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Thursday, February 25, 2010 12 comments

Ain’t Gonna Play Sun City

A recent BBC article on “America’s original active retirement community” got me thinking. As many long-time readers know, the FAR in FAR Manor means Forget About Retirement — but I try not to. Hey, I might get lucky after all. Besides, I’m on vacation, the original mini-retirement.

What jumped out at me were two quotes near the middle of the article. In the first, one resident said that retirement previously involved (among other things) “waiting to die.” The developer heard many variants of “I raised my own children, and I don’t want to have to raise my grandchildren.” To me, the first seems myopic, the second outright selfish.

Next week, I’ll be going to Florida, which seems these days to be one humonguous retirement community (active or otherwise) overlaying a normal economy, which in turn overlays a tourist economy. The desire to move somewhere that’s warm all the time, or at least cold very rarely, is certainly understandable… although there’s a long brutal summer to contend with as well. Too cold sometimes or too hot sometimes, pick one.

So why would retiring in the community where you worked, with or without family nearby, be “waiting to die”? After all, you already know where the good restaurants are, which fishing spots are best at any given time, which golf courses offer reduced greens fees on weekday mornings, where the good walking/biking/hiking trails are. Unless your friends have all moved away, you know where they are and when they’re available. Unless you live in some backwater hole in the hills, and even on Planet Georgia there are great hiking and mountain bike trails just a few miles from the manor, there should be plenty of recreational opportunities for an “active retirement.” Why go somewhere that you have to figure all this stuff out all over again, when you can enjoy it right where you are?

Then there’s the other side of the coin. I for one mostly enjoy helping to raise Mason, even when I have to work for a living. He’s off with Snippet for an overnight at her mom’s, and even with him waking up twice a night (teething) I’m going to miss him. I’ll really miss him next week when I’m gone. I can understand long-standing friction with your (nominally) adult children — The Boy really gets on my nerves sometimes — or the resentment at their presumption that they can just dump their own kids on you while they work or have fun, but I can’t understand not wanting to be a part of your grandkids’ formative years. You don’t punish the kids for the sins of the parents, after all. Besides, with multi-generational households becoming a trend once again, you should be able to expect the kids to support you as well: you take the grandkids fishing or bike riding while they’re working, they come in and you pop out to the golf course. Sounds like one way to have the best of both worlds, anyway.

Monday, February 22, 2010 12 comments

White Pickups, Episode 23


“Whoa,” Cleve said. “Don’t kill him. Not yet.” Their captive pulled his knees up to cover his abdomen, wincing at his arm but doing his best to cover himself.

“Why not? He would have killed us if he had the chance. Right, asshole?”

“Just go check the damage. I doubt he did more than bang ’em up a bit. He doesn’t look smart enough to know how to destroy a bike with his bare hands, and I don’t see anything else he could have used. I’ll keep an eye on him.”

Tim feigned another kick, then turned and stomped away to assess the damage. Cleve squatted down and whispered, “I’m gonna ask you a couple questions. Nothing you need to worry about, as far as giving away anything, but personally I’d like to address you as something other than ‘Asshole.’ You got a name?”

He said nothing for a moment, then licked his swollen lips. “Joseph,” he whispered.

“Okay, Joseph,” Cleve said, “I know I shot you and smacked you around a little, but I saw wounds like that in Afghanistan and it ain’t gonna kill you if you don’t let it get infected. You think you’re up to walking a couple miles, especially since you disabled our transportation?”

“If you’re smart, you’ll just leave me here.”

“If you were smart, you wouldn’t have made all that noise down here and let us know we had company. And you wouldn’t have come alone. Your buddies would have come a-runnin’ soon as they heard the first shot, right?”

Joseph said nothing.

“You were right,” Tim said. “He just wrecked the wheels and dinged up a few things. Nothing that can’t be repaired, but we’ll have to carry them back. Or make him do it.”

“Good.” To Joseph, “I assume you would prefer to live, given a choice, so I’m gonna ask you one more question before I tell you a couple of things. You gonna try anything stupid, like yelling for help?”

Again, Joseph said nothing, but finally sighed and shook his head.

“Good. ’Cause if you did, I’d have to shoot out your knee. That would make a lot more noise, and your friends might get lucky and rescue you, but you’d never walk right without major surgery — assuming your leg didn’t come off. And I don’t see too many doctors outside a truck these days, do you?” Joseph shrugged.

“So this is how it’s gonna go. You’re gonna walk, and you’re gonna be quiet about it. You’re gonna go left when we say left, and right when we say right. But you also ain’t gonna be anybody’s bitch, I give you my word — as long as you don’t give trouble. What else happens to you, I can’t make any guarantees. Fair enough?”

“Where in Afghanistan were you?”

