Great American Novel
Chapter 1 Coronado Beach
The authoritarian “Karen” voice commanded: “Do not sit on the beach. Keep moving.”
My name is Jack Strong and I am sitting on Coronado Beach thinking about the road I travelled to get here. I’ve been here twice before. First, in the summer of 1998 travelling with my best friend Shaman Williams. Second, in the summer of 1999 upon my graduation from Marine Boot Camp in San Diego. Now its early May 2020 and the governor of California is worried about my health.
I just came from New York where another governor was worried about my uncle’s health. My uncle was in a rest home when his son found out the rest home was taking in COVID patients. He called me up and asked if I could give him a hand breaking his father out. I was in a dead fog, so any action was welcomed. I drove through the night, got into Westchester outside of New York City. The next night we propped a ladder up against the window of the second story of the rest home. Ronnie, jumped in, bundled his dad up and handed him to me as I climbed down the ladder to his truck and then to his home.
I spent a month with my uncle. He got stronger and stronger and my job was just to make sure he ate. He ate well. New York was such a different place from small town Sparta, IL. COVID was real in both places but it seemed so far away in Sparta. Most people didn’t bother with masks, that would change. I remember the governor ordering the wearing of masks starting next week to save lives. I thought if we are doing it to save lives; why wait till next week. What about the lives lost waiting for next week to arrive? It was all Kabuki theatre.
It was serious business here. Some kids were playing basketball in the park across the street. The next day the city arrived with blow torches cutting the rims down. The drumbeat was constant: wash your hands, social distance and wear your mask. I was in New York when the mask became mandatory. A trip to the store before the order and I was among the 30% without masks, always men with a swagger. I joined the rest with my bandanna when the order came. Now I am in sunny Southern California.
“Do not sit on the beach, keep moving.”
“Hey man, she is talking to you.”
I looked up at a couple of gang bangers staring at me. I felt like Robert Di Niro for just a second and smiled.
“What you smiling at?”
“Ever see ‘Taxi Driver’?”
“What you talking about?”
“Guys, do me a favor and sit down with me. I just want to finish watching the sun set and then I will be on my way. With you guys sitting with me I know she won’t give us any trouble.”
They sat down and I gave them a short run down leading up to “you talkin to me”. They laughed. They offered me a smoke. I declined and they lit up and we just sat for a bit.
The sun was disappearing, and I had one last question for them: “Would you do a one minute bible study with me?”
They said “yes”.
Chapter 2 Deer Creek
I had found a cave to camp in along Deer Creek about 20 miles northeast of Chico. The creek was sandwiched in between two towering cliffs. It gets warm in the afternoon, but the water coming down from snow covered Mount Lassen makes up for it. The fishing holes look like they have been designed by the “fishing god”. I have one spot where the water rushes between two giant boulders to form a perfect pool. These trout can be spooked by shadows and movement, so I was gently positioning myself to let the current take my line down into the pool. There was a black bear in the water doing some fishing. What a place!
I was eating in a café in Chico after gassing up. I was listening to a conversation between two retired hippies talking about fishing in Deer Creek. What really caught my attention was the name “Ishi”. Apparently, it meant man, it was the name taken and given by the last wild Indian in these parts. His band had remained hidden from civilization moving between Battle, Mill and Deer Creeks. Finally, it was just him and he wandered into Oroville around 1908. He hooked up with an anthropologist in San Francisco and they developed a friendship that included “Ishi” showing him the very spot where I was camping.
I asked them how to get out to it. They mentioned a poor dirt road leading out of Cohasset down to Deer Creek. I got in my truck and looked at a map. It turns out it is called Ishi Wilderness. I saw what they were talking about. For the last couple months I have been camping out. I would find a deserted spot to park and hike into the forest or woods of a state or national park. I followed Meridian as far as I could, took a dirt road as far as I could and parked the truck. I was still in the Sacramento valley but a saddle in the foothills stood right before me. Deer Creek was calling my name.
I found myself chasing deer, feasting on trout and going for exhilarating runs through the lava flows hopping from rock to rock. Several times I heard the rattle as I landed only to have it immediately be a distant sound. I heard falling water up and away from the creek. As I got closer, I found myself staring at a small group of wild horses. What a place!
