What follows is a work of fiction. It contains references to real events we are all familiar with. Remedies and recommendations for resolving the problems we see all around us developed herein which may be desirable are pure fiction. The author presents a hypothetical approach to a resolution of the degeneration of constitutional government.

 

It is the author’s greatest desire that people in all walks of American life take heed of government activities, and use their God given intelligence to effect meaningful changes to improve them.

 

 


PATRIOTS TYRANTS

&

TERRORISTS

 

by

 

Larry Martines

 

Prologue

 

No one alive today can say for sure what attitudes and opinions were shared by the American population when patriots and tyrants walked the land during the formative years of the United States of America. What we do know plus what we can surmise great injustices imposed by tyrants on a very industrious population were recognized and seriously discussed.

            Settling and developing a civilized society in a new land had been the labor of relatively smart, resolute and dedicated people – people who were not easily distracted from the main issue of survival and from the main reason they came to an unsettled land to begin with. The energy that drove the economics of the day was provided primarily by people and animals. The medium of exchange for goods and services was largely a private matter, that is until the tyrants interfered to extract their imposed taxes on such transactions.

            After suffering the slings and arrows of outrageous fortunes that continuously placed their natural resources, labors and its hard earned fruits in the paths of tyrants, people weren’t of a mind to be distracted by bread and circuses. Nor were they of a mind to be intimidated by the force of arms dangling over them like the proverbial sword of Damocles. No doubt, those hardy people heeded the voices of the patriots of the day who stood above the fray and clearly stated the obvious – but that was then . . .

 

 

 

 

 . . . And, this is now . . .

 

In the first decades of the twenty-first century the American population majority had evolved into a collection of contented conspicuous consumers who gorged on make believe food, waddled into fat city and squeezed into their SUVs as they drove themselves to the poor-house. Massive debts accumulated. Consumer queens maxed out their credit. Speculating fools flipped houses until the housing mania music stopped.

            Joe six-pack and his hockey-puck buddies burned themselves out on sporting events and infotainment. Health declined as people tripped out on FDA approved Designer drugs that became the cash cows of medical and drug industries. A flourishing supply of illegal drugs were spirited into their embrace via Albanian drug lords with the blessings of Osama Ben Laden. Snorting Americans supported the ‘War On Terror’ while the government turned a well-paid-for blind eye to drug traffickers.

            Reading ability and reading material headed for extinction. Rapid advances in technology provided near total distraction as people became addicted to their instant communication devices. Keeping up with the latest smart-phone developments led the way in ‘dumbing-down’ the masses as they moved about and shopped completely tuned into the latest pocket sized communication devices. For all it’s many blessings the ubiquitous Internet lent itself to the spread of insidious government censorship and propaganda even as the totally corrupted Main Stream Media fell into decline.

            Government fiscal and monetary mis-management increased at exponential rates. War became the permanent political distraction du-jour. Bureaucrats groveled in the swill of corporate largess – and two political parties without a dime’s worth of difference between them dominated the nation’s power structure.

            That many of the national opposing political candidates belonged to the same secret societies never made its way into American consciousness. Implications of this too staggering to contemplate anomaly appended to a free society remained well beyond the grasp of most of the voting population.

            That abundant, available and useful information had existed free for the taking was an amazing counterpoint to the degraded awareness of the American population. Americans, had become misinformed and programed to do and believe what they were told. Information in general was either ignored, misunderstood or purposely mis-stated. Meanwhile, tyrants stalked the land and occupied the nation’s power structure while the few patriotic voices that cried out were not heard – or worse denigrated and silenced.

            In the two-hundred plus years since the founding of the American Republic societies and their economies advanced rapidly in the seven league boots of carbon based energy. Major economies approached near total dependence on a forced diet of rapidly declining available cheap oil. Energy formerly supplied by people and animals neared extinction. Alternative energy sources severely lagged as replacements for oil based energy sources. The economies of the world were suffering as they bent to rising energy costs and galloping scarcity of cheap oil.

            Simultaneously that other linchpin of the world economies, fiat money systems, proved themselves to be “Financial Weapons of Mass Destruction”. Many misguided economists with the most to say pursued an endless expansion of the money supply. That along with the relentless decline in oil based energy supply became a historic witches brew that crippled the US and world economies.

