The Example (Final Chapter)

Carl hurried everyone to his truck and headed for the Fill and Fuel.  Clearly, if the FBI office was not a safe haven for his family no such place existed. He would keep his family together with him from now on. The truck was silent; even the kids were quietly staring out of the window.  Carl could only imagine what was running through their young minds.  The thought of Shorty taking his family still made him furious.  He had never seen a man shot to death in his life, but there was simply too much anger in his heart to feel an ounce of remorse.

As Carl drove, Shorty’s last words kept echoing through his mind.  If there were truly a hundred plants spread throughout the camp, they would notice Shorty’s absence before long.  He had no idea what they were planning to do, but he was sure that it was going to happen soon.  Carl gripped the steering wheel so tightly his knuckles popped.  How on earth would he find them before they made their move? And what would he do if he found them?  Carl felt like a fool. He had taken Shorty’s loyalty for granted and had been horribly wrong.  Conversely, he had questioned Lanum’s loyalty and had been wrong about that as well.  He had no idea what was going to happen next, but one thing appeared certain…he was alone.

Carl pulled into the station’s parking lot, and loaded his family into the quick mart. When everyone was settled, he pulled his father-in-law aside and handed him a revolver that he had kept in his desk drawer. “Pop, I can’t tell you how grateful I am for what you did back at the FBI office,” Carl whispered. “You saved our family.”

Carl’s father-in-law had always been a man of few words. He had been a rancher his entire life, and seemed to get along with horses much better than people.  He and Carl had always had a good relationship, but had never been very close.  Carl knew that he was a tough man, but had a whole new respect for him now.

“Pop, I have got to head out into the camp and see what is going on,” he continued.  “If things get crazy, load the family up in the truck and head out into the prairie.” Carl’s father-in-law took the revolver and shoved it into his belt. “Don’t worry about us,” he assured Carl.  “You just finish this thing.”

Carl nodded, grabbed his Springfield 01-A1 from the office closet, and headed for the door. As he opened it he felt a hand on his shoulder. Carl turned to see his father-in-law looking him in the eye.  “No matter what happens over the next couple of days I am proud to have you for a son,” he said giving Carl a reassuring squeeze. Carl was at a loss for words. He looked back at his father-in-law and instantly felt reassured.  Katie and the kids would be safe as long as Pop was there. Carl gave him a quick embrace and then headed outside into the sweltering prairie sun.

As Carl walked across the station’s parking lot to the campsite, he could not help but notice that something was different. Just a few days earlier, country music from a hundred different radios would have been bouncing across the prairie, and the smell of barbeque and campfire smoke would be hanging heavily in the air.  Most of the folks that Carl could see were standing in small groups talking.  At the front of the campsite there were about 300 campers still lined up where Shorty had put them.  Most of them were sitting in lawn chairs and looking at the feds through binoculars.  It was clear that with Shorty gone there was no leadership, and somehow he would have to step in and fill the vacuum.

Carl stepped up onto the stage next to a group of campers and looked through his binoculars. The line of black SUVs off in the distance had not moved. Several new tents had sprung up behind them however, and it appeared that several television vans had set up camp in their vicinity.

“That sure don’t give me a warm fuzzy,” a man standing next to Carl commented. Carl turned and was surprised to see his old buddy Sheriff Cameron standing next to him in plain clothes.

“Pete!” Carl exclaimed failing to hide his surprise. “What the heck are you doing here?”

Sheriff Cameron kept looking forward through his binoculars as he spoke. “Let’s not talk here,” he whispered under his breath.  “Walk on back to your office and I will mosey over in about 30 minutes or so.”

Carl was confused, “What’s going on Pete?” he asked trying to regain his composure.

Pete kept looking forward. “I talked to Lanum from the hospital; the bullet just grazed his leg. He’s doing fine and will be out here in an hour or two.  Now go on back to your office and we can talk in a few minutes.”

Carl felt a huge weight lift from his shoulders. “Okay Pete,” he acquiesced, “whatever you say.”

Carl looked back out at the line of black vehicles. Once again, he had no idea what was going on, but one thing was clear. He needed all the help he could get.

A half hour later Carl was back in his office, it was late afternoon and his entire family was sleeping peacefully in the air conditioned quick store. Clearly the horrific events of the day had taken their toll.  Carl was exhausted as well, but so full of adrenaline that he couldn’t close his eyes, even if he wanted to.  As he sat drinking a cup of burned coffee, the office door opened and Sheriff Cameron stepped inside. Carl stood up and shook his hand. “Pete, what the hell is going on?”

Pete reached into his shirt pocket, pulled out a folded piece of paper, and tossed it to Carl. “Take a look at that,” he said as he grabbed a dirty coffee cup off of the shelf. Carl unfolded the paper and saw what appeared to be a map of the entire camp. It had been painstakingly drawn, and showed the location of every single tent. “Where did you get this Pete?” Carl queried as he studied the detailed drawing.

Pete took a sip of coffee and frown as he swallowed the bitter brew. “Lanum called us after you left, and we found that paper in Shorty’s pickup.”

Carl looked up at Pete. “So you know everything that’s been going on?”

Sheriff Cameron smiled, “He tried to tell you before that you have a lot of friends ‘round these parts. Besides, where am I going to get such great coffee if they haul you off to jail? Now take a close look at that map and tell me what you see.”

As Carl studied the map, he realized that certain campsites were circled. “Do the circled sites mark the locations of the infiltrators?” he asked.

Pete nodded his head.  “Your buddy Shorty had a good eye for detail.  We also found a notebook in his truck with the names of the campers at every single campsite, as well as the number and type of weapons they brought with them.”

Carl nodded, “Yeah he was pretty meticulous about tracking that stuff. He told me that it was because we needed to know what kind of firepower we had in case things got rough.”

“Well,” Pete continued, “it seems that the only camps without that information were the ones he had circled on that map you’re holding.”

“That must be because he already knew what they had!” Carl concluded.

Pete took another sip of coffee. “That’s what I think too.”

Carl paused for a moment to ponder the situation. “So we actually know who these guys are, and they have no idea that we do…right?”

“Yep,” Pete agreed, “but as soon as Shorty comes up missing, they are going to get real suspicious.”

“So what do we do?” Carl asked looking back at the paper.  “There are probably 80 of them, maybe more!”

Pete put his cup on the desk and sat down next to Carl. “We, my friend, are going to arrest them.”

Carl could not help but laugh. “Just how the heck are we going to do that?”

Sheriff Cameron gave Carl a wry smile. “Let’s just say we have some plants of our own out there. All I need you to do is make an announcement.”

About 7 p.m. Carl stepped up onto the stage, clicked on the PA system, and tapped the microphone.  “I need everyone to come to the stage area,” he ordered.  “It does not matter what you are doing, I need everyone to listen up right now.” Slowly the campers began to migrate to the stage area.  After about 15 minutes or so, petty much everyone in the camp was listening.

Carl cleared his throat trying not to look as nervous as he felt. “First off, I want to personally thank all of you for coming out here and showing your support, “he began.  “Now I’m sure most of you have noticed our visitors,” Carl noted pointing over his shoulder toward the line of federal SUVs. A chuckle erupted across the crowd. “I am also sure you all know that my 30 day deadline expired this afternoon.” Carl paused to collect his thoughts. “On behalf of everyone in my family, I just want to thank all of you for your show of solidarity.  It makes me proud to be a Texan.” With that comment, cheer went up across the camp and several folks started waving flags.

“Now, I don’t know what is going to happen tomorrow,” Carl continued, “but I just want everyone to know that I do not blame you if you decide to break camp. A lot of you have families, and if things get out of hand, I don’t want anyone getting hurt.  So, if you feel like you need to get back home, please do so with a clear conscience.”

At that moment someone in the crowd yelled, “long live Texas!!!” and the crowd erupted in applause.

Carl paused to let the applause die down and then continued. “I especially want to thank Shorty who has been the leader and organizer of this rowdy crowd.  As we speak, he is preparing to take my family to safety, so that I can remain here with my fellow Texans!”

Another cheer erupted.

“Shorty asked that we get a full head count while he was gone this evening, so that we know exactly who is still here and who has pulled stakes.  This evening at 9 p.m. sharp, I would like everyone to muster at their campsites so that Shorty and I can do a quick roll call.  If everyone cooperates, we should be done in an hour or two at most.”

The crowd responded with smatterings of applause and head nods.

“Tomorrow morning first thing we plan on our friends down the road coming over for a visit. So we are going to post some watches this evening and I want everyone to get a good night’s sleep. Now remember, muster at your tents at 9 p.m. tonight if you are staying,” Carl paused and looked out at the two thousand faces staring up at him. After a second he drew in a deep breath raised his fist into the air and shouted, “God bless Texas!”

After the celebration died down, Carl walked back over to the station and was surprised to find Lanum in his office leaning on a set of aluminum crutches. Carl could not contain his excitement.

“Lanum!” he cried out, racing over and grabbing him by the shoulders. “I didn’t think I would see you again so soon…how are you?” Lanum blushed.  “Turns out Shorty just grazed me. They gave me a few stitches and a Tetanus shot and let me go. Hell, I got hurt worse bailing off that damn pony ride of yours.”

Carl paused, making no attempt to hide his relief. “Well, thank God,” he exclaimed. “Does anyone know about Shorty?”

Lanum got back to the business at hand. “Not yet.  I called Sheriff Cameron and he sent a few trustworthy fellows over to clean up the mess. My guess is that no one will ever find Mr. Shorty’s remains.”

Carl did not want to know the details. He was just happy that Lanum was okay.

“I heard you make the announcement,” Lanum remarked changing the subject.  “Good job, it sounded like folks bought it.”

Carl felt embarrassed. “It wasn’t an academy award performance, but I did my best.”

Lanum smiled politely and  looked at his watch. “Well, we’ll know how good it was in about an hour.”

