As the President’s face faded from the screen to be replaced by a stunned news team, my thoughts began to race. I mentally ran down an inventory in my head of food, fuel for heating the house, drinking water, ammunition, medicine. My hearing drifted in and out as the news team began to try to regurgitate what the President said in “everyman” terms, but to me, it was clear as a bell: the Government did not trust its citizens and was afraid that the attacks of the early morning hours were merely the opening salvo of a war to bring down the Government of the United States. A line from a movie ran through my head: “The people should not be afraid of the Government, the Government should be afraid of the people.”
I suppose that in his place I might have done the same, but I can’t help but think that he was going about it the wrong way. All that his proclamations would do is cause further confusion and mistrust of the government. I tuned in again as a supposed “constitutional scholar” weighed in with his opinion of the Martial Law edict. He had one of those lugubrious faces, pinched with age and a poorly done make-up job. He spoke in a droning monotone, as if lecturing in a large auditorium to half sleeping students.
“It is my considered opinion that the President is exceeding his constitutional authority. Granted these are extraordinary circumstances, however, he is still bound by the Constitution of these United States of America. He can no more declare a nation-wide curfew than I could give the student body of my University a day off in the middle of the week. American citizens under the First Amendment have the right to freely assemble, there are no limits placed on when or where, much less the time of day. Additionally, he is usurping the power of Congress under Section 8 of the Constitution by mobilizing the National Guard, which is a duty expressly given to Congress and not the President.
“I would expect the Congress and the Supreme Court to declare his actions to be unconstitutional and perhaps to even begin the process of removing him from office for engaging in actions…”
The talking head broke in “Surely you cannot be saying that the President, who was appointed only hours ago should be impeached?”
“Of course I am”, the professor replied. “He is violating his oath of office and has usurped powers given exclusively to the other branches of our Government. He is, in essence, committing treason.”
The camera showed the stunned talking head, and immediately the program shifted to a commercial.
‘Oh right,’ I thought to myself, ‘just what we need, some self-important idiot announcing to the whole world that our President is committing treason!’ As my mind wandered back to making lists of things to do in the morning, I heard snippets of conversation from the news program, one of the talking heads apologizing to its viewers for the previous guest, stating that the management of the broadcast company in no way believed that the President was committing treason, and on and on it went until I turned it off and went up to bed.
* * *
The next morning dawned bright and clear as I drove in to town. It was Saturday and I had a list that took the most part of two pages of supplies to lay in for the next couple of months. My credit card was going to take a big hit, but I didn’t want to be caught short if things really went to hell.
As I drove in, I noticed a lot more local police, county sheriff and state police on the roads, as well as the occasional Humvee manned with alert looking National Guard troops. It was still early, but the crowd at the warehouse grocery was proof that I was not the only one worried. I stocked up, taking a total of 4 grocery carts. Next on my list of stops was the sporting goods store. A sign on the door announced that they were limiting ammunition sales to a total of 1,000 rounds because the restocking truck had not arrived overnight, but that was no big deal, there were several other places in town where I could get what I needed. As I looked over the array of hunting supplies, an old-timer with the store vest caught my eye; he walked over and introduced himself.
“Hiya! My name’s Charlie, is there anything I can help you with today?”
“Yep, I’ll max out my needs for ammo probably with just one caliber.”
He grinned, and said “Nope, the sign is wrong; the limitation is 1000 rounds of each caliber. What do you need?”
I gave him the list and he tottered off to fill the list. I walked over to the bow hunting equipment, thinking about the crossbow I’d had my eye on for the past couple of months. Charlie came back with the shopping cart loaded up.
“We have an end-of-season sale going on right now, if you are looking at buying some new hunting gear. All our camo, cold weather gear, knives, trapping and bow hunting equipment is currently 30% off.” He dropped his voice to a whisper “and just between you and me, I think management is going to end the sale later today if the news is any indication. I think there are a lot of folks who are going to be laying in supplies like you are.”
I grinned at him “Well, then, let’s get to it.”