            Such had become the sorry condition of the heirs to that noble experiment, once known as the American Republic. The masses wallowed in their distractions and government handouts. They stood by and let tyrants trample their freedom. They hardly noticed their once gold based republic morph into an empire gorging itself on the forbidden fruit of fiat currency. They cast their votes between those selected by the money masters as the situation rapidly approached economic collapse.

            And so, during the closing years of the twentieth century, Wall Street’s enticing rhapsody, like an inescapable rapture of the deep, captured many who heard it. And there were many, too many, who succumbed to the ‘buy the dips rapture’ of the rally refrains. Money, like children who followed the Pied Piper, had simply vanished. The new millennium moved into place as it made a nearly seamless transition with no noticeable Y2K bother, and without missing a beat the rhapsody played on to a packed house.

            In the second decade into the new millennium, the rhapsody lay in the dust bin of history. Thus soon after the 2012 election a poorer, sadder but not much wiser people, learned that a depression is a lot more than just a mood swing. Few survivors of the great depression of the 1930s are still alive, and they are truly depressed to see it happen again in their lifetimes. Like in old time continuous-play movie-shows, it’s time for them to say, “Excuse me please – this is where I came in.”

            But, history is like that. When least expected it springs back, raring to repeat itself all over again. It loves to do an encore. Its reprise is always better. It really loves to get your attention. The script doesn’t change, but there’s a lot of gratuitous ad-libbing. It’s as if history knows that the more things change the more they stay the same. And it knows full well how to lead the players in its best sing-along chant, “This Time Its Different” mantra.

            The double aught years staged a replay of the lead-up to the 1930's depression days, as the Lullaby of Wall Street turned bittersweet. As the second decade of the third millennium got into full stride the lullaby no longer played on Main Street. There they heard a different tune, another replay – Salvation Army style – only nobody knew the words. The refrain might just have become an inflation-adjusted, “Brother, can you spare a dime?”

            While Wall Street hyped its hopeless wares to wide-eyed audiences, the gung-ho gangs down on Pennsylvania Avenue did their own parody on a famous old WWI song, “Over There.” This time there were a lot of ‘Over-Theres’, like a whole world full of them. And they didn’t have ‘A Slow Boat to China’ in mind, as they droned off into the wild blue yonder; promising to be right-back when it’s over, over there . . .

            Washington’s toga and sandal set strutted and fretted imperiously on their oil-slicked stage, truly believing their subjects loved them. A small cabal had seized control of American foreign policy and steered the world’s only super-power into a role of a client-state waging war in pursuit of mid-east hegemony. “What fools ye mere mortals be?” Thank you, Puck. Once again, by popular demand, history repeats for the benefit of the born-yesterday crowd.

            On an even grander scale history replayed another of its favorite themes. This time adding oil to the opium trade as the world played war again for the benefit of the commodity control crew. Earlier in history, large portions of the world’s population had become addicted to opiates. Vast fortunes accrued that had fueled nineteenth century opium empire building.

            Empires come and go as history reshuffles its nation players, but family fortunes can and do survive. In the twentieth century, oil moved to center stage as the fortune building commodity du jour and war’s raison d’etre. It set the stage for still more family-fortune-building grabs for empire.

            Opium production continued as a cash cow hiding behind the smoke of an over-hyped war on drugs. Simultaneously, later day oil wars grabbed the spotlight while hiding behind still another, also over-hyped, war on terror. Interests in both commodities coincided in many penthouse offices of power elites.

            Following the 911 catastrophe, history rolled back again to the 1930's. This time to stage a reprise of events that had followed the Reichstag Fire that had given rise to Nazi Germany. The insidious “War on Terror” stripped away what remained of freedoms in America and what remained of a free press. Pre-emptive war became the bellicose crusade of the appropriately named chicken-hawks who dominated the American power structure.

            This was followed by a naked, in your face, money grab by the appropriately named Banksters. It was the most colossal theft of a sovereign nation’s wealth ever perpetrated in all the world’s long history of wealth appropriation by a reigning government. A confused and unwitting population stood meekly by while the powerful banking lords led by the infamous ‘Federal’ Reserve, simply created new money out of thin air and ‘rescued’ the so called ‘too big to fail’ banks. What they were being rescued from did not go unremarked. It did little good that anyone actually knew the banks were being rescued from their own greedy, corrupt overuse of risk. In a better world run by the people the government was meant to serve, there would not have been such a thing as ‘Too-Big-To-Fail’. However, as it was, the Banksters carried the day and proved they unabashedly not only controlled the government – but they owned it. All the while the John Q and Joe Six-Pack dim-wits stood there with mouths agape and had no idea who their representative government truly represented.