“Bagram. 455th Aerial Evac.”

Joseph nodded. “Yeah. I won’t give trouble.”

“Good.” Cleve lifted Joseph to his feet one-handed, keeping his other hand on the pistol. “Tim — can you carry both bikes, or do I need to take one?”

“I can get ’em both,” Tim said, “but I’ll have my hands full. You think we should each take one so we can have our shooting hands free?”

“Yeah. Okay, Joseph goes first. You’re gonna tell him which way to go, and —”

“Yeah, I’ll tell him where to go.” Tim looked grim.

“Just play it straight,” Cleve snapped. “You watch him and our front, I’ll cover our backs. If he tries anything, kneecap him.”

“You mean shoot out his kneecap?”


“That I can handle,” Tim said. “We got time for a pee break first?”

“It’s only four. We can be home in an hour. Go ahead.”

Tim slipped into the stairwell. “Your friend has an attitude,” Joseph said.

“Yeah. His girlfriend lived upstairs in the apartment we came out of. She killed herself. Pain pills. He’s looking for a reason to take it out on you.”

Joseph looked away. “Damn. My wife jumped in one of those trucks… I guess I know where he’s comin’ from.”

“Yeah. So don’t even let him think you’re trying to give trouble.”

Tim stepped back into the foyer, and Cleve got them moving. Outside, the truck’s whispering seemed to grow louder, perhaps sensing Tim’s distress and Joseph’s fear. All of them stood and stared, unwilling but listening: Join us. No sadness. No death. No fear. Leave all cares behind. After a long moment, Joseph spat, breaking the spell. Tim lifted a middle finger, from the hand wrapped around his damaged bike, then turned away.

It was a long hour’s walk, even with no incidents or trouble from Joseph. The sentries did a double-take, then waved to the others. Charles met them at the end of the block.

“What happened? We were about to send some people out after you!”

“Ran into a little trouble,” Cleve said. “We handled it.”

“Doesn’t look like the bikes did, though,” Max said. “What happened?”

“Our friend here had a little fun with them while we were upstairs,” Cleve said.

“So did you find her?”

“Yeah,” Tim said. “But not soon enough.” He glowered at Joseph one last time, took Cleve’s bike on his other shoulder, and walked away.

“Not good, then,” Charles said.

“Nope,” Cleve said. They stood quietly for a moment as some of the others gathered around. “So we caught this little redneck. What do we do with him?”

Charles looked Joseph over. “You wanna tell us anything about your friends?”

Joseph blinked. “Hell no.”

“He’s nobody’s bitch,” Cleve said. “I promised him that.”

“Well, what good is he? He won’t help us out, and nobody would want him for that anyway. What do we do with him, then?”

“Toss him in a pickup?” someone suggested. Some onlookers nodded or voiced agreement.

Joseph turned pale. “You’d do that? That ain’t right!”

“You and your buddies tried to kill us.”

“Yeah,” someone else said. “You came off the street like the pickups. Why shouldn’t you go away in one?”


Sunday, February 21, 2010 3 comments

Typical and Not-so-typical Manor-isms

Thursday wasn’t the best day I ever had… there was a Dilbert strip a long time ago when he was trying to explain that he had to work and to only bother him for emergencies. What they heard was something like: “I am at your disposal. Killing spiders is my speciality.” And the spiders heard, “The house is full of crippled flies.” The last three weeks that I’ve tried to work at home have been like that: whether it was the in-laws (Big V wanting me to help pull her husband’s 18-wheeler out of a ditch with a pickup truck, somehow it worked), Mrs. Fetched (“I need you to replace an outlet at the chicken house” which turned out to be burned wires just north of the outlet), or The Boy and Snippet (any ridiculous thing they can think of), everyone seems to think that I should be thrilled to drop everything and take care of their problem. That the job I’m doing, or trying to do, is at least partially supporting all of them doesn’t seem to register on them. So about 5 p.m., I got fed up with it and bailed for a while. The indie coffee shop was already closed, so I went into the Kroger and got a Starbucks. After taking my sweet time quaffing it, I wandered the store and picked up a few items I knew we needed. But when I get back from vacation, if this stuff keeps up I won’t be working at home anymore.

The Boy pulled a pseudo-TB03 — he didn’t come home last night, knowing we wanted him home, but he did have the good grace to call and give us a slightly plausible story of “we trying to get the sound right on this one song.” More than likely, he and his band-buddies were getting 'faced, but he swore up and down that wasn’t what was happening. He also promised to be home by 9 this morning to help Mrs. Fetched with the chickens, and showed up about 12:30. That was pretty much the last straw for him borrowing our vehicles.