After the sporting goods store, it was over to the home improvement store for rope, tarps, plastic sheeting, duct tape, gasoline cans, plus miscellaneous hardware. Then on to the gas station to fill up the truck and the newly purchased gas cans. As I was paying the attendant, the store manager was putting up a sign outside the store: Gas purchases limited to 75 gallons maximum. I looked the question to the attendant. She sighed “We just heard from our supplier — because of the curfew, deliveries are going to be slowed down. We usually get our gas every day, but now it looks like it is going to be every other day, or perhaps every third day.” I shook my head and walked back to the truck. Picking up my cell phone, I called one of my hunting buddies who owned the local propane dealership.
“Hey, George, it’s Jim.”
“Hey, Jim, are we on for poker night tonight?”
Oh damn. I’d completely forgotten. “Well, only if you and the rest of the gang are prepared to stay the night. I don’t want any of you clowns getting shot for curfew violations.”
There was a snort from the phone. “Yeah, right, Like Al would shoot any of us.” Al Stemmons was the local Sheriff’s Deputy that patrolled our area.
“No, more likely he’d put a round through your radiator or front tire.”
There was a moment of silence while George digested that. “You’re not kidding, are you?”
“Hell no, I’m deadly serious.”
More silence, then, “Yeah, OK. I’ll pack an overnight bag and pass the word to the boys to be prepared to spend the night.”
“Great. I’ll stop and get some beer. Anyway, the reason I called was to check to see if you’d had a chance to fill up the tanks out at my place.”
Last summer, I had installed a propane powered house-sized generator, complete with its own 1000 gallon tank. I also had a 1000 gallon tank that the rest of the house used. The building inspector had look askance at the installation plans but when I reminded him of the winter before and the fact that the house had been cut off from town and had been without power for 3 weeks. The Blizzard of the Century had dropped almost 47″ of snow, and then the winds had whipped it into drifts that had topped 10 feet in some places, notably down the middle of the county road that ran past my place.
“Yeah, Danie was out there this morning with the semi. She said to thank you for being sure the lot was plowed and for plowing the access to the tanks.”
“No problem. Hey, tell you what — let’s make a party of it this evening. Invite Danie, and tell the rest of the guys to bring their wives. I’ll invite Lauren and we can all get together and catch up. It’s been months since we’ve all seen each other, and with what has been going on, it may be awhile before we can do this again.”
“Sounds like a plan.” George laughed. “Danie is going to pester you and Lauren about getting married you know…”
I laughed too. “Well, who knows? Maybe I will ask her tonight.”
“Yeah, right, that will be the day. You? Getting married again? No freaking way.”
I tsked, “Listen buddy, I may have said that 10 years ago, but times change.”
George laughed again. “What ever. Listen, I gotta get going. See you tonight.”
I spent a couple of minutes daydreaming about Lauren, then shook myself and hit the speed dial on my cell phone. “Peters Residence, may I help you?” Always polite, Mrs. Norris my housekeeper was always on call. She, with her husband Fred, had taken care of my place since it was built. They had originally owned the land it was built on, and when it came time to close down the farm after a particularly hard year, I asked them to stay on, and eventually moved them into the main house.
“Betsy, it’s me, James. Listen, would you open up the bunkhouse for me, get it warmed up and ready for company? I’ve invited George and Danie and the gang to come over later today and I’m hoping that they will stay for some time, at least until things cool down out East.”
“Of course, Mr. Peters. Shall I get food out of the freezer?”
“No. I’m stopping at Manea’s on the way home, but start planning menus for the next week or so. Also, please ask Fred to head down to the boat house and take an inventory. Tell him to think ahead about 6-9 months. He will know what I mean. Also, have him fill up all the fuel tanks on the boats, and be sure the spare tanks are full as well. On the way back, ask him to run over to stand 14, and check out what’s going on over at Ripley. I heard some heavy equipment moving around over there early this morning. Tell him to rig up a camera with both visible and IR capabilities. I want it focused on the main parade ground if possible. When he’s done that, have him come back to the house and open up the storage room in the basement as well as the ammo locker. I’ve got plenty of equipment to put away.”
“I will, Mr. Peters.” There was a long pause and I could almost hear the question rolling around in her head. “Do you think it will be bad, Mr. Peters?”
“I don’t know, Betsy, but I’ve got a bad feeling about this.”
“I understand, Mr. Peters. I will get Fred started out right away. Goodbye.”
I hung up, and then speed dialed Lauren. “Hey sweet pea!”
“JIMMY!” I had to pull the phone away from my ear from her squeal of delight. It’s strange, I never expected to hear a woman my age squeal like a 16 year old…but then again, I never expected to fall in love again. Go figure.
