Mysticism comes naturally for me.
It was no great struggle to adopt the idea that material wealth isn’t that important; most of my life was in poverty. It’s not sour grapes, just a different experience. When you spend so much of your time doing without, you realize what most people consider essential to life, isn’t essential. From there, it’s just a short hop to realizing life itself isn’t that essential. Thus, I say that in Scripture, life or death is just a circumstance.
You’ll notice it hardly affected my education. As with all humans, I have gaps because it’s a simple matter of exposure. At the critical time when I needed it, the school I attended taught phonics. At the critical time I could have learned it, I didn’t get very far with parts of speech. I learned grammar by feel, largely through reading so very many books up through middle adulthood. Somewhere around age 7 I discovered the power of reading as the means to exploring my world. What got me through the rest of my education wasn’t such marvelously precise grammar but a native language talent for which I cannot take credit.
Most of the lower classes understand far better than their superiors would allow. The educated poor are simply incomprehensible to the middlings. What we understand is that we can choose to be whatever comes in the package with middle class status, or remain in poverty and do what we like. Perhaps through exceptional artistry we can bulldoze through the middle class society because we have something they simply must have but cannot produce. It doesn’t happen often. But what shocks most people is the depth to which that different experience can change your perception of things.
Hostility is not at all necessary. Particularly when your poverty and education lead you to mysticism. I’m not hostile to the middle class, though I can regale you for hours with tales of their hostility to me and my kind. I won’t. The point is not what I’ve suffered, but what they suffer. A solid historical study of the rise of the middle class from the ashes of feudalism in Europe is so very informative. The middlings are the ones who burned it down. You discover the hideous materialism of Puritan religion, and how it is directly linked to the Pharisaism Jesus faced. And it’s no mystery where Charismatic name-it-and-claim-it religion comes from. The very assumption of the middle class lifestyle is the utter necessity and primacy of worldly possessions. Mammon is the god of the middle class, inescapably. All their self-professed virtues are deeply stained by it.
The endless pretense of being upper class in wealth without the social and cultural refinements is a huge blind spot. The original burgers at the end of the Middle Ages were desperate for the respect given nobility, and pretense is so very fundamental to their existence. This is easily the single greatest break between myself and the sizable collection of libertarians among the politically active middle class. They consider me a brother in arms so long as I don’t promote freedoms beyond the barricades of their narrow brand of American middle class liberties.
There is nothing sacred about dressing just so and behaving according to their social dictates. Nor is it particularly noble, but you can’t get that past their internal censorship. They see a threat in so very many things the lower classes really do like. The biggest stumbling block is contentious issue of “saving for a rainy day.” In the lower classes, rain or sunshine are mere circumstance, as with death and taxes. It’s simply part of what we face, and getting wet means nothing more than a few extra minutes here and there accommodating what it does to us. Nor is it merely the vagaries of weather, but the broader symbolism that goes with the popular phrase. We aren’t that interested in tomorrow because today wasn’t so wonderful, at least where it concerns material possessions. We are wise enough to recognize tomorrow is ruled by people who won’t let us enjoy life. It takes all we have to make it today, so saving for tomorrow is utterly meaningless.
Instead, if we can’t consume it ourselves — and we’ll try — we give it away to someone else like us who didn’t get their share. We fully expect to work until we die, and die working or begging. Begging is harder work than you imagine, wading through the stiff current of social resistance. Some of us would rather starve. Indeed, we’d rather starve than live in the world of the middle class. There is a lot of work we could do, but won’t because it’s just morally wrong. We see where the whole thing leads to a hideous, empty life of chasing things we don’t miss. Especially when the boss demands we think and say what he believes, in violent assault on our freedom of conscience. Your brand of help is a slavery too degrading to accept.
The American middle class and their virtues are no more representative of Jesus Christ than would be whales in the ocean or birds in the sky. Changing the particular mixture of minor points of virtue doesn’t change the underlying falsehood of things. You don’t like sagging pants and tattoos? Don’t look at us. Turn away; we’ll deal with that. You want to know why the suburban white kids are adopting prison gang habits? Because your social structure has made it impossible for their creativity to rise in any other way. You mean you didn’t realize you were putting such a very high portion of the lower classes in prison for no real harm, such that you have scooped up the whole of our random sprinkling of geniuses, too? Never mind your tastes compared to that of others; the suburbanites ape the prisoners because the prisoners have created a vivid alternative society, and you have forced them to be hostile to yours. That faux prison gang lifestyle is now the future, because you refused to capture the geniuses of tomorrow.
Do you think we look longingly at your fancy cars and houses? Some do, no doubt, but by no means all of us. That we don’t own a suit and tie is not an abomination to God. The only leverage you have for enforcing your dress code is not letting us work for you at your oh-so-important job. Whoop-de-doo. Meanwhile, if we can find a way to get what we really have to have by exercising our free market talents that you don’t understand, we’ll do that.
