I hope your Labor Day Holiday left you rested and in the mood for a good book.  Here’s the next chapter.

CHAPTER SEVEN

“Legal Plunder – See if the law takes from some persons what belongs to them, and gives it to other persons to whom it does not belong.  See if the law benefits one citizen at the expense of another by doing what the citizen himself cannot do without committing a crime.”

 Frederic Bastiat  in his 1850 classic The Law

Jean and Cliffson relished the tender fall days shared together collecting and storing all they’d raised.  It was their favorite time of year.  Zach had returned to Boise to accept a new job and once again the house was empty. Cliffson was experiencing a familiar melancholy that occurred whenever one of their sons left after having been home for awhile.

A weeklong trip to the Oregon coast with their best friends, the Wests, was just what he needed and it was a time of cherished moments together, a time of sweet reflection, a time soon to be discolored with the Cranks sour overtones.

A wonderfully serene October day had cast billowy cotton balls across a cobalt sky and Jean and Cliffson were digging the last of the potatoes when Hank the Crank yelled from over the fence.  Shorter than Cliffson, Hank was balding, overweight and his self-seeking ways knew no end.

“Folks, you know that evergreen tree has grown over the property line again.  I think you need to cut it down.”

“Hello Hank,” Cliffson responded.  “Could I ask you a question?”

“What would that be?”

“Why is it you’re always making trouble?  Wouldn’t it be better for everyone if you made an effort to get along?”

“So you want to be friends do ya?  Well, I tell ya what.  I think we can over look the tree, which you are clearly in the wrong about mind you, if you would start sharing some of the food you grow.  You know, couple sacks of potatoes, some of those wonderful apples and while you’re at it throw in some fresh eggs too,” he clucked.

“Like I said Hank, you’re always making trouble.”

“Cliffson, if you think this is trouble, you ain’t seen nothing.”  Hank stepped down from the fence and left.

The very next morning police came to the house and arrested Cliffson on charges of spying and stirring the waters of revolution by making statements against the government.  After holding him for three days Cliffson was released with a warning about speaking out against the government.

The Langs were shaken.  Cliffson hadn’t been harmed, but the intimidation was clear.  Hank had connections and expected Cliffson to fall in line.  Cliffson would do his best to avoid Hank, but vowed he wouldn’t back down or cave in to his demands.

Upon his release from jail Jean arranged for Monk and the Wests to join them at home for a mouthwatering meal she’d prepared just for the occasion.

Barb and Gary West were in their mid-sixties, retired, and feeling the pinch of inflation.  They had a comfortable ease about them, much like the Langs and it was the foundation for a solid relationship.

Gary was slim, wiry, and wore a stately mustache and goatee of pure white to match a nearly full head of hair.  His boots were left at the door and he now relaxed in a pair of gray socks.

Barb’s hair was peppered with gray and she carried her age well.  You could often find her in overalls and irrigation boots when she wasn’t tending the chickens or irrigating the pasture, but tonight she relaxed in blue jeans and a plaid shirt.

The camaraderie did Cliffson good and they all enjoyed a superb evening together, but the day’s news soon left them unsettled.

“Unbelievable,” Gary said.  “China controls all of Europe.

“Did it nearly overnight too.”  Cliffson settled on the couch with a cold beer.  “Simply overwhelmed them.  China wasn’t taking any chances on being embarrassed a second time.”

“What’s that mean for us?” Barb asked. “You know we’ve done nothing but print money to pay for our country’s massive social programs and we owe China far more than Europe did.”

Cliffson looked to Monk. “What do you think?”

“I think the Chinese are just flat pissed.  We’ve yet to address our spending issues, and as Barb says, done nothing but print money.  Once they’re comfortable with the situation in Europe, they’ll put the vice grips to us, of that I have no doubt.”  Monk rose from his seat.  “Got another cold one Jean?”

“In the fridge Monk, just help yourself.”

“My bet is things are already underway and we just aint’ heard nothin’ yet.”  Monk stepped to the fridge and pulled out a cold I.P.A. “Gary? Barb?” he asked, raising one up.

“Sure Monk, I could use another one,” Gary said.

