Wisconsin Couple Still Not Sexually Harassed

Head Muscle Press (3 November, 2011) – Head Muscle has learned that Mr. Harold Nodderman from Bayfield Wisconsin and his wife Elma are offended that they have yet to be sexually harassed by a politician. “It really is disappointing,” Nodderman told Head Muscle in an exclusive interview. “With all the harassment going on these days, it is not fair that we are being left out…it’s discrimination at its very worst.”  According to Mr. Nodderman neither he nor his wife have received a single inappropriate sexual remark from either party, and they are starting to lose their patience. “Ever since Politico broke the big story on Herman Cain, we have been anxiously awaiting some type of offensive remark from someone…anyone,” Nodderman explained. “Elma has been sitting by the phone for the last three days and is really frustrated. I am not sure how much longer she can wait.”  A complete transcript of our interview with Mr. Nodderman follows:

HM: So, Mr. Nodderman I am curious, why are you “disappointed” that no one has sexually harassed you?

Nodd: Well first of all I am a taxpayer, and if my political leaders are going to spend my money being sexually inappropriate, by God I want my share!

HM: (Pausing) I see…so you are feeling cheated?

Nodd: (Angrily) You’re darn tootin’ we do! We work until May of every year to just pay our taxes and Mr. Obama is asking us to pay even more.  It seems like the least that they could do is give us a naughty call!

HM: (Curiously) So you want your money’s worth…of harassment.

Nodd: Look, I would rather have more jobs, a better economy, real tax reform,  a home that is worth something, and gasoline below four dollars a gallon but none of that seems to be in the works…so we will take a little inappropriate sexy talk.

HM: (Bewildered)  Okay, but wouldn’t that be demeaning and insulting?

Nodd: (Rolling eyes) Ya think?  You know it is called sexual “harassment…”

HM: (Confused) But why would you want to be sexually harassed?

Nodd: (Exasperated) Have you not watched the news even once since Bill Clinton was elected? There is big money in being harassed! Book deals…the works!  I figure I can even get Elma on The View if it is bad enough. She would love that…

HM: The View?

Nodd: (Leaning forward and whispering) I would take something simple like a heavy breathing call from Biden or Weiner in a pinch, but we would really prefer something from the GOP.

HM:  Why the GOP?

Nodd: Well they just seem…kinda…you know…safer.

HM: (Lost) Sorry, but I don’t understand.

Nodd: Well you know…when they’re inappropriate, they don’t really mean it.  Most of the time they are just trying to be nice to someone with an agenda, and before they know it the press is off and running. Elma thinks Mitt is cute too. I mean how freaky could he be…really.  But the Dems…oh man….they’re kind of scary.

HM: What do you mean by “scary?”

Nodd: (Sighing heavily) C’mon….Barney Frank!  Really?

HM: (Nodding) Okay, I think I am following.

Nodd: I mean he just might show up at the door one evening with a jug of body oil or something…(shivers) spooky. You just can’t tell with them…

HM: I see.

Nodd: (Shrugging indifferently) Well…it doesn’t really matter anyway.  I have a back-up plan.

HM: (Curiously) Oh really? What might that be?

Nodd: Well I figure that I will just have Elna call Politico and tell them that Herman harassed her too. That should at least get her on Anderson Cooper.

HM: (Appauled) But it would be a lie!

Nodd: Of course it would be, but based on the latest allegations against Herman Cain, proof does not seem to be a requirement for the press…hey you think we would get to meet Arianna Huffington? She’s smokin’ hot….mmmmm….mmmmm!

HM: Well that seems a bit inappropriate to say…

Nodd: (Laughing) Yeah well, someone needs to teach you the difference between harassment and sarcasm…

With that, the phone rang and our Head Muscle correspondent was forced to conclude the interview prematurely.  We had many more questions for Mr. Nodderman but apparently John Edwards had called to moan and pant.

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Flashing Right

John McCain lost the 2008 election for three basic reasons.  He ran an incompetent campaign, the global banking market crashed on the Republican’s watch, and no one knew who the heck Barack Obama was. These three facts conspired to drive many center and center-left independents toward the Democrat nominee.  Obama’s call for hope and change was exactly what many war weary folks wanted to hear, and he rolled over the McCain camp like an Abrams tank on cruise control.  Put bluntly, it was ugly.

During his campaign, Obama used a lofty rhetoric that inspired even his most devout adversaries at times.  People voted for him in droves because he was different, an unknown quantity, and everyone was pretty much burned out with who they knew.

This anonymity was arguably Barack Obama’s greatest asset.  Folks did not know what his politics would end up being, but they liked him.  Sure he seemed a bit left, but all candidates campaign for their their core constituents and then move to the center once elected.  How bad could this guy be after all?  With that, our nation made a calculated hard left turn. The destination was a mystery, but everyone hoped for a smoother ride.

The bad news for Barack is that the anonymity that he had enjoyed in 2008, is no longer his ally.  Left leaning voters that put him in office are now looking back at the change that was promised, and wondering what happened. Unemployment is still 9.1% officially, but in reality it is much higher.  In fact, many US cities are still well over 10%. African-American voters, who pulled the lever for Obama 96% of the time, have actually seen modest increases in unemployment numbers since his election and are also starting to ponder their decision. Pacifists have also been let down.  Three years after his election, Guantanamo Bay is still open for business and the US is still involved in military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq.

As wide as the chasms are getting between factions on the left, they are even wider between Obama’s camp and the right.  Unlike the 2008 election where Obama was able to steal McCain’s platform and make it his own; in 2012 he has set himself apart as a hard core liberal in bed with environmentalists, big labor, and big government ideologues.

Three years after Obama’s election, we can look at Republican presidential hopefuls like (this blog’s favorite) Herman Cain, and see clear cut differences in vision and direction for our nation. We see a new focus on individual responsibility and liberty vice government nanny-ism. Republicans are offering new and innovative “free market” friendly solutions like Herman Cain’s 9-9-9 Plan for Prosperity, and the polls show folks are taking notice.

The 2012 presidential election is shaping up to be a potential landslide for conservative values.  Contrary to the opinion of many currently camping out on Wall Street, this is not because “greedy corporations” are controlling our minds with chemicals in our Big Mac patties, but rather because Americans are no longer buying all the big government Utopian BS.  Like 2008, our nation is at a fork in the road.  Utopia at the left and the real world to the right.  Americans are tired of the left’s empty promises and class warfare laden hyperbole, and just want to go to work and pay their mortgages…like in the old days. They are tired of not being able to do so, while at the same time being asked to pay the freight of others. Make no mistake about it dear friends (and others) the fork is approaching fast and, to the chagrin of the current administration, the nation’s blinker is flashing right.

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Head Muscle Officially Endorses Herman Cain

Head Muscle Press Release (27 Sept 2011) – Head Muscle officially endorses Mr. Herman Cain as the next President of the United States.

Now given the size of our readership, I do not expect that this announcement will make Fox News – or even come to the attention of Mr. Cain for that matter, but we are pleased to make it nonetheless. Rest assured that Head Muscle does not take this endorsement lightly and has deliberated long and hard over it for several months…okay maybe we just decided to do it yesterday, but we are still firm in our conviction.  When it came down to it, the decision was pretty straight forward.

Just look at the facts:

1. Our official unemployment rate is hovering at 9.1 percent, but in reality it is much higher.  Some states and municipalities have unemployment numbers well above 10 percent. This does not even count the underemployed and those that have given up all together. Some have even speculated that we have lost an entire generation of workers due to the current shortage of jobs.

2. Business was already buckling under oppressive regulation and the current administration helped them out by passing Dodd-Frank.  No wonder our businesses are headed overseas by the truckload…

3. Obama Care is looming on the horizon.  It will cause businesses to dump their healthcare plans, force doctors to retire, close hospitals, and degrade healthcare services for over 80% of all Americans.  It will also cripple Medicare and kill research.  As Herman Cain pointed out, if he had been required to use Obama Care when he had cancer – he would be dead today.  Actually, given what Obama has done to our nation over the past three years, I would say that “Obama Care” is clearly an oxymoron.

4. Obama has presided over a five-fold increase in government spending.  Our national deficit is now running at about 1.4 trillion dollars and his answer is to give the crack head another dime bag….brilliant!  We actually elected a man who thinks that the solution for too much government spending is to spend more money.  Okay…we had a moment of collective stupidity in 2008; let’s not let it happen again.

