I have a confession. When we ran the invading feds out of Hardyville, I implied that we committed large acts of all-American carnage -- but committed them "off-stage," so to speak. You probably thought I was just being discreet. Actually, I misled you. Strictly by accident, of course.
The truth is: No feds were harmed in the making of that story.
We really did -- as I mused -- capture the invaders and gently release all but a handful of them at the top of the mountain pass that defines the western border of our happy anarchy. We set them free and waved goodbye. After, of course, stripping them naked. Not to mention confiscating their weapons, ID, credit cards, cell phones, and available cash. Consider that divestiture their fine for trespassing, making threats, and blowing up the cannabis-growing greenhouse at the Emma Goldman Arts Co-op and Biodiverse Living Center. (Yes, I know we blew up the greenhouse. But it was their fault we needed to.)
There was still snow up there in those passes. And below-freezing temperatures -- although not enough to hurt much more than their dignities and maybe a few small protruding parts. Toesies & such.
Our aim, remember, wasn't to make war with the unconstitutional United States government -- and end up getting Iraqed or Vietnamed. Our aim was to persuade the feds that it's best to leave Hardyville, Hardy County, and Hardyvillians alone.
If that disappoints you, I'll tell you something else: We did keep five of the fed shock troops captive -- Herr Kommandante, whose federal ID said he was named John Davis Melvin, and the four paramilitaries who had so unquestioningly obeyed his orders to gun down Marty and Jasper. I can never keep the names of those four henchmen straight. Call them War, Pestilence, Famine, and Death, if you like. More about their fate later. I assure you that while it won't be bloody, it will be effective -- as both restitution and retribution.
Sigh. But how do you restore (which is what "restitution" implies) a lost life?
Marty Harbibi was gone. Never more would his opinions burst like particularly gaseous farts into the air of the Hog Trough Grill and Feed. Never again would someone in Hardyville know everything there was to know about every possible subject, even subjects he had never heard of before. No, we couldn't say we missed him. We're more honest than that. But he died a hero. And most of us were kind of sorry when his widow -- herself named Mardi Harbibi -- decided to cremate him and requested no public fuss.
Actually, given Mrs. Harbibi's nature and the quality of their relationship, we considered it a relief she didn't feed Marty's carcass to the Harbibi hogs. In fact, we were all rather amazed that she hadn't fed him to the hogs years ago. Without waiting for him to die.
But I'm rambling. There's so much to tell you about the aftermath of our brush with the forces of Mordor-on-the-Potomac that I scarcely know where to begin.
You probably want to know about Jasper ... or whatever we should call her now. Yes, what about Jasper Feldspar Clarke? Another hero. Wounded when Marty was killed, a volunteer who put himself ... I'm sorry ... herself at risk to save friends and save Operation Santa.
She's still in the hospital, still touch and go. I don't know her history -- though I'm sure it's an intriguing one. What I do know is that by laying her life on the line for both Hardyville and the Emma Goldman Arts Co-op and Biodiverse Living Center she forged bonds.
After the feds were driven out and the rubble settled, members of the two communities began to trust each other. At least a little. We woke up to the realization that we had more in common than out-of-common. (A shared enemy can do wonders to unite uneasy neighbors.)
Next thing we knew, Nat and Dora had partnered up, leased the old Pickle's Groce Mart building, and re-opened Nat's makeshift grocery store on a grand scale. This time it had not only veggies from the commune, but also communard workers. This time it was not just a grocery store. "Lyons and Yale Good Foods" soon sprawled into the vacant lot where city hall once stood -- a grand, free-spreading food market, farmers' market, flea-market, flower fair, and collection of makeshift sidewalk food and craft vendors, which grew as other enterprising Hardyvillians, new and old, joined the party.
Dora's boyfriend, former city councilman Dan White, kept the books for the grocery -- and kept an eye on his lady. Of Dora and Carty's passionate lip-lock on the night of Operation Santa, there was -- for the moment -- no further trace. They went right back to ignoring each other, leaving the town gossips sputtering with unanswered questions.
But now we come to the real crux of the matter. Hardyvillians and communards had a common enemy -- and now a common friend. Or did we?