This was my last day here. It would be a full moon tonight and it would be cool to make a night hike out of the canyon. I am making my way to Seattle to see my best friend Shaman. I was always welcome, and I knew he meant it. What am I even doing here? I would rehearse the movements of my life…I was raised by my mom. My Dad had died taking Kuwait airport in 1991. I was 8 and a half. Mom took us back to Sparta IL, her hometown. I lived to join the Marines. We were members of a church. That is where I met Shaman. We hit it off. They called us half an oreo cookie. We took a summer road trip in 1998. The world was calling. That trip seemed to settle Shaman into a holier direction. I was graduating at 17 and would be a Marine.
I was meant to be a Marine. I took part in the battle of Fallujah. I was wounded. I spent 4 months in the hospital. My main fear was that my Marine days were over. They gave me 2 months at home for PT and rest. “All things work together to good…” I went to church with Mom. I met Liz. She was a single mom. I guess most small churches do this; they pour out their best to help people who come in their orbit. It’s the Good Samaritan. He wasn’t giving to charity, he happened upon a real live person and ministered to that person. Most take what the church can give them and move on; but Liz had stayed in church.
I found myself looking at her, we talked a bit. She was the real deal and I wasn’t and not even sure if I ever had been. Pastor preached and God drew me closer. How does this work? I called Shaman. He was working for Boeing up in Seattle. He shared his “courtship” with his wife. There is God’s way and the world’s way. He recommended God’s way.
The Marines kept me and stationed me at the US embassy in Lusaka Zambia. Light duty. I would spend three wonderful years there and I made a special trip home after four months to marry Liz. We had two children. I went back to a war zone in Afghanistan is 2010, but other than that we had the normal Marine locations. I was gung-ho as ever but I was saved. I retired as a gunny after 20 years and settled down in Sparta working a factory job.
I had a pension, a job, a loving wife and adoring kids. That first Christmas would be our best. My world ended…I am still finding my way.
I am making my way out of the canyon along the deer trails. At the top I can see the saddle off in the distance. Out of the foothills, I am traveling across the grassy fields. The moon is shining. There seems to be a light in the distance close to the truck. I arrive and there is another truck there with its lights on. I throw my pack in the truck.
I am facing two cowboys.
“We are supposed to kick your butt.”
“Shut up George.”
“Don’t mind George. He’s drunk. We have been waiting for you for three days.”
“Our boss wanted us to let you know that next time you want to get into Deer Creek you need to go up through Cohasset and not cross his property.”
“My apologies, I am not from around here and just decided on a whim to check out the land of “Ishi”.
“What did you think?”
“That is one heavenly piece of land.” I described where I camped. He was familiar with it.
“There is a little spring just up from there, did you find it?”
“Yes, and a small herd of horses to boot.”
“We’ve tried roping them, but we have always failed.”
“Hey, thanks for letting me off easy.”
“You are good. Our boss is a good guy, he just doesn’t want to encourage traffic. I would say at least once a year some guy or group will get dropped off at Cohasset bridge and then camp their way down. They are always full of life after the journey. How about you?”
“Refreshed. Ready to take the next step that God has for me.”
“Did you say God?”
“Would you want to do a one-minute bible study with me?”
Chapter 3 Seattle
Traffic coming into Seattle is horrendous. I know the reason. Seattle hired the best of the best experts to design their convention center. They placed it right over Highway 5 coming into the city. To make it work they took the 4 lanes (maybe 5) coming into the city down to 3 and then down to two as the highway went underneath the convention center. There were two ways of looking at this debacle. One was they knew what they were doing and with a wink and a nod were pleased that they were forcing the serfs into mass transit. The other is that our expert class is made up of people with no life experiences common to most of us.
Under the convention center and over the bridge and then west to Ballard. This is where Shaman lives. I am pulling in just around dinner time. His wife, according to him, is the greatest of cooks. He is expecting me. Texted him that I am about five minutes away. He texted back that they have a great night planned for us.
The preacher is preaching. I mean he is really preaching. The word is called “enthusiasm”. It means “filled with God” in the Greek. This guy has got it. He started off talking about what Mondays meant in his family growing up.
“It’s washing day!”
Shaman has 6 kids from 18 to 8. All two years apart, but he swears that they were not planned. His youngest is sitting between me and his dad. He is pointing to the ceiling. I am looking up to see what he sees. Shaman leans over and explains that his son can hear Pastor Casey Treat’s helicopter overhead. It’s a family joke, that the preaching is so good that Casey is trying to get in on the anointing.
