"Dora!" I cried -- and rushed to embrace her. Thomas and Bob backed off from their argument. The frown faded from Dora-the-Yalie's face as she set down her clipboard and opened her arms for a hug.
"What are ...?" I almost asked, "What are you doing here?" But of course Dora would be here. Where else would she be, assuming she hadn't hot-footed it back to the civilities of New Haven or snuggled herself down in the lefty comforts of Boulder, Boston, or Berkeley? Naturally she'd be at the Emma Goldman Arts Co-Op and Biodiverse Living Center.
"But really," I exclaimed, "what are you doing here -- clipboard and pencil behind the ear and all? Do you run this place?"
"Nobody runs this place, Claire," Dora corrected, her tone suggesting I'd just praised Dick Cheney at a meeting of militant mothers of Iraq-War dead. "It's an experiment in pure community empowerment. But I do help keep track of the size of the crop and its eventual destinations. Thus the pencil."
She plucked it from behind her ear and laid it down next to her clipboard, on a nearby recycled barnwood table (never mind that the "primitive" wood was probably a pricey commodity trucked in from a yuppie auction house in Vermont on a semi-truck whose emissions wiped out entire species of adorable polar fauna with every mile).
Bob had come up by then. He refrained from hugging, but seemed boyishly glad to see Dora, as well. He grinned, "Your friend Carty sends you greetings. Or would have, if he'd have known."
"Oh, I'm sure." Dora rolled her eyes.
"Yeah, well maybe he did add a few words like 'twit' and 'airhead liberal' to the greeting. But you know, from Carty, that's still pretty good." We all laughed. But then the questions tumbled out. We were dying to know more about her, about the co-op, and about what became of ex-councilman Dan White, in whose Toyota Prius and company she had fled Hardyville last winter.
She gave answers as best she could, though our questions outran her energy.
Finally, I had to ask it. I had to blurt the one question my mother taught me polite young ladies never to ask: "Who's paying for all this, Dora? There must be at least a couple million dollars invested here."
"And none of it spent in Hardyville," Bob pointed out.
"Yes, well," Dora stammered. "Um ... Hardyville was charging a sales tax at the time building got underway. With the Republic of Montana only a few miles up the road with no sales tax ... um ...." Um indeed. An interesting little footnote to our former town governators' assertions that their new tax would "help" the town. Then she found her courage. "Besides, Hardyville hasn't exactly been friendly territory. We don't owe the town any business, do we?"
For a second, it looked as if another fight was about to cloud over and produce lightning. I was hoping, instead, to find a way back to the question I so itchily wanted answered. Then Bob, looking through the windows for any possible way out of conflict, spotted the one place Thomas had avoiding showing us and asked what in other places might have proved to be an even more impolite question: "So what's in that huge greenhouse that those other idiots didn't want us to see?"
"C'mon," smiled Dora. "I'll show you."
Thomas scowled. But she assured him, "It's okay. We can trust these people."
* * *
Meanwhile, far away in Mordor-On-the-Potomac ..
Deep in the bowels of A Nameless Federal Agency (ANFA), a statistical analyst shoved his glasses up his acne-pocked nose and adjusted the ink-stained pocket protector over his heart. He hunched just inside his boss's door, tremulously waiting to be recognized.
"What is it?" the Big Man finally boomed. Not The Big Man, of course; but the Big Man below the Big Man who answered to the Really Big Man -- who was actually, due to political correctness, a woman. Anyhow, the quaking analyst approached the Pretty High Up the Hierarchy of the Great Apes guy, laid a stack of printouts on a corner of the Big Man's vast continent of a desk, and began mumbling an explanation.
"Well, you see, sir. Um. I requested this meeting because I have a sort of oddball little hobby. I mean ... not really a hobby exactly, because of course I'd do that only on my personal time. This is work-related. But it's a special curiosity of mine, sir, and I hope you don't mind me having a special curiosity, do you? It makes the work go a little more ... er, what I mean to say is ..."
"If you mean to say something, say it."
"Um. Well, sir. Yes. Sorry, sir. It's just that it takes a little explaining how I found what I'm about to show you and why it's so important."
"Explain then. But keep it short. Or I won't be listening."
"Oh, sir. Not meaning to be presumptuous, but I think once you grasp the importance of what I discovered, you'll be listening."
The Big Man leaned back into the embrace of his Big Chair and waved a hand, telling the analyst to continue. He'd have chomped on a fat, unlighted cigar, had such items not become cause for dismissal, triggers for mental-health counseling, and roadblocks in the way of a future run for Congress.
"So. You see, I have this hob ... interest in the statistics of some of the country's least populated regions. Other analysts prefer the demographics of metropolitan statistical areas -- busy, busy, busy, you see. But I've always enjoyed places where things move at a slower pace. The truly fascinating statistics stand out a little more against such background, you know?"
The Big Boss apparently didn't know. Or care. He flapped his hand more impatiently.