At 9 p.m. on the mark Carl stepped back onto the stage. “Okay everyone,” he announced, “let’s muster up at our campsites and get a head count. I can see that some folks did break camp, so it is real important that we know who is still here. Shorty’s running a little late, so let’s go ahead and get things rolling.”

Almost instantaneously the campers assembled at their tents. After about twenty minutes it appeared as if everyone was in place and waiting.  Carl held up a clipboard looked at it for a second and leaned into the microphone. “Gentlemen we’re ready.”

At that moment the sound of rifles cocking rippled through the camp. Each of the tents that Shorty had circled on his map was instantly surrounded with armed men.  Clearly they had taken the intruders by complete surprise.

Carl tapped the microphone. “Now I am going to turn the microphone over to Sheriff Pete Cameron who will give you instructions.” Sheriff Cameron stepped up onto stage in uniform and took the microphone. “Now if you are unfortunate enough at this moment to be staring down the barrel of a loaded gun, I strongly recommend that you put your hands on your head and do exactly as I say…”

The plan had worked flawlessly.  For three hours Sheriff Cameron had been filtering about 30 of his closest friends into the camp. When the everyone mustered, they had positioned themselves around the campsites in question, and had successfully gotten the jump on Shorty’s unsuspecting moles. Caught completely off guard, they had little choice but to surrender.

By 11 p.m. about a dozen RVs had been converted into makeshift prisons and over 90 plants had been rounded up, disarmed, and confined. Not even one shot had been fired in the process.  Once again, the camp was secure. Even if a few had escaped, the campers were now on their guard and would not be taken by surprise again.

At around midnight, Carl walked to the station with Lanum and Sheriff Cameron.

“I cannot believe we pulled that off,” Carl confided. “I don’t even want to think about what would have happened if we had not rounded those guys up.”

Lanum sat down in the folding chair by the RC Cola machine. “Well the way I figure it, as soon as the feds made their charge, our buddies would have revealed themselves.” Sheriff Cameron nodded in agreement.  “Yep, they would have put an end to the standoff real quick.”

“Who the heck are they?” Carl queried.  “Are they feds?”

Lanum shook his head.  “No, I expect most of them are just petty criminals and self described mercenaries. They were probably paid a couple hundred bucks each by LeadOn.org.”

There was a pause in the conversation as the three men ran over the events of the day in their minds. Carl was the first to break the silence.

“So what’s next?” he heard himself ask. “What happens tomorrow?”

Lanum looked up at Carl and smiled. “We hold our ground my friend…we hold our ground.”

Carl woke up in his office chair just after sunrise.  The previous day had been so emotionally and physically exhausting; he had fallen asleep as soon as he sat down.  Carl stood up, rubbed the sleep from his eyes, and walked into the quick store.  Katie and the kids were still sleeping peacefully.  He made a pot of coffee as quietly as he could, grabbed his Springfield, and stepped outside into the morning sun.  Carl looked across the street toward the camp and could not believe what he saw.

Almost every tent was gone and several rows of cars and pickup trucks had been lined up bumper to bumper as a barrier between the campers and the feds.  Lanum was on stage giving directions, while Sheriff Cameron and his men positioned groups of Texans strategically around the prairie.  Other groups of men were busy digging what looked like trenches in the hard prairie ground.  The barbecue was clearly over, and it appeared to Carl as if preparations for battle had begun. Carl felt a lump in his throat as he walked over to the stage.

“What’s going on Lanum?” he inquired.

Lanum looked down at Carl, “Good you’re awake,” he noted.  “I was just about to come over and get you.”

Carl nodded toward the campsite, “So why the scramble?”

Lanum did not pause. “They are coming at 8 o’clock,” he explained.

Carl was baffled. “How do you know all this?” he pressed. “How do you know when they are coming?”

Lanum stopped what he was doing and crouched down next to Carl. “They don’t know I’m here, so no one ever told them not to use their radios.”

Lanum could see that Carl was not following him. So he reached over to his belt and pulled off what looked like a big walkie talkie.  “They are using federal radio gear!” he explained as he waggled the device in front of Carl’s reddening face. “They are sending a car over at 8 a.m. go give you a final chance to comply with your notice. If you don’t, they are going to come over in force and take you to jail.”

Carl felt a chill run down his spine. “So they aren’t bluffing after all,” he stammered trying to conceal his fear.

Lanum stood back up. “No old buddy, they aren’t bluffing, and a bunch of good ‘ole boys with hunting rifles won’t slow them down too much.”

Carl looked at his watch; it was already 7:15. “I’ve got to get my family out of here,” he exclaimed realizing the gravity of the situation. Before he could turn toward the station however, Pete stepped up and grabbed him by the shoulder.  “Carl, they are safe right where they are.  If you try to drive them out of here the feds are just going to pick them up down the road a mile or two.”

Carl’s face was burning.  He knew Pete was right.  They would actually be lucky to get a mile down the road.  “So what the hell do we do then?” Carl snapped in exasperation.

Lanum surveyed the men as they formed up behind the line of cars. “We wait and see what happens,” he replied after a minute. “Every man here has vowed to stay and fight for their rights as Texans. We won’t fire the first shot, but nobody is going to take you to jail today….nobody.”

Carl felt his heart fall into his stomach. He could tell by Lanum’s tone that the conversation was over. In a little over 30 minutes the feds would come for him, and the world would watch as Texas made its stand.

For the next 30 minutes Lanum and Sheriff Cameron set up the best defenses they could.  The row of cars offered some protection, but would ultimately do little to stop the armored vehicles when they came.  Some men had dug shallow trenches on the flanks of the defensive line, and had used camping gear, rocks and sticks to build makeshift breastworks.  Anything that could be used for cover was piled up.  Lanum and Sheriff Cameron took charge of the effort, and by 8 a.m. everyone was in position.

Even with some folks pulling out the previous evening there were still over 1,200 Texans in the field, and it was so quiet Carl could hear his own heart beating. Sheriff Cameron positioned himself on the front line with some of his men, while Lanum and Carl stayed on the stage surveying the feds through their binoculars.

Just after 8 a.m. a dust plume appeared across the prairie.

“Here they come!” a solitary voice called from somewhere on the front line. The next thing Carl heard was the unmistakable sound of 1200 rounds being chambered at the same time.  He felt dizzy from the adrenaline in his system.  It had all come down to this.  No Governor, no settlement, no bluffing.

After a minute, Carl could make out a single black SUV coming across the prairie. On the passenger’s side he could see what looked like a white flag flying out of the window.

At that moment a scratchy voice crackled over Tate’s radio.  “Agent Lanum Tate, this is Agent Mike Felder…over.” Lanum laughed as he removed the radio from his belt. “I guess they figured it out after all,” he chuckled.

Lanum raised the radio up to his mouth and responded. “This is Agent Tate, over…”

After a second the voice on the radio replied. “Agent Tate, I am coming over under a flag of truce. All I want to do is talk to you and Mr. Lamonte for a moment to see if we can work this mess out…over.”

Lanum paused for a moment, looked at Carl, and nodded his head. “Okay, we will let your vehicle inside the barrier.  You and you alone will exit the vehicle, and meet us on the stage. Is that clear?…over.”

After a minute of silence Agent Felder agreed to the terms.  “We will drive around the west end of your line, please tell your cowboys not to shoot us…out.”

Lanum told the Texans what was happening over the PA, and he and Carl watched as the black SUV slowly pulled around the edge of the line and up to the stage.  After a minute, the passenger door swung open and a tall thin man in a grey business suit stepped out and climbed up onto the platform.

“Good afternoon gentlemen,” he called out extending his hand. “My name is Agent Mike Felder thanks for letting me come over and chat.”

Neither Lanum nor Carl extended their hands in return.

“What may we do for you?” Lanum inquired bluntly.

The agent dropped his hand and looked squarely at Carl.  “So you must be Mr. Lamonte, owner of the Fill and Fuel Truck Stop!” he continued.  “You have made quite a name for yourself the past few weeks.”

Carl had no idea what to say. “What can we do for you Agent Felder?” he repeated.

The agent cleared his throat. “Well, first of all, I think we are all reasonable people here. No one wants this situation to get out of hand, so I thought I would drive over and see if we could not put an end to this ordeal once and for all.”

“Just how do you propose we do that?” Lanum interjected. “I seem to recall that we weren’t the ones who started this mess.”

Agent Felder smiled at Lanum and turned back toward Carl. “I have come over here prepared to offer you what I believe is a very fair deal.”

Carl’s interest was piqued. “Okay, I’m listening.”

Agent Felder reached into his pocket and pulled out a copy of Carl’s thirty day notice.  “Mr. Lamonte I have been authorized to forgive your back taxes and tear up this notice. No questions asked. Now we are well aware that you have been involved in several illegal activities over the past few days, including the kidnapping and involuntary restraint of about 90 innocent civilians.  In fact, I believe you have most of them locked up in those camper trailers behind us. I am sure that I needn’t tell you that this is a serious federal offense.”

“Get to the point Agent Felder,” Lanum interrupted. “You know as well as I do that all of those people were planted here, and that Carl’s family has been attacked twice now. Don’t give me this kidnapping crap.”

Agent Felder shot an ice cold gaze at Lanum.  Agent Tate, you are in enough trouble as it is. It might be useful to note that this deal does not apply to you. I suggest you keep your mouth shut.”

Felder regained his train of thought and shifted his attention back to Carl.  “Mr. Lamonte we are offering you the opportunity to hit reset here.  None of this happened, no charges, no questions asked.”

Carl took a deep breath, “and what must I do in return?”

Agent Felder returned Carl’s question with a toothy smile. “All you have to do is go home, and tell all these other cowboys that they can all go home to their families as well….that’s it!”

Carl let the words soak in for a second. It truly did sound too good to be true.

“And what about their notices?” he asked the agent. “What about the thousands of businesses that are going to be shut down a month from now? Are they forgiven too?”

