BACK IN TOWN
She walked through the darkness like a wraith, her frail, pale blandness contrasting to the harsh shadows of the night. Dressed only in a yellowed T-shirt and frayed denim jeans and jacket in the fall chill, she carried a backpack slung over one narrow shoulder. Her blond hair was the color of dried wheat and beginning to show premature gray. Her wire-rim glasses that seemed perpetually dirty perched atop a nose that might have been called “button” on a newborn but unremarkable on a grownup, and aided nearsighted blue eyes faded almost to gray. Her face was unremarkable, bland and plain, yet it was the face of a woman who had been shown the true nature of God.
In the ten years Connie Spring had spent as a reluctant guest of a paid contractor to a United States government shadow agency, Colorado Springs had grown bigger, but other than that, hadn’t changed much. Rewarded by imprisonment for her considered essential assistance in healing the emotional scars caused by the Radio Springs Disaster (sometimes called James Dear’s Last Orgasm by those few in the Need To Know category), and released by that frustrated unofficial (and lately unfunded) paramilitary unit, Sister Connie returned to continue her second career, with the addition of two tightly sealed metal cylinders smuggled out of her prison in her backpack.
Southern Colorado is liable to see warm and dry weather all the way through November, aside from the occasional snowstorm, and that year the pattern held. The city’s main waterway is named Monument Creek, and it flows south until it meets up with Fountain Creek near the south end of town, not far from Cheyenne Mountain, where NORAD, the defender of American air space, was buried deep underground. It is a military town, with the Army’s Fort Carson, and the Air Force’s Peterson Field and Air Force Academy. Not far away are Shriver and Falcon Air Force Bases.
In an attempt to soften the blow of urban sprawl and the trash of industrialization, environmentalists and developers contrived to build parks and recreational areas along Monument Creek, which included a hiking and bike trail that went all the way from Fort Carson in the south to the Air Force Academy to the north. In the chill of the October evenings, the homeless would congregate under the highway overpasses along the trails forsaken by the inhabitants of the day: the overweight executives, bored housewives, and frustrated athletes staying in shape for the next age-group competition, those riding skate boards, bicycles made of exotic materials, or wearing designer athletic brands. The nights belonged to those huddling together for shelter from the cold. Among these were the confused elderly with no family willing or able to give them a room, the mentally disturbed released from institutions because their insurance benefits ran out, and the addicted that spent everything they had on their habits. But there were also those with no training, or inappropriate talents forsaken by the business world. Yet, there were others forsaken by the private sector for different reasons: age, sex, race, religion, or their refusal to be tormented by the whims of the more powerful. These were those abandoned by the elitists as insignificant and of no use to their grand schemes.
The character of these unfortunates had not changed in the ten years, before she knew a man called Chinook. Connie’s second career had begun with them after she’d been shown the true nature of God – the Creator. She had been diverted by later events, and had patiently kept her peace.
People came to “The Springs” because of the military or because they were attracted by the scenery, clean air, promise of a healthier lifestyle, and legal marijuana. Employers counted on them to be satisfied with a lower wage scale just to live there. It worked to a certain extent, but the high-end wage earners were refugees from California’s Silicon Valley, attracted by land values that would get them ten times what they had in the Valley. The mostly under-trained enlisted military, their spouses, and the seekers of the mountains and drug highs many times found themselves disappointed and stranded.
Connie Spring could feel their broken dreams in the evening breeze. This was where Connie found herself drawn. She was about a half mile from the lights of the sports complex to the south when she heard him, mumbling off the side of the path and pushing a shopping cart loaded high and covered with a threadbare quilted blanket that had seen its best days perhaps the last time she’d been in town.
“If the first American launched into space in 1961 had stayed there for fifty-four years, how much would have changed when he returned?” Spring heard him murmur, “Selma and Montgomery would have been replaced by Pontiac and Ferguson, Chicago and Baltimore. It would be illegal to discriminate, but the fear and hatred would go underground, cowardly released through anonymous social media. Children given to religions for protection would still be brutalized and abused by their saviors. Our government, charged with preserving freedoms, would steal those freedoms by labeling them as something they’re not. Vietnam would be replaced by Afghanistan and Iraq.
“And when didn’t the Jordan River have bodies floating?” the man went on, “Holier-than-thou men and women defy their own commandments while claiming to defend them. The marketing of video games shows kids how cool it is to shoot people and blow things up. Hypocrisy is King.”