Mason and meFortunately, I have an 18-pound anchor to keep me sane. Mason is usually a very good-natured baby, and is getting to where he doesn’t have to have attention every minute… although he enjoys, and gets a lot of, interaction with the Big People. He’s at the point where he gets on his hands & knees and rocks — the precursor to crawling. We’re thinking about getting him a walker so he can cruise around the manor. Of course, that means we’ll be baby-proofing the place in short order.

Spring #2 arrived on Planet Georgia yesterday, just in time for the weekend. I went out to the treefall and cut some more firewood on Saturday; today we hauled, split, and stacked it. Cousin Splat pulled up with The Boy and Snippet in tow as I was getting started splitting; after a few minutes, he started stacking the wood I’d split and tossed aside, then The Boy saw this and joined in. The wood rack in the garage is now heaped over, and one of the pallets out back has about as much wood stacked and covered — maybe enough that anything we cut from here on out will be there for us this fall. There’s plenty more at the treefall; I finally got all the branches cleared away and can work on trunks from here on out. Kobold got an old 22" Husky saw running, but the chain’s worn out. When I resume cutting, I should get a new chain for that one (and remember the ear plugs, Huskys are LOUD).

At least I’ve got vacation starting later this week. Daughter Dearest and I are heading to Florida to visit my family… hooray! I’m hoping to get some writing done on White Pickups; maybe the change of venue will help. Progress is being made, but it’s slow progress.

Monday, February 15, 2010 9 comments

White Pickups, Episode 22


Cleve heard the banging downstairs as Tim grew quiet. He locked the apartment door and hurried back to the bedroom.

“Red!” he rasped. “Someone’s downstairs!”

Tim looked up at Cleve from the floor and shook his head.

“Dude… listen. Do you think Rebecca would have wanted you to just give up like that? We’ve got trouble!”

Tim shook his head again, but pulled himself up, bracing against the nightstand as he stood. He brushed the empty pill bottle with his hand; it rolled off the nightstand to the floor. Tim picked it up, gave it a sour look, and threw it into the closet. It buried itself in her clothes then fell. “I didn’t want her to give up, either.” He looked at Rebecca, reaching down to stroke her brown hair one last time.

“Yeah. Plenty of time to think about that later.” A door slammed shut from down below. “Whoever it is, they just found the stairwell,” Cleve said. “We gotta get on this like now.”

“Whatever,” Tim said, looking at Cleve again. “They won’t be coming straight here, will they?” He paused a moment. “Decoy.”


Tim stood, crossed the room, and yanked a full-length blue dress out of the closet, kicking the pill bottle into the corner. “Get down to the far end of the hallway. I’ll hold it out the door with a broom handle. He’ll focus on the dress, you take him down.”

“Damn. That might work.” Cleve ran to the front door and watched the hall as Tim plodded into the kitchen for a broom. “Yeah, he’s still on the second floor. Keep your bod out of the hall, okay?”

“Sure.” Tim unscrewed the broom from the handle, then ran the handle through the arms of the dress. “There’s a stairwell on the other end. Make sure he doesn’t come up behind you.”

“Gotcha!” Cleve ducked and bolted down the hallway. Tim hung the dress out the door and waited.

After a long minute, the stairwell door they had come through slammed open, followed by a shout and gunfire, too loud in the confined hallway. The dress puffed backward, as in a wind, and Cleve returned fire: two shots, a yelp, and a clatter.

“Don’t try it!” Cleve yelled. “Red! C’mon!” as he dashed past the dress. Tim dropped the handle and stepped out, pistol up.

A skinny guy with dirty blonde hair and a scraggly beard leaned against the stairwell door, holding his bleeding left arm and scowling at Cleve. He wore jeans, boots, and a Harley t-shirt. A ball cap lay upside-down on the floor, near a deer rifle. Cleve kicked the gun away, not taking his eyes or his pistol off him. Tim hurried to join Cleve.

“Red,” Cleve panted, “I’m gonna cover this little shit. You run back and grab three electrical cords. Don’t matter what they come off of, or if you have to rip ’em off whatever they’re attached to, just get ’em. And a towel.”

“Um — right.” Tim hustled back to Rebecca’s apartment to fetch the requested material. Her PC and monitor provided two of the cords; he took the third by cutting it off the desk lamp. The bathroom had a towel that still smelled of Rebecca… he let the grief have its way for a few seconds, then hurried to rejoin his friend.

“Yeah, that’ll do,” Cleve said. “On the floor, asshole. I’m gonna bandage your arm first. You just stretch it out from you.

“Red: you cover him. Put your pistol on his neck. If he tries anything funny, just shoot him.”

“I ought to let you shoot me,” the attacker said, still standing. “Better that than letting you faggots have your way with me.”

