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Live Free or Die: Chapter Seven

       Last updated: Wednesday, October 14, 2009 23:09 EDT



    “This is Courtney Courtney with CNN and I’m in beautiful Northfield, Vermont where after a series of record lows the temperature has climbed to a balmy forty-seven degrees and you can simply smell spring in the air! I’m embedded with Company A of the First Battalion Eighty-Seventh Infantry of the Army’s Tenth Mountain Division. The company has been given the mission of tapping local maple trees to supply syrup for our Horvath friends!

    “I’m talking with Specialist Benjamin Putman who is the company’s designated maple tapping expert. So, Specialist, did you go a special school to learn maple tapping?”

    “Yes, ma’am,” the specialist said, smiling fatuously. “It’s called my mama’s knee.”

    “Excuse me?”

    “I’m from about thirty miles from here, ma’am. I was born and raised in Caledonia county.”

    “So you learned maple syrup processing at your mother’s knee,” the reporter said, smiling thinly at the joke. “I guess that makes you an expert, then. But on a personal note. Since you are from this area, what do you think of the military being sent in to, basically, take this sap?”

    “Just following orders, ma’am,” the specialist said. “Just like every soldier whose ever followed an order that people might not like. Like, you know, the SS comes to mind.”

    “It’s not quite that bad, specialist.”

    “As you say, ma’am,” the specialist said. “On the other hand, I think you might want to read up on your history a bit more. SS didn’t start by killing six million Jews. Started by taking their homes and businesses. Got around to the gas chambers later.”

    “Why don’t we just concentrate on the process of extracting maple syrup,” the reporter said. “I understand that it’s not exactly hard.”

    “Well, it’s not exactly hard and it’s not exactly easy, ma’am,” the specialist said.

    “Why don’t you show us how it works?”

    “First you take a drill of the right diameter and you tap the tree,” the specialist said, knocking with his knuckles on the maple. “This one is below ten inches in diameter so you can only get one tap in. You apply your drill and drill in just far enough to get into the wood. You don’t want to drill too far. Just enough to get through the bark and set the tap. Then you take your tap and a hammer and you hammer the… Oh f…udge.”

    “What’s wrong?”

    “Well, see how the wood split up like that? That’s bad. You don’t get a seal with a crack like that. This tree’s basically useless for this year. Oh… darn!”


    “I forgot! When it’s too warm the trees’ll crack if you try to tap ‘em! I’ve got to go check on the rest of the company’s work. They’ve been tapping all morning. If they’re all split…!”

    “Well, there you have it,” the reporter said through gritted teeth. “Even experts in this business can make…mistakes. This is Courtney Courtney with CNN…”

    “And we’re…clear.”

    “They are going to flatten New York.”

    “Yeah. But Atlanta’s waaay down the list.”

    “I’m not from Atlanta.”

    “I am.”



    “This is Desiree Romane with the Canadian Broadcasting Service interviewing residents in the Trois Riveaux area of Quebec province, a major area of maple sugar production. Excuse me, sir? Excuse moi, monsieur?”

    “Que?” the heavily clad man asked without pulling down his scarf. The balmy temperatures of the day before were dropping like a rock.

    “Vous travaillez dans l'industrie du sucre d'érable? ///that needs to be checked/// Do you work in the maple sugar industry?”


    “And what is your opinion of the Horvath demand that we turn over all our maple sugar?”

    What exploded from the man was a torrent of Quebequois too fast for even the Quebec native to understand.

    “Perhaps for our English speaking viewers?” the reporter asked, desperately.

    “Pox upon English viewers,” the man said in a thick Quebequois accent, “Pah! What I said is that the cheese of a donkey aliens can go eat merde! We are finally paid what our sugar is worth and they wish us to give it to them for nothing? They may nibble upon the end of my manhood! They may kiss my very hairy bottom which has some boils…!”

    “And we’re having technical difficulties with the transmission from Trois Riveaux. But here is Madeline Bathsome in Ontario province speaking to…?”

    “Mr. Duncan McKenzie who is the owner of a large maple distillery here in Chapleau. Good afternoon, Mr. McKenzie.”

    “Good afternoon, lassie.”

    “So, how is the maple tapping going?”

    “Well, unless you’re a complete moron you don’t tap yet. But it’s not looking so good.”


    “Ach. Terrible. Weather’s all wrong. Not going to get much sap no how. No way. And we’ve had a real rash of injuries this winter. Lots of slips on the ice and such. I completely threw out my back carrying in firewood. Can’t hardly get out of bed.”

    “You…look perfectly fine.”

