Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Gone Postal - A Novel - Chapter 11

Spencer was fucking brilliant, he thought in complete paragraphs, and you talk about connected. Gianni had the juice with the USPS, he had the means to get those pikers to do his bidding. Spencer trumped that in spades. Who knew how far his tentacles reached.

He lived high and worked high, his office near the top floor of that "obscene erection" Columbia Tower, burnt out bankers wandering the halls. When the financial system collapsed, office space went cheap, Spencer sublet his aerie for a song.

In that first visit Spencer cut right to the chase. We sat across his big desk, Rosie, Max, Milton and me looking out at snow covered Cascades, and he asked, “Tell me, how many guns do you have?” When your common-law brother-in-law’s criminal lawyer is asking you how many guns you have, you know you’ve taken it to another level.

We laid out the situation. Max and his crew were sitting on a big cache. His reticence and worry had worn off once Max got his own gun, and friends with guns; and once he was cut loose from the post office he was a changed man.

Milton owned the International District and had allies in pockets up Aurora, Lynnwood, Bellevue and down Tacoma and Federal Way.

Hector gave up the meth trade and the truly kinky sex, but he kept the guns. He wasn’t stupid, dangerous and twisted, but not entirely brainless.

We’d stashed guns in warehouses and safe-houses up and down the coast. I didn’t want to overpromise or overplay my hand, at that point, we really, and I mean really needed Spencer. Gianni was breathing down our necks and nervous turned to terrified with every unexpected noise.

“There are others, too.”

“’Others.’ Nice. How many? How many mailmen and bums can you really rally and how good are they? And what about you,” he said nodding towards Max and Milton.

Max said, “My guys are good, tough, a bit undisciplined, but with a little work…”

Spencer looked to Milton who said, “Don’t worry about us.”

“Oh, but I do worry, it’s my job to worry. If I’m not worrying, not thinking about what next, what’s the next move and the move after that, then this scheme will never work. And, if this doesn’t work then we’re all dead. Dead.” He said again for effect.

“We’re good,” said Milton enigmatically.

Spencer stared, wheels turning, wondering if it was worth pressing, then turned to Rosie, “And, what about you young lady. Are you and your brother and all his compadres on board? What can we expect from them?”

“Loyalty. Blood.”

Even I got goosebumps. I think she really believed it.

Spencer had a good stare, I mean he could wither you with his stare, but even he backed down, looked away after gazing just a moment at her burning orbs.

“OK, then. This is quite an army, a bunch of mailmen and criminals. Thank god we’ve got help.”

“Help?”

Spencer then let us in on the scope, as we sat there at the flaky apex of Seattle’s crumbled financial sector, he explained where the money came from and how it would be distributed.

“Accountability. Here. Now. There will be accountability. I’ll need receipts. The boom times are over, no footballs of plastic-wrapped hundreds will be floating around here.”

“Do you really think we can do this? I mean, sure I’ve got some vets and they know shit, but they’re washouts, most of them would crap their pants if they got put into any sort of action again.”

“Give them three squares and a cot, a little professional help, and they’ll be good enough to serve our purposes.”

“And my carrier-brothers?”

“Yeah, we’ll see, we’ve got some Hessians, our Von Steuben. They will be trained.”

“Huh?”

“Jesus, nobody knows their American History anymore.”

“Dude, I was an English major.”

“The Hessians were professional soldiers paid by the British. Von Steuben trained militiamen, if he could turn a bunch of farmers into an army, our guys can help yours.”

“Yeah, and who exactly are your guys?”

“They’re pros, don’t worry.”

“But I do worry," I said, parroting him. "You’re talking about mercenaries, Hessians, they didn’t exactly work out so well for the Brits…”

“These are ‘domestic’ mercenaries. They’ve got some skin in the game, too. They know the work and are motivated, for them it’s the same shit just a shorter commute.”

He warned us then, “Don’t say KBR, don’t say Blackwater, and for god’s sake don’t mention the Carlyle Group. OK?” Looking across his desk and into each of our faces to make sure we fully understood.

“They have nothing to do with this.”

“I still don’t understand,” I said.

“There are forces at work here beyond your ken. We have influence in the highest reaches of government.”

“So, why do you need us, why do you need me?”

“You have the hearts and minds of the people.”

That was rich. If I had hearts and minds I wasn’t sure how I’d got them. If I had any organ it was livers, or maybe, to get spiritual for a moment, their souls.”

“Where does this end, Spencer?” I asked. “How does this movie end?”

We got into details, jumping around from strategy to tactics to goals, it was a martial SWOT analysis, rolling so fast before our ears and eyes our heads spun trying to keep up.

“The federal government no longer represents the will of the people, in a democracy that’s a no-no. We’re going to take it back, we’re going to reclaim what’s rightfully ours. Elections these days are a farce, a kabuki play put on by corporate media for the entertainment of a populace so numbed by pretty pictures and coddled and comforted with their cars and homes, they don’t even realize they’ve been living, not a dream, no, this hasn’t been the American dream, it’s been an American fantasy, and all of us hypnotized by the teevee and the promises and sloganeering of the marketers and our political masters, as if those weren’t the same thing.”

A wake up call was in order, way overdue as a matter of fact.

“The Civil War never ended, my friends, it’s just been fought by different means. Well, it’s time to re-enter the fray, we’re going to the barricades and storming the Bastille. In the 21st century, though, we have tools at our disposal more lethal than ripped up cobblestones.”

I tried to slow him down and interrupted, asking, “How far does this reach?”

“Farther than you can imagine, farther than you could dream. It’s all about States’ Rights. It’s always been about States’ Rights. Those bad-luck 13 colonies strapped together by Hamilton and Madison with their phony propagandist Federalist Papers and British-based banking institutions, tin shackles everyone thought were steel.

“Davis and Lee and their slave-holding buddies wanted to keep their lives, cushy lives of free labor, free sex and now they couch it all in free market mumbo-jumbo. What it all comes down to is not wanting to do what people you don’t like tell you to do.

“’Don’t Tread on Me,’ ‘Live Free or Die,’ what do you think those are, nursery rhymes?”

I wanted to say those don’t rhyme during the pause after his rhetorical interrogative but thought better.

“We’ve got the Northeast, you’ve got the West.”

I cringed a bit at that and Spencer added, “With your help we’ll take the West. We’re going to go all the way to the Mississippi.”

“Really,” I said skeptically. “Utah, Idaho, Montana…folks there don’t strike me as our types.”

“States’ Rights, my friend, States’ Rights. Give Utah the right to practice their religion as they see fit, bring back, or make legal, rather, polygamy, that would go a long way. We’re just legitimizing what’s been going on already. People are bucking for their freedom because they know what it really is, it’s not spending billions of dollars in deserts and mountain crags trying to fight ‘terrorists’ and find bogeymen. It’s about the land and their future, their children’s futures. For too long they’ve been put on a path pointing to a mirage, some pale made up vision of peace and prosperity that, when they stop to look around, simply isn’t there.

“They’ve been tricked, bamboozled, and the only ones to stand up and scream, to really make some noise, turn heads, and yes, yes, Rosie, to spill blood, have been dubbed cranks and terrorists. Ruby Ridge, Waco, Oklahoma City, that damn Ted Kaszinski, those maniacs wanted the same thing everyone was telling them they already had, but they didn’t have it. Eventually you hack and hack at that sort of people and they’re going to cry foul, and when that doesn’t work they’re going to foul back. Technically, we’d call them ‘insurrectionists’ but what they are is the point at the end of the spear.

