Authors: Jf Perkins
Tags: #Science Fiction
Renewal 3: Your Basic Swiss Family
By J.F. Perkins
Copyright 2011 J.F. Perkins
Renewal 3: Your Basic Swiss Family
Chapter 3 – 1
Terry Shelton was already in trouble. Just back from his first solo survey, he was called in to account for his report. He and Dusty Baer were standing on the wrong side of the mayor’s desk. On the power side stood Jerry Doan Jenkins, with a stormy glower on his features. Terry wasn’t listening; he was thinking of why the man always insisted on using his middle name, so much so that no one would have known who you were talking about if you were speaking of plain old Jerry Jenkins.
In any case, Jerry Doan Jenkins was busy questioning the accuracy of the Terry’s first report, and had spent twenty minutes trying to trip him up with questions about what he had seen. Unfortunately for the mayor, Dusty had spent some long hours with Terry, making sure that the story was consistent and tight. Jerry was one of the small group of major landholders left in the county, and he was bent on making sure things stayed that way. He figured that he could compete with the other landed families, as long as no one else rose up to join the fray. He also reckoned that he would get his way, just like he usually did, and this young reclamation engineer was messing it up.
“I made the survey request because that’s my land out there. I won it fair and square,” Jerry Doan Jenkins was saying when Terry tuned back in.
“We made the survey, sir. Terry made his survey, and I went out right behind him and checked, since it was his first job. Our reports agree.” Dusty said in response.
“My men say otherwise. They told me there’s a field full of houses out there, and the whole thing is inside the boundaries of the land I won from Tucker last month,” said JDJ, or “Judge,” as Terry had just named the man while his mind was wandering. There was something liberating about knowing that he had a new home, if things got too bad here in town. It made Terry feel confident.
The scary part was that it took him so long to make the connection, since these days, the mayor happened to be the judge for the county as well. Terry was pretty sure that was illegal.
“Sir,” Dusty said, “There are only three houses left on that plot, and all three have been occupied continuously by the same people since right after the Breakdown. By state law, they own the land, no matter how many card games you won.”
“I don’t care much about state law out here in Coffee County,” Judge said. “Around here it’s my law. Besides, what happened to the rest of my houses?”
“Sir, I care about state law. The State issues my license to operate, and if I ignore the law, I could find myself sleeping on your loading dock and begging for work.” Dusty folded his arms in front of his broad chest, adopting a stubborn tone. “Also, they can easily make the claim for all of the land you won from Mr. Tucker, and more besides. If they make a claim to the State, you’ll have people down here from Murfreesboro, poking around in county business.” Dusty knew this was a powerful argument. Jerry Doan Jenkins was as corrupt as they come. He continually played fast and loose with any rules he didn’t like, not to mention stealing the State’s rare aid shipments and selling them illegally to the citizens they were intended to support. Dusty’s argument failed.
“I’m going to see for myself, and you boys are coming with me,” Judge declared. “Be here at seven AM. We’ll take the truck.” He paused, giving the engineers one last hard look. “Dismissed.”
“Yes, sir.” Dusty said, immediately echoed by Terry. They turned and left the mayor’s office.
Terry paused to close the office door, and then scrambled to catch up with Dusty, who was rushing past the mayor’s young, blonde secretary. She gave Terry a winning smile as he went past, and he flipped a casual wave back at her before he trotted out the door. He knew her from high school. She was the mayor’s grandniece. She must not be completely happy with that rich jerk she married - not like she had a choice. The system was almost completely feudal these days. Nobility in all but title, fortress homesteads that were practically castles, serfs who were barely more than slaves, arranged marriages among wealthy families, the whole bit. He was surprised that Jerry Doan Jenkins didn’t yell, “Off with their heads!” during the meeting.
The state government had started from scratch in Murfreesboro, after Nashville burned to the ground in 2012. It took another four years before anything resembling an organized government rose from the ashes. That gave the clever, and usually wealthy, locals plenty of time to set up their own systems, and they continued to work hard to maintain their authority, even 37 years after the United States fell apart. Most county leaders still reigned more or less as they saw fit. The people still suffered under those county systems, and the state had nowhere close to the resources needed to oversee, much less enforce, their rather clueless set of laws.
Dusty mounted his battered bicycle, and Terry mounted his, which was in nice shape after one of the mechanics out at Teeny Town had done some work on it. They left the old mansion that the mayor had claimed for his offices, and pedaled off into the direction of Manchester’s square, which held the county engineering office in a 120-year old building on the east side. The county had once run everything from a consolidated building on the southern outskirts of town, but that building was deemed useless after the power failed. Like lots of buildings from the end of the 20th Century, they were uninhabitable without air conditioning.
Now the old courthouse in the center of the square was the only courthouse, and the jail as well. It was more like a dungeon than a jail, set up in the dripping basement. No one thought it mattered, since there was never any money to house prisoners for long. Trials were quick, and only had two outcomes for convicts: work gangs or death. With Jerry Doan Jenkins at the helm, very few people were acquitted, and those that were tended to have relatives with “gifts” for the Judge. He was known to frame and convict members of the wealthy families to grab land, money, or to enforce his favored arrangements. In that way, he had become the most powerful man in Coffee County.
The engineers wheeled their bikes right into the office and leaned them against the row of file cabinets that separated the lobby from the working spaces. Dusty stepped into his office to check for any messages in his inbox, and came right back.
“Let’s grab some lunch.” Dusty said without stopping.
“Ok,” Terry answered, following Dusty back out the front door.