“No thanks, I’m good for now,” Barb followed.

“The woman who says after a few thousand beers…”

Monk never got to finish as the room burst into laughter at the inside joke.

By the evening’s end the group was more resolute than ever about sticking together no matter what was coming their way.

 __________________________________________________________

 A month later, on an especially mild November evening, Cliffson and Jean stood side by side on their paver patio, watching rose-colored fingers of sunlight paint the mountain tops in shades of crimson.  Cliffson thought he knew just what Jean was thinking when she murmured,

“It’s over, isn’t it?”

His reply was soft and barely spoken aloud. “I’m afraid it is.  Strange, how we both feel it.  The sun’s setting on this era and the times we’ve known are about to end.” Cliffson paused while viewing the colorful highlights blazing over the mountain tops.  “Mostly I’m sorry our sons will never know what it’s like to truly be free.”

The sun was also setting on another season, the season of their lives.  Cliffson was sixty-three, Jean, fifty-nine.  Both of them felt the fall season of their days nearing an end and the calendar of their lives turning toward the winter season.  It made facing the challenges ahead more difficult and both realized this when they looked to the future.

Jean lifted her head from his shoulder and kissed him on the cheek.  “We’ve been through many trials in our time together.  We managed then and we’ll find a way this time.”  She turned and took his hand.  “It’s getting cold.  Let’s go in and you can make me a fire?”

“You go on ahead while I get some wood.”

When she turned to go Cliffson stepped to the wood bin attached to the back of the house.  He opened the door, paused for a moment and looked towards their wood pile at the back of the lot.  We’ve done what we can.  The wood is stacked and we’ve laid in what the garden had to offer.  The beehives are wrapped for winter and their precious honey is stored.  How I pray it will be enough.


The winter of 2016 began quietly enough, though inflation was unremitting.  Incredibly, people still bought into the message of hope pandered by the White House.  Hope didn’t fill an empty stomach or pay the rent.

Hope sounded a lot like B.S. to Cliffson, but the Zombies loved it.  Hope, as marketed by the government, sold cars and kept the mindless unprepared.  To the Langs, the government’s “hope” looked a lot more like cold bones in the grave.

It was a harsh, snow-covered day in Boston, when a mob of rioters approached the capital building.  The Massachusetts state government was out of money and had shut down.  Garbage piled high in the streets, businesses closed and many people were left homeless.  “Hope” wasn’t keeping them warm and the rising sun of each new day revealed more of them frozen to death on the streets and in the alleys.

When riots broke out in Miami, Detroit and Los Angeles, the president ordered Blackhawk helicopters in to keep the peace.  Soon, the “war birds,” as Cliffson referred to them, were chopping the gloomy air above most major American cities.

It made the time the Langs shared with their sons during the holidays even more precious and they relished it, storing it up within their hearts.  The winter season also brought strengthened bonds of friendship with Monk and the Wests.  None of them missed the dark veil being lowered across the nation.  Monk noted how you couldn’t see it, but you sure could feel it.

On New Year’s day, 2017, Monk and the Wests were relaxing together with the Langs after a turkey dinner at the Lang’s cheery home on the edge of town.  Inside a fire crackled in the wood stove and the smell of freshly cooked pumpkin pie hung in the air.  A few remaining Christmas decorations added to the festivities.

Jean and Barb were cleaning up in the kitchen and the sound of dishes mixed with blasts of wind from the storm raging outside.  Monk was enjoying the comfort of a wooden rocker next to the fire while Gary and Cliffson watched the snow piling up at the base of the chicken coop.  Hot apple cider, made from the Lang’s own apples, warmed each of their bellies.

“Earth to Monk.”  Gary grinned.

Monk snapped back to the present.  “Remember when President Obama said, if you’ve got a business you didn’t build that, somebody else made that happen.”

“I try not to.”  Gary shook his head.  “It was an attack on free enterprise and private property.”

Monk got up to add more wood to the fire.  “Well boys, sadly it all came true, didn’t it?  I was just thinking back over all the businesses the government confiscated or destroyed.  No matter what you did, the government took credit for it.”

“Yup.  No different than me taking credit for Jean’s cooking.”  Cliffson chuckled.