    “Hurts terrible. Need an MRI. But Health Service is backed up months. May not be on my feet till summer.”

    “And you…”

    “Do most of the tapping on my land, aye. Probably not going to get naught this year. Terrible shame.”



    “We’re in Littleton, New Hampshire speaking to Captain Michael “Werewolf” Wolff, commander of Bravo Company, Fourth Battalion, Thirty-First Infantry. Captain, you’ve been getting armed resistance I understand.”

    “Yes, ma’am,” the captain said. He had his helmet locked in place and body armor and battle rattle over his cold weather gear. “A bit. We’ve some vehicle damage as well as three men in the hospital and one lightly wounded. That’s ignoring the men we have in medical for cold weather injuries.”

    “Have you been taking a lot of fire?”

    “Not a lot so much as how, ma’am,” the captain said, clearly frustrated. “The majority is what is defined as harassing fire. Just enough to get the troops’ heads down and keep them from tapping the trees. Occasionally we’ve gotten some sniper fire. That’s what’s put my boys in the hospital and I’m not real pleased about that. So far, fortunately, there have been no deaths.”

    “Have your troops been returning fire?”

    “Yes, ma’am. As has been said, it’s a terribly sad day when Americans are fighting Americans. Over maple syrup.”

    “And have your men killed or injured any of the enemy?”

    “I’m having a hard time using the term enemy, ma’am. But if you’re talking about the local aggressors, not to my knowledge, ma’am.”

    “Your troops have taken fire. And they’ve returned fire. And they haven’t hit any of the… local aggressors?”

    “Not to my knowledge, ma’am.”

    “Captain, we did some research on your unit. It has been in combat in Afghanistan against the Taliban and Pashtun tribesmen. They are considered some of the best mountain troops in the world. And this unit, with many of these same soldiers, scored an impressive record of kills. You’re saying that you haven’t killed or injured any of the… local aggressors.”

    “That would seem to be the case, ma’am.”

    “That doesn’t make much sense to me, captain.”

    “Sorry about that.”

    “Perhaps you could explain to your viewers what the difference is here in New Hampshire? Is it possible that your troops are simply not aiming because these are people who matter and Afghan tribesmen don’t?”

    “You mean these are American citizens and Afghan terrorists aren’t, ma’am? That would seem to be a tautology.”

    “I believe I said matter, captain.”

    “Have you been to Afghanistan, ma’am?”

    “No, I haven’t, captain. Does that matter?”

    “Only to particulars like why it’s harder to hit someone who is bellied down in snow, using camouflage and cover and an expert sniper versus tribesmen who run screaming at you firing from the hip in the open, ma’am. I don’t know exactly who told you that Taliban are crack mountain fighters, ma’am, but they’re not. Not anymore, anyway. Here we’re dealing with fellas that not only know the woods like the back of their hand but are, in many cases, former US military. And until recently this was a pretty hardscrabble area. They did a lot of hunting for the dinner table. That tends to dial up your targeting skills, ma’am. And what they are targeting, with some care I might add, are my troops. Who, yes, don’t particularly want to be doing this job but they’re following orders.”

    “I see,” the reporter said. “And when you collect the sap?”

    “We process it,” the captain said, obviously growing impatient. “You put it in pans and boil it over an open flame. We’ll be mostly using local wood.”

    “Wood?” the reporter said. “Isn’t that a bit… Doesn’t that release a lot of greenhouse gases?”

    “Greenhouse gases?”

    “Yes, captain. Carbon dioxide.”

    “You’re talking about global warming? Yes, it releases a lot of greenhouse gases. Even worse than the smoke from the fires is what gets boiled off of the sap! It’s the most powerful greenhouse gas on earth!”

    “I thought… doesn’t it just release steam?”

    “Water vapor!” the captain said, practically shouting. “Look it up! It’s the most powerful greenhouse gas on earth! We’re up here trying to keep our cities from being nuked, trying to collect sap, SAP! while UNDER FIRE and you’re worried about GREENHOUSE GASES? Are you absolutely INSANE? You didn’t ask me about the vehicle damage! Go ahead and ask me about the vehicle damage, Miss Smarty-Pants!”

    “Have…” the reporter stammered. This sort of thing was gold but having a heavily armed soldier seemingly losing it was a bit flustering. “Have the insurgents been planting IEDs?”

    “NO!” the captain screamed. “One of our unoccupied humvees was taken out by a LASER rifle. WE don’t even have laser rifles! The guys who have been so carefully and considerately shooting my boys in their thighs have LASER RIFLES! We’re outnumbered, outfoxed and outgunned. And you’re worried about CARBON DIOXIDE?”