“Honey, how about if you pack up some things and come out to the house for awhile? I’d like to keep you near just in case any trouble breaks out.”
Silence…then “Do you think it is going to get that bad?”
“I don’t know, but I don’t want to take any chances, especially with you.”
I could hear the smile. “How long should I pack for?”
“A couple of weeks maybe a month I think. If you have food in the fridge and freezer, bring it with. And I suggest you leave the rice burner in the garage. Bring the truck.” Lauren snorted. What I called the rice burner was her brand new Toyota Camry. It got very good gas mileage, but if worse came to worse, we would need all the trucks and 4 wheel-drive vehicles we could get. “Also, bring your hunting and fishing gear, and probably your camping equipment as well.”
More silence. I could hear the gears in her brain furiously grinding away as she processed that additional information. “Yessss. Yes. Ok, I understand. Have I told you yet today how much I love you?”
“Mmmmm…well, I do. Lots and lots.”
I smiled. “Listen, I gotta go, I still have lots of shopping to get done. Be sure you get out to the house before sundown. I don’t want to have to bail you out of the jail.”
She laughed. “I will, sweetheart. Goodbye!”
“Bye!” I clicked off and speed dialed George back. “Hey George”, I said when he answered. “Tell everyone to pack for about a month. I’m having Betsy open up the bunkhouse. Have them bring all their hunting and fishing gear, plus as much food as they can haul. Ask them to drive their trucks as well.”
“Will do.” He didn’t question, he was probably thinking the exact same way that I was. This is why we are such good friends. Of course, growing up together and going to the same schools tends to do that to people. We exchanged goodbyes, and then hung up. I glanced at my shopping list, swore, and then called Betsy back. “I forgot to ask you — if you have some time, I need you to run into Little Falls and swing by Gun Club. See if they have any 5.7 x 28 40 or 50 grain rounds. I wasn’t able to get any in St. Cloud. I’m hoping that they have at least a couple of thousand in the storage room. If they do, see if you can talk Henry into letting you have them. If he questions you, tell him that I’m preparing a demo for the guys on the P90 I picked up last year. Then run over to Rod and Gun and pick up a couple of cases, not boxes, but cases of .45 ACP and .30-30 ammo. If Fred needs anything, pick that up as well. Top off the truck before you head back.”
“Fred said to tell you that everything is all taken care of down at the boat house. He’d already taken care of the inventory when he closed down for the fall and everything is fully stocked. He’s on his way over to the deer stand right now.”
“Thanks, dear. And thank Fred for me when he gets back.”
* * *
It was almost 4:30 PM by the time I pulled into the garage and killed the engine on the truck. I stretched, then hopped out and popped open the topper and started hustling the boxes of supplies into the house. Fred joined me shortly. Fred was 76 years old, and since he’d been about 6, had spent practically every available minute outside. He stood about five foot ten, and was thin and wiry. His skin was a deep dark brown that only farmers get, with deep wrinkles in his face. He reminded me of the actor Tommy Lee Jones. His hair was all white and was cut in a military style flat top, a remnant of his days in the service. But the most arresting feature of his face was his eyes. They were brilliant blue and sparkled with wisdom and humor. He grabbed a case of ammo and his muscles bulged as he hoisted it up with a slight grunt.
“Betsy told you about the boat house.” It was a statement rather than a question. Fred was a man of few words.
“Yep. How did it look over at Ripley?”
Fred scowled. “A real cluster fuck.” I was surprised. Fred rarely swore, and then only when something was not cooperating, like a rusted nut frozen to a bolt. “The RA and the NG are in there and I don’t think the right hand knows that the left hand is busy jerking off.” That surprised me even more.
“How bad does it look?” I asked.
“From the look of things, it is going to take them at least a week to get organized. From what I could see, they are plowing the ground in Areas 1 and 3 and probably the other open spaces, judging by the sounds. The POL depot is full of trucks. They are prepping the rail yard too.” He looked darkly at me.
