Uncle Evans: Installment #3 (2023)

Uncle Evans: Installment #3 (1)

Texas Hill Country. June.

Kyle sat in his bed with his laptop open. The morning sun shone in through the window. Dust motes drifted in the light, and a video played on the laptop.

"The nation remains shocked and devastated after the brutal, politically motivated executions of peaceful protestors in North Carolina." The anchorman spoke earnestly into the camera. The video kept playing, but it jumped to another newsman, on another channel, in another city. This one said, "Shocked and devastated, that is how our nation feels as it mourns the peaceful activists brutally executed in North Carolina." Another jump, this time to an anchorwoman in San Diego. "The brutal, politically motivated execution of peaceful activists in North Carolina has left our nation shocked and devastated." Another jump, this time to Denver. "All Coloradoans remain shocked and devastated after the brutal and politically motivated executions of peaceful activists in North Carolina."

The video Kyle watched was a collection of news footage taken from local stations across the country, all edited together into one long set. There were different commentators in different cities, but they all said the same thing practically verbatim. Kyle took a deep sigh. In this digital age, it was not as if it wouldn't be noticed that all the news personalities were saying the exact same thing with the exact same words. KING 5 News in Seattle was only a click away from Fox 10 in Phoenix. Kyle didn’t know what the word Orwellian meant, but he knew wrong when he saw it. Disgusted and upset, Kyle kept watching.

Boston: "These peaceful protestors were shot executions style, likely by right-wing neo-fascists."

Salt Lake City: "It was likely right-wing neo-fascists who shot the peaceful protestors, execution style."

Tampa: "It was here outside this otherwise tranquil suburban neighborhood that the peaceful protestors were shot, execution style. Authorities suspect ultra-right-wing neo-fascism to be linked to these brutal crimes."

Cleveland: "The peaceful protestors were outside this suburban neighborhood when they were shot, execution style. The murderers are believed to have ties to right-wing neo-fascism."

The edited video kept going, kept jumping around to different commentators, on different channels, in different cities, all saying slight variations of the same thing.

"These executions of peaceful political activists are truly a threat to our democracy."

"Political leaders around the country say that these political executions truly threaten our democracy."

"Jane, I feel that these executions of peaceful political activists are a true threat to our democracy."

"When peaceful political activists are executed in the streets, well Dan, I think we all agree that that is truly a threat to our democracy."

"It is all so tiresome," Kyle muttered aloud, and he closed his laptop. He could smell his uncle cooking breakfast downstairs. He went through the morning routine of getting up and getting moving. On the way downstairs he took a detour into his uncle's office. He admired the weapons in the ready rack for a moment, but what he really came in to look at was the decorated paddle hanging on the wall, the one that addressed Uncle Evans as, "Frankenstein." He looked it over for some clue as to how that nickname came to be. He found none. Disappointed, but only a little, he headed down for breakfast. It was bacon and eggs. Again. And again, his uncle sat at the table sipping his chai tea. The scene didn’t feel repetitive. It felt comfortable. And it felt distant from the chaos and violence taking place around the country and on the screens of electronic devices. Kyle sat down with a plate.

"I wanna show you something," he said to his uncle. He pulled out his phone and played the same video for his uncle. His uncle didn’t seem moved at all.

"Yeah, that’s been going on for a while now. Just a few big companies own all those local affiliates. They feed them all the same talking points."

"It is creepy," Kyle said, and immediately after saying that he regretted his word choice. "Creepy," made him sound like a kid, and no 16-year-old wants to sound like a kid, especially to his wise, old, combat-hardened uncle.

Evans sipped at his chai tea and said, "You want creepy? When you wake up tomorrow, see if that video is still up or if it’s been pulled off the internet." He set down the glass cup and added a heaping spoonful of raw sugar to the tea. "But we’ve got more important problems to solve. Think you can get the trailer hooked back up to the truck? We need to go down the road and pick up a skid steer from one of our neighbors. I’ve got some yard work in the back I need to get done."

"Sure," Kyle said.

"Think you can do it on your own? Remember how I showed you to do it?"

"Yeah, I guess. Maybe."

"Well, give it your best shot. I’ll get the dishes and then meet you outside." Kyle finished his breakfast, took the truck keys off the hook on the wall, then went to work connecting the truck to the trailer. Evans went to work on the dishes and watched his nephew through the kitchen window. He was proud of his nephew. The city kid's handling of the truck and trailer wasn't skillful, but he'd get there. It was just a matter of practice, and with practice would come confidence. And they had all summer. Maybe more, if his sister and Keith moved out here like they planned.

Evans moved slowly as he cleared away the dishes. His mind was on the "executions" of last night. The PVD was better armed, better equipped, and better organized than ever before. Their efforts had been coordinated with the federal authorities. That was obvious to anybody willing to pay attention. Those efforts were further coordinated with the media and with the tech platforms that killed all the national feeds on order. The end result was a bunch of Americans lying dead on some street, and nobody would know for sure who they were. And the "executioners" were just middle-class tax-paying Americans who wound up on the wrong side of the revolution. When they went out to defend their homes, they had no idea that they would be the villains in this narrative. They didn’t understand the nation was different now. Their world was different now. They were the bad guys. It didn’t matter how much they paid in taxes, or how many soccer games they coached, or when and how and where they might have served their nation in the past. It didn’t matter that the PVD fired first. It didn’t matter that they were just trying to defend their homes and families. They were the villains now. Cut and dried. Simple as that.

Evans kept a small radio in the kitchen, tuned to an oldies station. Not what somebody Kyle’s age would consider oldies, but oldies to an already old man like Evans. A song came on, Silver Springs by Fleetwood Mac. Music can stir up emotions, and this song certainly stirred emotions in Evans. None of them were good. The muscles in his face tightened and his jaw set. He ground his teeth. Without being conscious of his actions, Evans reached over and shut off the radio and then went outside to help Kyle. He left the sink full of dirty dishes, something quite out of character.

"We’re not going far, just towards the back end of the development," Evan said. Kyle nodded. They drove downhill from Evans' place, away from the entrance to the community. They dipped down, went up another hill, then down the hill and up another. There was no shortage of hills. They rose and fell in all directions. Each hill had three, maybe four homes on it. Kyle had the window down. It was early enough in the morning that the air was still cool.