Cleve’s left fist slammed the man’s head into the stairwell door; his knees buckled. “Watch your mouth,” he said. “Some of my best friends are ‘faggots’ — and none of ’em would want to dirty themselves on you. Now. Lay down.” The attacker shook his head, but sunk to the floor.

Cleve dragged him face down, then nodded to Tim and pointed at the man’s neck; Tim jabbed his neck with the muzzle. Cleve stretched out the wounded arm, cut a strip from the towel, then used the strip to bandage the wound. As he worked, he checked pockets and relieved the gunman of a spare ammo clip and a boot knife. Then he used the lamp cord to bind the gunman’s hands behind his back, then tied the two computer cords together and to his ankles. “That should do it,” he said. “Now he can walk, but he can’t run.”

“Are we gonna carry him down the stairs?”

“Yeah… unless you wanna drop him out a window. Or just throw him down the stairs.”

“Why go through all the trouble of bandaging him or tying him up if we’re just going to kill him?”

“’Cause we ain’t.” Cleve picked up the rifle; it looked like a military replica. He slung it over his shoulder. “We’re taking him back with us. Roll him over onto his back… yeah. Now we each take an arm, and we’ll drag him. His boots can bounce on the stairs for all I care.”

They hoisted the wounded attacker, still groggy from Cleve’s punch. Cleve pushed the stairwell door open, pointing the pistol up then down, and peered down. “Clear. I think it was just him. Let’s go.” They dragged him down the stairs, his boots clunking on each step.

Nearing the ground floor, the captive started to struggle. Cleve reversed his pistol and tapped the man’s lips with the butt, lightly. “You wanna lose what’s left of your teeth?” The man shook his head. “Then you won’t start yelling or give us any kind of trouble, right?” He shook his head again. “Good. Let’s go.” They pushed through the door and into the lobby.

“You son of a bitch!” Tim said, dropping the captive; Cleve’s grip slipped and he dropped to the floor. “Our bikes!”

“Yeah. That’s what I figured he was doing,” Cleve said, looking at the wreckage. “Looks like he stomped the wheels and threw the bikes around a bit.”

Tim kicked the captive, who grunted and cursed. “I oughtta kill you right here and now for that!” He kicked one more time, then pointed his pistol at him. “You think this is funny? I had four grand in that bike!”


Sunday, February 14, 2010 4 comments

Mason and a Slew of TB/SN/TS Errors

Amazing sometimes, how the baby can be what keeps you sane… (video by Daughter Dearest)

We can pretty much count on The Boy giving us a TB03 error every weekend these days… he claims to have “band practice” on Saturday night but we often don’t see him until later on Sunday or even Monday. Most of the time, we don’t know for sure, but we can assume a TB22 during those “outings.” Snippet kind of gave away the plan yesterday: she said something about going to a birthday party. Mrs. Fetched nixed it, but they most likely went anyway… seems like they have a “birthday” party to attend just about every weekend.

Last night, however, a TS02 led to an error that has happened before but I had neglected to categorize: a TB28 (calls us at 3 a.m. having an emotional, probably alcohol-fueled, meltdown). He texted and called my phone twice before I woke up enough to answer it. “Come and get me,” he wailed, “I don’t want to have anything to do with these drug addicts.”

“Where are you?” I asked.

He managed, on the second attempt (a personal best), to give me coherent directions that would at least get me somewhere.

“What about Snippet?”

“I don’t know, and I don’t care.” There was more, but suffice it to say a TS02 had happened.

As I was getting ready, he called Mrs. Fetched’s phone and he poured out all his issues to her while I got dressed and loaded my pockets. About the time I was ready to leave, Mrs. Fetched held her hand out at me and mouthed, “Wait.” The Boy has inherited his mom’s penchant for jerking people (especially me) around, first “needing” me to go somewhere, then canceling about the time I’m ready. The upshot was, he would stay because he didn’t want the drug addicts getting vindictive somehow, and would call us in the morning when he was ready to get moving. And of course it’s 6 p.m. and we haven’t heard from him yet.

The good part about this was, I finally got smart: instead of getting gas Friday, I simply drove home, figuring if he wanted to take my car anywhere he’d have to put gas in it. He and Snippet managed to get Cousin Splat to drive them to not-band practice. We have a little gas in the detached garage, so I’ll just dump it in the car when I need to go somewhere then tank up later. Since tomorrow’s a holiday, it’ll wait for Tuesday.

The error codes list…

Wednesday, February 10, 2010 11 comments

Xtreme Beige G3 Makeover

I mentioned last week that my MacBook was going in for a new LCD. Well, it went as expected: I got to the Apple Store, they looked at it, and sent it off.

“How long?” I asked, already getting the shakes (it was an hour past lunch time and my sugar was crashing).