Sometime back around the middle of the previous century, a businessman with a good heart built a mattress factory in the area where the Ponca Indians lived in Oklahoma. It was the real deal, and he expected to bring prosperity and good paying jobs to them. Lord knows, they needed it. So he hired just about any Ponca who came to work. They worked until the first pay day, then disappeared for awhile. Yes, sometimes they got drunk, but that was merely a symptom of something much more important. The natives weren’t acquisitive. That is a heresy for the middle class. The men did really good quality work and turned out some really fine mattresses at lower wages than most white men would tolerate, but when they had enough for their basic needs of life, they had better things to do. It’s not a failure of work ethic; they did other work that paid little or nothing, but was the work they normally did. It was failure of greed.
You’d be surprised how much Indian blood there is among the poor whites of Oklahoma, including yours truly. Not just shared DNA, but their culture is a pure and easily identified version of what all the lower classes tend to share. We are the superstitious barbarians who find it easier to follow Jesus because we recognize things in His teachings to which you are utterly and adamantly opposed. Yes, there are plenty of predators among, same as with you. Ours share more with the middle class than the rest of us do. They want middle class stuff, but on their own terms. Instead of picking up on what the middle class say they do, the predators copy what the middle class did to them. The willingness to buy influence in politics is a classic symptom of the middle class; it’s how they got their original political leverage against the nobility of the Middle Ages.
Class envy and resentment didn’t originate with us. We learned it from you.
It’s hard to explain, but at the expense of oversimplifying it goes like this: The nobility once had access to wealth as a privilege of their position. They kept the rules and the means to enforce those rules. In the broader sense, the rules included a high degree of intellectual refinement, if unevenly applied. It was wrong for nobles to assume only noble blood could be intelligent, so this blind spot left them open to a subtle attack. They assumed no peasant was smart enough to pull any tricks, but a few ambitious and intelligent peasants took unholy umbrage at the system and vengefully attacked it. Instead of direct force of arms, they conquered the existing ruling class by other means. Still, the fundamental driving force was pure greed, not something easily found among the nobility. The latter weren’t greedy because they already had all the power and wealth, but they were arrogant. The middle class resentment of privilege and wealth, as is so very fundamental to the Puritan doctrine, made noble wealth an insult to God in their minds. Those nasty nobles didn’t “work” for their wealth, so it wasn’t possible for God to want them wealthy. It was some vast conspiracy of the Devil, and the burghers used good old Gramscian economic guerrilla warfare to take it all away. Communism is just as materialist as it’s primary ideological enemy.
The fundamental assumptions of the Enlightenment only half caught on with the burghers. They were somewhat educated, but could not tolerate the freedom of the lower classes. They didn’t depart from the nobles in their arrogance about lesser folk. Virtually the entire gamut of “quality of life” legislation, and almost the entire range of police activity today, is a direct reflection of the middle class spitefulness against other folks. Having worked in law enforcement, I can assure you the vast bulk of “crime fighting” has nothing to do with fighting genuine harm. The entire profession of civil policeman is a creation of the middle class. They enforce laws only the middle class care about. It was the middle class who realized the ability to dominate voting, so they demanded popular vote as the means to ruling society, with certain disenfranchisements, of course. Any other means to organizing government is anathema. Democratic government is holy, and only a child of Satan could wish any other form of government. Lip service to the rights of the minority didn’t last long in history, as we all know.
Aside from the rare reminders such as this one I write this morning, it’s not worth the trouble to explain our alternative viewpoint to the professional libertarians or other branches of middle class political philosophy. It’s all the same to those of us on the bottom, because it’s just an excuse to stomp on us for daring to think differently about every day life. I’m not in love with poverty any more than I care much about prosperity. It’s just a tool for things far more important than fleshly comfort or even this whole existence in the first place. There is no particular virtue in raising the common welfare through material progress. I know; shocking to say it, but there more important things. I won’t name names, but some really big shots have praised some of my other articles on this blog, but they’ll never read this one. If they do, they’ll be blind to how completely it applies to them.
Keep your freakin’ suit and tie and your material prosperity; you simply do not understand.
He opened the door to their apartment slowly.
The small, thin transparent plastic chip he always placed on top of the door when they left fell exactly where it should have. Unless someone was looking for such a thing, they would never see it. They closed the door. Virtually all exterior doors in the Netherlands lock automatically. They could be opened from the inside, but only with a key from the outside. They had also installed a deadbolt, and Preston locked this, too.
After checking the sparely furnished apartment and seeing nothing out of place, they dared to breathe a sigh of relief.
Preston smiled and took her in his arms. “Here’s hoping it was nothing, just someone you had seen before somewhere. A strange coincidence, maybe.”
She said nothing for awhile as she snuggled against him. Looking up at him she said, “It really bothers me why I can’t place her, because I’m normally pretty clear on such things.”
“Yes, you are. But there is nothing we can do. Maybe I should give you some of the lessons my supervisor taught me back when I worked over at the storage site. He had a long tour in Korea and earned his first level black belt in Taekwondo.”
