“All Guns Are Always Loaded” – Again

I hate returning to topics over and over, but in this case I refuse to apologize because the top of safe firearms management is just too critical.

In “All Guns Are Always Loaded” I presented a case where carelessness at an Old West Gunfight show nearly caused a tragedy, and I presented the following:

MM – Standard procedure for most Police departments conducting training exercises involving firearms require EVERY participant to inspect EVERY gun prior to the start of training.
Most cases of accidental shootings during training are a result of this practice not being followed, and the results are usually tragic. 

The foregoing statement was based on my own training, and much of the training materials I have studied since. In the initial article I presented this case to make my point:

Officer Killed in Arlington Texas

Now we have another case that illustrates the very same point:

Civilian Killed Accidentally in Police Training

I agree with   on his position “This is the consequence of hiring cops who aren’t “gun people.”

When my academy class was preparing for firearms qualification, one cadet appeared for weapon inspection carrying a brand new S&W 9mm that had been purchased on the way to the meeting. When we got to the range the following day, this cadet stepped to the line with 12 other cadets. The drill was simple. Place 2 shots in the chest area of a human silhouette target at a range of 1 yard from low ready. (That’s pistol pointed at the ground in front of the shooter at an angle of approximately 45 degrees.)

Yep, 3 whole feet.

The cadet in question closed her eyes and fired. The first round went into the railroad tie that made up the lower part of the backstop beneath the target. The second round was fired after she jerked her arms to approximately 45 degrees above horizontal sending the bullet over the target, the berm behind the target, and probably over the length of the Elm Fork Country Club gold course that backed up to the shooting range.

At this point she opened her eyes and turned to her right, “Did I hit it?” Yes, she swept the entire line of shooters with her muzzle in the process. Fortunately the instructors arrived almost immediately, disarmed her, and escorted her politely off the range while “politely” suggesting she look into another profession.

I never made it into law enforcement, but I hold a CHL, I am a hobbyist, author, and I work in a business that deals in firearms. I come into contact with guns every day. Everyone who handles firearms in a professional capacity (“professional” meaning someone paid to to do this) MUST, MUST, MUST educate themselves on the tools of the trade.

Lives depend on our skill, care, and knowledge. Please get the best training you can afford. Invest in yourself, it may save a life.

 

 

 

Brother

By Michael Morgan

© 2016 All Rights Reserved

 

Dim red glow flickers into blinding moonlight.

Black hand rising into squinted view. No, not black. Soot stained, mottled with bits of pale skin. Crusted with dark flakes that fall away to expose more pale skin as the hand flexes. The hand pushes against the ground, and the view tumbles to one side.

Fireflies in the distance, and singing? Yes, singing. Negro voices. The songs of home. Sounds of metal tools on earth. The vision goes indistinct for a moment as blackness edges the scene. Burial parties? Yes, that must be it.

An unseen hand fumbles free of unseen tangles, and sends shrieking pain through its shoulder as the scene is levered off the trampled grass to settle like a painting hung just a bit off kilter. The unseen hand touches the unseeing eye, but feels nothing through the numb digits.

The pale blob to the left attracts the eye, resolving itself into a familiar C- shaped scar that Micah had carried on his forehead since they were six year old. Was it really Micah? Hard to tell. Only the scar, one blue eye, and a ruined face.

Other names called other friends into view. Ollie and Jack. Side by side as always. Lying tangled, blouses torn open probing for the wounds that killed them.

Where was Brother? He should be here. Somewhere.

Crawling along the line. Sharp steel gouging the knees and hands as they passed over. Tangled men. Face up, face down, curled fetal. A canteen. Scant drops of water falling from the ragged hole instead of the spout.

Faces past. Mr. Barnes, the owner of the dry goods store, had a soft spot for the school teacher. Andrew’s leg was missing. Calhoun, Fredericks, Hoff, Johnson. Men he’d known all of his life. Brother wasn’t here. He should be. Everyone else was.

Susurrations from the back of his mind became moans and faint pleas for water, mothers, and sweethearts as the field crawled to life with the agonies of the damned.

The stained hand reached out to roll a ragdoll to its back. A gurgling exhalation from a face stained black across the right cheek. The doll’s eyes searched and settled on the face above.

“Hello Brother.”

“I… did not expect to… see you again.” Death rattled closer.

“I’ll get help.”

“No…need.”

“Can I do anything?”

“Tell Mother…”

“Tell Mother what?”

A cough. Cracked lips coated crimson so bright the color was visible in the moonlight.

The stained hand reaches to touch Brother’s shoulder but the blue sleeve refused to touch butternut vestments. The gulf between the colors could not be closed by force of will or even by common blood.

The grass rose up to cushion the fall.

“Pahdun me Lootenun,” the freedman’s voice called reality back into focus. Clouds obscured the moon, and a dark face in the dark continued, “Y’all need a stretcha?”