I am being drawn in. “It’s washing day” is the rapper’s hook that has me taking my laundry to be cleaned. There is an unmistakable rhythm to his sermon and sure enough the bass player steps up and joins in without losing a beat.
“Time to get serious.” “Time to act.” The bass reinforces the need to make a decision right now. Is it the bass or my heart that’s beating?
“Stand up if you want to get washed in the blood of Jesus!” I am standing, I look around, everyone is standing. We are standing, praying as he continues to preach.
“The blood of Jesus makes you clean!” The organ player is now on the stage and the swing in the music is one of joy.
“Thank Jesus for his sacrifice!” We do. Now the guitar player is up there and the preacher is singing his sermon full blast as we bask in the glory. The drummer makes it complete. When the singing preaching could get not get any higher, the preacher slows things down and the musicians follow suit. It’s a holy moment. It’s a thankful moment. I am totally here, washed and free.
We are in this tank of a van when Shaman shouts out what do you want to eat? Before I can answer all of the kids shout “Gordito’s”.
Chapter 4 Good Morning
We got up early, Shaman had taken the day off. We got into his commute car.
“Starbucks open?” I asked.
I can always tell when Shaman wants to make a statement. This was one of those moments.
“Starbucks is one of my favorite things about Seattle. Joan and I did our courting at Starbucks. They used to have one up on Phinny Ridge that we loved. After they got scammed by the guys back east into opening up their restrooms to the homeless, they have gone downhill. I have found hypos in their restrooms. I overlooked all of their social preening, but just found myself going less. Now with the lockdown they are not even a blip on my screen. Then there is the economics of the lockdown. There are winners and losers in the corporate world. Hotels – losers; Amazon – winners. The feds will make sure they all survive. The real losers are all of the small businessmen across America. The shutdowns seemed aimed at that middle class of successful people who have not bowed to the corporate gods. I think as America rebuilds I am going to look for ways to support local businesses. Although I am still tied at the hip to Amazon”.
“So where are we going?”
“To a modern speakeasy!” He would take me through the university district and then south down Rainer.
“I heard about this place in church. It is in an unincorporated area south of Seattle. The owner had a successful downtown restaurant. When the shut down happened he wasn’t sure how to go forward. He would be OK and his official employees would all do great with their 600 a week extra; but it was his under the table people who were going to suffer. He rented this house; and gave all of his under the table people a way to earn a living through the shutdown. I really enjoy coming here.”
“What about the authorities? Also, how are you even having church?”
“You noticed I parked a block away last night and the parking lot was empty. We will do the same thing here. We will park a block away and walk to the restaurant.”
“So why haven’t the police or the health authorities shut your church or this restaurant down?”
“Let’s just say ‘Black Lives Matter’!” We both laughed.
Chapter 5 Speakeasy Breakfast
You talk a building full of joy. I could see why Shaman called it a speakeasy. Restaurants had it tough with the lockdown. The state of Washington was going full Stasi. They wanted the restaurants to partially reopen. Masks coming in, dine with them off, put back on as you leave. As if this changes the potential of spreading Covid. The worst was they wanted each restaurant to keep a data base so that when a person tested positive they could match their name to any restaurants they visited and warn the other customers and possibly shut down the restaurant. The governor had to rescind the order. So here we were, unmasked, enjoying breakfast and coffee.
It happened on those S curves coming out of Mascoutah. Yeah, the same one where Dorothy had her head on with those kids. In her case they were drinking and drugging; in our case it was a family coming home from Christmas shopping. Pastor described the emergency room that night. Dorothy’s daughter was broken up. The doctors had communicated to her that there was no chance. Fractured skull, broken vertebras in the neck, collapsed lungs, damaged internal organs, broken bones in her legs, arms and shoulders, swelling brain, crushed foot and a leg that was jammed into her hip socket. The kicker according to the doctors was that there was a 10% less chance of surviving a wreck like this for each broken rib. Dorothy had 7 broken on one side and 3 broken on the other.
My wife Liz, had died instantly along with my daughter. My boy was taken to Memorial but there was nothing they could do. We had to let him go. I couldn’t deal. Pastor was there and that’s all he could do. Friends started showing up as we let him go, I couldn’t handle sharing the details. Pastor gave me a ride home and his wife drove my truck back.
