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Lost in the Sauce: Feb. 23 - 29
Welcome to Lost in the Sauce, keeping you caught up on political and legal news that often gets buried in distractions and theater. (the previous edition can be found here if you are super behind). House-keeping:
How to read: the headings will guide you through this piece. The Main Course covers the “big” stories and The Sides covers the “smaller” stories. IF YOU FOLLOW THE NEWS CLOSELY: you likely know about the stories in the Main Course section, so you will be best served by scrolling down to The Sides portion.
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Let’s dig in!
Trump’s incompetence, authoritarian patterns continue with coronavirus response
In a standalone piece published yesterday, I go over Trump’s response to the coronavirus, how he made the spread inevitable, and the impact of Trump’s authoritarian impulses.
Nadler launches Barr investigation
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler sent Attorney General Bill Barr a letter last week requesting a slew of interviews and documents in preparation for Barr’s scheduled testimony at the end of March. Most notably, Nadler requested interviews with the four career prosecutors who withdrew from Roger Stone’s case after Barr intervened to recommend a lower sentence (which Stone received): Aaron Zelinsky, Adam Jed, Michael Marando, and Jonathan Kravis. John Durham, who is leading Barr’s investigation of the origins of the Russia probe, is also on the list, as is Jessie Liu, who supervised not only Stone’s case, but also the attempted prosecution of Andrew McCabe.
“Although you serve at the president’s pleasure, you are also charged with the impartial administration of our laws. In turn, the House Judiciary Committee is charged with holding you to that responsibility.”
While it is likely that Barr won’t comply with many of these requests, Nadler may issue subpoenas directly to individuals of interest. As Democrats learned during the impeachment hearing, career officials are more likely to be forthright and honest about the Trump administration’s crimes and misdeeds.
A divided three-judge panel of the D.C. Appeals Court dismissed the House Judiciary Committee’s lawsuit against former White House Counsel Don McGahn, ruling that federal courts have no role to play in disputes between the Executive and Legislative branches. The two judges who ruled in favor of the Trump administration - Thomas Griffith and Karen Henderson - were appointed by George W. Bush and George H.W. Bush, respectively. The pair write that Congress should use other tools to try to compel McGahn’s testimony:
“Congress (or one of its chambers) may hold officers in contempt, withhold appropriations, refuse to confirm the President’s nominees, harness public opinion, delay or derail the President’s legislative agenda, or impeach recalcitrant officers.”
It should be mentioned that the majority does not mention the fact that during the impeachment trial Trump’s lawyers argued that Congress should pursue its subpoenas to executive branch witnesses in court. Judge Judith Rogers, a Bill Clinton appointee, wrote a lengthy dissent that is worth reading in full (starting on the 58th page of this document)
“The court removes any incentive for the Executive Branch to engage in the negotiation process seeking accommodation, all but assures future Presidential stonewalling of Congress, and further impairs the House’s ability to perform its constitutional duties… Future presidents may direct wide-scale noncompliance with lawful congressional inquiries, secure in the knowledge that Congress can do little to enforce a subpoena dramatically undermining its ability to fulfill its constitutional obligations now and going forward.”
Unfair competition suit
Trump also racked up a win in an “Emoluments-adjacent” lawsuit last week: a three-judge panel of the D.C. Appeals Court united to dismiss a wine bar’s claim that President Trump's D.C. hotel is unfairly undermining the business of other venues in the city. Judge Thomas Griffith, a George W. Bush appointee, and Reagan appointee Judge Stephen Williams joined Judge Merrick Garland in the ruling.
Though it is undisputed that the wine bar has experienced a downturn since Trump took office — his gilded hotel now attracting lobbyists, advocacy groups and diplomats who used to frequent the local business — the appeals court said no evidence suggests that the president or his hotel interfered in Cork’s business. The lawsuit “boiled down to an assertion that businesses with famous proprietors cannot compete fairly — a proposition alien to unfair-competition law,” Griffith wrote summarizing the 2017 dismissal of the case by U.S. District Judge Richard Leon.
As I explained in last Sunday’s post, Trump is seeking to purge any disloyal officials from his administration. Newly-returned staffer John McEntee is leading the search for “Never Trumpers” with the assistance of a network of conservative activists including Ginni Thomas, the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. On Monday, White House spokesman Hogan Gidley confirmed that the White House is identifying employees seen as disloyal to force out of their positions.
“It’s not a secret that we want people in positions that work with this president, not against him, and too often we have people in this government—I mean the federal government is massive, with millions of people—and there are a lot people out there taking action against this president and when we find them we will take appropriate action,” Gidley said. “Time and time again we see in the media reports from people in the bowels of the federal government working against this president...The president's been pretty clear about the fact he wants people in this administration who want to forward his agenda. Donald Trump was the only one elected. He was the only one that the American people voted for. They didn't vote for someone at any of these other agencies, any of these other departments.” he said.
One of those purged from the administration, DNI Joseph Maguire, was fired for allowing his top aide to brief Congress on Russia’s intervention in the 2020 election to Trump’s benefit. Last week, Trump said he will nominate Republican Rep. John Ratcliffe to fill the position - again. Trump previously announced his intent to nominate Ratcliffe in July, but withdrew the nomination five days later after members of both parties questioned his qualifications.
Ratcliffe rewind: Following Trump’s announcement last year, “key Republicans in Congress quickly signaled that Ratcliffe lacked the national security expertise that the job requires by law.” Ratcliffe also lied to inflate his resume: “Records and interviews with former colleagues also showed that Ratcliffe had exaggerated his role in terrorism and immigration enforcement cases when he served as a federal prosecutor in Texas. During his campaign and on his congressional website, Ratcliffe had boasted that he ‘arrested 300 illegal immigrants on a single day.’ That turned out not to be true. Former colleagues also said he didn’t play a significant role in a major terrorism case as he has claimed.” (WaPo or non-paywalled)
The current acting-DNI, Ric Grenell, can only serve until March 11 unless a permanent replacement is formally submitted to the Senate for confirmation. The Federal Vacancies Reform Act allows Grenell to remain in position throughout the confirmation process and - should Ratcliffe fail - another 210 days after. If a second person is nominated, the clock “resets” again.
To add onto previous reports of how massively inappropriate Grenell’s appointment is, ProPublica revealed that the new spy chief once got over $100,000 from the Hungarian government, but never reported it. Failing to register as a foreign agent would normally be something the DOJ would jump at prosecuting. Senate Majority leader Chuck Schumer wrote a letter to the Justice Department last week asking the assistant attorney general for national security to "immediately investigate." Grenell also wrote op-eds in 2016 defending Vladimir Plahotniuc, a Moldovan politician, and allegedly failed to disclose payments for his work on behalf of the oligarch.
What is the play here? The White House may believe that Ratcliffe is likely to be confirmed because Grenell is so ill suited for the job that Ratcliffe looks better in comparison. Alternatively, Trump is likely comfortable with Grenell as acting-DNI. Knowing that he would never survive the confirmation process, Trump may be using the generous time limits of the Federal Vacancies Reform Act to circumvent the Senate to keep his unqualified loyalist in the position in an acting capacity.
Rep. Robin Kelly, a member of the Oversight National Security subcommittee, introduced legislation last week that would mandate unconfirmed national security leaders testify before oversight committees every 45 days. “...this Administration has consistently used the ‘acting’ denotation to skirt these rules and limit Congressional oversight of our national security...The American people deserve better. They deserve to know who is responsible for protecting their families and our security. Congress must hold these individuals and any Administration accountable to the highest level of oversight and transparency to protect our national security.”
The effect of Trump’s grip on intel
The NSA, CIA, and Pentagon have been urged by the White House not to share information about Russia and Ukraine with lawmakers, while the “Gang of Eight” senior members of Congress were bypassed leading up to at least one major intelligence operation. And intelligence community leaders have backed out of the public portion of the annual worldwide threats hearing, fearing Trump’s wrath if their assessments don’t align with his. “We have an enemy of the United States that is conducting information warfare against us and our executive leadership doesn’t want to hear it, doesn’t want the Congress to hear it, and doesn’t want the people to hear it,” said former acting DNI David Gompert, who said he was “aghast” at the hiring of Grenell. “We now have a situation where the principal objective, evidently, of this acting DNI is to ensure that information about Russian interference and Russian preference for this particular president does not get out.” (Politico)
Ukrainian officials have noticed Trump’s purge and worry that efforts to force out individuals “would in the short term leave a hollowed out U.S. office in Kyiv and space for Russia to ratchet up its aggressive political influence operations.”
“Russia is getting more ambitious. They are already taking an aggressive position. Putin knows what he wants and he does not need to seek approval for his actions inside Russia let alone outside of Russia,” Danylyuk said. “There are not enough people in the administration—in the U.S. administration—to focus on Ukraine and Russia issues. A lot of people left. It will not be easy to find several counterparts.
March is SCOTUS month
This month, several highly-charged issues will be heard by the Supreme Court, setting up potentially-massive changes to the legal framework of our country. This week, Trump’s conservative appointees get their first chance to consider new curbs on abortion rights as the court examines the legality of a Louisiana law that could force two of the state’s three clinics that perform the procedure to shut down.
The case, June Medical Services v. Russo, pertains to a law passed in 2014 that requires doctors performing abortions to have admitting privileges to local hospitals. This requirement has proven to be unnecessary for clinics (an abortion rarely results in complications, and if one did, the patient would be admitted to a hospital regardless of the doctor’s privileges). And it’s so difficult to implement that when Texas passed a similar law, it shut down half the state’s clinics. (Buzzfeed News) While it is overwhelmingly likely that five justices will vote to uphold Louisiana’s law, there is some uncertainty about how they will do so. It is possible that the Court will overrule Roe v. Wade outright. But it is at least as likely that the Court will leave Roe nominally in place while simultaneously watering down the abortion right to such a degree that it loses meaning in red states. The Court often prefers to create the impression that it will not allow the law to swing wildly according to the justices’ whims. (Vox)
Also this week, the court will hear arguments on whether Congress exceeded constitutional boundaries in 2010 when it created the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The Trump administration believes the independent structure of the CFPB is unconstitutional and wants the president to have more control over the agency. For instance, Trump wants to be able to fire the director at will.
A court ruling on the President's removal power could affect a multitude of independent agencies including the Federal Trade Commission, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and Federal Reserve Board. For more than a century, Congress has been creating such agencies within the executive branch with directors who can only be removed only "for cause." (CNN)
Finally, on March 31, the high court will hear arguments in three cases involving House Democrats’ and New York state prosecutors’ attempts to obtain years of Trump’s financial records and tax returns. Last week, Trump called for Supreme Court Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg to recuse themselves from these three cases. Ginsberg criticized Trump’s character during his 2016 campaign, though she later apologized. Trump did not explain his reasoning for calling for Sotomayor’s recusal, other than her authoring of a dissent critical of the conservative justices on the court.
“Perhaps most troublingly, the Court’s recent behavior on stay applications has benefited one litigant over all others. This Court often permits executions — where the risk of irreparable harm is the loss of life — to proceed, justifying many of those decisions on purported failures ‘to raise any potentially meritorious claims in a timely manner,’” she wrote. “Yet the Court’s concerns over quick decisions wither when prodded by the Government in far less compelling circumstances.” What she really is saying is that the same justices who have no problem allowing condemned prisoners to be killed before legitimate questions about their cases can be resolved have no compunction in rushing to prematurely protect the Trump administration, and the president’s personal interests, from legitimate legal processes. In other words, Sotomayor is calling her conservative colleagues hypocrites who are willing to bend precedent in the pursuit of ideological goals. (Brennan Center)
The latest batch of emails released by the Department of Defense in response to a FOIA suit reveals evidence that the administration withheld from Congress during the impeachment inquiry and trial. Senior members of the Trump administration, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Defense Secretary Mark Esper, and then–National Security Adviser John Bolton had all advised President Trump to release the military aid to Ukraine, but the final decision was ultimately up to Trump.
The August 26, 2019, email from a senior career Pentagon official states that there was “no ongoing interagency review process with respect to USAI [Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative],” and states clearly: “Final decision rests with POTUS.”
“Critically, the email appears to contradict the White House budget office’s stated rationale for withholding the aid,” American Oversight states. Administration officials had been instructed to tell Congress that the freeze of aid to Ukraine was necessary to allow for an “interagency process to determine the best use of such funds.” The August 26 email clearly states that no such process was in action.
“Tonight’s document release is a reminder that before they lined up parrot the president’s line on Ukraine aid, senior members of the president’s national security team unanimously disagreed with his decision to withhold aid from Ukraine,” said Austin Evers, executive director of American Oversight.
An earlier email release revealed that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo fully coordinated with Rudy Giuliani on Trump’s pressure campaign on Ukraine and the ouster of U.S. Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch. “We now know Mike Pompeo and his aides encouraged Rudy Giuliani to deliver his bogus 'dossier' smearing Ambassador Yovanovitch during a week in 2019 when Giuliani's henchmen were stalking the ambassador in Kyiv,” American Oversight executive director Austin Evers told Yahoo News.
The House continues Ukraine probe
The Foreign Affairs Committee is reportedly at odds with pro-Trump candidate Robert Hyde, who claimed to have former Ambassador Yovanovitch under surveillance. Chairman Eliot Engel, who is investigating the alleged surveillance and threats to the Ambassador, said in an email to Hyde last month that he was “dismayed to read yesterday that you have made statements to the media which greatly exaggerate the extent of your cooperation with this investigation."
"As you know, we have expressed repeated concern that the records you previously produced contain significant gaps," the House staffers wrote. They added that it was obvious Hyde hadn't turned everything over because his batch of materials was missing records that Congress already knows about because they were turned over by Parnas, who was on the other end of the texts.
Last week, six members of Congress led by Reps. Denny Heck (WA-10) and Jim Himes (CT-04) sent a letter to World Bank Group President David Malpass requesting information about his August meeting with Zelensky in Ukraine. The lawmakers voiced concerns that the meeting could be seen as a part of Trump’s pressure campaign that resulted in his impeachment.
The lawmakers asked Malpass to disclose when he decided to visit Kyiv, whether he coordinated his trip with non-World Bank officials, the “deliverables” of the meeting, the meeting’s impact on the World Bank’s plans in Ukraine and whether they discussed Hunter Biden, Burisma or Viktor Shokin, the former Ukrainian prosecutor general who was ousted under international pressure from leaders including former Vice President Biden. (The Hill)
Russia, Russia, Russia
Trump accused House Intelligence Committee Adam Schiff of leaking information about Russia’s efforts to interfere in the 2020 election, dismissed the intelligence as “exaggerated,” and refused to acknowledge that Moscow was behind similar efforts in 2016. “Schiff leaked it, in my opinion — and he shouldn’t be leaking things like that,” Mr. Trump said without evidence.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi informed the public that the Trump administration “failed to provide Congress with a report on the ongoing attacks on America’s elections from foreign governments, which was required by the bipartisan FY2020 National Defense Authorization Act.”
It was reported that Senate Intelligence Committee Richard Burr warned Senate Homeland Security Committee Chairman Ron Johnson and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley that their probe targeting Biden could aid Russian efforts to sow chaos and distrust in the U.S. political system.
The Washington Post reported that “U.S. officials are sitting on test results that may show how the Putin regime twice tried to kill a peaceful opponent whose close ties to the United States, and columns for The Post, are reminiscent of Jamal Khashoggi, the murdered Saudi journalist.”
A Russian court ordered former United States Marine Trevor Reed be detained for another six months on accusations he assaulted police officers in Moscow last year, a charge that his defense team has called “fraudulent.” Meanwhile, former Marine Paul Whelan has been in a Russian jail since 2018 on espionage accusations. Their treatment is a stark contrast from that received by celebrity rapper A$AP Rocky - when detained in Sweden, Trump dispatched his hostage envoy (and current National Security Adviser) to oversee the matter and secure Rocky’s release. No such effort has been made for the two former service members in Moscow.
Hopping the pond to look at Russia’s interference in the U.K.: The wife of former Russian Finance Minister and Putin-ally Vladimir Chernukhin made a £90,000 donation for a game of tennis with Prime Minister Boris Johnson. “The donation comes as Johnson continues to delay publication of a parliamentary report detailing extensive links between his party and donors with links to Russia.”
Alleged Saudi and UAE funding for Trump
Lebanese-American businessman Ahmad "Andy" Khawaja told Spectator Magazine that officials from Abu Dhabi and Saudi Arabia illegally funneled millions of dollars into Trump’s 2016 campaign. As the CEO of an online payment processing company, Khawaja claims that George Nader obtained his assistance to disguise the money using stolen identities and gift cards as under-$200 campaign contributions that are not required to be reported to the Federal Election Commission.
