for the city library that it shares with Stanstead, that was intentionally built on the border between the two countries.

My grandfather’s father had been born in Quebec.  His grandfather or great grand father had been a loyalist who moved to Canada following the American Revolution.  So, the recent vogue of people threatening to move to Canada if their political desires aren’t met kind of amuses me.  Perhaps it shouldn’t.  The practicality of bouncing back and forth across the border isn’t what it once was.  Think for a moment about the impossibility of getting passports together for 35 4th graders plus adult chaperones to go on a field trip to a zoo in this paranoid post 9/11 world.

The idea of a border here has always been “porous”.  It’s not just my family, people have questioned just where Chester A Arthur 21st President of the United States was born relative to the border for more than 125 years now.  And for better or worse, all the passport controls can’t keep people from walking out of Canada.  In fact, Vermont even has a trail that leads straight to the border that inspired the building of the Appalachian Trail, and that’s to say nothing of the really wild areas you’ll find along the border with Maine or between Washington or Montana and the western Provinces.

So just who needs a wall anyway?

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Neighborhood stores

I live in one neighborhood and work in another.  Every morning when I head to work I pass two stores, both are owned by immigrant families from South Asia but one is along the main road leading into the Texas Medical Center and the other is located across the street from a school in the middle off a neighborhood made up of elderly Anglos and more recent immigrants, people who fled South East Asia, people who have come here to work cleaning offices or as day laborers.

I’m in and out of both stores at least twice a week.  I don’t really know the families that run them, beyond knowing each other by sight.  Technically, despite living in what is a fairly well-off neighborhood I live on the edge of a food desert and work on the edge of a second..  And I currently don’t have a car.  So, when I do large scale grocery shopping I go there via bus or light rail, and haul it all home on my back in a decade old backpack.  This is what has me in and out of neighborhood stores, either because I forget something, or run low on something faster than I had expected, or simply need something I didn’t know I needed.

 

The question is, which store is better for me to shop at?  The one that is within sight of my apartment, or the one in sight of my employer?  The vast majority of people in my neighborhood are able to run  out to HEB or Whole Foods or any number of other shops.  The simplest for me to reach via public transit is a Fiesta about three miles away.  In my other neighborhood the neighborhood store is the life blood of many families.  It serves senior citizens, it serves  the people who live in the neighboring apartment complexes and it serves the students at the nearby schools.  In fact it has one of the best selections of school supplies I see on a year round basis outside of an office supply store.

So where should I shop more, the store that serves me well, or the store that serves the people that I serve?

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…Peace is Priceless

A year ago one of the best people I’ve known in my life died.  A person who marched against American sponsored torture camps trained at the School of the Americas.  Who spoke about her belief in justice for the downtrodden not just in the US but around the world.  Who helped organize any number of events for groups from No More Deaths to Humane Borders to groups whose names I can no longer remember and went to Central America to help build houses with things like water bottles for people who were squatting on land.

After college we followed different roads.  I continued to ride the fence, the fence between working with federal agencies that often were opposed to the kind of work we’d done, or more to the point that she’d done.  Because I didn’t publically march against the School of the Americas because I did have those federal connections.  I didn’t travel to Central America because I didn’t want to spend the money on it.  I would happily stay out of sight, and on this side of the border, being supportive but not being “active”.  Eventually my road brought me to Houston, and into city service away from the Feds (at least for now).

Her road led her to working with refugees from the war in Syria.  We talked from time to time via Facebook, and I briefly entertained the idea of joining her in Turkey.  They needed people to help with children, children who had seen their parents die, their siblings die, had their homes destroyed, and been driven from their homeland.    Knowing myself I knew that was not work for me.  My anger, my temper would not work in a setting like that.

Knowing that she was working on the edges of a war I didn’t think about it too much when she dropped off the map.  There were far better ways to use the limited assets along the Syrian border then providing access to Facebook after all.