Agent Felder’s smile faded. “Now that’s just not your fight Carl.  That is between them and Federal Government. You’ve got your business and family think about here.”

Carl felt a wave of anger rush through his body. “Agent Felder I appreciate the offer, but as I see it all these people have made it my fight. They have driven here from all over the state, hell, all over the country to support me, and I am not going to return the favor by walking out on them. Now, you tell your superiors, whoever they are, that it is no deal unless all of the notices are rescinded.”

Agent Felder held up his radio. “Mr. Lamonte, I was not authorized to make that deal and I strongly recommend you reconsider the government’s generous offer.”

“And if I don’t?” Carl shot back defiantly.

“Well Mr. Lamonte I am not sure you will like that option,” Agent Felder explained. “If you don’t accept our offer, I am going to push this little red button on my radio, and all of those armored SUVs and personnel carriers are going to drive over here, break through your little parking lot, and take you and anyone who stands in our way to jail. All deals will be off, and you will likely spend the rest of your life in a maximum security prison reading postcards from your kids.”

Carl was not swayed. “And what if all these folks decide not to let you arrest me?”

The agent looked at the makeshift defensive line, and chuckled. “Mr. Lamonte, I am not so sure that they will have any say in the matter. Those are armored vehicles, and anyone who fires on them will have that fire returned.  Let’s face it, you really only have one option…so say the word.”

With that, Agent Felder put his finger on the red radio button and looked Carl in the eye. “What is it going to be Mr. Lamonte? I would think very carefully about what you say next.”

Carl drew in a deep breath.  As much as he wanted to take the deal, there was no way he could walk out on all the Texans that were counting on him to make a stand.  If he walked away, he knew that the same scenario would just repeat itself somewhere else…no…it had to stop right here, right now.

“Agent Felder, I think you have my answer.” Carl growled.  “Now you push your little red button, get back in your car, and get the hell out of my camp.”

The agent looked at Carl for a long minute and then shook his head.  “I am very sorry about this Mr. Lamonte; I thought you were a reasonable man. Whatever happens from here on out is on your head.”

Agent Felder pushed the red button on his radio, hopped down from the stage, and departed in a spray of sand and rocks.  As they watched him drive away, a large dust cloud appeared off in the distance.

“They’re coming boys!” a voice cried out from the front line.  “Every last one of them!”

“This is it partner,” Lanum announced as he watched the approaching line of vehicles through his binoculars.  After a few seconds he dropped his binoculars and grabbed the microphone. “Okay everyone listen up!” he yelled into the PA. “When I say fire, shoot at their tires and radiator grills.  Don’t waste your time firing at windows! Now hold your fire until I give the command!”

Carl watched as the dust cloud got bigger and bigger. After a minute or two he could hear the drone of their engines.   As he watched the massive black line grow larger and larger, he could not help but wonder if he would ever see his family again. Carl felt a wave of nausea course through his gut.  It took every ounce of his will not to throw up right there on the spot.

All of a sudden, he heard what sounded like an air horn.  As he looked toward the highway off-ramp he could not believe his eyes.  A line of what looked like a hundred 18 wheelers was pouring off the highway toward the camp.  Instantly Carl recognized Clifford’s tractor in the lead.  He was driving so fast Carl was sure that he was going to roll over.  Clifford peeled off of the road with dozens of 18-wheelers of every size and shape right on his tail.  As the trucks hurled themselves into the prairie between the approaching feds and the campsite, they began to sound their air horns. The noise was nothing short of deafening.  Between the trucks, Carl could see the black SUVs skidding to a stop.

A cheer rose across the camp as the men watched truck after truck pull up between them and the feds.

“Looks like the cavalry just arrived!” Lanum exclaimed with delight.

The long line of semi’s surrounded the camp and the gas station, creating an impenetrable wall of steel between the Texans and the feds. By the time the last truck pulled off of the road, the entire camp was encircled with bumper-to-bumper trucks three deep.

Carl jumped off of the stage and ran to greet Clifford as he was climbing out of his cab.  “Hey ‘ole buddy,” Clifford thundered as he saw Carl approaching.  “Miss me?”

Carl could not contain himself and gave Clifford a huge bear hug. “Where the hell have you been Cliff?”

“I told you I was bringing the refreshments ‘ole boy!” Clifford fired back. “You didn’t think that I was going to miss all the fun did you? Oh, and I brought few buddies along as well. I hope that was okay.”

“Okay my ass!” Carl laughed. “You just saved our lives my friend!”

As they talked Sheriff Cameron ran up. “Well that threw them off good! All the feds have turned around and are regrouping at their campsite. They sure as hell weren’t expecting this!”

“Hell none of us were!” Carl laughed.  “Leave it to Cliff to make a grand entrance…I should’ve seen it coming.”

As the three men chatted, Lanum limped up.  “Look, I hate to be a wet blanket here, but all they have to do is lob a few canisters of tear gas over those trailers and we are all going to piss our pants and pass out. “

Carl felt the joy of the moment drain away. “You think that they would really do that?”

Lanum pulled his radio off of his belt. “Agent Felder just told me we could count on it.”

The smiles disappeared as the men realized that the fight may not be over.

“Well, we are just going to have to piss our pants while we hold our ground,” Carl shot back. “We have come too far to give up now.”

Carl walked into the station, poured himself a cold cup of coffee, and walked outside to collect his thoughts.  He took a sip from his cup and almost spit it out.  It was cold, burned, and pretty much undrinkable.

Carl could not help but chuckle to himself as he poured his cold coffee into the dirt. Just a few months ago, the idea of a second American civil war would have been inconceivable.  Now, not only did it appear imminent, it also appeared that its first shots would be fired at his gas station. He shook his cup out and looked up toward the sun.  It wasn’t just a hot day…it was Texas hot. Carl wiped the sweat from his brow with an oily orange rag and walked back to the comfort of his station’s air conditioned convenience store.  From the way things were going, it was going to be a hot day in more ways than one.

As Carl walked back into the station he saw his family gathered around the television.

“Carl honey,” Katie called out.  “You need to come over here.”

Carl tried to put on a smile and walked over to see what all the fuss was about.

“They televised the whole thing!” Katie continued. “The trucks coming…everything. The news helicopters got it all…live!”

Carl shifted his attention to the report that was in progress.

“People are taking to the street by the thousands to show their support for the group of  men in San Antonio, that are being heralded as Texas Patriots,” the reporter boomed. “Dallas, Houston, Beaumont, and El Paso city streets are packed with cheering flag waving Texans….”

As cameras panned across the massive crowds in each city, Carl could not believe what he was seeing.  Hundreds of thousands of Texans were in the streets cheering, waving Texas flags, and chanting “long live Texas!”

“Unconfirmed reports say that the highways are jammed with people trying to get to San Antonio to help Carl Lamonte and his band of Texas Patriots. I have never in my 30 years of reporting seen such a massive uprising of support!”

Carl felt his chest bursting with pride as he watched a field reporter interview one of the demonstrators in Dallas.

Sir, what is the message you are trying to send to the Federal Government? What do you want them to know?” the field reporter asked.

I want them to know that no one messes with Texas!” the man yelled into the microphone. “Long live Texas!”

Carl felt tears of welling up in his eyes. Just a few minutes earlier he had resigned himself to defeat, but now it seemed as if the entire state was rushing to his aid.

The reporter continued. “All around the state thousands upon thousands are heading to a small truck stop on the outskirts of San Antonio to help an embattled group of Texas Patriots stand up to superior federal forces! The first skirmish with federal officers was thwarted when over a hundred trucks pulled into the camp encircling the Texans.  Having seen the first assault on live television, hundreds of thousands of Texans have now taken up arms and are rushing to the aid of their compatriots…”

Katie looked at Carl right as a tear streamed down his face. “Honey, I think we might be winning.”

Carl smiled wiping the teardrop from his cheek.

At that moment Lanum and Clifford walked into the room and stood next to Carl.

“Have you heard the news ‘ole buddy?” Clifford beamed.  “Looks like we’re going to have some more unexpected guests.”

Carl nodded and motioned to the television.

The reporter was still talking. “We now go live to the state capitol to hear a statement from the Governor.”

The camera shifted to a podium in front of a row of Texas state flags. After a few seconds the Governor stepped up to the microphone.

“Fellow Texans, as I speak to you this evening a group of brave Texans have drawn a line in the sand at a small truck stop outside of San Antonio. In the face of overwhelming odds, they have stood their ground against a superior force of federal officials that tried to seize their private property and wage unjustified violence upon them.  At this moment tens of thousands of Texans from around our great state are headed to San Antonio to support this group of patriots.  First let me urge everyone to remain calm and refrain from violence of any type.  Let us show the world that Texans not only have courage, but honor as well.

The events of the past several weeks have served to convince me that it is not in the interest of the state to allow the federal government to seize the businesses and livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of Texans.  I believe that they are committing an unlawful act of aggression against our state, and have been advised by the State Attorney’s Office that it violates both the Texas and United States Constitutions.  Because of this, I am now advising the federal forces at San Antonio that they are, as of this moment, illegally within the borders of the Sovereign Republic of Texas, and that they will be arrested if they do not depart Texas soil immediately.”

Carl could hear cheers breaking out all over camp followed by a chorus of truck horns.

“I have ordered the activation of the Texas Militia and National Guard and have directed them to proceed immediately to the defense of our citizens in San Antonio. Ladies and Gentlemen of Texas, as your Governor I am committed to preserving your freedoms and your way of life. I cannot tell you how the future will unfold, but by unanimous vote of the Texas Legislature, I am pleased to announce that you are now an independent republic.  May God bless our great nation!”

Once again cheers erupted from around the camp. Carl could not believe what he was hearing.

“Well I guess the old bastard finally chose sides,” Clifford mused as he watch the Governor take questions from the press.

