Richard’s plan was that he had no plan. He would explore his surroundings beyond Danvers, even to the entire country, moving about by whatever manner any given moment presented, and seeking out random encounters with strangers, in the hope of finding tour guides and new friends, and hopefully, guest beds, couches and floors.
But that was not at all how things turned out. Instead he met only people who wanted his money and his possessions, and whatever he could do for them. He slept many nights hungry and in the open, he was rained upon, he was chased by dogs, and bit by dogs, and bugs, taunted by teenagers, yelled at and spat upon, and when he was attacked and robbed and had a knife within an inch of slashing his throat, he decided to call the venture failed. He turned toward home and walked almost one hundred miles over three days until he was there.
After a few days of mulling his future, he made several decisions. He missed academia, and yearned to return, so he went to the bank, took out a small loan against the house that was his inheritance, and enrolled in some classes at the local community college. He took several classes that satisfied requisites, and one elective, Cognitive Thinking, for a personal interest in the subject.
He had been enrolled and studying for about two months when one afternoon he was walking across campus and came upon a guy with a megaphone addressing a small group of people. Richard stopped to listen and quickly gathered the gist.
“This is not a game of world conquest, this is a very real threat, and you should be afraid, deathly afraid, of what might come to pass. Our enemies foreign and domestic have become allies; they are the same enemy. For what made America great will be the Achilles’ Heel that brings about her downfall; the very open armed generosity she extended to the rest of the world will be her undoing. For she is a hodgepodge mix of all the nations of the earth. And when the immigrants were pouring through her ports, as many as ten thousand a day, to seed the land, so to speak, they came from every corner of the globe--Europe, Asia and Africa, Central and South America. They also came, good and evil. And the evil brought with them Lucifer’s system of government, the communist red menace.
“Communism succeeded for a time under Stalin, Hitler and Mussolini, but those dictators were all defeated by allied forces led by the USA. America would be the most glorious jewel in Lucifer’s crown. He tried and failed to take it by force, with a frontal assault, so he retreated, regrouped and devised to conquer us from within. This new communist invasion has been gradual, but the seeds they scattered over the years have now taken root, insidious tendrils spreading like venomous vipers through the fabric of our society. They’ve been biding their time, but that time is drawing dangerously near.”
Richard was listening intently. He had browsed some of the anti-communist literature that someone had lately been distributing around campus, and was profoundly intrigued. He spent endless hours reading history and political philosophy—so much so that he was using it as material to fulfill the curriculum of his Cognitive Thinking class. He was riveted by the man’s speech, who was one of his peers; and when he caught a long pause, he asked the man if he might have the microphone. It was handed to him. Adrenalized emotion surged in his gut, and he passionately said: “He is right! They are here among us and have been for decades, and now do they intend to rise up and band together against us. Where you have sowed, they intend to reap, the houses you built they intend to occupy, and when your daughters grow up they will take them to wife. You will deposit the money in the bank and they will withdraw and spend it. The wine you press? Not only will they drink it, you will serve it to them. They will enslave you, and you will build their temples and pave the roads they travel. What you think is freedom will be slavery, slavery to the government, who will be your god. The question is: are you going to fall in line like lemmings, or resist and be yourselves? Stand your ground and demand your liberty? Or will you be led into a shower to be scrubbed and brainwashed and handed a government issue uniform. A striped government issue uniform--not the red and white stripes of liberty, not the thin pintstripes of success--but the harsh black stripes of prisoners. If you are not pulling the strings you are the puppets, and if you are sitting here and can hear my voice, I assure you, you are not pulling the strings. You are powerless pawns who will soon be laying your backs at the feet of communist, Marxist, socialist, fascist overlords!”
That hour’s classes were readying to begin, and most of the small crowd of students who were listening began to trickle away. The young man took the mic back from Richard and introduced himself. “You speak well, brother. My name is Terrence Gill.”