“Worst case, five to seven business days,” said the Genius. “We’ll ship it back.”

So my beloved Lapdancer went on to Memphis, and I went to get some lunch and tried to figure out how I was going to spend the next howmanyever days without a laptop. I decided it wasn’t like losing a limb… more like spraining an ankle; really painful, but it would be better in a week. I had some White Pickups stuff on Google Docs, and it worked with Mrs. Fetched’s G4 dualie, but it whined about the outdated Firefox. Then it hit me: I have a beige G3 in the room where DoubleRed sleeps, except that she’s been at her dad’s place for a while, and it has an old Linux on it — maybe I could update that to something more recent. I then wouldn’t have to worry about waiting for Mrs. Fetched to get stuff done, and The Boy and Snippet could use it to access Facebook and not have to bump me off my own laptop. Turned out the last time it had been used much was when Daughter Dearest’s pal from Norway came and wanted a Linux box so he could connect to the cluster under his bed back home… nearly a year and a half ago.

Looking at some of the options, I settled on Xubuntu as it combined at least “community” support for beige Macs and I found a how-to for getting it going. I burned a “live” CD Monday night, knowing it only worked on non-beige boxes, and the G4 dualie did a fine job of booting and displaying. Just for grins, I tried it in the beige box and it got as far as loading the RAMdisk and couldn’t find the CD. I downloaded and burned the “alternate” CD, which doesn’t try to do fancy stuff with graphics until after you have it installed, and found that the G3 wouldn’t even recognize it. I threw up my hands and went to bed.

Yesterday, I suddenly remembered that Daughter Dearest’s G4 PowerBook was laying around waiting for a new hard drive. I thought, why not just boot the live CD on that and use it? FAIL… I got it to boot after several attempts, but couldn’t get it to start the wireless interface. Not much use in having a laptop without wireless, especially when the place you’re using it doesn’t have easy Ethernet connectivity.

Then I remembered… Xubuntu is a Debian derivative, and I net-installed Debian on an ancient NEC laptop many years ago. Why not just net-install the G3? So I went hunting, found some directions, and soon had the beige box chugging away at the DSL and pulling down its packages. I decided to allocate a couple of existing Linux partitions to it, saving my old home directory, and let ’er rip. It ran on past 1 a.m., but that’s when I figured I could finish my end of it in the morning and went to bed.

Beige G3 displaying Xubuntu desktopAnd that’s exactly what I did. I had to copy the kernel and RAMdisk from the /boot directory back to the Mac partition, but that was fairly easy and I soon had it cleanly switching over to Linux. Firefox 3 is rather slow on this computer, mostly for typing, but I can type into a text editor and paste as needed. Snippet used it to check out her Facebook stuff and it did a fine job of pulling down and displaying pictures from her friends. “It’s a little slow,” she said, “but not that bad.” Considering this computer was new in 1998… not bad at all.

With the beige box now providing a reasonable backup for keeping up with my blog-buddies and getting some writing done, I decided to check the repair status of my MacBook. Lo and behold, they got it Monday, fixed it Tuesday, and put it on the plane for Wednesday delivery! It arrived back at the manor around 5 p.m. Apple replaced the LCD (still looked a little fuzzy, but it got better after a couple hours), the top cover, and cleaned the keyboard… it looks (and smells) like a new computer now, even being nearly three years old.

Now to get the PowerBook fixed.

Monday, February 08, 2010 5 comments

White Pickups, Episode 21


Tim had to constantly remind himself to keep his pace down. Cleve Isaacs seemed to be a pretty good guy, but he was still getting used to bicycling everywhere. The big black ex-cop was a little out of shape, as he readily admitted, but Charles recommended him and Tim had no objections.

“Here we are.” Tim braked and slid alongside the curb on the left side of the street, Cleve behind him, in front of a parked white pickup. They dismounted and lifted their bikes over the curb. Tim stopped, turned, and spat at the truck. It continued to whisper as they carried their bikes up the walkway.

“That wasn’t so bad,” Cleve said with a grin. “Couple miles. Just have to do it ten times, and we’ll be there, right?”

“That’s a good way of looking at it. We’re not in any hurry — if we leave after an early breakfast we can be there by lunch. I’m expecting to take plenty of breaks to let the people who aren’t used to riding rest their butts. But if you’re not used to it, you’ll still be sore after a twenty-miler.”

“Yeah, I guess. Well, let’s see what’s going on up here.” They carried their bikes inside and left them in the alcove.

Rebecca’s apartment was on the third floor of a five-story building. The ground floor was devoted to a small lobby with art deco revival styling, a mail alcove, and a few offices. There had been little here to attract looters, so it was relatively unmolested. The lobby smelled of stale air with a trace of unplugged refrigerator behind it; the only sounds were from outside. Cleve, out of habit, walked toward the elevator and nearly had his finger on the button before he remembered and laughed. “Guess we’re taking the stairs, huh?”

