L. Neil Smith’s THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 928, June 25, 2017
January 19th, 2017: A Short Story
by Giovanni Martelli
Attribute to L. Neil Smith’s The Libertarian Enterprise
It was cold in Fort Collins—even for late January—but there were protesters out, holding picket signs and wearing knitted pink hats as they shouted into megaphones; unfortunately, they were in the way, and Ray Ahmadi frowned as he passed them, his dark brow knitting in consternation.
He was 26 and olive-skinned, a Syrian refugee before it became the popular thing to do; his parents had sent him to his uncle in Dearborn at the age of five, in fear that the Gulf War might reignite, and now, with the “last hospital” in his native Aleppo destroyed at least ten times over (according to the newspapers, anyway), he was glad to be here in Colorado, where it was wholly unlikely that a bomb should fall on his head.
But he’d heard a little whisper from the darker corners of the internet that over Christmas, Aleppo had been liberated—taken back from those who had held it hostage and subjugated its people —and it gave him hope.
“No walls! No hate! The USA was never great!”
Ray’s companion chuckled; his name was Leo Fruosino, and he was a world traveler from Northern Italy who’d settled down in the United States to make a career in one thing or another. He hadn’t found that thing yet, and so now, at 29, he was teaching advanced painting at the community college and awaiting citizenship. He brushed his wild, wavy blond hair back from his face and smiled at Ray.
“It is a sophisticated chant,” he noted, indicating the crowd of protesters. “The emphasis is on one and three, not two and four. They are becoming more creative.”
With a chuckle, Ray wrapped his coat tighter around his stocky body, gripping the empty lower half of the left sleeve and stuffing it in his pocket. “You know, Leo, I am a little surprised you are not with them.”
Leo frowned, looking back at him over his shoulder. “I am too busy for this,” he said dismissively. “But do they not have a point?”
Ray lifted a brow at him, adjusting his glasses. “Leo, I think you do not understand what is going on. It is a revolution—”
“And are they not attempting to join it?” Leo chuckled. “Or do you believe they are misled?”
Nodding, Ray shuffled a little faster through the accumulating snow to catch up with him. “Yes, they are misled, but I cannot blame them. The powers that be have made this very easy.”
They made their way in silence to the classy little bar in the cobbled court and Leo opened the glass door; the bell on its inside handle jingled merrily, and Zak, the handsome dark-haired assistant manager, looked up from the bar to wave at them.
It was a slow night, and the polished dance floor near the bar in back was empty; a handful of regulars were seated at the tables in the room closer to the street.
Leo scoped out the room, his blue-green eyes alight and finally coming to rest on a large man sitting at the bar. “Ray, look! It is Dieter!”
Ray chuckled, following Leo’s gaze to the bar. “I think Dieter prefers to be called ’he,’ Leo.” But he was right: there he sat, a massive beer stein in one hand, his elbows rested on the polished surface and his broad, muscular shoulders sagging. “He does not look so happy,” Ray noted.
Leo frowned, tilting his head as he looked back toward him. “No. Senti, shall we find out what is the matter?”
Ray regarded Leo with a little scowl on his face. “And if he wishes to be left alone?”
“And you think he would not drink alone at home?” Leo took Ray by the arm. “Come, let us talk to him.”
With a grimace, Ray followed him; he didn’t know Dieter well, and he suspected that Leo might not either. But the Italian sat on the stool beside him and embraced him like a beloved brother, and Dieter started.
“Dieter, amico mio!” Leo said, sounding a little too excited. “How are you? Where is Lazarus?”
“Leo,” Ray admonished, taking the seat beside him.
Chuckling darkly, Dieter lifted his beer to his lips and took a swig. “Nein… they are good questions, these,” he said, his thick German accent only thicker for the alcohol. He was drunk already, but he hadn’t yet lost motor function, and so he drank again, then pursed his lips thoughtfully. “Lazarus is most likely with his step-sister… and as for Dieter… he is drunk, and he plans to become more so, ja?” He turned to give Leo a defiant scowl, his blue eyes frosty. “So… so if there is a problem with this, then… suck it.”
