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?”
“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.”
“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.