5. Instead of harnessing the powerful free-market forces that made our nation great, Obama has decided to wage class warfare. Rather than lowering taxes (long term) and stepping out of the way to let business prosper, he is advocating about 1.5 trillion dollars in new permanent taxes!  I cannot even believe that he truly thinks that this will help. Just two years ago Obama himself noted that raising taxes during a recession would be a bad idea.  What gives?  This is simply a move to expand his voter base by fiscally enslaving our nation’s producers to its zero-liability takers.  The fact is, if he took every dollar from every wealthy person in the nation it would still not come close to covering the national deficit.  Why does everyone understand this but our President?

6. Our GDP is flat-lining. So after the first stimulus and a promise of thousands of “shovel ready” jobs, why are we not growing? The reason is simple…government does not grow the economy….BUSINESS DOES!  I would go into this in greater detail, but as my Harley buddies like to say, “if I have to explain it, you won’t get it.”

The bottom line here is that we need a leader. Someone who understands our free-market and can harness its awesome potential to pull our nation out of its fiscal tailspin. The reason that Head Muscle is supporting Herman Cain is that, out of all his opponents, he has stuck to his message, stayed out of petty politics, and shown us a better way.  We are proud of our decision to endorse Herman Cain for President, and hope all 12 of our readers understand our decision.

If you are interested in learning more about this man and his vision, please visit Herman Cain online.  Be sure to read about his 9-9-9 Vision for Economic Prosperity.  It is pretty simple. First toss out the current tax code that enslaves half of the American population. Once that is done, institute a 9% flat income tax, a 9% flat corporate tax, and a 9% national sales tax.  That is it!  As Mr. Cain loves to say:

If 10 percent is good enough for God, 9 percent should be good enough for the government…

Stand by for more on Herman Cain in the coming months.  Head Muscle will also be kicking of a unofficial Herman Cain blog alliance for all aspiring and active bloggers.  If you are interested please comment to this post with your site URL, and we will be in touch.

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The Example (Part VI)

It had been almost an hour since the buses had departed and the camp was still celebrating their victory.   Shorty had led the campers in song for about a half hour and, when his voice finally gave out, a makeshift band of guitar players took to the stage and continued the sing along.  It was well after dark now, but Carl could still see folks waving their flags in the glow of the campfires.   The lights from the news crews were burning brightly as well. As Carl watched lines of correspondents reporting on the evening’s events he could not help but feel proud.  The CNN cameras that had been set up in an attempt to catch exclusive video of a mob scene, had instead spent the last two hours filming a patriotic celebration.  Carl had no idea how the next few days were going to unfold but, for the first time since the ordeal had started, he felt hopeful.

As Carl watched the celebration from his chair next to the RC Cola machine, he noticed Shorty walking across the parking lot toward him.

“Howdy partner!” Shorty croaked still hoarse from all the singing.

Carl waved back and motioned for him to pull up a chair.

“It’s been one hell of a night, ain’t it?” Shorty continued as he sat next to Carl.

“You can say that again,” Carl responded.

“You know that was a great idea you had with the flag and the singing.” Shorty noted as he looked over the still growing camp. “We dodged a real bullet this evening.”

Carl nodded.  “I cannot help but wonder who tipped off the press. Those news crews knew what was about to happen.”

Shorty reached down into the top of his right boot, and pulled out a pack of small cigars.

“You smoke?” he asked offering the pack to Carl.

Carl shook his head.  “No I quit a few years ago, when I had my second kid. I figured I wanted to stay around a while to see them grow up.”

“Good damn thing,” Shorty shot back as he lit his cigar. “It’s a nasty damn habit.”

With that Shorty reached into the top of his other boot and pulled out a small silver flask.  He opened it up, took a long swig, and extended the container toward Carl.

“Now not smoking is commendable,” Shorty snorted,” but not drinkin’ or smokin’ is just downright contemptible.”

Carl chuckled, took the flask from Shorty thankfully, and tilted it skyward.

The ranch house looked pale through the night vision binoculars, but it was clear enough.  From what the two men could tell there were about four or five people inside.  They had seen an older man and woman through the kitchen window, and just a few minutes earlier they had seen a lady that looked like Carl’s wife in the living room.

They had waited in dark of the tree line for about 20 minutes after dispatching Sheriff Motter to make sure that no one had heard the commotion.  After realizing that they had killed him, the two masked men had carried Motter’s corps into the woods and covered it with leaves.  They were only concerned about getting it out of sight for the moment, because they would be long gone in a couple of hours.

The man put down his binoculars and motioned to his accomplice.

“Looks like they are getting ready for dinner,” he whispered through his stocking mask. “Let’s get this done and get out of here.”

The other man nodded, pulled a back pack off of his shoulders, and unzipped it.   Reaching inside he pulled out two 9 mm pistols, chambered rounds in each, and handed one of the to the first man.

They had done this type of thing many times over the years, but this was the first time that they had ever been asked to do it in the United States. Their plan was simple and well rehearsed.  They would sneak up to the house, cut the phone lines, and then break in through the kitchen door.  They would give grandpa a good beating, hog tie grandma, take the wife and kids, and set the house on fire.  If everything went smoothly, which it would, they would be in and out in less than 15 minutes.  Once they had Katie and the kids, their instructions were to deliver them to a safe house just outside of Oklahoma City.  They would hold them there, until ordered to set them free…or something else. Either way was fine with them.  It wasn’t personal; they were just doing their job.  After taking one more scan through his binoculars, the first man nodded and they started slowly working themselves toward the house.

Carl and Shorty sat quietly for some time sipping on Maker’s Mark and watching the campers celebrate.  Thanks to ample amounts of Lone Star beer, the flag waving had singing had turned into what Carl could only describe as the world’s largest Karaoke party.   Someone had plugged a stereo into the PA system on the stage and a long line of crocked crooners were now awaiting their turn to out sing George Strait.  The current contestant was in the middle of a horribly off key version of All My Ex’s Live in Texas.  After finishing his hatchet job on the song, he took a long swig from what looked like a Wild Turkey bottle, gave the booing crowd a good natured finger, and stepped off stage.

As Carl and Shorty watched from their seats at the station a Sheriff’s car pulled up blocking their view.  The driver, an old friend of Carl’s, emerged from the car and walked over to where they were sitting.

“Howdy Carl, you keeping this rowdy bunch under control?” the Sheriff queried.

“How are you Pete,” Carl responded standing up to shake the Sheriff’s hand.

“Doing okay as long as your army across the road stays drunk and friendly,” Pete responded.

Pete and Carl had known each other for about 10 years.  Pete Cameron was one of the senior Sheriffs in the area and frequented the truck stop for free coffee and snacks.  Carl had an unwritten deal with the local Sheriff’s Department that coffee and donuts were always free on or off duty.  Carl saw it as his way of giving back to the community, and the Sheriffs had always reciprocated by hanging out at his place and patrolling the station regularly.

Once, several years earlier, Sheriff Cameron had responded to a burglary alarm at the station, and had arrived to find two local hoodlums leaving the store with their arms full of beer.   When he stepped out of his car one of the robbers saw him, panicked, and threw a beer bottle at him breaking his nose.  Despite the pain and blood gushing from his nostrils, Pete managed to apprehend both suspects.  By the time Carl arrived at the station, Pete had both suspects hog tied and in the back of his car, both writhing in pain from a liberal application of pepper spray.   Carl was so thankful he refused to take Pete’s money for fuel for over a year.  Soon they had become good friends and Pete stopped by the station every few days to chat and drink coffee.

“I think they are policing themselves pretty well,” Carl responded extending the flask Pete’s way.

Pete politely waved it off.  “No thanks buddy, I am actually here on official business,” Pete continued.  Carl withdrew the whisky and gave Pete a curious look.

“Someone causing trouble in the camp?” Carl asked curiously.

“No, nothing like that,” Pete responded.  “I was actually wondering if you would do me a favor.  Deputy Motter out at your place is not answering his radio, and I think the lazy ole’ goat has fallen asleep again. I don’t want to get him in trouble with the office, so I was wondering if you could call your house and have someone go out, knock on the window, and wake his butt up?” Carl smiled and pulled out his cell phone. “You bet,” he replied as he dialed his home number.

Carl stood waiting as his home phone rang and rang.  There was no answer.  Carl’s smile faded as the phone rang a tenth time. Everyone was supposed to be at home.  Someone should have answered almost immediately.  Even if they had not, the answering machine should have picked up on the fifth ring; something was wrong.   As the phone continued to ring, Carl could see Pete’s demeanor change.