“Worse than that.”  Monk settled himself back in the rocker.  “The president claiming prosperity originates with government is like saying the lice in your son’s hair are what’s keeping him alive.”

“It was a chilling speech in a lot more ways than we realized at the time,” Gary added.

Monk raised a toast. “To our friendship and to seeing one another through the times ahead.”  As the toast was offered, glasses clinked and hugs were shared, except for Monk, who only shook hands.  The storm they all knew was coming bound them in a common bond, much as the groups advancing age tied their hands in chains only the aged can feel and the young cannot understand.

“And to good health,” Cliffson added.

“To good health,” they all agreed.  The glasses clinked again and the group grew quiet for a moment as each one examined their own personal challenges.

The rest of the evening passed by quickly, the way it always does in the company of good friends and after joining in a toast to welcome in the New Year they shared another round of hugs, except Monk of course.


Days later Cliffson was downtown running errands.  A weak sun lent little warmth, but the brisk air was invigorating, so after parking near the local cigar shop he’d taken to walking his errands.

A new blanket of snow hushed everyday sounds though truck traffic moved along the distant parkway as always.  The corner coffee shop buzzed with caffeinated customers hovering above their peppermint lattes.  Twelve dollar coffee had yet to stop the addiction.  Stop lights moved traffic as always – perfectly untimed – and people trafficked the shops with a ‘business as usual’ attitude.

Inside the local cigar shop customers bickered over politics much as they always had.  The city looked and functioned in its customary fashion, or so it seemed.  So as he was sometimes prone to do, Cliffson chose to step off of life’s merry-go-round and simply live in and absorb the moment.  Believing life could be turned upside down at any instant, he decided to purchased a cigar and relax for a moment on the bench outside.

Upon entering the modest shop a small bell jingled overhead, just as it always had.  The flat screen TV still hung on the wall to his right and the rich, savory smell of tobacco permeated the room with its pleasing, pungent aroma.  It all seemed so normal.

“…remember Joe, government says you didn’t build this business.  Somebody else made it happen.  You owe all your success to the government.”  There was laughter in the background.

“Very funny.  I don’t remember the government risking their money when I started this business or for that matter, putting in the long hours.  Like Steve Jobs didn’t create Apple.  What a bunch of morons!”

“Just kidding Joe.  Didn’t mean to get you started.”

The short, dark-haired man working the counter greeted Cliffson with his usual smile.

“Joe, how you doin’?”

“Been better.  These government dolts are taking away our country. But never mind all that, what can I do for you today?”

The two men shared small talk before stepping into the humidor where Cliffson lingered, absorbing the intoxicating bouquet.  After examining a few select cigars, he made his choice and returned to the counter to pay.  There he saw the outlawed bumper sticker resting under the glass.  Looking up, the owner winked and Cliffson winked back.  He liked this place.

Back outside, Cliffson took his place on a wooden bench in front of the store.  The air was calm and the yellow light of the winter’s sun poured down upon him.  Pulling up the collar to his insulated jacket he settled in and made himself comfortable.  For a while, time would standstill and Cliffson would absorb his surroundings.  At a later date, he would recall the moment and in his mind, revisit this very place.  The crisp air, the sights of people dressed in winter clothing hustling through the cold, the smell of his own Maduro wrapped cigar and feel of the wooden bench beneath him—the sounds of the street and the crunch of snow under boots would all come back.

Another customer approached and entered the cigar shop. For a moment Cliffson could hear the TV inside.  “…the president rescued the United States from a second depression and will continue working to further strengthen the economy.”  Cliffson nearly choked.

Yeah right, he thought.  What about the high prices all of us are paying for basic necessities, the obvious censorship of the press, the unsustainable debt, the wars!!! What about the fact the average American now works nearly seventy percent of the year to pay for big government, if he’s fortunate to work at all!  Yet, all your friends are getting rich Komrade Presedente’.

It angered him and he was chagrinned to acknowledge he was not immune.  It wasn’t his nature and he resolved to remain composed.  It’s entirely out of my control so relaxBe prepared to help others when you can, otherwise lay low and keep your silhouette off the horizon.”

