"Comon. Admit it. You know you did."
Carty shook his head, as one of the other idlers at the Hog Trough Grill and Feed gave him a poke. "Wouldn't be very smart to blab about it if I had, now would it?"
"Did what? Tell what?" I asked, dragging over a chair.
"Buried an SKS," Marty Harbibi answered. "We all did it back then."
"Oh comon, Claire. You remember. Back when the Feinstein-Dole Gang had just hit us with the Brady Law and the 'ugly-gun ban.' Back when we still had six more years of Billary and no idea we'd eventually get stuck with her in the Senate. Back in 1994. We all buried an SKS someplace."
"Mm," I said.
"I din't," said Janelle-the-Waitress, coming over to pour my cup of vaguely coffee-like substance. "I was in high school and all I ever buried was that bra I stole off of that snooty Tiffany while she was ... oh, but I better not tell ya 'bout that, either."
The guys gazed wonderingly after Janelle as she turned and trotted back toward the kitchen. Me, I sat and remembered those days. Ruby Ridge and Waco were painfully fresh in mind. The spooky Twentynine Palms Combat Arms Survey and its even spookier answer to Question 46 were circulating, to great alarm. And the baby Internet (and its predecessor, FidoNet) was rife with wild rumors about U.N. troops, black helicopters, and concentration camps in the heartland.
In short, it was a lot like today, except back then people were still arrested and charged with crimes instead of being "detained" for years without charges, trials, or lawyers. We didn't have Total Information Awareness, TIPS,* Carnivore, and biometrics back then. Subcutaneous ID chips were just a paranoid wierdo tale. And we still had - partly - privacy, travel without checkpoints, and the right to keep and bear nail clippers.
Still, we were all convinced door-to-door gun confiscations would start momentarily and we'd have to shoot back with whatever we'd stashed. At a hundred bucks a pop, Chinese SKS rifles were very stashable.
"I know Nat buried one someplace out there on that horse ranch of his," Marty went on.
"Nope. I cared enough to bury the very best," said Nat. "A Garand. And not on my own propety. You think I'm crazy? Never bury anything on your own property if some goon might decide it's contraband."
"Yeah, I'll bet you buried up at the old pet cemetery."
"Well, I'd say." Marty declared. "I can tell you exactly where I buried mine. I could get it in a minute if I needed it."
"Bet you can't."
Well, the upshot of that mature intellectual discourse was that half of Hardyville was soon trooping up a wooded hill on Marty's third-cousin's ex-wife's land as Marty explained confidently, "Y'see. It's exactly 10 paces from the leaning aspen tree with the sawed-off branch. That branch just points straight at it. Yessir, right straight at it."
We trooped on. There sure were a lot of aspen trees. None of 'em had sawed-off branches, though.
"We in the right county?" Nat asked.
Finally Marty found the marker tree.
"It's about three times bigger than it was in '94," he admitted, looking toward the ground. "And it wasn't dead then."
We all looked down. "But it does have a sawed off branch."
It sure did have a sawed-off branch. Pointing straight at the sky.
Somebody had a bargain-priced metal detector in his pickup and we all followed Marty around the clearing oohing and aahing as an amazing assortment of bottle caps, bean cans, old brass casings, and a tin plaque from the Hardyville International Exposition of Ought Six, was unearthed. But no SKS.
"Uh ... they said it was a good idea to have lots of metal around for camouflage," Marty protested.
"Damnfine job of camouflage, that."
Somebody else asked, "You didn't by any chance bury it vertical? They say that's a good way to keep a metal detector from spotting a tell-tale gun-shaped signature."
Marty shook his head. "Naw. It's flat on its side. No offense," he added, shaking the metal detector. "But this piece of junk couldn't read any signature except an 'X'."
At that point, Carty volunteered to go back to town to get his $200 fancy Sears Roebuck metal detector. Some folks wandered off, having actual jobs to do. But a few of us perched ourselves on the dead aspen and went on quizzing Marty.
"So how'd you prep the gun for burial?" I asked.
"Wrapped it in a couple of layers of vapor-phase inhibitor paper. Stuck it in a PVC pipe."
"Cosmolined it first? Or something like that?"
"Nah. That stuff's too hard to clean off. Just the paper. Threw a couple of bags of Silica Gel into the pipe. Caulked it shut."
"No Cosmoline?" somebody said. "All we'll ever turn up will be a pile of rust. If we ever turn anything up."
"Nah," Marty insisted. "I knew what I was doing."
"Did you, now?" said Nat, patting the dead aspen, with its sawed branch pointing toward Venus and Mars.
But sure enough, Marty was right about something.
When Carty turned up with his super-duper detector, we all trooped in a big circle around where the aspen might once have stood. And after not too long a time, Carty's half-decent detector bleep-bleep-bleeped every time it passed over a certain long straight imaginary line in the ground. We took turns digging and there it came out of the ground - a thick PVC pipe with glued-on end caps.
Marty found the saw he'd also buried -"Five paces east of the tube, exactly like I remembered it." The saw, protected by nothing but the VPI paper, had only a couple of rust spots. And the SKS, when it emerged from the tube and its layers of paper, was totally corrosion-free and ready to shoot - as we all took turns proving.
"Amazing," we all agreed.
"But a darned good thing you didn't have to find it with the feds or some other bad guys on your tail."
"Jimmy Hoffa would have been easier to locate."
"Next time," Carty suggested, "find yourself a big rock to go by. Those tend not to die."
"Not that much need to bury guns, these days," Marty shrugged.
"Maybe," Carty agreed. "But there's always a need to bury one sort of thing or another. Like gold or silver. Or an E&E kit."
"Or valuable paperwork. Like a list of emergency contacts. Or some extra FRNs for emergencies."
"And anyhow," Carty concluded, "'these days' have a habit of turning into some other kinds of days. So you never know."
And on that, too, we all agreed. Whatever's going on out there in the big political world, we can't exactly say that things are getting more free, less dangerous, or more stable for the likes of us Hardyville folk. Lucky we get to learn from Marty's experience.
This is a true story. Well, not exactly. But a friend of mine lost his buried SKS precisely as Marty did - same tree and all. He had stashed the gun with VPI paper and Silica Gel in a sealed PVC pipe. He buried a saw nearby, as described, to cut the cap off the pipe. (A threaded end cap might have saved him the trouble - assuming it hadn't gotten stuck.) After 10 years and a second try with a better metal detector, my friend's SKS emerged safe and rust-free. Just thought you might like to know.
* Oh yeah, I forgot. Congress de-funded Total Information Awareness so reports like this are figments of the imagination. And Americans were so horrified at the idea of the nationwide spy-on-your-neighbor program, TIPs, that the Homeland Security 'crats turned it into Highway Watch, River Watch, Port Watch, and Transit Watch, instead. Totally unlike TIPS, these programs encourage nosy ignoramuses to report turban-wearing Sikhs, hippies with big backpacks - and unconventional people like you and me - to the federal government.