(NY Daily News Headline 9/14/14.)
About Bob Kornhiser:
Bob Kornhiser is a life-long New Yorker, specifically Brooklyn — before the hipsters discovered the borough. He lives hard by the F train several stops from Coney Island. Bob taught public high school and some college — English and Film. He’s written, produced and directed an award-winning indie feature film, Blood Kisses. (https://bloodkisses.vhx.tv) He’s also an award-winning playwright and novelist. Most proudly, Bob has the distinction of having the only satiric article ever published in The NY Times Sports Section! All of Bob’s work is literary, yet accessible. It is straight-forward, avoids introspection like the plague, and especially eschews metaphor — except for “like the plague.” He usually writes of contemporary politics and current affairs, significant history and people, and generally avoids auto-biography and memoir, also, like the plague.
Richie MacClain sighted through the Starlight scope mounted on the barrel of the three-aught-eight Win. The scope’s cross hairs marked a target three-quarters up the Statie barracks’ door in Blooming Grove, about fifteen miles down Route 390 from his family’s place. He lay prone in the woods, with a blackened face, and outfitted in speckled grey camouflage several hundred feet across the well-lit state trooper parking lot. His dark grey kit bag with the extra .308 mags was next to him in the leaf litter. He felt for it to reassure him.
He flipped the cover of his combat watch. The blue read-out flashed 11:56. Four minutes. Four minutes to shift time.
His heart started to racing. He flipped the watch shut, and he took a deep swallow of the chilled Pocono air to get it under control just as his father had taught him over and over on the rifle range. Take a breath. Hold it. Squeeze off the round. Exhale. Slowly.
He felt some winter in it. The night air. But now he had his breath and heart under control. It felt good and right and righteous. Judgment has come.
Then the barrack door opened. The first trooper out walked quickly towards a patrol vehicle, a Ford with Trooper Pennsylvania State on the white side panel. The trooper hesitated a moment at the vehicle door and MacClain put the first .308 into his head in the narrow band of the trooper’s felt campaign hat. When the trooper slumped against the car door he put a second round into his chest.
Midnight. The state police car rolled into the lot at the same time as a second trooper rushed out the barrack’s door. This one saw the first one down and ran to him.
A fuckin’ troopper bitch.
As she bent to help, MacClain put a round in the windshield. It exploded in shards and the woman Statie jumped, scurrying and stumbling back inside the brick building. Scared shitless. He gloated, half-laughing.
The trooper in the car who’d just pulled in got out of his vehicle and moved to the downed trooper. Asshole. MacClain pumped two shots into him and four more in rapid secession into the barracks door just for the hell of it.
He turned off of 390. There was only one house on the road and it was dark except for the light over the side door. He put the cigarette in his mouth and lit it. Two miles farther on he turned the Jeep into the forest, onto an old dirt logging track that wasn’t on any map he knew of.
At the tree that he’d blazed weeks ago, he flicked out the butt and turned onto a narrower track that ended at the pond. In the headlights, he uncovered the stashed rubber inflatable he’d bought at Walmart, inflating it with the portable pump he’d paid extra for. He took the paddle out of the trunk and his pack, and the AK-47 and spare boots he had tied together with the laces. He put the pack in the raft.
He put the headlights out. He wanted a cigarette but decided to wait until he was across the pond. He started the Jeep and depressed the brake pedal with the board he had rigged up and put the Jeep in D. It lurched into the pond, sinking about half-way.
Shit. It was the first thing that had gone wrong. Fuck it.
He fixed his feather-weight Vezeri flashlight with duct tape to his knit cap, and slung the two weapons securely taut over his shoulders, and looped the spare boots under his fatigue collar pushing the raft in. He’d chosen a moonless night. The Vezeri made a tight beam across the water and he paddled after it.
On the other side, he stabbed the four chambers of the raft with his knife and tied boulders into the deflated rubber and sank it out of sight in a bed of eel grass he’d scouted way earlier. Then he turned away from the pond and checked his watch. To the minute.
He lit up the no tax Senecas he’d run up to the Indian reservation north across the border in New York for, and took a deep drag. He felt like staying there in the woods by the quiet pond forever, satisfied, but he knew he had to follow the plan, and he kept the cigarette in his mouth, pulling the tape on the Vezeri from off his head.
It didn’t take him long to find the tree with the fresh blaze he’d put there a week ago. He rubbed some dirt on the blaze, ground the cigarette into the tree, buried the butt, and headed into the forest.