She pulled back and looked up at him. “I thought you didn’t like violence.”
“I don’t. But just because I try to avoid it doesn’t mean I don’t know how to do it. Had our Israeli man gotten out of that car, I might not have beaten him, but it would not have been easy for him without a weapon.”
“That’s good to know. I’d rather rely on my running ability.”
She pulled away and headed to the little office. “I’m going to take a look at our photos from Valkenburg first. I need to see if I can recognize her face.”
“And I’m going to make myself remember that not even dessert in a ritzy hotel should separate us,” he said with a strained chuckle.
Angie did manage to recognize the face of the woman they thought tried to sabotage the SUV up in Margraten, but it was not the woman at the buffet. After several hours of this, she decided her mind was too tired and strained and had lost any hope of recognizing much of anything.
Preston had been working beside her most of the time, processing the photos they had taken that morning on their tour of Brunssum and Schinnen. He was viewing some touristy websites when she turned to face away from the computer.
Rubbing her eyes, Angie said, “No luck. I give up.”
He turned toward her and spun her chair around to face him. Taking both her hands, he reassured her. “There is only so much we can do. The one thing of which we can be certain is our angels were warning us not to break the rules again.”
She smiled and nodded.
He continued. “How about some kayaking? We can catch a train over to Maastricht, Liege, Namur and change to Dinant. There’s a place to lock the bikes there, then we ride the train up La Lesse to the launch point. It takes half the day if we start right after breakfast.”
She was suddenly excited. “Oh, I’d love that!”
“Good,” he said. “Let me check with our boss.”
Angie watched with some interest as he logged into their email account. Preston posted a message about images from the day’s ride in the dropbox, then asked if there was any reason they couldn’t go kayaking in Dinant.
They had a quiet dinner, then went back to check the email again.
Good shots. No reason to avoid Dinant, but not now. Get ready for Roermond. Check the dropbox.
The script spat out a PDF and then a text file. The latter was sort of a cover letter that said at the top, “Read the study first.”
So they read it, this time in English. They weren’t surprised the topic was human trafficking, their primary mission. The study explained it as a business, which happened to be illegal. Mostly it was background on what sort of factors affected the trade. Over the past decade, they had gone from coaxing kids to travel alone or in twos and threes to some destination where they were “broken” and made compliant. This was often the same place they first worked, but someone with a good business sense was trying to make things more efficient. So they began corralling the kids close to where they were found, then confining them in large groups and moving them all at once.
This was what they had witnessed with the bus. Holding them in the bus out in the woods near Aachen, the kids were sold off, but still had to be broken and it wasn’t easy convincing them without some force to leave with a pimp. They had tried using tents for the breaking action, but there were too many risks. So the crooks had begun reaching out to other criminal businesses, looking to find better facilities.
The study went on at length, and when they were finished, Angie and Preston discussed how this helped to explain better what they had been doing. Major crime bosses were often spies, too. Spying had gotten expensive and the heroin and weapons trade of days past just didn’t pay enough any more, so human trafficking was a new profitable sideline.
Finally, they went back to the cover letter. In essence, it explained that a couple major shipments of kids had come down the Rhein River on barges. Roermond was a city that had long suffered a rather high crime rate, and corruption in the city and district officials didn’t help matters. However, the barges would normally have to travel as far north as Nijmegen, then up the Maas canals (south) to Roermond. Whatever the flaws of the very left-wing government in Nijmegen, child welfare was something they pursued with ferocity. After catching a shipment of kids, the officials had made sure barges were checked pretty well. It was quite certain the kids weren’t going through there any more. Yet, they were ending up in Roermond at a large rural manor near the city where they were broken in large batches.
Preston and Angie were supposed to see if they could figure out how the kids were moved, possibly from Düsseldorf straight west. It was a rather short drive by autobahn to Roermond. The previous use of buses was now too risky, so it had to be some other means. Closing down the breaking house would prove exceptionally tough, but if they could expose who and how they were getting there, it would starve the business for awhile.
Preston sighed. “I doubt we can do any serious kayaking on the Maas canal.”
At the crossing, they turned right and promptly dismounted their bikes. They climbed up on the tiny train platform. In due time, a small train arrived headed south to Heerlen.
They arrived at the station just a couple hundred meters from their apartment. The train stopped next to the large open parking plaza on the south end of the station. Angie was walking her bike in the direction of their apartment.
“Wait,” Preston caught her.
She stopped and looked back. He motioned her to follow.
“We aren’t going home yet. I wanna have lunch at a particular place.” She raised her eyebrows in a half smile and humored him. They rode about a half-kilometer back up the tracks on the south side to a busy traffic circle, following it around to cross under the autobahn. As they rode down the bike path, she saw up on a small hill to their right a large building with a toucan sign perched high up on a pole. She looked at it, then back at Preston. He was grinning broadly as the slowed to enter the drive on the right.