"The houses were built closer together near the front of the development. Out here, the plots of land got bigger and the houses farther apart," Evans explained. "Out in the very back of the development, they didn’t even build houses. They just sold land."

"What are we doing again?" Kyle asked.

"Our neighbor George is building a house out here. We’re going to borrow his skid steer. I need to do some digging."

They reached the top of the next hill and the paved road ended at a dirt track. The dirt track ended at the decent beginnings of a house that would someday be best described as palatial. The foundation was laid and suggested a home of 6,000 square feet or more. Two swimming pools were underway, along with a pair of tennis courts. Stacks of building materials were scattered about the site, as were various pieces of machinery and big steel gang boxes for tools. Nestled close against this aspiring mansion was a rather uninspiring camping trailer. A lean-to had been built against the trailer and it housed a couple of old motorcycles in various states of disrepair. The door to the camper opened and a man with a rifle came out.

"George, put that fucking rifle away," Evans yelled from the truck.

The man with the rifle squinted. When he recognized Uncle Evans he smiled, set the rifle back in his camper, and gestured obscenely with both hands.

"Park it here for now," Uncle Evans said, and he climbed out of the truck.

"It is good to see you today," the man who had the rifle said, grinning. "But I think your calendar is wrong. Asshole day is tomorrow my friend."

Evans smiled. "George, this is my nephew Kyle. He's helping me out. Kyle, this is George Jimenez."

Kyle reached out and shook George's hand. Evans nodded in approvement. George looked to be in his late twenties and had dark hair, grey eyes, and skin that might be a little on the pale side if not for the Texas sun. He stood maybe 5' 9". His face was kind. His smile was easy.

"George is building a house for his family."

"My extended family, not my own family," George corrected. "And I’m not really building. I oversee the building. I do the scheduling, the contractors…" George waved a hand towards the future mansion. "But it is slowly going. These days, it is hard to find the proper materials. When you do, they are not cheap. Slow going."

"Money should be no object for a rich man like you."

"I am not rich. The family and the business are rich. I am just like you; another poor, dumb-shit Texan."

Evans turned to Kyle, "Don’t let him bullshit you. George’s family owns their own construction company back in Columbia. They’re loaded. The part about him being a Texas dumb-shit is true though. He went to school here in the states, but only because his dad bought his way in."

"This is true," George said. "But now I am here in Texas. The family wanted a house in Texas so, I’ll get the house built. But it is slow going as I said. No proper materials. No proper workers. When I find the proper workers, they are all too busy. Very slow."

"Why do you want a house in Texas?" Kyle asked.

"To tell you the truth, the family is very rich, but this can be a bad thing. Colombia can be a dangerous country. Not like before, with the FARC and the cartels, and the Cubans coming in too. But who can say what the future will hold? The family wanted a place in Texas to go to, to be safe. And to protect the money. Real estate in the United States is always safe. Only these days…" George looked at Evans. "Only these days the United States maybe not so safe. Maybe you need to get a house in Colombia you can go to."

"I’m not buying any house your family built."

George grinned. "We’ll build one especially for you. It will fall down right on your stupid head."

Evans grinned too and Kyle found himself grinning at the two older men’s banter.

George addressed Kyle next. "But your uncle, he should not go to Colombia. His Spanish is not so good."

"My Spanish is better than your Spanish," Evans protested.

"Your uncle is wrong," George said to Kyle. "He doesn’t speak Spanish. He speaks Mexican. Or Texas-Mexican. I don’t know which, but it is not good."

"It was good enough the two years I lived in Mexico," Evans protested. George waved a hand dismissively.

"You didn’t live in Mexico. You lived on a base with the other Americans."

"I didn’t know you lived in Mexico," Kyle said to his uncle. "I thought you were in the Middle East."

"I was everywhere," Uncle Evans said. "Uncle Sam can send you a lot of places in thirty years."

George said, "Too bad they didn’t send you to into the real Mexico. Maybe somebody would have kidnapped you. Although they’d be pretty upset when they found out you were just another dumb-ass Texan with no money. They’d probably pay you to go away."

They laughed. George spoke directly to Kyle again. "I make fun, but I like talking to your uncle. We can insult each other and he does not get upset. With some Americans, I cannot do this. They are very sensitive."

"What the hell was the rifle for?" Evans asked.

George cursed in Spanish and then said. "Yes. That bitch dog was out here last night. Running loose. No leash. Barking. Dog tried to bite me. Lori, she came up on her little electric car. She screamed at me. I told her, ‘your dog comes here again, I’m going to shoot it.’ That made her even madder. She said she would call the police. She said she would call immigration."

"Great," Uncle Evans said. George smiled and waved a hand again dismissively.

"Joke is on her. I have a US passport. Dual citizen. She can call the police as much as she wants."

"I’d still be careful," Evans said. "If she calls the cops, she’ll probably tell them you have a gun or you tried to rape her or something. She’s vindictive. She called the cops and the fire department on us the other day."

"Yes, John told me about that. She is vindictive," George agreed. "So, you ready to borrow my machine?"

"Yes. But before we load it up, what’s going on with the bikes?" Evans asked. He pointed to the lean-to.

"Yes," George said, and he nearly bounced with excitement. "John welded up some cargo racks for the back. Custom. So, I’m one step closer. I found a couple of old Bultaco’s down at Elmendorf that would be good for parts. John was going to take me down to get them, but his truck is not running."

"John needs to fix that Dodge’s driveshaft," Evans said. Then he explained, "George has got some grand plans. He’s going to take that old motorcycle and tour all of South America."

"It’s a Bultaco. Spanish. The best. While the house gets built I’m customizing the bike and saving up money for the trip. Make this Bultaco a little better here. Make it a little bit better there. Then…" George made a slipping gesture with his hand. "Then take a year and travel around South America. See things. Eat. Drink. Fall in love. Fall out of love. Maybe take two years. Then, time to get serious and into the family business."

"Sounds like fun," Kyle said.

"Sounds like an adventure. Just be careful. South America can be dangerous," Evans added.

"Everywhere is dangerous. South America is dangerous. Mexico is dangerous. But the United States is dangerous now. Texas is dangerous too. Dangerous and getting more dangerous. It is dangerous because most of you Americans don’t know how good you have it. You took it all for granted." George pointed at Kyle. "That’s why I like men like your uncle. The veteran men. They’ve traveled all over the world. They know how bad things can be. They know how good things can be too. They don’t take these things for granted."