    “Sergeant of the guard, asshole.”

    “Respond to challenge: Done.”

    “In a screwed up situation.”

    “You may pass.”

    “You never will. I’m serious. I’ve got that feeling.”

    “Like the hills have eyes?”

    “No, you moron. Like there are about five times our number of locals up in the hills just trying to figure out how to get us to leave without going to trouble of killing us.”

    “Does have that feeling. I’d rather be ass deep in Taliban.”

    “I wouldn’t go that far. But it is a terribly messed up deal.”



    The sergeant counted on his fingers for a moment.

    “Dick, did you say ‘Ayup’ just a moment ago?”

    “Nope. Said ‘Yup.’ Guy pulling the tap out said ‘Ayup.’”

    “Ayup.” There was a thunking sound and a clatter of metal.

    “We went to a lot of trouble putting those taps in.”

    “Try doing it for a living, soldier boy.”

    Thunk. Tinkle.

    “Quiet night tonight, Dick.”

    “That it is, sergeant.”

    “I seem to remember some wind from the east, though.”

    “More like northeast.”

    “Northeast. Could have covered a lot of noise.”

    “We’ve got FLIRs.”

    “Probably shouldn’t want to flip them down, soldier-boy.”

    Thunk. Tinkle.

    “Probably not. Yup. Quiet night.”




    “Howdy, soldiers,” Mr. Haselbauer said, sighing. “Come on in and take a load off.”

    “Mr. Jason Haselbauer?” the lieutenant said, nervously. If the local resident started going off they didn’t have tasers. Or, for that matter, a Javelin anti-tank round. He hadn’t really appreciated being tasked with ‘making friendly contact with potential local insurgent’ anyway.

    “The same,” Mr. Haselbauer said, waving for the squad to come in. “We’re about to set down to vittles. Got ‘nough for some hungry soldiers.”

    “Uh, sir, we have our own rations,” the lieutenant said just as he caught a whiff from inside. “But if you insist…”



    The Haselbauer table was well set to fit a squad. Even with a couple of the daughters in law and kids occupying the house there was enough room, and food, for six hungry soldiers. And it was in piles as befitted a farm kitchen.

    “This is…very kind of you, sir, ma’am,” the lieutenant said. It was a bit surreal. They had good intelligence that Haselbauer was one of the heads of the local resistance, perhaps the head of the regional resistance. And here they were having dinner with him. He’d met with some absolutely known bad-guys in Iraq and Afghanistan over green tea. Sitting in a farm kitchen in New Hampshire with a table piled with home-cured ham, turkey, corn, potatoes and all the fixings was just…different.

    “Was in the One-Oh-One in Vietnam,” Mr. Haselbauer said. “Know all about screwed up orders, lieutenant. Gonna pray.”

    “Yes, sir,” the officer said, waving at his men to bow their heads. Most of them were from Christian backgrounds and didn’t need to be prompted. Khalid was polite enough to just pretend.

    “Dear Lord, we thank You for the blessings of a full table, a stocked larder and all the good that You have brought to this house, this land, this nation. We thank You, Lord, for two hundred and fifty years of freedom. We thank You for bringing the blessings of peace and prosperity to this land. We ask Your forgiveness for any way that we have transgressed against Your will, Lord. And we ask forgiveness, Lord, for these fine young men who through no fault of their own find themselves trapped between their orders and the oath they swore in Your name, Lord, to uphold and defend the Constitution of These United States against all enemies foreign and domestic. Please forgive us all our sins, Lord, and bring us to Your everlasting home no matter how far we have fallen from Your eyes, Lord. Amen.”

    “Amen,” the lieutenant said. Suddenly he wasn’t hungry.



    “Honey, there’s somebody at the door.”

    Jonathan “K-9” Kolasinski got up from his computer, still mentally composing the response he was putting on a blog, and walked to the door. He wasn’t especially worried about security. Besides the fact that things like home invasion were incredibly rare in New Hampshire, Lovey-poo was sitting attentively by the door. Lovey-poo being a one-hundred and eighty pound, Schutzhund trained Alsatian that at a quiet word would probably be able to take out an entire street gang.

    Jonathan was an eight year veteran of the Air Force who spent his entire career as a ‘handler’. The term was ‘Contingency Response.’ He’d lost two partners in the MidEast Area of Operations, one in the Sandbox and one in the Rockpile, respectively. The IED that got Ranger also got him, which was why he was sitting in front of a computer instead of out working the hills with the rest of the troops. Lovey-poo had retired with him and was now well on his way to being the top stud Alsatian in New England.

