Arms and Arguments
By Claire Wolfe
with thanks to Oliver Del Signore and Joel Simon
November 15, 2006
Well, the first thing that happened was that the new "police chief" left town.
I don't know exactly how he left town. Did he hightail it off to live for a while on his confiscated loot? Did he enjoy a vigorous ride on a tarry rail? Or did he perhaps get no farther than the Hardyville Pet Cemetary (strongly suspected also to be the cozy retirement home of the only IRS agent who ever ventured into town)?
That remains a closed book. For now.
The second thing that happened is that the padlock on the Goodin's store was mysteriously blown off with a 12-gauge. Windows and doors were repaired. About half the confiscated merchandise reappeared -- and Will and Monique Goodin were back in business.
This time, there was always a discreetly armed customer on the premises -- even at 3:00 a.m. Carty and his impromptu militia saw to it.
Much coffee flowed from the Hog Trough to the night shift. The restaurant stayed open crazy hours to serve a watchful populace. We hung out there so much we even started getting used to the new Seattle sort of brew. Coffee that didn't taste like radiator rust. What a concept.
Everybody was involved, it seemed, in looking out for the Goodins. Understand, it was no act of charity, but a simple matter of protecting the property rights of all Hardyvillians -- starting with a family of the bravest and most vulnerable. If we let them fall, sooner or later, we'd all fall.
Everybody was involved, that is, except the Young Curmudgeon, who as usual went his own drunken way. And Bob-the-Nerd. Oh, he was with us at the Hog Trough, sucking up the new coffee at all hours. But he remained bent over the old Toshiba laptop muttering darkly about deadlines and occasionally mentioning a client who was threatening to "shoot the software engineers and ship the product, whether it was ready or not."
And Nat ... well, he was just out there on his ranch, building a smuggler's empire. He seldom came to town at all these days.
But the rest of us ... we were in the battle of nerves, no matter where it would take us.
The financial blow to the Goodins was hard, even after the return of all the merhandise that could be rounded up. But besides getting even more customers than before, and quite a few donations of $20 or $50 or what have you, they suddenly found themselves the recipient of mystery cash in substantial amounts and a number of weapons of a sort most free Americans are no longer "allowed" to possess.
Y'see, some things about Hardyville never change.
In Hardyville, as I'm sure you know, there's no such thing as the government "allowing" anybody to own any kind of weapon. So it's true that the sort of firepower showing up at the Goodins' back door wasn't all that unusual for us. But there was so much of it!
And even in Hardyville we don't often see 20 mm cannons.
"Please," Dora begged us as we clustered in the second-hand shop and pondered the source of the newly arrived mystery weapons, "don't be tempted to go that way. I beg you. Don't meet violence with violence."
We looked at her. For a moment, some of us sympathized. Heck, we didn't want it to go that way, either. We preferred to have our town and our hides -- and for that matter, even the Birkers' hides -- intact. If possible.
We looked down at the MAC-10 machine pistols, and beside them the sleek and elegant descendents of the Tommy Gun. We noted the "Have a nice day" inscription on the muzzle brake of the Serbu .50 BMG. We glanced at the big old gattling gun sitting behind the back-room curtain. And the sturdy wooden boxes and plastic tubes of ... other things. Even as we admired them, no we did not want to go there. A few hearts even went out to Dora for her peacemaking.
Then she said, "After all, there's right on both sides. If you could only find a way to compromise with the new pe ..."
Compromise? Compromise? Did somebody in Hardyville really utter that word again?
Her remark fell like a Bushism into a convention of English teachers. Still, she soldiered pacifistically on.
"You know it's true. After all, the new people are trying to do what they believe is good for the community. Even if you don't agree on details or methods, it would be better to seek common gr ..."
"Get out, Dora," growled Carty. "Get out of here right now. You're not on our side, if you ever were."
"Wait a minute," I protested as Dora stood there, too stunned for the moment to respond. "That's not fair. She's been doing her job, keeping an eye on the Birkers for us. We already know Dora's a peaceable, bridge-building sort. We can't exile her for being herself. Besides, we need her."
"We can exile her for not knowing which side she's on."
"Yeah. Precisely. And by doing that, we'll let her know exactly which side she's on. And what good'll that do us, having her go over to the Birkenstockers, telling all she knows about us?"
Carty started to argue, but a strong (if quavering) voice cut him off. Actually it cut me off. At the knees.
"Claire, I'd have expected it of him. But not of you. You pretended you trusted me. You're still pretending it. But you think I'd tell strangers every private thing I know about my friends, don't you? You think if I got mad at Carty and the few other ... bigots around here, I'd turn my back on all of Hardyville. That's outrageous."
She snatched her coat off the back of a chair and without bothering to put it on, stormed toward the door. In the entry, she turned.
"You people. I'm getting out of here. You're unfair. Every last one of you. But I'm not going to stoop to your level. I'm not going to go over to the other side. I'm just going to go ... home. Goodbye."
And out into the stormy fall night she swept.
It takes a lot to silence a group like us, but silence us she did. We just looked at each other. Then we looked at the guns and thought about the Goodins' mysterious benefactor. And Dora. And what she might do once she'd had some time to consider.
And what the heck we were going to do about this mess.
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