“Well, listen to me, my friends, we’re that spear.”

He had a way with words.

Still skeptical and not a little bit afraid after that tirade I inquired about specifics. The Mississippi is one long fucking river, how did he propose to defend it?

Spencer picked up the phone on his desk. “Doris, bring in lunch.” He put his mouth over the receiver and looked at each of us again, this time kindly, asking, “What do you guys want? Sandwiches? How about a pizza?”

After we’d settled on one sausage and mushroom, and a small cheese (Milton’s a vegetarian), he hung up the phone and continued in the same vein as before.

“We don’t need to defend the whole river, we just need the ports, the most important being New Orleans and do you really think the people of New Orleans and all the National Guardsmen who’ve come home after seeing stupidity taken to the Nth are going to side with the crowd that sent them on the mother of all wild goose chases, losing limbs and friends and for what? No. We promise those people something else, we show them there is a way to live free, not that faux free presidents and talk show hosts blather about, I mean real freedom. You know what I mean. I’ve heard you speak, I’ve read your words, you’re our Paine.”

For a split second the homophone confused me, but I got what he meant and was flattered.

“How?” I asked, overwhelmed. “What am I going to do, how can I help with what you’re talking about, because, Spencer, I gotta say this is all starting to sound a little crazy, or, at a minimum over-ambitious.”

“I’ve got one word for you, my friend,” he said, pointing at me. “Are you listening?”

“Yeah,” I said.

Then he said, quietly, after a pause, “Diplomacy.”

Have to admit, wasn’t the word I’d expected. We hadn’t heard much from diplomacy lately.

“You’re going to be an adjunct to our special emissary to Asia. You’re our proof that the people are with us.”

So that’s it, I thought. I’m a tool. Well, once a tool, always a tool, I figured, and why the hell not. What between Gianni after us and the feds still pissed about us stealing their paper, we didn’t have many options.

“Look, the engine is breaking down, all we need is one loose screw to fall into the works and the machine will come to a screeching halt,” Spencer opined.

“And I’m your loose screw.”

He raised an eyebrow as if to say, ‘you said it not me.’

“Listen, my friend, we’ve, OK, you’ve, no, really, the three of you,” he said, correcting himself again and waving at Milton, Max and Rosie, “You have got one chance to make this work. For obvious reasons, I need to remain above the fray.”

His reasons, frankly, weren’t that obvious.

“You, my friend,” and yes I was getting tired of his ‘my friend’ crap, it was like a verbal tick with him. “You will need to leave for Canada as soon as this is all over.”

“Canada? I thought you said Asia.”

“We can't be certain you'll be able to get out of the country after all this goes down.”

“What goes down,” I stammered, “and isn’t Canada out of the country?”

“Technically…for the time being. Don’t worry, we’ve taken care of all that.”

I don’t know about you, but whenever someone says ‘don’t worry’ to me twice in the same meeting, I know I need to worry. Again, though, there wasn’t much we could do. We’d gotten ourselves into this mess. Max and I with our bullshit sessions, our hair-brained scheme, then Milton enabling it and pushing us towards something better, and Rosie bringing her talents to the table wholeheartedly. We were the ones that went to Gianni, that moved drugs, guns. Sure we shed the drugs (except alcohol, of course) and took the high road, but that was something of a calculated decision to make us look good, a PR move.

Now it appeared we were being thrust in as the lynchpin of a real revolution, or, to segue into the military portion of our program – the pin of a grenade. Ironically, if we didn’t put the pin back in we’d be blown to bits, but in order to put the pin in we needed to throw some grenades.

This was Spencer’s plan, or Spencer’s people’s plan. We were soon to meet these Hessians of his, and what a meeting it was, then, though, winding down our long first meeting, the sun casting last light on the Cascades, veritable purple fucking mountains majesty, as darkness loomed, Spencer set out a skeleton of the plan.

We were to shut down I5, create pile-ups both northbound and southbound, then blow the shit out of it. The Alaskan Way Viaduct, that ugly monstrosity, was to go, as well. No Ryder trucks full of fertilizer, no, this was to be a professional job. We’d bring that baby down like the ’89 Loma Prieta did to its twin brother in San Francisco. Except we were the earthquake now.

Our Hessians had the explosive expertise, we were to supply the mess. Diabolical plots like this are surprisingly low-budget, all it took was manpower, will, skill and cash.

Anyone out there with a teevee saw what happened next, history was made, I’ve no idea how it will be told and retold to future generations, but there’s no disguising the fact that we made history.

The problem is, when you start doing business with history, it has a way of extracting interest, and then, well, to put it simply, you never know how things are gonna turn out, do you. Occam’s Razor meets the Law of Unintended Consequences.

Spencer didn’t give us a date, it was to be some time during the summer. We were to rally our troops and get them ready. My role was something of a career counselor for fired mailman, except the only vacant positions were for revolutionaries.

We were to send letter carriers and backroom drones, decades lost to corralling a constant stampede of mail, out to the wilds to be trained by that crew Spencer knew.

Walking down the hill back home to Pioneer Square we passed The Brooklyn and I decided we needed to go in. For all his talk about accountability and receipts, Spencer had given us as a parting gift, a briefcase filled with fifties. I didn’t care what he’d said, it had been a long time since I’d been able to expense a really good meal and I was hungry.

We got a booth in the back and evaluated everything over a couple of bottles of their big house red. Max was riled up, and Milton, as usual, was cryptic and reserved. Rosie was sanguine, not to say sanguinary. It was only later back at our room that she would reveal the depths of her disappointment that we were to be parted.

The general consensus was as I had determined myself during the meeting, ie we had no choice, and if we were going to go down we might as well go down guns blazing.

“That ‘adjunct’ bullshit, though,” said Max. “What the fuck is that all about.”

I had to confess I had no idea then what it was or how I would do it, and the guilt at leaving my partners behind during the crisis point was already weighing heavy. Surprisingly, or maybe not considering what we’d already been through together, none of them begrudged me my new status, such as it was. Max even took to calling me Ad-junked or conjunktavitis, or conjunction junction, and then just plain Junk, and that stuck.

Rosie was, as I’ve said, and to which I should elaborate further, but probably won’t for purely personal reasons, different. Yes, we were to be apart, we’re apart now, then, though, we managed to find each other. I don’t know how that’s going to happen now.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Gone Postal - A Novel - Chapter 10

As Travis was establishing our online presence, events in the real world were getting rather dodgy. Milton’s decision and our concurrence to eschew the drug trade had immediate and impactful repercussions. Gianni was pissed.

He’d grown accustomed to the arrangement, and why not, it was easy money. Then we stopped delivery. The Postal Worker’s Union leadership may have been in his back pocket, but we had the workers and we were united. Well, we were until they started firing us.

Even Gianni didn’t have the manpower to reek his brand of vindictive vengeance on the lot of us involved in the operation, so he went to the USPS with a list of names, including Max, Milton and me and all of our closest conspirators.

Sacked.

But getting fired ain’t shit, happened to me all the time, the difference here was I also had a pseudo-mobster hell-bent on sinking me in the middle of the Sound fitted with concrete clodhoppers.