“Oh shit.” He nodded. Ripley, actually Camp Ripley, was home to the Minnesota National Guard, and they used it during the spring, summer and fall months for training exercises, and the RA or Regular Army, used it during the winter months for winter survival training. The rail yards were used for on and off loading of heavy equipment that couldn’t be trucked in, like tanks and APC’s, and occasionally, artillery. Normally, all of that equipment was stored on-site in warehouses, usually in the late fall before the first snow, but with the concurrent wars in both Afghanistan and Iraq, most of the equipment was overseas, except for the winter training vehicles. They would not be preparing the rail yards unless equipment was coming in, and that was not a good sign. “Did you get the cameras set up?”
He nodded. “I used both the visible and IR cameras and set up a pair each tasked to the rail yard and to the parade ground. I also set a pair up focused on the main entrance on stand 2.” He looked at me slyly.
“What?” I braced myself. When Fred got that look, it usually meant that he’d done something that I may not approve of, although in living memory, that had never happened.
“I didn’t use the wireless cameras.” He watched my face. “Considering what you wanted, I decided to tie them into the household security ‘net. I figured it would be more secure that way.”
I grinned at him and his shoulders slightly relaxed. “You were reading my mind, Fred.”
By this time, we’d emptied out the truck. I closed and locked the topper and was walking towards the open door into the house when the outer garage door started to cycle up. Lauren pulled in with a wave and parked her truck. Being who she is, Lauren didn’t settle for any ordinary 4 x 4 truck. Oh no. My sweet darling drove a slate grey 2009 Dodge Durango. Fully loaded, of course. I sighed. “Lauren, honey, I said that you should drive the t-r-u-c-k.” I spelled it out for her. It was our standard game when she did something like this.
She rolled her grey-green eyes at me. “Well, I decided that it would be far more comfortable to drive the S-U-V instead. Besides,” and her eyes twinkled, “if it gets as bad as you say it might get, the Durango can fit five, maybe six in a pinch.”
I hugged her tight. Lauren came up to my chin. But if you called her short, you’d get a right jab in the solar plexus. She was “petite”. Full-bodied with red hair, she was my dream come true, my own Venus de Milo. “So, who is coming to the party?” She asked, knowing full well that all the regulars would be here.
“George and Danie,” I said. Her eyes rolled. I laughed. “Yes, and you know full well that she’s going to be pestering us, but only because she thinks we fit together so well.” I hugged her again. “Let’s see. Charlie and Susan, Bob and Shirley, Thumper and Bambi…” At this Lauren laughed. Thumper was our nickname for Wayne Rarebit, one of my roommates at college. Originally, all of us had called him Boner, that is, until he met Bambi. Bambi had changed Wayne from a wild womanizer into a loving husband. It hadn’t been an easy job, but what ever magic Bambi possessed, it only took about a month from the time he’d met her until she was on his arm at every party and dance. They even started showing up regularly at church.
“Oh, this is going to be fun.” Lauren said, and then turned at the sound of a large semi pulling into the yard. I frowned and we headed into the house. Fred passed us gong into the garage and I asked him to empty out Lauren’s truck. We walked through the kitchen, greeted Betsy, who was busy making rolls and passed into the dining room. I peeked out the curtained windows and grinned. George had driven one of the propane tanker trucks, while Danie had driven the SUV. I ran back into the garage, shrugged into my coat, opened the door and walked out to meet George.
He rolled down the window of the truck. “I thought this might come in handy,” he stated matter-of-factly. “Where do you want me to park?”
“Nowhere near the house, you maniac!”
He laughed. “No worries! How about over by the tanks?” He pointed over by the household propane tanks.
“No. I’ve got a better idea. Wait here.” I hollered for Fred to come out and give me a hand. Fred trotted out, zippering up his jacket. “Fire up the plow and plow out a lane around the shed so George can park the rig out behind it, so it’s shielded from view from the road.”
Fred nodded and headed over to the shed. I walked back over to the semi. “Fred’s going to plow a path around the back of the shed. Once he’s done, drive around the back and park. That will leave the tanker about 50 feet from the tanks, so if we need to top off, it shouldn’t be a problem, right?”
George nodded. “Is it possible to plug in the tank heater on this pig? We will have a bitch of a time trying to start it if it freezes up too badly.”
“No problem. There’s an outlet on the back of the shed. You’ll be able to plug in both the tank heater on the tractor as well as the pump on the tanker. Come on in when you guys are done.” He nodded and I turned and started walking back to the house. As I neared the garage, three more trucks pulled into the driveway. Party time!