He remembers Nader explaining why they wanted to fund the Trump campaign. According to Khawaja, Nader said: ‘I’ve been meeting with the Trump campaign people…we have a deal with Trump: my boss, His Highness, made a deal that if we help Trump get elected, he’s going to be harsh on Iran, he’s going to take out the nuclear deal that the Obama administration made. That will cripple the Iranian economy and will sanction Iran from selling oil again. It will make it very difficult for them to compete in the oil market. That’s worth a hundred billion dollars to us. That’s the reason we cannot allow Hillary to win at any cost. She must lose.’ Khawaja says he asked: ‘But you really think he’s going to win? I mean, this is crazy.’ And he says that Nader replied: ‘His Highness is not stupid, he will never bet on a losing horse.’ The money would come from the Saudis. The Emiratis would run the operation, using data bought from the Chinese. Khawaja says that Nader told him: ‘We have all the data already, we have 10 million US consumers’ data. And we have endless money.’ The Russians were ‘on board’ too: ‘He said, “Yes, I have met with Putin already and we have a green light from him. Because Putin is on the same page with us. He wants Hillary to lose.”’
Khawaja and Nader were charged with making false statements, obstruction, and allegedly making illegal contributions to Clinton’s campaign on behalf of an unidentified foreign official. While Nader is currently in jail, Khawaja is a fugitive in the Middle East.
Cuccinelli appointment illegal
A D.C.-based federal judge ruled Sunday that President Donald Trump's appointment of Ken Cuccinelli as acting U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services director violated the Federal Vacancies Reform Act, a decision that suspends two policies Cuccinelli implemented while leading the agency. (Politico) Three weeks after assuming his new role, Cuccinelli issued a memorandum announcing a revised policy for scheduling credible-fear interviews, the first step in the asylum process, according to the court ruling. Under the revised policy, the agency reduced the time allotted for asylum seekers to consult with others prior to their interviews. Under Cuccinelli, USCIS also prohibited granting asylum seekers extensions of time to prepare for their credible-fear interviews, "except in the most extraordinary of circumstances." The asylum directives must be set aside, Moss ruled. (CNN)
Eric Trump’s taxpayer-funded business trip
Eric Trump visited a Trump property in development in Uruguay from January 8 to 9, 2019, a two-day business trip that cost taxpayers at least $80,786. CREW obtained records through the Freedom of Information Act today that add to the massive bill of Secret Service protection related to the Trump family’s management of the president’s business empire. The 2019 trip brings Eric Trump’s total up to at least $178,616 in taxpayer funds to work on development of the Trump Organization’s Punta Del Este property alone.
Scottish leader calls for Trump investigation
Parliamentarian Patrick Harvie, a co-leader of the Scottish Greens party, implored the government to pursue a legal order forcing Trump and the Trump Organization to reveal the funding of its multi-million dollar Scottish land acquisitions, saying there were “reasonable grounds” to suspect the U.S. president has been involved in illegal activity.
Mr Harvie said that the House of Representatives had heard testimony which stated: "We saw patterns of buying and selling that we thought were suggestive of money laundering" - with particular concern expressed about Mr Trump's golf courses in Scotland and Ireland. He added: "Trump's known sources of income don't explain where the money came from for these huge cash transactions. There are reasonable grounds for suspecting that his lawfully obtained income was insufficient.”
"Scottish ministers can apply via the Court of Session for an unexplained wealth order, a tool designed for precisely these kinds of situations." The orders can be issued by the courts to compel their target to reveal the source of funding, and are often used to tackle suspected international money laundering.
District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson denied Stone’s request that she disqualify herself from his case for supposed “bias,” issuing a sharply-worded rebuke of the defense’s allegations: "At bottom, given the absence of any factual or legal support for the motion for disqualification, the pleading appears to be nothing more than an attempt to use the Court’s docket to disseminate a statement for public consumption that has the words 'judge' and 'biased' in it," Jackson wrote. “Judges cannot be ‘biased’ and need not be disqualified if the views they express are based on what they learned while doing the job they were appointed to do.” Footage of Roger Stone’s interviews with prosecutors last month has been released… and the only word that can sum it up is “wow.” The entire archive can be found here, but if you are short on time Politico’s Andrew Kimmel made a supercut of the must-see moments that illustrate Stone’s true character: a narcissist who can barely control his anger at being questioned.
Stefanik broke fundraising rules
A constituent of Republican Rep. Elise Stefanik (NY-21) filed an official complaint against her with the Office of Congressional Ethics for using footage of House floor activities to raise funds for her campaign - an express violation of House rules. Stefanik has used clips of her questioning during the impeachment inquiry in fundraising emails, including one with the subject line, that read, “WATCH: I EXPOSED ADAM SCHIFF.”
In a letter sent on June 7, 2018, the House Ethics Committee reminded legislators that “rules specifically prohibit the use of footage of House Floor activities and committee proceedings for any partisan political purpose.” “I think Rep. Stefanik’s use of video of the House hearing to solicit political contributions is a serious violation of that rule,” says Larry Noble, the former general counsel of the Federal Election Commission. “The rule is clear, and so is the guidance given by the House Ethics Committee.” Donald K. Sherman, general counsel of the ethics watchdog Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington — a group that routinely opposes the Trump administration — agrees with that assessment. “House Ethics Committee guidance clearly prohibits Members from using video of committee proceedings for campaign purposes,” said Sherman, who was previously a high-ranking Senate attorney, “which Rep. Stefanik appears to have done nine times in the last six months.
Campaign Legal Center, a nonprofit government accountability watchdog, filed a complaint with the Office of Congressional Ethics asking for an investigation into how Rep. Devin Nunes is paying for his six separate lawsuits against media companies and critics.
The complaint says Nunes appears to be in “blatant violation of House rules,” because he would have trouble paying for all these lawsuits solely from his congressional salary of $174,000 per year. The group argues he’d only be able to pay if he received legal services for free, at a discounted rate, or based on a contingency fee, meaning the lawyer would get compensated from Nunes’ winnings if he prevails in his lawsuits. In all of those cases, the complaint says, Nunes must disclose the legal help he is receiving by filing a legal expense fund, otherwise it would represent an illegal gift given to Nunes under congressional ethics rules. Nunes has not filed a legal expense fund with the Office of Congressional Ethics.
Washington Post: A federal appeals court in California halted the Trump administration’s “Remain in Mexico” asylum policy on Friday, removing one of the key tools the president has used to curb mass migration across the southern U.S. border. The ruling was in effect for only a few hours, however, as the judges later granted a Trump administration request for an emergency stay “pending further order of this court.” Justice Department lawyers said in court filings that 25,000 migrants have been waiting in Mexico and argued that they feared the ruling would lead to an influx on the southern border.
New York Times: The Justice Department said Wednesday that it had created an official section in its immigration office to strip citizenship rights from naturalized immigrants, a move that gives more heft to the Trump administration’s broad efforts to remove from the country immigrants who have committed crimes… Some Justice Department immigration lawyers have expressed worries that denaturalizations could be broadly used to strip citizenship.
The Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights: "We reject any denaturalization task force that destroys citizenship as we know it and keeps every naturalized immigrant living in fear. Trump is weaponizing the DOJ to make naturalized immigrants look like second-class citizens."
Jurist: The US Supreme Court issued a 5-4 decision in Hernandez v. Mesa on Tuesday, holding that the parents of a Mexican child who was shot and killed by a border official have no right to seek a remedy in American civil court. The child, Jesus Hernandez, had been playing with friends in a dry culvert that straddles the US-Mexico border between El Paso, Texas and Ciudad Juarez. Border Patrol agent Jesus Mesa fired at Hernandez from the US side of the culvert, and the bullet struck the boy on the Mexican side, where he died.
CNN: Secretary of Defense Mark Esper faced a bipartisan grilling from lawmakers Wednesday on Capitol Hill for his decision to divert military funding to pay for the US border wall as he testifies before the House Armed Services Committee… The top Republican on the committee, Rep. Mac Thornberry, also slammed the move saying it is "substituting the judgment of the administration for the judgment of Congress," adding "I am deeply concerned about where we're headed with the constitutional issue."
ACLU: The American Civil Liberties Union today filed a new lawsuit challenging the Trump administration’s transfer of an additional $3.8 billion in military funds for border wall construction. Congress did not authorize the funds. “The president is doubling down on his unlawful scheme to raid taxpayer funds for a xenophobic campaign promise that is destroying national treasures, harming the environment, and desecrating tribal lands.”
Associated Press: President Donald Trump may not divert $89 million intended for a military construction project in Washington state to build his border wall… “Congress repeatedly and deliberately declined to appropriate the full funds the President requested for a border wall along the southern border of the United States,” [Judge] Rothstein wrote.
Today, Monday March 2, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in a case involving the Trump administration’s “expedited removal” of asylum seekers without allowing them a chance to take their application before a federal judge. For a detailed discussion of the case, see the ACLU and Lawfare.
Mother Jones: Melania Trump Got an “Einstein Visa.” Why Was It So Hard for This Nobel Prize Winner? Immigration attorneys say the Trump administration is rejecting highly qualified applicants for “genius” green cards.
“They discussed the Irish Question; but they never seriously contemplated the Irish Answer.” -G. K. Chesterton, Irish Impressions 1919 99 years ago, on November 28, 1920, 36 IRA men under the command of Tom Barry laid an ambush just south of Kilmichael in West Cork for an 18 man British patrol and slaughtered them. 16 of the paramilitary policemen were killed outright. One was wounded, stumbled away from the carnage to seek shelter, and was summarily executed with his own weapon by two IRA men (not involved with the ambush) who were hiding nearby. The last one so severely injured that the IRA shooters thought he was dead; 24 hours later, he was scooped up by his comrades from the ambush site and nursed back to health to give the only British recollection of the fight. It was the largest and bloodiest IRA action of the Anglo-Irish war. It was thought that the British superiority of numbers, logistics, and equipment made any stand up fight hopeless and so dictated that the IRA must skulk about sniping at tower guards and hitting isolated individuals and teams. 18 veteran soldiers being gunned down in the blink of an eye by some backwoods bushwhacker gang seemed to change everything. ————————————————————— The Military and Political Situation in Ireland I am going to attempt to give the background to the Anglo-Irish War of 1919-1921 in as broad of strokes as possible. My intent is to maintain focus on the ambush itself, which precludes delving too deeply into politics. However, military actions are welded firmly to political goals, and any discussion of fighting that does not give political context to them is inherently incomplete. Let them this extremely brief description suffice to satisfy both purposes. As it stood at the end of the nineteenth century, Ireland was part of the UK the same as Wales, Scotland, and England, and was therefore represented within the British Parliament. For various reasons that convinced a decent sized majority of Irishmen (and a fair number of other ethnicities within the UK), people became convinced that Ireland needed its own Parliament to pass its own laws in order to prosper, which would give it a measure of self-sovereignty within the British Empire on par with Canada or Australia. Accordingly, Ireland had been demanding more and more insistently for Home Rule. For a variety of reasons which would needlessly elongate this section, Britain alternatively refused point blank to grant it and made false promises that Home Rule was just around the corner. On Easter 1916, a coalition of Nationalists and Socialists joined forces in a rebellion centered in Dublin city to shove the envelope as far as it could go, asserting that mere Home Rule was insufficient. They declared the birth of a new Irish Republic, as distinct from Britain as France or Germany was. The Easter Uprising in 1916 was utterly crushed by the superior British infantry and artillery within a few short weeks, but when the Nationalist leadership who had dared to declare independence right in the middle of the Great War were executed, their martyrdom sparked mass sympathy among the populace of Ireland. In 1918, the separatist party Sinn Fein ("Ourselves Alone") campaigned for Parliament seats on the promise they would secede from the UK if elected. They won the vote and, true to their word, they seceded to form their own Irish Parliament. The British naturally disagreed that such an action was legal or indeed possible and so declared Sinn Fein an outlaw political party. They sent troops over again to dismantle the nascent government and to keep order in the face of the simmering, belligerent rebellion, which in turn led the provisional government of the Irish Republic to organize resistance in 1919. Local militia units across the country, who swore allegiance to the Irish Republic as proclaimed on Easter Sunday 1916, formed a loose and decentralized guerrilla movement; the armed wing of the Republican movement was named, fittingly, the Irish Republican Army. The decentralization was necessary, for the leaders of IRA had no reliable and secure lines of communication and supply to their soldiers spread throughout the country. Every population center self-generated its own cadre of leaders and fighters and conducted the fighting as it saw fit- the West Cork IRA was for all intents and purposes on its own. The violence bubbled up sporadically in fits and starts as the various police, paramilitary, and military units loyal to the Crown feuded with the various “flying columns” of the IRA. The same population that had voted for Sinn Fein mostly supported the Republican cause, and this conviction only deepened when naked violence was employed against them to root out the insurgent forces. On November 21st 1920, the de facto Commander-in-Chief of the IRA Michael Collins upped the ante of violence. Acting at last on two years' worth of carefully collected and organized information of enemy identities and movements, he sent assassins to murder every British intelligence agent and informant he could find, which turned out to be about 21 men all killed on the same morning, mostly at their own doorstep without warning. This stroke of violence not only shocked the British, it would also leave them blinded and almost incapable of detecting IRA members and helpers for the rest of the war. The British backlash was clumsy, emotional, and undisciplined. That same afternoon after Collins’ gunmen did their bloody work, the Dublin Auxiliary branch of the Royal Irish Constabulary surrounded a Gaelic football match with the apparent intent to mass search all 5,000 of them for weapons. Someone starting shooting, so all his mates started shooting, machine guns opened up on the crowd, and it was all in all about a minute and a half of pure craziness. 14 civilians died and about 65 were injured. ”Bloody Sunday” marked a significant uptick in the level of violence in Ireland. Tom Barry of the West Cork IRA Brigade would match it just one week later at Kilmichael. ————————————————————— So Who Are These People, Anyway? The Auxiliary Division of the Royal Irish Constabulary were recruited and formed in 1920 to add firepower and spine to the Royal Irish Constabulary, who were trying to suppress the insurgents. Demographically, the Auxiliaries had a type. They were all former Army officers, mostly jumped up from the enlisted ranks in the First World War for valor and to fill dead men's shoes- not many blue blooded noblemen among them. They averaged about three years in the trenches each. They sprang primarily from the lower and upper middle class, the sons of merchants and shopkeepers. Ethnically, they were almost a perfect cross section of the UK with Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and England being proportionately represented. Barring one or two individuals, none of them had criminal records. The average age was around 30 years old. They simply couldn't find work after the war ended and so jumped at chance to serve in Ireland. The men of the IRA also had a type. They were mostly young men from a working class or laborer background. Most had avoided the First World War, unwilling to die for a country that denied them Home Rule, though Tom Barry himself was an exception that tested this rule; he had served in the British Army in Iraq before his exposure to Republican politics following the 1916 Easter Uprising, and had been initially distrusted in the IRA for flying the British flag over his home when he returned home. They were overwhelmingly Catholic, though interestingly there were a couple of Protestant members scattered here and there. In the face of the experienced and well-equipped British war machine, the IRA’s primary task was to survive, for as long as they could produce “flying columns” of guerrilla fighters to harass the British forces, assassinate British civil servants, and intimidate loyalist informers, the cost of the war to the government would act as a powerful inducement to recognize Irish sovereignty. They therefore rarely took any immense risks that might lead their units to being cornered and wiped out; they could afford to have individual volunteers snatched up, arrested, and often killed, but the apparatus that recruited, organized, and directed them was fragile and almost irreplaceable. ————————————————————— The Ambush Itself To set the stage for the Kilmichael Ambush, the West Cork Auxiliaries based in Macroom were out raiding after Bloody Sunday. They hopped in their lorries every day and rode out to burn homes, terrorize women and children, assault men with rifle butts and pistol grips for speaking Irish, and murder suspected members of Sinn Fein in cold blood. That's the folk memory of how the Auxiliaries conducted counter-insurgency, and it is relatively accurate in spite of frequent exceptions. Much has been said about their brutality and lawlessness, framing them as a bunch of psychotic, sadistic hooligans. Like many stereotypes, this is based on reality, but there are many reasons to cast some doubt on the folk memory of the Auxiliaries. Many of their barn burnings and raids and killings were said to be official British policy, and this was a solid 25 years before army men found out that "just following orders" was a not a proper excuse. According to one IRA spy named who