"What about you, Kyle? You up for a little adventure?" Uncle Evans asked. "You ever ridden a motorcycle?"

Kyle looked from his uncle to George, to the motorcycle under the lean-to. He wasn't quite sure if his uncle was serious. He said, "No. I've never driven a motorcycle." The older men laughed.

"First lesson, you don’t drive motorcycles."

"I meant ride," Kyle said. Evans turned to George.

"Doesn’t look like you’re doing much building today. You want to give a motorcycle class? Teach this kid how to ride."

George smiled. "How much you paying?"

"How about I don’t beat your ass in front of my nephew?"

George smiled. "You’re a powerful salesman, for a Texan."

"Make sure he wears a helmet and don’t go too damned fast," Evans said out the truck window. He had the skid steer loaded onto the trailer. George and Kyle stood on either side of the Bultaco. Both waved. Kyle was all smiles. He looked like he was in heaven. That made Evans smile. He drove back to his place with the skid steer and left the other two to the lesson. He had a hole to dig.

When Uncle Evans came back a couple of hours later, Kyle and George were sitting on old crates in front of the camper, drinking cans of pop. The Bultaco stood on its kickstand nearby. Kyle and George were both covered with dust, but Kyle’s big smile shone brightly.

"He’s a natural," George said. "Get him a motorcycle of his own. When I go down south he can come along."

"Good," Evans said. Then he addressed Kyle, "Sounds like you know how to ride now. You have fun?" His nephew’s smile seemed to grow by a foot at each end.

"It was great. It was. I want a bike of my own."

"Well, you better clear that with your parents first. I’m not getting you a motorcycle without your mom’s say so. She’d probably kill me just for these lessons today. That reminds me. You better call her tonight."

George gestured towards the truck. The skid steer wasn’t on the trailer. "You didn’t get all your holes dug?"

"I got one more to dig," Evans answered. "Let me hang onto it for another day or two."

"No problem."

"And thanks for the riding lessons." Uncle Evans said. He turned to his nephew, but Kyle didn’t need any prompting.

"Yeah, thanks for the time on the bike," he echoed.

When they got back to the house, Kyle saw the pile of scrap metal by the barn was gone and so was the storage tank. The stack of rusting barbed wire bales was still there.

"Where’d the tank go?" Kyle asked his uncle.

"Don’t worry about it," Evans said. "Call your mom. I’ll make us some dinner."

"You want to watch the riots after?"

"Sure, if they are on. But I need to take care of something in the barn first. I’ll meet you up in the office after I’m done."

The barn wasn't really a barn. It was a detached garage full of tools, boxes, random parts… the typical American clutter. It smelled of sawdust and machine oil. Evans unfolded a stepstool and took a cardboard box off a plywood shelf mounted high on the wall. He set the box on a workbench between a drill press and a belt sander. He opened the box and rooted through its contents. He found the first thing he was looking for right away. It looked like a big baby’s bib, only it was camouflage and covered with various pouches. He set that aside then dug deeper in the box and found the other thing he was looking for. He took out what looked like a big metal flashlight and set it next to the camouflage bib. The flashlight-thing was well used. Its surface was covered with small dents, and scratches, and worn down to bare metal. A yellow sticker on the flashlight-thing was almost completely rubbed away but two words were still readable, "Laser Radiation."

Evans put the box back on its shelf, then he opened a cabinet beneath the workbench. Inside were two five-gallon metal containers labeled, "Transmission Fluid." What he needed was behind those containers.

Evans spent a long time looking at those two metal buckets. When he was ready, he gently, ever so gently, moved the containers out of the way. He moved them one at a time, more gingerly than if they were eggs. With the transmission fluid out of the way, he took a mechanical tower out of the cabinet and set it beside the bib and flashlight-thing. The tower was painted the same color as desert sand. That done, he sat down, took a deep breath, and carefully considered the buckets of transmission fluid again.

While Evans worked in the barn, Kyle went back up into the office and turned on the computer. The monitors came to life with their electric glows. Kyle wanted to check the streams, but first, he wanted to know more about what happened in Raleigh the night before. His fingers typed away. The information the internet issued forth was not reassuring.

First off, the incident the night before was uniformly referred to as the Raleigh-Durham Executions. They weren’t called the Raleigh Murders, or the Raleigh Shooting, or the Peaceful Raleigh Protest that happened to go a little sideways. They were called the Raleigh-Durham Executions by each and every mainstream outlet Kyle checked. And there was no use of the qualifiers "alleged" or "allegedly." These were executions. Period. End of Sentence. Consensus was achieved. The science was settled. The debate was over. "Their uniformity is a dead giveaway," he could hear his uncle saying. Kyle searched further.

Who were the Raleigh Executioners? That was easy enough to find out. Their booking photos were all over the internet; middle-class, middle-aged faces. Men and women. Sad and scared. Shocked and disbelieving. They looked like ordinary, law-abiding people who just learned out of the blue that they'd been sentenced to death. And they had. Their names and ages were published along with their booking photos, but there was more. Their addresses were also put out on the internet and not just by the fringe elements on the web, but by the big three-letter media outlets. Their addresses were published. The names of their employers were published. The names and photos of their spouses. The names of their children and where they went to school. What banks they used. Even their IRS records were accessible with just a few clicks and keystrokes.

What could not be found on the internet was who the executed were. The media outlets that were so forthcoming, so detailed about the identities of the villains were vague about who the victims were. Words like, "multiple victims," or "many victims" were used. But a specific number of victims was never given. Kyle watched an exchange from a press conference earlier that day. A blue-suited government lawyer spoke to a crowd of reporters.

"One of the executioners we arrested is Thomas Ramon. Mr. Ramon works at Greenhills Middle School where he teaches science and coaches girls soccer. He has two daughters, Tracy and Gia, and they both attend the same school. From electronic devices we seized at his residence, we were able to link Mr. Ramon to anti-establishment and conspiracy-theory internet movements, as well as fascist right-wing white supremacist movements that communicate via the dark web.

"The weapon Mr. Ramos used to commit these fascistic executions was purchased at Superior Pawn, located at 612 Wharf Avenue, Raleigh Durham. The owner of Superior Pawn is Crispin Hoskins. He leases the property from Gilman Commercial Equities and Investments. Their contact information will be made available on our webpage. He also took out several business loans from a variety of lending institutions. We will post their information on the website as well.