A pathetic attempt at a gesture reminded him of the wounded arm, “No, but my brother does,”

“I’m sorry Mars Lootenun, if thas yo’ brotha, he past help. We here to take care o’ these boys.” More figures in the gloom. The sound of a shovel biting into the turf.

 

Warm hands raised the Lieutenant. Wobbly legs turned to erratic steps along the windrow of his life.

A town on the march to Atlanta. Like the one he left on the way to West Point.

Just old men, little kids, and women trying to keep life going. A pinned sleeve or leaning crutch belonging to the ones lucky to return. Reminders of those who never would.

 

Sweethearts, sisters, and wives swarming the board where the lists of the wounded and slain were posted each morning. Begging God not to give them any news.

Here, in this place, looking over the field, reciting the census of his town. Knowing home is gone.

 

Tell Mother…

What to say?

 

Brother died in my arms…?

Why?

What did he die for?

Brother died defending his home so he could live as a free man.

 

Brother died, and I lead the men who killed him.

It was my duty…

Mother’s voice stole his thoughts…You followed a tyrant who would enslave all men while waving the banner of Emancipation!

Dragging foot stumbles on something. The dead weight of an arm attached to a cocked revolver, pointing the way home.

 

Author’s Note:

The War of Southern Independence has long held a fascination for me because the causes of that conflict, and the consequences of its outcome, have shaped the national identity and dialog in the United States far more than any other war before or since.

The regional differences and social conflicts of the war were never resolved, and we are seeing these forces again in the rising tide of violence perpetrated by the political factions of today. The irony lies in the labels. If one side is composed of “sore losers” and the other of “deplorables” who is left to cheer for?

I recently finished this book:

Still the Arena of Civil War: Violence and Turmoil in Reconstruction Texas, 1865-1874 by Kenneth W. Howell

The author is a archetypal Unionist, but I thought his work was fair. I found his description of the operations of the Democratic Party in cooperation with the Ku Klux Klan in Texas a bit…familiar.

“Brother” was written as an examination of a young man suddenly cast adrift, as so many young men were, during the aftermath of that conflict. With homes and families destroyed, or cast to the wind, these men drifted away. Mostly westward.

We read about these men as the heroes and villains of the Old West. Eventually, they picked up new lives, or found the self-destruction that gave them peace.

“All Guns Are Always Loaded”

The late Lt. Col. Jeff Cooper (USMC Ret.)reduced the rules of safe gun handling to 4 simple rules.

1. All guns are always loaded. Even if they are not, treat them as if they are.
2. Never let the muzzle cover anything you are not willing to destroy.
3. Keep your finger off the trigger till your sights are on the target.
4. Identify your target, and what is behind it.

Following these rules religiously would prevent almost every case of accidental shooting, period.

I saw the following news story, and it got under my skin because it involves clear violations of the 4 Rules and classic percussion revolvers.
The story presents some teachable moments, so here are some extracts along with my personal views on the topic.
A link to the full article is below.

Summary:
An actor in a Wild West gunfight show loaded his percussion revolvers with live ammunition instead of the blanks normally used.
Three tourists watching the performance were wounded. Thank goodness none fatally.

“The handgun used in the show is a cap and ball blackpowder revolver. This type of handgun is somewhat cumbersome to reload. A measured amount of black powder is poured into each cylinder, and a lead round ball is then ramrodded down on top of the charge. To speed reloading, owners of this type of firearm often have additional cylinders. When all six rounds are fired, the entire cylinder is replaced with another preloaded with six rounds.”

MM – The practice of swapping cylinders on a percussion gun has been debated since 1835 when the Colt’s Paterson was sold to the Texas Rangers with two cylinders.
When things go right, it works just fine. when someone goofs, it can be bad.

This gent was one of the lucky ones.

The actor told police, “He had used the same revolver for target practice the day before the show, July 28, and had taken four loaded cylinders with him to Red Lake, firing only two.”
The actor “did not know how he mixed up the cylinders.”

MM – This seems like simple math skills in need of refreshment.
Part of being a responsible adult in possession of firearms, it is my obligation to keep control of my ammunition at all times.
“Gunfighters Show protocol called for participants to aim their guns at the ground rather than at the performer they are “targeting” when they fired. This practice might have been the difference between the relatively minor injuries described in the report, and potentially much more serious injuries, or even loss of life.”

MM – Seems in keeping with Rule 2, but a complete fail on Rule 4.
I have attended many Wild West re-enactments since I was a kid, and very few of them allowed the audience to surround the actors.
Even blanks throw some material out of the barrel that can cause injury several feet away.
Professional (ala Hollywood) actors and stuntpeople have been seriously injured by blanks. 
Rules 2 and 4 are absolutes.

The “manager of the Show, told officers that each performer was responsible for inspecting their firearms.” The actor said that “he did not inspect his gun, that he had used the same firearm for target practice the day before, and that he could not explain how live rounds got into his gun the evening of the show.”

MM – Standard procedure for most Police departments conducting training exercises involving firearms require EVERY participant to inspect EVERY gun prior to the start of training.
Most cases of accidental shootings during training are a result of this practice not being followed, and the results are usually tragic. 