The Van Der Valk Hotel had plenty of bicycle parking and was quite busy. As they climbed the stairs to the buffet lounge, Preston told her how often he and his coworkers had eaten there. Aside from redecorating and refurbishing, little had changed. It was still an opulent spread and not a bad price. They eventually found open seats at a table in one of the side dining areas opened to accommodate the crowd.
After a few stories, he was silent a moment as he watched her.
“Is something wrong?” she asked.
“You’ve been pretty quiet today,” he observed.
“This was your day to reminisce. It’s all fascinating, but so completely foreign to me. It’s part of what makes you so exotic and interesting.” She beamed at him.
“Tell me about exotic, my chocolate redheaded lover, with the sexy little athletic body.”
She blushed and that girlish giggle slipped past her lips, forcing her to cover her mouth in the middle of chewing.
He went on, “I’m very glad you don’t flaunt it. Leave it to their imagination; it’s all mine.”
She continued laughing, fanning herself with one hand and covering her mouth with the other. It took a moment for her to finally say, “No one has ever talked to me that way. I love it, but it’s hard to know what to say back.”
“Just enjoy it, Babe; get used to it. I’m going back for some dessert. Need anything?”
“No, I’ve already had too much. This place is wonderful.”
Preston wandered off toward the buffet as her eyes followed him. She half wondered if she should have tried to follow him, remembering the words of Mr. Venkman. Were they still at risk?
Suddenly her eyes focused on a woman’s face. She and Preston had been sitting back near the far corner of the little overflow dining area and the woman walked past the opening in the main area. Angie raised her hand to her face. She wasn’t sure why, but something about that face made her very nervous.
As soon as the woman disappeared from her line of sight, Angie tried to act her most casual self as she rose and began looking for Preston. She spotted him among the desserts, apparently unable to make up his mind. As he reached out to pick up a piece of mixed fruit vlaai, one of the flat Dutch pies, she walked up very close to him and spoke quietly.
“Put it in a doggie bag. I think we have company.” She then placed a hand on his shoulder as she turned to scan the room again. She didn’t see the woman in the crowd.
Preston kept his cool, noticed where she was looking and placed his slice of pie in a plastic container from the stack placed there for the purpose. Then he turned, took her hand with his free one, and walked out the front door. Outside he remained calm as they descended the stairs, then turned and walked around the building the opposite end of where Angie had been searching. He pulled from his pocket a thin plastic shopping bag and dropped the desert into it so he could sling it across the handlebars. They found their bikes and casually rolled back out the side entrance and disappeared rather quickly down an alternate route for bicycles only.
When they were more or less alone, he asked, “So, tell me what you saw.”
“I can’t be sure. I was just sitting there thinking about Mr. Venkman’s advice to stay together when she walked across my line of sight. The face was vaguely familiar, but not someone I actually recognized. I can’t place her, but it made me very nervous.”
“I had almost forgotten about that.”
The path turned into the woods. They rode a few more meters, then he put up his hand. With is finger on his lips, he dismounted and stood to one side of the trail. She copied his action. They stood silently for a few minutes, looking through the trees back down the path across the open field. After a few minutes of not seeing anything unusual, he began examining their bikes closely. Eventually he was satisfied nothing had been added to them, he motioned her to remount and did the same. They rode off, crossing a small brook, winding through the trees to another main road. Crossing back under the autobahn, they headed home.
They took an unusual route and stopped a couple of times. Preston was waiting to see if she saw any more familiar faces.
There were a couple of layovers and train swaps, but each time the bikes were not much of a problem. The special cars were marked with a bike symbol.
It was nearly dark when they arrived at Herzogenrath. Preston decided it was safe to ride the train on into Heerlen, but they had to change trains for it. While they were waiting, the station was nearly empty.
Angie glanced around, then asked, “Can you tell me what’s the hurry?”
“Maybe I’m just stupid, but my instincts said someone else was onto us there. Not the kid we were looking for, but maybe someone else watching him. Whether it was his friends or not, it just seemed it wasn’t friendly with us. I don’t get spooked that often, so I went with it.”
She stretch up and kissed his cheek. “That’s good enough for me.”
They sat in silence for a few moments. Then he added, “My hunch also was that they weren’t easily able to follow bicycles. In the direction we went, we could have gone almost anywhere. That same route could allow us to circle back around where the Mosel swallows the Sûre just south a ways from Echternach. I’m willing to bet our boss came from that direction, because the main highway goes over to Luxembourg city from there.”
A moment later, he continued, “I didn’t want whoever it was to think anything at all, really, just that we were gone. One of the nice things about traveling by bicycle is nobody pays much attention to you. Unless they can actually follow us somehow, they aren’t likely to get random witnesses to say whether they even remembered us.”
Finally their train pulled into the station. Once aboard, they decided to ride all the way to Schin op Geul. From there, it was only a short ride, but a steep uphill climb right at first.