"A stockpile of arms, ammunition, food and anti-government literature was seized from Mr. Ramon's house. Also seized were a powerful telescope and two sets of binoculars that could have been used to spy on government facilities. We believe he was able to purchase and stockpile these war supplies through the extra money he made coaching and the money his wife Joanne made working at Shade Hill Mortgage and Trust located in Greenhill North Carolina. We believe he also hid some of his income to avoid taxes. In the interest of transparency, and in coordination with the IRS, we’ve made his tax records available to the public."

"Can you tell us how many victims there were?" A reporter asked.

"I’m sorry, but we don’t comment on active investigations," The spokesman with a straight face.

Kyle drifted through the internet, moving away from the Raleigh-Durham Executions and toward tonight’s activities. Most of the major cities held candlelight vigils for the nameless and numberless victims of the Raleigh-Durham Executions. Streamers moved through the crowds and past the candle arrangements. Kyle thought those all looked too choreographed, too slick, and the logistics too carefully planned to be authentic. Kyle surged some more. The sun was setting on the West Coast. Kyle found a live-stream out of Portland. Some protestor-looking kids had overdosed on the street. The paramedics were trying to get to the kids, but more protestors were shouting them down and chasing them off. They threw trash. A barefoot woman with a fistful of crystals and prayer beads sat over one of the overdose victims, trying to open his charkas and release the negative energy. The kid's lips were blue. Somebody heaved a chunk of concrete into the paramedic's ambulance. The windshield cracked and the ambulance drove away.

"Anything happening," Uncle Evans asked. He came into the room with a box of stuff and set it down next to the computer desk. There was a slight chemical smell in the air. Kyle felt the inside of his nostrils burn. He sneezed. Then sneezed again. Uncle Evans left to go wash his hands. When he came back into the office he said, "Why don’t you shut that computer down."

Kyle took one last look at the computer and shut it down. Uncle Evans took the mechanical tower out of the desk and set it on the desk beside the computer.

"What’s that?" Kyle asked.

"Salvage from one of my trips overseas. It’s a camera system that mounts on the roof of a vehicle. We used it to find bombs on the sides of the roads. It has a regular camera, a thermal camera, and night vision. It has a pretty powerful zoom, at least for its time. It has a spotlight and an infrared light built into it. It all works off a remote control. You can pan, tilt, pivot, zoom in and out, everything."

"Where does the video go?" Kyle asked.

"It routed into its own monitor, but we can run it wireless into the computer monitors," Uncle Evans said. He gestured towards the monitor array on the computer desk. "We’re going to mount this onto the roof of the house. It will give us a view of the neighborhood at least as far down as Lori’s house.

Kyle looked the big tower over. He wiped some light tan dust off an edge. "It’s pretty big. It looks pretty old," he said.

"It was state of the art over a decade ago. It ain’t pretty or small, but it will work. We’ll have to fiddle around with it though. It is meant to run off vehicle power but I want to wire it into the house."

"Worried about the riots and the PVD?" Kyle asked.

"Not exactly," Uncle Evans said. "I’ve been meaning to do this for a long time. Now I’ve got the motivation."

Kyle looked into the box, reached in, and pulled out the flashlight-looking-thing. "What’s this?" Kyle asked.

"That’s called a dazzler."

"What is a dazzler?"

"It is a powerful laser pointer. We used them overseas to get people’s attention. Mostly to keep them driving through our roadblocks or crashing into our convoys."

"Did it work?" Kyle asked.

Evans shrugged. "Sometimes it did. Sometimes it didn’t. If the dazzler didn’t work then we usually went to guns. A lot of people got shot for no other reason than they were bad drivers. But that was a long time ago. Anyway, we’re going to mount this onto the tower along with the cameras and lights."

"You know how to do that?" Kyle asked.

"I can figure out the mechanical part. The electrical part, I'm not so sure about. Same with the tower itself. It was designed to run off vehicle power, but I want to wire it into the house. I could probably figure it out myself, but we've only got one of these and I don't want to fry any components because I crossed the wrong wires or didn't do the math right. I've got a friend down the street who used to be an electrical engineer. We'll take it by him for a look."

Kyle ran his hands over the camera tower. "It shouldn’t be too hard to add the laser and wire it all up. I took a robotics class for a year back in California back when I was in junior high."

"Did you like it?" Uncle Evans asked. Kyle thought about that.

"I did like it. I should have stuck with it. I could have gotten more out of it."

"Skills," Uncle Evans repeated. "You can’t have too many."

"Yeah," Kyle agreed. He looked back into the box. "And what is this thing?" He pulled the camouflage bib with all of its attached pouches out of the box.

"That is called a RACK," Uncle Evans. "RACK stands for Ranger Assault Carrying Kit. I traded a Ranger for it a long time ago. I can’t remember what I gave him for it. Anyways, these pouches here are for all the stuff you might need in an emergency: magazines for that carbine, water, a first aid kit, flashlight, knife, everything.

Kyle looked over the vintage piece of military surplus appreciatively. Uncle Evans went on.

"We’re going to keep the RACK in here, by the rifles. It is the best place for it. If we need it, we’ll know right where it is."

Evans froze, reached into his pocket, and pulled out his old-man phone. He looked at the screen and asked, "Was anything happening with the protests?"

"Nothing really. Candlelight vigils for the Raleigh-Durham Executions," Kyle said. He immediately regretted saying "Raleigh-Durham Executions."

"Turn the computers back on. Look for a feed from Oklahoma City. Something is going down there."

Uncle Evans’ voice sounded anxious. Kyle’s brought the computers back up and found a feed from Oklahoma City. What they saw looked something like a wild street festival that spilled over into a working-class Oklahoma suburb. There were teens. Hundreds of them, all swarming up and down a suburban street. They walked up and down the middle of the street. They walked through front yards, kicking apart flower beds and lawn decorations. A young man came up to a live-streamer and mugged for the camera, the fingers of each hand twisted into gang signs.