“Richard Sleitzer,” he answered, returning the handshake. “Have you been leaving the literature around campus?”
“That was me. Have you been reading it?” he asked. “It sounds like you have.”
“Indeed, it’s very intriguing,” Richard remarked.
“We’re having a meeting this Saturday night,” Terrence said. “Though it’s really more an excuse to invite some girls over and drink beer. You’re more than welcome to come by. The address is one hundred Blake Street. It’s two blocks that way, the red house on the corner, you can’t miss it. Any time after ten.”
Another student approached the two and said: “You both speak with great conviction, but I think you should know something. People started spreading those false fears a hundred years before you were born. If such a system were going to take hold here, it’s time was long ago, and that time has passed. You also exaggerate some things, and say others that simply aren’t true. Socialism as you hear it advocated nowadays is a political philosophy, collective control of the things we necessarily share, such as infrastructure and natural resources, as well as providing equal dignity for our fellow man with regard to education, housing, health care and general welfare. Communism is a philosophy which abolishes class structure with a central government which controls all aspects of life—stores, schools, hospitals, banks and businesses. From the womb to the tomb, so to speak. Karl Marx wrote The Communist Manifesto, so to say ‘communist Marxist’ is redundant. Fascism derives from the Latin word ‘fasces,’ which describes a bundle of wood with a protruding axe head. In political philosophy it is a totalitarian regime that mercilessly oppresses the masses economically, with the vast majority of the citizenry ruled over by a small elite who wield power with their wealth. They are three very different philosophies, and shouldn’t be lumped together as you just did, and as so many others do also. It makes sloppy rhetoric, flawed forensics, and is intellectually weak.”
“I will keep that in mind, and it was nice to meet you too,” Terrence sarcastically responded. “I have to get to my Political Theory class. It was great to meet you, Richard. Don’t forget the invite for Saturday night.”
“If you’d paid attention to your professors, you’d know these things already,” the stranger remarked. Then he too turned and headed away, adding: “You propaganda drinking nimwits drive me crazy. You slurp it up. I’m in awe of propaganda. In expert hands it is used to convince people to see as good and support the very system that victimizes and destroys them. You don’t want to know the truth, you just listen for what pleases your ears, however phony or downright false.”
Richard pondered the wisdom in those words for a few moments, and had turned to go to Cognitive Thinking class when another young man approached him. “That was some dynamic oratory. Wow. I was really impressed.”
“Well thank you. My name is Richard Sleitzer,” he said, offering his hand.
“Paddy O’Maddy,” the young man answered. “We’re in the same Cognitive Thinking class.”
Richard scrutinized his face, and replied: “I don’t recognize you.”
“That’s because I haven’t been in class for almost two months.”
“That’s half the semester,” Richard remarked.
“I know, and I have to talk to Professor Melonwhite, to see if I can salvage a grade,” Paddy explained. “Speaking of which, we should be going, I’ve already gotten myself in deep enough, I don’t want to compound it by being late on my first day back.”
They walked there together, and were in fact five minutes late. They slipped in the back of the room and quietly into seats at the rear. The course was team taught by two women who lectured on alternating days. Professor Melonwhite was a middle-aged woman whose primary discipline was philosophy. She started every class with a five minute introduction, whether she was lecturing or not. Professor Adamly was an elder woman who’d been in the history department for twenty five years. She took attendance during Professor Melonwhite’s introductions, and was seen to fall into naps several times during her lectures.
After class Paddy said to Richard: “Can I buy you a cup of coffee at the campus union? I’d like to hear more of your thoughts on politics.”
“Sure, why not?” Richard answered.
“Great,” Paddy said. “First let me go explain my long absence to Professor Melonwhite.“ They approached the woman and Paddy very apologetically explained that he’d been attending to an illness in his family. She was understanding, and said they could arrange for him to do enough work to get credit. Then she turned to Richard and said: “And what about you?”
“What about me?” he replied incredulously.
“Where have you been for the past two months?” she asked.