Officer Killed in Arlington Texas

Actor Brandon Lee was killed on the set by a firearm.

“It’s common for shooters using cap and ball revolvers to smear grease over the cylinder after it is loaded. The grease prevents chain firing, which happens when the blast from the fired cylinder ignites black powder residue in adjoining cylinders, causing them to fire as well. The grease makes it difficult to easily determine whether a round is loaded with blanks or live rounds, however.”

Police “inspected all the firearms used in the show and determined that the shooter likely fired the “projectiles” during the performance. The inspection showed that one of the actor’s revolvers was loaded with a round ball in one of the cylinders. The other five cylinders were empty.”

MM – This is yet another reason I’ll add to my list of why I hate putting grease over the chambers of my revolvers. A simple probe using a toothpick or knife point would have revealed the presence of the lead bullets because blanks normally replace the bullet with a ball of paper or a disc of thin cardboard. I use lubed felt wads between the powder and bullet, and will always advocate for that practice.

You can get store bought wads at many outlets.

Or make your own much cheaper

The actor “now faces 5 misdemeanor counts of knowingly pointing a firearm in the direction of others.”

MM – In addition to the people hurt by this idiot’s carelessness, this person has committed an offense against every person who responsibly enjoys firearms.
Safety MUST be our top priority, always and forever.
Full Article: Investigation reveals details of gunfight show gone wrong by Rob Breeding at Cody Enterprise

My Kid’s Gotta Hurl – Medieval Grrrl Goes Ballistic!

The screaming Amazon that lives at my house walked into the living room recently and said, “Hey, uh, we have to build a catapult for the Latin Club contest in three weeks.”
Considering the Amazon’s wide range of interests, very little surprises me anymore, so I set down my book, and thus began the lessons on siege engines.

The rules of the game are pretty simple:

Small Enginges have to be less than 1 meter cubed and throw a projectile that approximates a baseball.
Large Engines must be less than 3 meters cubed and throw a projectile approximating a softball.
The engine cannot be anchored to the ground by anything but gravity.
The engine must be triggered from a distance.
The judges have final say on whether the engine is “safe”.

All pretty easy to understand, and wide open possibilities.
Fortunately a friend of mine received a miniature trebuchet as a Christmas present. After he built it he realized he did not have a suitable place in his home to display (or play with) it, so he brought it to the office.

trebuchet_toy

Trebuchet

As a “team building event” (aka nerds slackin’ off), several of us attempted to optimize the weights in the basket to see how far we could get it to throw.
The results were quite impressive. To the tune of 30′ or so.
Along the way, we “endangered” some furnishings, and surprised a couple of unwary folks who walked into the impact zone of the foam balls we were using as ammunition.
One handy thing we discovered was VirtualTrebuchet.com .

All of this mayhem reminded me of a long time favorite book called “Catapult: Harry & I Build a Siege Weapon”.

catapult_book_cover

This lively philosophical tale by Jim Paul describes the adventures of a man who decides he wants to build a catapult. The project is financed by a local artist colony under the guise of “warrior art”, and Jim drags his friend Harry into the project. The immortal George Carlin would have described Harry as “One of those friends who’s good with tools.”
The story of the construction concludes with the heroes obtaining a permit from the California Parks Dept. to shoot their catapult from an abandoned shore defense battery overlooking the Pacific Ocean…on the condition that they do not use “real” rocks, but only “mock” rocks.
Gotta love the Californese for for being paragons of common sense.

With all of this handy background noise, we set to work, opting for the Small Engine category, and designing our engine of mayhem to just barely squeek its way into the 1 meter cube.
The Amazon is pretty handy with power tools in addition to being a fair hand with a saber, skean dhu, handgun, longbow, and other implements of personal expression.

amazon_fencing skeandhu

amazon1 cattle_pult

The first launch went OK. The tennis ball made about 30 yards.
Unfortunately the subsequent launches were not as spectacular.
Well, we’ve got one more weekend to work out the kinks before showtime.

catapult_1stshot

If you enjoy this type of subject, check out:

“Dave Barry’s Complete Guide to Guys: A Fairly Short Book”.

daveberry_guidetoguys

The description of the vacuum cleaner races ’bout killed me.

A Dinner With Rabbie

Our friends at USA Kilts published a fine reminder of the annual celebration of Scotland’s favorite poet Robert Burns (1759-1796).

The long standing tradition of gathering each January 25th for an evening of feasting, toasting, and the reading of the master’s works is a fine way to spend an evening with friends. Partaking of fine single malt scotch, haggis, fine blended scotch, short bread, just plain scotch, and poetry.

Check out their article at the link above, especially the recipe for casserole dish haggis. I have not tried it…yet.

Another source for fine tasting haggis that contains none of the ingredients that usually send American screaming into the dark is the Caledonian Kitchen . This company sells their haggis in cans through  the British Emporium in Grapevine , Texas, and online including Amazon .