had embedded in their ranks as a sleeper agent, they were mostly good guys, but about 10% were "bad eggs"; obviously, the actions of a "bad egg" wearing a distinct uniform will be attributed to everyone wearing the uniform. Counter-insurgency too has the tendency to bring out the worst in people, as the frustration of dealing with a hostile population and not being able to separate the guerrillas from the civilians takes its toll. Finally, they are often conflated and confused with their sister unit of the Royal Irish Constabulary Special Reserve (known slangily as the Black and Tans, because their uniform was an irregular mix of army khaki and police black), who were also paramilitaries recruited from the army to bolster the police presence, but who were a) recruited from the enlisted ranks, not the officers; b) far more deserving off their reputation for brutality and lawlessness; and c) far more numerous than the Auxiliaries. These distinctions and mitigating traits were, of course, blurred a bit for the population who suffered under state sanctioned violence. Tom Barry paints this specific ambush as an absolute necessity for the war effort. As long as the Auxiliaries can roam at will and terrorize entire counties with impunity, the population that the IRA depends on for sustainment (food, clothing, shelter, intelligence, volunteers, etc) will start to waver in their support. After all, if the IRA can’t fight back, why allow our houses to burn and our children to be threatened by armed men? What’s the point of declaring independence if we lack the strength to defend ourselves? From there, it’s but a short skip and a jump to “Why am I giving up the last of the food in our larder to provide dinner to a group of raggedy insurgents?” and “It’ll go easier on all of us if we give the police the names and home addresses of the guys in the flying column,” at which point the war is basically lost. As such, a dramatic counter strike was desperately needed. Through intelligence given by sympathetic locals, Tom Barry noticed that the Auxiliaries were committing the cardinal sin of counter-insurgency work; they fell into a predictable pattern, taking the same route home every night. There were two stretches of their route where they were vulnerable, but one was far too close to a British outpost filled with reinforcements for comfort. The other was a country road just south of Kilmichael. I have made an effort to recreate the ambush that Tom Barry planned: an improvised L-shaped ambush. For those who never lovingly leafed through FM 7-85 “Ranger Unit Operations”, chapter 6 of it describes it succinctly: “The L-shaped ambush is formed with the base (bottom) of the L perpendicular to the expected enemy direction of advance. This is a good ambush for a road, jungle trail, or an area where the enemy is canalized and his approach route is known.” Indeed, this matches the situation to a tee. I have no idea if Tom Barry instinctively sussed out how to set up a decent ambush from first principles or if he picked up the concept during his stint in the British Army. I suppose it hardly matters. He divided up his force of 36 fighters into three distinct sections with some minor detachments. They were armed with captured rifles, shotguns, revolvers, bayonets, and a couple of grenades. His three man “Command Post” (helpfully and expertly marked on my screenshot of Google Maps) adopted concealment behind a stone wall to the east of the ambuscade, staring west down the headlights of the advancing lorries. This CP would form the little leg of the L of the L-shaped ambush. Their task was to instigate the firing, for to preserve the element of surprise nobody would occupy their fighting positions until after the CP opened fire. Section 1 with ten men was positioned mere yards away on the reverse slope of a big boulder, unable to see anything until they stood up and inched forward to peer over the top. They would function as the lower part of the long leg of the L of the L-shaped ambush, tasked with pouring flanking fire into the lorry once it was stopped. They would also be the assaulting element once the ambush was sprung. Section 2 with ten men was strung out along the military crest of the hillside, hidden and protected by the rocky terrain. They would be the upper part of the long leg of the L. Once the patrol was fixed in place, they were to engage the second lorry in the convoy. I have no clear idea where exactly they were ensconced in, hence the question marks. Section 3 was divided up into two groups, which I have arbitrarily labeled group A and B. Group A with six men was stationed behind some rocks to the south of the road in case the Auxiliaries dismounted and sprinted into cover on that side- trying to solve a problem before it developed, you see. Google maps shows no rocks that they could plausibly hide behind as Tom Barry said they did, so I’m not clear on where exactly they were either. I’m assuming that the field to the south has been cleared in the decades since the ambush, because this contemporaneous photo shows that the terrain south of the road was far rockier than it is today. Group B, also six men, were held in reserve somewhere north of the ambush site- they were expecting two trucks, but if there was a third or a fourth then Section 3B was tasked with maneuvering against them to prevent them from interfering with the ambush. The remaining men were spread as scouts in all directions to provide security and advance warning of enemy movement. Tom Barry himself would take center stage, standing openly in the road in between the CP and Section 1; he's the green dot on the linked map. We’ll get to his role shortly. This ambush was notable in two ways. First, it would be conducted at excruciatingly close range. The disparity of training between the IRA and the Auxiliaries was considerable. Due to ammunition shortages, there had only been enough bullets to allow each IRA man four live bullets to practice their aim before sending him into action, in contrast to the hundreds and thousands of rounds shot to hone marksmanship in the British army. Since there really aren’t any sharpshooters at a distance of five to ten yards- you either line up your sights onto the target or you don’t- the chosen tactics and starting positions neutralized the British advantage in arms. Second, and very much related to the first, Tom Barry deliberately violated the cardinal rule of guerrilla warfare by selecting an ambush site with no easy exit. Every other premeditated skirmish they had ever staged had had an escape route to take if things went wrong. This time, however, neither the Auxiliaries nor the IRA would have any plausible opportunity to break contact after the first shot was fired. It was going to be (as Tom Barry gravely informed his men as they set up the ambush) a fight to the death- either the Auxiliary patrol gets wiped out, or the flying column perishes. To raise the stakes even higher, the West Cork Brigade were neither numerous nor well-stocked with weapons. At no point in the war did Tom Barry and his men have access to more than 116 rifles, and those 36 men were the cream of the crop of the whole county. If killed, and their weapons seized, they could not easily be replaced. Every egg they had was to be placed in the same basket for this fight. The 36 IRA men got their battle plan from their captain that morning, then trudged off to take up their positions and wait. They’d marched on foot all night to reach the killing field to set up first. The owners of the house just to the south were sympathetic to the cause, but had no food for themselves, let alone a gaggle of frozen and weary riflemen. They sent a bucket of tea around instead to give the guerrillas something hot to drink. That’s how Tom Barry’s men passed the daylight hours of November 28th: soaked through from the dew and frozen in the Winter winds, empty stomachs gnawing at them, and with plenty of hours to sit still and think about what might go wrong. ————————————————————— The Jaws Snap Shut Francis Crake had been a clerk at an insurance firm, and he married his sweetheart in the same month the war broke out. On September 3rd, 1914, Private Crake enlisted with the 1st Hampshires and went to war in France. Three years later, he was Lt. Crake. A year later, in 1918, he was being mentioned in dispatches for conspicuous gallantry and leadership under fire. February of 1920, he was discharged from the army. October 3rd, 1920, seven years to the day since he joined the army as a private, Captain Crake joined the Auxiliary Division. Two months after that, he was leading the 18 man Auxiliary patrol through West Cork. He sat in the lead vehicle, riding shotgun, heading home to Macroom after a day of raiding. At approximately 4:05 pm, just after sunset, his convoy took the curve of the road around the darkened, rocky hillside at about 40 mph. Even without the headlights, the moon was almost full, so visibility was pretty good. He saw a man standing in the middle of the road wearing a military uniform, waving his hands as though to ask for help. Cpt. Crake ordered his driver to slow down to see what the problem was. That man in the road was indeed wearing a military uniform, but not a British one. It was the official tunic of the IRA, though Tom Barry knew perfectly well that no British soldier would recognize it on sight. The man in the uniform with the military webbing and equipment over it was easily mistaken for a fellow Auxiliary. Once Crake’s convoy had slowed down, the ambush was sprung. A grenade was flung into the cab, killing and mangling the driver and Crake alike. Rifle fire from the front and the left raked the men in the lead vehicle in a murderous crossfire. Behind them, the second lorry was being riddled with bullets by Section 2. Men shot rifles (designed to be accurate and deadly at a thousand yards) at men so close they could have spit on them just as easily. The men of the lead vehicle (helpfully marked as a red square in the accompanying map) tried to dismount under fire. The survivors who did manage to get solid ground under their feet were hit by a charge as ferocious as any they’d seen in the trenches of France. They were alternately shot with pistols at close range, ran through with bayonets, clubbed down with rifle butts, and blasted with shotguns. At some point, Temporary Cadet Cecil Guthrie escaped from the mayhem, crawling away from the rear vehicle with presumably non-fatal wounds. Guthrie was a Royal Air Force veteran, a pilot who spent the war all over the Middle East- in fact, it’s not impossible that he and Tom Barry were posted to the same base at some point, for although Tom Barry was an enlisted artilleryman and therefore unlikely to mix with the pilots, they were on the same front in roughly the same battle space and fighting the same Ottomans. Guthrie was mentioned in dispatches in 1919 for his service in the Afghan war, where he met and fell in love with a nurse named Irene Peach. They had married earlier that year and the Mrs. Guthrie already had a child on the way; indeed, she was mere miles north of him at his base in Macroom, waiting patiently for his patrol to return. He scrambled into the dark, away from the Kilmichael ambush. He would make his way on foot four miles across the countryside towards safety, but two miles short of Macroom, Guthrie would try to get help at a civilian house. Unfortunately for Guthrie, two IRA men were hiding there, and they recognized the ragged, wounded man by face. You see, a month before, an unarmed man named James Lehane has been snatched up by Guthrie’s unit in a raid and murdered without trial on suspicion of being an IRA volunteer. Witnesses had fingered Guthrie as the man who had emptied his revolver into Lehane at point blank range and in cold blood. It’s like I told you, counter-insurgency brings out the worst in people. Guthrie was executed with his own gun and his body was tossed into a nearby bog. Years later, after the Treaty, the Irish government had his remains dragged out and given a proper burial in deference to his widow and daughter, though there is no real way to know if the body they buried was in fact his or not. As you can see from this updated map, the Auxiliaries of the lead truck were all killed. Those in the rear truck were at a lethal disadvantage. Tom Barry organized his CP and Section 1 and led them west down the road to fire into the enemy rear. The survivors of the second truck now were under fire from the hill to the north, the rocks from the south, and the road to the east. They had no cover at all save for the broken down lorry, which was not even bullet proof to start with. The next day, when a sister company from the Auxiliaries mapped out the battlefield and marked where the dead had dropped. The lead truck’s dead were bunched up in a tight clump, and the rear truck’s detachment were scattered across the fields. This indicates that the dismounted survivors of the rear truck scattered and were hunted down as individuals. Here, presumably, Temporary Cadet Frederick Forde was dropped by a gunshot wound to the head. Forde was born to be a soldier; he grew up as a military brat in India and applied to the Royal Military Academy before the Great War even broke out. He commissioned in 1915 and served as an artilleryman in the Balkans, Egypt, and Palestine; at some point, just like Guthrie, Forde might well have bumped into the very man who had organized the ambush he’d been driven into. By both Forde’s and Tom Barry’s account, the IRA finished off the wounded and stripped the bodies of ammunition, grabbed the dropped rifles, and searched the bodies for papers that might bear valuable intelligence. Two of the Irishmen- Michael McCarthy, the leader of Section 2, and Jim O’Sullivan- were stretched out dead in the damp grass. They had died from Auxiliary shots from the rear truck. Sullivan in particular died under highly controversial circumstances that I will get to in a minute. Patrick Deasy, aged 16, was also hit, and hit bad. Pat Deasy was the little brother of 22 year old Liam Deasy. The two brothers had served in the West Cork IRA together, and when the Treaty came into effect the following year Liam would bitterly reject it. Both Liam Deasy and Tom Barry alike would end up on the Anti-Treaty side in the coming Irish Civil War, dodging policemen and soldiers of the Irish Free State instead of British policemen and soldiers, ambushing their former IRA comrades in arms instead of the Auxiliaries. Tom Barry would be cooling his heels in a Free State prison cell when his friend Liam Deasy set a long range ambush that would see Michael Collins shot to death in 1922. However, all of that is in their future. That evening of the 28th of November, Liam’s little brother Pat was begging his commander for a drink of water. Tom Barry knew that giving water to a man with such a stomach wound would be lethal, so he promised him a cup of tea when they got to safety. Pat Deasy didn’t survive long enough to drink it. Many of the IRA men were physically sick to their stomachs by what they had seen and done- by Tom Barry’s account, one IRA man had been standing so close to his victim that he had had blood splashed into his mouth when he shot the Auxiliary in the neck. The men of the West Cork brigade had learned the same lesson that the dead had learned in the Great War- violent death at close quarters was an intense and emotional experience. Noting that they had been shaken badly by the sheer violence of their own attack, Tom Barry found it necessary to spend valuable time parading them around the ambuscade site in close order drill- left, left, left right, about face, present arms, forward march, left face, right face, shoulder arms, left, left, left right- purely to settle their nerves and restore discipline. The drill was concluded by saluting their three slain comrades who were laid out before them. The whole business took about a half hour from the initial shots until the flying column was marching off into the dark with their newly captured arms and ammunition, using their head-start to avoid the inevitable counterattack that would come once the results of the ambush were discovered. The rains poured down heavy that night; black clouds blocked out the bright moonlight. When Forde’s comrades saw that Crake’s patrol had failed to return on time, they sent out a search party but in the dark and stormy night had found nothing. They tried again in the morning and found the site of the massacre easily this time. It is nothing short of miraculous that Forde survived until morning, and then survived the trip to the Battalion surgeon. He would end up with a medical discharge at the highest pension rate available at the time, which was only fair, for he would be paralyzed for life. ————————————————————— The Controversies and Mysteries That We Are Never Going to Solve The real problem here is that there are two primary sources for the Kilmichael ambush- Tom Barry’s memoir Guerrilla Days in Ireland and similar recollections from surviving volunteers given years or decades later, and the British account based on Forde’s recollection and on physical evidence collected the following day. I am happy to assume the truth when they are in agreement with each other, and even reasonably on board with details given by one account but not the other. However, when they assert conflicting facts, we are forced to play the part of the courtroom lawyer and the armchair psychologist by questioning sources and applying logic and unraveling unlikely alibis. For instance, just after the ambush, a local coroner conducted a “superficial examination” and concluded that some of the bodies had been mutilated post-mortem with “an axe or some kind of similar heavy, sharp tool.” Forde’s personal account seems to confirm it- a fellow Auxiliary speaking of Forde’s private recollection claimed that “[t]he leader appeared to be an enormous red headed Irishman who personally inspected each body for signs of life. He was armed with a pistil [sic] and a small axe. The last thing Forde remembers was lying on the road with the red headed giant bending over him taking a swing at his head with the axe.” Whereas Tom Barry stoutly denies any axe swinging or mutilation whatsoever, labeling it a vicious piece of British propaganda. So just what are we to make of this? Well, one, Forde was confused about a lot of things. He thought that there was about 100 IRA dressed as British soldiers, when there was only about 30 shooting in total and only one had a a uniform on. He thought that they had a machine gun and a mess of Tommy guns, when they absolutely didn’t. The guy walked into a maelstrom of chaotic violence and then got shot in the head, so how good could his memory possibly be? Not to mention that he described Tom Barry as an enormous, red-headed giant, while in real life he looked like he might go into a food coma if you fed him half of a ham and cheese sandwich. And it’s not like the British Empire held itself to a high moral standard when it comes to propaganda and spreading lies; the story that the West Cork IRA had mutilated the bodies hit the newspaper the day after the ambush, long before Forde was able to be properly debriefed. Come to that, Forde’s medical discharge stated that his head wound came from a gunshot with no mention of any other cause. Then again, Tom Barry’s account may also be unreliable. He denied the allegation, sure, but he was also completely unaware at the time of his memoir in 1949 that Forde had survived at all. He was under the impression that 17 men had died by their trucks, and the 18th has escaped only to be hunted down and tossed into the bog the day after. So his account was made under the impression that no British eye-witness could possibly gain-say him. One might ask, what’s the point of desecrating the dead to make a point only to deny it later? The obvious answer is that the axe chopping was a spur of the moment, adrenaline-pumping-through-his-veins kind of thing. That is the exact kind of thing that an insurgent commander would need to stringently deny and cover up if he wanted to win the propaganda war. If I had to make a call, which I really don’t want to do because I’d be standing on very shaky ground, I’d say that any post-mortem mutilation was a natural result of close quarters violence and not a deliberate attempt to subject the fallen to dishonorable degradation. I can kind of construct a timeline of it- the coroner takes a peek at a series of badly damaged corpses, ravaged as they were by grenades and