He was on his way home, a leisurely trip driving back roads in rural Georgia.
A sudden encounter with a young teen interrupted his trip.
He’d just completed a job, and the last thing he needed was a passenger.
Especially a kid as a passenger.
He pulled his jacket tighter around himself as he trudged toward the building. Jesus, he muttered to himself: August, and I’m freezing.
The Wyoming winds at night cut through him, and even the fleece-lined jacket he was wearing didn’t seem enough. The locals found him amusing; some of them walked around at night in just woolen shirts.
He wanted this job over and done with. He wanted out of Wyoming altogether. And on that happy thought, he pushed open the door of the old wooden church house he’d been walking toward and entered.
He’d been in Anderson, Wyoming, for a month. His first night, he’d driven his 12-year-old, rusty Chevy to a local tavern and sat alone at the bar, drinking beer desultorily, hanging his head, showing how tired he was. There were other men there, but mostly they sat together in groups at the tables, sharing pitchers and laughs. A few men sat at the bar, but no one took notice of him.
He was back the next night. A few more beers. That night, he kept his head up, looking around but not meeting eyes. The bartender asked him a few questions, not pointed, not for any reason other than to shoot the shit and break up the monotony of wiping glasses. He’d answered them with one- or two-word answers while looking away. After that he was left alone.
On his third night there, on his fourth beer, he had a decision to make because a man took a seat next to him. He could have done any of several things; what he did do was finish his beer, get up, and move down the bar several stools and then order another beer there.
He didn’t come in the next night, but the one after, he did. He ordered a shot of bar whiskey with his first beer and downed it immediately. Then he nursed his beer.
The same man sat down next to him again several minutes later, bought two beers and slid one over to him. This time he didn’t move. This time he let the man make the overtures, let himself be drawn into a conversation.
There had been more meetings like that. More feeling out. More of him letting the man who’d approached him know how disgruntled he was with life, with the way things were, with most anything and everything. With the fact he’d been laid off, found another job that paid shit wages, and then laid off from that one even though he’d busted his ass. With the fact his wife had taken the kids and run off even though he’d only belted her that once, and that was when he was drunk and pissed because he couldn’t find work and she kept on about his drinking when they needed the money for food. With the fact that his neighbor not only still had a job but had bought a new car—a new car, the son of a bitch—and the guy was black to boot. And had just been promoted!
And on and on. The stranger seemed to encourage such talk. And it had become usual for them to meet at the bar and for the stranger to start buying more than every other round.
He’d found part time work as a janitor at a slaughterhouse since arriving in Anderson. Awful work. He was late several times. Then he was laid off, something else to grouse about with his new drinking buddy, Marvin.
He now was standing just inside the doorway of the church house. It wasn’t a church any longer; all the pews in the large room had been removed and replaced with folding chairs. It was now a meeting place. There was a small stage in the main area of the large room just beyond the vestibule. It had a podium in the center and four round columns, about seven feet high and three feet in diameter, mounted a few feet apart to one side of the podium, looking out of place somehow.
The room was filled with people. He estimated there were 60 to 70 of them, all white men of varying ages. They were all standing up, talking together in groups in the space behind the chairs and along the walls.
As he looked at the setup from the vestibule, he was approached by Marvin, who held out his hand. “Glad you came. It’ll be just as I described. Our leader will talk a while, and then you’ll be initiated along with three others. You’ll all be part of us, then. The group is growing. Our leader, Colonel Colson, is a great man, inspiring and right-thinking, and you’ll love what he has to say.”
He was led into the room by Marvin. He stopped before going through the metal detector that framed the doorway. “What’s this for?” he asked.
“Just a precaution,” Marvin said. “Sometimes groups like ours get infiltrated. If the FBI was interested in us and wanted to attend a meeting like this, they’d come armed. This metal detector lets us separate the wheat from the chaff.”
He thought about that, then said, “You told me you approved of the citizens being armed. We talked about that, remember?”
“We do,” Marvin replied. “But not in here. Only the colonel is armed in here. I just told you why.”
He walked through the metal detector and was led to the front of the room, where he was introduced to the other three candidates for membership in the group. He was then led up onto the stage and told to sit in one of the four chairs near the podium.
Eventually everyone sat down on the folding chairs, and a man in a tailored military uniform with medals on his chest and an ivory-handled sidearm in a shiny leather holster walked to the podium.