“I’ve been right here!” he answered. “I haven’t missed a class!”
“That’s not what the attendance book says,” Professor Melonwhite declared. She retrieved it from the desk where Professor Adamly sat, and showed Richard where he had been marked absent for eight weeks. He produced from his book bag a paper she’d graded and returned the previous week. “I had to be in class to get this back.”
“That explains one absence,” she said.
“Well I had to be here to turn it in!” he said in exasperation.
“That explains two, what about the rest?” she demanded.
“Do I have to have a memorable reason or special occasion every day to prove I’ve been here? Professor Adamly has obviously been overlooking me when taking attendance, which is no surprise, as she sleeps through the classes she’s not teaching.”
Stung by the insult, Professor Melonwhite lost her cool. “If you can’t prove you were in those other fourteen classes, I’ll have no choice but to fail you.”
“I’ll just re-enroll in your class next semester,” Richard retorted, “after speaking with the department head first, of course. With you two asleep at the wheel, this course is careening out of control. It just sideswiped Professor Evans economics class, clipped the chemistry lab, which it crippled, and flipped into a barrel roll and is bearing down on your beloved history department like a hundred mile an hour tumbleweed! It’s about to scatter your colleagues and decimate their offices with the force of a mighty ten pin strike! ”
“Very well, Mr. Sleitzer, I am a reasonable woman,” she calmly stated. “I have a better solution. You’ve demonstrated a great understanding of cognitive thinking, and let’s just count that little outburst of yours as your final. If you never set foot in my classroom again I will promise you an A. Do and it reduces to a B, do it and open your mouth, you’ll get a C, and anything beyond that will result in you passing with the minimum grade that ensures I never have to see your face again. Deal?”
He smiled and silently turned his back. She disappeared into the crowded hallway.
Paddy gave Richard a slack jawed stare, then said: “That was awesome….”
They spent the afternoon together in the campus center shooting pool and drinking coffee. Richard told bits of his own life while learning that Paddy aspired to law school, and had been raised clerking in the courts where his father was a judge. Paddy was a timid, self-conscious sort, and star struck by Richard and his speech. Richard perceived and noted it in his mind. And while unimpressed by Paddy, he nonetheless encouraged his friendship. He invited Paddy to go along to the anti communist party Saturday night, and Paddy delightedly accepted.
Richard got his phone number and promised to call, but never did, and rather went alone. The party started off as an attempt to incite an emotion filled rah rah rally, but that quickly fizzled, and alcohol became the energy that fueled the affair. The lights dimmed as drunkenness set in, and conversations seemed like loud whispers under the blare of the music. Richard was standing alone in the yard behind the house when a man tapped his beer bottle with his own in toast, and introduced himself. His name was Alfredo Gromelli.
“How do you prefer to be addressed?” Richard asked. “Al? Fredo? Or Alfredo?”
“It depends on who’s doing the addressing,” he answered. “My friends call me Fredo; the rest call me Al.”
They became engrossed in a long conversation that consumed several beers. After some banal chit chat about current events, school, and the other people at the party, Alfredo said: “So, how do you plan to make your fortune in life?”
“I haven’t decided for sure yet,” Richard answered. “I like to study, so law school would be a breeze for me. That’s one of many considerations, but there is one certainty.”
“Which is….” Alfredo encouraged.
“I’m going to have lots of money one day, and while I’m young enough to enjoy it,” he boldly proclaimed.
“I like the attitude,” Alfredo said. “Self-confidence is a bold step halfway to the pot of gold.”
“And what about you?” Richard asked. “What’s your plan?”
Fredo dug into his pocket, removed something and held it up to the moonlight. It was a little rock of gold. “I’ve already got my first nugget; I just need to find enough more to fill a pot.”
“Where did you come by that?” Richard asked, his pointed eyes glistening. It was a sizeable nugget, worn from being rubbed. Fredo placed it on Richard’s palm. He rolled it admiringly along his fingers.