“Yeah, I always took ’em, it’s only two flights. Faster than waiting for that elevator.” He grinned. “Especially now.” Tim showed Cleve to a short hallway leading to the stairway door. Small windows gave enough light to see in the stairwell, but little more. “Let’s go.”

“Whoa! Red! We gotta stick together! I can’t take those steps four at a time!” Cleve rasped. Tim stopped at the landing and waited for Cleve to catch up. “You never know, there might be people waiting up here.” He pulled his gun and pointed at Tim’s holster.

“How do we do this?” Tim whispered, drawing his own pistol.

“Side by side. That way, they can’t take us with one shot. You watch our backs.” They crept up the next flight, Tim looking back. “No windows in the doors. Good and bad.”

“They can’t see us, and we can’t see them?”

“Right. Two more flights?”

“Yeah.” They continued up the stairs to the third floor.

“Okay,” Cleve said, “this is a steel door. You pull it open quick, and cover yourself with it. I’ll look down to the left. If that’s good, I’ll give you the thumbs-up, and you peek around the door and check the hallway.”

“What about the hall to the right?”

Cleve knelt next to the door, pistol ready. “I’ll make sure of that too. Ready? Go!”

Tim yanked the door open, walking it backwards as Cleve snapped his gun down and watched. He stood, peered to the left, then gave Tim a thumbs-up. Tim ducked down, then peeked around the door. “Nothing.”

Cleve dived into the hall, landing with a muffled grunt on his left side. “It’s clear,” he whispered. “What’s her number?”

“308. About halfway down.”

“Okay. You lead, I’ll watch our backs. Side by side again. Look for doors that aren’t shut all the way.”

They worked their way down the hall to 308, making nearly no noise walking on the shabby grey carpet. Up here, unplugged refrigerator odor took center stage, crowding aside the musty stale smell of unoccupied living space. “Shit,” Tim whispered. “Her door is ajar.”

“I thought it was a door,” Cleve whispered back; Tim rolled his eyes. “Sorry. Don’t tense up. Doesn’t mean there’s anyone behind it.

“Okay, time to make some noise. Stand beside the door, knock, call for her, and tell her it’s you. If she’s there on a hair-trigger, she probably won’t shoot unless you really pissed her off — she’s your ex, right? Best case, she tells us to come in. Second best case, nobody’s there. Worst case, we alert anyone else in here to our presence, if I didn’t do it with my dive through the door. But it’s too quiet in here, I don’t think anyone’s home. I’ll watch the hall. You look for changes in the light, shadows, whatever might indicate movement behind that door. If your knock doesn’t push the door open, go ahead and push from where you’re standing. We’ll make it up from there.”

“That’s encouraging,” Tim whispered. “Okay, here goes.” He knocked on the door and called as it swung open. “Rebecca? It’s Tim! Tim Petro. Don’t shoot!”

Except for the door bumping its stop, there was no sound from the apartment. “Now what?”

Cleve ducked around Tim to the other side of the door and looked inside. “Go in low, I’ll cover.”

“I sort of remember the layout of the place,” Tim said. “The kitchen and dining nook are around this divider. The living room and bedroom have windows. If there’s anyone lying in wait, they’ll be in the dining nook. Maybe the kitchen.”

“Maybe. You go in low and cover that stuff to the left. I’ll come in high and watch the rest.”

“Okay. Let’s go.”

Tim dived, imitating Cleve’s dive from the stairwell, but landing on his right side. Cleve slipped in behind him, taking in the entire place. Nobody greeted them or opened fire.

“I think she’s flown the coop, buddy,” Cleve said.

“Yeah. Jeez, her refrigerator stinks. But we still have to check the bedroom and bathroom.”

“Where’s the bathroom?”

“Off the kitchen. It goes through to the bedroom.”

“Fine,” Cleve said. “We’ll check the bedroom. Same drill as before.”

They approached the bedroom door, standing half open. “Damn,” Tim said, wrinkling his nose. “The toilet backed up or something.”

Cleve only grunted.

“Rebecca?” Tim called, pushing the door open. Then, “Rebecca!” He ran in; Cleve cursed under his breath and hurried to cover him.

Tim stood over the bed, shaking a woman lying face down on the bed, calling her name over and over. Cleve checked the bathroom, looked out the window, and walked to the nightstand. “Hey. Tim. I think she’s gone.” He lifted an empty pill bottle. “Hydrocodone/acetaminophen… not hers, but I guess that’s one way to do it. Here, let’s turn her over. Might as well make sure it’s her.”