At that moment the same young boy that had woken Carl up a couple of days earlier ran into the station – once again out of breath.

“Mr. Lamonte you need to get outside quick….they’re coming,” the boy panted.

Carl gave the boy a bewildered look. “Who’s coming son, the feds?”

The boy began to grin. “No sir…Texas!”

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The Example (Part VII)

After wrapping things up with the police, Carl and his family loaded  into Lanum’s truck and headed back to his FBI office. The events of the evening were still spinning in their heads, and the ride was very quiet.  Carl was furious at what had happened. His wife and children could have been taken or even killed.  Just the thought of it made his skin crawl.

After a few moments Carl reached over and grabbed Katie’s hand squeezing it tightly.  Katie returned the squeeze and laid her head on his shoulder. In the dim light of the cab, Carl could see the tear lines still etched on her face.  No matter what happened over the next couple of days, one thing was clear. He had to protect his family.

Before they had departed the ranch, Lanum had made arrangements for Katie, the kids, and her parents to stay at the FBI facility. It was not very big and there weren’t many creature comforts, but there were a couple of cots, some sofas, and showers. Lanum had also arranged for all night security.  Carl agreed to the plan simply because he did not have a better one.  Whoever had attacked his family could still be out there, and he wanted to make sure that they were safe.

“Now you guys will be fine at my office,” Lanum announced breaking the silence. “You will have a place to sleep, and bathrooms with showers. It’s nothing like home, but it will only be for a couple of days until I can get something else arranged. The outside doors are dead bolted and no one, I mean no one, will be able to get in or out unless we want them to.”

Carl nodded his head. “I can’t thank you enough Lanum.  You saved my family from God knows what, and I am in your debt.”  Carl paused awkwardly.  He did not want to offend Agent Tate’s generosity, but could not help but wonder whether it was Lanum the FBI Agent or Lanum the Texan that was helping them out. “You know Lanum, something else is bothering me a bit.”

“Yeah me too,” Tate responded not waiting to hear what Carl had to say. “I think that what happened tonight was an inside job.”

Agent Tate’s comment completely derailed Carl’s train of thought. “An inside job?” he responded trying to get his head around the thought. “You mean someone at the camp is doing this?”

Lanum shook his head, “I am not sure but I have a strong hunch.”

Carl’s interest was piqued. “Well who do you think it is?” he asked.

“I have no idea, but I think that I can figure it out with your help,” Lanum continued.  “I want to show you something when we get to the office.”

After spending about a half hour getting the kids tucked into their beds, Katie and Carl walked into their makeshift bedroom in Lanum’s office.  Katie plopped down onto the small couch that Lanum had thoughtfully made into a bed for her, and began to cry once again.  “Carl, baby, what would those men have done with us? I mean, if Lanum had not shown up would they have killed us? Would they have killed our boys?”  Carl sat down beside her and gave her a long reassuring hug. “Honey I don’t know what might have happened, but I do know that thanks to Agent Tate, you guys are all safe and sound now. That is all I care about.”  Tears streamed down Katie’s face. “But what about you?” she continued.  “What is going to happen to you?”

Carl truly had no idea what to say.  He knew that his place was back at the station with the two thousand Texans that had come to join him.  He also knew that he had to finish what he started.  He squeezed her tightly a second time and kissed the top of her head.  “I’ll be okay sweetie,” he assured her.  “I have about two thousand friends at the station watching my back.”

Katie was clearly unimpressed by his feeble attempt to console her. She pulled away from him, wiped the tears from her face and looked at  him sternly. “Carl…before you go back to that station and play Davey Crockett or whatever you are going to do, just remember that you have two boys who need a father…not a martyr.” Carl smiled and looked deeply into her watery eyes. “No Davy Crockett,” he assured her, “I promise.”  Carl held Katie in his arms until she fell asleep, and then laid her down on the sofa and pulled the covers up over her shoulders.

Carl walked back out to the main office and found Lanum busy at one of the computers.  Lanum saw him walk out and motioned him over.

“Hey Carl, come over here and take a look at this,” Lanum said nodding toward the computer.  Carl sat down next to him and looked at the screen.  It was a picture of the buses that had carried off the protesters earlier that day.

“Is this that website you were telling me about?” Carl queried. “Agents of Justice or something?”

Lanum nodded.  “Agents for Social Justice,” he corrected. “This is the site that posted pictures of the protest literally minutes after the buses disappeared.”

Carl remembered their earlier conversation. “So these pictures had to be taken by someone in the camp, right?”

Lanum was transfixed on the screen.  “Yeah, but there is something else about these pictures that’s bothering me, and I cannot put my finger on it.”

Carl and Lanum sat in silence looking at the photo for several minutes.  It clearly showed the buses pulling away, surrounded by flags and cheering Texans.  As Carl looked at the scene, he could once again feel the exuberance of the moment.  It had been a great show of unity, and a feeling that he would remember for the rest of his life. Oddly enough however, the more he looked at the picture, the more he was troubled by it as well. Lanum was right…something was most definitely wrong.

All of a sudden, Lanum sat straight up in his chair breaking the silence. “It’s over their heads! That’s the problem! This damn picture is being taken from over everyone’s head!” Carl looked at the picture again and instantly felt somewhat stupid for not seeing it earlier.  The picture had clearly been taken from four or five feet above the crowd. Then it hit him. It had to have been taken from the stage. The angle was perfect.

“It’s the stage,” Carl announced to Lanum. “This picture had to have been taken from the stage!”

Lanum rocked forward in his chair and looked a Carl.  “How many folks were on the stage when all this was happening?  I expect it was loaded with flag wavers right?”

Carl paused and thought back to the moment.  Everything had happened so fast, most of the encounter had been a blur to him.  Then he remembered.  He had looked at the stage at one point in the ordeal, and had only seen Shorty and a few of his crew on the platform.  In fact, he remembered seeing Shorty singing into the microphone while two of his cowboys waved flags next to him.  “You know,” Carl mused, “I can only remember seeing Shorty on stage…yeah Shorty and a couple of his crew.”

“Who’s Shorty?” Lanum pressed.

“Oh, that’s just his nickname; I think he told me that his name was Billy T. Winslow or something like that,” Carl explained. “He and his crew were the first group to show up after I went to the press.”

Lanum continued to dig.  “How well do you know this Shorty fellah?”

Carl paused for a moment collecting his thoughts.  “Well I supposed I don’t really know anything about him other than the fact that he and his boys drove down from El Paso as soon as they saw the news report.   He has been a real leader though…pretty much organized the entire campsite. He assigns duties, organizes watches, and had has collected a lot of information from the campers.”

Lanum listened intently. “What type of information?”

Once again, Carl felt as if he was being left behind in the conversation.  “Well I don’t know…where they were from, how many in their group, what kind of firearms they had brought with them, how much ammunition, that kind of stuff.”

“What has he been doing with all that information?” Lanum asked. “Do you know?”

Carl felt himself becoming defensive.  “Well…I suppose he’s been collecting it so that we know what kind of…you know… capability we had in case things went badly with the Feds.”  Carl felt awkward saying this to Lanum, but continued anyway. “Shorty felt like we needed a full list of all our ammo and firepower so that we would know how to best…I don’t know….use it if we had to.”

Lanum was unshaken.  “So Shorty knows where everyone in the camp is from, how many guns they have, how much ammo they have, and where in the camp it all is?”

Carl was clearly flustered, but trying hard not to show it. “I suppose that you’re right but…”

“And you really don’t know him from Adam when it gets right down to it.” Lanum interrupted.

Carl paused feeling embarrassed and nodded in agreement.  “No he showed up on day one with a truckload of gear and cowboys and…well…just took charge. I figured he was just trying to be a good neighbor.”

Lanum looked back at the screen scratching his chin. “And he was on stage when all this was happening?”

Carl felt defensive once again.  “Yeah, but how could he have taken a picture without someone else seeing him?”

Lanum chuckled, trying to be polite.  “Carl my friend,  how many folks do you think were out there snapping digital photos and sending them to their wives and girlfriends?Hell, he could have taken a dozen pictures and no one would have noticed. If what you are saying is true however, and they were the only ones on stage, then one of them must have taken this picture.” The weight of what Lanum was saying started to hit Carl.  He had been so thankful for Shorty’s leadership that he had never once questioned anything he was doing.

Lanum stood up and stretched.  “Well  first thing tomorrow I am going to find out a little more about your Mr.  Shorty.”

Carl pulled up to the Fill n’ Fuel about 3 in the morning.  The camp was quiet, and despite the glow from about 200 camp fires, things were dark and peaceful. Carl walked into his office and shut the door. It had been the longest day of his life and he was exhausted.  He plopped down into his desk chair, and rocked his head back for a moment. He could not get Katie’s tear soaked face out of his mind.  How could someone want to hurt her or his children? Could Shorty really be a spy?  Carl’s head began to spin.  In just 36 hours his 30 day notice would be up, and he had no idea what was going to happen.  Would it be war, or just some type of Waco stand off?  Would his campers turn tail if shooting started?  Where was Clifford? Why was the Governor’s office treating him like a leper? Carl felt like his head was about to explode with questions. How he longed for the simple days, when his only concern was the price of diesel. God how he wished it all was nothing but a bad dream. After a few minutes, his exhaustion got the best of him and he slipped into a deep dreamless sleep.

The next thing Carl heard was someone banging on his office door.  The sun was bright and the room had already heated up to well over 80 degrees.  He jumped up from his chair, wiped the sweat from his forehead, and walked to the door.  A young boy that he recognized from the camp was standing there wide-eyed.

“Mr. Lamonte,” he panted as if he had been running, “they’re here!”  Carl did not understand what the boy meant.  “Who is here son?” he asked.  The boy pointed down the access road.  “The black cars…  they’re here!” He paused and swallowed trying to catch his breath.  “There are a lot of them too!”