Shaman had heard it all before but one more time wouldn’t hurt. Where are you God? How could you? Don’t give me any bible verses. I took time off from work, but quickly decided being alone all day was worse. I went back to work. I got a few calls and some visits; but really it was just Pastor consistently being there. I went to church, it turned out to be the best thing I could do. I felt the love, and there was no awkwardness at all. Liz’s son Michael was on semester break and he came down and stayed with me. He seemed to have a better grip on it than I did.
The theology of it all was killing me. Dorothy was told she wouldn’t live. She lived. She was told she would never walk. She walks. She was told she would never be able to live in her home again. She is at home. The evangelist Dennis Wright prayed for her in her hospital bed. God got the glory, Pastor Wright got the glory but where is the glory in my tragedy. It’s enough to make a man turn to Calvinism. Then the answer is easy, just because and shut up.
Pastor would never make too big a deal about the healings and miracles that we as a church experienced. He let us know that God was God and he didn’t know why one couple who couldn’t have children have a miracle child and the other couple stay childless till death. There was a subtle trap there that he had seen in his ministry. If God is real, why didn’t He give me what I prayed for. If Christianity gave us everything we prayed for; we would all be wealthy, healthy and happy and everyone would be a Christian. Since that is not the case, Christianity and faith are something separate from getting what we want from God.
When it is all said and done I believe in an eternity where all of this will make sense.
“I’m surprised Pastor gave you the green light to wander the country”.
Yeah, it reminded me of when he told our families he was OK with us making that road trip out West when we were 16. It wasn’t what he really wanted us to do but he was willing to trust God. That trip changed your life forever, my rendezvous with God would have to wait. I was making church, working and staying busy. The whole town showed me nothing but kindness and understanding. I finally understood why somebody just saying “condolences” is enough. We weren’t in lockdown so when my month with my uncle was up, the church had started online services. We talked. He gave me his blessing to be a road warrior for a while. His only stipulation was that I do one minute bible studies when I could. We text several times a week, nothing heavy. He’s got my back and I know it.”
We headed back to the car.
“What’s this bible study thing you’re talking about?”
“I’ll show you.”
Some young guys were walking towards us. I stopped and asked them if they would do a one minute bible study with me. They looked at each other and one of them said yes. I pulled it up on my phone and asked him to pick one of the 10 bible studies. He picked “Clear Mind”. I read the scriptures and thanked them. They wanted to talk. We talked for about a half an hour on the sidewalk. What was on their minds: end times. We could have talked forever. We prayed for them and made our way to the car.
“Pastor loves this thing!”
Shaman said he could see why.
Chapter 6 Covid Thoughts
“I have a special place I want to show you in West Seattle.”
He started a leisurely back road trip around the south end of the Sound making our way to the beach of West Seattle. Shaman wanted to talk about Covid and church.
“Washington was one of the first states to try and come to grips with Covid. We had the rest home fiasco and we also had the choral singing group in Mount Vernon. Both filled with old people in close quarters. Our pastor said he felt something about Covid was going to affect the church. He had no idea. It wasn’t the sickness, it was the political response. The shutdowns multiplied in the states and finally we have a national shut down. Temporary, so our medical facilities don’t get overrun. Pastor had a crisis of what God wanted him to do. Two weeks has turned into 4 months for most churches but not ours.”
“Pastor felt the same thing. He was shocked that the church world didn’t stand up against an order to not ‘gather together’. He had looked at how the virus was affecting people. He had the cruise ships, the French aircraft carrier and the Italian experience to know what to expect.”
“Our pastor saw the same thing. The obvious danger was to older people with health difficulties. He couldn’t believe how the presentation of the virus to the nation was making everyone afraid they were going to catch the virus and die. It was such a blatant manipulation; yet they were succeeding. Shut down, social distancing and masks were welcomed into our lives. I was giving a young man a ride to work during those early days. He and his wife lived in constant fear of catching the virus. He was 29. I tried to explain to him that he had more of a chance of dying in a car accident on the way to work than to die from the virus. It was my words against the television every day. I spoke against fear the television spoke for the spirit of fear.”
“Pastor had enough. He called the Sparta police chief to see what he could do to have church. They talked about what other churches in town were doing. The chief let him know that his department would not interfere with church services should he resume them. If he got a complaint, he would call Pastor and they would work through it. Pastor asked our folks over 80, all with one kind of health issue or another, to self-quarantine, all but one of them did.”