"We get our reparations tonight, baby," the man declared. Then he disappeared out of view. The audio switched to another feed in the same location. Girls in cutoff shorts and fuzzy house slippers twerked on parked cars along the curb while a young man smashed out the taillights with a baseball bat for no other reason than to do it. Four men walked past holding beer bottles aloft. "Reparations," they yelled for the camera. Then they scattered frantically as a quad came careening down the street doing a wheelie, headlights shining into the night sky. The camera followed the quad, then swung back around and caught a mini-van. A local family filled the mini-van. They were trying to escape. The van swung around a corner, so fast it looked like it might pitch over. The van straightened, then almost hit another group of teens marching up the street. At the last second, the van swerved out of the way, bounced over a curb, smashed through a low, split rail fence, then back over the curb and onto the street again. The teens threw beer bottles and rocks at the fleeing van.

"I don’t see any PVD," Evans said. "Looks like this ain’t their operation."

In the past, flash mobs had gone into gas stations and convenience stores, sometimes even shopping malls. The mob would come in en’ masse and rob the place, their numbers so great as to overwhelm any possible resistance. This was the same concept, only instead of descending upon a corner store, they were descending upon a residential neighborhood.

A modified sports car, sitting low with wild lights, screamed up the neighborhood street, the rear end drifted, swinging left and then swinging hard again right, and throwing out smoke the whole time. The camera swung and caught a family fleeing their home on foot. It swung again and caught about a dozen teens smashing their way into a garage. The metal garage doors buckled. "Street Reparations!" Another teenager screamed into the camera.

Evans’ phone buzzed. He looked at the screen. "Find a streamer named Forty-Switches."

Kyle’s fingers danced across the keyboard. Soon, Forty-Switches’ (Spelled "FoTay Switches") live-stream came up. Switches was in the same neighborhood. The houses were the same, mostly single-story and brick. The older homes of an older neighborhood. The streets were still wild with teens. Switches alternated between pointing the camera at the unfolding mayhem and pointing the camera at himself while he provided commentary. Right now, he had his camera pointed at the entrance to the neighborhood. Police vehicles sat there, lights flashing and spinning.

"Dat’s the police right there. Dat’s the police right there," Switches said.

"Yeah. They ain’t moving, though. They ain’t moving," another commentator added.

"Hell no, they ain't moving. They just gonna sit there. They gonna let us do this. They know what's right! They know what's right!"

A US flag hung off the side of a nearby house. Next to it was a US Navy flag. Next to those was a third flag that depicted an anchor fouled with a serpent. The words, "Navy Medicine" were written across the top of that flag. There was a van in the driveway. All the windows had been smashed out. Shattered glass glittered in the driveway. The front door to the house was opened. It looked like it had been smashed open. Even in the chaos, Kyle could hear shouting inside the house.

More teens descended on the house. They came in groups of four or more. Each group had at least one member who walked with their eyes glued to their phone. Switches followed one group. His video stream bounced up and down with each step.

The teenager leading this group wore a red sweatshirt. He picked up a lawn chair and threw it at the home's big, plate-glass window. The glass buckled but did not break. The teenager's friends laughed at him. Somebody said something. The teen laughed. Then he picked up a cement birdbath and pitched it at the window. This time the glass broke. Cheers went up. From the massed teens. More tromped across the front lawn. Police lights outside the community kept flashing, but the patrol cars did not move.

The kid in the red sweatshirt moved to the shattered window and brushed the remaining shards of glass away. His friends followed his lead. Soon they were all climbing through the broken window and into the house. The yelling grew louder. Clearer.

Switches climbed through the window too. The view of the camera swung in acrobatic jumps and twists with his movement. The camera swung again and Kyle and Evans saw the source of the shouting.

The house was filling up with teens who obviously did not live there and were not invited. The teens weren't wrecking anything, but they weren't leaving either. They were mostly milling about and watching a confrontation between one teen in a black jersey and an older man who could only be the homeowner. Both the homeowner and the teen had guns. The teen had a black pistol that was mostly plastic. He kept it low, at his waist. He didn't wave it around wildly but seemed to rock back and forth with it, moving it left and right as he shouted insults. The homeowner had a rifle, semiautomatic with wood furniture and iron sights. It was an older weapon, from an older time, easily handled by an older man. The homeowner had his rifle raised, but he wasn’t firing. He was in a shouting match with the teen in the black jersey.

"He’s afraid to shoot," Uncle Evans said. "He’s afraid to shoot because he knows he’ll end up in jail. He’s more afraid of jail than he is of dying. That’s exactly what they want."

"What who wants?" Kyle asked.

Instead of answering his uncle said, "Thing is he’s going to jail anyway. Maybe not for murder, but he’ll be in jail this time tomorrow."

"There are like thirty people in that guy’s house," Kyle said. "How can they arrest that old guy?" The only answer his uncle gave was a sad, disgusted shake of his head.

The shouting went back and forth. Screaming and mayhem exploded on the peripheries. Some teens mugged for Switches’ camera. Others cheered on their comrade in the black jersey. Nobody took this seriously, not even with the muzzle of the .30 caliber rifle waving just inches away. It was all a big joke. There was only one way it could end, and that's the way it ended.

The kid in the black jersey raised his pistol. He probably wasn’t going to shoot it. He just wanted to menace the homeowner. The homeowner wasn’t taking that chance though. His rifle barked twice and the kid in the black jersey disappeared.

The cameraman turned and ran, back out the house, back out the smashed window. On the street, people yelled and screamed and ran frantically. Hands waved. Switches dropped his phone, stopped, and picked it up. There were more gunshots from inside the house. A car sped by at twice, maybe three times the residential limit. The camera angle turned up the street and a pickup truck could be seen burning. Behind that, kids were running out of a house with armloads of goods and loading them into a waiting van. One saw the camera, smiled, and yelled, "Reparations!" Then the big .30 caliber rifle barked again and again. The kids dropped what they were carrying and dove into the van. FoTay Switches ran for the cover of a nearby hedge. A woman could be heard screaming in the background.

"Turn that off, please," Uncle Evans said. His voice was quiet. He sounded tired.

Kyle shut down the computer.

The Texas Hill Country. Mid-June.