Was Jorge Delaval a friend? Now there's a question for you.
And here's an even bigger question: What will happen to us, now that Big Men -- both in government and out of it -- have discovered Hardy County?
We locals pulled off Operation Santa, driving the feds away, on our own. But the aftermath -- and our future -- now hung on the hasty agreement Nat had made with Delaval Enterprises. No longer was our old "invisibility cloak" (made up of our remote, forbidding terrain and our centuries of stubborn silence; nothing magical about it) enough to protect us from the ravages of two-bit tinhorn rulers and self-appointed nannies. Some Big Man in Washington, D.C., had learned about us and made us a target. Now dozens, maybe hundreds, maybe thousands, of Sauron's minions had their eyes on Hardyville.
We needed the protection of the powerful against the powerful. Now Delaval, who could bring down countries and currencies with a single call to his financial managers, was solidifying a deal with little Hardyville. Nat had offered him a trade. His protection for ... the greatest thing Hardyville has to offer.
Yeah, I know. Little guys have, in the past, made bargains with powerful allies. And the deals haven't worked out so well -- at least not for those "protected" or "aided." Just ask the Irish. A millennium later, they're only now beginning to recover from their "protectors."
Be that as it may, here's the deal in rough form: When Nat patiently phoned his way up the Delaval organization food chain in the hours before Operation Santa, he offered that international billionaire and his friends something precious: an off-shore haven (very far off-shore in our case, being a good thousand miles from any ocean) more pure than Switzerland or the Caymans or Andorra or the Bahamas combined.
Hardyville: Land of no taxes. Land of solid, non-inflating money. Land of total financial (and every other kind of) privacy. Land where your honest earnings are your own and nobody else's to seize or control. Land where, if you're just trying to live, you'll be left alone. Forever and ever, amen.
If the Delaval billions and influence would protect us, we'd work with him and his friends to make all this available for their purposes.
Surely, Delaval already knew something about Hardy power; why else would he situate his medical cannabis operation here? But Nat -- on no authority but his own -- offered to lay the Full Hardy at Delaval's feet: "You and your billionaire pals need a haven within America for the coming hard times. You need a place to weather the storm and a base from which to rebuild. It's hiding here right under your nose. You help us preserve it and we'll show you all the ways it can serve you."
The verbal agreement had been sketchy. Now Alejandro Serrano, Delaval's envoy, was here to turn the sketch into ... well, a drawing. After that, Serrano would depart and a long-term Delaval project manager would be sent in. It would take time for the full painting to emerge.
And what would Hardyville look like when the last brushstroke was laid? We, the Hardyville hoi polloi, faced a representative of the billionaires of Europe and hoped -- perhaps not with perfect confidence -- that when all was done, we'd still be a hidden, rural, simple place for ordinary, self-sufficient, cussed, do-it-ourselfing, doing-it-our-own-way people, even as we provided offshore services for the Delaval cabal.
Yes, we'd made a deal with the devil. Those with the power to protect also have the power -- and often the will -- to destroy. Even without ill will, moneyed men could ruin us. We knew that.
Picture Hardyville being transformed into Monte Carlo or Las Vegas or even Aspen or Jackson Hole. Picture our vast cattle ranches disappearing under the foundations of the pricey houses of the rich and the dismal McMansions of their mid-level enterprise managers. Picture the humble little wood and brick store facades of Liberty Avenue and Freedom Way being torn down for shiny high-rises. Picture our independent souls yielding to a promise of "prosperity" that meant ultimately that we'd get to become the housekeepers and wait-persons for the truly prosperous. That we'd be mere cogs, where once we spun the wheel.
We pictured it. And were very, very scared. Some said we'd have been better off facing wave after wave of feds on our own than risking such a fate.
But most of us thought it was worth the risk when the alternative was being transformed into Baghdad.
And we hoped, we really did, that the stubborn, principled, cussed, durable, centuries-old, heat-forged Hardyville Way was strong enough to prevail over darned near anything.
We'd soon find out.
But first, we had some plain, simple Hardy County justice to dispense. Which our five fed prisoners were determined to make not so simple.
Thank you to proofreaders Darrell Anderson and EB -- saving writers from themselves one typo at a time.