bayonets and shotguns, and comments, “Jeez, it almost looks like someone took an axe to this guy.” Some savvy British spook then spreads the story far and wide that the savage Irish chopped up the dead like wild Injuns, Forde’s memory is influenced by the official story, and Tom Barry has to try to ignore all damage he ordered done to the enemy after they hit the dirt to counter the accusation. A nice, neat, clean interpretation of events, which is as plausible as any other fictional story because we simply don’t know. We’ve already covered the controversial use of a uniform in an act of deceit. The British were convinced that the IRA used stolen uniforms to deceive Crake’s patrol, which infuriated them to no end. Tom Barry’s stance was that it was not only a practical strategy, but also perfectly above board because the IRA was a proper army under the leadership of a legitimate government, and the fact that the British couldn’t recognize the tunic on sight the way they could recognize a German or Italian uniform was their problem, not his. Deciding how foul and dishonorable a trick it was probably depends on your politics. But the pinnacle of the controversy revolves around the narrative of “the false surrender”. Just as the British accused the IRA of mutilation, so to did the IRA accuse the British of faking a surrender to kill their attackers. Tom Barry’s account is a clean cut narrative- once the ambush was sprung and Section 1 pushed west down the road to engage the rear truck, the British called out to surrender and threw down their rifles. The firing stopped, the Irishmen exposed themselves by walking forward to collect the prisoners, and the Auxiliaries opened fire with their pistols, killing Sullivan and mortally wounding Deasy (McCarthy had been shot and killed in the initial outbreak of gunfire). Tom Barry, in a fury, ordered them “annihilated” for their dishonorable fake out and had his men keep firing into the dead bodies for a minute or two to make sure of them. There are reasons to doubt such a story. One, Forde contradicts it. He claims the IRA did capture individuals after the fighting stopped and then executed them all one by one. Two, other volunteers who had taken part in the ambush being interviewed years after the fact offer a slightly different story- that they enemy tried to surrender and then drew pistols, sure, but not all of them. One volunteer, Jack O'Sullivan, testified that he disarmed a wounded Auxiliary but “[h]e was walking him up the road as a prisoner when a shot dropped him at his feet". Another volunteer recalled that Jim Sullivan had been shot before the surrender, not during. And three, frankly, Tom Barry’s story of the false surrender simply makes no sense. How on earth could an ambushed squad, squirming about desperately under fire, possibly have concocted a plot to fake a surrender solely to get a confirmed kill or two? Why the hell would they? The West Cork Brigade had an established pattern of taking prisoners and letting them go again- it was broadly understood that if the IRA caught you flat-footed they’d take your rifle and ammo and send you off- so why commit suicide by opening fire after the shooting stopped? What kind of fast paced discussion among the dismounted and scattered men of the rear truck led them to think that faking a surrender would work out? The ugliest explanation I’ve heard is that Tom Barry intended from the start to give no quarter- after all, if you’ll recall, the whole point to the ambush was to make a dramatic counter attack and prove that you’d couldn’t raid West Cork without paying for it. What makes the point clearer, jumping a couple of guys and disarming them, or slaughtering them all to a man? By this theory, after the initial volleys, the surviving Auxiliaries had tossed their rifles and given up only to be massacred as prisoners. Tom Barry wrote his account in 1949, almost thirty years after the fact. His story is neat and clear cut and flows logically from point to point: the exact kind of clarity of vision that is deeply implausible during the rapid clash of arms that was the Kilmichael Ambush. I just don’t believe it. Based on the volunteers’ testimony, I can believe that in the confusion, some Auxiliaries tried to surrender at the same moment when others tried to keep fighting, and that the IRA vengefully slew them all in the heat of the moment, and that Tom Barry had decades to mull it over and decide that since those Auxies had sneakily murdered Jim Sullivan and young Pat Deasy with their false surrender, they had deserved what they got. But I really don’t know. All the witnesses are dead and nobody involved had any great interest in the Truth for Truth’s sake. ————————————————————— Reflections The question naturally arises about why I bothered to do this write up. After all, not only did the Kilmichael Ambush happen before my grandparents were even born, but it’s not even my heritage. I’m neither Irish nor British; I lack a dog in this fight. The honest but surface answer is that I’m a nerd and I like reading up about wars. Even so, as an American, I have plenty of material to geek out over- Saratoga, Gettysburg, Iwo Jima, the retreat from the Chosin Reservoir. Why this time and place? An answer that cuts a little deeper into the issue is that I was once involved at the ground level with a counter-insurgency myself, though my role in the proceedings was not terribly dramatic. The ethnic and cultural differences between us and the insurgents were considerable, and it takes an immense amount of effort for me to even try and step into the other guys’ shoes and see the world from their point of view. It is fascinating for me to study another insurgency from not too long ago with an entirely different cast of characters, both of whose cultural backgrounds are present in my own society. The patterns of the Anglo-Irish war are similar enough to Afghanistan that I find them achingly familiar, and yet altered enough to startle me at the same time. As well, I was deeply impressed by how small of a scale this ambush was on. Twenty men killed and one wounded was considered a major event. Compare that to the Somme, or to Austerlitz, or God save us all to the charnel house of frozen hell that was Stalingrad. Twenty deaths wouldn’t even show up as a blip on the radar in a big war. It is easy to reduce humans to mere numbers when the scale is big enough. 20,000 marching there, 5,000 dead and twice that wounded, a small detachment of 200 sent to hold that bridge, a big push of 60,000 attacking the left.... the human mind can’t handle the amount of empathy it takes to process that many people suffering and dying. But with so few people involved, you can put names and histories onto corpses and get a proper perspective on how God-awful and cruel the whole business of war really is. A few weeks back, I got into an argument with someone who suggested half-seriously- purely as a hypothetical- that we ought to send troops to Mexico to stamp down on the cartels to help reassert the Mexican government’s control. I pointed out that such an action would be pretty pointless, since the starting conditions that created the cartels would remain after we came, killed, and left. He responded that the number of the cartels’ potential recruits would run out sooner or later. In effect, he argued that if we killed off enough military age males, potentially tens of millions of people, the cartel crackdown would be permanent. And I thought to myself, “I would bet money that this guy has never so much as been in a fistfight before. If he had ever hurt somebody bad, or seen them hurt bad before his very eyes, or gotten hurt bad himself, he’d know just how criminally insane his suggestion was.” It worries me that people whose only exposure to war is video games, movies, and gushing reports of steely-eyed elite commandos taking the fight to the jihadis are so instinctively enthusiastic about it. It bothers me that people without skin in the game will happily vote their way towards armed conflict without bothering to think through whether people truly need to suffer and die en masse over the issue at hand. I’m no pacifist myself, you must understand. It just seems to me that people who are disassociated from the reality of war have a tendency to ruin things for everyone else. However, all such moralizing is ultimately secondary to my purpose. The impulse to tell the tale of the Kilmichael Ambush is an old one, for the telling of war stories is an ancient tradition. As far back as Homer's Iliad, people have been huddling around campfires to gush about this hero's courage, to scorn that villain's cruelty, to mourn the death and agony inflicted upon the innocent, and to retread in the footsteps of the dead and buried soldiers of yesteryear. Undoubtedly there is some clever sociological explanation for why humans of all cultural backgrounds do this, but I need no justification for it. The campfire is replaced by a computer screen and the audience is full of strangers instead of kin and allies, but the form is the same, and in my opinion that is what matters.
That reminds me of a story. “Thank you very much for your interest in our operations. We would be most interested in having you undertake geological field work in our mine, particularly paleontological reconnaissance. However, there are some prerequisites that would need to be met before you are allowed into or onto mine property. These include, but are not limited to: • BLM (Bureau of Land Management) review, permits, and clearance. • BIA (Bureau of Indian Affairs) review, permits, and clearance. • FWS (Fish & Wildlife Service) review, permits, and clearance. • Navahopi Nation review, permits, and clearance. • FBI’s CJIS Division authentication of NCR (No Criminal Record). • DOD (Department of Defense) review, permits, and clearance. • Supai, Redwall and Coconino County Sheriff’s Office security clearance. • HSE Safety Training certificates A-6, B-12, C-14, and D-40 through D-53. • Sponsorship through the NM Bureau of Mines and Mineral Resources. • Letters of recommendation from 3 full professors of Geology or Geophysics. • Notarized copies of graduate transcripts *through Economic Geology 300.* • Immunization records; including Rabies, Hepatitis A, B & C, Poliomyelitis, Typhoid, Yellow Fever, Meningococcal, and Tuberculosis vaccines. • Valid Blaster’s Permit(s), above level 4. • Valid CDL/Class-A Driver’s License. Also, you will need to provide your own PPEs (Personal Protective Equipment) such as steel-toed boots, hardhat, coveralls, gloves, safety glasses, etc. before being allowed into or onto mine properties. Dosimeters will be provided by the company. We look forward to your reply and dates you plan to be working in, on, or around mine property. Yours, * Burokratia Azeno HSEW & PR Officer Navahopi Coal Mine, Inc. Wingnut, New Mexico” “Dr. Vestur” I called excitedly, “It finally arrived. The letter from the coal mine where I want to do my graduate field work out in New Mexico.” Dr. Jak Vestur was my major professor, confidant, and drinking buddy as I was working on my Master’s in Geology at the University of Baja Canada – Brew City. “Rock, that’s great, let’s have a look”, I hand him the actual letter; as Emails were still a ways off in the vague future. “Holy shit”, Jak exclaims, “They don’t want much, do they? Damn. You don’t plan on going any time soon, do you? This stuff’s going to take a bit of time to assemble.” “Ain’t that the truth?” I agreed, “Good thing I’ve got the CDL-Class A, Blaster’s Permits and HSE certifications already in order.” “Well, several of these the University and Museum can help streamline. You’ve already talked with Dr. Don DeDümdüm at MNBMMR (New Mexico Bureau of Mines and Mineral Resources), right?” “Oh, yeah. Dr. Don will sponsor me, no worries. In fact, if I play my cards right, he’s even going to be able to source some funds for my little expedition.” “Uh, oh, Rock. Problem. They want you to have taken Econ. Geo. 300 before you travel. That’s only offered every other fall and this fall isn’t the one where it’s offered.” Dr. Jak notes. “Ah, fuckbuckets.” I exclaim, “I’ve busted my hump to get everything done so far, now there’s this damn speedbump?” “Well, now hold on…let me think.” Dr. Jak ponders, “We had a geophysicist in your sort of pickle a few years back. Let me dig into this and see if there’s a work-around.” “I appreciate it, Doc. If I have to wait until next fall, my funding’s shot and I’ll have to hang around for another full year.” I lament. “Don’t go pulling that trigger just yet, let me see what I can do.” Dr. Jak reassures. What had precipitated all this was a field trip I was on back in my wild and lawless days as an undergraduate. As a senior, I was president of the “Niagara Escarpment Irregulars – A drinking club with a geology problem”; which was our university’s geology club. We held all sorts of fundraisers during the school year so come summer, we could all take off in a caravan of rental cars, these and four-wheel drives are the best off-road vehicles and head out. We usually went west, to visit all that bare naked geology galloping around and actually see rocks in their native habitat. That particular year we ended up at the Navahopi Coal Mine in northwestern New Mexico. It was a huge open-pit, subbituminous-B coal mine that supported a mine-mouth electrical power generating plant. It was a huge operation and was only recently ceded over to the Navahopi Nation from the company which had opened and originally ran the mine for the last 75 years. Needless to say, the Native Americans who were now at the helm of this huge operation were still a bit groggy corporately; never before having to run an operation of this magnitude. And what an operation! An active open-pit coal mine in Cretaceous age coals. It was enormous and growing quickly; however, not as quickly as they would have desired. That’s where I came in. Being a Native American run, or First Nation, take your pick, operation and one that many environmentalists would rather slit their wrists than visit, they were under considerable scrutiny. From Federal levels, via state, local, municipal, through multitudinous various agencies: OSHA, Bureau of Mines, Bureau of Indian Affairs, radio, television and newspaper nose-poker-inners, Universities and the occasional geology graduate student. The thing was, there was this huge push, by the state and Indian Bureaus, for the preservation of artifacts. The latter group was more interested in anthropological potsherds and ancient campfire charcoal. While the state, represented by local universities, were more interested in paleontological finds; of which they had multitudes. They were mining the Kirtland and Fruitland Formation coals, both Late Cretaceous in age (think Dinosaur Central) laid down in 105-66 million-year-old swamps. Swamps have a ridiculous bioproductivity, and hence a surfeit of fossils. Thing was, every time they uncovered anything of ‘interest’, as defined by the outsider agencies; work had to be stopped. Production dropped to zero until the various agencies could find an ‘expert’ and get them out on location to assess and archive the find. When we were making our visit, our tour leader informed us, grouchily, of this fact. “Well,” I asked, “Wouldn’t it make more sense to have a geologist or paleontologist on-site, doing evaluations before the heavy equipment rolled through?” It was as if several hundred mercury-vapor streetlights lit off all at once. “That’s a great idea”, the tour leader said, “But who could we get to do such work? It’s not been done here before to my knowledge.” I informed her that she was looking at the #1 candidate for the job. Thus, now I was scrambling to see how I could either fulfill the Economic Geology 300 prerequisite or weasel out from under its onerous clutches. “OK, Rock, sit down. We’ve got to discuss your future.” Dr. Jak tells me one bright early spring morning. “OK, Doc, what’s up?” I ask. “Well, first, some questions. You’re essentially finished with your course work, right?” Dr. Jak asked. “Yep. That Econ. Geo. business is the only one left.” I replied. “OK, forget Economic Geology 300. It’s been waived for you.” Dr. Jak informs me. “Hey. That’s great.” I begin to exclaim… “However, instead, you’re going to be doing some independent study.” Dr. Jak continues. “I’m already doing that as my fieldwork for my thesis,” I noted. “Yep. And now you’re doing some more.” Dr. Jak notes. “When and where? How can I do both?” I began to protest mildly. “Cool down. You’re going to love this…” Thus Dr. Jak tells me of my new spring-summer semesters as an itinerant researcher; a real ‘Roads Scholar’, if you will. Ahem. I am to visit no less than three working quarries on my way to the coal mine in New Mexico. I am to spend enough time in each quarry to write an essay regarding the economic geology of each. These mines are in hard rock, soft rock and finally, coal. They are a Precambrian Quartzite quarry in Baja Canada (my home state), a granite quarry in the immediate western neighboring state, and a limestone-marble quarry in the central Midwest. Since I’m in the general vicinity, I’m slightly claustrophobic, and Dr. Jak has a brutal sense of humor; an underground salt mine was added as a last-minute diversion. After all that, I’ll be back on track to join in all the fun at the Navahopi coal mine in New Mexico to conduct my paleontological reconnaissance and data gathering for my Master’s and beyond. Spring semester rolls around and I’m spending a week at the museum getting everything I’ll need for the next six months on the road. All the permits and such for the coal mine work are or will be done and dusted by the time I arrive. So I can concentrate on staying alive while driving all over the Midwest and Western US solo. I was ceded a museum vehicle, a fairly plain-Jane 4WD Chevy ¾ ton pickup, in the most boring shade of sky blue imaginable. Since it was ostensibly, and by the broadest definition a government vehicle, I was not officially allowed to have any weapons present in the vehicle. But since I held Blaster’s Permits and was going to be carrying a selection of finer high and low explosives, since I had a concealed-carry permit courtesy of Toivo’s father who pulled some local governmental strings. I opted to have my .454 Cusall Magnum and Browning BPS short-barrel 10-Gauge pump shotgun, sport plug removed, accompany me on the trip. Just for personal security, mind you. The welding shop at the museum whipped up a rather snazzy custom-designed black-and-yellow striped ¾”-steel explosives carry-box which they affixed to the truck’s frame. It was welded to the bed and thus became part of the truck. It was lockable and had several internal locking compartments for blasting caps, boosters, dynamite, C-4, demo wire, my galvanometer, spare beef jerky, blasting machines, tools, etc. Seems Dr. Don in New Mexico was very interested in my evolving methods of removing overburden from paleontological sites via the judicious use of explosives without destroying the fossils being excavated. I was to give several demonstrations at the Bureau, University, and field, thus I needed my kit with me at all times. The truck bed sported a step-cap and it protected everything else I needed for an extended road trip: 500 pounds of plaster for jacketing any vertebrate fossils I might come across in my peregrinations, bales of strips of burlap to reinforce the plaster jackets, a small gas-powered generator, an electric jackhammer, shortwave transceiver (WB9AXI), First Responder’s Kit, and my geological equipment: hammers, compass, Sierra Cup, Swiss Army Knives, Jacob’s Staff, cases of orange spray paint, web-belt, backpack, holster, shovels, rakes and other implements of destruction… It also held my tent, sleeping bags, cook kit, stove, propane tanks, extra potable water, port-a-john, a case of toilet paper, for jacketing fossils and other uses, field bags, several empty 5-gallon pickle buckets, and the main larger cooler to augment the one already in the front seat of the truck… My personal provisions included two bags of Nacho Cheese Doritos, seventy-five cans of Walter’s Bock, eight boxes of ‘Tobacco Shed’ maduro cigars, seven pouches of Red Man Plug, a cocktail shaker, a whole galaxy of multi-colored liqueurs, mixers, syrups, and cordials...also five quarts of Wild Turkey, a quart of Everclear, four handles of George Dickel, seven and a half cases of Pabst Blue Ribbon, a pint of Ma Bensch’s pickled herring, and two dozen onion and garlic bagels. Not that I needed all