For just a moment, Leo looked utterly scandalized; he frowned at Ray, and then touched Dieter on the arm. “Senti—”
“You are here for the gossip, ja?” Dieter snapped impatiently, then took another drink.
Ray drew in a slow breath, reaching out to touch Leo’s shoulder. “I think that perhaps he would like you to leave him alone, sahebi … perhaps we should move to a table.”
Dieter only shrugged. “Stay, if you like. I have learned that if I look pathetic enough, sometimes my friends will buy me drinks.” He shook his head, far away as he forced himself to say the words. “Lazarus dumped me, Leo.”
Leo’s face fell, and he took his wallet out of his pocket. “What ? You have been together for—”
“It was about three years. A little more,” Dieter said, staring into his beer, his eyes red and unfocused.
After an awkward silent moment, in which none of the three knew what to say, Zak approached them, a pale blue towel in his hands. “Leo, Ray: what can I get you?”
Leo patted Dieter softly on the shoulder, taking off his coat. “A Cosmo for me, please—and for Dieter, a refill?”
Zak chuckled. “We’ll see about that second. Ray, for you?”
“A vodka sour, please,” Ray said, shrugging out of his own coat and leaning his elbow on the bar to regard Dieter for a moment: he was a handsome man, over six feet tall, with piercing blue eyes and light blond hair, layered but overgrown and parted in the middle. He spoke in a pleasant baritone, and though he was large and muscular, there was a gentleness about him that reminded him of his own AJ.
Dieter chuckled dryly. “It sounds to me as if you two are here to have fun. Leo, are you so sure you wish to hang out with me?” He picked up his beer and drank; it was only his second of the night, but his stomach was otherwise empty. It had been awfully difficult to eat for the last several weeks.
Leo pulled him into an awkward sideways hug, leaning his head on his shoulder. “Nonsense,” he admonished. “Why has he done this thing to you?”
“I think, perhaps,” Dieter said, his blue eyes narrowed in drunken thought, “I will not be so popular with you, if I am telling you. The reasons were political in nature.”
Ray tilted his head to the side, bewildered. “He broke up with you over politics? The election?”
Dieter nodded, looking pitiful as he stared into the stein before him. “And called me a number of… ah… distasteful names.”
“Dieter,” said Leo, “I thought that he regularly called you distasteful names.”
Scowling at him sidelong, Dieter rolled his eyes. “In bed, ja . This is different, and you should know this.” He took Leo’s face in for a moment, then looked past him at Ray. “The political climate, it is… contentious. We had a difference in opinion, which colored his impression of me as a person. The last three years notwithstanding.”
“Amar and I had this argument,” Ray offered. “Which side have you taken?”
“The wrong one, in Lazarus’ mind,” Dieter replied icily, then picked up his beer and lifted it to his lips. “I will admit,” he added, “that it felt good to win.”
Leo frowned, and Ray chuckled, but Dieter continued, a sardonic smile on his face.
“Ja, Leo, I took the unpopular side. Lazarus seems to think that I have revoked my ’gay card’; do I hand it in to you? Are you the gay secret police?”
Ray giggled softly. “You know, Dieter, I think I like you.”
Zak returned with the drinks and set them down, and Leo passed him his card with anxiety writ large across his face. “Senti, Zak: did you vote in the election? I am not yet a citizen.”
“Sure,” Zak said with a shrug. “Third-party. We lost. But I’m not mad.”
Dieter chuckled. “The Greens or the Libertarians?”
“Not the loony who warned us about voting blue, then showed up to try and flip the electoral college.” Zak clipped Leo’s card to the tab board and tapped a few times on the computer screen, then turned back to them with a frown. “My loony doesn’t know what Aleppo is.”