That’s when his “to do” list came to mind and he was reminded of the hand pump he’d yet to obtain for his well.  And if he could find the money, he needed to get his hands on some more silver, though he had managed to acquire a bit of the stuff in a trade for his honey.

Thinking to take advantage of what he believed would be one of the last days of peace, Cliffson decided an evening out would be in order.  The owner of a local pub made use of another era’s gathering place when he chose to locate in an old railway station.  It was a warm and cozy watering hole that would make for the perfect winter get together with friends.

A bitter gust of wind dusted Cliffson with white powder and directed his thoughts to a man he’d noticed on the street corner a block away.  The man wore a wool cap, rolled up on the sides to look something like a sailor’s hat.  He was skinny as a rail and deep lines cut into his face.  A worn out pair of tennis shoes could not have been keeping his feet warm.   The sign he held said “anything helps” and the thread bare jacket he wore looked defeated in its battle to keep out the arctic chill.  Business was not good.  Apparently he was invisible to most folks and Cliffson observed a rapid increase in pace by those who did see him.

The tangy, flavorful notes of his cigar lingered in the smoke around Cliffson’s head, enticing him to loiter a moment longer, but his own comfort sharpened the distress he observed in the beggar on the corner.  It was time to go.

Cliffson crossed the street, tossed his cigar butt in the drain and quickly headed in the direction of the coffee stand.  The rumble of chained vehicles driving over packed snow vibrated in the air.  He knew he shouldn’t spend the money, but it was that very thought which drove him to buy the twelve dollar brew.

A few blocks more and he was back, standing in front of the man begging on the corner.  Cliffson handed him the hot coffee, slipped off his winter jacket, placing it over the man’s shoulders and set his insulated boots at the man’s feet.  The look in the fella’s eyes was one Cliffson would never forget.  A shocked, surprised look of, “You would do this for me,” flooded the man’s face.

Hurrying back to his car in stocking feet Cliffson reminded himself; best to remain humble and not judge how someone comes to be in those circumstances.  He was simply a human being in need; a place they could all find themselves in the coming days.

Later that evening Cliffson took Jeans arm and together they walked through a parking lot sparkling with ice.  It was snowing again and the flakes, lit up by the street lamps, looked like miniature stars falling from the sky.

Upon entering the doorway to the pub and shaking off their coats, the dim light and murmur of hushed conversation enveloped them.  An occasional glance about the room completed the ambiance of suspicion.   A fire crackled in an open hearth on the wall opposite the door and to their right, large frosty windows shed a faint light.  Imitation candles flickered from rustic sconces hung about the room.

An older couple at the table to their left was talking about the weather and viewing the report coming in on a wall mounted television.  A young couple in the corner near the fireplace gazed into each other’s eyes, oblivious to the weather and to everything else for that matter.  It was the quiet, comfy little spot Cliffson had pictured.

Upon joining Monk and the Wests at the near end of the bar, Jean and Cliffson ordered drinks and relaxed in the comfort of good company.

Monk was telling them about the new contacts he was making in the “ham” radio world when a tattooed man with the huge earrings Cliffson found so appalling took a seat at the far end of the bar.  The bartender told him he’d be back in a moment and turned away to help another customer.

Immediately the man lunged for a donation box set up to help a young girl hurt in a car accident and ran for the door.  Two steps later he was laying flat on his face.  Stocky, one-eyed Monk had seen the entire episode and tripped him when he went by. Now he sat on the man’s back, pulling the guys long greasy hair.  The thief yelled out his defiance.

After the bartender took the man to a backroom, where more pleasantries were sure to be shared, Monk sat down and rejoined the group.

“You don’t miss a thing do you Monk,” Cliffson laughed.

“I try not to mate.”

“It never fails to amaze me.  People cover themselves with tattoos, piercings and whatever else and then wonder why they’re unemployable.”  Jean shook her head.

“And then they steal from a little girl hurt in a car accident,” Barb added.

Their conversation was interrupted by the sounds of a scuffle and more yelling from the backroom.  Monk winked with his good eye, grinned and raised his glass, “Bloody Mary’s anyone?”

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