Carl grabbed his binoculars and ran across the street, hopping up onto the stage for a better view.  Most of the camp had been alerted and several hundred Texans had moved to the front of the camp for a look as well.  Carl raised his binoculars and looked down the access road toward the highway.  There, off in the distance, was a neat row of black SUV’s. They were a few miles away, but Carl was able to count about 25 of them.  Behind the SUVs he could see a couple of large black vans, and what could only be described as an armored personnel carrier.  Carl could also make out a group a three or four men standing in front of one of SUVs looking at what appeared to be a large map spread out on the hood.  Carl swallowed hard as he surveyed the scene.

“Well old buddy looks like the Federales have found the Alamo!” a familiar voice rang out.

Shorty walked up next to Carl and slapped him on the back.  “I reckon that’s just the first batch of them,” he continued giving Carl a big toothy grin. “My guess is that there will be a couple of hundred by tomorrow afternoon.”

Carl lowered his binoculars.  “Well I guess we know that they weren’t bluffing.” he replied trying not to sound too nervous.  Shorty looked at Carl for a moment as if sizing him up and changed the subject.  “Hey buddy, I heard about what happened out at your place last night. It’s all over the camp this morning. I’m real sorry ‘bout that.”

Carl tried his best to keep his voice from wavering. “Yeah … thanks,” he responded.

Shorty paused for a moment to look through his binoculars.  “You know, if you like I can send a couple of my boys out to your place tonight to keep an eye on things.  Hell I’ll do it myself if that’ll make you feel better.”  Carl looked at Shorty and smiled. “That’s real nice of you Shorty, but I have made other arrangements.”

Shorty looked at Carl curiously.  “Oh I got ya, you’re keeping the family hold up somewhere.  Did you take them to a friend’s house or somethin’?” Shorty’s curiosity would not have bothered Carl in the least just a day before, but after his conversation with Lanum he felt extremely wary.  “No,” he replied, “but they are safe.”

“So where you got ‘em stashed?” Shorty pressed.

Carl paused. He could not tell if Shorty really wanted to know, or if he was just trying to get a reaction. “They’re safe Shorty, let’s just leave it at that,” he responded.

Shorty looked off into the distance and nodded his head. “Probably the right thing to do,” he noted. “You can’t be too careful when it comes to protecting your family. You’re smart to not tell me where they are…even if you do trust me.”  Shorty looked at Carl, “You do trust me right?” Carl’s face flushed.  Shorty’s question had caught him off guard, and he was having trouble finding the right response.  “Sure, I mean, why wouldn’t I?” he replied awkwardly.

Shorty changed the subject and motioned to the line of Feds off in the distance.  “Those fellahs out there mean business and they are going to be paying us a visit sometime tomorrow.” Carl regrouped a bit, and tried to make conversation. “Well I think we have them out numbered about 15 to one. I’m not sure that they are going to try anything right away.” Shorty sighed. “The truth is, they got themselves more fire power in those SUVs than all these cowboys combined.  Most of these good ‘ole boys came out here with hunting rifles, pea shooters, and antiques.  Even the few folks with decent guns, may not be willing to raise them against another human being.  Shootin’ a person is a lot different than baggin’ a buck.”

Shorty reached into his boot, pulled out a cigar, and lit it.  “Nope, my guess is that half of these fellah’s will turn tail if shooting starts. The fact is, when those boys are ready to come, they’ll ride right through the middle of camp.” Carl felt a gnawing in the pit of his stomach.  Regardless of whether or not Shorty was a spy, he was telling the truth and Carl knew it.

At that moment a Hank Williams ringtone broke the silence.  Carl watched as Shorty reached into his pocket and pulled out his cell phone.  As he flipped the top open to answer, a flash of reflected sunlight caught Carl’s eye.  It was a reflection off of the lens of the cell phone’s camera. Seeing this was all that Carl needed.  Shorty had to have been the one.  His cowboys had been busy waving flags; they could not have taken the pictures. No…it had to have been Shorty. As Carl stared at the phone, he could hear his heart beating in his ears.  He needed to get to Lanum’s office fast.  It was at that moment however, that he realized Shorty had quit talking and was looking directly at him.  “What’s wrong ‘ole buddy, you look like you’ve seen a ghost?” Shorty asked in a low serious voice. “Is there something you want to tell me?”

Carl tried to regain his composure. “Um, no, I just remembered that I need to run a few errands. I will stop by and we can talk later.” Before Shorty could reply, Carl jumped from the stage and headed for his truck.  He knew it was Shorty and, after that episode on the stage, he was pretty sure Shorty knew he did.

Carl found himself back at Lanum’s office a half hour later.  It was Sunday and the only person there besides his family and Lanum was a security guard.  Carl told Lanum about his conversation with Shorty and the line of black cars. Lanum listened intently saying nothing the entire time. When Carl finished, Lanum motioned him over to his computer.

“I have been doing some checking on your buddy Shorty,” Lanum said tapping the computer screen.  I didn’t find anyone named Billy or William Winslow, but I did find this in our criminal database.” Lanum backed away from the screen so that Carl could see.  What he saw sent a cold shiver down his spine.  It was a picture of Shorty.  Beside the picture was the name Michael “Shorty” Williams.

Carl was stunned. “How did you find this?” he asked.  “You’ve never even seen him!”

“But I have,” Katie’s voice chimed from across the room.

Lanum spun around in his chair and gave Carl a big grin.  “Yep, Katie and I have been doing a lot of snooping around today.  It seems as though she has a great eye for detail.”

Katie stepped up beside Carl and smiled when she saw his look of surprise. “What did you expect? These jerks tried to kill my father and kidnap our children. Did you think I was going to pass the time knitting a sweater?”

Lanum did not give Carl a chance to respond.  “It seems as if our friend Shorty has several warrants out for his arrest. They are mostly for environmental terrorism, burning SUVs, killing cattle, things like that. It all looks petty until this last warrant.  It seems that he is wanted by the Dallas police for kidnapping and attempted murder.  It also appears that he is ex-special forces. Perhaps he started his career with the CIA and has since gone free agent.”

Carl gave Lanum an embarrassed look. “I am pretty sure that he knows we are onto him too.”

“What makes you so sure?” Lanum queried.

“I am not a good liar,” Carl confessed. “He tried to get me to tell him where I had taken Katie and the kids this morning, and when I didn’t he clearly got suspicious.”

At that moment there was a buzz at the door. Lanum handed a twenty dollar bill to the security guard, and motioned for him to go open the door.  “I ordered some pizza a little while ago.” Lanum informed the room.  “I hope pepperoni is good with everyone…”

At that moment a shot rang out through the headquarters and the security guard flew backwards over a desk with blood gushing from his back.  Lanum reached for his gun, but before he could draw it, a figure appeared from around the corner holding a large caliber revolver.  It was Shorty.

“Now everyone stay calm,” Shorty ordered, “and we will be done real quick like.” Shorty shifted his gaze to Lanum. “First off, I would like you to finish skinnin’ that pistol, lay it on the ground, and push it over to me with your foot.”

Lanum laid his weapon on the floor and kicked it toward Shorty. “Just what do you hope to accomplish by holding a Federal Agent at gunpoint?” Lanum growled as Shorty picked up the pistol.  “I hope to get paid,” Shorty chuckled as he swung the gun toward Lanum and fired.  Katie screamed as Lanum dropped to the ground clutching his leg in pain.

“You see,” Shorty continued, “I could care less about your little war, but the folks that hired me care about it…a lot. And they have paid me handsomely to ensure it goes their way.”

Carl pushed Katie behind him. “Who the hell is paying you?” he demanded.

Shorty swung his pistol toward Carl.  “You got no idea what you’ve started do ya ‘ole buddy?  You really have no idea!” Shorty could not contain his amusement and let out a deep belly laugh.

Carl felt a rarefied form of anger surging through his veins.  “Well why don’t you enlighten us!” he shot back.

Shorty’s disposition changed instantly.  “You, ‘ole buddy, are not in a position to be making any demands,” he growled.  “Now here’s what’s going to happen.  I am going to take your wife and kids on a little ride. You, ‘ole buddy, are going to head back to the station, crawl up on that stage, and tell everyone there that you have cut a deal with the Feds and that the standoff is over.  You will tell them that if they do not clear out within’ 24 hours, the black vans are going to come in and start arresting everyone in sight.”

“And if I don’t?” Carl hissed.

Shorty smiled and looked at Katie. “If you don’t, then I start mailing your wife and kids back to you a piece at a time until you change your mind.”

Katie began to sob. “You will take my family over my dead body,” Carl spat back in rage.

Shorty smiled. “Well I have a plan for that too if that’s the way you want to roll,” he chuckled cocking his pistol.  Katie screamed as Carl braced for the shot.  At that moment a figure emerged from around the corner behind Shorty.  It was Carl’s father-in-law and he was holding a baseball bat. With a swing that would have made Jose Canseco jealous, he sent Shorty flying across the room.  The force of the impact caused Shorty to drop his revolver and Carl lunged forward grabbing the gun.

Shorty came to rest with his back against the office wall. He was dazed and had blood oozing from the left side of his head.  Carl stepped over him and pointed the gun at his face.  “Now you move one muscle…’ole buddy…and so help me God I will finish the job,”  he yelled.  Shorty responded with a groan as he tried to focus his eyes on the gun barrel. “I guess that I am in a position to make demands after all!” Carl continued. “Now I want to know who sent you and what they are planning!”

As Carl spoke, Lanum struggled to his feet.  He was bleeding badly from his right inner thigh, but was conscious.  He limped over toward Carl and sat down.  “Give me the gun Carl,” he ordered.  “If you shoot this bastard, it’s murder.  If I shoot him, it’s community service.”

Carl handed the gun to Lanum. “You need an ambulance,” he observed looking at Lanum’s bloody leg.