“I’m Colonel Colson,” he announced to the four people on the stage, then turned to the audience and continued. “We’re here for serious business tonight. Four more patriots are joining our cause, and we will be taking our first active step toward becoming what we all want to be: free men exercising our God-given right to rid this country of the problems our government has fomented and fostered. We have endured this country’s loss of direction and morality for far too long.
“We are committed to change the direction in which we are now headed. Our government has failed us. Jobs are scarce because they’ve been taken from us by non-Americans, blacks, browns, slant-eyes and women. We have to take the jobs—the very country—back! We not only have the right to do this; we have the responsibility. The Bible says a man is the leader of his house. This country is our house, and we need to reassert ourselves as its leaders. Tonight—here where we stand—we will begin. Our cause will spread. Soon we’ll have this entire state behind us; it will be our power base. We shall then move outward, gathering strength as others fall in behind us. We, however, will be the core. Planning is already underway. There will be some battles to be won because the enemy, our government and some of its weak, brainwashed citizens, will oppose us. But we will prevail because God is on our side and because we are right and we are committed to our goal and more and more of our citizens will join us as we march forward.
“Is everyone in this room committed?” The colonel’s voice had been rising. Now, it rose to a shout.
There was a rousing cheer from the audience, which jumped to its feet. The candidates jumped to their feet as well, he among them, cheering with the rest.
When the colonel spread his arms horizontally, hands downward-facing, the crowd sat and stilled.
“And are our new candidates committed?” the colonel asked, his voice strong and aggressive, addressing the four on the stage with him.
The candidates again rose. He was the first one up. They shouted as one, “Yes!”
The colonel motioned for them to sit. He sat as the others did, his eyes on the colonel. He could feel the charisma of the man. The was a man born to lead, and it was obvious that every person in the room was spellbound.
The colonel faced the crowd and was silent. This had the effect of quieting the audience; the room became dead still, and as the silence grew longer, the tension built. The colonel let it build and build, and then, finally, he spoke to the wings. “Bring them out!” he thundered, his voice so striking that the crowd pulled back in their seats.
Four large men walked on stage, each one pushing a person forward in handcuffs. They pushed their prisoners to the columns, where each was then secured with their arms behind them. The prisoners were left standing, each immobilized against a column facing the audience.
“You see here before you,” the colonel shouted, “THE ENEMY!” He walked so he was confronting each of them, then turned back so he was addressing the crowd. “A black man, who has the audacity to teach at the school where our children are sent to learn—someone who should be back in Africa but instead is here, teaching our children, believing he himself to be as good and worthy as they are. Taking a job from a white man who needs and deserves it and spreading lies to the most vulnerable of us.”
The colonel continued, listing the failings of two gay men who ran a local performance theater, and the woman who was the president of the local bank. The gay men were ‘sodomites’ who corrupted the morals of the community just by existing, the colonel stated, and the woman wasn’t married, wasn’t staying at home tending to her children—the lifeblood of the future of America and the purpose women existed—or serving her man’s needs as God intended women to do.
The colonel’s rhetoric reached a fevered pitch, working the crowd into a frenzy.
At this point, one of the large men who’d left the stage came back carrying a tray that had eight shot glasses on it, each filled with an amber liquid.
The colonel addressed the audience after again quieting them. “Our initiation ceremony will now begin.” Turning to the four on the stage, he indicated each should take one shot glass, which they all did.
“Do each of you agree to be members of this militia, to support our cause, and to follow all orders of your commander? If you do, drink what’s in your glass as a sign of your commitment.”
All four brought their glasses to their lips and drank. He realized at the first taste that this was bourbon, Wild Turkey probably, but it seemed to have been fortified, maybe with Everclear, as the burn it made going down his throat seemed greater than it should have been.
“Are each of you willing to faithfully and without hesitation fulfill the requirements of your initiation, and in so doing show everyone here you will do as directed to further our noble cause, to rescue our great country, and so to become one of us? If you do, drink the second glass.”
He didn’t much care for the taste of whiskey. He could already feel the effect of the first shot spreading through his body, affecting his mind. This wasn’t good. He knew this moment was why he was here. Why he’d come to Wyoming. He needed a cool head for whatever was about to happen, and being addled by whatever was in these glasses was… But, he couldn’t refuse with everyone watching. As requested, he raised the second shot to his lips, thinking these people were pretty clever—giving the candidates just enough alcohol to quash their inhibitions, compromise their will, make them more suggestible.