“Where are they?” Pete asked clearly showing his concern.

Carl lowered his phone and disconnected the call.  “That’s strange,” he mused.  “They are supposed to be at the house, and no one is answering.  The answering machine did not even pick up.”

Pete needed to hear nothing more.  “The damn line has been cut!” he exclaimed turning and heading for his patrol car.  “We gotta get out there fast!”   Carl felt is stomach turn.  “You’re taking me too Pete,” he blurted as he ran to the car behind the Sheriff. Pete had no time to argue and motioned for him to get in on the passenger side.  Pete was on the accelerator before Carl had his door shut.

Shorty watched as the patrol car sped away toward Carl’s place. He took another swig from his flask and then crushed out his cigar on the concrete.  “Looks like the war’s already started ole buddy,” he chuckled to himself.

The corral fences around the ranch house had made for good cover and the two men had been able to slip up to the house quickly.  Once the phone lines were cut they made their way to just under the kitchen window.  The first man raised a small dental mirror up to the window above them and angled it so that he could see inside.  It looked as if everyone was sitting at the kitchen table eating dinner.  He lowered the mirror and nodded to the man behind him.  It was time to get busy.

The two figures crept past the window to the kitchen door, and then stood against the wall. They pulled out their pistols, and then threw their collective body weight against the door.  With almost no protest, the door jam splintered and the door flew inward in a shower of glass.

Katie was facing the door and saw it fly opened.  She stood and screamed reaching out for her two children. Her father was the next on his feet, a bit disoriented from the invasion he fumbled for the revolver he had laid beside him on the table.   Before he could reach for it though the first man shot, hitting him squarely in his right shoulder.  Katie’s father fell to the ground in a pool of his own blood.  Katies mother screamed and fell to the ground next to him cradling his head.

“Okay, everyone be calm and no one else will get shot,” the first man called out as they advanced into the kitchen.  Katie grabbed her children who were both crying hysterically and pushed them behind her.

“Get out of my house!” she screamed at the top of her lungs.  “Leave my family alone, please!” she pleaded.   In the corner of her eye she could see her father on the floor reaching for his revolver on the ground next to him.  She desperately tried to get the attention of the assailants.  “My husband will find out who you are, and he will have you arrested,” she threatened realizing how stupid she sounded as she said the words.  “You won’t get away with this!” she screamed as the men came closer.

Her father grabbed the gun, but the noise alerted the men to his actions.  The first man moved over him kicking the gun from his hand. “I guess you don’t think we’re serious,” he yelled at the terrified family.  He pointed his 9 mm at Katie’s father’s head.  “It looks like I am going to have to show you just how serious I am.  Katie’s father closed his eyes as the man started to squeeze the trigger.

The shot that rang out however, did not come from the assailant’s gun.  It came from somewhere behind them in the living room.  It was followed immediately by another shot.  The first man dropped to his knees and fell across Katie’s father – dead.  Katie could see blood racing from a large hole in his back.  The second man flew against the refrigerator door and slid down it leaving a trail of blood smeared on its surface.  Katie screamed again and closed her eyes clutching her children.

From behind the kitchen door Lanum Tate emerged holding what looked like a .357 magnum revolver.  He advanced on the two men at gunpoint, took their weapons, and checked their pulses.

“Is everyone okay!” he demanded as he looked into Katie’s terrified eyes.   He realized that they did not know exactly who he was, so he reached into his pocket and pulled out his badge.  Lanum Tate FBI, he announced, “is everyone okay?”

“My dad has been shot and needs an ambulance,” Katie cried coming to grips with what just had happened.  “Please help us!”

At that moment Lanum saw the reflection of flashing lights outside as several cars sped to a stop at the front door.

“Okay, that is the police, and they don’t know I am here.  Everyone be calm, lay face down on the floor, and let me handle this,” he ordered.  They did as he ordered, but Katie was in such shock that she found it hard to move her arms and legs. Tate laid his pistol on the ground, held his badge over his head and started announcing his presence.

“Agent Lanum Tate FBI! The area is secure, do not shoot!”   At that moment the front door burst open and three Deputy Sheriffs entered with their weapons drawn.  “On the ground!” they began yelling.  “Get on the ground now!”  Agent Tate complied while holding up his badge.  “I am an FBI agent and I have secured the area!” he repeated.  “Do not shoot!”

Realizing who he was, the deputies put their guns down, and came to his aid.  Pete came into the back door shortly afterwards with Carl close behind him.

“Carl!” Katie cried running to his arms with their children.  “They shot daddy,” she sobbed into his chest,  please don’t let him die!”  Carl’s eyes began to well up with tears of rage and relief. “It’s okay baby,” he whispered to her.  “Everything’s going to be okay.”

Carl looked up and saw Lanum.

“Agent Tate!” he exclaimed in shock. “How did you know…”

Tate smiled and shook his head.  “I didn’t know, but I suspected that someone might try something, so I drove out to have a look for myself. When I got here I found an empty patrol car so I headed for the house.  I got inside just in time to stop that one from killing your father-in-law,” he explained pointing to the first dead man.

Carl was at a loss for words.  “Thank you,” he fumbled.  “Thanks for saving my wife and children.”

Katie started to sob harder and squeezed Carl tightly.

A half hour later, the house was a full crime scene.  Pete had roped off the area, and had ushered the entire family to the safety of his SUV outside.   An ambulance had arrived as well and paramedics were busily tending to Carl’s father-in-law.   Carl sat quietly next to his family trying his best to calm them, and himself, down.  After what seemed like an hour, Sheriff Cameron walked over to the vehicle.

“Hey Carl, do mind if I have a couple of words with you in private?” he asked.

Carl paused and then nodded yes. “I will be right back,” he whispered to Katie.  “I promise you are safe here,” he assured her.  As soon as she released him he opened the door and stepped out.  Together Carl and Pete walked past the tape and back into the kitchen.

“Carl, we have run background checks on both of these men and I am very concerned,” Pete explained. Carl did not understand what Pete was telling him.  “Do you mean they have criminal records?” Carl asked not sure how to respond.

“No,” Pete responded. “That’s just it.  They don’t have any records.  Their driver’s licenses are fakes, their fingerprints trace to two entirely different people, and the van they were driving was stolen 3 days ago in Tulsa Oklahoma.”

Carl was dumfounded.  “So these guys don’t exist?  Is that what you are telling me?”

Pete paused trying to choose his words carefully.  “Carl, these guys are not your average criminals. Their van was loaded with gear, and they seem to have been planning this for quite a while. Everything I see here points to a professional job. “

Carl let Pete’s words soak in.  “You mean they were assassins or something?” he asked in disbelief.

“I don’t know who or what they are,” Pete responded, ”but if that FBI agent had not shown up in time, my  guess from the ropes and handcuffs in their van is that your family would be gone right now.”

Carl’s head was spinning once again.  “You mean they were going to kidnap them?” he pressed.

“That’s what it looks like to me.” Pete concluded.  “I think that someone who does not like what is happening over at your station wanted to send you a message, and they sent these guys to do it.”

“That is what I think as well,” Lanum responded as he walked up behind them.  “I think that this is the same group that vandalized your station and sent your manager to the hospital.”

Carl turned to face Lanum.  “So who are they?” he asked again. “Who is trying to hurt my family?”

“I am not exactly sure just yet,” Lanum continued, “but I believe that the same group that sent those protesters to your camp earlier this afternoon sent these guys to your house.”

Pete nodded his head. “Makes sense to me,” he agreed. “But who?”

“Well, I am not sure, but one of my folks at the agency did a little online research this evening,  and called me just before I came out here.  He told me that several pictures of the protest buses popped up on a far-left website the Bureau has been tracking.  In the text below the pictures it noted that the fight was going to “get very ugly tonight.”

Carl did not see the connection.  “So what?” he asked.  So one of the protesters took some pictures while they were at the camp, and decided to lash out a bit on their web site after we sent them packing.  I don’t see the connection with what happened here.”

Lanum paused again.  “The pictures were of the buses leaving, so the person that took them was still in your camp.  It might have even been one of these guys for all we know.

Carl paused.  It was starting to make sense now.  Someone had put operatives in the camp and they were the ones causing the trouble. “What is the name of the site?” Carl asked Lanum.

“It is a group called the Agents for Social Justice or ASJ. They are nobodies, but they appear to have links to many more prominent organizations including LeadOn.org.