“I’m okay for now.” Lanum responded keeping his focus on Shorty.  “Now suppose you tell us exactly who sent you.”

Shorty reached up and dabbed the blood on his head with his finger.  “You know, all of this is useless don’t you? Do you think it’s just me? There are over 100 plants in your little camp just waiting on the word,” he laughed.  “You have no idea who you are dealing with.”  As Shorty spoke he moved his left hand behind his back where Lanum’s gun had fallen.  “This thing is already over and you boys are too stupid to know it!” he continued.  “I pity you both.”

Shorty grabbed the gun and swung it forward toward the two men.  In a second Lanum fired three shots squarely into Shorty’s chest killing him instantly. Lanum wasted no time. Kneeling over Shorty’s body he started fishing through his pockets.  Finding his wallet, he put it in his pocket.  “I am going to call for support in about 5 minutes.” Lanum explained. ” That will be enough time for you to get your family out of here and back to the station.”

Carl was in shock. “What about your leg.  I can’t leave you here!”

Lanum gave Carl a stern look. His face was pale from blood loss and pain, but Carl could tell that he was in charge of the situation. “Carl you cannot be here when the cops come.  I want you and your family out of town.”

“What about you,” Carl asked again.  “What are you going to do?”

“Don’t worry about me,” Lanum replied.  “I am going to get this leg patched up and will call you as soon as I can.”

Once again, Carl had no idea what to say. “Lanum buddy I’m sorry about all this.”

Lanum waved him off.  “Get your family and get outta here. I am going to dig through this guy’s stuff and see what I can find out about these other plants. You got a fight coming tomorrow and we need to find out who they are…now get your family back to the station and stay put.”

Carl realized that Lanum was right.  He needed to get back to the campsite as soon as possible. Shorty’s crew would notice him missing soon, and he needed to get back in case things got ugly.  He looked at Lanum and smiled.  “Thanks again buddy,” he said.

Lanum looked at Carl and grinned.  “Go on, get out of here.  You’re just making me bleed more.” As Carl started to turn Lanum grabbed him by the arm.  “And by the way Carl, just in case you were wondering…I have chosen sides.”

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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 IV)

By the end of the day Carl had visited every television and radio station in the city.  He made no attempt to hold any detail back.  He told them about the notice, the Governor’s lack of responsiveness, the vandalism to his station, and the FBI photo shoot.  He had also done as his buddy Clifford had instructed and noted that he would be sponsoring an open house barbeque the day his notice expired.  By the time he was on the way back to his station, the local AM stations were already leading their news breaks with the story.

“A local truck stop owner appears to be the first casualty of the Texas tax revolt.  Tune in at the top of the hour for more!” one radio station advertized.

“Barbeque or bust for one local businessman!” another touted.

By going public, Carl knew that he had just made himself the focal point of the entire nation.  He knew that, within a matter of days, dozens of television vans would be parked in the prairie across from his truck stop.  Instead of being apprehensive however, he felt more at ease than he had since this whole mess had begun.   By going to the press, Carl knew that he had changed the game. He was not sure if it would work out in his favor or not, but he knew that, now, the Governor’s office would be forced to take action one way or the other.  There would be no “wait and see” for them now.  The political forces at play would have to reconcile themselves with popular opinion, and Carl was betting that this would be his ace in the hole.

Carl pulled into the station with about 15 minutes of time to spare before the local evening news.  Several news trucks had already set up across the access road.  Their microwave antennas were fully extended, and the field reporters were busy choosing the correct backdrop for their report.  As Carl drove by, he could see their interest shift to him.  As he pulled his truck up to the market, he was instantaneously swarmed with eager correspondents asking for live interviews.

Carl stepped out of his truck, waved his hands to get the crowd to quiet down, and then agreed to do interviews for each station.  Marcus had been able to clean the front of the station off pretty well, but there were still dry red splatters all over the place.  The hoses however had yet to be replaced, so he decided to stand next to one of the vandalized pumps for his interviews.  For the next hour, he interviewed with about 6 area stations.  He pointed out the cut hoses, the red paint, and the deafening silence from the Governor’s office.  He also made sure to invite all Texans to Fill & Fuel’s First Annual Secession Barbeque.  “Now this is a BYOB event,” Carl noted sternly as he looked into the news cameras.  “Bring your own beef that is.”  Carl would then smile and assure everyone that entertainment would most certainly be provided by the Federal Government.  By the end of the last interview, over three quarters of Texas had heard his story.

As the news trucks packed their cables and departed, Carl walked into the store where he found Marcus.

“Mr. Lamonte, you were on every channel,” Marcus noted as the phone rang.   “You see,” he said pointing to the phone, ”that is about the 20th call we have gotten in the last 10 minutes.”

Carl reached over and picked up the phone out of curiosity.

“Fill & Fuel truck stop, this is Carl…”

“Yeah,” a strange voice responded, “we just saw you on the TV and wanted you to know that your fellow Texans are behind you all the way. We will see you at the barbeque.”

Carl paused not knowing exactly what to say.  “Well thank you kindly, we are looking forward to it.”

The caller hung up, apparently content with his short vote of confidence.  No sooner had Carl hung up the phone than it rang again.  Carl looked at Marcus and picked it up again.

“Fill & Fuel, may I help you?”

“Hey man, just wanted to say we’ll be there.  Don’t give up the ranch brother!”

Carl put the phone back on the hook and exhaled.

“Mr. Lamonte, with all these calls, I think things are going to get crazy around here,” Marcus continued.  “I am going to sleep in the office tonight, just in case someone tries something.”

Carl shook his head.  “Marcus, this is my fight not yours.  I want you to go home to your family and get some rest.  I am going to do the same.”

Carl could see that Marcus was about to protest, so he raised his hand to cut him off.

“Marcus, if things get too crazy I will stay here, but until it does, we are both better off with our families.  I am headed home right now. “

The phone rang again.

“And just let all those go to the answering service,” Carl ordered gesturing toward the phone.

Marcus shook his head.  “You’re the boss sir.”

The truck had pulled over to the shoulder of the highway just a few moments after the last news broadcast.  The driver had positioned the car so that he could see Fill & Fuel clearly through his binoculars.  Ever since the last news truck had departed, the driver had been able to see the entire station clearly.  He had seen Carl walk inside the store, but things had been quiet for a while now.  Just as he was about to put the binoculars down the door to the market swung open.

The driver watched through his binoculars intently as Carl got into his truck and peeled down the driveway.  He could see another figure standing in the mini mart, but could not make out exactly who it was.  He assumed that it was hired help.  The driver swung his binoculars back to Carl’s truck as it disappeared down the access road in a cloud of dust.  He put the binoculars down into his lap, took a sip of coffee, and glanced briefly at the shotgun lying next to him. It would be dark soon, and he would be ready.

Carl walked into his house just in time to hear the phone ring.  Apparently, his home phone had been just as busy as the station’s.

“I’m not answering it anymore Carl!” Katie called out from the kitchen.  “It has been ringing non-stop ever since the news.”

Carl had completely forgotten about the fact that he and Katie were in the phone book.

“Sorry sweetie,” he called back, “I’ll get it.”

Carl walked over and picked up the receiver fully expecting to hear the anonymous voice of some well wisher.

“This is Carl, can I help you?”

The voice on the other end of the line was not like the others had been.

“We know where you live, traitor. You had better grow eyes in the back of your head,” a deep voice growled ominously.

Carl was shocked. “What? Who the hell is this?”

The caller continued.  “You get ready, ‘cause we are going to pay you a visit real soon.”

The caller hung up before Carl could say anything else.  He stood there for a moment, visibly shaken.  He felt like an idiot.  In his zeal to get the word out, he had not even considered the fact that he might be putting his family in danger.

“You okay honey?” Katie asked as she walked into the room drying a glass.

Carl bent down and unplugged the phone from the wall.

“Just another supporter,” Carl lied trying to smile.

“Well I wish you would have warned me before you went public,” Katie admonished.  “I would have unplugged it hours ago.”

Carl kissed her on the cheek and changed the subject.

“Anything to eat?” he asked, “I could use something other than beef jerky.”

Carl and Katie ate in silence, both mentally exhausted from the events of the past couple of days. Carl did his best to act confident for his family, but the truth of the matter was he was wound tighter than a fiddle string.   He knew that he had unleashed a monster by going to the media and, especially after the last call,  he was getting more and more uneasy about his decision.  After dinner, he lumbered back to the bedroom, took a hot shower, and crawled into bed.  Out of habit he reached for the remote but paused before hitting the power button.  “Nope,” he grunted to himself, “I ain’t gonna do it.”  With that, he tossed the remote back on the mattress and rolled over on his side for a bit of shut eye.  He was tired and sleep came quickly.

At about 2 a.m., Carl’s peaceful slumber was shattered by a frantic voice.

“Honey…Carl….You need to get up right now!”

Katie was on the bed shaking him.  Carl rolled over on his back and tried to focus on her face.  Katie continued to shake him.

“Carl, wake up there is a problem with the station, you need to get down there,” she pleaded.

Her words cut through his grogginess and jolted him awake.

“What is going on at the station?” he mumbled trying to collect his thoughts.  “Did Marcus call or something?”

Katie was pale.  “No baby…you unplugged the telephone…remember?”

Carl was confused. “So if no one called, how do you know there is a problem?”

Katie swallowed hard and paused.  “I turned on the television.”

Carl sat up in bed and looked at the TV.  It took him a moment to understand what he was looking at.  It looked like an aerial camera shot of the Fill & Fuel, and it was burning.

Carl’s heart jumped into his throat. “Holy Christ!” he whispered in shock as he watched the screen.  At that moment a horrible sense of dread hit him right in his gut. Marcus had most likely ignored his direction and slept at the station…but why had he not called?  Carl reached for his cell phone and dialed Marcus’ number.  There was no answer.  Panicked, Carl jumped to his feet, threw on his clothes, and ran for the door.