Uncle Evans woke up to the sounds and smells of Kyle cooking breakfast. Evans rose slowly and groaned. His body protested and registered aches and pains from all the recent work. He eventually got out of bed, rubbed his bald head, then bent over to touch his toes. He got almost all the way there before his muscles refused to stretch any further. He straightened up and checked himself in the mirror. Bald. Deep wrinkles at the eyes. A face of gray stubble that was fading further to silver. Once he’d been old as measured by kids Kyle’s age. Then he’d gotten old as measured by the Marines around him. Now he was just plain old, and the gravity of what that meant really hit him. The best years of his life were behind him, truly. He’d done a lot of amazing things, things he’d never get the opportunity to do again. And even if he did get the opportunity, he might not be physically able to do them. The machine that was his body had a lot of miles on it. It didn’t have the speed, strength, flexibility, balance, or ability to recover that it once did. Time always won in the end.

But old or not, Evans had his nephew here for the rest of the summer and that was a good thing. Part of being a man of a certain age meant recognizing that you needed to maximize the moments you had left. When there wasn’t much time left on the clock you had to make each play count.

Evans went downstairs. Breakfast was bacon and eggs.

"Can we go to the store today?" Kyle asked.

"Sure. What do you need?"

"What do I need? We need something for breakfast besides bacon and eggs and sausage and eggs."

"I like bacon and eggs. And I like sausage and eggs," Evans said. He rubbed the remaining sleep out of his face and went to work on his chai. "I’m not some healthy food fanatic, but I’m not getting you a bunch of cereals that are nothing 90% sugar."

"Oh yeah? That tea you drink is 90% sugar."

"I earned this tea, and ain’t you full of piss and vinegar this morning. I thought kids your age stayed in bed until noon?"

"To tell the truth, I couldn’t get to sleep last night. When I finally did I just woke up an hour later and couldn’t get back to sleep."

"The riots have you worried?"

"They don’t have you worried, uncle?"

Evans looked out his kitchen window to the rolling hills beyond. There was plenty of room to run out there. There were plenty of places to hide.

"Maybe they do," Evans answered. "We can go to the store this afternoon when the heat’s up. This morning I want to finish off some work with George’s skid steer. You ever handle one of those before?"

"Nope. I guess I’m going to learn to do that today too."

"Yeah," Evans said. "Learning how to pull a trailer. Learning how to ride a motorcycle. It has been a productive summer for you so far."

"Yeah," Kyle agreed. "And the rifle. But I still haven’t learned to drive a stick."

"We might get you there yet," Evans said. His tea was ready.

"Skills," Kyle said.

"Skills," Evans agreed, and he took a sip of the steaming hot, syrupy sugar drink.

When they started work that morning, Kyle noticed something he hadn’t noticed the day before. The stock tank was gone. The big pile of scrap metal beside the barn was also gone. The bales of barbed wire were still there, each coated with rust. Kyle thought better of asking his uncle about where the stock tank went. Uncle Evans was doing something, but whatever it was, he wanted to keep it to himself. Kyle figured it was best to respect that.

So instead of asking questions, Kyle listened. He listened and learned. He listened when his uncle instructed him how to run the skid steer. He listened and learned when his uncle surveyed the ground in front of the house and explained the slope and the lay of the terrain and where he wanted Kyle to dig a trench, a trench that would face the drive and the long pile of brush on the other side.

"Everything you dig out I want you to pile up into a berm on the forward slope. That way it doesn't all just run downhill back into the hole you just dug," Evans said. "Keep digging until the hole is chest deep. And if you’ve come to some rock that's too big for the machine, just dig around it. I’ve got some old pallets behind the barn. We’ll use them to shore up the sides of our little hole."

Uncle Evans went to get his pallets. Kyle went to work. Before long Kyle had a trench that was maybe twelve feet long and almost chest-deep throughout. Here and there, huge chunks of limestone remained, too big for the machine to move.

"What do we do about those?" Kyle asked.

"Once upon a time, we would have drilled holes in them, filled them with dynamite, and blown them into smaller more manageable chunks. Dynamite is a no-go these days, but we can still use chemistry to solve this problem." Uncle Evans produced a hammer drill and a plastic container that he handed to his nephew. Kyle read the label on the container out loud.

"’Expansive Grout. Cures in 24 hours.’ I’d rather use dynamite," Kyle said with a grin.

"So would I, but this is pretty cool too," Evans said. And the next lesson began. Together they drilled holes in the limestone boulders. Then Evans showed Kyle how to mix the grout so they could pour it into the holes. When they were done, they were both soaked with sweat and covered with limestone dust.

"Nothing else we can do until the grout cures, and it is too hot anyway. Let’s get cleaned up and hit the store," Evans said.

While Kyle got cleaned up, Evans went into the office and grabbed the carbine off the rack on the wall. He took that and a couple of loaded magazines and loaded them into his truck. In addition to these, he brought along a pistol with its own spare magazines. Evans didn’t like going into town. Any town. And by town, he didn’t mean city. He meant town. Cities and towns meant people, people he didn't know, and people that weren't from his "tribe." In his experience that meant danger. Even in the relative safety of the United States, thousands of miles and decades away from his violent past, Evans couldn’t just turn off his feelings of apprehension or his compulsion to remain hyper-alert. He’d been through too much.

Kyle offered to drive, but Evans took the wheel. He didn’t turn on the radio, and he barely spoke on the drive. Kyle sensed his uncle’s unease and didn’t try and start a conversation. The sun was high, and the glare was bright. The road noise hummed inside the truck. Evans felt his mind drifting towards places he didn’t want to go back to. His knuckles went white as he gripped the steering wheel.

They made it to the supermarket without incident. Evans parked his truck about as far away from the entrance as he could get, the nose facing out for a quick getaway. There were no other cars parked anywhere near them.

"You know what you want," Evans asked. Kyle said he did. Evans' eyes scanned the parking lot once more, looking for anything he didn’t like. Looking for any people he did not like.

"Okay, let’s go in and get it, and then get back out. Quick."

The inside of the supermarket was expansive in the American fashion. Luckily, it wasn’t crowded. It was noon on a weekday. There weren’t a lot of shoppers out. Evans was thankful for that. They grabbed a cart and moved up and down the aisles slowly. Kyle seemed to know what he wanted, and so he led the way. Evans followed his nephew, not really thinking about shopping.

They drifted from one aisle to the next. Kyle grabbed some things here. He grabbed some more things there. They turned another corner and headed down an aisle loaded with sodas in cans and bottles.

"You want more of that cola you drink?" Kyle asked. Evans grunted out a yes, but he wasn’t consciously in this market anymore. His mind was in another market, in another part of the world, in a time long past.