He threw back the shot as the others were doing. Then he grabbed his handkerchief and coughed loudly into it, wiped his face and lips and muttered indistinctly, “Burns!” He slipped his soggy handkerchief back into his pocket.
“Now is the time!” the colonel roared, his voice thundering in the room, “the time we’ve been waiting for, the time for talk to end and for us to begin our grand excursion into the future. Let us mark this date, this time, when we, this small and mighty group, with God before us, turned the tide of America and reclaimed it for those true believers who have never lost their faith in it. The time for our first critical act of defiance against a faltering government has arrived.”
That said, the colonel stepped out from behind the podium. He stood before the crowd and removed his sidearm from his holster.
The colonel, after inciting the crowd to a roar, walked to the four now-standing candidates. “Who among you will be the first to show his courage and fortitude? Who will take us on our first resounding step to freedom? Who will show his courage and resolve and remove one of these symbols of America’s decline, America’s wrong direction, from the face of the earth?”
He stepped forward, almost stumbling from the drink, a maniacal gleam in his eyes. “I will,” he said, obviously forcing himself not to slur the words. “I want to shoot the nigger. Someone else can off the queers.”
He stood before the colonel and reached out, waiting for the man to hand him his gun. The colonel looked into his eyes, and said, “What is your name?”
He pulled himself to a sloppy attention, then used his deepest voice to answer. “John Montgomery, sir.”
The colonel smiled. “Well, John, go be a hero.” And handed him his .45.
He took the gun, quickly checked the load, and then took two awkward steps toward the black man, who stiffened his posture and stared defiantly at him. He stopped and looked back at the colonel.
“He should be afraid, shouldn’t he?” he slurred. “I’d like him to be afraid. He seems to have a lot of courage.”
The colonel spoke softly in return, but somehow his words seemed to resonate through the room. He approached John to make his point clear. “Don’t have doubts, John. He is a symbol of all that’s wrong with this country. You just committed to doing as asked without hesitation. Go ahead. Shoot him.”
Standing tall, he glanced at the crowd before turning his eyes to the colonel. Then he said, “OK,” and shot the colonel in the chest.
The pistol was loud and the shot echoed off the ceiling and walls of the confined space.
The four large men rushed toward the stage, but when he pointed the gun at them, they stopped. When he spoke, it was to the crowd, and there was no trace of a slur in his speech or drunkenness in his stance.
“There are five FBI agents among you. They know who you are, who your wives and children are. If any of the innocent people on this stage had been killed, you’d all have been tried as accessories to murder. You’d all have gone to prison, lost your families and homes, and have been disgraced and reviled for the rest of your lives. This is an illegal assembly because of its seditious intent. You can and should all be arrested.”
He paused for a moment to let that sink in. Then he said, “If you all leave now, and stay away from this kind of foolishness in the future, you won’t be hassled, but your names will still be in the FBI files. You’re being given a break by the government you seem to think has abandoned you. You might think about that tonight when you’re in your comfortable beds instead of spending your first nights on hard, prison cots.”
Everyone just sat, still startled at the sudden turn of events. He watched them for a moment, then shouted, “GO!” That brought the men to their feet, and there was a mass rush for the door.
When the room was empty, he walked back to the prisoners still in handcuffs, still bound to the columns. “I don’t suppose any of you has a handcuff key on you, do you?” he asked.
No one spoke except the black man. “This is no time to be flip! I’m still attached to this goddam post! But, thank you, sir.”
“Flippancy in stressful times is a fault of mine,” he said, grinning. “Well, I have no way to get you loose. I do have a cell phone; the cops can be here in a few minutes, and they’ll have a key. I don’t really want to be here when they arrive—” he stopped and gestured toward the colonel’s body “—so I’m afraid I must leave you. I’ll call them once I get to my car, which is only a short walk from here. I apologize for leaving you like this, but I don’t much like dealing with local authorities.”
As he walked up the aisle between the scores of folding chairs, he heard their shouts of complaint, but he didn’t stop. He did wave without turning around, but that was all.
He didn’t call when he reached his car. He waited till he was on the Interstate and well away from the town. That was when he called the local sheriff and reported a disturbance at the old church house. Then he disconnected and settled back in his seat for a long drive.
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