            Thus, history being the frivolous creature it is was well into a restage of one of its grandest wealth redistribution acts. Its fondest trait is to keep doing something until it gets it right – a tall order, given what the human population has, so far, provided it to work with. So history, like Sam, plays it again no matter who listens or bothers to learn its lines . . .  

 

 


 

Introduction

2013 AD

Unemployment exceeded levels attained during the worst years of the Great Depression during the 1930s. Government had driven the country into insurmountable debt. Stagflation won out over the government money printing press. Not even during the Great Depression had the nation seen such a disastrous imbalance between haves and have-nots. The national somnambulance that characterized their collective sleep-walk into the calamity they were now in, gave way inexorably to general consciousness. People not only knew how bad things had become during their own lifetimes, they now perceived the government as the source of the catastrophe.

            Congress was the chief target of their critical view of the terrible economic situation. This supposed representative group had totally ceased to be representative of the people. Slowly at first this idea started to be articulated. The Internet led the way and was soon followed by commentators in a small but vocal group of the main stream media. That is, until they were silenced.

            Crowds of people with little else to do gathered in public spaces to listen to the more gifted among them speak unerringly of how their government had been totally hijacked by corporate and money center power. As eloquent as the message delivered was, it was quickly reduced to its simplest terms. The government had been totally bought by big money. The old comment that had even been a title of a book, that we had the best government that money can buy, was changed to say the worst government that money ever bought.

            While understanding in general recognized the process of powerful money interests buying congressional votes, little was seen that could be done about attacking the sources – the amorphous big money people. Congressional members were another matter. Once the idea took hold that each and every member of congress had been and are paid representatives of special interests, and no longer representatives of the people, they became the direct targets of their constituents.

            Americans understood the perfidy of the two party system that simply amounted to a game of musical chairs. The rhetoric espoused by both party members had become total nonsense. Often people would shout out in disgust at town hall meetings, “Yeah, Yeah, we’ve heard all that BS before. When are you going to stop taking money from the big guys, listening to all the lobbyists, and start paying attention to the people?”

            In a life of its own, a groundswell developed where representatives began to be challenged to step down, resign, and give some one else an opportunity to truly represent the people. The people knew there was no other way to break the hold the money interests and the overwhelming number of lobbyists had over these greedy, weak minded people who currently occupied the seats of power in congress.

            In succeeding meetings with the voting members of their districts, more than one of them was pelted with rotten tomatoes and other items calculated to shame. A chant developed that rang in the ears of those congress persons who heard it. “Resign, resign, get out of the way! Let an honest person have a say.” It not only rang in the ears of the representatives, but it was picked up and repeated over an over until it became a national outcry. Never in the 236 years of their cherished republic had such overwhelming revulsion developed for the representatives in congress. Those who profited from bribes, took under-the-table money and passed self serving laws became targets.

            All this might have continued, but Congressional members in the manner of killing the goose that laid the golden eggs for themselves, managed to standby and let their money masters destroy the economic basis of the country and with it the livelihoods of most of its working class people.

            From the ‘Too big to fail banks, to the off-shoring of jobs, it was now well recognized how things had gotten to where they are. Another idea crept into the vernacular, The only entity too big to fail is America. If we don’t let failure weed out the inefficient and incompetents better replacements won’t come into existence. It is a fundamental axiom of life that failure is the end point more often than not. It is the successes that make the trials and tribulations of failure the great reward they are. This had always been a basic underlying tenant of the American experience. To be sure there were many times and many people who tried and succeeded in monopolizing the scene, but it had never been raised to the level that preceded the onset of what has been aptly referred to as the Greatest Depression.

            The American people were fed so much political drivel from both sides of the political divide that they finally choked on it. So out of sheer disgust with TPTB and their ruling class minions in congress the cry for congressional resignations soon became a demand. Congress members became persona non grata to the members of their districts. New third party candidates made themselves known and offered a clear choice to rid the people of the duopoly that the two party Twiddle Dee Dee and Twiddle Dee Dumber had become.

            Hence, the domestic economic travesty occupied the attention of the American people, but its foreign involvements continued to grow to unsupportable levels. This conundrum gained little attention in spite of the growing international resentment toward what was easily perceived as American oppressive war and its equally oppressive support for despots.

