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Number 1,059, February 23, 2020

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Sheriff Watson's Choppers
by Jim Davidson

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Special to L. Neil Smith’s The Libertarian Enterprise

[Continued from Part One,   Part Two,   Part Three,   Part Four,   Part Five,   Part Six,   Part Seven,   Part Eight,   Parts Nine, Ten, & Eleven,   part Twelve,   part Thirteen,   part Fourteen,   part Fifteen,   part Sixteen &Seventeen,   Title and Art Contest,   part Eighteen]


"On the third day, Zhuge Liang prepared 20 large boats, each manned by a few soldiers and filled with human-like figures made of straw and hay. In the hours before dawn, when there was a great fog, Zhuge Liang deployed the boats and sails towards Cao Cao's camp across the river. He ordered the sailors to beat war drums loudly and shout orders to imitate the sounds of an attack. Upon hearing the noises, Cao Cao's troops rushed out to engage the enemy but they were unsure of the enemy force's size because their vision was obscured by the fog. They fired many volleys of arrows in the direction of the noises and the arrows become stuck in the straw figures and bales on the barges. In the meantime, Zhuge Liang enjoyed drinks with Lu Su inside the cabin of one of the boats and they sailed back when the fog lifted. By the time they returned to base, Zhuge Liang had acquired more than 100,000 arrows, so Zhou Yu could not execute him."
Sanguo Yanyi, chapter 46

Bob Nolan walked into the Cumberland Farm in Newport, Tennessee. The restaurant was a local favourite. It featured stout wood chairs, open space, great food, and charming hospitality. Bob always enjoyed dining here, so when his friend Bill Watson had invited him to stop by it was a welcome opportunity. Bob quickly staked out a table in a corner, facing himself toward the door.

It was Thursday 6 July 1995 and Bob was in the area, trying to get more information on his family's farm near Wasp, Tennessee. The farm had been sold to the US Forest Service, according to Cocke county records, but Bob's family had always insisted that they never agreed to the sale, and never got paid for their farm. Nevertheless, it was " officially" not their land.

Coming into town with his family for the long 4th of July holiday weekend, Bob had made the usual calls to leave messages on the answering machines of his friends in the area. Bill Watson was a friend of Bob's dad, but really personable and they got along well. Bill was always telling stories about the work he did in the region's mines, every one of which seemed to have been personally excavated or at least visited by Bill.

When Bill had called back asking to meet Bob for a late lunch at the Cumberland Farm, Susan had begged off to go shopping at some local stores she liked. It was just before 2 pm when Bob arrived. The waitress wore a name tag that said Mary Sue. She brought up menus and took Bob's order for unsweet ice tea. Bob's youth had been spent mostly in Flint, Michigan and he'd never gotten a taste for the Southern approach to sweet tea.

Looking over his menu, Bob was a little startled to see a sheriff's vehicle pull into the parking lot outside the restaurant. It was one of those sports utility vehicles, bulkier than a police cruiser and yet seemed appropriate to the rugged terrain of the county. Glancing down, Bob didn't notice who got out, but moments later the bells over the door gave their notification that someone was entering the restaurant. The hostess was off duty and Bob's waitress was running the front of the house, which had exactly one guest so far, that one being Bob.

The uniform and the big Stetson were the first things Bob noticed about the new arrival. Then he took a look at the face. It was Bill Watson! What a surprise. Bob stood up and waved. Bill strode over.

"You look as surprised to see me in this outfit as I was to win election last November," said Bill, holding his hand out for a firm shake.

Bob sat down and stared for a moment, gathering his thoughts. Best to start diplomatically, he thought.

"Well, Bill, you have to admit, you don't seem like the law enforcement type," said Bob.

"No, sir," said Bill, "I'm not, I'm more of the law of gravity type, what with my work in the mining trade."