Carl could not believe his ears. “You mean LeadOn.org is trying to kill or kidnap my family?”

Lanum continued ignoring Carl’s question.  “When we find out who in that camp took those pictures, we will know who did this to your family.”

A pickup truck had been parked quietly near the edge of the Lamonte place for about an hour.  The driver had been watching the events of the evening unfold at a safe distance. He was angry.  This was the second time his plan had failed. Now he was going to have to take matters into his own hands.  With his lights off, he pulled away slowly being careful not to be detected.  As he drove off he picked up his cell and made a call.

“We didn’t do it,” he said looking into his rear view mirror.  “Those amateurs screwed it up big time. I am going back to camp before folks realize I am missing. Tomorrow I plan on finishing things myself.”

The driver hung up his phone, tossed it onto the passenger seat, and reached into his boot top for a cigar.

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The Example (Part V)

The next few hours were a blur for Carl.  Between the police, firemen, investigators, and news reporters he did not know which way was up.  Questions poured in from so many directions, he could not keep track of who he was talking to.  Finally, at about 6 a.m. the last fire truck pulled away from what was left of his station.  The morning sun was just starting to peek across the prairie, and hazy ribbons of light were casting a golden hue across the truck stop.   To Carl, it looked like nothing less than a war zone.  The business that he had worked and toiled his whole life to build was practically in ruins.  As Carl surveyed the damage he pulled in a deep breath of cool morning air.  The store front was still partially splattered with paint, his new diesel island was a smoking ruin, and his station manager Marcus was in the hospital burned from head to toe.  Perhaps he was even dead by now.

Carl felt a wave of helplessness wash over him.  He had never wanted any of this. For the first time since the whole mess had started, Carl felt as if he was about to snap.  Tears welled in his eyes so heavily that he had to brush them away with his flannel shirt sleeve. He kept seeing Marcus’ burned face in his mind. What if it had been him? Had he stayed at the station that evening instead of coming home, he would have been the one in intensive care…not Marcus.

At that moment Carl felt compelled to do something that he had not done in years. Looking around to make sure he was alone, Carl sat down on a curb by the burned out pumps, bowed his head, and said a prayer.  The words came to him slowly at first but the more he prayed, the more the words began to gush from his heart.  First he prayed for Marcus, and then he prayed for the safety of Katie and the kids.   Tears began to stream down his face as he squeezed his eyes tightly shut.  “Dear God, if I am the one responsible for this mess, forgive me,” he said out loud.  “If I am not, please give me the wisdom not to make it worse,” he concluded.

Carl looked up into the morning sun now blurred by his tears.  All of a sudden he noticed a figure standing in front of him.

“Hey, are you Carl Lamonte?” the figure inquired.

Carl jumped up and wiped his eyes on his sleeve, feeling simultaneously embarrassed and relieved.

“That’s what they call me,” Carl responded clearing his throat.  “How can I help you?”

As he spoke, his vision cleared.  The man in front of him was wearing a dusty Stetson cowboy hat. He was a big fellow with a meticulously waxed grey mustache, and he had what looked like a Marlin 30-30 leaver action rifle across his shoulder.   The sight of the gun threw Carl off for a moment, but the Cheshire cat smile on the man’s face threw him off even more.

“Well I’ll be damned!” the stranger exclaimed at the top of his voice as he reached out with his free hand.

Carl extended his hand and the man grabbed it tightly pumping it up and down in the air.  As he shook Carl’s hand he looked over his shoulder to a pickup truck full of men.

“Hey boys, I told you this was him!” he yelled pumping Carl’s hand even harder.

Carl was confused, and still somewhat concerned about the rifle on the man’s shoulder.

“May I have the pleasure of knowing who is trying to break my arm?” Carl quipped.

“Oh hell,” the man exclaimed turning his attention back to Carl.  “I’m sorry son, I just got carried away when I saw you sittin’ over here havin’ a conversation with the good Lord. My name is Billy T. Winslow, but all my friends call me Shorty.”

Carl caught his breath and managed a smile.  “You look pretty tall to be named Shorty,” he replied not really knowing what else to say.

“Well, I didn’t say it was a good name!” the man replied with a chuckle.

“So what can I do for you Mr. Winslow?” Carl continued.

“Call me Shorty please,” Carl’s new acquaintance boomed. “Me and my boys are here for your little barbeque.”

Carl was confused.  “Well the barbeque isn’t for another week and a half,” he noted.

“Yeah I know,” Shorty shot back. “We just figured we would get here before the rush.”

“The rush?” Carl asked somewhat amused.

“Yeah buddy,” Shorty responded without hesitation. “The way I see it, things are going to start filling up quick around here, and we wanted to be right up front when the fun starts….now where can we pitch a few tents?”

Carl paused, soaking in the conversation.

“Well I’m not so sure you and your boys want to stay here right now. Things have been pretty crazy lately.”

Shorty’s grin appeared once again as he slapped Carl on his shoulder.

“Well why the hell do you think we’re here?” Shorty chuckled.  “We drove all the way from El Paso last night after we saw you on the news.  Now, why don’t we just set our camp over by the access road across the street?”

Carl did not know what to say.

“So what is the gun for Shorty?” he asked.

Shorty dropped the gun off his shoulder and looked it over.

“Oh, this lil’ pea shooter?  We just figured we would pass the time plinkin’ at tin cans and such waiting on the barbeque to start,” he explained.

Carl was feeling a bit overwhelmed. “So you drove all the way from El Paso just to come to my barbeque and plink at tin cans?” he pressed.

“You got it partner!” Shorty confirmed with another friendly slap on the shoulder.   Carl looked back at the truck full of cowboy hats.  “Well, the station is closed, so I am afraid you guys will be on your own,” he warned.

Shorty let out another chuckle. “Son, I’ve been pissin’ in prairie dog holes since I was two years old….Now you just go about your business and we will be just fine.”

Carl was at a loss for an argument.  “Well that’s county land over there, so I can’t be responsible if the Sheriff comes out and runs you off, but until that happens  you are welcome to use the station restrooms and showers around back.”

Shorty’s grin beamed even wider. “Well, that’s right neighborly of you son!” he exclaimed. “But I think we will be fine just as we come.”  With that Shorty spun around on his boot heals and headed back for the pickup truck. After about three steps, he turned around again.

“I forgot one thing ole’ buddy,” Shorty hollered back.

“What is that?” Carl responded curiously.

“Thank you!”

Carl found himself confused once again.  It was a feeling that he was getting used to.  “Thanks for what?” Carl inquired.

Shorty walked back to where Carl was standing, his big smile now gone.

“Thank you for remindin’ us just who the hell we are,” Shorty replied looking Carl directly in his eyes. “Thank you for reminding us that we are Texans!”

With that, Shorty returned to his truck, hopped in, and drove his crew across  the access road. Carl watched them for a few minutes as they unloaded tents, coolers, and more rifles.  Before long they had set camp and were boiling what looked like a pot of coffee.

Carl went back inside his station. He needed to call the hospital to check on Marcus and then check in with Katie.  After a few minutes he was able to reach the head nurse at the emergency room. She was polite but clearly busy.  According to her, Marcus was alive but still in shock.  They were treating his burns and other injuries but the jury was still out as to whether or not he would make it through the night. Carl then talked to Marcus’ wife Rosalinda, and assured her that he would do everything he could to find out who had done this to her husband.  Rosalinda did not speak much English, but he could hear the overwhelming pain and sorrow in her voice.   Marcus was in a bad way for sure. If he lived, he was going to have to go through months of painful skin grafts on his face and arms. According to the doctor, he may also have suffered severe brain damage from the beating he took.  Carl hung up the phone, sat down in his desk chair, and rocked back rubbing his eyes.  He could only imagine how much Marcus’ medical bills would be.  Perhaps he would find a way to help. Maybe he could get back on the news and ask for donations.  Carl closed his eyes, exhaled, and slipped into a sorely needed sleep.

Around noon, he was jolted awake by a banging on the quick store’s front door.  He looked around the corner of his office door and saw Katie outside.  Carl jumped up from his chair rubbing his face and unlocked the bolt.

“Hey sweetie,” Katie chirped as she kissed him on the cheek.

“Hey,” Carl replied still groggy.

“Well…I brought you some sandwiches for lunch, but from the looks of things outside, you aren’t going to need them,” she replied gesturing over her shoulder with her thumb. “It looks like dinner is already cooking!”