As ye celebrate dinna ferget a bit o’ song gaes well wid d’ festivities, an’ this song should be an ad for Uber:

Drunken Scotsman

 

 

The Lost Traveler – Chillin’ Out, A Traveler’s Worst Enemy

Wildfire had burned over 100 acres of the Camp Constantin Boy Scout reservation near Graford, Texas, so Troop 734 from Farmer’s Branch (DFW) was on a weekend campout to help plant new trees in the burned area.

The temperature was in the low 50s, with a strong sharp wind accompanied by off and on rain showers. The Scouts were ready for the weather. Good boots, heavy jackets, and rain ponchos.

Each Scout had his E-tool (folding shovel) and a 5-gallon bucket full of seedling pine trees. They found their grid assignment and spread out. Each Scout was twenty yards from the Scout to either side, and the instructions were to walk ten paces, chop a hole in the ground, plant a tree, and repeat until the bucket was empty.

The task was pretty simple, and the Scouts were moving through head-high grass that had moved in after the burn. The line of Scouts started to straggle, as each boy bent to plant the next tree. When he stood again, he could barely see the other Scouts to either side.

A “slough” (sloo) is a water channel. Natural sloughs are often part of a swamp or bayou. Man-made sloughs are channels created to control flooding. The Scout did not know what kind of slough he stepped into. All he knew was one second he was pushing through the grass, and the next he was submerged in icy water. Jettisoning his E-tool and bucket, he fought his way through the tangle and crawled back on shore completely soaked to the skin.

That was the first time this child wandered down the path to hypothermia. (The lowering of core body temperature to a point where life cannot be sustained.)

After I got out of the water, I realized:

My troop was either no longer in the area, or I had wandered out of our assigned area.

My troop had failed to do a body count before heading back to camp, so nobody knew I was missing.

In the time it took me to find a road, and get back to where I was supposed to be, I had gone through uncomfortable, to goose bumps, painful shivers, and I had finally reached a point where the shivering stopped. I was feeling nice and warm. All I wanted to do was to lie down on that nice soft soaking wet ground under one of those trees and take a little nap. No long, just a minute or two…

The priorities of survival are:

  1. Shelter
  2. Water
  3. Food

Shelter is the first priority because extreme changes in body temperature can kill very quickly if the condition is not recognized, and immediate steps taken to correct the situation.

The following news stories describe different outcomes:

http://www.foxnews.com/us/2016/12/25/sheriffs-official-says-rescue-pennsylvania-family-christmas-miracle.html

 

http://www.sfgate.com/news/article/STRANDED-FATHER-S-HEROIC-LAST-HOURS-He-crawled-2465857.php

 

The best defense against cold is proper clothing composed of layers and wool.

Layered clothing allows you to adjust your personal insulation to suit the situation and your activity level. The worst thing you can do in cold conditions is get wet, and that includes perspiration. Chopping wood? Take a couple of layers off and keep working. If your body starts to feel a bit damp, you have waited too long. Stop and remove a layer or two. Cool down and dry out.

Repeat after me, “Wool is my friend.”

Wool has a unique property that can keep you alive. Wool insulates even when wet. Cotton is worthless as an insulator when it is damp. Gore-Tex is good. Wool is better. Wear it head to toe.

If you feel the goosebumps start, or you pick up a shiver, and you are exposed outdoors, it is time to take steps to get warm, and walking around can help with that. Just do not over do a good thing.

 

The second best defense is your crash kit. These kits are called by hundreds of names. The most common is probably “BOB” (aka Bug-Out-Bag) or Get Home Bag. I will not go into a list of must –haves because every person needs to build their bag to meet their most likely crisis scenario.

Long ago my Mom lived in Taos, New Mexico, and I would drive up and spend Christmas and New Years with her, so I worked out my Crash kit based on my most likely scenarios on that journey. One year I was really glad to have it when my car decided to give me trouble way out in the middle of the Texas panhandle, and the weather was moving in. Fortunately, I managed to nurse my cripple into Dalhart and get a motel room before things got nasty, but had I been stuck, I would have been OK.

I was wearing a combination of wool and cotton layers in the form of thermal underwear, wool socks, wool sweater, a parka, and a wool felt cowboy hat.

My kit list is pretty short:

Wool watch cap

Rain poncho in rip-stop nylon (Get an insulated poncho liner to help keep warm)

Leather work gloves

1lb. peanut butter (Best source of emergency calories I know)

Fire striker and cylinder of lifeboat matches

Emergency whistle

1 Tomahawk (My hawk has a rounded eye, so I can whittle down a tree branch to replace a broken handle)

1 Pocket compass with scale ruler for map reading.

1 pair slip-joint pliers

Canteen with aluminum cup and cover. (I can boil water in the cup to purify and/or make tea for warmth.)