“Kenneth. He had been battling cancer for 6 years and he decided he was not going to miss church. Steve had been in the hospital for 4 months. Pastor recommended that he stay home. The loner’s loner stayed away for about a month and started coming to church again. Pastor let everyone know they can stay home if they want. He said if the goal is to prevent anyone in the church from catching Covid; we won’t be having church for years. The goal is to safeguard the vulnerable and for the rest of us to live life without fear. For 99% of us nothing will happen, or we might get a case of a flu.”
“It was the spiritual dimension of Covid that became obvious to our pastor. The animus that our governor and his party felt towards the church dripped all over every single rule they made. The logic of being able to go to Walmart but not church was never explained. The threats to the church were intense. Our pastor calls Covid a dry run for the mark of the beast. Next step will be when the vaccine becomes available. Will we be forced to take it? Most will willingly take it just to relieve themselves of the constant fear that their lives have been subject to.”
“Seattle and Microsoft. Isn’t Bill Gates coming out with the vaccine?”
“Yeah, knowing what you and I know could cost Bill billions. That’s why the voices of sanity are never heard. It is a total black out of alternative voices.”
“What’s the answer?”
“You know! Get your bible study tool ready. Here is the place. Is your favorite ice cream flavor still licorice?”
“I don’t believe it.”
“Every time we visit West Seattle I try and stop here. I see the licorice flavor and think about you. Couldn’t wait to bring you here.”
Chapter 7 Seattle Tourism
“I have one more place to take you before dinner. This is Seattle’s latest tourist destination.”
“You guessed it!”
Capitol Hill. I only know about this place from Pastor talking about marching against the homosexual parade when he was a young preacher. The parade was on a Sunday. He had been warned that it could be dangerous, but he was under the influence of a sermon about the “iron chariots”. He parked and made his way to Broadway. He caught the beginning of the parade coming to the end of the parade route. It was one of the first parades for Seattle. There was the governor, the mayor and the chief of police. After that it got interesting. He was dressed in a suit carrying a bible. He just started walking against the parade between the parade and the parade watchers preaching a little here and there. He could tell when people saw him because as he was walking down with their viewing they wouldn’t notice him till he was walking away from them. His presence brought the lustful cheering to an angry silence following him along the route. He made a determination to keep his eyes and prayers on the parade. He felt like he could name the demons above each float. Some were easy, the lesbians in karate outfits doing a workout along the parade route. They hate men. It was the god of the parade that caught his attention. It had about 150 people wildly dancing around it as it was hand pulled down the parade route by ropes. It stood about 20 feet tall. Two people holding poles with a “U” at the end were moving the god’s arms up and down like he was the pope blessing his well-wishers. He made it to the end where a policeman asked him what he thought. He had never seen a parade like that before.
The Seattle commune was a small area surrounding Cal Anderson Park. We were among the tourists. People taking selfies, some documentarians and lots of obvious tourists. The mayor had described it as Seattle’s summer of love. It was festive. The alliance with the homeless didn’t last long. They stole all their food. Lot’s of tents and tons of signs it was “woke” heaven. I saw a few weapons, but really it was just another make believe tourist destination.
We walked in silence. A few hard cores gave us a stare but neither one of us locked our eyes on them.
We got a free coffee from the “Why I Love Socialism” stand. As we walked away we laughed that they were probably sponsored by Starbucks.
Chapter 8 Black Lives Matter
We found a bench that had not been turned into a tented home and sat down. What a place. Shaman started talking.
“How did we go from George Floyd to this? You ought to check out Black Lives Matter’s website. They are communists. The founder was a woman who was into sexual politics and just happened upon the “Black Lives Matter” phrase. What they are about is a basic communist restructuring of the nation. Look around. These are Antifa kids collecting their $600 a week Covid unemployment after being laid off by Starbucks. How does this connect to George Floyd? It doesn’t!”
He quieted down as some people passed by.
“See, they talk about freedom, but what I think would not be allowed to be spoken in CHAZ land.”
We sat quietly.
“Ever wonder what you could do to really have impact upon black lives?”
“It is only the gospel. I came out here for a job. Boeing saw my programming skills, hired me and kept paying for more and more of my education. I met Joan at church, dated her without sleeping with her and have a wonderful family and the full meal deal of a middle class life in the richest country in the world. How can I relate that to a rioting kid from the hood?”