Ray nearly spat out his drink as he laughed. “I liked the Green woman. But I assume the DNC must have done something to her.”
The German looked at him sidelong. “You speak of this argument with your partner. Have we taken the same side?”
“I suppose that we have,” Ray said, “but we have won; do you expect it is not over, Dieter?”
Dieter shook his head. “Nein, it is not over. Have you seen the protests?” He drank, his blond brow tight in irritation, then set the glass down on the bar to consider his next solemn words. “They will continue to try to defeat us. You mark my words, ja? This will end in blood. And it will not be because we are violent; the violence will happen when our brothers turn upon us, having failed to defeat the new Washington. They do not know politics; they only know their feelings. Ray, you have adopted a child?”
Ray nodded. “She is five. And she wants to have her own way at all times.”
“And when she doesn’t get it?” Dieter pressed, then took a swig of beer.
With a sigh, Ray stirred the grenadine into his vodka sour. “She becomes angry. She has not yet learned how to communicate or, er … advocate for her desires. But she is five years old.”
Dieter chuckled. “Wahrlich. And yet the comparison holds up. It is a willful unawareness. They do not know how to debate, but more than that, they do not acknowledge reality when it is directly presented to them, believing instead in their… their college professors.”
He frowned, suddenly looking deflated as he stared into his beer. “At least, this is what happened to me. I knew we had a good chance to win, but Lazarus would not accept it; yet he called me a Nazi, a racist, a fascist, when he believed he would be vindicated. I didn’t even watch the election returns with him; I couldn’t handle it. But then he left. He said….” He fell silent for a moment, tears accumulating in his eyes, and swallowed. “He said he hated me. And then he left, and… and that was election night.”
Leo, who had been silently drinking his Cosmo, finally drew in a breath, his eyes a bit glassy. “Dieter, you are not a racist. Or a Nazi. But why did you vote for—?”
“Because,” Dieter said icily, wiping his eyes on the sleeve of his shirt, “he’s not either. He is the only president to go into office openly supportive of the gay community—and a Republican, at that! The Democrats should be ashamed of themselves. And he has spent his life contributing to noble causes on his own dime—or very cheaply. And he insisted that his clubs be inclusive of people of color when this was an unpopular view.” He drank again, finishing the beer in a couple of long swallows, then set the stein down a little harder than he’d intended. “Did anyone call him these awful things before he ran for president against the corrupt DNC and the entirety of the media machine?”
He lifted his head to meet Leo’s eyes, and the Italian froze, a sad little frown on his face.
“Next he will say he is unpredictable,” Ray said with a dry chuckle, enjoying Leo’s scowl almost as much as his vodka sour. “And this is an excellent point; however, I would offer that this is outlined in the very book the man wrote.”
Leo grimaced, feeling like a pinball caught in a field of posts. “But… but what about Russia?”
Dieter chuckled despite the tears in his eyes, shaking his head and flagging down Zak as he approached. “Ray, do you want this one? I will have another beer. This is the most fun I have had in weeks.”
Ray smiled patiently at Leo. “My friend, there is no Russia. The Democrats own the media; they have planted this story for the purpose of framing the president. You liked the Greens, yes?”
Leo nodded, looking bewildered. He scratched the blond stubble on his jaw and sipped his Cosmo. “Sė, I care very much for the environment.”
“Did you watch what she said to RT?” Dieter asked as Zak set down a pint before him; he looked down at it and frowned. “Was ist das ?”
Zak smiled, turning back to the register to run Dieter’s card. “You’re looking better, man, so I’m not cutting you off… until you’ve finished that pint.” He put down the card and slip on the counter, then lay a pen across them. “Sorry about your boyfriend, man.”
Dieter grimaced and signed the slip grudgingly. “Ja, ja. Whatever.”
“What did she say to RT?” Leo asked. “And what is RT? Is it not Russian state television?”