1 Roll of toilet paper

In addition to the kit I had:

1 dome tent

1 sleeping bag

Other stuff I carried regardless of the weather:

.44 Magnum Ruger Super Blackhawk in shoulder holster

50 rounds of ammo (12 in pocket, 38 in my kit)

4” folding knife

Some folks are going to question the need for the revolver, so I should explain that road trips in Texas and New Mexico can easily lead the unwary driver into close encounters with roaming livestock and large wildlife in the form of deer and feral hogs. In New Mexico, black bear and antelope are often seen as roadkill.

Assuming the driver survives the initial accident, they are often faced with a crippled animal thrashing around on the road. Being a humane and responsible person, I want to have the means to quickly end the animal’s suffering without having to resort to my tomahawk, E-tool, or a rock I find beside the road.

In addition, a .44 Magnum makes on hell of a signaling device in the event you need to attract the attention of rescuers. You can also hunt with it if you have really screwed up and gotten lost.

For those living in restrictive states, a 12 or 20-gauge shotgun loaded with slugs will do the job nicely. It’s just a lot more trouble to carry around.

With the kit above, and properly layered clothing, I was prepared in the event I was stuck on my own for a few days.

Another thing to include are topographical and county road maps. Most of these are free for the printing on the Internet. In addition to paper not requiring a charged mobile device and cell service, they are often far more accurate than Google Maps and GPS. A good map might have saved those folks from PA some serious misery.

Give some thought to your route of travel and the expected weather before you hit the road. Dress appropriately, and have your Crash Kit stocked based on your family’s needs. Example: If you have small children some crayons and coloring books can help pass the time.

Stay warm and stay safe.

Western Gothic

By Michael Morgan

After all of the hoopla about the movie “No Country for Old Men”, I picked up a copy of the book, and began my journey through the vision of Mr. Cormac McCarthy. “Old Country” was soon followed by “The Road”, and I was completely hooked on his dark brooding style.

Then my friend Noah told me about McCarthy’s “Border Trilogy”, and “Blood Meridian”. I’m a huge fan of Westerns, be it film or print, and these books belong on the shelf of every fan of Horse Opera, right next to Charles Portis’ “True Grit”, Glendon Swarthout’s “The Shootist”, and Forrest Carter’s “Gone to Texas”.

All three of these classics have made it to the big screen, and, while I’m not sure about The Border Trilogy, “Blood Meridian” definitely belongs among them.

“Blood Meridian” follows a young man who joins a party of adventurers setting off into Mexico to hunt the Apache hoping to get rich selling the scalps to the Mexican government. Starting off with noble speeches about saving the Mexican citizens from the depredations, of the savage Apache, the saviors degenerate into a larger threat than the Indians. A true Heart of Darkness meets Lord of the Flies full of action and bloody violence. Perfect fodder for the current crop of dark Westerns coming out of Hollywood.

As an enthusiast of antique arms, I was particularly impressed by McCarthy’s accurate descriptions of the weaponry. When I finished the book, Noah asked me about the part where the gang is being pursued by the vengeful Apaches, and are almost out of ammunition, the Judge sends the party on a long looping ride to distract their foes long enough for him to mix up enough gunpowder to make a fight of their last stand.

He wanted to know if it was possible to make gunpowder in the manner it was described in the story.  The answer is yes, the description of the process is generally correct, and I would really hate to be forced to bet my life on the final product.

Actor/director James Franco made a test reel of this part of the book in an attempt to bring this story to film. http://www.vice.com/read/james-francos-blood-meridian-test-656  unfortunately,  the film project has not advanced and further.

The steady flow of McCarthy’s work from page to screen has made signed first editions of his books solid investments. This copy of Blood Meridian is coming up for auction on September 15, 2016.

https://historical.ha.com/itm/books/cormac-mccarthy-blood-meridian-or-the-evening-redness-in-the-west-new-york-rando/p/6164-57033.s?ic4=GalleryView-Thumbnail-071515

Prior sales of autographed first editions have realized as much as $7,500 for a plain autographed edition sold in 2015 all of the way up to $15,000 for a volume containing a personalized inscription sold in 2014.

https://historical.ha.com/itm/books/cormac-mccarthy-blood-meridian-or-the-evening-redness-in-the-west-new-york-random/a/6112-45419.s?ic4=GalleryView-Thumbnail-071515

A couple of years after I read Blood Meridian, I picked up a book called The Scalp Hunters originally published in 1860 by Thomas Mayne Reid, an Irish immigrant to America, Reid’s work is normally published under the name Mayne Reid, and he is best known for adventure novels intended for young boys.

The Scalp Hunters tells the tale of a punitive expedition against the Navajo with the goal to recover White captives. This is one of Reid’s early works told in a gritty style quite similar to Blood Meridian.

If you enjoy one, then get the other as well.

Another fine novel by Reid is The Headless Horseman. Not to be confused with The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving, The Headless Horseman is a romance and murder mystery set in 19th century Texas.

https://historical.ha.com/itm/books/capt-mayne-reid-the-headless-horseman-a-strange-tale-of-texas/a/6003-76317.s?ic4=GalleryView-ShortDescription-071515

Oddly enough, I learned about Mayne Reid from my Russian wife. Apparently his work was a standard example of American literature in the Soviet Union. Somehow, U.S. schools fail to mention him even though he is not as “offensive” as Mark Twain.