Carl figured that she was talking about Shorty’s group.

“Oh that’s just five or six cowboys from El Paso that came down to see the show,” he explained.

Katie gave him a weird look. “Five or six? You really didn’t do well in math did you?”

With that, Carl stepped out of the station and looked across the access road.  In the few hours that he had been asleep, things had changed fairly significantly.  Scanning the prairie Carl could count no fewer than about 30 tents.  People were all over the place, fires were burning, music was playing, and it even appeared that one group had a horse shoe match going.  As he watched, three more trucks pulled up and about 15 men in cowboy hats jumped out with bed rolls, rifles, and coolers.

“What did you do to get all these folks here?” Katie asked in astonishment.

Carl had to think a moment for the answer to come to him. “Well, I reckon I prayed,” he confessed under his breath.  Katie did not bat an eye. “See what a little churching can do?’ she admonished.  “Aren’t you glad I didn’t let you stay at home and watch the Cowboys every Sunday?”

Carl was lost for words.  In just a little over four hours, the prairie had swelled from 5 cowboys to about 40.  As he stood with Katie surveying the growing crowd, two young men crossed the access road with what looked like a big platter.  As they came closer, he recognized them as two of Shorty’s crew.

“Mr. Lamonte?”

“That’s me,” Carl responded.

“Uncle Shorty said for us to bring you some lunch,” one of the men said extending a foil covered tray.

Carl shook his head. “Well that’s not necessary…”

“Please tell your Uncle Shorty we are much obliged!” Katie cut in taking the tray.

The men smiled, tipped their hats, and headed back for their camp.

Carl gave Katie an irritated look. “Honey I don’t even know those fellah’s…”

Once again Katie cut him off. “Carl baby, I love you but sometimes I wonder what you are thinking.  Look across the street.  Just since we’ve been standing here another five truck loads of people have pulled in. I don’t claim to fully understand what is going on here, but one thing seems pretty clear.”

“What’s that?” Carl sighed.

“They are here for us, and we need to be thankful, “Katie admonished.  “Now you be neighborly, because they may be the only friends we have in a few days.” Katie lifted the tin foil, pulled out a spare rib, and took a small bite.  “Oh, this is tasty,” she exclaimed licking the tips of her fingers.  “No one barbeques like a Texan!”

With each passing day, the crowd across from the station continued to grow.   By the end of the week, Carl could count about 300 tents and twice as many people.  Shorty had also proven to be a natural leader.  Each morning he would send his boys out to meet with the new arrivals, get their names, and make a list of any weapons and ammunition they had brought with them.  He also started separating the prairie into sections.  The area by the access road and highway was reserved for cars and tents, while larger campers and RVs were sent to the rear. Carl had made his showers available and set up several hoses for water but, with his station in the condition it was, he had little else to offer.  Friday afternoon, to Carl’s surprise, five flatbed trucks pulled up fully loaded with green portable toilets.  A half a dozen men jumped out and, without even asking, started lining them up along the side of the street.  As the last john was being lowered to the ground, an older man in overalls walked over to Carl and shook his hand.

“Hope you don’t mind a few out houses on the road,” he said gesturing over his shoulder.

Carl had been concerned about facilities for the growing crowd and was, in fact, grateful.

“Not at all, thank you very kindly,” he responded.

“I am happy to help,” the man continued.  “I got a 60 day notice just like everyone else in this state, so I figured I would do my part to help out.  I will send a truck by every day to clean them up.”

As word of the amassing crowd spread, businesses around the area started pouring out their support.  Local donut shops brought pastries and coffee, restaurant owners showed up with trays of sandwiches, and a garbage removal company dropped off about twenty large  dumpsters.  A San Antonio radio station even donated a portable stage and PA system for Shorty (now the de facto camp boss) to make his morning announcements from.   Carl had never in his life seen such an outpouring of community support, and as the crowds grew to well over a thousand people, the goods kept pouring in.

News trucks were also arriving in droves.  Fox News, CBS, NBC, ABC, and CNN had set up large media enclaves and were reporting live from the site daily.   Their correspondents would stroll through the crowd, interview campers, and give live reports almost hourly.  Carl was amazed as he listened to the interviews.  It seemed as if Shorty had even handed out talking points.  Without exception, everyone interviewed would simply state that they were there for the barbeque, and to show their support for Texas.

To Carl, the atmosphere almost seemed festive.  Texas state flags and American flags flew from just about every tent, country music thumped endlessly through the air, and the popping of fire arms could be heard off in the distance as campers set up skeet shoots and target competitions.  Folks were getting along, working together, and generally having a pretty damn good time.   It was the most amazing and humbling thing that he had ever witnessed.

Since the fire, Lanum had arranged for a Sheriff’s car to be posted at Carl’s home 24/7, so Carl had been spending most of his evenings at the station.  He did not want to involve his children in the madness, so he and Katie had agreed that they would stay at the ranch until things had died down.   Carl set up a cot in his office at the quick store and spent most of his days giving interviews, talking to Shorty and other campers, and doing what he could to help out.  He still had no idea how things were going to unfold, but when he looked out across the growing sea of tents and campers, it was clear that things had become much bigger than just him.

Late Tuesday afternoon Carl was sitting by his old RC Cola machine resting, when a group of CNN workers pulled up in a large truck and started unloading cameras, generators, lighting, and cables. The reporters that Carl been accustomed to seeing would usually have nothing more than a single shoulder camera and light, so all the activity piqued his interest.  Within an hour, the crew had set up a string of cameras and lights up and down the access road.  At about 6 p.m. a man in a headset appeared and motioned for the cameramen to start filming.  It was at that very second that a line of large buses appeared in the distance. As they approached the station, Carl could tell that they were different.  As they drove between the station and the camp, Carl could see that they had large images of Texas with red slashes through them painted on their sides.  As the buses drove by a voice on a PA began to chant, “Texans are Traitors!”

Everything came to a complete halt across the prairie, and hundreds watched in silence as the buses drove past, not sure just what they were seeing.  The buses pulled into the overnight lot of the station and before Carl could get to them, dozens of people started pouring out.  They were holding anti-Texas signs, peace signs, and upside down American flags.  Carl stopped and watched in shock as over two hundred angry protesters amassed on his property, chanting, shouting profanity, and pumping their fists in the air.   Almost, as if rehearsed, they formed up in rows and marched out toward the access road right in front of the news cameras.  Carl looked back across the street toward the camp and saw something that sent a cold chill down his spine; it was the shape of a thousand people moving en masse toward the street.   Carl shivered; someone had set this up with the media and they were counting on a fight.  How else would the CNN guys have known exactly when to arrive?  As he watched the tide of people moving toward the protesters, he could see Shorty stepping onto the stage.

“Everybody calm down!” Shorty yelled into the microphone.  “This is nothin’ but a trick to try and get us kicked outta here!” he continued.  Some folks turned and started to listen, but hundreds still headed for the street.  Shorty continued undaunted.  “Lay one finger on those losers and this whole thing is over!  If we do not hold the high ground we will lose this battle!”

Carl’s mind was racing, someone had to do something quick or there was going to be a full scale riot. All of a sudden he had an idea. He dashed into his office and grabbed a furled up Texas state flag that he kept for special occasions.  Running outside, he crossed the street waving it over his head. “Grab your flags and line the road!” he yelled at the top of his voice.  “Grab your flags!”

Shorty could see what Carl was doing, so he grabbed a Texas flag off of the stage and started waving it over his head as well. “Grab your flags!” he yelled into the microphone.  “Let’s remind these folks just where they are!”  Shorty’s sons came up to the stage and started waving flags as well.  “Line the street with your flags!” Shorty’s voice boomed over and over from the PA.

As Carl stood on the street with his flag he could see the crowd start to reverse its advance.  All of a sudden he saw flags coming down from tents, RVs, and pickup trucks all across the massive camp.  By the hundreds, people started lining up next to Carl and cheering.  In what seemed like just a few seconds hundreds of  flags appeared up and down both sides of the street. Those without flags took off their shirts and waved them over their heads cheering wildly.

The protesters were clearly shaken, and about a quarter of them ran back to the safety of their buses.  The rest however, started marching down the street screaming, cussing, and spitting at those who had lined up on the roadside.

As the protesters neared, Carl heard a man next to him singing God Bless America under his breath. Carl could not help but join in. “Stand beside her and guide her…” he bellowed at the top of his lungs.  Almost simultaneously another 50 people joined in raising their voices in unison.  Shorty heard the singing and joined in on the PA.  Soon the song rang out on both sides of the road completely drowning out the shouts from the protesters.

