Prologue: A House Divided
Render unto Ceaser that which is Ceaser’s, and unto God that which is God’s.
– Matthew 22:21
In the year 2024, upon the election of California Senator Juanita Rosario of the Green Party to the office of President of the United States, old political divides came to a head. The largely agrarian states in the southern and central region, that held to an individualist philosophy, felt they could no longer support the planned society philosophy of the industrial and academic regions to the north, and west. Under the leadership of Governor Archibald Humphrey of the Republic of Texas, these states declared themselves in secession and formed The Libertarian Confederation of America.
President Rosario had a different perspective on Lincoln’s famous quote, “A house divided can not stand.” She decided it was best to allow a negotiated, peaceful separation rather than fighting a second civil war to force unwilling citizenship. Borders were negotiated, bureaucracies generated, treaties signed, and a new nation was born. Citizens were given a year to move to their preferred society. A great migration, in both directions, took place as people made hasty decisions based on fear and/or hope of great changes that would come in the new societies of unchallenged ideologues.
With the removal of anti-federalist agenda from national politics, the United States pursued a far more liberal, progressive policy. The military was reduced to a defensive posture, insurance and education became universal programs, welfare became a permanent WPA type program and heavy regulations were introduced on economic and energy related industries. In a few short years, similarly governed regions of Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean, chose to join the remade republic. While a few of the more laissez faire, bank haven, island nations, chose to seek membership in the new, like-minded confederation. The nations of the European Union, fearing lack of influence in the new landscape, voted to approve a constitution for the EU, formalizing the economic alliance as a nation with a central senate elected by state governments.
At the end of Transition Year, the Confederation, under now President Humphrey, shut its borders and declared a 5 year isolationist foreign policy to develop domestically. With that period coming to an end, the first creaky bureaucratic doors have begun to open. Interest is high not only in the corporate world, but also among the US government’s defense establishment, the media and the public at large. Everyone wants to know what the Prodigal Child has been doing.
April, 15, 2030
Charleston, South Carolina
The Libertarian Confederation of America
Jake’s Oyster House
“Jake, where all the garbage bags?”
“Did you look where we keep the garbage bags?”
“Yes, there were none.”
“Then I’m stumped, John.”
Jake sat on his chestnut ikea stool, next to the stainless steel, double bay, ice and oyster filled sink, wearing an apron that served as primer for the coat of stains that now colored it like a jester’s hat. As he talked, he continued to pull shell-fish out of 1 sink, scrub them, then toss them into the other basin. plunk- shsh- shsh- shsh- plunk, over and over.
Jake’s Oyster House did not belong to Jake, he just worked there cause he thought it was cool they had the same name. The real Jake had died 50 years earlier when his mistress bit his penis off during a boating accident. John, original Jake’s eldest grandson, owned the restaurant. A short, fat man with too much hair and a predilection for staring at teenage boys, John was a generally unpleasant man.
“Can we get more?”
“You’re the boss. Do you want to get more?”
“Yes, that’s what I’m saying. Go to the register, get 20 credits and cme back with change and a receipt.”
“And garbage bags?”
“Yes, and garbage bags! Of course the garbage bags. That the whole- dah!” Jake smiled and John gesticulated wildly, gave up, and stormed out of the kitchen.
“Ja-K! Woo, you are crazy. One day that mutha fuka gonna crack an fire ya smart ass just for pissin’ him off.” Erving ran the line like an artist. He could grill 3 burgers at 3 separate temperatures, turn eggs over easy, and bake a pie simultaneously. He earned his pay, owned his car, paid his bills, and saw no reason to rock the boat.
“I’m scrubbing sea shells and going shopping over here. Not firing me might be the bigger threat.”
“Young people, minds always somewhere other than here. You got to focus. If there really is something, or somewhere, else better for you, why aren’t you working on making it happen? Either get where you going, or be where you are.”
Jake stopped shucking the oysters, mid-shuck. Still holding the oyster in 1 hand and the scrubber in the other, he stood and walked over to Erving. He stared in to the old man’s wrinkled, walnut brown, leathery face, blue eyes to brown, “You’re absolutely right, Erv.”
“Of course, I am. Bout what, specifically?”
“I need to stop fuckin’ around and get on with doing the thing.”
“Well, I think I was a little more poetical, but basically…”
“Thanks Erv, its been nice working with you, really, you’re a good man.” Jake shook shook the old cook’s hand, take off his apron, and headed for the door to the dining area.
“Whoa, wait. What are doing? Are you just quitting?”