Three Righteous Souls – Part 15

By Michael Morgan

Copyright 2016 All Rights Reserved

 

— 15 —

 

“That was mighty fine Emma,” Marty pushed back from the table.

Emma smiled as she picked up the kids’ plates, “It was just cans.”

“Not just anyone can make a bunch of random cans taste that good,” agreed Tom.

Setting the plates in the wash bucket, Emma looked at Marty, “Where will you go from here?”

“Tom says I should head south to the coast, and wait things out,” Marty picked up his coffee and sipped. “I’m just not sure about that idea.”

“Being the new man in a small town won’t be a picnic,” Tom agreed. “But it beats being drafted into a conscript army or FEMA work camp all to Hell.”

Emma started washing and spoke over her shoulder, “Where did you get the army idea?”

“The people were being sorted by age at that roadblock in Montgomery,” Tom poured himself some coffee. “I’d bet a lot of those older folks won’t be with us come spring time.”

“Were you always this paranoid?” Emma stacked the second plate on the rinse pile.

Tom shrugged, “Think what you want. An awful lot of Black people were ‘evacuated’ and ‘resettled’ in other communities after hurricane Katrina. That didn’t happen after hurricane Sandy hit New Jersey. Ever wonder why?”

“People in New Jersey probably had jobs and pull,” Marty offered.

Emma pressed the button on the spout of the five-gallon Igloo cooler Tom had set up on the kitchen counter, and rinsed the first few plates in the stream before the soapy water could dry. “I don’t see how that is any comparison to what’s happening now. Nobody is being drafted into the Army. It’s silly to think that.”

“Then why separate family members?” Tom set his cup down. “It only makes sense in one modern context.”

Headlights flashed through the living room curtains followed by another flash and another as the engines became audible.

“Out the back!” Tom snapped. “Marty get them to your truck. If I’m not there in an hour, drive away.”

Emma set the plate on the counter and Tom bolted for the front door, “Tom?”

“Go! Before they get around back!” Tom was unbarring the front door as the vehicles came to a stop on the lawn.

“Jeremiah! Caroline! Follow Marty!” Emma was ushering everyone out as Tom pulled open the front door and stood silhouetted in the headlights.

Shading his eyes Tom called, “Bob? Is that you?”

 

 

Jeremiah pushed the small ball of dirty cloth through the revolver’s chamber with the chewed end of a pencil, catching it when it dropped from the hole at the front of the cylinder. He repeated the process with the next chamber, “We ran hard, and Marty was good as his word. He drove us out of there with nothin’ but what was in our pockets.” He raised the pistol in emphasis.

“So where did you go?” The end of the cigarette briefly illuminated Andre’s face in a demonic glow.

Jeremiah chuckled, “Where didn’t we go? We were all over the place. A week here. A day there. Anywhere Marty and Mama could find work. I guess we were like the Joad family.”

“Who?”

“Don’t sweat it. Folks from a book I read,” Jeremiah picked up each cartridge and examined it before sliding it back into a chamber and closing the cylinder. “We finally got caught in Arkansas. Guess we moved too far north. Marty drove around a curve in the mountains and right into a roadblock.”

Andre took another drag, “Didn’t you try to get away?”

“Marty tried to back up,” Jeremiah nodded. “And they shot him through the windshield. Mama tried to talk to them, but they put a taser on her and dragged her off. We never saw Mama after that.”

“Sounds like I heard this story before,” Andre said through the smoke as he exhaled.

Jeremiah nodded, “Caroline and I were ‘old enough’, so they shipped us here.”

“So where’s your sister?” Andre took another drag.

“Walked in front of a bus the first week we were here,” Jeremiah looked at the floor for a moment.

“Man, I’m sorry.” Andres leaned forward as if to reach out, but Jeremiah sat back out of reach.

“No need to be sorry,” Jeremiah shrugged. “It was ten years ago. After we got caught, Caroline just gave up.”

Andre stubbed out the butt and changed the subject, “How’d you get a gun inside?”

“When all a shellshocked kid has is the clothes on her back and a ripped-to-shit teddy bear, people don’t search too hard,” Jeremiah smiled grimly as he slid the gun into his pocket.

 

 

This ends Three Righteous Souls. Thank you for reading, and I hope you have enjoyed the story. Jeremiah Pitts will be appearing in future stories in the ‘Yojimbo’ collection I am currently writing.

 

Three Righteous Souls – Part 14

By Michael Morgan

Copyright 2016 All Rights Reserved

— 14 —

 

“What say there Texas?”

Marty spun around looking for the voice. He’d just been cursing himself for a fool for taking advice from the old man at the gas station. Just go down the road a mile, and turn on the dirt road to the end. Now he was who knows where standing in a grove of trees waiting on some stranger to show up, and he had no idea why or what for.