“Get your father up and tell him to watch the property,” he yelled back to Katie. “You tell him to shoot anything other than me that comes up that driveway.”  Hearing no response, Carl paused and looked  back at Katie. She was looking at him with her eyes full of tears.  Carl took a deep breath and walked up to her.

“Honey, it’s going to be okay, I promise. No one is going to hurt you or the kids.”  Carl brushed her hair from her face.  “Just keep the doors locked and I am going to get the police to come by and stay with you guys. In the meantime, tell your dad to keep the gun with him.”

Katie nodded her head. “Be careful honey,’ she whispered back.

By the time Carl got to the station it was a beehive of activity.   He pulled up to the police line and pushed his way through.  Apparently vandals had set one of his fuel islands on fire in an attempt to blow the whole station sky high.  The fire department had showed up in time however, and apparently had put out the flames before they could spread and create more damage.  The island and all the pumps were a total loss though.

As Carl scanned the crowd for Marcus an ambulance caught his eye.  Its rear doors were open and there was a group of EMTs and firemen in the back loading a stretcher onboard.  Carl’s blood ran cold with fear as he pushed past the firefighters toward the ambulance.  As he got nearer, he could see that it was Marcus on the stretcher.   He was on oxygen and badly burned.

“What happened,” he demanded from one of the paramedics.  “Is he going to be okay?”

The EMT looked at him somberly and shook his head.

“He is in pretty serious condition. Whoever did this, gave him a real good beating before setting the place on fire. He’s burned pretty badly and in shock.”

Carl felt his heart racing.

“Can I talk to him?” Carl pleaded. “I mean is he conscious?”

The EMT shook his head as he pushed past Carl to the driver’s compartment of the ambulance.

“Buddy, if we don’t get this fellah to the hospital real quick, he may not talk to anyone ever again.”

With that he jumped into the ambulance and headed for the road.  Carl watched in disbelief as the vehicle disappeared into the sea of flashing lights around the station.  His mind was spinning. Had they contacted his family? Did they know? Who would do something like this?

At that moment a hand gripped Carl’s shoulder jolting him out of his thoughts. Carl spun around on his heels surprised to see Agent Tate standing there.  Instantly he felt his gut fill with rage.

“Who the hell would do something like this?” Carl demanded.  “Who would do this to my station and to Marcus?”

Agent Tate was visibly shaken. “Mr. Lamonte, I’m very sorry,” he whispered.

“Was it you?” Carl jabbed.  “Is this what they used your pictures for?”

Tate grabbed Carl by his arms, squeezing so tightly that Carl lost his train of thought.

“Mr. Lamonte, you shouldn’t have gone public like you did,” he scolded.  As soon as I saw the news reports this evening, I came out and started watching your place from back at the highway.  I knew something like this was going to happen!  Damn it, I knew this would happen.”

Carl was undeterred. “You were watching my station? Did you see who did this?”

Tate grabbed Carl’s arm even harder. “Yeah I saw them alright. I saw the whole thing.  A big van pulled up to one of the islands and some guys got out with crowbars and started bashing your pumps.  Your fellow…Marcus…came running out of the station and confronted them.  They exchanged words for about a second and the men started beating him.  I dropped my binoculars and laid rubber over here as fast as I could, but by the time I got here the island was burning and they were gone.”

Carl could not believe what he was hearing.  “Did you catch them?” he demanded.  “Why didn’t you go after them?”

Tate was clearly frustrated. “I couldn’t.  By the time I pulled up to the station the pumps and that fellah Marcus were both on fire.  I had to pull him out of the flames and hit the fire suppression before the entire place went up.”

Carl could see that Lanum’s eye’s were full of tears.  They were not tears of sorrow however…he was in pain.  Carl looked down at the two hands still gripping his arms and saw that they were covered with second and third degree burns. Carl was at a loss for words.

“You saved him….you saved Marcus,” he muttered in disbelief.

“I tried, but I am afraid that I may have been too late.”

“You did what you could Lanum, and thank you….l mean… I am sorry I snapped at you…” Carl had no idea what to say.

“Look Carl,” Lanum continued, “I had nothing to do with this, but I can tell you one thing, I will find out who did.”

Carl felt his anger returning.  “You better believe that we’re going to find out.”

“Not we Carl,” Tate butted in.  “I need you to keep your head down.  The people that did this, were not playing around. They came prepared; they had incendiary devices, and almost killed your employee when he got in the way.”

“He still may die,” Carl butted in.

Tate locked onto Carl’s eyes like he had done the evening they spoke in front of the FBI office. “Carl, I have been thinking a lot about what is going on here, and you are getting a bum rap.  The way I see it, sooner or later, every one of us is going to have to decide what side of this issue they’re on.   I want you to know that I am on your side.  There are a lot of other cops around here that are as well.  You may not know it Carl, but you have a lot of friends in this town, and the more the hammer comes down on you the more you will get.”

Carl nodded letting Tate’s words soak in.

Lanum continued.

“You better believe that I am going to get these guys.  I am already calling in a few favors to find out who they are and keep it under the wire, you know what I mean?”

Carl thought he knew, and nodded again.

“I am going to arrange protection for your family, but you are going to have to do me just one more favor.”

“You name it,” Carl heard himself say.

“I need you not to get yourself killed.”

Tate’s words hung in Carl’s ears.

“Don’t worry Agent Tate, I won’t bite off any more than I can chew.”

Lanum let out a huge belly laugh as he walked away.

“You did that a long time ago my friend! “

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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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The Example (Part I)

Carl could not help but chuckle to himself as he poured his cold coffee into the dirt. Just a few months ago, the idea of a second American civil war would have been inconceivable.  Now, not only did it seem imminent, it also appeared that the first battle would take place at his gas station. He shook his cup out and looked up toward the sun.  It wasn’t just hot…it was Texas hot. Carl wiped the sweat from his brow with an orange rag and walked back to the comfort of his store. He laid his rifle on the counter and poured himself another cup. From the way things were going, it was going to be a hot day indeed.

Carl Lamonte had lived in San Antonio his entire life.  His father had been a wildcatter in Abilene and his grandfather a rancher.  Carl had started out on the drill rigs, but soon realized that 100 degree summers on the Texas prairie were simply not his cup o’ tea.  So, right after high school he started pumping gas and doing odd jobs at Phil’s Fuel Stop on the edge of town.  Phil was a nice ole’ fellah by everyone’s description, and had been in business selling gas to tourists, truckers, and travelers of every make and model for over thirty years. Phil was immediately impressed by Carl’s eagerness to learn, and within just a few months was teaching him everything he knew about the business.

Carl loved working at the station, and turned out to be a natural entrepreneur. He was constantly approaching Phil with new ideas for attracting customers and increasing sales.  One day Carl showed up to work with an old battered soda machine that he had purchased for 10 dollars.  Over the course of a week, Carl had it cleaned up, running, and full of ice cold RC Colas. Soon new “gadgets” were turning up everywhere.  After a few months, Phil’s Fuel was strewn with newspaper boxes, candy machines, and beef jerky racks.  Once Carl had even talked a nearby farmer into bringing a pony to the station to give kids rides for 50 cents a pop.  Everything was going fine until a tank truck pulled up and the pony took off across the prairie with a disgruntled 10 year old boy flopping around on top. Phil was a gas man and understood none of this, but he admired Carl’s drive and humored most of his “hair brained” ideas.  The facts were undeniable though.  Ranchers that Phil had watched drive by for years, were now stopping in every once in a while to get an ice cold RC and some jerky.

As the years passed and cars became  more reliable, and more complex, Phil’s garage work dropped to nearly nothing.  Once again Carl saw an opportunity, and talked Phil into leasing him the three garage bays that now stood empty next to the station’s office.  Phil agreed, and gave Carl a five year lease for next to nothing.  Carl sold his family home and property to a local rancher and used every last cent to convert the garages into a convenience store and coffee shop.  Carl did most of the work himself,  and had the store open for business 6 months later.  For the next year he worked tirelessly running the register, flipping pancakes, doing the dishes, stocking the shelves, and handing out fliers.  Without a penny to his name, he slept in the stockroom at night, and ate whatever wasn’t selling.

Over time, word got out that you could get a pretty good breakfast at Carl’s, and people started dropping in.  Carl used what little money he was making to rent a billboard on the nearby Interstate advertising  5 egg omelets and a “free” thermos of coffee for truckers.  As business picked up, he discovered that he could actually lose money on the food because, as soon as the truckers finished eating, they would walk into the convenience store and stock their trucks with overpriced snacks, drinks, and cigarettes.  Before he knew it, he had such a stream of business that he was having trouble keeping the shelves stocked with beef jerky and sunflower seeds.  Phil’s fuel sales went through the roof as well.  As the truckers poured in for supplies they also topped off their tanks and, in less than a year, Phil was building a new island of diesel pumps to accommodate all of the trucks.  Carl even came up with a catch phrase for the station:

“Fill ’em and Fuel ’em at Phil’s”

Business continued to grow for about 8 years, and life was good for the fill ’em and fuel ’em team.  Carl was finally starting to realize some return on his years of hard work. He bought himself a small ranch a few miles from the station, found himself a gently used F-350, and decided to hire a couple of employees to help run the place.  Then, just as things had really started rolling, tragedy struck. One scorching hot August afternoon Phil drove home, kissed his wife Elna, sat down in his chair to read the mail, and died.  The doctor said that he had passed from a massive brain hemorrhage and had not suffered.  Carl was thankful for that. Phil had provided well for his wife, and she wanted nothing to do with the gas station. So, Carl bought Phil’s share and went it alone. It was hard at first, because Phil had always managed the fuels.  Almost immediately Carl realized that it wasn’t nearly as easy as flipping pancakes.

