| Mark your calendars! Beginning January 1, 2007 a new Hardyville column appears every Monday, exclusively on the Backwoods Home Magazine website.
I fled to the Lyons Ranch. My excuse was needing groceries, which Nat was now bringing in from the sales-tax-free Republic of Montana. Really, though, I just wanted to get out of Hardyville. The tension and chaos were drilling holes in my brain.
First person I saw out there was the last person I expected. Dora was stocking the shelves, unfolding bulk cartons and lining up individual cans for sale. Our eyes met awkwardly before we both looked away.
Nat rescued us by wheeling around the corner at that moment pushing a hand-cart.
"Hey, Nat. How's the smuggling racket?"
"Safer'n breakin' colts. Warmer, too, this time a year. Anything we can help you find?"
I noticed the "we" and looked at Dora, who pretended to be completely absorbed in canned peas.
"Nah. I'll find what I need."
Nat cocked his head and gave me an assessing look. "Hear things have pret' well gone to heck down t' town."
I sighed, relieved to be able to confess it. Yes, things had pret' well gone to heck in Hardyville.
Dora looked up, "We have to do something to stop this," she said.
"But not your way," I replied.
As it turns out, the next move was "their way." Without Dora to sit in on their meetings and tell us of the new town government's plans we didn't see it coming.
They hired cops.
Cops. Real ones. Not like our pair of old mostly harmless deputies. Spit, polish, and swagger cops. Paid for by ... oh, as we pieced it together afterwards, a couple of them were funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. (And no, I am not kidding about stuff like that.) A couple others came to us courtesy of a
side of pork grant from the notoriously (and I mean notoriously) porky Department of Homeland (Achtung!) Security. One was inflicted hired via some other federal program to control enhance "community-based policing."
All their equipment was FBI and Pentagon-donated. We found out that. And they had equipment never before seen -- or needed -- in Hardyville. Facemasks and shields. "Non-lethal" crowd-control devices. CS gas. Tasers. Flash-bang grenades. And an array of weaponry that -- almost -- matched our own. We didn't even see, until later, their phone-tapping gear and other bugging devices (they had to do that stuff the old-fashioned way, since HardyTel wasn't about to collaborate with them)..
All that stuff I just told you wasn't even the worst of it, though.
Nearly all of them had been hired from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, Explosives, Incompetence, Dishonesty, and Entrapment. Or. Get this. They were rejects from the ATF hiring pool. People not good enough to be the fedgov's worst thugs.
We didn't know their background at the time. But eventually it was pretty easy to guess.
They didn't have much to do at first. What with Mudge already in jail and drawing up his restitution plan, there were no violent criminals to deal with. Anyway, these new cops weren't really the kind to risk their hides around actual violent criminals.
They couldn't figure out how to enforce traffic laws; ours are rather ad hoc, you might say. More customary than actually written down.
They might have liked to bust some of us for smoking pot or cigarettes in public places. But that, too, was legal in Hardyville. They probably put their heads together with the governators to see if they could bust tokers under state or federal law and decided they'd never get a hotshot persecutor to take up the case of smoking one pipeful.
Gambling. Prostitution. Drinking at all hours. And of course, every gun under the sun, possessed and carried every which way. It was all here in our (formerly) peaceful little town. And there wasn't a thing they could legally do about it.
Because our only law was The Code of Hardyville and the natural law that makes us all heir to life, liberty, and property.
Of course, a lack of laws to enforce wasn't going to stop this gang for long.
Again, the tension in the air of Hardyville screamed like a feedback from the world's biggest, loudest microphone. The waiting was terrible. What would they do? Would we be ready for them? And would we live to tell the tale if we met their force (even their "non-lethal" but equally tyrannical force) with our own?
We were getting awfully close to bringing out the weaponry from the back room of Goodins' Second Time Around, and from all those other places we keep it. Just in case. And of course there was all that weaponry we already carried every day. The first cop to force some peaceable driver off the road or attempt to force "consent" for a warrantless search was likely to ...
But as it turned out, the Birkenstocker Brigade found something else to occupy them before that happened.