The old man stepped out from behind a tree, and walked over, “Hi, I’m Tom.”

Marty took the offered hand, “Marty. Am I glad to see you? I was beginning to think I was an idiot.”

“Not today.” Tom opened the thermos he was carrying, and offered the cup to Marty “Cold water?”

“That would be great.” Tom poured and Marty drained the cup before handing it back.

Tom refilled it, “I’m sorry about sending you off the beaten path, but I wanted Camille at the gas station to think you’d gone toward Montgomery.”

“Why does that matter?” Marty handed the cup back and waved off the refill, so Tom poured for himself and drank.

“What did she tell you when you talked to her?” Tom capped the thermos, and stood it on the truck’s hood.

Marty looked disgusted, “The bitch wouldn’t sell me no gas. Said it was for official use only. I offered her ten dollars a gallon, and I begged her, but nuthin’ doin’.”

“Don’t be too hard on Camille,” Tom turned to lean his backside against the fender. “Apparently she’s getting orders from the Feds care o’ our local Sheriff. She just told me the same thing, and that I had to get a Sam’s card in order to buy groceries from now on.”

“That’s weird,” Marty too leaned against the truck. “She didn’t say anything about a Sam’s card to me.”

“Because you’re not a local.” Tom craned his neck to look back along the dirt road for a moment at the sound of a car on the highway, “Way I understand it, you have to be a local to get the goodies, and anyone who’s not local is a refugee. Refugees get arrested and turned over to FEMA.”

Marty nodded in understanding, “Which is why we’re standin’ in this nice shady spot talkin’.” At Tom’s nod he continued, “So you have some gas, and want to make some money.”

“I heard money’s no good anymore,” Tom stirred the dirt with the toe of his boot.  “Can’t buy a thing with it. Nor credit cards.”

Marty looked crestfallen, “So what do we do?”

“In times like this we fall back on ancient traditions,” Tom smiled. “And we do a little horse trading.”

“OK,” Marty brightened. “You know what I need. What do you need?”

Tom turned serious, “Information to start with. Not bullshit. Hard facts.”

Marty nodded acceptance.

“Once I have the information, I may ask you to help me out with a chore.” Tom paused, “Still interested?”

“I can’t say until I hear about this chore of yours,” Marty pushed back his ball cap. “I can’t get mixed up in anything illegal.”

Tom nodded, “Fair enough. The information is worth five gallons of gas to me. Can we start there?”

“Ask away,” Marty offered. “I can’t go nowhere without at least that much.”

Tom thought for a moment, “Where are you coming from?”

“Killeen, Texas.”

“They got electricity?

“Naw. The city is dark. Just the Army base has juice.”

“Why are you running?”

“Running? What makes you think I’m running?”

“Nothing in your truck bed but air, and no bags in the cab. You travel awful light for a man who ain’t running”

“I’m going to my folks in Virginia. Dad was a Marine Sergeant Major stationed at Quantico before he retired. Mom liked the area so they stayed.”

“So what made you leave Texas?”

“Shit is breakin’ loose all over down there since the lights went out. Gangs shootin’ everything up. People lootin’. It’s bad.”

“Isn’t the Army doing anything?”

“One o’ my buddies who’s in the Army called me the day after the lights went out. He said the base was on lockdown, and orders had come down to move everything that wasn’t nailed down. He offered to fill my truck if I hurried. I drove over near the base, but I couldn’t find him. When I tried to go home to pack, things were already starting to come apart, so I just drove out with what I had in my pockets.”

“So how did you end up way out here?”

“The radio was still workin’, and Dallas sounded as bad as what I left, so I headed to Tyler to pick up I-20 to Shreveport where I ran out of gas the first time.  I worked for a fella for a few days in exchange for some gas, and I got back on the road. Every time I tried to turn north off I-20, it was blocked off, so I kept going east. I ran out of gas the second time near Jackson, and that ol’ boy like to worked me to death for a week over fifteen gallons. Now I’m here.” Marty picked up the thermos and eyebrowed for permission. At Tom’s nod, he uncapped and poured.

Tom waited until Marty had finished drinking, “How many places did you pass that had power?”

“Not many. It was hard to tell because I drove mostly durin’ the day. When I was stopped, only folks with generators had power.”

“Did you see any transformer stations?”

“You mean the burned out ones?”

Tom nodded, “You passed ours over by the gas station.”

“Almost every town had some kind of big fires. I could see the smoke from the highway. Some of the stations along the road were burned.” Marty offered the cup to Tom who declined, so he poured the last and sipped it, “That mean something special?”

Tom scratched his nose, “I’m not sure yet. Did the radio say anything about Washington?”

“Just the national emergency declaration and the usual about how FEMA will be chargin’ over the hill any day now. Lost the radio crossin’ into Mississippi, so I don’t know much after that.”

“You said the riots started the day after the lights went out.”

“Yeah, that’s about right.”