Mary Sue came to the table. "You were a miner, sheriff? I remember reading about your dedication to the working men and women of our county in the campaign slogans last year, but I'm not much for politics. I didn't know that about you being in mining. Whatchu wanna drink this afternoon?"

Bill's eyebrows went up and his attention turned away from Bob. "You are always a bright moment in my visits to this restaurant, Mary Sue. I'll have the sweet tea. And my usual lunch of chicken fried steak, mashed potatoes, broccoli, and peas. Thank you."

Mary Sue blushed under the enthusiastic gaze of the sheriff, then turned to Bob. "And you, sir, what'll you have to eat please?" she asked.

Bob could see the chemistry between the two of them right away. He smiled and said, "Oh, lemme have the chicken salad please, with bleu cheese dressing if you have it."

Mary Sue nodded, "Yes we do. You want that chicken fried or baked then?"

Bob nodded too and said, "Baked, please."

Mary Sue went over to her work station and pulled a glass of sweet tea from the large urn there, brought it quickly back to the table, then headed to the kitchen to turn in their food order. Bill's gaze followed her all the way. Once the double doors closed behind her, he turned back to Bob.

"She's a pretty young thing. Smart, too. Well, Bob, you probably wanna know why I asked you to meet me today. It's this job I got elected to do. The people wanted reform and the party agreed I should be the one to run to replace old corruption. But now the state and the federals want me to actually do the job, and a bunch of it troubles me. " Bill sipped his tea, sat back, and folded his arms across his chest.

Bob nodded. He thought back on the conversations his dad and Bill had had when he was younger and one or the other of them would be visiting the other's home. Bob had enjoyed many visits to this part of Tennessee, visiting the different mining sites where Bill had been living and working. Bill had been a familiar face in Michigan at their dining table, sometimes staying for a day or two, always going on to some other mining job where Bill's expertise was wanted.

"You aren't comfortable arresting people for non-violent possession of plants, you don't like sending deputies up in the hollers to go after moonshine stills, and you don't like federal encroachments on your turf," Bob summarised.

Bill, who had expected to have an understanding audience in Bob, simply nodded. He frowned a bit, turned his head to the left to imagine if there were another part left out, turned his head to the right remembering how the FBI agent had treated him on his last visit to Nashville. His frown deepened into a scowl. He shook his head to clear the memory from his mind, and looked up at Bob, still scowling.

Bob reflected a moment. An idea came to him in a flash. He smiled.

"Interstate 40 runs right through your county. The federals are asking you to keep an eye on it, help them fight their war on some drugs, help them keep the CIA's suppliers at the top of the heap in that business," Bob said, "and that puts you in a really interesting position. You see, they have a lot of military surplus hardware they are happy to offer you. All you have to do is send someone to pick it up. Small planes. Helicopters. Armoured cars. Rifles. Training for your men. You and the local police can set up a special weapons and tactics team here. You and I can work together on fixing up the aircraft. You don't actually have to catch anyone, Bill, you just have to look like you're trying. Look like you're trying real hard."

Bill's scowl vanished. "I could do that, couldn't I? I could apply for surplus equipment, get it painted in the county colours, wave the flag about. Hmmmm. That's a bit of a good idea, Bob. "

Bob nodded, "It's the start of a good idea. You know as well as I do that things aren't going to last this way forever. After that business down in Waco, a lot of people are really, really angry. And not just that one who blew up the building in Oklahoma. Or however many there were."

Bill nodded. He gave Bob a quizzical look.

"What I'm talking about is being prepared for the future. You have a lot of crop land around here, but the bottoms of those hollers aren't much, and whoever tries to live off what they grow, well, it's no wonder they work a still to make ends meet. And nobody here wants to get a licence, or be inspected by that Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms, especially after Ruby Ridge and Waco made it clear that their way is authoritarian," Bob said.