Gianni sent people for us, but with the reunion and rapprochement between Rosie and Hector, we had a new element of protection. Still, we had to go to the mattresses for awhile; or the mattress in our case, which was considerably more pleasant than they make it out to be in the movies.

Milton was fine in his district. Max, too, was in an impenetrable position at his White Center headquarters. With Hector running interference on the street we enjoyed a degree of tranquility we hadn’t seen all year.

We were; however, losing momentum and running out of time, that is to say, money. We needed new financing.

The digital pamphleteering kept me busy and kept the spirit alive, especially in those demographics we’d struggled to reach before, 16-35, connected, politically active, underemployed, looking for something to do, anything. Our site traffic was steadily growing, you’ll forgive me that little play on words those of you aware of the facts, and those not, though, I have no idea how you could not be, bear with me and you’ll soon see.

Site traffic is one thing, real traffic quite another.

The fulcrum upon which Hector turned was surprising. Rosie had been pressing him to give up the drugs and join us, but for Hector giving up the drugs meant giving up the pussy, and he wasn’t ready to concede that, not easily.

One stormy night, wind blowing and rain falling steadily, Hector left his pied-a-terre at the W and joined us at the nerve center for wine and a tete a tete. We got blistering drunk and as the evening approached dawn, sore boils would be lanced, the puss of bitter memories flowing freely. Rosie and I were in a tight spot, we needed Hector’s money and yet for the purposes of our movement he had to give up his drug enterprise.

Finally, Rosie just asked him, “Why is it so important, why do you have to have it all the time?” Not mentioning the word ‘sex.’ “All the time, Hector?! It’s sick.”

Hector looked chagrined, downright repentant, then his anger flared one more time (for the evening) and let loose a story that had all of us in tears.

“After you and I split, Rosie, I didn’t know what to do. I had to go, you remember Tia Maria, my god such a puta, no way, no more. So I went to my buddy Juan’s, you didn’t know him, older guy. We had a great time at first, drinking, partying, lots of people around. Then one night we had all gone out, just cruising, walking the ‘hood, you know, and I got separated, lost them. I still had most of a brass monkey forty so sat on some steps and just drank. I was miserable.”

He looked miserable then, too. Sitting there on the lone chair in our one-room hideout, Rosie and I on the edge of the bed, watching, as this immensely powerful man, both physically and professionally, I mean, he could have killed me with his bare hands or by his fingers, as making one phone call would have had the same result. Then, though, he let himself go and he was that lost 15 year-old boy, alone, drunk, bereft of friends and family.

“I passed out, and I was woke up by a priest. I’d fallen asleep on the steps of a fuckin’ church an I didn’t even know it. Christ, Rosie, I figured it was some sort of a sign, you know, and this guy, Father Rick, he was a good guy. He took me into the rectory, fed me, talked to me, and I just spilled my guts and said I didn’t know where to go. He made some phone calls and before I knew it I was off at some boys school, living in the priests’ quarters. I had my own little room and I took classes with everyone else. It was good, I was learning shit, you know. I felt safe, like I’d dodged a bullet, and was on the right track.

“But, there was this one priest, I can’t even say his name, the bastard. He’d come in and talk to me. At first it was fine, just talking about my classes and god and shit, then he started getting close, closer day by day.”

Hector was shaking now, tears welling in his eyes, no longer angry, just hurt and afraid as he entered territory he’d never explored, land he’d banished and never shared with anyone.

“He sat closer and closer, every day, and I liked him, you know, but not like that, he was smart and he listened to me, taught me stuff, but then, then he really started touching me and telling me to touch him. It felt dirty and wrong, but I didn’t know what to do. I liked the school, I was improving myself, you know. Finally…”

Hector choked up and began sobbing. Rosie went over to him and tried to rub his back, but he knocked her hand away.

“He had me go down on him…and that was it. After he walked out of the room, I puked, and gathered my shit. I couldn’t take it anymore. No matter how good the school, no matter what it meant for my future, my present fucking sucked, and I got the hell out.”

Hector sat there and cried himself out.

All of us did, sitting in our own separate spaces, crying for him and ourselves, purging ourselves. After I don’t know how long, Hector looked up, gathered himself and finished his story.

“I left and found Juan. He had been dealing meth, so I started with him. We worked it, you know, got to be big shots, but always I had this secret and it ate me up inside. I was dirty, any touching set me off, when I was getting money, the girls flocked to me, like bees to honey. I had all I wanted, I have, have all I want. I don’t know, you could psycho-analyze it, maybe there’s no relation, maybe I jus’ use all that as an excuse because I like it. I don’t know.”

At that point it was getting early, the wine was gone so I put on some coffee. Hector and Rosie talked quietly as I plugged Mr. Coffee into the extension cord strung up from the restaurant below.

At last Hector stood up, puffed himself out to his full self, walked over to me and poked a hard finger into my chest, “You tell one fuckin’ person what I just told you bandejo, and I’ll fuck you up. I won’t kill you, cuz of Rosie, but you’ll wish I had.”

Then he broke into a grin and laughed, turned and said vaya con dios with just a hint of sarcasm in his voice, and went back to his suite at the W, where he probably had a good shag with the junkie or speed freak, whichever was up.

He gave up the drug business, though. Juan bought him out, but that money would run out. So, as I said, we needed new financing.

Hector’s solution was Spencer, a lawyer, a friend of a friend recommended when Hector got in a scrape over possession. Spencer was expensive, but he took care of things.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Gone Postal - A Novel - Chapter 9

Travis took our rantings and ravings and put them online, first through blog posts then on our own blogs, then we linked to other blogs and leaked into almost mainstream press. It all had to be done very carefully. Travis had in depth knowledge of network security and the various tools at the government’s disposal to track us down.

I won’t go into details because I didn’t understand them, still don’t. Max and I were in charge of content, as was, later, Spencer.

Getting hooked up with Spencer resulted from a random reunion between Rosie and her brother Hector. We were walking down First Avenue when, quickly scurrying out of the Lusty Lady, came a man oblivious, he ran right into us, knocking notebook out of my hand and Rosie right on her can.

“What the fuck!” I said stepping forward and grabbing him by shirtfront. Taut muscles bulging and countenance scary made me regret my impulsive response.

“I say ‘what the fuck,’ mother-fucker.” And he made to hit me, brushing aside my hands from him with his left hand and pulling back his right.

“Hector!” Rosie shouted, now on her feet and at my side. “Wait!”

And Hector did, eyes going from angry to confused to stunned, then he whispered, disbelieving, “Rosie?”

Turned out Hector was something of a poorman’s Scarface, running a methamphetamine empire across the state out of a compound in the woods somewhere in the general vicinity of Eatonville, though there was no telling where, neither signs nor roads led there. Once a quarter he came into town for a sort of business review, checking on distributors, resellers, and his lieutenants on the streets. He was just unwinding at the Lusty Lady before his trip back to his compound.

As I got to know him better I discovered Hector was something of a sex addict. It was his Achilles heel. Rumor had it he kept a pair of hotties on call at the compound full-time, always one junkie and one speed freak, so if one went down he could juice up the other. He played the odds.

Spencer was Hector’s attorney. We’d get to know him soon enough.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Gone Postal - A Novel - Chapter 8

God bless the Internets.

Computers had always been scary stupid things to me, eager to eat my work. I got out of San Jose State before silicon was soldered into everyone’s brains by high school. Now, we get them young, rich toddlers are online before they’re potty trained. So, it was good fortune Travis tracked me down, good fortune for me; for Travis, not so much.