He moved quickly and quietly. Not that it mattered. He was moving into maybe a hundred square miles of virtual wilderness, where even hunters seldom ventured. But he was a skilled woodsman, a survivalist, arrogant about it, and so he made as little noise as he knew how.
When he got to the stream, he zipped off the bottom of his pants and walked up the shallow fall water, not much higher than boot top to hide his scent. He looked at his watch. One hour steady.
The water was fairly cold but he had trained himself to ignore it, sitting for half hours over a few weeks in the bath with cold water he dumped trays of ice in. Steeling yourself. He liked that. Comparing him to iron. Tougher than any lame-ass trooper. I showed that.
The dead tree lay across the water. He checked his watch. One hour exact. Stepping out of the stream, he sat on the trunk, wrung out his socks and put on dry ones. And the spare boots. They were stiff but warmed quickly as he lit another Seneca. Butts never fail you.
From the stream it was only ten minutes to the overhang. It wasn’t quite a cave but the rock ledge swung out from the elevation making a deep depression in the mountain. He had stashed his sleeping bag rolled up, a small camp stove, candles, a radio, and maybe a week’s supply of canned food. Water would come from the stream.
Richie’s younger sister Claire — she was 18, Richie, 31 — opened the screen door and banged on the wooden one because she knew the bell had been out for years. This was a few days before.
“Anybody—?” She heard the John Deere start up and walked around back of the 50’s cape that had begun showing its age years ago. Her father was on the Deere. “Why don’t you shut it off?” She shouted over the Deere. “Dad?”
He had on those black earmuffs for the noise, so she had to wave him down. He got off and walked over without shutting off the mower.
“Had a helluva a time starting her. You’d think a Deere — American made — they say a Kubota’s better.”
“What?” They were shouting.
“A Kubota. Oh, never mind. You wouldn’t —”
“I think she went to the mall. Margie doesn’t tell me anything.”
“In his room. Got the yard to mow. But he won’t let you in.”
Claire went in the back door. Dishes were in the sink. When she’d lived here, she washed them because her mother refused to after the dish washer broke, and she and the Major argued about it over and over. She hollered up the stairs— Richie— but there was no answer.
She walked up going by a handful of photos on the wall, in no real order. Her father in his major’s uniform. The three of them at Disneyland before Claire was born. Her father stiff and uncomfortable in the back, not touching anyone. Richie holding a toy tomahawk with feathers; mom starting to put on weight. One of Claire sitting on Santa’s lap, probably at Sears. And next to them a frame full of Richie’s sharpshooter ribbons from his high school rifle team. And Richie on the firing line with the team, one eye squinting along the barrel, the other cocked towards the camera.
She knocked on the door. “I know you’re in there. It’s me, Claire.” The cigarette smoke was all over. She tried the knob. “You’re gonna kill yourself in there— ” The door cracked open. He smiled at his baby sister from inside.
“Not yet I’m not,” and pushed out carrying a plastic 7Eleven bag. “Here. Hold this.”
“All Vitamin Water.”
He locked the door, took the bag and showed her. “See?” They went downstairs.
In the kitchen, he rinsed out a mug. “Tea?”
“I’m okay.” He put water in a small pot and turned on the stove.
“Nope. No more coffee. Gave it up. The body is a temple. Herbal tea and Vitamin Water.” He looked out to his father riding the mower. “What’s the point of mowing a lawn? Waste good gas you might need in the future.”
“What about the cigarettes?”
He turned. “What?”
“The body is a temple stuff?”
“Everybody’s allowed one vice. Besides I’m supporting the Indians. Keeping them on the reservation so they won’t tomahawk the rest of us.”
“Funny. Still, you’re gonna kill yourself.”
“Says you.” The pot was bubbling over.
It wasn’t really a turnout or a highway Rest Stop. It was just a patch of grass a bit wider than the usual shoulder along 390 but it was enough to pull off without going into the drainage ditch, or the woods that ran up close to the road.
Margaret MacClaine felt she couldn’t make it home so she braked hard and tumbled onto the roadside, the car behind her swerving and even fishtailing slightly not to hit her. She imagined the driver giving her the finger but she didn’t see or care.
She turned down the volume on the country western station so she could barely hear it, and jiggled the seat release to angle it back and closed her eyes. The car was still running. She reached forward and turned the key, but leaving the radio going, and again leaned back. She sat there a few minutes then reached into the back for the vodka.
She opened the bottle and took a taste straight from it. It made her eyes close again. She was far away for a moment when a car rushed past. O’ Christ, a Statie. But it wasn’t.