The north side of the square had turned into a row of quick lunch places and one sit-down diner to serve the county business traffic. The men strode across the pavement, not having to worry about traffic, making a beeline for the far end of the row.”
“Hot dogs ok?” Dusty asked.
They walked up to the counter, where Dusty ordered, and paid for two pungent smelling sausages in hard rolls, covered in mustard and kraut. He also got two waters in old clear plastic cups. He handed one of each to Terry as they walked over to the picnic tables scattered on the grass around the courthouse.
As soon as they sat down, Dusty said, “You’ve got to ride out and warn Bill. I have to stay in town this afternoon. Tell him it looks like a java situation. He’ll know what that means.”
“What does it mean?” Terry asked through a mouthful of bread and mystery sausage.
“It’s a plan that we’ve had in place, in case the county ever gets in our business. No time to explain it now. Let’s just eat, so you can get going. This time, take Highway 41. It may be a little longer, but it’s faster. The road is in better shape and there are no big hills or cannibals lurking by the river either.” Dusty stopped talking and started stuffing food into his mouth.
They finished quickly, and Dusty snagged Terry’s empty water cup from the table. “I’ll take these back. You head on out.”
“Yes, sir. Are we meeting here in the morning?” Terry asked.
“It might work out that way. I’d definitely leave your bike in the office, though, and walk over to the mansion from here. The Judge might toss it in Morton Lake just for spite.”
Terry laughed and said, “Good point. See you in the morning. Oh, thanks for lunch.”
“You bet,” Dusty said over his shoulder as they walked away in opposite directions.
Terry went back to his desk and pulled his new gun and knife out of the locking drawer on the bottom, and placed them in the plastic tote he had strapped to the bicycle rack. He didn’t want anyone in town to see them. They all knew he was fresh out of school and couldn’t afford anything that nice. He kept them hidden when he was in town.
He rolled his bike out the door and kicked once to mount it on the run. His feet hit the pedals just as the bike dropped off the sidewalk and onto the rough pavement of the square. He wondered where Dusty had gone in such a hurry, but then he spotted his boss, still by the lunch counter, flirting with a redhead half his age. Terry realized he knew nothing about Dusty’s family. Maybe he was married, maybe not; but either way, he wasn’t the world’s ugliest man, so maybe he had a shot.
Terry pedaled hard past the courthouse and turned left to shift over one block to the highway. He didn’t pause for traffic because if there was any, he was going faster than they were. Nobody liked to push their horses too hard, especially on pavement. Horse were still too rare and valuable after so many of them had been eaten in the early years. The highway dropped down to the river bridge almost immediately after leaving the downtown area, and Terry took advantage of the slope to build up speed for the climb back out on the far side of the river. He whipped past the old Woodbury Highway at over thirty miles per hour and cranked the pedals like crazy. His effort paid off as he only dropped a gear or two on the short climb. Up on top, he regained his speed, shifting up a gear, and cruised down the flat pavement heading north.
It was almost too easy. The only obstacles were numerous horse droppings scattered on the road. He found that they were mostly on the edge of the road, like there was a cultural memory of when cars ruled the highways, and everyone else stayed out of the way. He rode down the middle, just right of the centerline, but he was just guessing where the line might be. Painted lane lines were as extinct as green metal road signs.
Luckily, the county had put out some wooden signs with carved letters on the highway, so Blanton Chapel road was easy to identify, even without his map. He was making good time and didn’t want to stop to dig out the map. Then he thought twice and pulled off anyway. He lifted his weapons out of the tote and pulled his belt out of the loops in one quick yank. He wore his old knife on his right hip, and wanted to wear the new one in the same spot, but he thought maybe his gun should be on the right hip. He wasn’t sure, since he had never carried a handgun before. He was hoping Bill had some training lined up for him. In the end, he strapped both gun and knife to his right hip, with the knife towards the back. He placed his old knife in the tote and snapped the lid shut.
When he started pedaling again, the gun holster was pressing on his leg, and slapping him on the down stroke. He decided that was a bad idea and got off the bike again. He pulled his belt out of the right side loops and moved everything back by one loop. Now the knife was just right of the center of his butt, and the gun was way back on his hip. This would take some thought, but he didn’t have time for it at the moment. He pedaled away again, and found everything working well enough. He picked up speed down Blanton Chapel Road, and passed Powers Bridge Road within a minute or two. He was getting close.
He slowed down and stopped on the road in front of the three houses. He wasn’t schooled in the hand signals they used yet, but he held up his right hand anyway, until he saw a figure in the dormer window wave back. He gave the pedals a kick and rode his bike through the gentle ditch and across the grass. He swung off the side of the bike and leaned it against the back wall of the middle house.
A young man with brown hair and a black t-shirt came out the door of the third house, carrying a sinister looking rifle. He waved and said, “Hey, Terry. How ya doing?”
“Hi. I’m sorry...” Terry replied.
“No problem. I met you at your gathering, but you were a little overrun with people at the time. I’m Jeffry Hall. My dad maintains the tools they made those with,” Jeffry said, pointing at Terry’s hip. “Looks like you need a little help with those.”
“Hey, Jeffry. Good to see you.” Terry smiled. Then he shrugged. “Yeah, I need help. We have a couple of guns at home, but I’ve never carried one before. It’s a bad idea in town.”
“Yeah, no sweat. We’ve got trainers that will get you fixed up. For now, though, try moving the gun forward, and put the knife on your left side. It’s easier to switch hands with a knife than a gun.”