 

Thus the stage was set for what follows . . . .

 

 


 

Chapter One

 

Late Fall 2013 in South Florida

 

Ricardo’s youngest son, twelve year old Pepe an experienced field hand, knocked on the trailer door. Speaking in good English, he said, “Mrs. Martin, my father says he has work today for you and Mr. Martin – if you can come right now.”

            “Oh that’s wonderful, Pepe. Steve is right here, I’ll get him.”

            “No need, I’m ready, let’s go.”

            Maggie gathered their meager supply of bread and vegetables in a carrying bag – having learned the hard way not to leave food where others could find it. She and Steve followed Pepe to the front of the ramshackle trailer park. After briefly greeting Ricardo, they climbed in the back of his old, dependable truck. Eleven others seated there, all related to Ricardo, gladly squeezed closer together making room for their gringo friends.

            Everyone was friendly and happy to see them again. Maggie felt good and showed it. Her mood was contagious, and even Steve seemed buoyed by it. Smiling, she spoke to her companions in their language. “It’s good to be with you again and be able to do some useful work. I never realized how much the human spirit needs the nourishment of hard work and being close to nature at the same time. Steve and I may be a lot poorer financially than we ever thought we’d be, but I feel good and happy to know all of you.”

            Mariana, Ricardo’s wife, looked at Maggie and smiled broadly revealing wide spaces between her few remaining teeth. “I happy when Ricardo say work for you. You nice lady. Tonight . . . maybe you come . . . have paella with us. Pepe catch many shrimp . . . make good, with rice and vegetables.”

            So in spite of the hard work that lay ahead in the sugar cane fields, Maggie felt joy in the prospect of supper time camaraderie with Mariana’s family. But she thought about the costs to the environment and society in general that were the result of these sugar cane fields poisoning the everglades. Corrupt politicians pocketing campaign contributions, burying reform, continued to subsidize an industry that owed its existence to the public dole. The catch-22 in all of this was that she and Steve plus Ricardo’s family, as well as many others, were dependent on the meager sustenance the industry’s paltry wages provided.

 

After twelve grueling hours hacking down tough sugar plants they wearily climbed back into Ricardo’s truck. Everyone settled down as well as they were able to in preparation for the long drive to the place that Ricardo and his family called home. By comparison, the rundown trailer park Maggie and Steve lived in was a giant step up the living scale ladder. The settlement Ricardo’s family and his Hispanic neighbors occupied was like a Gypsy camp in which they were squatters living well off the beaten path.

            The truck that brought them there appeared incongruous in these surroundings. Its presence being the primary visible evidence of advanced civilized society. The camp site consisted of ingeniously crafted bamboo structures with roofs and walls thatched with palm fronds and other dried out vegetation suitable to the purpose. These improbable dwellings stood in a circle and surrounded a large open space where everyone gathered to prepare and share their food. The entire scene minus the truck and the clothes worn by these otherwise dark skinned people could just as easily have been that of any South American jungle village.

            Mariana supervised the food preparation. She served Maggie and Steve first as honored guests. Enticing aromas of carefully spiced natural foods cooking on open fires soon mingled with smoke from the wood burning fires and titillated everyone’s sense of smell. Living up to its aromatic promise the paella and vegetable side dishes were superb. Pepe had indeed caught a great quantity of shrimp. It complimented the paella perfectly.

            In spite of the forces that placed them there, Maggie felt good about being in this improbable place sharing life in a way that perhaps it was truly meant to be. She mused, “Steve, how lucky we are to be blessed with friends like Ricardo and his people, and being in this heavenly spot oblivious, at least for the moment, to the mad mess of civilization running amok lurking out there.”

            Steve, massaged the back of his neck with the juice from an aloe plant to ease the effect of the sun’s relentless attack on his gringo skin. “Well, it’s interesting to see how basic life really is and how living with nature can be its own reward. Back in our so called civilized life, more appropriately known as the rat race, we used to spend a lot of money to go off to some exotic location to go native. Here we are, doing it for real and as you said lucky to be here.”

            Juan, Ricardo’s younger brother, softly strummed on his guitar and set the mood with a few vibrant, Spanish sounding chords accompanied by some Segovia like finger work. The setting sun illuminated the sky above them and presented a colorful display typical of evenings in South Florida. Daylight rapidly turned to dusk. The aromas of the meal wafted off on a soft evening breeze. Voices quieted, the guitar spoke as Juan began singing in a clear tenor voice.