that for the journey, but once you get locked into a serious geology road-trip collection, the tendency is to push it as far as you can. Before I left on my epic journey, I was instructed by Dr. Jak to kit out like I’d be when out in the field. The Museum Novaitiies, the house organ, for the Spring Quarter issue carried a full-color front-page picture of this curious oddball who looked like 1/3rd of the fuzzier part of ZZ Top. I was decked out in a black denim duster with obligate JBS Heritage Stetson hat, Carhartt field dungarees, field boots, Glacier Glasses, and flannel shirt; holding a lit cigar and Jacob’s Staff in one hand, and an Estwing Marsh Pick in the other. Though I possessed a concealed-carry permit, a Cusall .454 was not easily concealed; so I usually just sported it on my right hip along with my Brunton Compass. Museum donations that month spiked, either to fund the cover character’s expedition or keep him out in the field and away from civilization as long as possible. Come April when the snows of winter had finally departed to that place of spirits and wind, I said my goodbyes, saddled up my trusty mechanical steed, and headed north. I was off to an active quarry, number one on my list, of Precambrian Baraboo Quartzite. It was located in the quaint little burg of Rock Springs and was well known to every geologist and geologist in training in the tri-state area. It was a classical locality. The home to the Baraboo Syncline and Van Hise rock. I was to visit the Baraboo Quartzite quarry run by the Baraboo Quartzite Company. Evidently, cleverly naming things was not high on the list of things to do for the early quarry operators. The Baraboo Quartzite as I noted earlier, is a Precambrian orthoquartzite approximately 1.7 billion years old. It is composed of near-shore ocean sediment, deposited long, long ago, in shallow marine waters; most likely in the ocean fairly close to shore. There was enough wave action to cause regular ripple migration across the seafloor. The sand was buried, lithified into sandstone, and then encountered compressional forces from a tectonic collision that folded and metamorphosed the sandstone into quartzite. It squashed the quartzite into a huge U-shaped syncline, where I was going to a quarry on the east limb. This material had been quarried for well over 100 years. It was used as a dimension stone; that is, sawed into relatively thin (3/4” - 1”) sheets for use on building facades and for floors. It’s a ridiculously durable and a most handsome purplish-mauve building material. However, that has since fallen out of fashion, and the rock quarried today is used primarily for road metal, i.e., crushed into gravel for use on motor vehicle roadways, or used as railroad or track ballast; that stuff upon which railroad sleepers (ties) and tracks are lain. Although it may just look like large gravel, this rock plays a vital role in acting as a support base for the railroad ties and rails as well as allowing for proper drainage of water away from the rails, which is why the stone is always sloped downward and away from the track. The more you know… I met with Mr. Harður Steinn, the foreman and operator of the Baraboo Quartzite. “Hello, Mr. Steinn” I introduced myself, “I’m Rock, the geologist from the University [to the south] and Museum, here to do some field investigations of your quarry, operations, and materials.” “Rock, ‘eh?” he chuckled, “How appropriate. Welcome to the Baraboo Quarry. You know, you’re not the first geologist we’ve had nosing around here. Oh, no. We get them all the time. We’re actually grateful for them to come on in and dig around what we’re doing. Every time they write up something, we get free advertising.” Ah, another unrepentant mercenary. I think I’m going to like this character. “That’s great, Mr. Steinn,” I said. “Not only that, but I’m interested in your quarrying operations as well, and how they’re carried out.” “What do you mean?” he asks, curiously. “Not to put too fine a point on things, blasting,” I said. “I’m more a sedimentary, that is, a soft-rock geologist and quartzite, by any metric, is seriously hard-rock. However, I do hold several blasting permits and am quite keen on seeing how explosives are used in the business end of geology…the economic end of applied geology, if you will.” “Oh, really?” he widely grinned. “Well, that’s a first. Most geologists that come here focus on some minutiae of the quartzite. You’re the first who wants to see how quarrying is done…” “Yes, sir,” I answered. “That’s going to be the gist of my reports. Yours is the first of several quarries I’m going to visit before I get to New Mexico and fart around in an open-pit coal mine to gather data for my degrees.” “Well then.” He said, “Let’s get you started. No time like the present, I always say. I was going to have one of the mill hands show you around. But since I’m the company blasting foreman, I’ll take you around and maybe you can show me some of what you know…” After that night at Earl’s Club in the Dells, toasting geology and the Baraboo Quartzite; Hardy, as he prefers to be called, and I spent the next two days really digging into the quarry. He told me that they used to use huge steel gang-saws to slice the quarried blocks of quartzite into dimension stone in the old ‘blockhouse’. But nowadays, there just isn’t much call for that product. Today’s main product is road metal and railroad ballast. And that has changed the methods of harvesting the quartzite considerably. Previously, they would drill 2” holes into the quartzite, taking into account the grain, texture, and fractures, if any, of the blocks they were trying to free. These holes, up to 12 feet in depth, were cleaned out, bottoms flattened, and ANFO, an ammonium nitrate/fuel oil ‘low explosive’ mixture, was used to loosen the blocks. What was desired was a heaving detonation, not a shattering one. A typical freed block would be eight feet wide, four in-depth and up to twelve feet tall. They would weigh many, many tens of tons. These blocks would then be ‘fossed’ to smaller, more manageable sizes. They would drill numerous smaller holes, half-inch or so, about three or four inches deep in a line. Into these many holes, they would hand-pound mild steel ‘fosses’ , which are really nothing more than pieces of 1/2” mild steel round stock. They would go up and down the holes, whacking each foss in turn with a sledgehammer… one after the other after the other until they developed a fracture and the block split along some natural plane of weakness. This was typically a fracture as these rocks had been cooked and smooshed, or, more technically, dynamothermally metamorphosed. Original planes of weakness like joints, bedding planes and the like were erased during their lithification as new ones were imprinted during the tectonic folding of the formation. Fractures imparted during the rock’s emplacement were some of the few imperfections that could be exploited in this manner. This took intimate knowledge of the structure and composition of the rocks in the quarry. Once broken down into truckable sizes, some 20 tons or less, they were transported to the blockhouse to be sawed into ‘reefs’ or sheets, as per the client’s orders. Once polished and installed, though these materials were brittle, they were incredibly durable if you didn’t bend them too much. Preserved artifacts of the rock, such as boudinage or ‘sausage structures’ where mud was encapsulated by sand then metamorphosed, squishing then into long, linked pods; were really rather stunning in a building material. Ripple marks, liesegang rings and color variations all added to its luster as a building stone. However, that was then, this is now. Now clients wanted crushed quartzite; not blocks, sheets or slabs. So, now they would drill 1.5” holes in the quartzite, flatten the hole bottoms, and prime the holes with a very, very fast, indeed, high explosives. They wanted a shattering explosion rather than a deflagrating explosion. The more they could break up the quartzite explosively, the less they would have to spend on powering the mechanical crushers and breakers. Hardy showed me around the yard and was especially interested in showing me the storage facilities they had for their various explosives. As usual, this was a heavily-reinforced bunker with numerous locks. What was unusual was what it contained. There were racks and racks of what appeared to be gallon-sized liquor jugs, complete with cork stoppers. There was spool upon spool of various speed safety fuses. The obligatory half-dozen different varieties of blasting machines and galvanometers, but surprisingly, little dynamite. “Dynamite’s too slow and costs too much” Hardy explained. That explained all the ‘liquor jugs’. They weren’t full of liquor, but the stuff they contained would give you a serious bang. They were full of pure, 100%, straight-run nitroglycerine. Hardy smiled, got a plastic watch glass, uncorked a bottle and decanted a tiny dram into the watch glass. He set it on a counter outside the locker and told me to come on over and have a whiff. “I’ll bet you’ve never smelled anything like this before”, he chuckled. I’m no tyro when it comes to whiffing unknown chemicals nor dealing with high explosives. So I carefully wafted my hand, very cautiously, 6 or 8 inches above the watch glass and snorted guardedly. It wasn’t the smell that got me, it was the immediate pounding headache. Nitroglycerine is a vasodilator and an exceptional one at that. Many cardiac patients take low-dosage nitroglycerine tablets to relieve chest pains as nitro corrects the imbalance between the flow of oxygen and blood to the heart. At low doses, nitroglycerin dilates veins more than arteries, thereby reducing preload; the volume of blood in the heart after filling. The more you know… But that’s a low oral dose. A good snootful of 100% nitro vapors will give you the most walloping ‘ice cream’-style headache imaginable. It’s actually called “bang head” as it was so very common back in the ‘old days’ when nitro was used more than other explosives. Luckily, it’s also very temporary. “Hardy. Got me good there”, I said. “I haven’t smelled nitro that pure ever. Imagine if some of that got into someone’s after work lager…” Hardy stiffened and claimed “It’s just for your education. Not often you get to even hear about this stuff anymore.” We had a good snicker as he tossed the watch glass out into the yard and watched it explode into trillions of tiny, harmless fragments. “Yeah, Rock”, Hardy continued, “We are probably one of the handful of quarries left that even use nitro. Everyone else uses dynamite, Semtex, PETN, C-4…but everyone else doesn’t have to deal with this tough, old quartzite.” He went on to tell me how they want the most shattering, high-density, high-velocity type of explosion they can safely create. He went on how, after the initial holes were drilled, they’d go in manually with long pointed iron rods and bash loose any bits of quartzite in the bottom and sides of the drill hole. They’d then go in with a high-pressure air hose to blast out any and all fragments, as nitro is just that sketchy. It’ll detonate if flakes from the wall of the drill hole fall off and impact the nitro planted in the hole. They implemented the procedure where they’d gob some wet rags in the drill holes, and use a blunt-end tamper to ram it all the way to bottom. This had the effect of swabbing the hole, smoothing the walls, and providing a soft landing for the nitroglycerine when it was placed in the hole. The nitro was traditionally lowered in a glass vial, via a length of demolition wire which was attached to a blasting cap, taped to the outside of the bottle of liquid nitro. It was nut-cuttin’ time when the vial went in the hole; for if it got stuck, or fell, or slipped; it was goodnight, nurse. Several of Hardy’s predecessors met with early retirement that way. Some others attained room temperature quickly after a couple more energetic mishaps. Nowadays, they still use nitro; but not in its liquid form. They freeze it. Yep, they had a large chest freezer in the storage locker which held a rather disconcertingly large number of 100% nitro-sicles. Hardy called them, jocularly, ‘bang-pops’. Nitro is much less sensitive that way, and they can actually take one, tape a booster to the top of it. Then it’s lower away as each is in its own little thick mylar bag, to contain the drips between freezer and rock face. It can be set off via fuse or electrical cap. Fuse is seldom used now, but in my honor, Hardy had a ‘treat’ in store for me. “We’re goin’ old school.” Hardy exclaimed, “I’m going to let you prepare a liquid nitro shot with a length of 30 second-per-foot fuse. I don’t think there’s anywhere else you could get this opportunity in quarries nowadays. Safety fuse to detonator, detonator to a vial of nitro. Down the hole, cautiously pour in some fine sand, light it off and speedily, but safely, vacate the general area.” While we’re preparing the shot, Hardy regales me with mishaps and accident he’s seen in his 40 years of quarry work. “Yeah, Rock, you should’ve seen it.” He lustily informs me, “This here quartzite is harder than most anything, ‘cept diamond. It fails via brittle fracture mode and fractures conchoidally, just like glass. And just like glass, it’s sharper than sintered shit. Once a premature blast de-gloved Big Jim Goss’ whole left arm. That guy had arms like tree trunks but that shattered quartzite sliced through the meat like smoked ham off the bone.” Thanks for the graphic imagery, Hardy. “Another time, some idiot summer hire was tamping fresh drill holes. Well, he was supposed to only tamp the green-flagged holes, not the red-flagged. This was some years ago, mind you, but he jammed that 10-foot iron rod down a red flag hole and when it hit bottom because it wasn’t proper tamped, that rod shot out of that hole like a skyrocket. It went through the idiot kid’s hand and pretty much ripped it off. His legs took the brunt of the shot below the waist…he won’t be having any kids in this lifetime, that much is fo’sure…” Who need OSHA videos when you’ve got old timers recalling their favorite mutilations? Got my attention. We finished up prepping the nitro vial and he was impressed at my steady hand with the fuse and detonator. “Not your first time dancing ‘round the table, ‘eh Rock?” Hardy asked. “Naw. I’ve dealt with nitro before on my Uncles farm. We removed a bunch of old WPA dams on his property. Taught me well and proper to respect this stuff. It’s twitchier than a long-tailed cat in a roomful of rocking chairs.” I replied. “Damn right it is. Good you early learned respect.” Hardy agreed. Hardy had a re-purposed electric golf cart, with a heavily padded cargo box. We set the charge, gingerly, onto the foam rubber and covered it over with old rags. Hardy confides to me “Nitro’s not really all that super sensitive. But you’ll have a happier, longer life if you treat it like it is.” I couldn’t agree more. Hardy locked up the explosives shed and eases into the golf cart. We slowly putt-putt the 600 or so meters out to the currently active rock face. It’s right around noon so all the drillers are off doing lunch and we could conduct our little experiment safely. “OK, Rock. Easy does it. Slowly, slowly. Easy, easy.” Hardy coaches me. “OK, I got this”, I say as I lower the 300-milliliter glass vial of instant death down the 10 feet of shot hole to its final resting place. Once set, I run the fuse manually and make certain it’s not kinked, bent or broken anywhere and indicate it’s good to go. Hardy comes over with a 5-gallon bucket of very fine silica sand and a small garden shovel. He instructs me to scoop that sand and slowly pour it down into the hole, on top of the nitro. “Sure. No problem.” I think. Seven or eight scoops later, we’re set. Hardy gives me the thumbs up and tells me to light the fuse. “Nope. Not yet.” I say. Hardy looks at me quizzically, “Something wrong?” “Clear east?” I yell. Hardy cocks his head and smiles. “Clear east!” We do the rest of the compass, and I give the requisite FIRE IN THE HOLE tri-call. I then hit the horn three times on the golf cart. “Now, I can light that fuse,” I say. Hardy is all smiles. “Yes, now you can.” So I do. I walk slowly, deliberately, and with purpose to the golf cart. Hardy’s already waiting on me. Not a word was said as we drove to a safe observation distance. We could see the smoke trailing from the fuse, and given its length, we know the detonation should be in precisely 6 minutes. We both check our watches without either one saying a word to the other. Hardy looks at me and smiles, “OK, where the hell you learned how to handle explosives like that? None of these new guys go through the whole safety shtick.” “My Grandfather and my Uncle, his brother, taught me.” I proudly replied. “Damn! I knew it! I knew there had to be some old-timer lurking round there. That’s a damned good protocol you got there, Sonny Jim, and don’t you ever lose it. Damn. I never thought I’d ever see that again with all these radio controlled detonators, prepacked shots, and kids in it just for the money.” Hardy exclaims. “You got something good going there, don’t ever lose it.” “Thanks, Hardy.” I say sincerely, “I don’t plan to and that’s another reason I’m making this world tour of quarries and mines. Thanks for the lessons and critique.” KER BLAMMO! and a very large section of Precambrian quartzite shatters off the rock face, down the slope, and piles up right where the pile should be piled. “Very nice”, both Hardy and I say in unison. We look at each other and laugh as we putt back to the explosives shed. The rest of the week Hardy takes me around the quarry, pointing out various things that I’d never have noticed. Overhangs, scarps, loose blocks, fractures, seams of clay, ‘catlinite’: metamorphosed mud, and other unusual items endemic to this particular quarry. And we did some blasting. No, we did a SHITLOAD of blasting. I went through my mantra, every time. Hardy even called out some apprentice blasters to watch and learn as two “old-timers” showed them how the ‘cow chewed the cabbage’. Hardy showed me how to use nitro-sicles electrically and with safety fuse. He showed me how holes should be swabbed and tamped, how clearance and yield are calculated and the best times for blasting. Mornings are OK for C-4, PETN, and ANFO; afternoons when the rocks are warmed for liquid nitro and dynamite. It was a most edifying experience, and I left the quarry feeling I’d not only learned a great deal but made another friend in the clan geologist and blaster. I headed west to my next port of call, a quarry producing pink, black & gray migmatite from the Archean Morton Gneiss, ~3.66 ± 0.04 billion years old, in central Minnesota. The Morton gneiss started out as a gray granite, formed about 3.7 billion years ago deep beneath the surface of the Earth. Molten rock cooled slowly, forming grains of crystallized minerals. About a billion years later, two fragments of the Earth’s crust collided at the future location of southwestern Minnesota, subjecting the granite to heat and pressure. These forces melted it once again and allowed intrusions of molten pink granite. The two granites folded and twisted; when they lithified, the twists and folds remained. Eight hundred million years later, another geologic heating event added additional color and texture. This is about the same time the Baraboo sands were being deposited. When cut and polished, Morton gneiss shows bands and swirls of black, pink, and gray, with white flecks that sometimes look like galaxies and nebulae floating in the cosmos. The rock’s colors come from quartz (white), pink feldspar (pink), gray feldspar (gray), and biotite and amphibole (black). It is a much sought after and very handsome dimension stone. About one hundred million years ago, geologic forces slowly pushed Morton gneiss to the Earth’s surface. The glaciers that advanced and retreated across southwestern Minnesota between two million and 12,000 years ago covered the rock with hundreds of feet of soil and rock. The last glaciers began receding about 12,000 years ago. A vast body of water known as Lake Agassiz formed in southern Canada, Minnesota, and North Dakota. When that water drained to the south, forming the River Warren, it carved out the Minnesota River valley. This powerful flow washed away hundreds of feet of glacial deposits and exposed some of the Morton gneiss. Workers began quarrying this gneiss in Minnesota around 1884. In these early years, railroads used it for ballast and the