Travis was the Northwest USPS Information Technology hotshot. He was aware of what was going on, of course, it was the worst-kept secret on the Pacific coast, damn near every employee in the Western States had an inkling, the barest knowledge something was going on, although nearly all knew nothing of the scope. No one cared, fear of getting retired, dislike and disgust at the weight of “standard” mail, both on the environment and, especially, on their backs, left them bitter and eager to contribute to whatever shenanigans were afoot.

Travis had caught me blustering at the Pioneer Square Saloon, raving about the corruption of credit:

"...these shifting sands serve the usurers right, teasing and tempting us with wants and fattening treats then sucking the life out of us bit by bit, stripping us of liberty as they strip the meaning from the word.

"We're free yeah, sure we're free, free to work and pay taxes and buy, buy, buy, and then what? What happened to those taxes, what still happens to those taxes? They take our cash and buy tanks and planes from their buddies and campaign contributors which they send overseas to kill people we have no qualms with."

I pulled a $5 bill out of my pocket. This was one of my regular routines, standing up on a barstool or the bar itself in the more seedy, and thus friendly, establishments, I’d wave it half-slurring sometimes for effect sometimes cuz I couldn’t help it.

“Five bucks. Five fucking bucks! Do you know how many bullets they, we, we buy with five bucks? Do you know how long I had to work to get the government this five bucks?!”

That night a drunk in the back shouted, “Two hours.”

“Rhetorical question, fuckwad. I can kill two people with this five dollars, we buy two M17 Tracer bullets for five bucks, talk to Joe,” I said pointing at my friend new-found under the viaduct two weeks prior, a vet wrapped in a felt blanket, lost and looking for a handout, a little help. I had no cash to spare, but sat down with him for a beer and he had all sorts of fun facts about life in the army.

Joe nodded and sipped the beer I’d bought him, nervous in the limelight, dim as it was.

“And yeah, yeah, I know not every bullet kills someone. No shit. But, do I want to spend $2.50 so some jarhead can fire a round in the air or take target practice or just for kicks shoot a dog in the streets of Baghdad? Fuck that! For $2.50 I can get a PBR for my friend Joe, and it’s money better spent. His piss may stink, but it never killed no one.” That was my laugh line.

“That beer just bought Joe a moment’s peace which no bullet ever did for him.”

Usually, as then, there was raucous debate. Fighting for democracy, you hate the troops, bullets bought us our freedom, that sort of crap.

“Maybe, maybe,” I said now in more mutes tones, “But is that what’s happening now? Look, I’m not against guns per se, I just think we’re being stupid with our money. We made a mistake, a really really big fucking mistake and no one is ever going to say ‘sorry’.”

“So what, just up and leave,” said a guy looking out of place in khakis and oxford shirt.

“Yeah,” I said, “Leave there and Guam and Germany; Japan and Korea, too. Why should I pay for some colonel to live the high life playing golf on a base not wanted by Koreans and not wanted by Americans. It’s stupid, it’s undemocratic, it’s a waste of money.”

“Our troops are needed in those places,” said Khaki Man.

“Were. Were needed.”

“So, what we just pack up and leave?”

“Yeah.”

“Like that’s going to happen,” said Khaki Man.

“I’ll tell you exactly how it’s going to happen. We stop feeding the beast. We stop paying the taxes that pay for the bullets and tanks, the star wars and satellites, and drones that drop bombs unmanned. We create unrest here, force them to bring back the National Guard to where it belongs. We prevent recruitment, we give the poor saps that join the army cuz they got nothing else, something else. And if that doesn’t work we put the Second Amendment to the task for which it was written, we create a militia and fight to stop a distant government from abusing our rights, unalienable rights, the right to life liberty and the pursuit of happiness, cuz right now I ain’t happy.”

“I’ll tell you what you are, you’re crazy,” said Khaki Man.

“That’s what they said about Son-of-Sam,” I shot back laughing, defusing what had become a too tense moment. There’s a fine line between freedom fighter and lunatic.

Then the cops came.

Brought by what or whom I didn’t know, some fucking software salesman with a cell phone maybe. The guys at the Saloon knew me well and were agitators themselves, so I stood on my First Amendment rights.

“Lawful assembly officers, read the fucking Constitution. Not all of us are aging hippies you can lock up in barricade zoos.”

There was some chanting and the crowd cowed the pair of boneheads that lacked the wherewithal and the desire to engage further. I almost detected some sympathy in the shorter one’s eyes.

Still, I watched my back as I slunk back the alley to Rosie's and my place, which is why the shadow bugged me. If it was cops, I didn’t want them to follow me, I didn’t want to lead them home. I was getting something of a reputation and for the moment Rosie’s place served as the perfect safe house. She was totally off the grid.

Her years jumping around from relative to relative to nobody meant she had no school records, no dental records, no social security number. The tiny place was built above a Mexican restaurant as a makeshift office and the entrance in the floor had long ago been sealed shut. She had no phone, no electrical bill, nothing, it was a space that did not exist. Buck’s was still in Buck’s name. For all intents and purposes, Rosie did not exist.

As I walked in the dark, still alert, thinking if it was just some bum after my five bucks I could handle him. Cops, though, I didn’t know.

I spotted him again as I crossed Washington, he tried to duck behind a wall.

Quickly, I jumped behind a dumpster, crouched there looking for the first thing that came to hand, and grasped a hunk of 2-by-4. Breathing hushed I felt the same charge as when I’d held the knife at the wife’s back, loud blood banging ear drums forcing me to hear with my feet, as he stepped ever closer. When the first shin cleared the dumpster I swung and hit it hard. He went down and I jumped up kicking him in the gut to shut him up cuz he was screaming like a stuck pig.

As he writhed, gasping, I realized I might have made a mistake. It was Khaki Man, getting dirty now as he wriggled in the mossy slime beneath a rain spout.

“Who are you?” I asked looking down on him.

He sat up, hands and knees, spat thickly, leaned against brickwork and mumbled, “No one. Travis.”

“Well, which’n is it,” I said jocular now, tension past, feeling my oats. “If’n you’re no one, ya’ can’t very well be Travis, too.”

He looked up from his prone position. “I do IT for the USPS.”

It took me a second, too many letters too late at night after too many beers, then, realizing, “Oh.”

Awkward.

“Well, shit, I’m sorry. Um, are you friendly?”

“What do you mean, am I friendly!? You just kicked me in the stomach!”

“Yeah, really sorry about that, but shit, man, what’re you doing following me in a dark alley?!”

“I can explain.”

Isn’t that always the way, everyone can always explain. I felt bad, though, and he looked trustworthy, I made a judgment call and brought him back to the place. Rosie looked at me like I was out of my gourd. Once Travis started talking; however, her opinion changed. He wanted in and he had ideas, great ideas. We would breech the gates of the burbs through the Internet tubes.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Gone Postal - A Novel - Chapter 7

That’s how it happened on a national scale, weighed down by debt, bad times, and the fear of worse to come, all signs pointing south, a convergence of forces collided. It was the mother of all rip tides, as if a massive earthquake or multiple earthquakes around the world went off at once sending tsunamis hurtling towards each other, speeding towards each other across vast oceans with an earth-shattering power nothing man-kind, in all its mortal deviancy could match.