They were never so glad to see the red door of their apartment again.
It should have been an ideal way to avoid trouble, but it was not to be.
The morning dawned with heavy cloud cover and a hint of mist, but the weather was the least of their problems. The SUV was outside their door, but when they came out with their backpacks, the found the driver crouched by the right rear tire, cursing softly in Dutch.
Almost to himself, he said out loud in heavily accented English, “I really should have had that flat fixed last week but this is the spare, and now it’s flat, too.” He walked off to the garage. Returning a few minutes later he had a can of foam flat fixer.
“This stuff is really messy but it can’t be helped. I’ll get it all fixed after you two get on your way.” He connected the nozzle and began filling the tire with the foam and compressed air. After a few minutes it was up enough to drive safely. The driver tossed the can in the floor behind his seat.
Preston had Angie take shotgun while he sat behind her. The driver told them to make sure they put on their hats, but that wearing sunglasses would be out of place. “I’m just a friend taking you to get new bikes for your honeymoon.”
He drove past the bike shop on the main street through town, pointing at it with his hand below the window level, then circled around on the streets behind it. He pulled into a tiny brick surfaced parking lot in front of some shops. They got out and walked down around the corner back to the bicycle vendor with currency the driver handed them when he shut the motor off.
At the shop in Margraten, Preston found a dandy bike on sale, but they had nothing other than the standard single-speed commuter model to fit Angie. There was no way she could keep up on that. He rode slowly while she walked alongside back to the little parking lot, joking about the reversal of roles. The driver suggested they drive on to Banholt where there was another small bike shop. With Preston’s bike strapped down on the roof, off they went.
The driver followed N278 for a ways, then slowed. As they waited to turn left off the main drag, something nibbled at the edge of Angie’s mind. She turned her head and saw a vaguely familiar face on a bicycle waiting in the bicycle path for them to turn in front of her. She had the right of way, but sat with one foot on the ground, waiting. As they headed down the narrow lane south, she turned to say something to Preston but was interrupted by an odd clicking sound coming from the right rear wheel.
The driver slowed, glancing in the outside mirror. “Don’t tell me it’s already gone flat again…” Then his eyes bulged and he gunned to motor, racing down the narrow lane.
While keeping his eyes forward, he turned just a bit toward Angie. “There’s a dart or something sticking in the tire. Apparently the foam prevented it from losing pressure right away but it means they are right behind us somewhere.”
After whizzing across open fields about a kilometer, the road curved right and followed a tree line on the left. Suddenly it made a sharp left into the trees and downslope. Almost immediately the driver swung back to the right up a very narrow farm road. “Get ready to bail out. Take the path to the left behind the trees while I lead them off. You’re on your own.” He handed Angie a wad of currency, then slammed on the brakes. “Now!”
On a whim, Preston leaned over and grabbed the half-used can of flat fixing foam from the floor. He slid out of the seat while the SUV slowed to a walking pace. Grabbing Angie’s hand, he broke into a run, leading her around behind the vehicle. As the driver gunned the engine and flew off up the main path toward the Margraten Cemetery, they sprinted down the dirt track, screened from the road by trees. A few meters down they turned into the trees and crouched in the underbrush. A car came blitzing along a few seconds later behind the SUV.
They waited a long time, unsure what to do. The terrain was a bit hilly with lots of trees and shrubs. Like most places in the Netherlands, the paths were sunk well below the level of the fields. It seemed a good bet they could probably avoid being seen, but it was critical they get moving and keep moving. He pulled out the map, then shrugged into his backpack.
Angie gave a brave smile and said, “Adventure!”
He studied the map as they hustled down the sandy path. He didn’t like how their current path was bending back straight west. It was a popular bike route to Maastricht and the wrong direction. He would have cut across the fields on the left and grabbed another path back west and south, but the narrow lane was blocked by a large wagon moving very slowly, pulled by some vehicle obscured on the other side of it.
This meant moving along a paved farm road just a few meters before diving back into the countryside. They both were watching as they approached the road, hesitating just a moment, then running along the road. They never made it to the second path.
Coming at them from the south was the car they had seen shortly before chasing the SUV. They dodge up against the fence as the car slowed, and then swerved and nearly hit them. It halted, the right side tire sliding in the grass. The person in the passenger seat had the window rolled down, grinning broadly at them.
Their Israeli spy was a pretty large fellow.
Before he could think, Preston aimed the can of foam and covered the large face. The man bellowed in pain, slapping his hands into the yellow goo. Preston crouched just a bit and aimed at the driver, who turned out to be a woman. Her eyes went wide, then she stomped the accelerator and nearly took Preston’s arm off as she pulled away.
She promptly drove the little car up under the front axle of a very large farm tractor that had just entered the road from the left side. It came off a downward sloping path screened tightly on both sides by trees. The operator was dodging tree limbs as he turned out onto the road and hadn’t seen the car.