Bill had been nodding all along. "It's true. And that Interstate, we could close that in an emergency. The hordes from the east coast looking to survive off our food supplies have been a concern for me for some years now. But with enough equipment and the right men.... "

Bob took his turn nodding. "It's as though there are a bunch of different governments, actually. They don't really have any clear sense of policy. They want to empower you to fight their war on drugs and enforce their alcohol permitting and taxation schemes, but they have no sense of ever being out of power in the future. Which doesn't prevent you from making use of what they offer, build your local teams up, and do some preparing for what's coming."

Mary Sue appeared from the kitchen with a large tray with their food orders. Bill, on seeing her stood up suddenly. His chair fell over backward. As he was picking it up with a sheepish grin, Mary Sue arrived at the table with a folding tray stand and set the loaded tray down on it.

"Sheriff," she said, "You sit back down in that chair. Don't you know better? I've been doing this for two years. I can carry this li'l ol' tray. Here's your chicken fried steak, with all the fixin's and this here's your baked chicken salad. Corn bread and rolls, a mess o' butters, and a jar of honey. I know you reject catsup as the devil's red sugar, sheriff, and never heard of nobody putting it on salad, so I didn't bring none."

"Bill," said Bob, "You should ask this young lady out on a date. She's far too good at her work to be single forever."

Mary Sue's eyes widened and her blush came back over her. Bill's eyes widened and he looked at Bob with surprise. But a gleam in his eye said he welcomed the opening. He turned to smile at Mary Sue.

"What do you think, Mary Sue? We could take in a matinee after church services on Sunday," said Bill.

Mary Sue smiled back. "You have a good thought there. We do go to the same church, so we'll both be dressed fine enough. But I have a rule. I never date a man who's more than twice my age, so I have to ask."

Bill nodded understanding. "I turned 49 in April. "

Mary Sue's smile broadened into a beam of sunshine. "Well that's just fine! I'm 26 last month. Let's go see that new King Arthur film, what do they call it?"

"First Knight," Bob supplied. He could see that the two of them were mutually fascinated so he attended to his meal.

Bill nodded agreement. "That'd be nice, a good romantic story. You've got date!"

Mary Sue leaned over and kissed Bill's cheek, then took up her tray and its folding stand and walked back to the kitchen. Again, Bill had eyes only for her. Once the doors to the kitchen closed, the aromas from his meal reached up and grabbed Bill's attention. He set to with an appetite.

A few minutes later, Bill grunted in satisfaction, drank some tea, and wiped his mouth with his napkin. "Good food here, every time. What brings you to town, Bob?"

Bob also wiped his mouth and drank some tea. "Well, Bill, you know the old family farm is still a cause of contention. It had a spring on it, there was good land we cleared off at the end of the 18th Century, and we were cheated out of it."

Bill nodded. "After dinner, why don't you and I take a ride up that way? We'll use my GMC, unless you have four-wheel drive on that sedan of yours?"

Once again it was Bob's turn to nod. "Okay," he said, "But I need to call Susan to let her know. She's shopping at that Pilgrim's Pride store here in town, if I know her ways." Bob stood up and went back to the pay phones near the bathroom. Checking the phone book that sat on a windowsill near the pay phones, Bob dialled the store.

After letting Susan know his afternoon plans, Bob came back and finished his salad. Sheriff Watson was already done with his meal.

"Bob, what do you know about helicopters, anyway? " Bill asked.

"Oh," said Bob, "Well, just about everything. My degree in aerospace included several classes in rotary wing aircraft. If they make it, I can take it apart and put it back together. I did an internship at Bell Helicopter one Summer."

"Our dinner is on me, Bob," said Bill. "I insist, and I'll take care of the tip, as well. But I'm going to need your help fixing up the planes and helicopters we get from the military. When can you be back here in Newtown? I want to hire you as a consultant, get you a team together, get some of my local guys trained up in thinking about the possibilities."

"Hmmm. I could be up here again in September. I've a few weeks vacation coming. You weren't thinking about making this a permanent gig were you?" asked Bob.