“It’s her,” Tim said. “See that?” He lifted her hair and pointed to a cross tattooed on the back of her neck. He looked up at Cleve, tears on his cheeks. “She was Catholic. When it came down to that or me, she chose it. I wouldn’t convert.” He took a deep, shaky breath. “How long? She’s cold.”

“Not long after the power went out, I’m guessing. She left a window open, and it isn’t hot. In a couple days… well, never mind that. Check the other side of the bed, she might have left a note.”

Tim walked around, stooped, and brought up a piece of paper. “She did!” He read:

I can’t do this. It keeps calling to me, night and day. I can’t sleep for its jabber. But I WON’T GO. I heard gunshots Friday and Saturday, and I hoped someone was killing the trucks. But nobody came.

My final confession: bless me Father, for I have sinned. I have cursed the trucks. I have stolen food from other apartments, knowing the people will not come back. I have wished to die. I will die by my own hand, for this I pray your forgiveness. But if I live, the trucks will take my soul, and better Hell than what they would do. I have seen it. Blessed Savior, forgive my sin and receive my soul this night, so the trucks will not devour it. And if Tim Petro has not been taken, I pray to Our Father that he will come to know You.

Tim dropped to the floor and sobbed. Cleve laid a hand on his shoulder for a moment, then slipped into the living room to watch the hallway and give Tim a little privacy.


Thursday, February 04, 2010 4 comments

So Happy It’s Thursday

It’s been a week, and it’s not done yet. ;-) After the TS01 error that they managed to not clear from Friday night until Tuesday morning (technically Tuesday morning, 1:30 a.m.), today brought on a TB21/SN06. Snippet especially claimed to not have been able to sleep until like 3 this morning; The Boy pretended to have had the same issue, and they both laid around in bed well past noon. I brought Mason up to them on a couple occasions, since I was supposed to be working at home today and had stuff I needed to get done. Now I can bring myself to believe someone could have trouble sleeping — I’ve been up to 3 a.m. myself a couple of times — but that doesn’t excuse the need to get up and get on with your life. Unless it’s a chronic problem, you shouldn’t have much trouble getting to sleep the next night.

Not long ago, I mentioned that Panda found a more lucrative position than helping Mrs. Fetched with the chickens. Well… that didn’t work out so well. Panda tells us that the guy worked him for two days, then neglected to pay him. So he’s back to helping with the chickens. Good timing — they needed some wiring done, and I was going to have to do it Saturday.

Mason in the bouncy swingMason continues to bounce along. Yesterday morning, I was holding him on my lap while working the computer one-handed… I thought he was getting kind of quiet when his head dropped and he sagged out. I put him on my shoulder, and he was limp — yup, he went to sleep without my even trying, and slept most of the morning away (kind of like his parents, huh?).

He’s working really hard on turning that scootch thing he does into mobility. I put him on the bed this evening, and he was trying to move around. I got on my hands and knees and showed him how to push both ends of himself up, and he at least tried it. He’ll be 5 months old on Saturday! He’s getting to where he can work the bouncy swing pretty well — he was hopping all over the place this evening while I was getting some pizza on the table. He also has a high-swing that plays music… when The Boy was his age, he had a high-swing that you wound up, no batteries required. 'Course, it didn’t play music and stuff either. High tech is a wonderful thing…

Until it starts getting wonky. For a while now, I’ve thought my eyes were getting a little boogly during the evening. I assumed it was my eyes working their way out from under my glasses prescription, but Tuesday night I noticed that the screen was only blurry along the edges and sharp in the middle. Thinking it was dust, I wiped it off with no change. Fortunately, the MacBook still has a month or two left on AppleCare (can’t believe this sucker’s almost 3 years old now!) and I put in a trouble report on the website. A few minutes later, Kendra was walking me through a few steps and then got me an appointment at the Apple Store Saturday afternoon.

So the good news is I can expect to have this thing fixed… the bad news is that it may or may not take a while to get it back. I backed up the most important stuff — photos and writing — to the outboard drive that used to be in my iBook, then copied the next four episodes of White Pickups and some in-progress stuff to Google Docs. So there shouldn’t be any interrupt in postings, and (I hope) very little interrupt in further work. I guess I should make sure that Mrs. Fetched’s G4 dualie (running an older OSX) can work Google Docs with Firefox. I know I can blog from there, anyway.