“Keep singing!” Shorty bellowed into the microphone.  “Show the world that no one messes with Texas!”

As Carl sang he felt tears welling up in his eyes for the second time in a week. This time however, it was because he was proud.  Not only was he proud to be a Texan, he was proud to be an American.   This was not a fight for Texas; it was a fight for the America that he had loved so dearly his entire life. He was fighting for the America that had allowed him to build a thriving truck stop from nothing but an old gas station with a rebuilt RC Cola machine.  He was fighting for the country that had sent waves of Marines up the beach at Iwo Jima, put a man on the moon, invented baseball, and defeated the Soviet empire.   Many on the news had referred to the crisis as the “New Civil War,” but in Carl’s mind it was a rescue operation.

At that moment, Carl was snapped out of his thoughts by a deafening cheer.  He looked down the street toward the protesters. Apparently they had reconsidered their plan, and were in the process of making a hasty retreat to their buses.   As they retreated, a cry rose up across the prairie.

“Texas…Texas….Texas!”

The chant boomed like thunder across the open plains, and seemed to shake the very ground on which Carl was standing.  He watched as the buses pulled back onto the road and drove through the crowd past rows of flags and raised cowboy hats.  The noise was so deafening, Carl could not even hear the bus engines as they drove by.  As the protesters disappeared toward the interstate, another cheer arose from the crowd.  This time it was one of victory.

Deputy Motter took a sip from his coffee and cringed. It was cold and bitter, and so was he.  This was the third night in a row that he had been assigned to sit out in front of the Lamonte ranch and make sure no one tried to vandalize it.  This was what was known in the business as crap duty.   He had listened to the radio intently as every Sheriff within a hundred miles had sped to the Fill & Fuel to stop a riot.  He had then listened in amazement when the units arrived only to find a bunch of  cowboys singing the national anthem and waving flags.  The fact that he had not been there really pissed Motter off. It was just not fair that he had been given babysitting duty while the rest of the state was making world news.

Motter glanced toward the house and made his hourly report on the radio.  “This is unit 23, all quiet at the Lamonte ranch,” he droned into the handset.  Dropping the microphone back into its holder, Motter opened his car door and stepped out to stretch his legs.  The evening was uncharacteristically cool for summer, and it made Motter want a warm cup of coffee even more.  He picked up his binoculars and scanned the pastures around the ranch house.  From his vantage, all appeared to be normal.   Motter let out a sigh and looked at his watch.  His relief would not be there for another 5 hours.

At that moment a twig snapped somewhere behind him. Deputy Motter turned around to find two eyes staring at him through a black stocking mask. Before he could reach for his gun, the cold steel of a crowbar came crashing down on his head sending him to the ground.  Motter struggled to get back to his feet. The pain was unbearable, and he could feel blood running down his neck.   He got to his knees and tried to reach for his gun again, but for some reason his hands were not working correctly.  He never felt the second blow.

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The Example (Part III)

Carl was jolted awake at 4:30 a.m. by a loud ringing sound.  He had been lost in a deep dreamless sleep, and the abrupt ringing had startled and disoriented him.  After slapping the top of the alarm clock two or three times, he realized that he was hearing the classic ringer on his cell phone.  It was a special ring tone that he used for his station manager Marcus Ramirez.  Marcus had been with Carl for about 15 years, and was simply the best station manager in the business.  He was honest, great with the customers, and the most reliable and conscientious employee Carl had ever hired.   Most importantly however, Marcus did not bother Carl with the small stuff. He ran the station, did the hiring and firing, made sure the numbers balanced, and even placed fuel orders when Carl could not.

The fact that Marcus was calling at 4:30 in the morning clearly meant that something was dreadfully wrong at the station.  Carl jumped out of bed, grabbed his jeans from the floor, and fished his phone out of the pocket.

“Marcus is that you?”

“Yes sir, it’s me alright,” Marcus responded.  “I am very sorry to bother you so early in the morning, but you need to come to the station right away.”

“What’s wrong?” Carl demanded.

“Mr. Lamonte, you just need to get down here as quickly as possible,” Marcus persisted.

“Okay,” Carl conceded, “I will be there in 10 minutes.”

Carl closed his phone and tugged his jeans on. In the 15 years that Marcus had worked for him, he had never heard him so shaken. Carl grabbed a clean shirt from his closet, jumped into his truck, and peeled out down his gravel driveway. His mind was racing. What on earth could have gotten Marcus so upset?  In what seemed like only a few seconds Carl was pulling into the station, and the first thing that he saw took his breath away.  Someone had scrawled the word “traitor” in red paint across the windows of the quick store.  It had clearly been a rush job, and bright red paint was splattered everywhere.   As Carl pulled up to the store, Marcus stepped outside to meet him.

“They really hit us good Mr. Lamonte,” Marcus sighed.

As Carl looked at the red mess his blood began to boil. “Who the hell would do something like this?” he growled under his breath.

“That’s not all sir,” Marcus continued.  “They cut our pump lines too.”

Carl felt his heart skip a beat. He had been so fixated on the red paint, he had completely missed the pumps.  He spun around on his heels and looked at the closest diesel island.  Each of the pump hoses had been severed in two.

“I am going to have to order replacement hoses,” Marcus continued, “I don’t think we will get them for a day or two.”

Carl could take it no longer. He had kept his end of the deal and stayed silent much longer than he had wanted to. He was not going to stay silent any longer.  Carl stormed into his office, slammed the door and called the Governor’s office. Once again no one picked up the phone and Carl was passed to an automated attendant.

“You have reached the office of the Governor of Texas,” it droned. “We are unable to take your call at this moment. Please leave a short message and one of our staff will return your call at the earliest opportunity….”

Carl did not try to be polite.

“This is Carl Lamonte and I am tired of waiting for the Governor to return my calls,” he bellowed into the receiver. “I have done it your way for two weeks, and I am fed up! If you do not call me back today and tell me what you are planning to do to save my station, I am going public!”

Carl slammed the phone down. He was furious that he had trusted them, and knew that he should have seen this coming.  Carl felt a chill run down his spine.  With two weeks left before the 30 day deadline, he still had no plan and felt more alone than ever.  At that moment a familiar voice broke his thoughts.

“What’s all the ruckus about in here?  What you going public with Carl, a new brand of beef jerky?”

Carl turned around and saw one of his regular truckers standing at his office door.

“Hey there Clifford…sorry for the outburst,” Carl sighed.

“No worries buddy,” Clifford replied with a grin. “You were shaking the coffee pots out in the store so I wanted to bring you a cup before it all spilled.”

With that, Clifford extended a mug of hot black coffee Carl’s way.  Carl regained his composure, smiled, and took the cup thankfully. Clifford had been one of Carl’s first station regulars.  He was an independent owner operator and ran a coast-to-coast route between Jacksonville Florida and San Diego California.  San Antonio was a regular stopping point for him, and over the years he and Carl had become fast friends.  Clifford was from the “old school” of trucking when it was more of a lifestyle than a business.   He would often grumble about the “new guys” with their GPS units and corporate cell phones.  “There are a lot of truck drivers out there,” he would often tell Carl over a beer in the overnight lot, “but truckers are a dying breed.”

“So, if you don’t mind my nosin’ in, why were you calling the Governor’s office?” Clifford pressed.  “Are you trying to find out what they are going to do when everyone’s 60 day notice runs out?”

Carl was tired of holding it in. “I wish I had a 60 day notice,” he moaned. “They gave me a 30.”

Clifford’s jaw dropped in disbelief.  “You mean to tell me they only gave you 30 days?”

Carl nodded his head and told his friend about the notice, the slow rolling by the Governor’s office, and the FBI incident from the night before. As he told Cliff the story he felt a huge weight being lifted from his shoulders. Finally, someone else knew what he had been going through.

Cliff took it all in while sipping his coffee.  “So if no one knows…who did that to the front of your store?”

Carl clinched his jaw in frustration. “I only wish I knew.”

“Well someone sure as hell knows,” Cliff persisted, “and they clearly think you are a traitor.”

Carl could see the red paint from inside his office. “Well I am going to get some answers real fast,” he rumbled.

A moment of silence passed as both men sipped their coffee and pondered the predicament. After a few minutes Clifford spoke up. “Well…the way I figure it Carl, you are on your own.”