With a chuckle, Zak picked up the signed slip. “It seems to have escaped people’s attention that, well… Russia is just another country.” He put the slip in the drawer and turned back to them. “Like, how is RT any different from the BBC?”
“Or RAI,” Dieter concurred, “or Zweites Deutsches Fernsehen?” He took a drink. “Leo, mein Freund, you’ve been had.”
Leo sighed and looked down into the rosy pink drink in his hand. “But what did she say, if it is so important?”
“She said,” Ray chimed in, “that a vote for the Democrats is a vote for nuclear war.”
Startled, Leo turned to him. “What?”
Ray nodded. “It is true, as well. The WikiLeaks… the public policy over the last four years—the Russian reset?”
“Fake and gay,” said Dieter sardonically; Leo gave him a look over his shoulder, his mouth open in outrage, but Dieter only laughed. “It’s only a meme, Leo. Don’t be so sensitive.”
Leo grunted softly, an unsettled frown creasing his brow. “So how is this any better?”
Dieter chuckled. “Is it not? But I said before that it is not over, and that this will continue; watch it, and you will see. Because, here is the thing. A few days before the election, we found some… peculiar items in the emails on the WikiLeaks. And we must bear in mind when reading them that these people, they are not like us, ja? They are up to some very shady things, and they must cover for their crimes—”
“Crimes, honey?” Leo interjected, a bit huffy, but Dieter scowled at him, and he fell silent.
“Ja, crimes. There are many, and they are connected to a multinational crime syndicate. They do things, Leo, that perhaps you cannot imagine.” Dieter drank, grimacing as he remembered those days —the dark things he’d learned, the things he’d never wanted to know, still haunted him, and he’d never told anyone else. Lazarus would only have become hysterical.
Leo sighed heavily, unconvinced, but those words stuck with him as he sipped his drink. “A multinational crime syndicate, you say,” he said slowly, mulling it over; it seemed to him he’d heard them somewhere—someone, maybe Giorgio, had said them about the Zaccardi years before.
Dieter nodded. “It is not pleasant, I’m sorry. But it is true.”
“So do you mean to say that the president is not part of it?” Leo asked.
“We believe him to be innocent,” Dieter said. “After all, if the worst things they can dig up on him are lewd comments made ten years ago in privacy, then this is not too bad, compared to what they say.”
Leo drew in a slow breath, considering Dieter’s words. “And the terrible things happening around the country? And the things that happened after Brexit? Do you not worry—”
“Many of them are hoaxes,” Ray said gently. “These are attempts at controlling free speech, Leo. The moving of goalposts; the blurring and eventual removal of the line between words and actions.”
“But it is not nice to say these things—about Muslims, about trans-people,” Leo said. “Why should you want to hurt anyone?”
Dieter laughed softly, running his finger along the mouth of his glass. “No, it is not nice. But is it nice to call one’s German boyfriend a Nazi—and mean it—or is this also hateful speech that should be censored?” He shrugged. “Or can we simply agree that he has every right to say it, and I have every right to walk away?”
Leo hesitated, frowning at big blond Dieter, and finally sighed, his shoulders sagging. “Va bene.”
“Furthermore,” Ray said, after he finished his drink, “critiques of Islam and other… er… ideologies are not intended to be taken personally. It is not the point to alienate Muslims or anyone else; it is simply salient to acknowledge that every way of thinking has its flaws.” He paused, mouthing his lower lip anxiously, and finally said what was on his mind. “Things like driving trucks into crowds and… blowing up at random.”
“Ray,” Leo chided, taken aback, “I thought you were Muslim!”
Ray chuckled. “Yes; ’were’ being the operative word. I left my faith, Leo, when I found love. The two are incompatible.” He shrugged, flagging Zak down. “And I would rather have Amar’s love, which I can see and feel all around me, than squint to see the love of a violent God where I am told it ought to be.”
Leo drank the rest of his Cosmo and Ray ordered the next round; finally, as he set his martini glass down, he spoke. “So you think there is not hatred out there?”