"Anything?" The major asked. The major leaned over the hood of an armored truck. The major looked like a man whose life had been one long series of bar fights, and he always looked like he was on his way to one more. The truck was as worn as the man. Large swaths of its desert tan paint had worn away, revealing shades of woodland green beneath. In several places, the body of the truck had been smashed and dented. The bulletproof windows along one side were all pockmarked from shrapnel. The truck and the major suited each other.

"We can’t see shit, sir. A bunch of the shelves got blown over. The robot can’t move. Too much shit scattered in the aisles."

Evans and another EOD technician named Lasky hovered over a display screen that showed a feed from their bomb disposal robot. The robot was inside what passed for the local 7-11. That store had just been rocked by an improvised explosive device. Nobody had been killed, luckily. But the locals said there was another IED inside the store. Now the locals were all gathered around. They wanted to watch and see what the Americans might do about that last bomb. That, or they just wanted to see some Americans get blown up. Either would help pass the time.

"One more. One more," the local policeman said in heavily accented English. The policeman had a thick black mustache. The major nodded.

"One more, huh? Does he know where it is?" A translator wearing tan coveralls and a helmet two sizes too big, jabbered with the policeman. When they were done, the policeman turned to the major.

"He doesn’t know where it is, but he knows there is one more," the translator said.

"One more. One more," the policeman said.

"One more. Got it," the major said. He sounded like a man who’d been through this a thousand times before and was just too tired to be upset.

A man standing next to the major wore one radio in a pack on his back and a second radio in a pouch on his chest. He was a stark contrast to the major. The man in the flight suit had the boyish good looks of a male model or a teenage pop singer. In truth, he’d been both before joining the Marines. The man in the flight suit never stopped smiling. The major looked incapable of any emotion save maybe blind rage. The major used words as sparingly as if he had to pay for them. The man in the flight suit, for no reason at all, would periodically break out into song. One of his radios crackled with the sound of an impatient voice. The man in the flight suit held a handset to his ear. He listened, then he spoke to the major.

"It’s Law-Dog-Six-Actual. He says this ain’t our problem. He says he wants us to get out of here."

Evans looked over the faces of all the people nearby. They were all either brown-skinned boys or brown-skinned men. The brown-skinned kids wore hand-me-down western clothes and smiled at the Americans. The brown-skinned men all had mustaches just like the policeman, and not one of them smiled. They glared at the Americans. The major looked over those faces too and came to the same conclusion as Evans.

"If they watch us leave and then ten minutes later their neighborhood blows up, it will be our problem."

The officer with all the radio said, "We’ve got a UAV on top of us, feeding back to Law-Dog."

"It’s a good thing they are watching out for us," a nearby second lieutenant said appreciatively. Up to this point, he'd been doing what second lieutenants were supposed to do, keep their mouths shut and their eyes and ears open.

"They aren’t watching out for us," the major corrected. "They are watching us. Watching to see if we leave like we’ve been ordered." The major turned to Evans. "I can buy you about ten minutes. Can you find the other bomb?"

Evans looked at the faces of the kids gathered around. Bright white smiles amongst the mustaches and the glares. Evans wondered how many of those kids would be dead between now and the next time he came back to this country. Everybody who was paying attention knew the situation. The locals were just waiting for the Americans to leave and when they did, they’d start killing each other wholesale again. Whoever put this bomb in the local store must not have gotten that memo. Or maybe they were impatient. Or maybe they wanted to take one last shot at the Americans. Or maybe they just wanted to blow people up and they didn't care who they killed just as long as they killed somebody. There were a lot of possibilities. But if a couple of kids got killed and the locals felt the Americans could have prevented it, it would cause the kind of trouble nobody needed.

"I’ll find it," Evans said to the major. To Lasky he said, "No time for the suit. I’ll go in slick. Just get the robot loaded back up."

The inside of the store was a mess. It looked more like an earthquake went off than a bomb had exploded. All the strange, foreign products had been knocked off their shelves and scattered across the floor. A couple of shelf systems had been toppled over from the blast. A ceiling fan was on the floor. Fluorescent lights hung by their wires. The blast also shattered a glass cooler door. The air coming out of the cooler was cold enough that you could see it and Evans realized just how hot it was outside. He stepped over a pile of bread and pre-packaged food items whose labels were written in a scrolling language he could not read. He stopped, wiped the sweat off his brow with a faded green cravat, then looked around the store for the second bomb. He remembered the words of one of his instructors back at Eglin Air Force Base.

"You’re not looking for the thing that doesn’t belong. You’re looking for the thing that looks like it is supposed to belong but doesn’t belong. You aren’t looking for a zebra in a herd of giraffes. You are looking for a horse in a herd of zebras, only some mother fucker spray painted the horse black and white. That’s ‘cuz he’s packed the horse full of HME and only needs you to not notice for a few seconds before he blows your stupid, non-observant ass up."

Evans' eyes moved slowly across the store.

Along the back wall of the store sat a row of metal containers. Evans couldn’t read the scrolling script on them, but he spent enough time in this country to know they contained cooking oil. Amongst the containers, he found what he was looking for. One container was the same size and shape as all the others. It was even roughly the same colors. But its label said "Transmission Fluid" in English. Evans looked at its lid. It was resealed. Not sealed, but resealed.

Evans reached up to the radio on his vest and turned it off. He toed the metal container with his boot. It wasn’t empty, but it wasn’t full of transmission fluid or cooking oil or any other liquid.

Evans considered the container carefully, then he knelt down and took off the lid.

The IED was made up of several Soviet-era OG-7 40mm frag grenades, daisy-chained together with braids of cheap blue explosive cord. Electrical wires pulled out of a car or an old appliance connected the blasting caps to a Norwegian cell phone. It wasn’t a sophisticated device. It wasn’t even especially lethal. It was hardly worth building. But inside a store full of kids, it would be lethal enough.

Evans knew there weren’t any anti-tamper devices. The good bomb makers were all either dead or waiting for the Americans to leave. He checked for anti-tamper devices anyway. Not finding any, he disconnected the phone. Then he removed the blasting caps for good measure.

On the way out, Evans stopped at the store’s cooler. They didn’t have Coke or Pepsi in this country. That was because of the old economic sanctions levied against the previous ruler. Evans took out two 2-liter bottles of RC Cola. He found a pack of Pine cigarettes behind the counter, and he grabbed that too. He opened a pocket on his Nomex coveralls and took out a US Twenty-Dollar bill. Then he took out a second bill for good measure and left them both on the counter.