“Have you ever heard of a place called Lake Candlerock?” Fredo asked. A clear look of disdain creased his face.
“Sure, it’s in the forest about twenty miles north of here, right?” Richard answered.
“That’s the place,” Fredo said. “My great great great grandfather found that nugget out there in the Civil War days. He found quite a few, actually. My family has been convinced ever since that there’s a vein in the ground. Through the generations we’ve gone out and snooped around and have found occasional gold in one area we think may sit on a pretty sizeable mine. We’d never be able to excavate properly as it presently enjoys state protection.”
“Most interesting,” Richard replied ponderously.
“And if a gold venture failed, it would still be a developer’s dream,” Fredo continued. “The timber is ripe for harvest, and after being cleared could be turned into lakeside cottages.”
“That is potential millions,” Richard mused.
“But none of that will ever be,” he said lamentingly. “It’s untouchable.”
“You’d have to change the law,” Richard remarked, as he began to process the circumstance. “It would help to get someone elected, or to know someone already in office.”
“My family’s been trying to get a foothold out there for years,” Fredo said, then added: “We’ve gotten close, and we will eventually succeed.”
“Maybe I’ll go out there for a look about one of these days,” Richard said.
“I’m going fishing there tomorrow if you want to take a ride,” Fredo offered. “It’s still public land, open to everyone.”
“I think I will,” Richard said, clinking Fredo’s beer glass with his own.
And that is exactly what they did. They conversed late into the night, exchanged information, and the following afternoon drove out to Lake Candlerock. They were both a bit subdued with hangovers, and threw baited lines in the water with little being said. After sitting for just a few minutes Richard’s thoughts drifted to the gold, and he became antsy.
“Keep an eye on my line if you would,” he said to Fredo, then went to the stream that fed the lake, and wandered up. He carefully scrutinized and took note of his surroundings. It was exactly as Fredo had described: prime. But he also kept his eyes half peeled on the pebbles in the stream, looking for glints. He’d held Fredo’s nugget for long minutes, and coveted one of his own. A couple of stones shining in the sun aroused his interest, but were false hopes that spurred him on. Hours later he was still obsessed with finding one. He reached a bend where the sight of something in the water moved him, and he jumped in the water to his knees and started pulling up a pile of stones at the bottom of the stream. Snakes and salamanders scurried from their holes he upturned. The silt billowed into a cloud of mud. He tore it up the more furiously, until he had exhausted himself, then sat on the bank and waited for the stream to clean itself.
So it did, and when it had, revealed an unmistakable gleam. It was about the size of a fingertip, and within a moment of espying he was upon it. He held it in the water, then up toward the sun. He measured its weight in his palm, which was plenteous, then dropped it in his pocket and started back toward Alfredo.
The possibilities ran wild in his imagination. Everything Alfredo had told him was true: cleared of the trees the land would be choice real estate, and there very well was gold in that hill. He fantasized that he owned a piece of everything, and started scheming.
He observed the water birds, and strolled harmlessly alongside them. Then three ducks started following him, in their innocent, friendly naiveté. He stopped and looked down; they stopped and looked up hungrily. He stooped and feigned picking food from the ground, and instead crumbled some leaves and offered them out in his hand. The ducks gently pecked it from his palm, then spit it out and walked away from him. He swiped his hands clean and continued onwards.
He returned to Alfredo, and sat down. Alfredo immediately asked him if he’d found any gold. He answered no. He baited his hook again and cast it into the water. Almost at once his line took a tremendous hit, and embroiled him in a struggle with a fish. He played with it before pulling it from the lake, a large, succulent trout. He smashed its face once with a rock, then took Fredo’s knife, cut its head off, split its belly and spilled its blood and guts back into the water whence he had wrenched it. He sliced it into two fat filets, one of which he wrapped and gave to Alfredo. Alfredo gave him a ride home, where he seared the other filet with blackening spice and inhaled it heartily.