Stepping to the side of the pavement, Connie saw him in the evening gloom as he stopped and sat, huddling beside a fallen tree. Under the filth and the much-too-often-mended fatigue jacket, she recognized him. He wore a battered and torn Pikes Peak International Raceway golf-cap pulled down over his eyes. Hanging from a string around his neck was a three-pointed star.
“How are you Racetrack?” Connie asked. It was the only name which she’d known him.
“Do you know where they come from, sister? All the people in this city? I do.” He rose and shambled toward her, pushing the cart ahead of him, a hunched figure giving the impression of a broken man on the wrong side of seventy, or more. The cart’s wobbling, squeaking wheels added a sad counterpoint to the whispering wind.
“And why did you say that, brother?” This was a conversation she’d had before, but was content to play along.
“All these houses. All these developments. Where did these people come from? Where do these people work? How can they afford those mansions? They’re all in the Federal Witness Protection Program. They send them here. They don’t really work anywhere. They’re all government informants.”
She grinned down at the old man, his bright stare belying his bedraggled appearance, and his apparent personal madness. “You need a new hat.”
“It’s not the same. They tried to take my racetrack away,” he complained.
“Oh?” Connie stepped back. “Who did?”
“One of the new generation of robber barons – the Big Stock car people – the BS people. My track was designed to be the fastest mile oval in the world, and it was. They were promised events. It wasn’t the only track build during what was thought to be a racing boom in the nineties, but the BS people had no intention of sharing the wealth. When the BS boys decided they’d rather have a track in Denver instead of the prairie dog heaven south of here, the owners of my track financed a citizens’ group that blocked the Big Boy’s track in Denver. Well, they won, in a way, but the Big Boys took their events away and intimidated everyone else until PPIR went under. That’s when the Big Boys scooped it up and would only sell it if there was a promise never to hold auto racing events there again.”
“Isn’t that a violation of antitrust laws?”
“Probably, but who since before the Reagan Administration has enforced antitrust laws? Besides, everybody’s afraid of BS people – they have too much money. It costs too much to fight them – they have judges and people in Congress on their payroll – in the time it would take a suit to make its way through trials and appeals, PPIR would have been nothing but a pile of concrete and asphalt. As it was, the few years of neglect it suffered nearly killed it. Still, my track manages to hold club events, driver’s schools, test events, concerts and seminars. My track still has some grandstands left, too.
“It wasn’t the only victim,” he went on, “Almost all the private tracks were either forced to sell to the BS boys, or they went under. Through a subsidiary, they own all but two or three tracks they race on, and those only to keep up the fiction of non-monopoly.”
“Humph,” Connie grunted, “The beat goes on, doesn’t it?”
“We have a new administration that wants to get rid of even more protections, and kill unionism by sending more jobs overseas so businesses can make more profit and the wage gap can widen. They say caring for the sick and elderly costs too much. They haven’t the balls yet to openly repeal Civil Rights Acts, but make no mistake, that’s what they want: equal opportunity does not jibe with their philosophy of, ‘If you aren’t as rich as us, you are either too stupid or too lazy.’ They cry ‘Freedom,’ but align themselves with the religious right who want to take freedoms away from those who don’t appease God their way. They ignore historical evidence and claim climate change is a myth while chastising those who have been devastated by natural disaster asking for aid.
“Do we have a plan?” Racetrack asked with a sudden change of direction, “How many people are living in Radio Springs now?”
“Roughly two thousand. For now, they are content to take their pay-off money and keep silent for the good of the country…for now. We have people still helping them, but there are more ominous eyes focusing on them. How are Cammie and Cindy and the rest of our old gang?” Connie asked.
“Cindy is the darling of her middle school – perhaps a little too outspoken for the liking of her hide-bound teachers. Cammie ran for city council. Lost – it seems you have to be of a certain opinion to get anywhere around here, but that party itself is fractured and lost. Instead of being the party of conservatives, it’s become the party of bullies, liars and hypocrites, and the other party either doesn’t have the will or the courage to call a spade a spade and denounce all the misinformation being dispensed. Cammie has decided to move to the beat of a different drummer.”
“Dark days indeed,” Connie repeated, “But, the string will snap back. Have courage and patience. The walls – new and old – will crumble.”
“Do we have a plan?” he repeated.
“It’s coming. We may have some unanticipated new friends, and we need to gather our old friends – and wait for more… I need to see a doctor.”