She capped the bottle and put it on the floor. Then she took a fresh bottle of spring water from the cup holder, opened it and poured it out the window, reaching, refilling the plasticbottle with the vodka. There was a little left in the store bottle and she finished that off. She thought about throwing the empty out the window into the ditch but put it under the seat.
She held the water bottle in her lap. She imagined it was now cooler and somehow more pure with the secret vodka than the water and took another taste. She thought she heard Glen Campbell on the radio and turned it up. It wasn’t. She turned it off and sank back. Say he has dementia. Glen Campbell. Jesus.
She’d never gone to the mall. She’d driven around and around, up 390 to Promised Land State Park where she sat by the lake. The summer people were gone, and it was early. She saw a lone fisherman and a park employee repairing a shelter. That was all. She sat there until it clouded over. She didn’t have a sweater.
“You’re not a lesbian, are you?”
“Don’t be such a dick, Richie.” They were sitting out front to get away from the mower noise on a patch of concrete the Major put in himself maybe ten years ago. He’d made Richie help him. He was too stubborn or cheap to put any rebar in, so the patch had cracked and shifted over the years.
They sat in two mismatched plastic chairs. Richie’s mug was on the ground and a spider crawled over it. “Your roommate is. For sure.”
“Janny was always a tomboy. But that doesn’t make her gay.”
“They’re takin’ over.”
“Please. There’s a gay agenda to weaken the country.”
“Where did you get that?”
“It’s so obvious. Just open your little lezzy eyes.” He took out his cigarettes.
“Do you have to?”
“Yes.” Before he lit up he saw the spider. He picked up the mug and flicked it off, snapping his finger.
“What was that?”
“God. They’re not dangerous.”
“How would you know? You never go in the woods.”
“And you never do anything.”
“You sound like the Major. He get you here?”
“And I’m supposed to believe that?”
She always loved and looked up to her older brother. But now he was drifting away it seemed. She’d always blamed her parents yet she wasn’t sure now. They seemed to give him and give him, and he gave nothing back, while they gave her little. That’s the way it seemed but she still wanted Richie and her to be like they were in the past. Older brother, kid sister. That’s one reason she’d come over.
“Why are you wearing a wool hat?”
“It’s a navy watch cap.”
“It’s the summer and it’s hot.”
He stubbed out one cigarette and popped in another. She wanted to say something but held back. He stood and pointed the cigarette at her without lighting it.
“You don’t understand.”
“Tell me what I don’t understand?”
“SHTF. When that happens —and boy is it coming, let me tell you —people like me —we’re prepared.” He kept pacing and pointing the unlit Seneca.
“What are you talking about? Prepared for what?”
“You check it out on the internet. SHTF. That’s all I’m going to tell you. You’ll see. That’s where this country’s headed.”
“What are you talking about? Sit down, why don’tcha. Sit down.”
He thought a second, then sat and leaned back. Lighting up, he blew slow smoke into the air. “And I don’t want you to say anything more about my smoking. It’s all that Jew mayor in New York. Telling us what to do. Taking all our freedoms.”
“I won’t say anymore. But it just should be outside, that’s all. The smoking.” They sat without talking, the mower cutting out back, up and down, back and forth, back and forth.
“Richie? I ask you a question?”
“As long as it’s yours and not theirs.”
She took a breath. “How long has it been since you had a job?”
“See, that’s a theirs.”
He spit. “Work like you in a dinky diner?”
“I’m saving for school.”
“He could give it to you.”
“Maybe I want to do it on my own?”
“I told you.” He put the cigarette on the concrete and rubbed it with his boot. “You don’t listen.”
“Try me.” He stood.
“Work won’t mean a thing soon. Nothing will mean a thing except men like me. Soldiers —”
“Soldier? That’s a laugh.”
“You know something? Fuck you.” He banged through the front door. Claire jumped after him, shouting up the stairs, “I didn’t mean it, Richie,” but his door was already closed and locked. “Shit.”
Claire went back outside and sat by herself until she could catch her breath. She thought something was spinning beyond her control, but didn’t know what.
She heard the mower stop. She got up and walked fast to Janny’s car she’d borrowed and parked down the driveway near the road. She drove off just as the Major turned the corner of the house on the Deere.
The water bottle was on the TV table beside her. The two men from the state investigative bureau handed the driver’s license to the Major. They’d found it in the half-sunken Jeep.
“Is this your son?”
The Major glanced at the license. “Ralph? Let me see. Can’t—”
The Major reached the license over to his wife. “Richard.” In a way she was resigned. “God help him.”
“You know what he did?”
“We watch the news for what it’s worth.”