Then last February I saw a headline.  A report that an American hostage had been killed in a Jordanian air raid against ISIS, no name released yet.  My first thought was shit, that’s not good.  My second thought was, “What is going on with Kayla anyway?”  So I hopped over to Facebook to message her.  I couldn’t find her in my friends list.  Well, that happens, you grow apart and eventually someone deletes the other.  Or they close their Facebook account.  But then I searched my messages.  All the messages between us were gone.  THAT is hard to do.  Facebook messages stay even after an account is deleted usually.  You’d need the assistance of Facebook itself.  And in that moment I knew.

In another tab I saw the story update.  Her name was there Kayla, who I’d known for two years at Northern Arizona University, was dead.  And I’d had no idea that she’d been captured.

Kayla was the person that I want to be deep inside.  The person who puts their fears aside, and does what they see as right.  I may never get to the point where I am that person, but it is what I strive towards.

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Yampa Canyon Poem

Deep deep down

That canyon is still there

Beneath bayou mud

And autumn snow

 

Her river runs

Within my blood

To never reach

The sea

 

Salt Cedar

Cheat grass

And Vegas

Suck her dry

 

And I

May never

See her there

Again

 

Now I only see

These weekend cowboys

Who’ve never seen a drive-way

Much less a drive

 

And fools who curse

The BLM

In states

It has no land

 

This canyon runs

Deep within me

Beyond the hundredth

And far beyond your mind

 

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Different Paths Pt 6

The call came in at Paul Smith’s office in the Lottery Commission office a little after 6 PM.  He’d stayed knowing that the call would come.

“Why the fuck didn’t you call me the moment this tragisty of a press conference ended?  Ah am the governah of the second largest in this country and one of the most powerful Republicans outside of Washington!  And some nobody just got on a state owned stage in my capitol and said that our American way of life is wrong!   He said we need to change how we vote, who we vote for, and that we needed to keep welfare!  Who is this carpet bagger anyway?”

Governor don’t worry.  All he is is a nobody who got a lot of money suddenly and decided to become a somebody in a unique way.  He didn’t date a Kardashian.  He didn’t buy a sports franchise.  He founded a political party that will likely draw less than the Greens.   In five years he’ll be a footnote, a punchline at national debates and on TMZ.

“You’d damned better hope so.  The legislature is already starting an investigation.  It’s what they’re for.  The senators have already called.  Some of the house members have too.  Even some of these damned democrats have called.  Is this a plot, is this a donkey headed democratic plot? Should I call out the National Guard?”

“Who knows governor.   It’s hard to tell.  We’ll learn more as time goes by I’m sure.”

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Different Paths Pt 5

Time passed, as time always does and eventually after a lot of phoning around to both networks permission was granted to use the NBC footage for a joint interview the next morning.  NBC retained the rights to use it for Nightly News however and did so.  They played it close to the vest, allowing only a few people to know what they had footage of for the national news program, so while Blaine was sitting down with Vanessa Mathis off KTBU phones were starting to ring at various levels of power.

To start with, the mayor of Houston called Blaine’s boss.  Well not his direct boss but his department manager.

“Mister Curtiss, do you have a Mr. Blaine working in your division?  A Mr. James Blaine?”

“Well, your honor, we did but he gave his two weeks’ notice, well two weeks ago.  He’s only 40 but he said he’d come into some money and he wanted to pursue a pet project of his.  I imagine he means his photography.  He does it on the side and he also does it for us when we have major events.  Why do you ask?”

“I take it he didn’t say just how much money then?  Please, when you have a moment find the web broadcast of NBC Nightly News.  Your boy was on there.  He “came into” 455 million dollars.  And declared war on the two party system.  Now, what can you tell me about him.  Is there anything we need to know about when the media phone in the next 15 minutes?”

“Well that explains a few things.  I’ve not seen a work request across my desk from him in six months.  There’s nothing too bad to worry about.  He’s got a somewhat caustic sense of humor but it doesn’t really effect his work.  He once threatened to make up signs in English, Spanish, Chinese and Urdu and posting them in the rest rooms saying something like ‘Welcome to Houston.  This is a flush toilet.  If you are unclear as how it works please ask a staff member to demonstrate.’  He even sent me a mockup along with some photos of clogged toilets.    Even though I knew he wouldn’t actually do it I checked with some people, and the Chinese and Urdu were grammatically correct.  His theory was that if he shamed everyone equally people would be take more pride in the public restrooms and gain more attachment to public spaces.”