            The generally depressed state of Maggie and Steve’s lives and that of most of the others were temporarily forgotten. Here in this secluded place, at least for this idyllic moment, under a panoply of brightening stars emerging in a clear, darkening sky above them, Maggie and Steve quietly counted their blessings. Relaxing comfortably, they listened to the plaintive melody and sad words of a universal lover’s lament like those sung the world over in its infinite variety of languages. Characteristic sounds of chords produced by classical finger-work on the well-used guitar complimented the Spanish phrasing so naturally it seemed it could be no other way.

            After the refrain came a chorus where others joined in. Soon Steve and Maggie became part of the group, with Steve lending a respectable baritone and Maggie a fine contralto. Juan smiled in appreciation, as simpatico voices blended in a means of communication transcending place and time.

 

----------------------

 

 


Chapter Two

 

In the days that followed there was little to do, and life in the trailer park ground on in a quiet weariness of deepening despair. Perhaps the main thing that kept Steve going was Maggie’s gentle prodding. She never lost faith in him or herself. They managed to barely scrape by doing menial labor alongside many immigrants most illegal who occupied the lowest rungs on the economic ladder. They helped pick the citrus crop, cut sugar cane and did occasional lawn service work when someone needed extra hands. Steve and Maggie were luckier than most of their downsized contemporaries. Hispanics, who comprised the bulk of this itinerant work force, accepted Steve and Maggie based on their acceptance of two decent human beings able to communicate with them in the idioms of their own language.

            When they were able to find work it usually required putting in long, hard hours. They got as close to basic survival type living as that of their immigrant friends. Their situation was typical of their contemporaries. However, for Steve and Maggie having the advantage of simpatico relations with the local immigrants, often meant the difference between near starvation and getting by. As it was, their lean, strong bodies reflected their basic close to the earth diet and hard work. They were aging well: Steve with more grey in his full head of hair, showed mature, rugged, well tanned good looks, Maggie retained her youthful, slim firm body who in spite of being in her late fifties was still the blond goddess; albeit, more tanned than when Steve had married her during their halcyon years.

 

--------------------------------------------------------------------

 

Early in the second decade of the twenty-first century, the worlds financial system imploded and collapsed on a monumental pile of greed, fraud and incompetence. Governments the world over resorted to financial bailouts that amounted to little more than pouring more gasoline onto the raging fires fueled by debt and credit. Of course, in the process the greatest transfer of wealth the world has ever seen shifted huge amounts of money upward into the hands of those who were responsible for the financial collapse.

            In the wake of the worst breakdown of the economy in modern financial history, unemployment checks were meager and hard to come by. Additionally, what once had been a comfortable surplus in social security accounts became a deficit of unmanageable proportions. People had belatedly come to grips with what it meant for the government to have spent away the previous year’s surpluses and simply replace them with IOUs piled on top of the unimaginable high national debt. In effect it was now painfully obvious that instead of having the money on hand previously collected for their retirements it was now necessary to either create more debt, cut benefits, or raise taxes. With these being the choices, naturally, Congress did all three.

            Seventy million baby boomers were moving into the retirement ranks. As if this wasn’t enough of a financial problem illogical, costly, unjustifiable wars had been stuffed down the throats of a nation of badly deceived people. Then the debt bubble collapsed and the American economy imploded. New, freshly printed and borrowed money was thrown on the fading embers of a burned out economy. It produced temporary flame ups, but like in the hungry fires of hell all was consumed.

 

Congress, as usual, protected its own turf. It devised ways for its members to circumvent the problems. Taxes on social security recipients were increased. Some politicians subtly advanced the idea that social security is, after-all, simply another name for welfare. Radio type neanderthals pushed for reduced social security payments to the point where it backfired, and even the slowest minds began to see the enormity of the double taxation shafting being doled out by their so-called representatives. Resentment was building. The public’s mood grew more ugly by the day.

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It had become increasingly more difficult for Steve and Maggie to cover expenses – even after moving into the rental motor home in a drug infested hell-hole in southern Dade County on the Florida gold coast. Like Steve, several of their neighbors were former corporate types. Both he and Maggie had befriended another couple who were in much the same circumstances.