state for gravel roads. Now they focus on building materials. It’s not a particularly large or active quarry, but it’s definitely different from the Baraboo quarry in scope and number of workers. I arrived and was introduced to Mr. Žulový Kameň, the operator of the quarry. “Good morning, Mr. Kameň”, I say, and go through the obligate introductions. “Yes, Mr. Rock, we were told to expect you. Welcome to our quarry.” Zuul, as he preferred to be called, said. “Thank you, it’s great to be here,” I replied. I went through the tale of the particulars of my project, how it wasn’t just about the geology of the quarry, but rather the mechanics and economic aspects of the quarry as it relates to its particular geology. “So, you want the whole picture?” he asked, “Most geologists who visit are concerned with only one small aspect of the rock itself; the mineralogy, the tectonics, structural kinematics or something else along those lines. You’re the first who wants the whole picture.” I explained that I was interested in all those aspects, but was also interested in the modes and methodologies of harvesting their particular rocky crop. I let him know that I was a licensed blaster and that was one specific subject that holds a certain fascination for me. I mentioned the previous quarry in Baraboo and how their activities had shifted from dimension stone to ballast and road metal. I noted how this also shifted the way the whole quarry operated. “That’s most interesting”, Zuul commented, “You’ll find the exact opposite here. Dimension stone is our number one product. Ballast and metal are but a secondary, and much smaller, product here. In fact, we don’t actively harvest ballast; but one every so often, when we have enough to fill an order, we’ll fire up the crushers and clear the quarry of by-products of the dimension stone undertakings.” Interesting how two similar quarries have such different harvesting methods. “All of our hands here are licensed blasters, but since I’m quarry foreman, I do all the ordering and logistics for the explosives. I haven’t done much blasting here of late, but since you’re here, allow me to be your tour guide. It’ll give me the excuse to do a little blasting as well, it’s been a while but I miss being out in the yard actually…” “Blowing stuff up?” I asked. “In a nutshell.” Zuul grinned. I was invited to their local watering hole that evening as every quarry worked joined in the festivities. They related that they really enjoy having geologists come into the quarry, that they were not geologists themselves; and oddly enough the quarry did not have one on staff. However, they appreciated people who could explain to them what it was they were working on and how it got there. “Well, I hope to be of service. I’m more a dep-dump, soft-rock sedimentology-type but have studied the papers written about your quarry. I’ll try to be helpful.” I said. “Yeah”, Irv, the head quarryman, continued, “But I heard you’re also a licensed blaster and that you’re interested in that as well.” “Oh, most definitely.” I assured him, “I’ve done a fair amount of work with explosives in many different venues. I hope to learn here from your quarry’s own set of harvesting methods.” Irv grins the grin of the all-knowing, “Don’t worry, Rock. There’ll be plenty of that starting tomorrow.” Continued in Part B
I’m planning on growing soybeans this year. I have been hearing that soybeans have done pretty well for farmers here recently, but I’m slow to change. I like grains: corn, wheat, things like that. They shoot up on big stalks so thick you can’t even see the dirt they were planted in. Sometimes, I’ll sit up on my roof and watch the grain sway like the waves of a golden sea. Most of Clovetown, Kentucky gets that, come fall; all the parts worth going to at least.I also like to get out and meet the neighbors, too. People always seem to be coming and going. Some stay. Some leave, but I’m always right here. I feel like a landmark sometimes. I feel like it’s my duty to make myself known to the new folks in the area. They just don’t know how things work around here a lot of the time. “You can walk as far east as the old windmill, but Mr. Jacob will come out with his shotgun if you get into his carrots. He’s all bark, though.” Or “Miss Harvey kept her husband's moonshine still going after he died. She’s quick to give away a jar or two to people who will spend her some time.”These kinds of things, people just don’t know until they have been in one place for long enough, and I have been here longer than anyone else. Well, I bet I know every rock, stump, and bush within fifty miles. Fifty three if you count Mr. Carpe’s farm (but I don’t). Things are swell in these parts. Sorry, things were swell in these parts, that is, until the Masons moved in. About a mile and a quarter from my stoop, I could see them in their big green van pulling into the driveway of, what used to be, Mr. and Mrs. Baker’s house. They had been gone a while, but I never thought that old house would sell, though. Panels falling off the front. A couple windows boarded up. Some kids had spray painted their initials on the side. It was a real eye sore. It still gives me a laugh to think of the agent that convinced them to buy that old stack of driftwood. His tongue must have been as silver as it was forked. “A real fixer upper, I’d say!” “Lots of room to grow into." Them people know just how to hook, ya. Naturally, I go to say hello, after giving them a few days to get settled. Me and 'ol Jeb walk past the Turners and the Fosters, on the way. I’d nod, and 'ol Jeb would sniff in their direction. He’s a good dog. Old as hell, though. Like me. I imagine he is soon for the grave, but that don’t worry me. He goes into the ground, and up will pop corn or whatever else I decide on. Probably corn. Walking up the porch stairs, I notice that the dusty, rotten siding had already been replaced with a panels of the beige persuasion. It looks good. Hell, you could have nailed a bucket full of fish to the outside of that house and it would have been an improvement, though. Panels were a much better call than fish. I’m not one to talk, though; I haven’t even as much washed my windows in the past five years. Through the window I see Mrs. Mason waddle to the front of the house, filled with a baby no doubt as strange and comely as its mother. She cracks the screen door and a smile. She points a willowy hand to the fresh panels that covered her home. “Already looking better, huh?” she asks. I manage to gag out a convincing smirk. It took so much concentration that all I could force out was a quick, “Sure.” She seems comfortable enough with 'ol Jeb and I that she let us into her home. Littered with mountains of cardboard and packing material, the interior of the farmhouse resembles that of the damp gatherings of a rat’s nest than a place to live, much less raise a child. The original flooring had obviously been torn out and replaced with waxy yards of dark, hardwood. The walls were stripped and painted. The stairwell had been completely remodeled. The counter tops bragged expensive marble. Off. That is the only word I have for it. Everything was just, off. Everything down to the air, which smelled synthesized and masked with the lemon scented vapors of an aerosol can. Frankly, I spent the whole tour in a nauseated daze, and I only escaped from my stupor when she leads the dog and me outside, to the back porch. As I recovered, she pulls a framed photo from the window sill. “That’s him,” she says, “Once things are all set up, he will be coming over. We have to get the ramps put in and the lift.” I try to follow, “The lift?” “Yeah, it’s a lot, especially when it’s all me right now.” I look at the picture, and he is just as bad. No. Worse. So much worse. I can barely stomach the sight of him, and just the wandering thought of him reproducing was already too much. “I’ll help put it up,” I say, and she beams. She wraps her arms around 'ol Jeb. I bathe him as soon as we return home. The next morning, I’m already up, knocking on her door with a tool box in one hand and a coffee in the other. I wait for a good long while, and when I can’t hear any signs of her coming to the door I let myself in. An unlocked door is basically an open door. In the entryway, there is a massive machine, a sleek monstrosity full of wires and gizmos, and I reach into the mess to retrieve what appears to be a manual. Flipping through the clumsily bound instructions, I find that the entire volume is in some Asian language. Japanese? Chinese? I guess it doesn’t really matter. They are all the same, and I sure as hell can’t read them. Regardless, I get to work. It was easy enough to see that the lift had already been assembled once before, and most of the assembly was self explanatory in its own way, no need for a novel’s load of Chinese instruction. The curvy piece slides into the other curvy piece. The holes line up; then you fasten them together. I was honestly making quite a bit of headway, when I spy Mrs. Mason standing at the top of the stairwell, hawking at me in bleary-eyed wonder. She has an eyebrow cocked as far as it will go on her bulbous forehead and her arms are knotted around her chest. I tried to be the first to speak, to tell her that she didn’t need to thank me. Her mongrel of a husband wouldn’t actually be needing it to function more than a couple times anyway. I stand up, and she asks what I am doing in her house. I gesture to the nearly completed lift, wordlessly amazed at her inability to find the slightest bit of gratitude. I tell her that I would have finished, but several of the pieces were bent from the move and needed some elbow grease. “Not literal elbow grease. Some machining grease like WB-40 might help, though.” She tells me she is going to call the police if I don’t leave; obviously, I had outstayed my welcome. It wasn’t my first thankless job, and I was sure that it wouldn’t be my last. While I’m picking up my tools, I do give her one more favor. “If you are looking to plant, I recommend soybeans this year. They don’t take much fuss. You look like you would be good at it.” I walk back home and flush her medications down the garbage disposal. The rest of the day, I widdle away my time weeding the landscaping in front of my house and keeping an eye on the Mason’s home. Periodically she will stroll through the front door and place a newly potted plant on the porch. At noon she changes into jeans and a tank top. At one I can see her through the kitchen window eating a sandwich. 'Ol Jeb seems worried. He can sense things on the horizon like storms and earthquakes and such. Well, we haven’t ever had an earthquake in Clovetown, but I think it is safe to assume that 'ol Jeb would be on it before the rest of us. I tell him not to worry. We could keep ourselves busy in the west field while we waited. The day Mr. Masons moved in, I paid some local boys ten dollars each to pull up the weeds then another ten if they ran the tiller. Good boys, mostly. They get into trouble, but kids their age always do. I’d much rather them be throwing clods of dirt at each other on my land than causing actual trouble. When they are done, I meet them outside and hose them off. They smell like peat, like kids should. I got no problem with cell phones and all the new gadgets that I see sprouting up in the stores, but every once in a goddamned while, put your face in some mud. Smell the earth. We are so distracted from the things below our feet now-a-days. I laugh to myself. Below our feet. I’m handing out tens and twenties, and they argue over who actually did enough work to earn their pay. They point and laugh, making fun. It makes me laugh. It makes me feel young. I tell them they can come inside and have some tea with 'ol Jeb if they are thirsty. They all humor me; can’t say “no” to a lonely old man quite yet. The group gulps down their first couple glasses amidst a couple stories of recent going-on’s. Who knocked up who. When the next bonfire would be. Their god-awful parents. Then they circle back to who knocked up who, and I ask them if they had ever drank whiskey before. I’m already breaking the seal on a bottle of spirits when my telephone rings. I pass off the drink to my guests, pick up the line, and hear a long breath. “Hello?” the phone asks, but I don’t answer. I already know. “Hello? Is this Mr. Deed?” “This is him.” The phone sighs. “Hey, this is Josh next door. Josh Mason. My wife says you dropped by and helped her out with my lift?” God. “Yeah, I offered to help. She seemed like she wanted to do it herself though once things got started.” “Yeah,” the phone pauses. It thinks for a while. “I wanted to apologize for the whole thing. We are still adjusting to small town life. We came all the way fr-” “Do you drink whiskey, Josh?” The phone stutters, confused. No doubt, it’s whole brain is calibrating from the simple conversational hiccup. “Whiskey. Yeah, I mean, I do. The wife obviously doesn’t.” “Well why don’t you wander on down here, and we can talk over some glasses.” Oh, god. “I would rather talk face to face. You know like small town people do.” “Th-that sounds nice, but I have a… it’s just harder for me to get around than most people.” The phone laughs uncomfortably. “Then I guess I’ll be coming over there,” and I hang up the phone. The seeds weren’t in yet, which would cause a serious problem if I missed their season. Soybeans are no fuss, but even they got their limits. I’m not the type to sit and belly-ache over things, though. I shew off the band of kids, thanking them for their help and sending them off still half-naked and soggy from the hosing. They melt into the dirt as soon as their feet hit the yard. They scream for help, clawing at one another like animals until they are completely buried, and I wake up 'ol Jeb from his nap. He looks up at me still half conscious, “Where are we going?” I’m sure he had an idea, because he gets to the gun case before I’ve even finished corking the whiskey. The ancient box yawns open, revealing my meager collection of firearms. I had preferred take care of the matter while they were sleeping, but I knew that things would be different when I got there. 'Ol Jeb moves to the front door and looks at me expectantly, “It’s getting late. How long will this take.” “As long as it needs to.” Under the gaze of the full moon, the two of us stride past the Fosters and the Turners. 'Ol Jeb doesn’t even sniff as he walks past; he’s too excited. I make sure I look their way, though, if nothing else but for hospitality’s sake. It’s the South after all, and they have done really good this season. We’d have lots of corn, come harvest time. We are about halfway there when 'Ol Jeb starts to bleed into the shadows like he does. Crude, thick oil is pouring from his mouth and rectum, but I let sleeping dogs lie, so to speak. He’s old. “I hurt,” he whines, but I distract him with a stick that I throw into the air. His wings, black and glossy like a raven’s, burst from his back, and I’m showered in his ichor. He catches the branch in his teeth and lands on the Mason’s chimney, making little more than a hushing with the beat of his wings. He slithers through the open second-floor window. Hopefully, he will leave some scraps of her. I’m so focused on 'ol Jeb that I don’t even notice Mr. Mason sitting on his front porch, smoking a pipe. He waves a stunted hand my way. I nearly drop the bottle at the sight of him. He sets down his pipe and throws on a pair of crutches, “Howdy, neighbor!” I can’t. “Evening,” I nod. He hobbles my way to offers his hand. I can’t. I shake it. “Really do appreciate you putting together that lift, friend,” he smiles, and my stomach rolls into knots. “Folks ignore little people a lot of the times, and when they aren’t, they stare. That’s probably why we moved here. Nothing like southern hospitality, eh?” I’m playing my roll: nodding, smiling, sitting in a rocker when he offers. He hoists himself into his seat and retrieves his pipe. “You smoke?” he offers. No, you mongrel. No. I’d shoot you dead right here, right now if- “The wife wants to apologize,” he exhales, “She thinks we are going to look like a sideshow, moving to such a small town and all. She didn’t mean to seem ungrateful. It’s just…” You are a blight, inhuman scourge. “Different?” He chuckles, “To say the least.” He hitches himself into the crutches again and shuffles from the rocking chair, “Sorry, forgot the glasses. Mind if we step inside?” I wordlessly follow him through the door, staring at the back of his head, feeling beetles crawling under my skin. Soybeans. The fresh paint of the Mason household peels away as he walks past. He clicks along on his stilts like a fucking animal: a tiny, human spider. But it’s worse than that; spiders have their uses. The boards moan beneath his feet, painfully accepting his existence. Mr. Mason gets a step stool from under the sink and clambers up to a cabinet full of glassware, unaware of the greenish fluid beginning to seep from the ceiling. The windows are beginning to quiver in their frames, when he steps down, two polished tumblers in hand. “Ice?” he hands me a glass. “Not tonight,” I retort, trying to suppress the trembling in my bones before he notices my excitement. “You alright?’ He’s in my head. He knows. He knows, but it won’t matter. The fields are ready. “Fine. So much for growing old gracefully. I wake up every morning and something else either hurts or has stopped working altogether.” I pour us two fingers each. He raises up the golden spirit, inspecting it with unworthy eyes. “Well here is for growing old,” and he taps my glass with his. Ruined. What a waste. The glasses are still ringing in my ears after he takes his first careful sip. The noise burns like white, hot steel against my brain. “How do you think about soybeans?” He swallows, “Soybeans? Hm. Never really thought about them I guess. Hah. Why do you ask?” “You’re going to be growing them this year,” I state, as the windows begin to shatter from their violent spasms. He takes in another mouthful, “Oh? The wife had mentioned that you said something about that. We weren’t really planning on planting much of anything. Maybe some herbs in the window, but nothing big. You know? But hey, I see how good your land is looking out there! Maybe I’ll have to get down in the dirt; how hard could it be?” It’s too much. I start with his legs; they weren’t much good anyway. The knobby things break like twigs in my teeth. The moon boils like water in a tea kettle, its whistles harmonizes with his screams. I try to tear them completely off, but I’m old. That proves a little much, even for me. Mr. Mason starts mocking human speech in the form of babbling pleas for help. I empty the contents of the handgun into his chest. The foundation cracks with an ear splitting snap that drowns out his last pleadings until he is dead. I look up and can see the dismembered corpse of Mrs. Mason sliding down the hallway and out the door like a slug leaving behind repugnant red mucus. 'Ol Jeb shuts the door behind him and brings her all the way back to the house. He’s a good dog like that. Getting back with Mr. Mason wasn’t as easy, though. His fluids dripped onto my overalls staining and burning holes in them. His dead eyes stare up at me, and I stare down into them as I walk. “You made me do it,” I tell those eyes. They blink feverishly and roll out of his head. I watch them as they lead me into the west field, where the pit has already been dug. Mrs. Mason is waiting for her husband by the time I arrive, and I toss him in. I bury the Masons between the Fosters and the Turners since they grew so well this year, and the job is done. I could already hear the earth crunching their bones down to sweet nectar for the field. The ambient crackle like the coughs of a burning log guides me back to the front porch, and I'm lost in a nostalgic haze. There, 'ol Jeb lay dead. He was an old dog, but a good dog. He’s wound up in a little ball, sleeping in a deep dream that he will never awake from. I scoop him into my arms, and sing him Blackberry Blossom until he is as cold and still as the midnight sky full of winking stars. For the first time in my well weathered life, I felt like the world was passing me by. I’m an old man, and I don’t do well with change. I wish I could have been there to say goodbye. I wish I could have cooed and pet his head as he sailed into that good night. He’s in a better place, surely, but I still cry. I cry all night, but wipe away those tears when the sun’s glow stretches over my old Kentucky home and my parcels of soybeans arrive.