    Three of Lovey-Poo’s harem padded into the hallway quietly as Jonathan reached the door. Mindy was trailing because she was well into pregnancy.

    “Setz,” Jonathan said without looking around. All three bitches’ butts hit the ground as if synchronized. He’d taken a glance through the side windows and the visitor was a short man wearing a fur hat. Probably one of the neighbors although he wasn’t immediately familiar. And it was a cold night to be out.



    “Hi, I’m Vernon Tyler,” Tyler said, leaning over and glancing at the four very large German Shepherds. All four had those fore-quarters that made them look like canine fullbacks. What bothered him the most was that they were just sitting there. Quietly. That was never a good sign. “I was wondering if I could have a word.”



    “Beautiful dogs,” Tyler said, taking a sip of tea. “Ah… German Shepherds?”

    “Shepherds, Alsatians…” Jonathan said, shrugging. “Lovey-poo is a Deutsche stud. The Germans just have better lines than the US. The bitches are US. Anna, Gretchen, Mindy, meet Mr. Vernon.” All three of the bitches sat up and whined then lay back down.

    “I’d heard you were a breeder,” Tyler said with a laugh. “They didn’t quite cover it. Schutzhund?”

    “Mmmm…” Jonathan said. “To what do I owe the honor of the visit, Mr. Vernon?”

    “Hate to bother you at this time of night,” Tyler said, automatically. “But it’s been a long day and miles to go before I sleep and all that. I’m sort of out taking the tenor of the clans. You moved back here rather than being a newcomer so it’s not exactly like talking to one of the families that never has left. I’ve found I’ve gotten…straighter answers. When there are any answers to be had. What’s your take?”

    He didn’t really have to ask ‘about the Horvath demanding the maple syrup.’ It was pretty much the only topic of conversation to be found in most of Maine, Massachusetts, Vermont and New Hampshire.

    “I’ve friends and family live in Boston, Mr. Tyler,” Kowalski said, using the pure New England ‘Bah.’ “So it’s a hard thing to say ‘Wipe out the world if you want, but we’re not going to give up our maple syrup.’ It’s… maple syrup.”

    “Agreed,” Tyler said, nodding.

    “What’s your take?”

    “What everyone in the US government, what everyone in the media, what the Glatun and the Horvath all want to know,” Tyler said, “is what is my take. Which is a far cry from cutting trees for a living. And the answer is… I’m taking the tenor of the clans.”

    “Okay,” Kowalski said, chuckling. “One more question and I’ll try to answer yours. Clans?”

    “New England is not, by any stretch of the imagination, monolithic,” Tyler said with a sigh. “Nor are the maple areas of Canada where I’ve also been. Old farming families that stretch back to the Revolutionary period and pre-Revolution. Hippies that moved up for the cheap land and libertarian approach. Southerners like me who have moved here so they can be around relative conservatives. Communes. Militias. Modern lefty gay bed-and-breakfast owners. People who want to declare independence and throw out all the lefties.

    “My land grab and the Horvath threat have pretty much moved out anyone who doesn’t love this area. The one influx of Glatun credits we got is more influx than this region has ever seen. But nobody wants to be at ground zero of the Horvath threat. Nobody, American or Canadian, wants to be in the middle of a war with our own militaries. What’s left are people who just refuse to leave. And there aren’t really major regional variations. Oh, somewhat when you cross from New Hampshire to Vermont or Massachusetts but not even that too greatly. What there are are…clans. Like thinking groups. I almost think New England needs to be parliamentary rather than territorial but I digress. I’m taking the tenor of the clans.”

    “Which group am I?” Kowalski asked.

    “You said one question,” Tyler said, smiling. “And your answer to ‘what’s your take’ more or less puts you in one. Generally, older, not really old but older, families that stay here because this is home.”

    “It ought to be easy,” the former sergeant said. “It’s maple syrup. Who wants to die over maple syrup?” He looked at Tyler who shrugged in what might be agreement.

    “But…” Kowalski continued, shrugging. “The government is offering to buy it. Pretty fair price. Then they’ll turn it over to the Horvath.”

    “Cheaper than trying to take it,” Tyler said.

    “Agreed. But. It’s still taking. This isn’t… This isn’t what I put my life on the line for. This isn’t what I fought for. What I lost partners for and damn near my life.”

    “ ‘Give me liberty or give me death?’”

    “More or less,” Kowalski admitted, sighing. “I’ve got two kids and a wife. I have to think about them.”

    “Contingency plans?” Tyler asked.“I was in contingency response,” Kowalski said, chuckling. “Uh. Yeah.”

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