Carl looked down at his coffee, knowing in his heart that his friend was right.

“The way I see it,” Clifford continued, “the Governor’s office isn’t going to do a damn thing.”

“What do you mean?” Carl queried.

“Well think about it for crying out loud,” Clifford scolded.  “All the businesses in the state have received 60 day notices except for you…one little gas station. Doesn’t that seem kind of funny?”

“I suppose it does,” Carl conceded.

“You’re damn right it does,” Cliff continued. “Why on earth would they give a little independent truck stop in the Texas prairie a 30 day notice?”

Carl assumed the question was rhetorical and did not answer.

“You my friend are the test!” Cliff concluded.

Carl listened intently. “What kind of test am I exactly?”

“Well, my guess is that the Governor’s office does not know what the Feds are going to do, and the Feds have no idea what the Governor is going to do.  I mean, how on earth are the Feds going to foreclose on tens of thousands of Texas small businesses?  It would be political suicide and they know it.

“So why the heck am I getting the silent treatment?” Carl inquired.

Cliff continued undaunted. “Well think about it from the Governor’s perspective for a minute. What is he going to do, call out the Texas National Guard and have them stand in front of every store in the state? And even if he did, what would his marching orders be? Shoot any Fed who tries to park in the parking lot?  I mean, I love my state, but I just don’t see it.  So, they have set you up to settle the whole issue.”

“So I’m nothing but a big patsy, is that what you are telling me?”

“That’s the way I see it,” Cliff concluded. “All those 60 day notices mean absolutely nothing.  Nope…what matters is what happens right here.”

Carl’s head was spinning.  “So why did they do this to my station?”

Cliff leaned forward and looked Carl directly in the eye. “Ole buddy, whether you like it or not, there is a fight brewin’ and the first battle is going to take place right here at your station.  It is also a sad fact that, no matter which side wins, you’re going to be a casualty.”

Carl put his coffee down and took in Cliff’s words. He had suspected that this was the case, and hearing it from his friend only confirmed it. Once again he felt his anger beginning to rise.

“So what am I supposed to do Cliff, stand out front with my shotgun and let my kids watch me get shot down on television?” Carl blurted in frustration.

Clifford rocked back in his chair ignoring Carl’s comment. “I think we are going to have to solve this problem Texas style.”

Carl gave Cliff a sarcastic look. “What are we going to do, hold up in the Alamo? I seem to remember that not ending so well.”

Clifford rocked forward in his chair and stood up.  Carl could not help but notice the grin on his face.  Cliff walked over and slapped Carl on the back so hard that he almost dropped his coffee cup.

“No ole’ buddy,” Cliff beamed, “we are going to have ourselves a barbeque!”

Carl was dumbfounded.  “A what?” he asked trying to make sense of what he just heard.

Clifford was undeterred.  “I will handle the details. All you need to do is advertise.”

Carl was still lost. “What exactly do I advertise?”

Clifford looked at Carl with a big toothy grin. “Why the first annual Fill & Fuel secession barbeque of course!”

With that, Clifford let out a big belly laugh and headed out of the room.  “We got two weeks Carl, get the word out, and I’ll supply the rest!”

Carl put his coffee down on the desk. “A secession barbeque,” he repeated under his breath. He was not entirely sure what his buddy was up to but, knowing Cliff, it was going to be a wild ride.   Carl stared at the pile of unpaid bills on his desk.  The fact was, he had already wasted two weeks waiting on the Governor’s office to give him a plan.  He had done what they asked him to do and stayed quiet, but all it had gotten him was a vandalized station.  Carl had hoped that they would help him out, but it now seemed clear that Cliff was right. He was on his own.  Carl shrugged his shoulders in resignation.  “What the hell,” he said to himself.  “A barbeque sounds like the best idea I’ve heard yet.”

Carl stood up, grabbed his keys, and headed for his truck.  As he walked across the parking lot, he could see that Marcus was already busy cleaning the paint off of the front of the station.   “I am heading into town Marcus,” Carl called out without stopping.

Marcus hopped down his ladder and ran to catch up.  “I should have this clean in a few hours Mr. Lamonte,” he panted.

Carl turned to Marcus as he reached his truck.  “That’s good, thanks for taking care of the mess.”

Marcus gave Carl a hesitant smile and nodded his head nervously.  “I am worried,” he continued. “What if the people that did this come back tonight?  What are we going to do?”

Carl looked into Marcus’ worried eyes and smiled. “We, mi amigo, are going to have us a Texas barbeque!”

With that Carl hopped into his truck and peeled out. As he hit the highway entrance, he flipped his cell phone open and dialed information.  “Fox 29 News San Antonio,” he told the operator.  After a few rings he was greeted by a woman’s voice.

“Fox 29 news room, may I help you?”

“Yes ma’am, this is Carl Lamonte owner of the Fill & Fuel Truck Stop.  I will be there in 20 minutes with your leading story for this evening’s news…”

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The Example (Part II)

The next few days passed incredibly slowly for Carl. He felt lost and overwhelmed.  For his entire life he had been blessed with vision and direction.  He had always had a plan…until now.  Carl had no idea what was going to happen next.  Would the Governor’s office  back him up, or just stand aside as the feds rolled in, took his station, and hauled him off to jail? The thought of  his two sons standing in the yard and watching as FBI agents drove him away was simply too much to bear. Since his initial discussion with the Governor’s office, he had called back several times and was assured that they were working on a plan.  Other than a few reassuring words however, they had really offered him nothing. The fact that they were working on a “plan” was of little comfort to him.  Especially if their plan involved him losing his station. For the first time in his life, Carl felt completely helpless – and that really made him angry.

Since the 60 day notices had been delivered around the state, the press had been in a feeding frenzy.  News agencies from around the world had descended on Texas with correspondents, satellite vans, helicopters, and cameramen.   Between lengthy debates on the constitutionality of Texas’ move, they roamed the streets asking business owners who had received the  notices “how they felt about it,” and “what they would do when the feds came.”   The chatter was endless, and for the most part meaningless. The owner of a bakery in Houston, pretty much summed things up for everyone when he exclaimed to one reporter:

“How the hell do you think I feel about it?  Any other questions?”

At the request of the Governor’s office, Carl had not told anyone that he had received a 30 day notice.  They had warned him that doing so would bring  every fruit and nut in the country out of the woodwork, and that things would get out of hand quickly. The last thing that the Governor’s office wanted was a media circus on their hands until they had a plan.  Carl had reluctantly agreed to stay silent, but was growing more and more uneasy with this approach.  In the evenings Carl would drive home to have dinner with his family, and then tell them he had to do some paperwork at the station.  When he got there, he would sit out front next to the old RC Cola machine that he had kept running and just think.  There had to be something that he could do to save the station and stay out of jail, but he simply could not pay the federal taxes and fines and stay in business.

Late one evening about a week after he had received his notice, Carl was sitting outside the station and pondering his situation.  The convenience store had been closed for several hours and, with the exception of a few trucks idling quietly in the overnight lot, Carl was completely alone.  As he sat musing,  a pair of headlights caught his eye. A large black Lincoln Town Car car turned  into his station from the access road.  Carl watched intently, as the car pulled up to the front of the convenience store. Maybe it was just a businessman driving to the city and looking for a late night cup of coffee.  After a moment, both front doors swung open and two men hopped out.  They were both dressed in business suits, and one of them appeared to be carrying a camera.  Carl’s interest peaked and he stood up to confront the two men.  Just as he was about to call out that the station was closed, a breeze blew the coat of one of the men open, reveling a shoulder holster.  He froze instantly.  What the heck were two armed men in business suits doing at his station?

All of a sudden, it occurred to Carl that he had been sitting in the shadows behind the soda machine, and that they had not seen him. Slowly, he eased away from the vending machine’s cover, and slipped around the corner of the store to a side employee entrance.  As silently as possible he unlocked the door and slipped inside.  Once inside, he inched into the dark convenience store and concealed himself behind a shelf so that he was out of sight.  Carl could hear their voices right outside the door, but he could not make out what they were saying.  He drew in a breath and looked around the edge of the shelf at the exact second that the beam from a Mag Light came sweeping through the window.  He pulled back right as it swept past him. “Why the hell are they looking in my store?” he whispered to himself.  He peaked around the corner again to look, but they were gone.