Preston was hoping the tractor driver hadn’t seen him and Angie either, as they fled up their intended path. Glancing back, he doubted either of the occupants could possibly get out of the car any time soon, even if they were alive.
Preston’s mind reeled, but some deeper part of him understood all too well that he would have to say “yes.”
His only question was Angie. As he turned to look at her, she blurted out, “Met u al de weg, schatje.” Nobody had to translate that for him: I’m with you all the way, sweetheart.
Their hostess responded, “Goed zo. We want you to continue the training by wandering the countryside here. Feel free to check out the tourist traps in Valkenburg, but I’d like you to focus on being able to use that facial recognition stuff.”
She rose to her feet and took a step toward them. “I’d also like to braid that lovely red hair, Angie. It will make it easier to hide under a hat. Preston looks nothing like the man who wandered the area around The Hague, but we’ll get you both hats and sunglasses just the same. There’s no sense taking unnecessary risks with either of you being identified by anyone, regardless how harmless they may seem. Preston, do your best to stay in character as a Dutchman.”
Their adventurous natures chafed at skipping the most exciting attractions as they wandered Valkenburg each morning. It was more important to take pictures of other people doing those things, all kinds of things, and then spending the afternoons testing their skills at matching faces with various social websites. Angie picked up on it quickly.
Preston got up the make them tea. As he was brining the cups to the table, she had a clearly puzzled look on her face. Before he even sat down, she said, “The software has keyed on someone off to one side here. We have him in two frames but why does he get a blue square? I thought it framed our subjects in red.”
Preston froze for a moment. “That’s a different function. It’s someone we’ve tracked before but never identified.” He pulled the laptop closer and began mousing and typing. His heart stopped when it pulled up the image that had gotten them into so much trouble. It was the face of the Israeli spy.
Preston had never seen his hosts so busy once he showed them their unexpected discovery. No one had to tell them to stay inside their apartment for awhile. They had not asked, and had no way to guess how many of the orchard employees here were in on the “hobby,” but two or three different ones popped in once or twice for confirmation of something. Twice they were asked for various enhancements of this or that image, having passed the entire collection to their hosts as soon as they made the discovery.
It was late that evening, and who could sleep? They tried to compare notes and make as much sense as possible without bothering anyone else. There was a gentle knock on the door, but it still startled them, since no one had come by in the past few hours.
Their hostess came in all business, yet somehow elegantly relaxed. “Our boy isn’t alone, but we are sincerely puzzled why they would send him when he was already ID’d. We’ve decided it can’t be a matter of bait trying to flush us out. The trail for them must have gone cold in town, but we can only surmise he’s been promoted from basic thug to some kind of supervisory role, at least for their current operation. It may even be a form of discipline to make him clean up his own mess.”
Preston wondered out loud, “We were hardly the only people using a camera in a tourist trap like Valkenburg. At the same time, anyone who knows photography can spot another photographer in a crowd of yokels with cameras. Real photographers take a lot more time and far fewer candid snapshots, but shoot a lot more frames of the same subject from only slightly different positions.”
Their hostess shook her head sagely. “No doubt they were shooting both still and video cameras trying to pick out that very thing.”
Angie remarked she had noticed another couple had been doing something similar at two or three places in town over the past three days.
The hostess paused for a moment. “Do you like camping?”
Angie and Preston looked at each other with faint grins, almost synchronized in saying, “Of course we do.”
The older lady smiled. “I’m sure we can find some equipment around here you might find useful for exploring. My husband and I tried it, but we are just too old for that sort of thing. Still, we kept the gear.”
Stepping slowly toward the door, their hostess went on. “The two things any self-respecting Dutch village has in these parts are a bakery and a bicycle shop. It’s a short drive to Margraten, which is just such a village. I want you to buy good mountain bikes to fit your bodies. Pack your bags before you go; we’ll have someone drive you down and park off a ways. Once you have the bikes, grab you bags and take a tour of the Ardennes. You’ll love the scenery in the Belgian hedge lands and the high moors. I recommend you ride through Banholt, then stick to the small paths over the border to someplace like Sint Martens. You should know how to recognize the GR markers, but we’ll get you a map just in case. From there, use your imagination, but stay well east of the Maas Valley. We don’t have any friends in that area right now.”
It’s not straightforward to install, but VMWare Player for Linux works very well on RHEL 6 and clones (I’m using Scientific Linux 6). However, XP does not work properly as a client, and you may not get it running at all. I had no trouble with Win2K once I got SP4 and the final rollup installed. Without those, you can’t install the VMWare drivers to make Windows run right. With the drivers installed, it’s fully integrated with the host system desktop and allows me to run a lot of software that WINE cannot handle. For security reasons, I don’t allow the VM to connect to the Internet, but it’s easy to share folders between the host and VM once you set it up. Now, under Windows 7, VMWare took quite a bit of power and was pretty slow. Under SL6, it takes some power to load, but then runs about as quietly as if I were running Win2K itself. I haven’t tried the built-in KVM because kernel level stuff is simply not necessary for this and way too complicated. The other desktop VMs seem more difficult in the descriptions so I went with what I knew.