Floyd Rockner, better known as Rocky to the few friends he had, was coming home from a long day of fishing and an even longer day of drinking. He had left his house, no more than an over glorified tar paper shack, at eight that morning and stopped by the local general store for some bait and, more importantly, some beer. After picking up Danny Beaulieu, one of his few friends, they had spent the better part of this Saturday drinking, fishing, and talking sports. Floyd was a Red Sox fan and was hoping that they would end the 1985 season better than they had last year at 86-76, coming in fourth in the AL East. He had gone to drop Danny off around 7:30 that night but stayed for another hour or so for a few more beers. After finishing the better half of the eighteen pack, a few swigs off Danny’s Jim Beam bottle, and a hit off Danny’s joint, Floyd was what he would call “a bit beyond buzzed”. As he climbed into his truck, a beat to shit Dodge flaked with rust, he tuned the radio to WEEI, trying to listen to final few innings of the Red Sox game. The “Bo Sox” as he called them, were playing in Seattle and had won the first two games of the series with Nipper and Trujillo on the mound and Stanley was pitching tonight. The radio blared static at him and he turned it off. “Fuck.” He mumbled under his breath as he sat at the end of Danny’s driveway, thinking he’d probably have to wait until he hit route 114 out in Goffstown before he could get a good signal. He turned on to River Road headed south and began to accelerate before slowing down and testing his breaks. Danny had mentioned the screeching sound emitting from the passenger side of the truck when they had been on their way to Long Pond. “Got an awful loud screech.” Danny had said in a matter-of-fact way. “Gonna need new breaks on this thing if you want to pass inspection Rocky” “Ayup,” Floyd said, smiling, “but it ain’t due for a sticker 'til October, and besides I haven’t noticed any give in the breaks just yet.” The breaks seemed fine to Floyd now and with the passenger window rolled up he could hardly hear the squealing, grinding noise that he had when passing the occasional house when Danny had the window down. He opened another beer, took a sip and set it between his thighs. Floyd’s truck was a 1965 Dodge D100, blue in color aside from the smudges of rust that were slowly eating away at the body above the tires. The fuel gauge was shot and never read correct under half a tank, it seemed to drink motor oil at nearly the same pace as gasoline and the frame was very much rusted to shit. He had purchased the truck from a coworker, Bob, down at the mill before Bob had kicked the bucket unexpectedly on the production floor. He’d paid a cool $100 for the truck and hadn’t sunk a penny into it aside from gas and oil since. He wanted to buy a new car one day, but since he was currently unemployed and “living on the county”, as his mother used to say, with a disgusted look on her face when she said it, his dream of owning a sports car was just that. A dream. Tinkering with the radio dial again, trying to find the Boston station knowing he wouldn’t get anything, Floyd started to veer slightly, crossing the yellow line a few times and correcting himself as he hit 50 miles per hour. Rolling the tune dial between his fingers, listening for a break in the static, he had listed lazily to the right side of the road and caught the shoulder and jerked the truck back up onto the road, spilling his Old Milwaukee beer in the process. “Son of a whore!” Floyd shouted as the beer started to soak into his blue jeans and foam up on the floor of the truck. He reached down, feeling with his hand amid the dirt, grease and beer foam, trying to find the can that had fallen from between his thighs. He patted the floor a few times but couldn’t find it, he flipped on the dome light, glanced down, saw the can and reached for it. As he looked up from the floor of the truck to the road a deer was standing in the middle of his lane. Panicking, he sat bolt upright, both hands now on the wheel, one with a good grip and the other, covered in beer foam, couldn’t quite match it. He slammed both feet on the break pedal and pulled the wheel to the left, trying to get into the other lane when his right hand slipped free of the steering wheel and his left hand jerked the wheel even further than he had intended and sent the truck across the shoulder of the other lane and into the woods. There was a deafening crunch as the truck hit a downed tree nose first, lifting both rear tires off the ground and Floyd was thrown forward where his head hit the windshield and the world around him went black. When Floyd finally came to, he was slumped over the steering wheel, vision blurred by clumps of bloody hair hanging in front of his eyes, a dull thrumming pain coming from the top of his head and an ache in his chest where he had hit the steering column. He looked out through the spider web of cracks that covered his windshield and saw the front of his truck bellowing out puffs of white smoke. He leaned back off the steering wheel, slumped over in his seat for a moment, feeling a wave of nausea wash over him briefly and then come to a pass. The remaining beers that had been on his passenger seat had been sent flying and made their own web work on the windshield. A few of the cans had popped open and the inside of the cab was covered in dripping, foaming beer. He looked around, seeing if anyone had pulled over having seen the crash but there was nothing but darkness partially warded off by the red glow of his dimming tail lights. Groaning, he tried to open the door but it didn’t budge, he heaved at it with his shoulder and it gave way, spilling him out onto the mixture of leaves and branches beneath. He laid there for a minute, gazing up at the sky that shown no stars tonight. Taking a moment to think back about how clear the afternoon had been, no clouds and a soft blue sky, he thought the total darkness was odd. After getting up, he made his way to the front of the truck, leaning on the hood with his right elbow for balance, and saw that the entire front end had crinkled up like an accordion. He made his way back to the open door of the cab, leaned in and tried turning the key. Nothing. He tried again a few times but it was useless, the truck wouldn’t even try to turn over. He raked his hands through his hair, trying to get it out of his eyes when his fingers came across a spot on his head that seemed to shoot fire throughout his entire scalp. He winced and drew in breath sharply, then looked at his hands. They were covered in blood. “Fucking bitch whore cunt fucker.” He said to himself, pushing his hair to the side rather than trying to brush it back. Making his way to the back of the truck, a little more stable now, he looked up and down the road only to see it was completely deserted, void of any lights in either direction. He leaned against the back of the truck, and started to rub his brow, something he had done while contemplating ever since he could remember. He was contemplating staying by the truck, or waiting to see if a passerby would notice the wreck and pull over. He checked his wrist watch, it was 9:04, but upon closer examination he realized the second hand wasn’t ticking. He tapped the watch, looked again and saw it wouldn’t budge. Glancing up and down the road again, still no lights to be seen, he tried to get his bearings straight. Having been down this road many times since even before getting his license, riding along with his father as they made their way to one of the many small ponds that seemed to make up most of the available fishing in the area, he knew that further down the road the way he had been headed there were a few houses lining the west side. As he made his way back up the steep banking toward the road, he patted his pockets for his cigarettes and matches, finally finding them in the left breast pocket. He fished a crooked cigarette from the crumpled pack and stuck it in the corner of his mouth. As he pulled out his matches, checking to see if they’d been soaked by the exploding beer cans in the wreck, he thought heard a motor rumbling in the distance. He stopped, unlit butt in his mouth and the matches in one hand. Standing, listening, he could hear it clearly now. Yes, coming from the direction he had been traveling. He scurried up the rest of the shoulder and onto the road, from around the bend came headlights, bright and nearly blinding. He waved his hands frantically, wincing from the brightness as the car flew by doing what seemed like 100 miles per hour. As it passed he saw the tail lights, tall in the back, continue down the road. They didn’t brighten and the driver just kept going as they rapidly grew smaller and smaller, fading into the darkness up ahead. “Well fuck me!” He shouted, letting his arms drop back to his sides. He glanced back at his truck, then back to the road, struck the match with a flick of his thumb, a trick his Uncle Alden had shown him when he was kid, and started walking in the direction he, and that car, had been headed. Floyd had been walking for what seemed like forever, but was probably only about ten minutes when he stopped to light another cigarette. He drew deep from the Pall Mall, exhaled upwards and noticed that the sky was still dark and starless. He was wondering why he hadn’t come across a house yet, when he realized he hadn’t even come to a bend in the road either. The road was long, stretching from Weare all the way to Goffstown where it met up with route 114, speckled with a few houses along the way. The road followed the river that lay just twenty yards or so on the east side of it. In the day time during most of the drive you could look over and see the river through the trees but now it was so dark he could hardly make out the tree line over there. He listened carefully, expecting to hear the sounds of the river flowing southward and heard nothing, the night was silent. Just then, he thought he could hear the river, could hear it coursing it’s path through the forest when it started to grow louder, and then not sounding like a river at all. He whipped his head around and saw headlights traveling toward him, coming from some distance. He stepped off to the shoulder of the road and raised both his hands, calmly moving them back and forth in that age old “help” gesture but the car showed no signs of slowing, it flew by him, and as he turned his head he noticed those tail lights, those same tail lights from before. He chucked the half smoked butt from his mouth onto the ground and stomped his feet one after the other. “God fucking dammit!” He yelled furiously. Standing there, head aching from his recent outburst, he drew in breath deeply, held it for a second and then let it out. “That couldn’t have been the same car.” He thought to himself. “It couldn’t have made it to town, took back roads and looped back just to pass me again.” But those tail lights, he could have sworn they were the same, they weren’t something you’d see every day, they looked like they belonged to one of those old Chevy’s that he had seen often as a kid. And wasn’t the car going a bit fast? It was hard to tell from the side of the road and the speed limit did vary from 45 to 55 mph depending on where on that stretch of road you were. He'd walked another twenty minutes, or maybe even twenty hours, who could tell? To Floyd, time seemed irrelevant. His body ached, his head ached worse, and he was dead tired. He couldn’t believe he hadn’t come across a single house or bend in the road, and now he wondered why he hadn’t even come across a change in the road. It was flat, no uphill or down hill, no curves and no noticeable difference in the pavement at all, it seemed as if he were walking on a treadmill. “What I wouldn’t give for a beer and a bed right now.” He thought. “Just a beer and a bed and-” Suddenly he heard it again, that motor. A moment of dread washed over him as he was sure it would be the same car. “But now,” he thought “only it’s going to run me down and out of my fucking misery.” Floyd backed off the road and on to the shoulder once again, he looked up the road and saw the headlights, big spheres of light cutting their way through the darkness. He lazily lifted one arm and just let it stay there as the car continued it’s course, no hesitation in the motor, no slowing down and it streaked by him. The gust of wind as it passed rustled his hair back into his face. He didn’t quite catch the color of the car, but noticed it was two tone. One color on the top and one color on the bottom, separated by a stylish slant that allowed the back end to be fully the color of the bottom and the front end to be fully to color of the top. “Fuck you and the horse you road in on pal!” He screamed at the dimming tail lights and kicked a stone that had been sitting on the edge of the road. It went hopping along the cracked and patched cement, bouncing steadily along and into the woods on the far side. Walking still, the urge to urinate came on and came on strong. Floyd managed his way down to the tree line, undid his belt and zipper and let fly. He was thinking about that car. That fucking no good driver and that fucking car. Two tone and 1950-something. He remembered a day when he had saw one just like it as a kid when his father had taken him to the lumberyard. They had just started building a new deck off of the back of the house he had grown up in throughout his childhood. “See that?” His father had said as they stopped next to the car in the parking lot of the lumberyard. “I’m gonna get me one just like it when I retire, just you wait and see kiddo.” Floyd’s father, Orin Rockner, was a heavy set man who had made his career in welding. He’d gotten a job at the shipyard out in Portland shortly after he had come home from the Korean War. He traveled to the shipyard and back every day in his old Hudson Hornet that he had washed faithfully every weekend while Floyd and his brother Bobby played in the yard. A big cigar always present, lit or not, in his gob. But his father never got the car, and never retired either. Orin had suffered a heart attack at the ripe old age of 52 and left a then 19 year old Floyd and 17 year old Bobby to take care of their mother, Doris, who’d always been a housewife and nothing more. Doris had found work for near nothing every week bagging groceries at the local supermarket, while Floyd went to work in the production mills in Manchester, turning out textiles until he’d lost his job this last year. Thinking back about his dad, the car he would never own and the absolute certainty in his father’s voice when talking about getting that car, Floyd found himself in a near day dream when it was broken suddenly by the sound of a motor humming in the distance. As he made his way back up to the shoulder of the road, heart racing, Floyd stumbled and his hand landed on a rock. Grabbing the rock, meaning to throw it at the car as it passed by, he stood upright and walked to the road. The car flew by again and as Floyd raised his hand with the rock in it, ready to hurl it through the back windshield, he saw the break lights flare up and the car slowed to a crawl, and then a stop. His arm dropped and so did the rock from his hand. It hit the pavement with a dull thud as he stood there, statuesque and not moving. The car, sitting idle, motor humming, sat about 40 yards from where Floyd stood. Drawing in a deep breath, he closed his eyes and hoped to God that this wasn’t the same car. When he opened his eyes, he saw the tail lights, bright red on this dark road, looking back at him. This was the same car he had seen pass him three times, he knew it as well as he knew his own name. Suddenly, a deep sense of dread came over him, swallowing him whole. He approached the car, slowly, looking through the back windshield for any sign of movement, he saw nothing. Moving closer now he could see the back of the car, he tilted his body slightly to the right. It was two toned, Mist Green and Mayland Black. He walked the length of the car, looking it over and stopped outside the passenger door. Floyd peered in through the window, there was a red light emanating from the middle of the dash, down where you’d expect the ashtray to be. He could see the outline of the driver, but it didn’t really look like an outline to him. No, it looked like a shadow, void of any light, an empty space in the world where something, or someone, should be. His mouth went dry and suddenly he wished he’d stayed in the woods, wished he’d stayed at Danny’s place, wished he’d never left his house today. “I don’t want to get in this car.” he thought to himself. “I don’t want to get in this car, I don’t want to get in this car, I don’t…”But before he could even react to what was happening he saw his hand, as if led by some sort of ghost hand holding his own, reach out slowly towards the door handle as he let out a groan of despair. It was a hot July night but the door to the car was cold to the touch. Very cold. As his hand grabbed the handle he was sure he was going to lose it, sure he would go insane, screaming and running into the woods. The handle popped open into his hands without him even tugging it. His testicles shrank up into his belly as he pulled it the rest of the way open. The creaking noise coming from the door didn’t sound like a metal hinge in need of some oil, it sounded like a wooden door, or a coffin, swinging open. His breath escaped him as the door finally opened all the way and he bent down slowly to look inside, terrified at what he might see. “Need a ride?” The stranger said in a rather quiet voice, still looking forward at the road ahead. “Yeah,” Floyd started, then cleared his throat, “ahem, uh, yeah. If you wouldn’t mind. Just to the next house would be fine, you see I wrecked..” “I saw the wreck,” The driver said, interrupting Floyd, “get in and I’ll give you a ride.” Floyd stayed there a moment, hunched over, still peering into the car trying to get a good look at the driver. No overhead light had come on as the door opened. The dark red glow of what he now made out to