Buying and selling fuel was a real hit or miss type thing. As an independent dealer, Carl had to negotiate with a number of local suppliers.  You had to buy in bulk loads as cheaply as you could, and then sell it at a price that you thought would cover the next shipment.  If you were lucky and hit the numbers just right, you could make a nice profit.  If you missed the mark however, you could lose a lot.  After 40 years in the business, Phil had been a master at this.  Carl, on the other hand, had a lot to learn.  He missed Phil terribly.

Despite Carl’s early misfires in the fuel business, the station continued to grow. It was now a popular stop for truckers on the Interstate, and he had a steady stream of long-haul regulars.  His personal life took a turn for the better as well when he met his wife Katie.  He had always wanted a family of his own, and a year after their wedding he got his wish when their twin boys Cade and Cody were born. Wanting to spend more time with his family, he hired a manager for the Fill and Fuel and started focusing on being a dad.

One day while he was in his office doing payroll, a couple of men in suits walked into the store.  They were from a larger truck stop franchise and were interested in talking to Carl about buying his place.  He had a perfect location near the Interstate, and apparently he was outselling all the the other establishments in his area.  Almost out of the blue, one of the men tossed a number on the table that made Carl nearly fall out of his chair.  If he took the deal, his family would be taken care of, and he would never have to work another day in his life.  After thinking about it for a few days however, he decided to pass.  There was still a lot he wanted to do to the place, and wasn’t ready to give up his life’s work.  Besides, if it was worth that much now, he could only imagine what it would be worth when he was through with it.  He was happy, healthy, successful, and a father.  What more could he ask for?  Unfortunately, a thousand miles away in Washington, “change” was in the air.

The first blow came in 2011 when Congress let the Bush tax cuts expire. Carl had never incorporated and, as a sole proprietor, his tax rate increased by 15% overnight.  It was a devastating blow.  The recession of 2009 had already cut his sales by 30%, and the new taxes just made things worse.  The larger chains looked at the tax hike as an opportunity to drive some of the independents out of business, so they ate the tax increase  for a while to keep their prices artificially low. Carl could not afford to do this, and was forced to price his  fuel a full nickel per gallon higher than some of his competitors.  Business slowed even more, but stayed steady thanks to many loyal customers. For the first time in over 20 years however, Fill and Fuel was losing money.  In order to keep the tanks full, Carl had to let 4 of his long-time employees go. Next to Phil’s death, handing out their pink slips was the most painful experience of his life.  Carl was not alone however,  thousands of companies across the state were having to make similar decisions, and soon unemployment numbers began to climb well above 12 percent.  The people of Texas were furious at the tax hikes,  and tea parties around the state began to cry for secession.  At first they were dismissed by the mainstream as far right loons but, as time went on,  the protests got larger and louder.

In 2012 the second blow came in the form of Cap and Trade. Congress rammed it through against a massive grass roots protest with the help of three or four turncoat Republicans.  Overnight, fuel prices skyrocketed to 6 dollars a gallon on sheer speculation.  Again, as an independent dealer, Carl did not have the purchasing power that his larger competitors enjoyed, and started losing more and more money on every gallon of fuel he sold.  He mortgaged his home and took out an equity loan on the station to keep the cash flowing, but eventually had to lay off 3 more employees including his two shift managers.  Once again, Carl found himself putting in 18 hour days just to keep the place in business. Cap and Trade had all but devastated the national trucking industry as well – especially the little guys.  The smaller truck lines and independent owner-operators did not have the capital to buy the carbon offsets necessary to keep their rigs on the road, so they simply started shutting down.  Within three months of the law’s implementation, Carl’s truck business dropped to almost zero. He was still getting a steady stream of car business, but the simple fact was that he could not fill Kia gas tanks fast enough to pay the bills.

Texans were infuriated by the administration’s eagerness to sign Cap and Trade into law, and had challenged it in the Supreme Court with 15 other states. The newly liberal court however,  shot down the lawsuit on the grounds that Cap and Trade was constitutional under Interstate Commerce.  On the day that the decision was announced, cries rang out across Texas once again for secession.  Texas flags flew from every window across the state, and several federal offices in Dallas and Austin were vandalized by angry mobs. Trucks in the hundreds parked themselves around the state capitol building blocking traffic for weeks,  practically bringing the city to a standstill.  The Governor held an emergency meeting with the Legislature and, along with 4 other states, sent a letter to the federal government stating their concern for the nation’s welfare and reaffirming their commitment to protecting the welfare of their citizens.

Then, as if to poke the nation in its collective eye, late in 2013 Congress passed an 8% national Value Added Tax (VAT) to cover the wildly out of control national debt and help pay for escalating health care costs.  The VAT had been an add-on buried in a new economic stimulus bill.  The 4,000 page bill was signed into law by Obama only a week after it had been introduced, and the language authorizing the tax had been cleverly hidden in a paragraph on page 3,015. Neither the press nor the Republicans had caught it in time.  Once again fuel prices skyrocketed on speculation, and within a matter of days topped 8 dollars a gallon.  Business at Carl’s place dried up to nothing.  The once busy Interstate now looked like a back country farm road. One San Antonio reporter noted that, on some stretches of highway, one could sit on the centerline and eat lunch without fear of being run over.  Again, cries arose for secession across the state.  Businesses were closing by the hundreds due skyrocketing overhead costs and poor demand.  Carl could no longer pay the mortgage on his home, and was forced into foreclosure.  He moved his family into his in-law’s ranch, laid off the rest of his employees, and closed the diner.  Once again, he found himself penniless and struggling to survive a day at a time.  Things were not much better anywhere else.  With an unemployment rate of over 17%, the state of Texas found itself in the middle of an economic crisis that it had not created.  Violence began to break out in some of the larger cities, and people out of work began to line the streets of Austin demanding that Texas reclaim its status as an independent sovereign nation.

The Governor had no choice but to call a special session of the Legislature together to discuss their next move. After two weeks of heated debate, they sent a second letter to the White House.  In it they notified the President that the Republic of Texas would no longer recognize the new VAT, and would not compel any of its citizens to pay it.  The letter also announced that federal Cap and Trade regulations would not apply to businesses operating within state borders. It closed with a stern warning that any attempt by the federal government to hold any Texas citizen liable for these taxes would result in Texas’ immediate secession from the Union.

The national press was abuzz. Pundits on the major networks took sides and started arguing the constitutionality of Texas’ bold move.  Many were critical saying that the Civil War had clearly established that secession was illegal, and that the entire Texas Legislature should be arrested on federal charges.  Others however, pointed out that nowhere in the Constitution did it state that the Union was permanent, and that many states did in fact have clauses in their constitutions reaffirming their right to secede.  As the debate raged on,  the White House was eerily silent on the matter.  Press secretary Robert Gibbs refused comment when queried, and Obama all but dropped out of sight completely. Weeks, then months, went by without any federal response – and the silence was deafening.

Because Carl had always purchased his fuel from local Texas suppliers, he found that he had a slight advantage over the competition now.  With the unilateral repeal of Cap and Trade and the VAT, Carl was able to lower his prices and undercut the out-of-state suppliers. Small in-state trucking companies started to venture back out on the road and, in a show of solidarity, many pledged to only patronize Texas-based businesses. Soon, business picked up enough for Carl to reopen the diner for breakfast.  After a couple of months, rumors started to circulate that Texas had called the fed’s bluff, and that Obama’s oppressive taxes were destined to be repealed across the country.  After a while, even Carl began to believe that the crisis would soon be over.  That is when he got the letter…

Carl received it from a special courier one afternoon as he was preparing to leave for home.  He signed for it, and tore the envelope open.  The letter was neatly typed on Internal Revenue Service stationary and read simply:

“Dear Mr. Lamonte,

This letter is to inform you that you have failed to pay lawful federal taxes, and that you are in violation of federal law.  You have 30 days from the date of this letter to pay accrued taxes and fines totaling 35,300 dollars, or your property will be seized by federal authorities as payment in kind. We recommend that you make this payment promptly to avoid further action.”

Carl felt his face flush. His heart begin to race in his chest. “They can’t do that can they?” he asked under his breath.  All of a sudden, he felt a surge of pure rage.  He and Phil had built this truck stop with their money and their sweat!    He had slaved and starved for years to make something for himself, and he was not about to let any damn Washington bureaucrat come in and take it.  How dare they!

Early the next morning, Carl called the Governor’s office and told them about what he had received. Apparently thousands of businesses across the state had received similar letters on the very same day, and the Governor’s office had been inundated with calls all morning from frantic Texans.

“Yeah, they are pretty much giving everyone their 60 day notice,” the staffer on the other end of the line noted.  “Everyone here in Austin is scrambling to figure out what to do next.”

Carl hesitated and looked down at his letter.

“Did you say 60 day notice?”

“Yep, they all say 60,” the staffer confirmed. “What are they going to do, send down an army to repossess the entire state?”

Carl looked at his letter again.  “My letter only gives me 30 days.”

There was a pause on the phone. “Are you sure sir?

“That’s right. I am looking at it as we speak.”

There was another pause.  “Sir, could you please hold on, while I inform the Governor?”

“The Governor?”

“Yes sir, we were scared that something like this might happen.”

“Like this?” Carl queried trying not to sound as confused as he felt.

“Yes sir, we were worried that they would try to make an example out of someone, and it sounds like you may be it.”

Carl let the phone down from his ear.  It was now perfectly clear to him what was happening.  The feds were going to come into town, seize his property, and haul him off to jail on national television.  They were going to use him to show the rest of the state what was coming if they did not get back in line.  Once again Carl felt a tide of rage rising in his chest.  He put the phone back to his ear.

“You tell the Governor, that if they want my business they will have to step over my dead body to take it!” he yelled at the shocked staffer.

“You tell the Governor that!”

Carl slammed the phone down so hard that the handset cracked.  “If an example is what they want,” he growled, “an example is sure as hell what they are going to get.”

<<To Be Continued in Part II next week>>

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