“It’s still about fathers”.
“I think we are at 70 or 80 percent illegitimacy. You want to help black lives, marry the woman and be a father to your kids. Don’t get me started on the abortion industry’s targeting of the black community. Sanger’s mission accomplished.”
“I know you had high hopes for President Obama.”
“If anyone could have done it; it was him. An educated family man. He was the perfect spokesman. But, he had bigger fish to fry than helping black lives. There was a nation that needed transforming. Look around, are we transformed yet?”
“He has become the man of the hour in my book. Love everything about him right now.”
“Your kids seem happy?”
“They are all doing good. What I know about “Black Lives Matter” I have learned from Keith.”
“How old is he now?”
“He is 18 just graduated, will be going to UW. He had been working on a high school paper on ‘Black Lives Matter’. He hangs with a bunch of computer nerds even though he is as strong as an ox. He has picked up some hacking skills that I am wary of; but all in all, he is going in the right direction.”
“Online classes work for your kids?”
“Actually, it was perfect for us, more like homeschooling and that’s fine with us. Let’s try a bible study before heading home.”
A young man was passing by. I asked him if he would do a one minute bible study with me. He looked at me and I could tell something was very wrong. He asked if I had permission to do that in CHAZ. I stumbled for an answer, but he was off in a huff. We looked at each other in disbelief. As we made our way to the barriers to leave, we saw the young man pointing at us with a black man with a rifle. I couldn’t believe this was really happening. We picked up our pace and left the land of “love”.
Chapter 9 Monopoly and Tension
It was a quiet ride home. Hard to believe we killed a day just driving around and talking. I was looking forward to a good night’s sleep in a comfortable bed. I’m not complaining, I’m just saying. It was late. Shaman had called his wife to let her know when we would be home. She said dinner would be waiting. She was anxious about Keith’s whereabouts, but Shaman calmed her.
Dinner was waiting for us. We all sat down, but Shaman and Joan needed to work some things out. I sat there with the kids, eating homemade lasagna. Too good! The kids were enjoying the food but then it was time to get some action going with the guest. They all knew what had happened to me, but they were able to coax me out into the open to enjoy the talking. These were happy, fun kids.
The boys wanted to play Risk, but we settled for Monopoly so we could all enjoy it. Shaman’s oldest daughter made some hot chocolate and they had made cookies that afternoon. I was just enjoying myself. I thought of Pastor’s pastor, he was a cowboy. He would visit the family and play Monopoly with Pastor’s girls. Only he would cheat. Not cheat to win, but cheat to get caught. He really knew how to get the girls worked up. It was a pleasant memory to match the moment. And there were my memories, it was good.
“So what’s the problem?”
The game was over and the kids were getting ready for bed. Shaman and Joan had spent the evening in the other room wrestling with something.
“Keith let us know he was going to be running late tonight, but he never showed and now we aren’t getting any response from our texts or calls.” They were worried. They had been calling some of his friends. They had been down at the high school using the school network to do their “investigations”. That’s what they called their work of uncovering the truths behind the narratives. That’s what led Keith into studying “Black Lives Matter”. They were running into resistance from the friends. Finally, one of them let them know that Keith made an appointment to talk with a hacker named “Gotja”. They had run across each other delving into the financials that were meeting up in CHAZ. He was going into CHAZ to meet with him at 9:00, it was now 11:30.
“So, what are you going to do?”
“I have a detective friend on the Seattle Police Department. He is coming over and we are going to start with Keith’s friends and work our way through this.”
“What can I do?” I already knew what I was going to do. Shaman said for me just to get some sleep and everything will be fine. Keith, like all programmers, can get lost in his quests. That’s probably what is happening. They seemed more worried than this merited. A police detective. As Shaman shared what Keith’s friends had told him I could tell that Keith and his friends were playing with fire.
“I bet you I could find Gotja tonight. I can’t sit here and do nothing and I don’t want to be an extra following you around. I will make my way into CHAZ as another drifter coming in and I will make contact with Gotja. If you and the detective end up at the same place as me so be it. I am going in. Text me if he makes contact.”
I said this as straightforward as I could. I was sure I could make contact with him. Probably tonight. Those kind of kids were always up at night. Shaman took measure of me and once again I realized he was genuinely fearful about the situation. Yes, I am off to see the wizard of CHAZ. No nice bed tonight.