“Of course there is,” Ray laughed. “I have experienced it… in junior high. I am only saying that it is exaggerated in an attempt to divide the American people.”
“But the violence at the campaign rallies,” Leo pressed, starting to sound lost. “What about—”
Dieter held up a hand. “Leo, have you not seen the Project Veritas tapes? The bird-dogging? The DNC paid for their people to interlope and to start shit; the violence, though condemnable in theory, becomes a bit more understandable when one sees these tapes.”
Leo grimaced. “You cannot simply blame the DNC for everything —”
“Sure, I can,” Dieter said matter-of-factly. “They rigged the primary; they murdered the suspected leaker; they broke their own party into a million pieces because they were too stupid and too corrupt to take the loss—and they knew that if they lost the general, they might all end up in jail. And so, to start war with Russia, they have used all of their power to convince people like you that the Russians have done this ’hacking’ or somehow have influenced the voting; then they kicked out the diplomats over Christmas. Leo, can you not see that they are attempting to frame the president and the Kremlin for the crimes they have committed?”
Ray smiled, stirring his drink. “Dieter, you are knowledgeable.”
Dieter only shrugged. “I do not want a World War,” he said sternly. “Neither do I want a civil war, but I think there is little to be done to stop it. It is brewing as we speak.”
With a sigh, Zak set Leo’s glass down, then Ray’s. “What a dismal thing to say.”
“Ja,” Dieter agreed. “Forgive me; I’m in a dismal mood. But I am making none of this up. They have put in a great deal of effort, and they communicate to the unwashed masses on a massive number of levels. The talk shows. The television news. The NPR. The film industry. And they are preparing to mobilize them against us.”
Ray frowned, watching him thoughtfully as he fiddled with his straw. “You really think there will be bloodshed? Civil war?”
Dieter picked up his beer glass and held it up to the light to examine it. “I think so, Ray. I say so because, well… once he found out which side I was on, it was as if he thought I was no longer a person, only an oppressor.” He paused, his brow knitting, and drank. “But I do not think I have ever oppressed anyone. I would not do this. It was as if all of the time we’d spent together meant nothing anymore.”
A heavy silence settled over them; Dieter finished his beer and sighed softly, looking at his reflection in the mirror behind the bar.
“You know,” said Leo finally, “perhaps you ought to tell Lazarus this story.”
With a little laugh, Dieter shook his head. “You think I didn’t try? I spent six weeks trying to tell him these things. Perhaps you ought to understand: He was given an assignment in a class, to find out where there were… undesirables… and to write the worst of what they found. So he used my computer to get on Reddit, and he found my post history… and, well, there was a picture of me in a certain hat… and so, on his teacher’s orders, he confronted me.” He scratched his thick, blond stubble and sighed. “He tried to be calm at first, but… well… he hurt me that night. And so I tried to talk to him, but he would have none of it. And then the name-calling began. I tried again and again to explain what it is I’ve just explained to you, Leo, but… he would not believe me.”
Leo sighed, putting a gentle hand on his shoulder. “Mi dispiace , Dieter. I hope that you will find happiness again.”
“I am optimistic,” said Dieter somewhat convincingly as he got to his feet and shrugged into his coat. “But I think it is time for me to go home.”
Ray frowned. “I am sad that you are leaving, my friend. Please add me on Facebook; I would like to know you better.”
Dieter nodded, reaching out to shake his hand. “Ja, you bet. Goodnight, you two. Thank you for the diversion.”
Giovanni Martelli is a twenty-something, left-leaning, anti-war/anti- corruption activist, living in Fort Collins, Colorado. She enjoys traveling (her favorite destination being Florence, Italy), collecting and playing unusual string instruments, and studying foreign languages. She wholeheartedly supports President Donald J. Trump in part because of his efforts to make good on his campaign promises, and in part because it deeply annoys her liberal friends. Praise Kek, all day, every day; meme magic is real.
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