If you’ll indulge me a bit more seismic hyperbole, me, Max, Rosie et al were drilling holes in tectonic plates, planting dynamite and sparking explosions propelling lava thrust earthward and directions too random to predict, the flow, once unleashed following its own course reeking its own destruction, which held, as volcanic islands do, the key to creation.

None of this high-falutin imagery occurred to me then, though something like it drove me on, justifying the violence as an omelette's broken eggs, growth pains, shedding of skin. And, no that irony is not lost on me. I can see creating a violent peace movement is oxymoronic on its face, was I Gerry Adams achieving peace throwing bombs?

I hear the megalomania creeping into my words, taste the sweet-bitter nectar of power again on my tongue as I sit here recalling the spine-tingling excitement found standing above a crowd of thousands shouting to them, exhorting them to cast off their velvet shackles, to fight, yes fight with fists and stones, bombs and guns, with fire, yes with fire – and hearing them roar back their crowd lust approval guttural and high piercing shrieking mixing to create a cacophonous wave of motivated real gutblood emotion.

We were to meet fire with fire, and it would culminate in those historic days that made the Battle in Seattle look like Romper Room, that transformed Seattle from a sleepy backwater on the periphery of the nation into the nexus of change, the fulcrum upon which history turned, balancing growing Pacific Rim economies on the better half of a country, bridging an ocean whose very name represented our goals yet held like all nature immense destructive capacity, latent, just waiting for the right combination of events.

Our time had come, and those summer days, those long hot, nay flaming, smokin’ days, they stand out now in my memory acrid still, my eyes burning again from the mere recollection. But, I get ahead of myself.

It must be the cold here spurring recollection of the conflagration, though that’s tantamount to dropping a nuke to warm your toes.

In those early days when Gianni was providing protection you could say we were consolidating our base. Early meetings resulted in fisticuffs as players wrangled for control. The cash from recycling bred greed, but big hauls from the drugs and guns spawned envy, gluttony and lust – it was like they’d traded up from sloth. I took the remainder of those seven sins, pride and wrath.

Those petty little power plays made me feel superior to the more insignificant players, my carrier-brothers who so easily cast aside decency to follow me towards their deaths. I lost a lot of myself in those days and acquired someone else.

Gianni had taken the operation to another level, and we followed right along. The entire time, though, Max and I had the majority, we had the sway of the crowd. It required some wrangling to garner consensus, a mandate if you will. Milton, our former night shift boss, had his own power base, as well; and he called a meeting with us one day to discuss matters, because matters desperately needed discussing.

Milton’s home was the International District, he’d grown up there, born abroad, but raised since infancy on the grease-slick streets populated with odd shops, spicy restaurants and the crews that ran them. He knew that milieu top to bottom, working his way up from busboy to waiter to maitre d'. Then into a more respectable career, a government job that made his family proud, their immigrant son was now a full-fledged part of their adopted country.

What could be more American?

He rose through the ranks of the post office until the point where I made his acquaintance as that first stone turned starting the avalanche, the cascade of postal employees that flooded the streets and washed them clean with blood. He’d grown disillusioned with this “America” his parents found so wonderful, equal opportunity didn’t seem as equal as it could be despite the window dressing, lurking below the pretty veneer was blatant hypocrisy. He didn’t like it and wanted to see something else.

That day in the back room of a nameless eatery; however, Milton was just getting started stirring things up.

“There’s gonna be big trouble,” he pithily summarized in gross understatement. There was no escaping from where we were then. Everyone, well, all the worst elements in town, knew what we were doing. Milton’s people were getting scared Gianni wouldn’t provide them protection, they didn’t think they could trust him. In the end they figured they’d get cut loose and left asses to the wind. So, some were falling under the spell of local gangs, who wanted to take a cut which would have set up brutal war between Gianni’s people. But they figured, why put their necks out and pay protection money when they knew the Fat Man wouldn’t provide protection when they really needed it.

To explain this concern you must understand how complex the operation had become. With the postal service fundamentally corrupted we had at our disposal an unrivaled distribution network. From Canada to Mexico we were shipping pharmaceuticals and armaments; everything from Ambien to Zantac, from AK-47s to Z-Force stun guns, you name it we’d ship it, for the right price. Cheap prescription drugs across from Canada were a volume play, but we’d played on volume for years, you could say it was our forte. Marijuana, meth, heroin, ecstasy, you name it, our mailrooms were a smorgasborg of illicit substances filling the bags my brothers carried to the resellers and local dispensaries. Guns moved by the truckload to warehouses up and down the coast.

That day the three of us decided to get ahead of this toxic wave. Milton’s men didn’t like the drugs, not the meth and narcotics at least. Guns were no problem, but the idea of falling from decent hard-working people just to become drug dealers wasn’t gonna wash.

“Look, there are three kinds of people in this world,” Milton started.

“Two kinds. It’s always two kinds of people,” Max interrupted.

“Not in my world. There are people who shower before they go to work, people who shower after they come home from work, and people who don’t shower. I wanted to be the kind of guy who showered before work. I wanted something better, we all do. At first, I thought it was about money. People came into places like this,” he said with a sweep of his arm to encompass the private room and restaurant in totality.

“I see them laughing, eating, drinking, and putting down credit cards without even thinking and I wanted that, I wanted not to worry about money and food for my family.”

Milton expressed in his eloquent way what so many people, from all walks of life, from all eras, had discovered at one point or another. Then it sounded quaint.

“Unhappiness from wanting money is stupid. It’s not money, it’s not comfort, it’s peace of mind. It’s knowing if you got sick or shot you’ll be OK, that your children will have a life you don’t have to worry about, that you can die knowing they can do well and be happy.”

He captured in a way Max and I found particularly moving, the struggle of generations, how the hope of one can lead to greatness in the next, how love can reflect itself in discipline and ambition. How without that hope, love and discipline, leading, in the simplest terms, to something better, it’s all pointless. We should all strive to leave this world a better place, and right then the world had gotten pretty shitty and it didn’t appear anyone was stepping up with a pooper-scooper.

“The kids don’t care. It was bad enough before, now they see what’s going on and it’s chaos. Why should they listen to elders when the government is screwing them and not just some far off government, people like me, right in their own neighborhood who’ve completely gone off the tracks.”

We needed to offer something better. Max and I knew what we had to do. This was exactly the subject of our rantings and ravings working the late-night shifts shouting to each other over the noise or barking back and forth with others in the break room.

It wasn’t about stealing some money or trying to lighten our load. It was about sticking a wrench in the works, fucking with the system. All those credit card offers, catalogs and coupons were mere symbols of our collective inadequacies. Every smiling model saying buy this and be like me, every promise of $30k in pre-approved credit, a promise of prestige and a chance to look good in front of neighbors, to go places and buy things to enhance your status and build self worth.

“I’m so much freer now,” I told Max. “I have no stuff, I want nothing. All this crap they push holds no meaning.”

“OK, Gandhi, but what about food, insurance, healthcare, what if it ain’t just you, huh, then what. Say you’ve got kids and they need good schools and doctors, are you just gonna tell them to meditate and free themselves from want by not owning anything. No. It doesn’t work like that.”

He was right. My path wasn’t for everyone. I’d always been a selfish prick, and the selfish prick path runs narrow. Thank god the wife and I never had kids.