“I’m not sure if that’s the most incredibly racist thing I’ve heard in a while or the most brilliant.  Is this the same guy that was rumored to have started a twitter war with METRO a couple years back?”

“I’d say ‘brilliant’ he did include it in English after all, and was placing blame everywhere.  No one ever proved who really started that Twitter War.  But it did shed light on just how badly METRO was being managed.  People down here are really dependent on METRO, and we need more people who even if they don’t need something like METRO to make sure it is run properly.”

“So then what are his politics?  We’ve heard an announcement but do we know his actual politics?”

“He chose to be a civil servant when he could have been anything else.  And I do mean ANYTHING.  He’s one of the smartest employees I’ve ever had.  I just found the clip from NBC.  I’ve actually met this Dr. Shephard he mentioned.  He was here to speak at Rice two years ago and was visiting Blaine at his building when I ran by there to drop off some tickets for their teen group to go to an Astros game.  Blaine stepped out to try and get ahold of one of the kids mothers about the tickets and while he was outside Dr. Shephard told me he was always surprised that Blaine had chosen this.  He’d had the opportunity to work with the National Park Service, to teach at the university level, to be a historian, and he’d chosen to run after school programs and make sure kids ate and learned to appreciate their communities.  There wasn’t even a childhood incident that he’d ever heard of that led him in that direction.  His parents had both been Christian school teachers.  This was just what he felt was best for him to do.  He was and still is a believer in the Social Gospel.”

“Do Christian Schools actually teach the Social Gospel?  I thought they were for scared white families who won’t attend Catholic schools or public schools and want to win football championships.”

“His family isn’t from Texas.  That may be part of it.”

“Anyway, is there any risk for us from his having worked for us?  Is there anything risky in his work record or background that you know of?”

“Nothing about his work or personality.  But having employed someone who’s going after entrenched political power isn’t always about who the person actually is.  It’s about who he’s perceived to be or can be made out to be.”

“Yes, I’m well aware of that.  I am mayor of the 4th largest city in America after all….”

“I’m sorry sir, I spoke out of turn.”

“…. I’ll worry about the political fallout.  You worry about explaining to the city council why a building manager found it easier to repair his building from his own wallet then through city funds.  I hope that’s not common.”

“No, not common.  But then neither is someone winning nearly half a billion dollars. Who knows perhaps they’ll still be some windfall for us.”

“you got how much maintenance cost deferred that can be used for other buildings?”

 

Want to see more work like this?  Feel free to donate via paypal or buy my art.

 

WANT TO SEE A MOVEMENT LIKE THIS?  WORK TOWARDS IT!

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Different Paths Pt 4

Nancy Nguyen was excited by the new position.  She had worked for a startup oil exploration app that had ultimately failed, but she’d learned a lot.  She’d worked for a distant cousin’s political campaign in Harris county that had succeeded and now she was combining the two experiences.  No one had tried to create a national political party out of whole cloth in more than a century.

Ladies and gentlemen, let’s begin.  As each of you chose to be present for the news conference you and your organizations are in on the ground floor sort to speak.  While we’ll of course work with all the various media groups Mr. Blaine is ready to do interviews with your six organizations today and tomorrow.  Ms. Jamison, what became of the ABC camera crew?

Nancy, we had the local station’s mobile unit on the way here when there was a major accident.  No one from the station was hurt, but they got tied up in traffic.

Alright, how does this sound?  NBC and ABC use the KXAN footage, and we have a joint interview with Lester Holt and George Stephanopoulos tomorrow morning.  This afternoon we’ll do interviews with the AP, Chronicle and American Statesman, and this evening we’ll tape an hour interview with KTBU.  The station can then send it out for NPR.

Becki Bourgeoisie piped up.  “I’m not sure I’m in a position to give away our station’s tape.  We’ll have to check with the station and the network.  With sweeps coming…”

Samantha Jamison was also uncertain.   “While I see nothing wrong with a joint interview I would also have to clear it with the Network.”

“Right, then we’ll figure that out as soon as possible.  Let me know what the networks decide.  We need to have an answer by 5 central time.”

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