be a map light, low on the dash, only illuminated passenger side seat and floor. He couldn’t make out anything but the shape of the man. He was tall, that was for sure, the man’s head almost reached the roof of the car Standing up, Floyd tilted his head and took another look up to the sky. Admiring, in some odd way, the lack of stars yet again. He leveled his head and then stepped into the car as the door shut itself slowly behind him. As the car pulled off the shoulder and back onto the road, Floyd noticed the headlights bob in the night, but didn’t feel to be noticeably jostled in his seat. It were as if they were riding on air. The driver was now accelerating and as he peeked over towards the dash, Floyd had seen they were already climbing past 45 and near 50 mph. Still, in the seat of this car, if felt as if they weren’t even moving. “Thanks for the ride, it means a lot.” He said, feeling uneasy. “Feels like I have been walking forever, you see, my watch is broken and it’s stuck at…” Floyd looked at the analog clock on the dash, it’s lens had a long crack stretching from the eight all the way across and up to the two. The time on the clock read 9:04. He looked at his broken wrist watch, lit in the blood red glow of the map light and saw it had the same crack streaking across it. The unease deepened as he swallowed dryly, an audible click sound came from his throat. “Stuck at what now?” the driver asked flatly, eyes never leaving the road. “Uh, just past 9:00. Probably broke when I crashed my truck. A deer ran out in the road and…” Floyd found his memory of the crash a little fuzzy, he closed his eyes and leaned back into the seat. “And I swerved to miss it and just hit the shoulder I guess. Ended up on the ditch there and just got to walking, trying to get to a house to phone the tow company.” The driver said nothing in return, his hands wrapped around the steering wheel, Floyd could tell he had long fingers, “piano fingers” his mom had used to say about Mr. Driscoll who’s fingers were equally as long. Mr. Driscoll used to deliver milk back when Floyd was a child, and when he had once went to shake Floyd’s hand, he had grabbed almost the entirety of his forearm. He remembered this only because of how frightened he had always been of Mr. Driscoll. Why he had always been scared of the man he didn’t know, but the memory of that odd embrace had stuck with him. “You on your way into town?” Floyd asked, trying to start conversation. “Oh, no,” the driver said, “I’m not on my way to town, but more or less just passing through town.” “Well thanks all the same for the ride sir.” He said, forcing a grin. “Names Floyd, Floyd Rockner.” The driver simply nodded and Floyd’s grin diminished almost at once. They rode together in silence for some time, all the windows in the car rolled up. “Do you like sports, Floyd?” the driver said, breaking the eerie quiet. “Oh you bet!” Floyd said. “Keep up to date on all that I can, I was looking for the Sox game on the radio when-” “Are you familiar with Ray Chapman?” The driver said, cutting Floyd off abruptly and shooting him a quick glance before looking back to the road. “Uh, yeah. My dad used to tell me the story of how he dropped dead at home plate. Didn’t even flinch because he never saw the ball coming.” “He was hit at home plate, yes,” the driver said, “but he died at the hospital not long after. Traumatic brain injury it was. That is what killed him.” “Yeah,” Floyd said, “no helmets back then huh? Just a cap and a bat right?” He forced a slight laugh at this but immediately it sounded phony to him and he stopped. “Yes,” the driver agreed, “no helmet, rather unfortunate. They’d dirty the ball up their best. Scratching it up, using spit from their chew tobacco, dirt from the ground and maybe some pine pitch as well. Nasty thing that ball must have been. But at Polo Grounds, you see, the afternoon games would always give way to shadows. The shadows would swallow the infield, making it very hard to see the ball, practically impossible.” Floyd had been looking at the driver, still little less than a figure in the dark, but he had noticed some defining features. His hair, for one, was slicked back and he wore glasses. He had no noticeable facial hair in the dark but Floyd could smell what he thought was aftershave, a scent he was familiar with. He looked outside the passenger window at the trees going by and had time to think about how they hadn’t passed a house yet, and while the road was still straight as an arrow he could tell they’d been steadily going down hill at a very slight angle. “Ayup,” Floyd said, now looking straight ahead, his heart a knotted pit seemingly in the bottom of his stomach, “that’s real sad what happened to him.” “Indeed,” the driver said, eyes not straying from the road, “Chapman still holds the record for most sacrifice hits in a single season. Do you know what a sacrifice hit is Rocky?” “Sure,” Floyd said, “It’s when a hitter advances a base runner, giving up his at bat and getting an out. Say, how’d you know to call me Rocky? All my friends call me that and-” “Exactly!” The driver said. “Sacrificing yourself to advance a runner. Sacrificing yourself for the betterment of your team. Sacrifice has such a harsh sound for such a noble word doesn’t it?” “Well, I guess so.” Floyd said. He’d decided he didn’t want to look at the driver anymore. Not being able to see much aside from his profile made him feel uneasy in an indescribable way. “But,” the driver said, raising his right hand off the wheel and pointing one finger up, “sometimes you can sacrifice hit a ball without even knowing it, if it’s not a bunt that is. Sometimes a pop fly can give you the same advantage. Not every sacrifice is intended by the batter see?” Floyd wasn’t sure where this conversation was going. Sacrifice? Chapman? The driver sure knew baseball but aside from making small talk, he seemed to hang onto this Chapman story, insistent on talking about it further and that only deepened the confusion that Floyd was feeling. “Yeah, I can see that. Sure was a crazy time for baseball huh?” Floyd said. “Crazy time?” The driver said, sounding a bit amused by the statement. “Crazy time? Steroids, sign stealing, pine tar on the neck, fixing games, corked bats! That’s crazy and it’s happening now! Baseball back in the 1920’s wasn’t crazy. What is cheating now by most standards was legal or unheard of. It was a simpler time for sure but far from crazy.” Floyd glanced back to the odometer, the needle was pegged at 80 mph and he started to wriggle in his seat a bit. He’d reached over for a seatbelt and his hand had fallen on nothing but the side of the seat. His heart was racing and he closed his eyes again. “But a sacrifice hit,” the driver said, “that’s always going to be around. Because a sacrifice, intended or not, in baseball and the entire world around, is always welcomed to some capacity, am I right?” “Yeah, sure thing.” Floyd said hesitantly “Hey, I think we’ve gone far enough, you can drop me off here and I can probably walk the rest of the way. I have a buddy just down the road and-” “You don’t have a friend on this road Rocky,” the driver said, and Floyd could see he was smirking slightly, “nobody lives on this road.” Floyd suddenly felt sick. His testicles ascended up to his stomach to just about the place where his heart had seemingly sunk. Gooseflesh ran up his arms and he could feel the short hairs on the nape of his neck standing straight up. He needed air, he felt the side of the door for a window crank and he felt nothing but the smooth surface of the inside of the door. He looked and frantically moved his hand up and down the flat side of it, feeling for anything but came upon nothing, not even a door handle. “You see,” the driver said, now turning to look at Floyd, still going 80 mph, “sometimes you’re the sacrifice.” “What the fuck are you talking about man!?” Floyd asked nervously but yelling to try and cover it up. “And how the fuck did you know to call me Rocky? I don’t know you from fucking Adam! Ray Chapman, sacrifice hits, I don’t know what your angle is but I think you ought to drop me here pal.” The driver was still looking at Floyd, his eyes seemed to be glowing red, reflecting the glow from the map light onto his glasses. Instantly, as if a switch was flipped in his head, Floyd recognized the driver of the car. It was Mr. Parsons, the reverend from the church his mother had brought he and his brother as kids. Except Mr. Parsons had passed away in 1964 after suffering a heart attack a week or so before Christmas. His eyes glowed that sickly red color and Floyd slumped back in his seat, all the energy seemed to have been dragged out of his body by that look alone. “You just don’t get it do you?” Mr. Parsons asked. “You just don’t.” “M-Mr. Parsons?” Floyd asked, stumbling his words and looking up at the man he knew was long dead, fear now overtaking his unease. “I’m not 'Mr. Parsons',” the Parsons thing said, “I guess that’s what you see, so you can call me by his name, but I am much more than a lowly, dead preacher man. You have a lot to learn Rocky, and not much time left.” He tapped the broken clock on the dashboard, it still read 9:04. Floyd was panicking now, scratching at the smooth surface that was the inside of the door. He looked out the window, and yes they were still going downhill, had to have been for the last 10 minutes or so since he’d entered the car. “Stop the car!” He screamed. “Let me out of here!” “I can’t do that Rocky.” The man who was and wasn’t Mr. Parsons said coldly. “Let me out, NOW!” Floyd yelled. “Or I swear to God-” “Swear to me!” Parsons said, turning his head to face Floyd once again, this time his eyes blazing. Not reflecting the glow of the map light, but emitting their own, sick shade of red. “Swear to me you unfortunate societal leech! You’re not much more than a wretched waste of a man! A thief and a liar! I know all about you Rocky. How you used to steal candy from Sadon's Market as a kid. How you stole from the collection plate in church on more than one occasion. How you fucked Jenna Cote after prom even though she was so drunk she was unconscious. How you broke your foot after a night of drinking and went to work the next morning to apply for workers compensation! Oh yes Rocky, I know all about you, I could tell you things you yourself don’t even know! How you were so scared of Richard Driscoll. Do you want to know why? Do you Rocky?” “This is not happening, this is not real, YOU are not real.” Floyd said, closing his eyes and leaning back into the seat. “This is not real, YOU are not real!” He was screaming now repeating himself until it turned into babbling sobs. “This IS happening, this IS real!” The Parsons thing yelled at him, except now it wasn’t Mr. Parsons. It’s teeth had grown rotten, Floyd could see that in the glow of the fire burning from the things eyes. His hair, once slicked back was hanging in clumps from his scalp, and his nose was rotting, dripping some sort of blackish liquid that Floyd thought must have been blood. A deep, dark, arterial blood. “No, NO!” Floyd yelled again, his voice getting hoarse. “Yes!” The Parsons thing said, laughing. It’s laugh sent an gout of the black liquid at the windshield, covering it and the dash in the thick goo. The car was screaming down the road now, down hill. Floyd was able to open his eyes for a moment and saw that the odometer was reading in the black, the needle was well beyond where the digits ended and was bending in the middle as the car accelerated and the needle pressed firmly against the peg stopping it, threatening to snap. When it finally broke it started spinning clockwise rapidly. “We don’t have much time left Rocky.” The thing said. “So I am going to make this as quick as possible, okay?” It looked over at Floyd solemnly. “Okay.” Floyd said quietly, breathing heavily. His thoughts were racing through his head and he couldn’t make sense of anything. “Well, you see,” the thing started, looking directly at him, “sacrifice, as we have already discussed, can be intentional or inadvertent. But,” the thing raised one finger again, “an inadvertent sacrifice always goes unknown to man who sacrifices himself, you see? In baseball, it’s always intentional, but a friendly bounce putting it out of reach of the infielder can lead to advancing a runner and putting the batter on base. You’re situation is quite similar to that, but in this case you’re the infielder who made the error. Do you understand Rocky?” “No.” Floyd said, feeling the last of his sanity hanging by a thread in the back of his brain. His head rolled and he looked out the window again. They were moving fast, yes, but they were still heading down hill, on this long straight road, except the angle seemed more severe, he felt like he was on a rollercoaster now. “You weren’t the only car on the road tonight Rocky.” The grotesque thing in the driver seat said, face and shirt now drenched in the ichor like liquid dripping from his nose. “There was another.” “Another?” Floyd said, looking away again, head lolling to his right shoulder. He felt drugged, felt paralyzed from the shoulders down. “Yes, a small car. Holly Beliveau was the driver. You don’t know her, she’s not from this area. She was visiting her mother in Mont Vernon.” The thing behind the wheel said. “She doesn’t know it yet, but she’s pregnant. She’s the runner on base you see, she needs to 'advance' if you will. You, Rocky, you were about to strike out swinging. You needed a sacrifice hit.” Floyd was confused, he didn’t understand what this thing was trying to tell him and couldn’t even bear look in it’s direction. “So,” the thing said, calmly, “sometimes there needs to be a little intervention, sometimes things need to happen. You swerved to avoid that deer correct? Well, if we hadn’t put that deer there-” “We?” Floyd asked, still trying to avoid looking into the eyes of the thing driving the car. “What do you mean we? And put that deer there? What do you mean put that-” “LISTEN!” It yelled, splattering Floyd’s face with the sticky black substance leaking from it’s own deformed, rotting head. “I’ll explain everything but you’re going to have to listen Rocky. So shut the fuck up. Understand?” Floyd nodded his head slowly. “Now, where were we? Ah yes, the deer. If we hadn’t put that deer there you still wouldn’t have made it home. You would have made it about another mile or two down the road. You would have still been fumbling with your damn radio and you would have collided with Mrs. Beliveau's little coupe. Killing yourself, as well as her and her unborn child. That child, however, has more potential in it’s future than either yourself or Mrs. Beliveau.” “I...don’t understand.” Floyd said. “You still don’t get it?” The thing asked, now leaning over the seat and getting right in Floyd’s face. “You still don’t fucking get it?” “No, I-” Floyd was trying to say before the thing interrupted him again. “You’re dead Rocky!” It yelled in his face. “You are dead, and the child will live. That child will go on to do many, many things. Things you wouldn’t even comprehend, things in the future that will alter the course of world history! You on the other hand, you were a lost cause. You have no business living if it means the destruction of that child. So, here we are.” “Where are we going?” Floyd asked, still processing everything and genuinely confused. He felt as if he had just woken from a deep sleep and was being interrogated a cop, the bad cop from a “good cop, bad cop” routine and his mind was spinning. He looked back out the window, seeing the trees, they were getting taller and taller as the drove along. Up ahead he caught a glimpse of something on the side of the road. It flashed green in the headlights and a strip of bright reflective white encased it, he sat up in his seat slowly, using all the energy he had left and leaned forward and peered into the darkness. “Tophet” the sign read, as professional as any New Hampshire roadway sign Floyd had ever seen, but he had never heard of a “Tophet” New Hampshire. He was turning his head trying to follow the sign before it faded behind him, swallowed by the darkness. When he turned to face the road he could see an orange glow in the distance that looked like sunrise. He had no idea what time it was but supposed it could be the sun rising. The road ahead seemed to be crumbling under the headlights. The thing gripping the wheel, fingers looking more like bones than human flesh, cut the headlights. Now the entire horizon seemed to bleed a reddish orange color from no direction in particular. The feeling in Floyd’s stomach turned instantly black. It was the most emotionally devastating feeling instantaneously paired with the absolute absence of all feeling all at once. “Where are we going?” Floyd repeated himself. “Where are we going?” The thing asked, almost laughing. “We aren’t going anywhere, we’re already here.” Floyd looked through the windshield once more and started shrieking. The Weare Police Department received a phone call from a frantic woman who identified herself as Holly Beliveau. She was a registered nurse and had pulled over to report a crash on River Road, just a few miles south of the Route 77 and 114 intersection. She had sprinted to the house across the street about 20 yards away and woke the old man who lived there, furiously banging on the door and ringing the bell. When he answered the door he looked half awake, eyes squinting, Holly asked to use his telephone. “It’s an old blue truck.” She said. “I don’t know what make or model. It’s in the ditch, I...” she paused to catch her breath. “I went to the truck to see if anyone was in it. The man behind the wheel is dead. The truck is in the ditch facing south in the north bound lane.” “Okay ma'am, we have a unit heading to you, they’ll be there within the next 10 minutes. Please wait for the officer to arrive.” The dispatcher said in a calm voice. “Alright.” Holly said. “I’ll be on the side of the road with my headlights on.” “Thank you, goodbye.” The dispatcher said and disconnected.
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