“Are you unwell?”
“We need some special recruits: special children. We need someone who specializes in communicating with, and saving those special children. The Luigi Cortese Institute people are who we need, and should want to work with us.
“And, we need to send a message to Valentine Falcone back in New Glasgow. Tell him our interrupted project is back in play.”
“Consider it done. And Durango Johnson? The one they called Chinook?”
“Huh,” Connie chuckled and shook her head, “No, leave Durango be for now. He must do his work his own way, but we will need what he has built.”
“As you wish, sister.”
“Excellent. Where are you headed tonight, Racetrack?”
“You know the place well.”
“Lead on, then.”
The trail led them north, past a small lake and toward an underpass where evening traffic rumbled overhead. Deep in the recesses, shadows were being pushed back by flames glowing inside rusted drums and trash cans that had holes poked repeatedly around the circumference. As Connie watched, a man dressed much like her companion threw a few pieces of limp cardboard into one of the cans to keep the flames going. Above his head someone had placed a bumper sticker that read, “A man without a gun is a subject. A man with a gun is a citizen.” Underneath, someone else had painted in a neat script, “A man without a gun is fearless. A man who needs a gun is a coward.” Farther along, stenciled neatly, a message in foot-high letters read, “The 99 want their country back!” and then, in a ragged scrawl, “Feudalism sucks. I will be no ones serf!”
Huddled in the shadows were lonely people wrapped in rags that once may have been blankets or coats. Some had created a semblance of privacy out of pieces of cardboard or moldy carpeting supported by broken tree branches or broomsticks. The eyes that peered out at her were dark, the cheeks underneath sunken and dirty. As a group they had no particular race: poverty has no favorites.
“Here, sister, help me get this over the hump,” Racetrack called as he began to pull the cart across a patch of dirt. Connie put her back into pushing while he pulled. In a few minutes they had the cart on the concrete under the overpass, but not without the helping hands of a few others. That’s when Racetrack, like some ragged clown magician, whipped the quilted blanket off with a flourish to reveal more blankets – these clean and folded with laundry precision – cans and boxes of non-perishable food, and several artificial logs that would burn for two hours or more.
“Sister – will we need more amulets for the Creator, Great Spirit, and Earth Mother? The three-pointed star?”
Connie chuckled. “No, Racetrack, we know who are friends are – leave the hood ornaments of German luxury cars alone.”
“Well, I might need a few more for my collection.”
In time, they were joined by others carrying or wheeling more blankets, food, clothes and other things. Most of them greeted Sister Connie with cries of joy, bemoaning the loss of her company for so long.
For her part, Connie silenced them with a reproachful glance, then a hug, kiss (sometimes both), or a sip from a small bottle she conjured from a pocket inside her jacket.
After a time, she gazed about at the homeless and nearly forgotten. She hadn’t been alive then, but she wondered how much this nighttime refuge resembled hobo camps during the Great Depression?
During her wool-gathering, Racetrack had moved up beside her and touched her arm. “I meant to ask you,” he said quietly, “Who is it that is going to help us?”
Connie paused for a moment, and then said, “I think it’s us.”
“Make no mistake – there would be no civilization without religion. At the base of it, religion is simply a set of rules and regulations to live by. Unfortunately, a special caste evolves that makes itself essential to interpreting the wishes of whatever god or gods it appeases. This is what makes them especially vulnerable to the tricks of the elitist, the wealthy, the robber baron, and the economic vampire who sucks the life of the American Dreamer without equitably sharing the fruits of that labor. It’s the same kind of one per-center in this country whose income has increased almost 300% since 1970, due to various factors including federal deregulation, lack of enforcement of financial regulations, cuts in social services, tax laws that reward failure, and the demonization of labor unions. Thus, leaving the 99 to scrabble over an income increase that averages only 50%.
Wealth is influential: influence is power. Excess wealth can be used to drag the justice system to its knees, and unfortunately, there are too many people with more money than good uses for it, or have nothing to complain about so they have to invent it.
This income gap resembles what existed during the ‘roaring 20s’ before the Great Depression, the rise of unionism, financial regulations, and the New Deal. Our health care system is in the hands of the profiteers and our nation’s well-being is at the mercy of their tyranny.
What we are seeing now may be the harbinger of a feudal society.
The 99 need to take their country back.”
– Cammie Rios, co-founder of “The 99 Want our Country Back” movement