Bill put some twenties down on the check that Mary Sue had left and stood up. "No, Bob, I can't see that working out. A few weeks in September and then we can work over the telephone and by mail, I reckon."

Bob also stood up. "Do you have email? I run a mail server out of my house, and one for the company, too. We have a web site and a few T1 lines coming into the office, might upgrade soon. So I can set up a web page for your team to interact with me, upload photos, send me questions."

Bill returned to a quizzical look as they walked toward the door. "I caught a bit of all that, but you might want to run it past me with the Cliff Notes."

The two of them walked to Bill's sport utility vehicle and got in. Mary Sue came to the table, found them gone and the payment and large tip left by Bill, then ran to the window to wave goodbye. She was all smiles. Bill rolled down his window, smiled and waved back, then drove out of the parking lot.

"You know, Bob, I thank you for helping out back there. I do believe I might marry that gal," said Bill.

Bob nodded. Then he spent the time it took the two of them to drive up into the hills explaining about email, web sites, online video services, search engines, and the rest of the Internet revolution.

Directing Bill off the road onto a rutted logging path, Bob began navigating in earnest twenty minutes later. Finally, Bill stopped the SUV in a clearing and the two of them got out.

Bill said, "I thought it was up here where y'all lived, though it's been ten years since I wandered around this way. But when you mentioned the spring over there, I knew I needed to show you something about it. You ever follow it into those trees?"

During this brief speech, Bill had taken his radio off his belt, turned it off, left it on the dashboard, and started walking across the clearing toward the spring and the small pond which it filled. The pond was just a low point in the ground, and if it hadn't been but a few yards across in either direction, might have been named a lake. It had an outlet that meandered into the forest.

Bob had followed along. "Yes, we used to run around up here. The forest service people only bothered us a few times, and never if we brought our bicycles instead of our cars or motorbikes. Many's the Summer I spent in these woods. You know about the cave, then?"

Bill continued to stride forward into the woods. "I oughta," he said. "Did a bunch of mining in through here. Forest Service gave permits, and we dug a bunch of tunnels up under this hill. Took out quite a bit of galena, a whole lotta silver."

Bob shook his head in disappointment. "No kidding. Seems like the mining leases would have brought some money to my family if we'd been left alone with our land."

Bill glanced over and saw the look. "You know, Bob, there's poor radio reception up here. You got a pager or one of them portable phones?"

Bob shook his head. "Back at the motel, sure, but not with me, no."

Bill smiled. "Good," he said. "Let's go exploring that cave system. We'll head back in an hour, though, I don't want to be out of touch too long, and you should get into town before your wife buys the whole store. But I wanted to say, this land of your family's would make a good redoubt, once we get underground. I can bring in some guys I know, work from the cavern over there in that canyon, which hooks up to this here spring of yours. Digging down from the top is a pain in the butt, lifting everything out, but digging up from the down stream end is easy work, gravity on your side. There's an old adit down there, next to the cavern about fifty yards. We put that in place in 1978. If we expanded it, and built it out inside, we could have a considerable fortress."

Bob's eyes widened, his head lifted, and his smile broadened. "A fortress of solitude, hidden in the hills. I like the way you're thinking."

Bill smiled back. "And, ya know," he said, "Not all of that military surplus hardware is going to stay in inventory once we get it out here in the county. Some of the deputies are going to lose a rifle or two. Some of the ball ammo we get will go to the shooting range for target practice, but it won't all get used up."

Bob nodded. "Bill, I can see why dad likes the way you think."

[End part nineteen, continues in part twenty]


Jim Davidson is an author, entrepreneur, actor, and director. He is the cfo of and the vision director of You can find him on as well as and also as planetaryjim. He appreciates any support you can provide as times are very difficult. See the Paypal link on this page, or for crypto options. Or email your humble author to offer other choices. Ask him about Kaneh's IndieGoGo

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