“Riots all over, or just in spots?”

Three Righteous Souls – Part 13

By Michael Morgan

Copyright 2016 All Rights Reserved

— 13 —

            A thin man in his forties stood with his forehead leaning against the side of his pickup bed slowly kicking the tire. He did not look up as Tom’s group crunched along the road’s gravel shoulder and crossed the concrete in front of the station.

“Hi Camille!” Tom called as he pushed open the station door. The assault of new signage pushed him to a stop.

 

REGISTER HERE FOR YOUR BENEFITS…

            NATIONAL EMERGENCY! NOTICE TO ALL ALABAMA RESIDENTS…

            ALL BANKS CLOSED UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE…

            NO CASH OR CREDIT TRANSACTIONS ACCEPTED FOR THE DURATION..

            PHOTO ID AND BENEFIT CARD REQUIRED FOR ALL PURCHASES…

 

Camille’s voice brought him back, “Hello Tom. Welcome to the brave new world.” She was a tiny woman leaning her elbows on the counter almost lost in the tornado of cigarette and beer company placards if it weren’t for the trail of smoke rising from the Winston hanging from her lip. Her ragged voice and dried apple face made her seem like one of those old people in the anti-smoking ads.

“What’s going on?” Tom was still taking in the screaming signs that had replaced the string bikinis above the beer cooler.

“New rules,” Camille knocked the ash off her smoke. “Bob came by a few days ago and dropped off all these signs, and a rule book fit for a doorstop. Said the FEMA assholes told him to pass ‘em around, so he brought me my share.”

Tom looked at the mostly empty store shelves as he walked to the counter, “Can I have the Reade’s Digest version, please?”

“Money’s no good anymore. No credit cards neither,” Camille recited the list in a voice that hinted she was ready to break into comic madness or shrieking despair. She pointed to a camera set up that had replaced the Lotto display, “Everybody gets a free Sam’s membership until this mess is straightened out. Your new membership entitles you to seventy-five dollars of food and medicine per week for singles with an extra twenty-five per kid. Cards must be presented at designated distribution points along with a photo ID that proves you are an Alabama resident.” Camille took a drag, and her words carried the smoke toward the ceiling, “Anyone not an Alabama resident is to be allowed to purchase anything, and must be reported to law enforcement for evacuation to a refugee center.”

Tom raised an eyebrow, “That’s pretty harsh don’t you think?”

“I do what they say, or the boss will have my ass,” Camille shrugged. “You ready to sign up? I need a photo ID.”

It was Tom’s turn to shrug, “Wasn’t planning to come in today, so I don’t have my wallet. I bumped into Buck Chalmers, and he said I should stop by to hear the gossip.”

Camille nodded, “Well there’s plenty of that goin’ round. Most of it is bull.”

Tom held up his hand to interrupt, “Sorry Camille. You didn’t mention gas.”

“Official use only,” Camille stubbed out her cigarette. “That’s why that feller is out there,” she gestured to the man next to the truck. “I can’t sell him any gas, and he don’t have enough to keep goin’. Next trooper or deputy comes through will cart him off to Montgomery I guess.”

Camille craned her neck to see what the kids were doing in the back of the store, “Hey! Don’t be playing back there. That’s government property.”

“Jeremiah! Caroline!” Emma turned to the kids, “You know better than to act up like that! Now come stand by me.” She turned back to Camille as the kids joined her, “I’m sorry. They were raised better than that.”

“No harm done.” Camille gestured to the camera setup,” You want your card now?”

“I don’t have my purse,” Emma started.

Camille looked at her closely, “I don’t think we’ve met. Do you live around here?”

“She’s my housekeeper,” Tom stepped in. “Mrs. Rogers’ hired her a month before her kids came and moved her up north. Since she didn’t have a job after that, I hired her. Emma, meet Camille, Grand Mistress of all knowledge and history in Benton, Alabama.”

“So she’s a resident?” Camille asked.

“She and the kids are using my spare room, and they’ll be startin’ school as soon as school starts up again,” Tom

Camille’s attention was taken by a bobtail truck pulling into the station, “That’s my delivery, so I have to go count everything. Bring your ID in next time and I’ll set both of you up with cards.”

Tom opened the door for Emma as Camille came around the counter with a clipboard. For the first time Tom noticed the station had power, “Camille, are you on a generator?”

“Yeah, a little Honda in the back room.” She hooked a thumb towards the storeroom, “Just big enough for lights and a few other things.”

Tom nodded and let the door close. Crossing the pavement, he watched the driver exit the box truck from the corner of his eye. Black uniform, no insignia, body armor, pistol in a drop-leg holster. The man who came from the passenger side was carrying a rifle.

The pickup driver was also watching the bobtail’s box being opened, and the loading ramp extended.

Pausing next to the man, Tom asked “Can you make two miles?” At a nod, “In five minutes, go about a mile east and turn right on the dirt road. All the way to the end, and wait.” Tom clapped him on the shoulder and continued walking.