Capitalism is bad. It’s a cruel and heartless economic system. Socialism and Communism are also very bad, and Fascism is worst of all. All of them are very bad because all of them are inherently materialistic. Each of them treats material goods and creature comfort as god. Humans become no more than a resource, rather than the whole point of things. God said we are designed to live under a tribal government with a family economic system. The modern secular state is one of Satan’s major accomplishments on earth.
In this real world, the American political system and culture are so horrifically evil from the very start, no economic system will work. Places like Europe are socially more boring, but the politics avoid the extremes of what people can tolerate, for the most part. Their governments and economic policies have a human face, where ours is all fangs and hatred. But socialism works out tolerably well there, compared to the idiocy of our welfare-warfare state system. Honestly, if I had the means, I’d rather live in Europe somewhere, but not the UK. I’m sure that leaks out in my writings.
My current fiction series will end with chapter 11. I already have a part 2 ready and I’m working on part 3. Same characters, similar geography, etc., but the core mission becomes steadily more obvious. I’ll keep posting it here, so if this fiction bores you, you’ll probably lose interest in this blog. Right now, this is something really important to me.
They were looking for one of the many tourist information kiosks.
It was a short walk south from the Rotterdam central station. Among the many large buildings with odd shapes, they found the street. They did their best to keep track of the numbers. At one point she was sure they had found it, but it was a free-standing kiosk too far off the street in an open plaza. Preston stood staring into the glass front of a convention center. He pointed; “Is that it?”
There was a booth inside the lobby of the building. She doubled checked the address, then decided he was correct. This one had the same collection of pamphlets, maps, souvenirs, and transportation tickets as any other, but displayed differently. Preston decided this one included a wider array of languages than what usually festooned the ones at tourist traps. He stood back a bit and let Angie handle it.
“Konnten wir die Apfelwein-Anlage?” She held out the card Mr. Venkman had given her.
The woman behind the counter took the card and glanced at it. Without the slightest hint of a smile she dropped it somewhere behind her counter and pulled out a garish pamphlet with cartoon apples and jugs on the front. It was all in German, but she opened it and tapped a spot in one corner. Preston drew forward close enough to see that it was a single paragraph in tiny clear English text.
Angie looked up with a smile, took the pamphlet and turned to walk away. Part of Preston was thinking that this was getting pretty melodramatic. He started laughing and it was infectious; Angie chuckled but was not exactly sure what caused the hilarity. They were supposed to find a hostel called “The Room” down close to the water as their next landmark. The small typeface English paragraph in the pamphlet said they should walk down to the river quay directly nearest the hostel and someone would meet them. This made Preston just a little nervous, given how this whole mess started on a river barge.
They never got there. It seemed some portion of Rotterdam was always under renovation, with scaffolding and usually shrouds hanging from it. In sight of the hostel, they were forced to walk inside one of the half-darkened curtained side walks where noisy work was taking place above them. A workman suddenly stepped out and, with a very big smile, guided them inside the work area. He pointed to two folks dressed somewhat the same as they, who turned and walked off where they had been headed. The man placed hard plastic safety helmets on their heads and allowed them to watch from behind a billowing sheet of plastic. The couple walked all the way down to the nearest quay, stepped into a water taxi and rode off across the river.
Then the man guided them through a maze of temporary walls and curtains accompanied by the noise of various power tools along with the shouts of workers. No one seemed to pay them any attention at all. They approached a work van backed up under one of the tarps. The man opened one of the back doors and beckoned them inside, taking their safety helmets. It was loaded with rolls of carpet and thin foam padding, so they clambered on top. Preston couldn’t resist lying down lengthwise on a fat roll of padding and found it surprisingly comfortable. Angie arranged herself along a roll next to him. They couldn’t see who got into the front seat and started the motor, but decided it was too late to worry about such things any more.
Preston awoke to see Angie leaning back with her rump down between two of the large diameter rolls. He checked his watch; two hours so far and truck kept zooming along at highway speeds. It was a noisy ride, but they were able to talk by putting their faces close together.
She asked, “Why do you suppose he was so adamant about us remaining physically close?”
Preston didn’t hesitate. “Trust. Anyone trying to hurt us would naturally try to use one of us against the other. So long as we are together, we can watch each other and our trust grows. There’s no such thing as absolute trust, because we can’t even trust our selves, in one sense. But once we confide in each other, we become responsible for each other until it’s over with.”
He paused a moment, and then continued. “If you believe in God and angels, there are some things you just take on faith. You have to listen to something stronger and yet quieter than mere intellect. Something in the circumstances told me to trust you, and it appears you trusted me already.”
Angie nodded affirmatively.
“You can’t always test and analyze things. You can’t always trust the results when you do analyze. You have to learn to choose some things on factors beyond the conscious mind. For every demon there are two angels; when you run toward a clear conscience, things tend to work out in the long run. For now, at least, you and I can trust each other far more than anyone else in this world.”