“Anything you might tell us? Mr. MacClaine? Mrs. MacClaine?” She took a sip out of her bottle.
“I know he —Richard—was angry that he was accused of stealing at the military re-enactment.”
“We understand he was active in that. The re-enactment. We understand charges are pending?”
“That’s what we understand. Ralph?”
“Sir?” said the investigator. “Anything you could add — I’m sure this is a shock.”
“He’s not a thief.”
“But he was upset of being accused.”
The Major went to the stairs. He stopped halfway up, unhooking one of the picture frames and came down and handed the frame to the investigator.
“What are these?”
“Yes. He was captain of the high school team. You wanted to know what I can tell you?”
“We know it’s hard.”
“No it’s not. I trained him. Taught him how to shoot. From how old, Margie?”
“What? Oh — How old? Sometime in elementary school. Yes. Third grade I’d say.”
“Younger.” The Major took the frame back. “I’ll tell you one thing.”
“He doesn’t miss.”
The head with the Mohawk stared back at him from the clear pool of water. For a second, Richie didn’t recognize himself. Every morning he went down to the stream and shaved. He could’ve heated water back at the overhang but chose the cold. He shaved because stubble, any facial hair, let alone a beard wasn’t regulation, wasn’t military. And I am active duty military now.
The Mohawk he’d done the day before he went to the barracks. He wasn’t sure why. He’d locked himself in the bathroom. His mother had come up and banged and even pleaded but he wouldn’t open. Eventually she went wherever she went. They lived apart even in the same house.
He never thought much about it. It was just there, a given. Maybe that’s why Claire left. Janny from down the road was a dyke. Everyone knew it. She’d come home from Scranton, the college. Rumor was she’d been asked to leave. It was Catholic —the college—and his baby sister was living with her. Cropped hair, no make up. Fuckin’ tattoos. A nose ring.
It was just another sign.
So he shaved the sides of his head and put on the watch cap. His hair was thinning —thin — but he still had enough on top when he moussed. I’m a warrior. I’m going to war.
In the woods, he heard the helicopter. And smiled. He started to move quickly, crouching low to the ground, sometimes crawling. Heat sense this, motherfucker, he shouted to the whir in the sky. Sometimes bounding on all fours, in random zigs and zags. I’m a fox. I’m a lizard. I’m whatever I want. Try and get me. Come on. A fuckin’ shape-shifter. The helicopter circled then moved on. That’s when he heard the dogs.
He saw them through the Starlight, just shadows in the brush. He liked dogs. Had one as a kid, Charley. A white hunter. He took it into the woods and trained it to retrieve. He cried when the semi hit him out front of the house. His parents wanted to get him another but he was loyal, and said no.
He shot the lead dog through a maze of trees, right in the throat as the hound angled his muzzle up to catch his scent, or clear his airways. Whatever, it was his last gesture. He saw the other dogs freeze and turn back, called by the handlers. He couldn’t hear or see them or they would’ve been dead.
He went back to his overhang and took what he could pack. Before moving out he fixed a trip wire. When the troopers finally stumbled on the place, he knew they’d trip the wire, dropping the crude sign he scribbled out with the end of a charred stick — Guess your wife surely appreciates me for not blowing your ass to kingdom come or maybe not
Margie hadn’t been to church in years. And never to a Catholic. Our Lady of Solace. It just sounded right as she drove around. She parked in the lot and went in. It happened to be Saturday afternoon.
Several women and one elderly man were sitting in a pew off to the side. She sat in the back. The quiet helped, and the burning candles, even though they were just flickering bulbs. One by one the women went into the box along the wall. She heard murmuring, then the women came out, their heads bowed, going up to the front rail and kneeling. Taken by what she saw as their quiet dignity, Margie moved forward picking a place behind the elderly man.
“Excuse me.” The man turned. “Is this the confession?”
“Do you think I could go?”
“Go? Are you a Catholic?” Margie shook her head. “I don’t know, but if you want to — I believe my God would welcome you.”
“I’m next. After I go, you slide over. Father John is very understanding.”
“What do I say?”
“Kneel down, wait until the little door opens. You start with Bless Me Father For I have Sinned.”
“But it’s not me.”
“No matter. You’ll feel better.” After the man went, she heard murmurs, and he came out of the box with his head bowed. Margie took a sip from her water bottle and went in and knelt in the dark box waiting for the little door to open.
We’ll get him.
The trooper on the TV spoke with absolute conviction. Janny went to the futon Claire was sitting on, her legs pulled up to her chest, just staring at her brother’s photo in the watch cap on the screen.