But now the analyst was not to be hurried. He had hit his stride, gained his confidence, and was beyond intimidation. He knew that he -- obscure, unimportant little he, who drank exactly 1.75 cups of coffee before the morning's first coffee break, and knew the precise value of the 1918 Curtiss Jenny stamp (both the inverted and the correctly printed versions, used, unused, and hinged) -- was about to make the kind of governmental history that the Big Man, no matter what his eventual career, could never dream of. After his initial stumbles, he was going to make the most of his moment in the sun.
"Um ... as I was saying. Statistics. The number of board-feet of lumber produced in Granite County, Montana, in June 2003. The average age of married women in Durango, Colorado, vs. the average age of single men of Finnish descent in Naselle, Washington. You understand. Intriguing. Highly amusing. But also potentially valuable to the right federal agency. Never know when something new needs regulating, or some new group can be found to be eligible for a subsidy or a social program, right? Ahem.
"Well ... several years ago, I detected the largest statistical empty space I'd ever seen within the bounds of the fifty states. Statistically speaking, nothing was coming out of that area. I mean nothing. No records on the number of chickens processed in the third quarter of 1999. No gross adjusted income figures for Latina females over the age of 40. No applications for social security by retiring Caucasian men with 12th-grade educations. In fact ... no applications for social security at all. No applications for Food Stamps, no federal contracts, no grant proposals, no federally subsidized student loans, no applications for federal employment, nothing. Not even a single income-tax return! Imagine that! And this is a large area, too, sir. Three thousand six hundred and one point two-four square miles, in total.
"At first I thought perhaps I'd stumbled upon a federally designated wilderness area. Nothing else could possibly account for such a total absence of statistical data. But even a wilderness area has its managers and its data on wildlife, climate, and what-not. I checked, nevertheless. And checked. And checked. This area is simply one vast statistical and reporting void. Sir, it's as if the United States of America has a hole in the middle, sixty miles long and wide. It simply doesn't exist."
The Big Man chomped on his even more non-existent cigar and looked both impatient and intrigued. "So what? So what?" he demanded. "Get to the point."
"Well, sir, in part that is the point. As you know, sir, federal agencies always require new markets to serve. Otherwise, they reach a saturation level and their growth stagnates. Can't have our valuable federal agencies stagnating, now can we? Three thousand six hundred and one point two-four square miles must certainly have within it much to tax, regulate, and ... um, service. But with nothing and no activity there, no apparent natural resources, no communities to join in partnership with, no roads to maintain for the sake of military readiness, no meth labs to eradicate, with no one asking for Washington's help ... well, you see the problem. No 'entry point,' so to speak, by which federal assistance and enlightened management could reach the area."
"Hmmph," said the Big Man.
"Until, sir, my research brought me this."
The analyst -- no, now let's give him the capital letters he has so richly earned in the hearts of his fellow bureaucrats and the field personnel of all expansive agencies everywhere -- The Analyst -- whipped a single photocopy from his stack of many on the desk. He did it with flair. With insouciance. With Úlan. Even with a Cyrano-style panache he hadn't previously known himself capable of. He spun it to face the Big Man and launched it on a zephyr of air across the vast mahogany terrain.
The Big Man leaned forward. He looked down. He regarded the document so dramatically presented.
It was a request, dated the previous year, for federal aid for a local police force. Perfectly routine. It had been duly signed and submitted in triplicate by the legitimately constituted government of the municipality in question. Exactly according to procedure. It had been approved and the requested funds and equipment dispatched without further consideration. No doubt the paper had then been stamped, filed, and forgotten -- until The Analyst and his mind-bendingly dull hobby turned it up again.
But it was from a town right in the middle of the three thousand six hundred and one point two-four square miles.
A town called Hardyville.
The Big Man leaned further over his continental desk. He beamed across at the analyst (who felt himself shrinking back to lower-case as he stood pinned in the boss's gaze). The smile curved his lips almost to his ears. Somehow, though, it never reached his eyes, which remained as calculating as the wheels of a slot machine.
"Hardyville, eh? Sounds as if that berg -- and its thirty-six hundred square miles -- needs our help. Good work ... er, Howard."
"Harold, sir. It's Harold Perkins. Harold F. Perkin ..."
"Yeah. Thanks, Howard. ANFA sincerely appreciates your efforts."
The Big Man reached out both arms and pulled the stack of printouts toward his chest. "Don't worry. I'll take it from here."
* * *
"And here," Dora announced, opening a door in the bermed west side of the giant greenhouse, "Is our most important crop."
The herbal aroma would have been unmistakable if we'd have been blindfolded. With eyes wide open in marvel, Bob and I entered a towering jungle of cannabis sativa and more squat, broad-leafed, but equally fragrant cannabis indica hybrids.
"Medical marijuana. Home grown and distributed to dispensaries throughout the west."
And soon to become the target for the first direct federal "help" ever provided to Hardy County.
Thank you to proofreaders Darrell Anderson and EB -- saving writers from themselves one typo at a time. Thirty-six thousand thank yous to Oliver Del Signore for saving one free-floating arty type from the perils of mathematics.
Read More by Claire Wolfe
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