“It’s about the collective good,” Max went on, “About the greatest good for the greatest number, the lucky helping out the luckless.”

“OK, Karl Marx,” I shot back at him. “Eat the rich, is that your motto, redistribute the wealth and create a utopian workers paradise. Been done. Didn’t work out too well.”

“I’m not talking communism, I’m talking common decency. Helping out your brother. I mean, shit, you listen to these fucking ‘Christians’ on the right talk about ‘entitlements’ like some welfare mom’s picking their pocket. We’ve got the capacity to roll out Christ’s teaching right at our fingertips, they wouldn’t even have to get their hands dirty doin’ in and instead they talk about drowning government in a bathtub, and THEY’RE government! I’d like to drown them in a bathtub, the selfish mother-fuckers.”

On and on we went and now here Milton was adding his voice to the mix. It was clear we needed to retake the moral high ground, and that’s when the pontificating began.

For Max it came natural, he’d been prepped by years of holding court across sorting tables and in lunch rooms, a lifetime in churches listening to sermon after sermon exhorting the poor to give to the less poor cuz the rich were nowhere to be seen.

It came harder for me, the meetings at Max’s were one thing, drinking beers and talking smack with co-workers came naturally. Gathering crowds and holding them rapt with my words and ideas was terrifying work.

Starting in bars was the logical first step, a step I’d already taken, I just needed to speak up, let the voices in my head stream screaming out my mouth, and I did. First at the Saloon and the Card Room then further out of my comfort zone, gathering people on the streets, taking a phalanx of my carrier-brothers and pulling together the guys outside the Mission, standing on proverbial soapboxes in the pale light of early morning or the stark darkness of night.

I roused rabble.

Taking it to the street wasn’t going to be enough, though. Max, Milton, Rosie and me and all our cohorts could bluster and blather all we wanted in the city, but there were acres and acres of folks in their tract homes watching the teevee and listening to their traffic reports on the radio as they drove right by and they wouldn’t hear a peep in their plush leather seats butts warm and dry. We were invisible to them.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Gone Postal - A Novel - Chapter 6

Max and I were supposed to handle the rank and file. This grew more difficult when Gianni started to diversify. Money for paper was chump change, enough for us poor schmoos, but Gianni had bigger ideas. Guns, drugs, high-margin stuff. Bigger risk, sure, that’s why he had Max, Rosie and me around to take the fall.

We were firmly wedged, had basically inserted ourselves between so many rocks and hard places, and begged Gianni to exert his tremendous gravitational force upon us. The three of us would eventually buy ourselves a little wiggle room, a goodly number of my carrier-brothers I’d finagled into this scheme wouldn’t be so lucky.

We all took the USPS for granted, for pennies it could miraculously move a letter from one coast to the other, yet it still was the butt of jokes. Slow, lazy and incompetent, that’s what many Americans thought when they shuffled forward as some doddering clerk listlessly pushed buttons and counted change – it was hard not to feel like you were in a soup line or Kruschev era Soviet Union, lord knows the d├ęcor hadn’t changed in most post offices since then and the service felt about the same. You half expected Olga there behind the counter to replace her screaming eagle ballcap with a red-starred peasant’s tam and shout , “Nyet! Nyet!” to every request.

Yes, it had a bad rap. One thing I learned, though, during my short tenure working with them then, and beyond, those people behind the counters, in the backrooms and out on the streets delivering your mail are some of the best people in the world. Many of them are broken, true, many were just dealt bad hands, but we’re talking about three-quarters of a million souls, and the vast majority are decent folk who faced the relentless onslaught of daily drudgery with a courage few can know or could even see as courage.

However, if you’re a single mother with a job at the USPS, or similar work for that matter, you’re engaged in a life or death battle every day. You wake early, clothe, feed, and transport your child or children to school, daycare or doctor, then go do a job either back-breaking or mind-numbing for eight or more hours, facing the mental rigors of workplace politics, and yes the self-righteous, demanding inconsiderate customers, then do the reverse drive to pick up kid(s), make them dinner, get them in bed knowing the entire time you are going to have to get up in a few short hours and do the same thing all over again, and the next day, too, oh, and then again, and then for the rest of your life.

This thing, what some call a job, a life, more resembles a dripping faucet of days and weeks splashing down around you, stuck in a cistern, as the water grows higher and higher. But this thing killing you is also keeping you alive. And, you’ll fight for it, join the union and gripe for more, just a little more, more money, more time, more confidence that you’re not going to get shoved out, because then what, then what would you do after all the years you gave to doing this for the promise of a pension and enough money to teach your kid to swim so that they won’t get stuck drowning in that same cistern as you.

So, yeah, you can call them drones, aimlessly completing what you see as simple tasks. Yet, I know these people, some of them, enough, enough of them to know they’re braver than I ever was, ever will be. Probably braver than you, too.

We used them. We just used them up faster than the feds. That’s all. We capitalized on their misery and hopelessness, offered them a vision of something greater through the promise of a glory that would never arrive. And lots of ‘em grabbed for it, rushed out to get it, maybe because they believed Max and my bullshit, maybe because the alternative was just too fucking depressing to contemplate. They’d rather live for a moment than spend a lifetime dying slow.

I don’t want to give our rhetoric more than it’s due, Max was good and I learned how to hold a crowd, but the feds made our work a lot easier, what with the USPS retiring tens of thousands and then the just plain fucked-up-ed-ness of everything.

It was like the world broke.

Hospital emergency rooms jam-packed with the poor and pitiful, and more and more were poor and pitiful. If you could afford to pay for the gas, the car you’d fuel with it faced wicked obstacles, pot-holed roads took their toll and only the rich in their 4-wheel drives and gated communities could get by. Banks were going belly-up up right and left, but the mucky-mucks floated away on golden parachutes untouched by the debacle of their design.

In the end, words about the new Gilded Age, this Tainted Age we occupied now, were the greatest weapons we had in our verbal arsenal. You can make any team, any group of men do anything, believe me, I’ve seen it, but take that group and start setting some apart, give some more money or less risk and I guarantee you, eventually someone’s going to get hurt.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Gone Postal - A Novel - Chapter 5

Considering her clientele, work associates, and the competition, Rosie needed to make friends with some questionable types, so my story, while intriguing in its scope, did not necessarily rule me out romantically due to any moral qualms she might have about my recent foray into the criminal world. In fact, she was visibly impressed. When I first walked in she had me for a coin collector or philatelist hoping to find a diamond in the rough, which, come to think of it, is exactly what happened.

We spent mornings lounging in her Pioneer Square apartment, a funny little one-room hole, its only entrance through the alley. What it lacked in light it made up for with privacy, and, richly ironic, it resembled a cell which for the time being suited both of us perfectly well.

Max loved her. Not like that. I mean he just thought she was the best thing since beer in cans. Of course, she took our money, making Max immeasurably more pleasant to be around. Taking our money was a no-brainer. However, we had new problems that made money-laundering look like child’s play. A bunch of mailmen bitching over pennies was nothing. The Direct Marketing industry was starting to raise their collective eyebrows, and they weren't to be trifled with.

See, DM’s all about the numbers; crunch the numbers, evaluate the data, test and re-test. For months now marketing campaigns had been showing surprising declines in productivity in the Pacific Northwest. A few agencies and companies noticing this could have been described as anomalous, but as people talked at industry events and wrote about it in the trade rags it became more and more clear that something was up.