We want everyone to stay inside. Especially at night. And keep your doors locked and your garages locked. We want him to know they’ll be no safe harbor, not in this state. We will get him.
Janny put her arm around Claire and kissed her. Claire turned her head. She was crying.
For two weeks they’d set up a perimeter, a cordon militaire, five miles square around the MacClaine’s home. They were sure he was inside their lines. Hundreds of troopers, FBI, National Guard. But Richie MacClaine was long gone.
Days before he’d stolen a canoe from a closed summer camp and paddled north on Lake Wallenpaupak. At the north end, he sank the canoe and made his way to the Lackawaken, following it at night to the Delaware. Then he bush-wacked north in the Delaware River wilderness, heading towards the New York border. The Delaware separated New York State from Pennsylvania. He wanted to try for Canada.
Opposite Cohecton, NY, Richie came on a lone dark cabin. It looked like a summer place. There were no cars in the dirt drive. It was after 3. He broke in wanting a hot shower. It was a weakness but he’d been out for two weeks now.
He found the water heater and turned it on and waited several hours in the dark, heating some soup he found in the cupboard and ate some cookies. They were stale but he ate them anyway. He didn’t turn on the lights that night. He looked for guns but didn’t see any.
It wasn’t until sunrise that the hot water was scalding enough and he stripped down and went in the shower. He had the .308 with him in the bathroom. He’d left the AK-47 hanging on a tree back near the overhang —his first redoubt—as a taunt to the dragnet.
He stayed in the shower what seemed like forever, until the water started to run cold. A cheap towel was behind the door and he put it around him.
When he stepped out, the light was on and a heavyset woman was staring at him.
“Don’t move. Don’t scream.” The woman was in shock and was incapable of either. Richie reached behind him for his weapon. “You know who I am?”
The woman shook her head. “Yes, you do. I shot the troopers down in Blooming Grove. Right?”
“I don’t watch television.”
“Then you’re the only smart one in the country. I’m gonna get dressed. You sit down on that chair. What’s your name?”
“They helped build this country.”
“My father was a contractor.”
“Sorry.” He dressed watching her. “You might get a larger water heater.”
“It’s just me.”
“I see. You have any guns? A rifle?” She shook her head. “I wouldn’t want you to lie. You have a cell phone?”
“In my bag.” She nodded towards the coffee table. Richie fished it out.
“I’m not gonna break it. When I leave, I’ll leave it down the road. By the time you get it and call the cops I’ll be long gone. I’ve been out here two weeks. They’ve got helicopters, and dogs and FBI and whatall. I’m still here. Impressed?”
“You should be. I’m impressed. But I’m not a murderer. You understand?”
Again she moved her head. “No you don’t. There’s a war coming. Already started. The President and his people have a plan to take all this away. We had something, now we’re losing it. See?”
No you don’t.”
“What’s your name?”
“Richie MacClaine. It’s all over the news.”
“I make you coffee?”
“Don’t make nothing of it but you have tea?”
An hour later when Richie left, he was feeling good with himself. Fresh shower and fresh coffee. A couple of cups, and Carla was all right. Her father had built the cabin for her before he passed. She came out on weekends from Wilkes-Barre and fished the Delaware. She was by herself. No boyfriend, no nothing. She managed a 7Eleven. He liked her. But he had to move on.
“Like I said, I’ll leave your cell down the road. Probably on a rock or a stump. Something obvious.”
“I trust you.”
“Appreciate that.” He started from the door and turned. “And stay away from that television.” She smiled back at him.
“Will do.” He shouldered the .308.
He moved past her Jeep. It was a Cherokee but it didn’t have the honest grit like his. At the end of the drive he stopped. It was a crisp fall day and there wasn’t a cloud. For some reason he thought of his mother. For whatever reason he knew she’d be driving around and drinking vodka from a water bottle. He could see her pulled over, closing her eyes, getting slowly wasted in the afternoon sun.
Is she thinking about me? I know the Major isn’t. But Claire?
There was a noise behind him. He turned. Carla Modrano, daughter of the Italian contractor had taken a dozen steps from her cabin door and had a doubled barreled shotgun, a Remington Bushmaster that was hid in a compartment in the front closet her father had made himself, raised to her shoulder, sighting on him.
Carla? What the—?
He touched the .308 which she had shouldered. She stepped one step toward him. “I hunt, Richie.”
What the hell? “What the hell?” His hands went out, opened in front of him. Almost like he was praying.
“Carla.” was all he could say while she held him steady. “I thought you understood. Dammit, Carla. I am a soldier. A soldier for this country we’re both standing in. Carla?”