Funny thought… everyone was once up in arms over Amazon’s “one-click” patent, but what’s really costing them in terms of publicity — and perhaps financially as well — is an ill-conceived attempt at strong-arming a supplier, followed by a bone-headed blog post over the weekend that the legal beagles didn’t have a chance to vet. I’m not exactly planning to run out and buy an iPad, although I plan to play with one while I’m at the Apple Store on Saturday, but that couldn’t have happened at a better time for Apple. Now all I have to do is hope I come home with a good sharp LCD display this weekend…

Monday, February 01, 2010 4 comments

White Pickups, Episode 20


There were no incidents on the ride down, just an endless parade of white pickups filling I-85 as the three riders pedaled along the shoulder of the freeway. Tim played the tourist and took several snapshots with his digital camera. Charles set a much more sedate pace than Tim was used to, which gave him plenty of time to stop for an occasional photo then catch up. After crossing the Perimeter, they shifted to surface streets; the pickups were on parade here too.

After a few hours of riding, Charles led them into the Virginia Highlands district and to the block where his group had gathered. Everyone poured out to greet them, with comments like “Hey Sondra, what did you stick your head in this time? Your hair turned red and you grew a beard!” “Hey Max, how was suburbia? Same as always, I bet! Hahahaha!” “Any trouble?” “What’s going on?”

“Is everyone out here?” Charles called. “Bring everyone out, I want to do this once if possible.” Everyone milled in the street, welcoming Tim and peppering all three with questions. Runners brought the last few people outside.

“Okay, everyone is here, except for Sondra,” Charles said. “She’s fine — better, even. I’ll explain that in a moment.

“My ex-wife and daughter, and a few other people, are living in a subdivision called Laurel Hills, out in Gwinnett. They have invited us to join them — there are plenty of houses available, and they’re making sure they’re livable as we speak. I strongly suggest that all of us accept the invitation, for several reasons. But the biggest reason of all is that their subdivision is fenced in, and there are no pickups inside.”

As Charles expected, this news created a stir. The hubbub died down only when a white pickup glided down the street and waited for everyone to shuffle to the sidewalk. The pickup rolled on by, oblivious to the glares.

“Nothing like that to deal with out there. Sure, they’re everywhere in suburbia, just like here, but not inside the subdivision. Sondra’s arm got less numb away from the pickups, so you can imagine she decided to stay regardless of what everyone else here agrees to do. She also seems to have found a boyfriend, which may also have something to do with it.” That drew a few laughs. “You won’t be surprised when you see him — they’re like two matched bookends — but he’s been very resourceful and helpful.

“Second, today is the first day of fall. We’ll be getting into colder weather before long, and we don’t exactly have abundant supplies of firewood for keeping our houses warm — but most of us don’t have fireplaces anyway. There’s enough townhouses for all of us there, and plenty of detached homes, but we’ll want to huddle together when winter comes. Each townhouse has a fireplace, and we’re going to look for fireplace inserts to improve them.

“Finally, it’s been relatively peaceful so far. Tim here has been the only one of them to run into any trouble; he shot a drunk who broke out the window in his bicycle shop, and that was Saturday night. The fences make the subdivision a little more defensible, and as I said they’ve already gotten rid of the trucks. It probably won’t stay peaceful there, but we’ll be in a better position to defend ourselves when trouble comes again. I’d like all of you to think about this today and tonight, and we’ll gather tomorrow morning to vote on it.”

“I’m ready to go now!” yelled Johnny Latimer. Most of the others sounded agreeable.

“Sure, but we just got in and I’d like to rest,” Charles said. “Now Tim might think this was a short jaunt — he’s hardcore — but I’d rather wait until tomorrow morning.”

“Early!” Johnny said, then waved and walked away.

“Actually,” Tim said, “I want to make two side trips while I’m here. I need to check out that bike shop — it’s going to take time to make sure everyone has decent gear and repair parts for the ride out — and I’d be more comfortable spending all day tomorrow on that, and anyone who wants to come with us can head out on Friday.”

“I understand,” Charles said. “What’s the other side trip?”

“Rebecca’s apartment is just a couple miles from here. I want to go by and see if she’s there. If not, maybe I’ll find out what happened to her.”

“Odds are she drove off.”

“Yeah. But I don’t know that.”

“Fine. But remember, nobody goes anywhere alone here. Depending where you’re headed, you might have two people going along. Got it?”

“Yeah, I remember. How soon can we get going?”

“You mean like right now?”

“Yeah. Twenty miles isn’t a long trip for me, and you guys weren’t exactly setting a hot pace.”

Charles sighed. “I’ll find someone who wants to go with you. It might take an hour or so. Give yourself a quick break… I really doubt an hour or two is going to make a difference.”

“Whatever. Where am I staying while I’m here? I might as well drop off my pack.”

“I have a spare bedroom. You can leave it there.” Charles gave directions. “Help yourself to whatever’s in the kitchen if you need a snack. I sure need one.”

“If you’ll go find my riding buddy, I’ll grab you something while I’m at it — how’s that?”

“Fair enough. I have some granola bars in the cupboard above the sink.”



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