Chapter 10 Visit to Oz
I was feeling armed and dangerous, the way every man should feel whether he is carrying or not. I was driving around the perimeter of CHAZ thinking through my options. I didn’t have many. I knew a gamer name “Gotja” and that he lived in an apartment in the “occupied” zone. I thought about hiking in and setting up a camp and going from there, but I didn’t think time was with us. I needed results now.
I drove by the dark alley twice. I parked the truck a couple of blocks away and set up an observation post. The alley was the perfect place for an ambush. The night was dark, the alley was dark, and all seemed quiet on the Western Front. Sure enough, a couple of partiers were coming home late. As they made their way down the alley, bam, they were surrounded. It looked like one of them pulled out his wallet and handed over some cash and they continued on. Just another government toll road. I waited, I am sure someone would be making a beer or dope run and their numbers would decrease. I had counted five.
The moment had arrived. “Here we go Jesus.” I took a deep breath and walked towards the alley. About halfway down the alley they popped out. Just three. I froze and locked eyes on each one of them in quick succession. I am oozing trouble. All three were carrying rifles, automatics, but they were sloppy. I had my right hand in my coat pocket.
“What do we have here?”
“Looks like a deserter from the foreign legion”. They all laughed.
“I know a CHAZ man when I see one and you ain’t.”
“What are you doing here?”
“I am on a mission.”
“On a mission.” They laughed again.
“Mission Impossible.” I laughed with them this time.
“You got a boss or an office you can take me to so I can explain myself?”
“Ok, white boy, serious what is going on?” No laughing.
I didn’t move. I counted under my breath. At twelve he broke.
“Ok, you got me, let’s go.”
I knew the area was actually a ridiculously small area between Denny and Pike. I felt sure that someone would know this kid “Gotja”.
I had entered off 12th. They took me through a wire fence that they had cut a hole through and then went to the right to Olive. It was a two-story green house. Guys were moving in and out it looks like the toll business was doing well tonight. The rap music matched the militant décor of the militia. We came into a dimly lit front room. There was a man at the desk flanked by two guys with automatics.
The desk was cleared away. My man did not look happy.
“White man just pay the toll and move along, you know how this works.”
I kept quiet, hoping my captor would speak for me. He tried. This just got our man more animated. You could tell he wanted to enjoy this encounter now.
“Did I hear the word ‘mission’?” “What are you CIA, FBI or just plain stupid?” Yes, we were going to have fun.
“A famous rapper once said ‘We just want to do what makes us happy’”. “That’s us. We are here because we want to be here. We enjoy the whole scene. We don’t need the toll money but it just seemed like the right thing to do. So just pay the toll!” One of his guys moved towards me his finger all over the trigger of his weapon. It’s not even loaded.
I ripped the rifle out of his hands and released the cartridge. It fell to the floor as I announced “empty”.
Silence and then we all laughed again.
“We are about the clicks and the documentary and the Wikipedia spot. We don’t want to shoot anybody.”
“You want to give us a name”.
“OK, Jack, I’m Raz, king of the hill these days. How can I help you?”
“I need to find a hacker that goes by the name of ‘Gotja’. I need to find him tonight.”
Sure enough one of the guys knew him and knew where he lived. Raz said show Jack the way. As I was turning Raz said: “One last thing Jack, pay the toll.” I wasn’t sure how to react when they all started laughing again. “You’re good!” “Next time.” Yes, they enjoyed the moment.
Chapter 11 Gotja
We left the house and headed north towards Denny staying in alleys the whole way. We went up a couple flights of stairs. My escorts stayed below. I knocked on the door. “Who is it?” “A friend of Keith’s.”
I heard a slight motorized sound behind me. A video camera was moving quietly checking out the guests. “Who are the guys at the bottom of the stairs?” “Some of Raz’ guys who knew where you lived and brought me over here.”
The door opened and I hesitated and then went in. I looked around. Boxes and suitcases. This guy, I assume “Gotja” was frantically disconnecting cords from a battery of computers. Shaman had mentioned his work with computer people in the past. He had one boss named Jim who he learned how to get along well with; but it was only after he learned how to speak “Jimbonics”. I wondered about my ability to communicate with this guy. This was not my world.