There was increasing pressure on the USPS. Mail volumes were declining, the cost of gas was killing their bottom line, and now their biggest clients were starting to make veiled accusations about quality of service. It was only going to get worse.

In the meanwhile, Rosie and I were just taking care of business, personally and professionally.

On the personal side, I had to make the uncomfortable last visit to my wife at my apartment, although by that time I’d ceased to think of either as mine. I packed up what few things I needed, told her she could keep the car, and left.

Before I did, we stood together and talked in the front doorway, one foot out the door. It was awkward, neighbors kept walking by, an incredibly impersonal end to a life together that had started so brilliantly. Now I was saying goodbye to that life in a dark hallway of a moldy apartment another city, another state, and another world apart. It occurred to me then how much more than her I was walking away from, not just her friends and family, also most of mine, and the life that went with them.

It felt surprisingly liberating. I looked at her as I tried not to smile, trying to add gravity to a situation screaming for some. I said something about remember the fun times, how we’d had a pretty good run, sorry, it was all my fault, blah blah blah…and then in a gesture which was exceedingly inappropriate considering our past, stuck out my hand and said, “Take care.”

She shook it and said, “OK, you too.”

I didn’t really believe the moisture in her eyes.

So there I was on the bus back from Green Lake taking stock. I’d considerably lightened my pack since the “good old days” in California; both cars gone, all the stuff, the stuff of a shared life of acquisitions, gifts and inheritances, gone. Trimmed during hard times in San Jose then trimmed more for the trip north, and then trimmed nearly to the bone as I took the essentials back with me to Rosie’s place in Pioneer Square which would become our headquarters, the first nerve center of an increasingly complex organism, growing from that first cell, first zygote into a beast we never in a million years could have imagined.

The seed of the beastliness was right around the corner, that cancer would make itself evident soon, personified in a man who called himself Gianni.

On the professional side, we needed protection. The recycling industry turned out to be very much like the waste management industry, in that it was “organized.” Crime is a funny word. One man’s crime is another man’s salvation. I’m not one to judge, there’s plenty in my life I’m not proud of, but there are elements, you know, types, who achieve a level of brutality, just sheer mean-ness that it calls into question even the most forgiving man’s ability to not say "that’s just fucking sick."

Gianni.

Rosie knew of Gianni, she knew people who knew Gianni. It wasn’t too hard for her to get a meeting, but it was hard for her to make herself believe she was really going to meet with him. Gianni wasn’t really Gianni, he was Jonathon Liebowitz from Burien, a young Jewish kid from the ‘burbs who decided he was going to transform himself into a mob boss. He made the connections, rose through the ranks, did all the dirty work they asked until he didn’t have to do it anymore, unless he wanted to.

It’s one thing to actually be cosa nostra or mafia or whatever the movies have made it all out to be with their codes and violence and twisted sense of honor, but when you’re pretending to be something you’re not, the codes and honor are the first to go. It’s harder to fake those. Ideologues lack adaptability. So, Gianni was brutal without compunction, and his depravity was legend. Rumor had it he’d delivered a fish or two in his day.

The first time Max, Rosie and I met Gianni he was charming, absolutely. He’s one of those guys, well, he saw a bunch of movies and decided he wanted to be one of those guys who has “a table” at their favorite restaurant. Gianni had a table at Luigi’s and when we met him there that first time he was receiving visitors like Seattle’s Doge.

Waitresses fawned, immune to his crassness, the comments, the looks and touches that made my skin crawl, rolled off their backs, the promise of big tips working like an invisible repellant to his repellant-ness.

The owner, Luigi himself, who was really named Gus and ran Italian, Greek and Dutch restaurants with kitchens staffed with nothing but Mexicans, came by to pay obeisance. Gianni was effusive because he knew he didn’t have to be, and, I’m certain, in part, as an act put on for our benefit. Gianni was incomprehensibly obese, as any man that sat at his own table for hours a day demolishing vast quantities of rich, buttery food would be. Yet, somehow, he wore it with a grace that suited him. He was meant to be fat.

Rosie, Max and I sat on our hands smiling nervously while Gianni and Luigi finished their little show. We were there to get help, and while we had some idea of what help we wanted, Gianni was going to tell us different. He’d already heard what we were up to.

He turned to us, finally, smiled his falsely sweet smile and said, “So, it appears you have a problem.”

Max, Rosie and I weren’t quite sure who was going to be the spokesperson. Max was more of a monologist and Rosie, out from behind her cage thus unarmed (though still disarming) was loaded with local knowledge but lacked my facility with language. By process of elimination and in a hurry to end a painfully uncomfortable silence, I spoke up, to my eternal regret, as from that moment on I was the go-to guy, I was on the line. Rosie may have had the guns, contacts and money, but I was the white male at the table, and Gianni was only going to deal with the white male.

I took a deep breath and tried to sound cavalier saying, “One man’s problem is another man’s opportunity.”

“Ain’t that the mother-fucking truth,” Gianni said laughing, “but opportunity doesn’t come cheap.”

Then it was just about terms. The deal worked out like this, Gianni would “work” with union leadership and make sure there was no trouble as far up the chain at the USPS as he could go. The threat of labor unrest or as Gianni not so subtly intimated, outright violence, would be powerful enough that we would be able to continue operating without interruption.

But, and there’s always a “but” Gianni would take 60%. I put out a token plea of 50/50, but (ahem) he just looked at me, as if to say, really, is now the time, do you really think you have room to negotiate?

I turned side to side looking from Rosie to Max hoping for support, nods of affirmation, a smile, anything, but the two of them looked like the cacciatore had caught their tongues.

And so it was.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Gone Postal - A Novel - Chapter 4

Rosie’s was a bad luck hardscrabble survivor’s story. Born to immigrant parents her mother died when she was young leaving her and her brother to a father who went where the work was. Left with one aunt after another Rosie drifted away from her brother, or vice versa, so to speak. He hooked up with some speed freaks and last she heard was running a meth lab up around Eatonville.

One day Rosie took a long look at the people who were putting her up and putting up with her, decided she couldn’t link them back to any blood relative she could remember and thought, “'Shit, none of us wants to be together.' So the next morning I just packed my stuff and left.”

Not even a note.

She offered few details about the days, weeks, months, years that went by before she met Buck and his pawn shop. If she didn’t want to tell me I didn’t want to ask, but you must be pretty bad off when something resembling indentured servitude to an old mangy pawn broker reeks of salvation.

Buck wasn’t bad, she was always quick to add whenever questionable stories arose. He fed her and got her working, taught her the “trade” for what that was worth. While not Vassar it earned her a living. But Buck was a beat down fuck-up who couldn’t pass a poker game to save his life, and ultimately one cost him it.

A bad debt he couldn’t pay, to people too mean, sadistic, and impatient to offer him financing. Instead they just settled for the sick pleasure of a good old fashioned drubbing. Damn near killed him, yet somehow the battered bugger made it back to his shop where Rosie, over weeks and weeks, nursed him to the nearest thing to health a guy like him was likely to see again.

A spasm shook him one day and in a blink he was gone. Just as he’d gotten back up on his feet and could catch a glimpse of a tolerable future he was smacked back down and crushed to dust.

No funeral, no family; just Rosie.