The cops' fancy electronic equipment detected "suspious chatter" on the Internet. Worse. It was soon revealed to be -- horror of horrors -- "terroristic chatter." The origins and destination of this deadly chitty-chat? Hardyville. Our very own town. And according to gummint news releases, the "terrorist organization" -- which called itself the Hardyville Whiskey Rebellion Militia -- was growing. This wasn't just Carty's little band of gun-totin' guardians. This was BIG.
A militia? I hear someone saying incredulously. Isn't that so totally nineties?
Yep. So 1790s. But never obsolete. Town founders Jedidiah Lyons and Sean Brendan McCarty had both been officers in their local militias before they headed out to look for more freedom. So was every man of age in those days. So are some of us men and women today.
But in this particular case, when rumors of "the Hardyville Whiskey Rebellion Militia" reached us, many of us looked at each other, shrugged, and mouthed, "WHO???"
Hardyvillians -- even the hardiest and most hard-core of 'em -- didn't have a clue.
But no problem. The new fed-funded cops now had a homeland security threat to investigate. And that's all that really mattered. It meant they left most of the rest of us alone (although I did hear they considered rounding up and "detaining" some notorious Outlaw writer; might have, too, except the town's only jail cell was already full of Mudge).
Carty, of course, appeared the logical guy to be running a militia. But the new cops took one look at His Shave-Headed Hugeness and decided to find a less muscular suspect.
Had they looked without preconceptions, they'd certainly have noticed that Bob-the-Nerd was a classic 97-pound weakling. But in seeking a "militia-type," the cops weren't considering some over-caffeinated Japanese-hyphen-American software geek, muttering to himself about the client who was going to shoot him if he didn't make the deadline on time. No, they wanted something more in the way of a beer-bellied, camo-clad, lily-white racist.
So Bob, tappy-tapping away at his Toshiba in a quiet corner of the Hog Trough, gave them one, then gave them another -- as he had, in fact, given them the entire Hardyville Whiskey Rebellion Militia. Yeah. That was the "deadline" he was working on.
I helped him compose some of the ranting screed. We went out and consulted Nat for some of the proper explosives terms. Doc over at the pharmacy helped with bio-war words. Altogether, we made that militia look stereotypically scary to the sort of bigoted boobs we were dealing with. And dangerous.
The target for our Imaginary Militia? Well, the slavering monsters of our makeshift militia never named their target directly, of course. In fact, they never said there was a target. They used only code phrases, the kind that some guy who lives on piss-cheap beer, Nazi literature, and the dulcet tones of Prussian Blue would love. Code phrases like "blow away Eagles Nest" and "stomp the Snake Pit" and "light up Lucifer's Lair."
It wasn't our fault, it really wasn't, if the cops and their masters leaped to the conclusion: Target -- city hall. We never threatened anybody.
The BirkerMeisters and their do-gooding matron compatriots flew into the tiz of all tizzies. They'd have built a bunker, if they'd had the money. No doubt a small army of them started applying for more federal law-enforcement grants for all they were worth.
And the threats grew more threatening -- if you were of a mind to see them that way.
And the tension grew tenser.
And the panic in high places got shrill.
All the cops and their weapons were deployed around city hall. Sandbags and concrete barriers went up in the street. For good measure the governators, loaning their own money to the city while waiting for grants to come through, bought a few weapons for city hall like the ones found commonly elsewhere in Hardyville.
And yeah, they purchased a few firearms for personal carry as well. The mayor, after taking their photos and fingerprints, gave every member of the city council an official permit to carry. Mayor Pickle knew no such thing was necessary in Hardyville, but it made them feel better. And Mr. Mayor certainly felt better after collecting the $149 "permit fee" off each of them.
And so, armed to the eyeballs and hunkered down behind walls and bodyguards, The People's Leaders, Glorious Product of Holy Democracy, waited for disaster. And (armed with our continuing stream of disinformation) their enforcers investigated. And investigated some more. The cops were on the verge of "a substantial break in the case," as the Hardyville Independent reported, struggling desperately to keep a straight face. They reported it again the next week. And the next.
With a few exceptions, our attempted governators were too busy protecting their own precious backsides to bother hassling We the People. Even better: Old-line Hardyvillians and new neighbors were both so busy watching the city hall drama we quit hounding and threatening each other. We actually started talking neighbor to neighbor -- and discovered we had more in common than we realized.
But would our new neighbors stand by us when "crunch time" came? We'd need to find out -- fast.