“Jack is my name. I am a friend of Keith’s family. He seems to be out of contact with the family and his friends said he was coming here to meet you tonight. They are worried about him so I thought I would try and find you and here I am. Did Keith meet with you tonight?”
He stopped and stared at me. I was expecting a kid and instead I was looking at an old renegade from the 60’s.
“Listen, tell his parents that he never made it here.”
“You see what’s going on here. I am out of here tonight. I got a friend coming by with a truck in an hour and I am getting out of the city. I am not sure Keith is OK, but he saw some things he wasn’t supposed to see. Since we have communicated over the years he asked me to look at what he had discovered. Well, the further we followed the rabbit the more obvious it became that we were in way over our heads. It could just be our imagination, but he said he had to talk to me in person. I told him where I lived and was expecting him. He doesn’t show up. Look at this!”.
I was looking at an email on screen. It was from some generic name to a printing company. “We have the package, preparing for delivery.” Time was 8:45.
“What are you trying to tell me?”
“I think they grabbed him. They probably know where I live too.”
“We have been watching the money flow into Black Lives Matter and Antifa groups for a year or so. We have never met but we made contact with each other because we both realized someone else was seeing the things we were seeing. So its all about money and where it comes from and what happens to it when it shows up. Well the players are big and it seems like they are bad. That printing place is some kind of front for Chinese money as far as I can tell. We got onto them because one of the big donors was chastising a local group because the business was vandalized during one of the downtown demonstrations. So we started looking into them. That was just this week. That company has been spending tons of money replacing the damaged equipment from the rioting. Well, the next thing we know our way of accessing their network didn’t work. That was yesterday. Keith and I were trying to get in today and that is when he wanted to come and meet me. I think he just wanted to make sure I was real and the same for me.”
“I am terrified. This is the number to a phone I got today. You call me or text me and I will help in any way I can; but right now, I think I need to relocate.”
I got the number and the name of the downtown printing company.
I called Shaman. He and the detective were at the high school where Keith’s buddies were showing them what they had been up to. I could feel it: “Fear has torment, but perfect love…” I needed some perfect love. It was 2:30 in the morning.
Chapter 12 Another Clue
I knew I needed more info, but I figured Shaman was getting into Keith’s files by now at the High School. Gotja was in no place to calmly talk about anything. I’d give him a call tomorrow. I moved down the stairs. “Hey man.”
He startled me a bit. It was one of the toll keepers. He must be waiting for me.
“Is this kid you are looking for black?”
“Why do you ask?”
“I saw you today at the main entrance.” The guy with the weapon.
“You were with another guy and you guys had tried to preach to one of the Antifa kids.”
“Yeah, that was me and the kid’s father.”
“I had one of those spiritual flashbacks when he pointed you out to me. It was like a scene out of those old rapture movies we showed in church when I was a kid. Except, I was on the wrong side.”
“I was on the side hunting down the Christians. The crowds have beaten a few preachers who came in and tried to preach. I am not sure what the kid wanted me to do; but I was glad you guys got moving out of the zone.”
“I had to listen to him talk about Christians as the worst fungus among us. I kept thinking about my grandfather, an old preacher, I was seeing just how blinded I have become.”
“Anyways, when I saw you tonight, I followed you guys over here and have been hearing some of what you have been talking about. I don’t know where Keith is but I saw a black sedan pull over tonight and grab a kid around nine just outside the zone. The sedan had government or some kind of special license plates.”
“Did you get a look at the guys?”
“I can’t swear to it; but I think they were oriental guys, they had that Kung Fu feel to them.”
“One more thing. Ever hear of ‘White Fragility’? It is a book written by this DiAngelo chick.”
“She got her start here doing research work at UW. Her research was a scam; but it’s the basis of what she writes about. The two guys who helped her run her research project run diversity seminars for major corporations and government organizations. They work out of Seattle.”
“I’m not following you.”
“Well I had a friend who responded to an ad to work with them. He filled me in on what it is all about. He mentioned this to me. Sometimes they get people who want to work with them who need extra help in reprogramming their ways of thinking. At any rate, he described a place down off Ranier, an old church, where they conduct these special classes and, according to him, they have some special homework sessions that are beyond describing. A black young man with spiritual sensibilities would end up in these special sessions. For what ever reason that place came to mind has I was listening to you two talking about Keith.”
“Maybe you are hearing from God”.
“If it’s not too late.”
“Want me to pray with you?”
“You tell me.”