And that’s how Rosie came to be behind the cage that fateful day I wandered in.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Gone Postal - A Novel - Chapter 3

I stopped going home when I knew she’d be there. After work, after I got off another night shift spent watching the Vsort do its thing, another night dicking around with Max, another night coordinating larceny and committing federal crimes, I would walk the streets.

The early morning cool and damp of Seattle’s streets welcomed me like like like something cool and damp. It was good to stretch my legs outdoors after an evening stuck indoors, the loud machine tick-ticking still in my brain would slowly evaporate.

On sunny days I’d find a dry patch of grass for a nap, though, as you might imagine, sunny days in Seattle were few and far between. Park benches, the library, sometimes spots under the viaduct when I was feeling particularly like a derelict, dirty, rat-infested, bums galore and me feeling more and more like a bum, not that I minded being a criminal, bad husband, underachiever…I was stressed and worried about fucking up the scam.

I’d walk the streets and lie about in alleys or hang out in the kind of bars that opened early, literally sitting on wads of cash. Max was pissed off, making himself physically ill from the stress, and the rest of the guys were getting restless. The plan wasn’t going according to plan. In fact many of my carrier-brothers were downright rebellious. They were demanding larger cuts, some proof that we knew what the hell we were doing.

I didn’t want to be seen by anyone because; one, I never knew who was going to rat me out, and two, everyone had an idea, and when I say “idea” I mean complaint, cuz every idea is an accusation that screams, “You have NO idea.” Some of those bozos came up with real doozies. One group wanted to get compensated by the size of their route, you know the more junk mail they turned in the more they’d get paid, which was so downright silly another group formed trying for the opposite.

We had instituted payments of equal shares across the board, very egalitarian and democratic, but no one thought it was enough. There was a lot of pressure to just open an account at a legit bank, but that would have set off alarm bells unless we set up a front, a fictitious business. At one drunken meeting someone even mentioned something about direct deposit, which got him pelted with beer cans.

It was nuts.

We distributed it all once a month so as the days went by Max and I grew increasingly anxious as the wads built from Milton’s recycling buddy bulged. Everyone was walking on tenterhooks, knowing at any moment the rug could be pulled out from under us. We’d gotten more than half of Seattle’s postal workers into a pretty precarious position. I didn’t blame them their worry, I shared it.

Somehow or another I’d managed to find the flaming-est fire to jump in from my fucked up frying pan. I’d made bad decisions before in what limited life I’d led up to that point, but this one took the cake.

So, that’s how I found myself one day wandering through a part of town I shouldn’t have been wandering through with a couple K stuffed in my pocket. Pondering, pondering, lost in thought, off the plot and passing the pawn shop that changed everything.

It hit my like a flash, they all must deal in cash, and security, while not exactly Fort Knox-like, did exist and would be a vast improvement on Max's mattress or my sock drawer. I stopped in my tracks, backed up and checked out the place. Didn’t open ‘til noon, you know the place, guitars hanging in the window, metal mesh grate, littered with the detritus people thought had value once and now hoped others might, too. A pawn shop. I’d tried to sell a teevee in one once, nickels on the dollar. Not the home of friendly financiers, woo-hoo WaMu not quite.

I found a comfy bench to hang out on until 12:00 and then went back to Buck’s, only what I saw in the shabby light could not possibly have been Buck. Behind the cage, past the dusty trash, sitting pretty on her perch, there, there sat Rosie.

People like to talk about transformational moments in their lives, a lot must be revisionist history, making, in retrospect, more out of a moment than there really was. Maybe I’m doing the same, but I’m telling you even then I knew this was, if not right, at least big.

As I approached, she chirped “What can I do ya for?” happy and at ease as only someone with a gun by their knees can be.

I was dumbfuddled. To this day can’t recall exactly what I talked about, knew I couldn’t say anything off-hand about the plan, had that right, at least. All the rest, though...fuck if I know what I said. I came back. I came back damn near every day and when we finally started talking about business, it was no longer clear whether the plan had led me to my lover or we were two lovers concocting a new plan altogether.

It was as if there was this parallel life of mine that had been running along without me and I stumbled into it not missing a beat, stepping in at a trot and sprinting before I’d even recognized I was running.

So, yeah, there was that. But this ain’t no love story.

Rosie had skills.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Gone Postal - A Novel - Chapter 2

Eventually, we got some dirt on Milton, the shift foreman, convinced him to come to a meeting, and we turned him. It was surprisingly easy. Once he was in on it, we could pack all that paper out during the night shift. Max is the one, being civic-minded, who recommended recycling. Milton, being a greedy devious bugger, knew a guy who would pay us for it in cash.

The operation quickly got out of control. Recycling money was one thing at one PO, but news spread fast. In the blink of an eye half the Post Offices in Seattle were skimming, and it wouldn’t be long, it didn’t take long at all, for the shit to hit the fan.

For one thing, we had too much cash. You wouldn’t think this would be a problem, but it was. And we needed to get the other POs under control. And, yes we wanted our cut. We were the ones that set up the deal, we were the ones with our asses on the line. It would be stupid for us to take all the risk and let the rest of those monkeys walk away with our money. More on that later.

The first problem was with the money we had. Max was getting nervous having all that cash at his apartment.

“Anyone could bust in here anytime and blow me away. I wouldn’t really give a shit about giving up the stupid money, but I’ll be goddamned if I give up the ghost for it.”

I scoffed a bit at that, Max was hardly an altruistic ascetic. We spent loads of money and had a good time doing it. However, and I don’t believe I’m saying this, there’s only so much beer you can drink. We had parties, pretty big parties, I’d never seen morale so high in a post office. The guys were happy with lighter sacks, sure, but they knew we were raking it in. This, too, would create problems.

I had piles of cash myself, it was a roll of bills stuffed in my sock drawer that was the beginning of the end of things with the wife. She got suspicious and laid into me, stopped trusting me, always on my back, wondering what the fuck I was up to. I couldn’t tell her about it. I could have told her that I couldn't tell her for her own good, you know, given her the “less-you-know-the-better” line. Instead, I didn't say anything. We just stopped talking.

In all honesty, I was just protecting my own skin. When she stopped trusting me I stopped trusting her. She could have narc-ed on me. Call me paranoid, but it was a distinct possibility. During those increasingly rare moments when we were together things were pretty tense. It was one time, one evening before I went to work and after she’d come back, we were in the kitchen making dinner, saying nothing much just getting in each other’s way, not even making the same meal, each of us wanting something different. She had hers I had mine.

Well, I was standing at the counter chopping an onion. We had a really nice knife set, a wedding present, one of the few we'd managed to hold onto. I’d always thought it was a bad idea to give newlyweds knives, they’re a dangerous weapon, and a time always comes when the shine wears off, and I’m not talking about the shine of the knives.

So, I’m standing there chopping my onion and she kind of bumps me, on accident I think, and I nick my finger and I almost lost it, my temper not my finger. I turned around to look at her, but she’d already turned and walked on, didn’t even notice what she’d done and probably wouldn’t have much cared if she had.

A blazing hot mad rush overwhelmed me, rushed through me in a goosebumping flash, convulsed and constricted my body from head to toe. I gripped that knife and for a split-second imagined myself plunging it into her back, one step and one hard thrust that’s all it would have took. Then it waned, the blood from my cut finger was dripping on the floor, seeing that and the pain brought me back to my senses.

I knew then I had to leave her. If I didn’t there might come a time my anger wouldn’t wane.