Staying in the shadows, Carl moved up to the window and looked outside. Both men were walking toward an island of diesel pumps.  It was dark but the security lights on the island were bright enough for him to see them clearly.  The man with the camera started taking pictures while the other appeared to be taking notes on a digital voice recorder. Carl was baffled. Clearly they were not there to rob the place….but what were they doing? Carl watched them for about 45 minutes as they walked around the perimeter of his station taking notes and pictures.  Carl knew every safety inspector in the state, and none of them drove Lincoln Town Cars or made it a practice to inspect stations after hours.  No, these two guys were definitely up to something else.

After a while, the men turned back toward the convenience store and Carl ducked out of sight, this time right next to the door.  Though he could not see what they doing, he could see the flash of their camera reflecting on the windows.  After a few moments, they were standing back in front of the building by their car.  Carl moved his ear closer to the window in an attempt to hear what they were saying.  Their voices were muffled, but he could make out their words.

“Okay, I think we have what we came for,” one of the men announced.  “You ready to hit the road?”

“Yeah, let’s clear outta here before one of the truckers wakes up and calls the cops on us,” the other man chuckled.

The first voice chimed back in, “I really feel weird doing this, I just think that…” Before he could finish, the  other man cut him off.  “Hey, it is our job to follow orders not save the world, let’s get rolling.”

A second later Carl heard two car doors slam and the engine start.  He was overwhelmed with curiosity; who the hell were these two guys?  He had to know.  Without even thinking, he dashed through the store and out the back  to his truck.  He hopped in,  took a deep breath, and started the engine.  He had no idea what he was doing,  but knew he had to find out where they were going.   He inched around the corner with his lights off and watched as the Lincoln pulled out of the station and back onto the access road.   Carl gripped the wheel tightly, counted to 1o under his breath, and pulled out to follow them.  “This is dumb,” he whispered to himself as he clicked his truck lights on.

Carl tried his best not to be noticed, but felt like he had a huge sign on his truck announcing what he was doing.  Once on the highway, he stayed several car links behind the Lincoln, and tried to blend in with the sparse traffic.  He followed them toward San Antonio for about 10 miles doing his best not to get too close.  Once or twice a car had pulled between them, but he had been able to keep them in sight.  Finally, confident that he had not been spotted, Carl pulled directly behind them in the left lane of the highway.  At that moment his cell phone rang. He picked it up and saw that Katie was calling to check on him.   It was well after 1 a.m. now and she was clearly perturbed at his absence from their bed.  Carl looked up from his phone and to his shock realized that the Lincoln was no longer in front of him.  He looked frantically to his right and saw it taking an exit into the city.  Carl looked in his rear view mirror and swerved right across three lanes of traffic just making the off ramp. Instantaneously he found himself right on their tail at a red traffic light.  He slammed on his breaks locking the back tires and stopping just a few inches from the Lincoln’s rear bumper.  His heart was racing. “Idiot!” he cursed under his breath, trying to regain his composure.  He could see the Lincoln’s driver looking intently into his rear view mirror.  Carl tried not to make eye contact and looked away trying to appear calm.  Just then the light turned green and the Lincoln accelerated away turning left two blocks down the road.  Carl let them turn, took a deep breath, and then followed.  He turned onto the street just in time to see the Lincoln disappear into a parking garage underneath a large office complex.   Carl pulled over to the curb, exhaled, and wiped the sweat from his eyes.  “What the hell do I think I am doing,” he mumbled to himself.

He inched his truck along the curb until he was next to the garage entrance.  It was dark, but just over the garage doors he could make out a small sign.  He leaned across the truck and squinted trying to bring the letters into focus.   After a few attempts he was finally able to make it out:

Federal Bureau of Investigation

San Antonio Field Office

Official Vehicles Only

Carl let the words sink in.  Could these two men have actually been FBI agents?  It would certainly explain the shoulder holsters. Carl felt a chill race through his body.  He was a gas station owner for crying out loud!  He had never so much as stolen a pack of cigarettes, and now the FBI had him under surveillance.  Did the Governor’s office know that this was going on?  If so, why had they not warned him?  A thousand questions started racing through Carl’s mind. As he stared blankly at the garage entrance sign, he could not help but wonder what was coming next.

All of a sudden, a knock on the driver’s side window jolted Carl from his thoughts.  Startled, Carl spun around to find  himself face to face with one of the two men that he had followed.  He felt his heart jump to his throat.  The figure rapped on the window again and motioned for Carl to roll  it down.  Carl knew of nothing else that he could do, so he reached down and cracked his window a few inches.

“Mr. Lamonte?” the agent inquired.

“What do you want?” Carl snapped back.  “Why the hell were you taking pictures of my truck stop?”

“Mr. Lamonte, please just roll your window down so that we can talk,“ the agent continued.

Reluctantly, Carl rolled the window down the rest of the way and turned his engine off.

“Ok, I’m parked,” Carl jabbed, “now perhaps you can tell me what the hell is going on?”

The agent took in a deep breath and let it out.

“Mr. Lamonte, you most likely do not remember me, but I grew up near your station.”

“Yeah, well so did a lot of people over the past 30 years,” Carl snapped.

The agent continued undeterred.

“I remember when I was 10 years old, my father took me to your place for a pony ride.  No sooner did I get on the horse when something happened and he took off across the prairie.   I held on for about 30 seconds or so until he threw me into a prickly pear.”

The  agent’s words disarmed Carl. “Well I’ll be dammed…I remember you,” Carl mused.   “My partner Phil and I were sure that your dad was going to sue our pants off.”

The agent gave Carl an embarrassed smile. “No…he did buy me a horse though. He told me that he had never been more embarrassed in his life watching me flop around on that pony like a rag doll, and that he was going to teach me to ride like a real man.”

“Well did he?” Carl queried.

“Texas Junior Bareback Riding Champion for 3 straight years,” the agent  beamed.

Carl smiled for a moment remembering the spectacle.  “What did you say your name was?”Carl asked.

“Lanum Tate sir,” the agent responded sticking his had through the window to shake.

Carl ignored the gesture. “So Agent Tate, are you going to arrest me or did you come out here to thank me inspiring your rodeo career?”

Agent Tate withdrew his hand and shifted back to business.“Yesterday we got a call from the home office telling us to head out to your place and map it,” he continued.  “They did not tell us why, they just told us what they wanted.  That is the God’s honest truth.”

Carl felt his anger beginning to rise again.  “So you guys, make it a habit of trespassing on private property and taking photographs?”

“Not at all,” Tate responded defensively.  “I have been with the bureau for 5 years, and this is the first time I have ever been asked to do something like this.  They are planning something big, and it looks like you are going to be right in the middle of  it.”

“Well that certainly is reassuring,” Carl replied sarcastically.

Agent Tate looked around and then lowered his voice.   “Mr. Lamonte, I am a Texan just like you…born and raised.  I may work for the FBI, but I love this state…it is my home.  I just wanted you to know that something was in the works, and that you need to be ready for it.  Whatever it is, you are going to need a friend or two.”

Tate reached into his coat pocket and pulled out a business card.  “I cannot promise you anything you understand, but if anything happens out at your place…anything….please feel free to give me a call, and I will see what I can do.”

Carl took his card.  “Is that your word as a fed?”

Agent Tate, looked squarely back at Carl with an unblinking stare. Any trace of the dorky 10 year old boy was now completely gone. “Mr. Lamonte, that is my word as a Texan.”

With that the agent turned and headed back to the building.  After about four or five steps he stopped and spun around on his heels.  “And please promise me that you won’t try to tail anymore federal agents.”

“Why not?” Carl shot back.

“Because you stink at it!” Tate laughed.

As Carl drove silently back to his in-law’s ranch, he could not get Agent Tate’s words out of his mind.  It was more clear than ever that the feds were getting ready to make him an example for Texans everywhere.  Once again, he started to feel alone and isolated.  One thing was for sure, whatever was coming, he did not stand a chance alone. As Carl pulled up to the ranch house he looked at his watch. It was well after 3 a.m. and he was exhausted from the evening’s adventure.  His mind was made up though.  He had endured the state’s silence too long.  First thing in the morning he would call the Governor’s office and demand to know what their plan was.

As Carl slid into bed, Katie rolled over and hugged him. “It’s late honey,” she scolded softly, where have you been?”  Carl reached out and pulled her close. “In a car chase with FBI agents,” he whispered back to her.  “They have apparently declared war on me.”

That’s nice dear,” she responded still lost in sleep.  “Try and get home earlier next time.”

(To Be Continued in Part III)

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