“What? No, I’m going to get those bags. I just feel energized because of my decision.”
“Oh, alright then.”
Lights in the dining room were still low. They wouldn’t open for dinner for another hour, so therefore just the staff didn’t require full lighting. Staff drifted in and out, performing various chores. A few of the girls smiled at Jake, a few turned their noses up, most just ignored him, the latter being the most alluring behavior.
Kelly was setting up the bar. She bounced around to a Poison mix, singing every 4th word or so, off key, when she noticed him. A spinning flurry of blonde hair and brunette roots as she squealed and jumped “Oh! Jake! Don’t sneak up on me like that.”
“You’re behind the bar.”
“Well, yes, whatever. Can I help you with something.”
“John told me to grab some money to get supplies.”
“You know where the register is, leave a note.” Disinterested, she went back to dance-stocking but slightly less enthusiastically.
Jake walked over to the register, pressed no-sale and opened the drawer. Then he reached in and calmly took all of the cash in the drawer and underneath. No time to count it he just made 3 separate folded piles and shoved them into his pockets. Shut the drawer, and headed for the exit. Once outside, he quickly unlocked his bicycle, jumped on and sped away towards home.
1 hour later
John’s hair stood off his head in several directions. “What?” He demanded logic.
The wrinkled, grey uniformed policeman in front of him shrugged and explained a second time, “The fee for pursuing the case against this thief is 500 credits per day.”
“I pay taxes to have police catch criminals.”
“What are you some kind of socialist?” The officer look down his wrinkled nose at John, who was properly shocked at such a suggestion, “Taxes cover the minimal, necessary government institutions. If you want the government to do something for you personally, you need to pay a use tax. Otherwise everybody would be paying for stuff they don’t use just to make it cheaper for other people. You know what that is, socialism. We don’t abide socialism in these parts. Maybe you should go back to the United States if that’s what you believe.”
“Go back, Eric, I grew up across the street from you.”
“So you then you should know better.”
“Crime may not pay, but it is expensive to stop.”
“You’ve been practicing that, haven’t you?”
“A little bit.”
“Do I get some sort of money-back guarantee if you don’t catch him?”
“Hah!” Eric turned to the other cops milling around by the waitress station, “Hey, guys, he wants a money-back guarantee on catching the thief!” The cops laughed, loudly.
“Fine, bill me. But this aint an open check, I want regular updates.”
“Yes, sir.” He turned to his men, “Let’s go boys, we got a thief to catch.”
As a unit, the uniformed men of various ages and fitness stood and marched out the door. Kelly watched them go, worried.
“I hope they don’t hurt him.”
John looked shocked, “He stole from us.”
She turned slightly on her left foot, head tilted, absently wiping the tap handle, “I know that, it was my register, but still, he was always such a nice guy.”
“He was a thief, nothing more. And I better not find out you were involved.” He stared at her, tentacles of suspicion reaching out to paint her innocent face with lines of mistrust.
“John! No! I would never, could never… How dare you!” She stomped her foot and through her rag onto the bar, eye brows crossed viciously.
Under the onslaught of protest, he relented, “Alright, alright, I’m sorry, but I had to be sure. Kitchen help robs me, cops extort me, don’t know who to trust anymore.” John walked upstairs to his office, mumbling to himself.
2 Weeks later
Virginia Beach, VA, LCA
Jake sat in the sand, eating a sandwich, listening to the waves, as he contemplated his next move. He had 800 credits remaining from the 1532 he had stolen. He could either get a really shit place to sleep for a couple days or eat for a week. He voted on eating. Next step; making more money.
So, start with an inventory; 800 credits, 1 bicycle, lock and emergency repair kit, 1 small duffle bag containing: 1 rain jacket, 3 pair of socks, 3 sets of underwear, 2 pair of jeans, 5 t-shirts, 2 dress shirts, a tablet pc, 1 razor, 1 bar of soap, 1 bottle of aspirin, 1 ounce of marijuana, and 1 Holy Bible. Not much with which to work.
As he sat there, counting his options against the waves, a crowd began to flock towards his location. They were not interested in him, unaware actually, but the focus of their attention was headed his way regardless. 2 men, dressed for business, stormed forward, each with their own retinue among the mob.
The men stopped a half dozen yards from Jake’s position. The crowd formed a semi-circle that included him in the front row. The men faced each other, the group quieted itself, and for a moment all that could be heard was the shh-lap shh-lap of the ocean kissing the land.