She took his hand. “Did you mean it literally when you asked if I wanted to marry you?”
He explained he didn’t care about government or church permits, but at that moment he had been ready to make a genuine offer of lifetime commitment, and hadn’t changed his mind. If anything, he was even more sure it was a good idea.
“I think so, too,” she said with a smile. He responded by half rolling over and kissing her lips until she nearly melted.
“Could I persuade you to come back up to my classroom? It’s vacant now and I’d feel much more comfortable discussing things there than I would here.”
Preston smiled while his muscles whimpered. Once inside the classroom, still relatively dark, the man closed and locked the door. Preston realized there was no light shining under the door from the sunlit hallway.
Mr. Venkman asked, “What have we got, Preston?”
Preston slipped his laptop from the backpack and placed it on the large desk there. Opening the lid, he brought the system to life. Digging into his pocket, he produced the camera chip and inserted it into the slot. As expected, Mr. Venkman wanted to see his altered version twice, then the raw version. He also asked to see the screen capture followed by the composite Preston had made from the video.
He shook his head and smiled. “Preston, you and Anja are in serious trouble.” He took a step back and held up his right hand in a gesture meant to forestall arguments. “Don’t get me wrong. I’m really very glad you two chose to bring this to me first, regardless of your reasons, and so soon after the fact. But I’m sure you realize none of this is can be made simple.”
Preston had heard this lecture before, in different terms. “Mr. Venkman, I decided long ago there were no real good guys, no right or wrong sides, just some that can hinder or help what I consider most important. I admit I know precious little of these things, but I do know what my conscience demands.”
The old man smiled broadly. “We are all bad guys to somebody. Even under the same government there are competing agencies and genuine bloodshed between them. I won’t bother to explain my position. It won’t mean anything to you and certainly won’t help you any. However, I do hope to keep you and Anja alive and able to pursue your personal quests in life.”
He crossed his left arm over his chest and grabbed the right elbow. His right hand held his chin for a moment, then he gestured slightly at the face on the screen. “Our man is Israeli, but not Mossad. Some other agency that does some of the same work. I’ll thank you for a copy of that raw video with the GPS data, because we can get someone out there today to find the body. That should prove quite interesting. Meanwhile, you need to disappear for awhile, because in order to use this evidence at all, a copy will eventually make its way to this man’s friends.”
He folded his hands, raising his index fingers together to his nose for a moment. Then he dropped his hands and gestured to the two of them. “For the next few days, probably weeks, you must not allow anyone or anything to separate you two physically. Sleep together, shower together, even go to the toilet together. Pretend you are handcuffed. I cannot emphasize that enough.”
He walked around his desk, reached into a side drawer and handed Preston a jump drive, brand new in the package. “Copy those files onto this.” While Preston busied himself with that, Mr. Venkman went on. “I suggest you remove your excess hair, Preston. Shave your head and most of your beard.” Preston glanced up with a grin, then at Angie. Mr. Venkman didn’t notice but was digging in another drawer. He produced a packet of blank index cards. Pulling one out, he replaced the pack. Then he pushed some papers aside exposing a glass sheet atop the wooden surface. With the other hand he reached inside his desk and pulled out a sharp lead pencil.
As he put his laptop away, Preston noticed the man printed carefully in all caps, barely pressing down with the pencil so as to leave the faintest writing. He passed it to Angie. “Go to the address at the top there; be very careful about that. Show them this card and speak in your best German, asking for a tour of the apple cider plant. Within in an hour from that, you should be safer than you’ve been since shooting this video. You’ll go on a nice honeymoon and forget the rest of the world for awhile.”
Someone knocked on the door. “Forget nothing I’ve said,” Mr. Venkman said with all seriousness, and then smiled and acted like they had been discussing old times. He moved toward the door while shaking their hands using both of his in a warm clasp. He started speaking in Dutch, basically thanking them for coming and wishing them well.
Outside on the street again, they stopped at a drug store and Preston grabbed a razor, hair scissors and some baby oil, among other things. He asked, “Where to next?”
“Rotterdam,” she answered with a far away look in her eyes.
Preston thought it was almost fun having Angie jammed in the tiny train toilet with him. He sat on the toilet and slid back against the wall, taking his shirt off. She was quite helpful though, clipping him clean with the scissors and making sure the hair fell onto the tracks through the opening of the toilet between his knees. Then she wet the remaining stubble from a water bottle before he applied the baby oil and began shaving his face. The cheap razor just barely managed to keep a cutting edge until his head was smooth.
They cleaned up the mess, then he showed her his passport while he struggled back into his shirt. “So that’s what you were laughing about,” she said. He now looked like his old passport photo, having grown all that hair and whiskers during the test voyage on Harry’s sloop.
She hugged and kissed him before they exited the confined space. “I like this look,” she affirmed.