            Roger and Ginny Westlock both crackers, native Floridians had also followed a similar tortuous path to the same dead-end trailer park – prophetically called Sunset Park. Steve and Maggie had been born and raised on Long Island in New York. However, Roger and Steve had a lot in common. Each had seen combat in Vietnam, and each belatedly had married their high school sweethearts after returning from active duty. Both owned guns and had no qualms about carrying them everywhere they went, in spite of the government’s slyly introduced security checks for gun ownership. They insisted that their wives carry them also, and they made sure the ladies could hit what they aimed at.

            Like a lot of others they found places in the surrounding Everglades to practice shooting. On several occasions they came across campsites occupied by heavily armed militia type groups. They didn’t impose themselves on members of these groups, nor were they given any encouragement to do so. However, they knew they were being watched carefully during these encounters, and they knew these groups operated outside anything deemed acceptable by the government. In fact, there was a lot of talk in Congress about banning such militia organizations. Normally, Steve and his group just moved off to a different area while noting the militia types always broke camp and disappeared into the surrounding brush – obviously not wishing to prolong any unnecessary contact. It seemed both groups were wary of each other.

            During one such encounter, Steve thought he recognized a former army buddy who looked pretty much the way he remembered him – especially since he was wearing combat fatigues. Leaving Maggie and the others standing in the path he walked into the campsite.

            Avoiding nervous startled looks and a quickly developing state of tenseness, he looked straight at the man he thought he knew and called out. “Joe, Joe Kowalski! Is that really you? Or am I having a time warp here?”

            The man he addressed looked at Steve for a long moment. Even though Steve appeared older, leaner and now had grey hair that matched his own, a glimmer of recognition stirred. His mind processed the man’s appearance and gelled, as the familiar tones of Steve’s Long Island voice registered. “Steve! God, damn! It sure’s hell is me, and I’m sure glad to see you again.”

            Joe, reached out his hand and warmly greeted his old friend. The others in the group relaxed with a few smiles developing on relieved faces.

            “What’s with the army clothes? You did get out! Didn’t you?”

            “Yeah, I sure as hell did, old-buddy, but I’m kinda back into it again. Not officially though, just a bunch of good guys getting ready for what’s coming.”

            “What’s coming?”

            Maggie, and the others came over to listen in, curious to know who Steve was talking to.

            Steve turned toward Maggie. “Oh, Joe, this is Maggie, my wife. Maggie, I want you to meet Joe Kowalski, the best friend a dogface could have.”

            Joe shouldered his AK-47 and leaning over, reached out to take Maggie’s hand as Maggie said, “Of course, I’ve heard Steve speak about Lieutenant Joe Kowalski many times. I’m certainly glad to meet you.”

            Steve introduced Roger and Ginny and then tried to resume his conversation with Joe. “You were saying, what’s coming?”

            “Oh, that’s nothing. But tell me what you guys are doing way out here – shooting in the woods?” Joe waved expressively toward the cornucopia of native trees and shrubs in the surrounding Everglades.

            Steve understood Joe’s hesitance to explain any further in the presence of people he didn’t know. “Roger and I, we thought it would be a good idea if the girls got to be good with their guns. There’s no telling these days when that might make a difference.”

            “Right, old-buddy, things have gotten pretty bad. I think y’all are doing the right thing.”

            Roger, looked directly at Joe. “I see you’re doing some heavy duty type operations out here,” Roger’s eyes swept over Joe’s combat equipment, and then he looked at several other similarly outfitted men standing back in the shady cluster of Florida scrub pines.

            “Roger is one of us,” Steve said, “did his time in Nam, commanded a combat infantry outfit, and knows the score.”

            Kowalski reached out and shook hands with Roger. “Always glad to know another gook fighter. If you fellas are really interested we could take a little walk in the woods back here. I think you would appreciate what we’ve got going.”

            Intrigued, the foursome followed Joe, as he motioned them to come along to where the other members of his squad were standing by. At a hand signal from Joe they fell in behind obviously taking their orders from him even though there was no evidence of rank showing. Walking along single-file Joe led the way with Steve, Maggie, Roger and Ginnie trailing immediately behind.

            Joe moved down a barely defined path and spoke over his shoulder. “I take it you guys are not doing too well these days.” He kept talking without waiting for any confirmation, obviously assuming he was correct in his assessment. “You’re not alone there. In fact, these fellas behind us and myself share that predicament too, and you’re about to meet up with a bunch of others in the same boat.”