The blonde man straightened his narrow shoulders, smoothed his crooked, dark blue tie against his fresh out of the bag, pale blue shirt, “Back to back, 30 paces, turn, fire. 1 shot only.”
The red head snorted and gave his best incredulous face. He wore no tie, and had the sleeves of his dark blue shirt rolled up, showing his much thicker, hairy arms. “What is this some fuckin’ movie? We pick our spots, face each other, and draw when a neutral party counts to 3.”
Jake was completely confused. he was about to ask someone what was going on, when a news camera and talking head set up a few feet away. A voluptuous, curly blonde barely contained in a pink pantsuit had a microphone pinned to her diving, white lapel.
“Okay, you got me in focus. You sure, cause last time my mom said I was all blurry, and the thing behind me was in focus. The audience wants to see me. Alright, we’re ready? 3…2…” It was like she had a psychotic break and the another personality took over, “Hi, ya’ll. Stephanie Brightly here for VCN bringing you another exclusive.
“After the State Supreme Court decision on the Jones V Green case 2 months ago, duels have begun to profil- prilo- spread. As you remember, 2 men got into a bar fight, then drew their guns and fired simultaneously. Though both were shot, both men did live. When local authorities attempted to file charges, both shooters claimed a Stand Your Ground defense. Since they drew at the same time, they were both wrong and right. So the court decided that, the way our laws are constructed, if both parties choose to stand and fight, there’s no crime. That legal decision has lead to arguments being settled with duels all across the Commonwealth.
“And today, here in Virginia Beach, we VCN are going to allow our audience to see the 1st live duel on television.” She smiled a bright wide smile for her audience, tilting her head just so for her best pic.
Jake smiled back, but in disbelief. Was he really about to see 2 people try to murder each other in public?
The camera rolled. The men, apparently having successfully negotiated the details, walked to their positions about 40 yards apart on the beach. Pistols now holstered at their hips. A third man, dressed in a long black coat over black pants and a white shirt, walked to the middle of the beach.
The man in black reached into his coat and removed a small bible. He held it high with his right hand, bowed his head, and shouted, “Lord! Lord, we beseech you, guide us on our uncertain path. Protect the innocent, and allow your justice to reign supreme.”
“Amen.” Intoned the crowd. Jake noticed the 2 gunfighters had also bowed their heads. They now looked up and faced each other, hands at the ready by their pistol grips. The preacher backed himself towards the crowd, still holding his bible aloft. Red licked his lips and stretched his fingers. Blondie narrowed his eyes, but made no other movements.
Once at a safe distance, the black preacher shouted again,”Ready! 3! 2! 1! Draw!” Then he let his bible arm fall like a girl dropping a scarf to start a race in those old James Dean movies.
Swiftly hands moved to handles. Both guns got stuck in the holsters, as neither man knew what he was doing. A salesman and a shipping clerk playing cowboy. Finally they dislodged their weapons, and took aim. Pause. They stared, death hung its arms about their shoulders, patiently waiting like always.
A seagull let out that weird seagull sound, startling Red. He flinched, just a little, but enough to scare Blondie into squeezing his trigger. Before he could, though, his poker face broke, and Red knew, so he squeezed too.
If you replay the news footage in super slow-mo you can actually detect, blurry though it is, the moment when the 2 bullets pass each other. These men would never get to witness and ponder such a thing though, because they both managed to hit their targets.
A stream of blood burst from Red’s neck. Out the front, then mili-seconds later, out the back. He stood there, upright, blood shooting out his front and back like a macabre yard fountain, then he collapsed into a pile.
Blondie took his bullet in the skull, right between the eyes. It was only a .22 caliber bullet, not like the massive .45s that he employed. It didn’t exit his skull. Just punctured his forehead and spiderwebbed his face, lodging into the middle of his brain. He fell backwards, twitched once, a short spurt of blood excreted from the death hole. And then he was still.
Nobody spoke for several moments. Stephanie Brightly turned to her audience, unsure what to say or how todo it without smiling for the camera. “So, there it is, a real live duel. Brought to you only by CVN news.” She shifted uncomfortably, “Back to you Todd and Mary.” The red light turned off, and she let the air leave her body.
“Oh, my god, that was awful, I had no idea what to say.”
Her camera man stood, looking across the beach where the black preacher leaned over the bodies, “Yeah, that must have been terrible for you.”
Jake watched all of this unfold. He watched the news crew. He watched the crowd that still hung around, even after the duel was over, to see what happened to the bodies, and he knew how he was going to earn himself some income.