"Tell the locals I found the bomb," Evans said to the major. "It’s disarmed. It’s in a metal bucket in the back."

"What was it?" the major asked.

"Not the bomb I’d build," Evans said. "Left over junk mostly. Wasn’t worth the blasting caps it took to make it. You got time for a smoke?" Evans ripped open the pack.

"We should get going. Law-Dog is all over my ass," The major said. He didn’t move though. He took an offered cigarette and slowly smoked it over the hood of his truck.

"Can I get one of those?" the handsome man with the radios asked.

"No, you can’t," the major said.

Evans offered up a cigarette anyway. The three men smoked their cigarettes. Somebody twisted the cap off one of the bottles. The carbonated soda hissed. It was cold and sweet. Evans drank almost half before passing it around. The local police came out of the store, bomb in hand. The locals went into the store. The radio crackled with impatient demands. The two officers didn’t move to answer the radio, so Evans felt no need to do so either. The three leaned over the hood of the armored vehicle, smoked their cigarettes in the summer heat, and savored their small victory.

"Evans!" A man called out. Evans broke from his reminiscing and turned to find who was calling his name.


Evans left the memories of his past behind and returned to reality. He spun and saw one of his neighbors at the other end of the soda aisle.

"Evans," the man repeated, a little too loud for Evans’ liking.

"Hey there Dale. What’s happening?"

Dale was another middle-aged man, tall, but soft and doughy in spots with thinning hair. He dressed like a middle-aged man, and Evans immediately noticed the bulge under the man’s shirt, right at his appendix.

"Who's this?" Dale asked. The man was looking at Kyle. Evans did not dislike Dale, but he didn't exactly trust the man either. He didn't know why he didn't, he just didn't. Evans had reached the age where he didn't feel he needed a reason not to trust anybody. He had been around enough people in enough places that if his gut told him somebody was off, he trusted his gut.

"This is my nephew. We’re just out shopping." Evans intentionally did not give his nephew’s name. Instead, he changed the subject. "What’s going on? You look like you got something on your mind."

Dale looked around conspiratorially. There was nobody else in the aisle. Evans was happy about the cue and took it.

"Hey, nephew. Why don't you keep shopping? I'll catch up with you in a bit."

Kyle was quick enough to catch on and made his escape. The two old men stood alone amongst the root beers and diet colas.

"So, what’s on your mind?"

"Are you following all these riots and attacks? They’re happening everywhere. All over the country. This ain’t like before. They’re coming out into the suburbs. They’re coming into people’s homes. The police are damn near escorting them."

"Yeah, I’ve heard about ‘em," Evans said.

"Well, we got to do something about ‘em," Dale said. Evans sucked his teeth. He’d been afraid something like this might happen. It was only a matter of time before somebody got the idea of putting together some kind of neighborhood watch. His military background wasn’t exactly a secret, which made Evans a good candidate to lead such an endeavor, even if he didn’t want to.

"We’re a good distance from anywhere anybody would want to go," Evans said.

"That’s the damned thing," Dale said, his voice rising a little. "They’re coming out to nowhere. They’re coming for the suburbs. They’re coming for us. A couple of places got burned up out by New Brahmfeld a couple of nights ago. Farms. Those PVD kids from the college, no doubt. Then you got what happened in Raleigh and Oklahoma. Everybody knows what’s going on. We got to do something about it."

"The best thing you can do when they come is not be around," Evans answered. "You got plenty of acres of hills and scrub to hide in. That’s about the only winning play if the PVD shows up."

"I do that, and they’ll burn my house down. And what happens then? I can’t allow that. I’ve worked my whole life for that. Everything I own. Everything my family owns. I need the equity in my house if my kids are ever going to see college. I can’t just let it burn."

"If the PVD comes and you defend your house it may not burn down but you’ll lose it anyway. Some District Attorney will prosecute you and take your house and every other thing you owned or might have owned."

"I'd rather take my chances in a courtroom than lose everything I own," Dale replied. He was speaking louder now, and Evans turned his head looking up and down the aisle, making sure nobody was around.

"That's the thing, Dale. You won't have a chance in a courtroom. You'll be guilty before you even get before the judge. It's just a question of how much they're going to make you suffer before they let the judge do his thing. The PVD and the government, they're one and the same. If you shoot a PVD, you might as well shoot a cop because that's the level of trouble you'll be in. It is just a damn house Dale."

"Not to me it ain’t," Dale said. He looked around again. This time he spoke in a whisper. "But what if it ain't about the houses? What if they come and start killing people?" Dale asked. "What if they come and start rounding people up and killing them? Huh? ‘Cause you know that’s what’s next. They've gotten away with so much already that they're going to try for more. They're going to round people up and kill them next."

Evans shook his head. "It ain't next. It's already happened, plenty of times. It is just that nobody talks about it." He shook his head again but he looked his neighbor in the eye and asked, "What are you thinking, exactly?"

Dale explained that he wanted to set up some kind of neighborhood watch, with a communications plan, so that if the PVD came the neighbors could all get organized quickly; grab their guns and confront the mob somehow.

"But not all the neighbors. Not Lori," Dale said. "She’d likely be marching with the PVD if it came down to it. But I talked to John and George about it already."

"You did? What did they say?"

"They said they’re in," Dale said. "They’re in, but you’re the one we need. You’re the one who’s done this type of thing before."

"I don’t know about that," Evans said. "I disarmed bombs. I didn’t organize patrols exactly." Evans looked around the store. He didn’t see Kyle, but he knew the kid was there. This discussion with Dale got him back to the same dilemma. If things went south, what was the best way to protect his nephew? In the short term the answer was obvious; run into the woods and hide until everything was over. But in the long term? Was it right to let his nephew grow up in a world ruled by a government-sanctioned mob? Evans shook his head again. If you got into a confrontation with the PVD then your life was over. It would not be like the books or the movies. Right, wrong, justified, or not. The government wasn't going to let somebody win against the PVD. They just weren’t.

"Dale, let’s talk about this somewhere else," Evans said. "I ain’t saying no, but I ain’t saying yes either. I need to sit down with you and make sure everybody knows what this will mean because it won’t be like you think."


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