The Odyssey of Edelbach - Chapter One

The Odyssey of Edelbach

© 2010, 2023 by Vernon Miles Kerr

Chapter 1

The Roadblock

Albert Edelbach feels himself waking up. It seems like only an hour or two, since he fell into his creaky hotel bed, exhausted, after a day on the road.

Damn! not again. It’s those 2:00 o’clock blues again … damned insomnia.

He slowly opens his eyes, expecting to see the annoying, dust-encrusted popcorn ceiling of the cheap hotel where he always stays. Instead, he sees a glimpse of what looks like a large circular window frame, directly above his bed. Inside the circle is a rapidly cycling set of geometrical shapes, almost fractal — grayscale only — no color. In the mere four-seconds he is awake, the circle’s designs seem to flash-change at least twenty times. He is completely focused on the changing images, but still, he senses a presence in his peripheral vision to his right. It seems like two or three bald heads are hovering over him.

A shout from a familiar voice wakes him up.

“Albert-Ray Edelbach! Get yer lazy butt outta bed, yer gonna be late for school.”

Reflexively he answers, “Yes, momma.”

Wait a minute, momma’s been dead for 20 years…

This has him sitting straight up. There above him, as always, is the popcorn ceiling, with the sun’s rays piercing the dust-filled air of his room. He feels a mild headache, made worse by the usual summertime buzzing racket of cicadas, outside in the humid Illinois morning.

Damn! That was one strange dream. It’s those damned demons again with their UFO crap. I’m gonna just HAVE to learn to ignore ‘em

Later,Edelbach squints his burning eyes and considers the grizzled and wrinkled face looking back at him from the mirror:

Who the hell is that old fart?

Even into his sixties he still hasn’t gotten used to his own, older appearance. Sometimes — subconsciously — he still expects his formerly-tanned, lady-killer face to be smiling back at him, with that white, even-toothed, smile and that near-black, shock of hair, ready to be coiffed into a “do” that will fit the day’s task.

But, such confusion only happens in the early morning-hours when the remnants of sleep still muddle his thinking.

He chuckles.

Don’t all young guys see themselves as babe-magnets?

The hair in the mirror is thinning, light gray to white, sticking out in all directions and defying the wet comb he is trying to pull through it. Even though he is well past the old-fashioned age of retirement, Edelbach is still “pounding the pavement,” as he calls it; still working a full time traveling sales job.

It wouldn’t feel so bad if “they” hadn’t given us this rosy picture of “retirement” all those years.  So here I am, dragging my sorry butt all over North America from Fairbanks to Vancouver to Oaxaca selling crap. … Even this expensive crap doesn’t get me or the company enough money to fund retirement. We can thank those Yuppie twerps on Wall Street for causing the ‘08 crash. Damned little greedy twerps.

“Wall Street’ll tell you anything they want in order to get what they themselves want,” he says aloud, his voice trailing off…

“Balanced Portfolio.” Bullshit.

Well, I suppose it wasn’t Wall Street’s fault. Our future looked pretty rosy after we won those two World Wars. The economy was booming, nothing could stop us. Then came stalemate in Korea, the Cold War, Vietnam — the first war we ever lost; Hippies, drugs, big corporations bribing their way to political power with “campaign contributions”, the world’s wealth concentrated in the top 1% of the population. It was time for “Make America Great Again.” Pastor Armstrong agrees. When America followed God and the Bible, we WERE the greatest country on Earth.

Edelbach is now dragging an old twentieth-century-style Gillette double-edged razor through his crop of lathered-up grey whiskers.

Good thing they still sell these blades in Mexico.  This is what my Dad used, and what he taught me to use.  I don’t care if those new micro-laser ones do “shave better and last longer,” as they say.

  His manner of shaving is one of many rituals to which Edelbach holds fast, like his choice of an old 20th Century diesel-powered Mercedes sedan,”Betsy,”for transportation. Both razor and car are a sort of handhold, which seems to preserve at least a small amount of stability in his chaotic world.

Later, he makes his way down the creaking hotel stairs and through the lobby.

Beyond the curtain of dust motes, floating in the morning light, he can dimly see the profile of the owner’s daughter at the front desk.

“Bye, Albert, we’ll see you next time.”

“If there is a next time” he intones.  (His customary answer.)

“You stay off those Interstates and avoid trouble. The rural roads are safer.”

“Who cares about safer,” he lies, “What I need is faster.”

She looks impressed.

He strides confidently into the parking lot.

Edelbach unlocks the trunk of the Mercedes, peeks inside, shuffles the “Let’s Go Brandon” and “Trump 2024” signs to the back, tightens the cargo-stays securing his “hardware,” nods with satisfaction, then locks it again — trying the trunk-handle one more time, just to make sure it is secure.

I definitely couldn’t have someone making off with these samples. The government would hold me responsible for whatever city was destroyed.

Not that his line of civil-ordinance was really capable of such destruction — that is, unless the gangsters knew exactly which components to put together, in exactly the right order. But, with a little imagination they could make plenty of mischief with just the individual products.

At best, Edelbach wouldn’t go to jail, but he would lose his Federal clearance as one of possibly a half-dozen sales reps who can legally deal civil ordinance in-country.

He starts the old car’s clattering engine, navigates around the abandoned hulks of cars in the hotel parking lot, then accelerates out onto the county highway toward St. Louis.  Actually, he always takes the rural roads and highways, mainly because it does avoid the marauding crews of gang members that are known to throw up roadblocks on the Interstates.

I didn’t have to worry about this crap when we still had our company plane

Edelbach is still an IFR rated pilot, multi-engine, with five thousand hours logged by the time the company has to close flight ops.

I get it. It isn’t the cost of maintaining the aircraft but the cost of insurance that justifies the decision. The gangs have taken to using stinger missiles on their competitors. Our Beechcraft King Air is deemed to look too much like the preferred trafficker’s ride and thereby a much more likely risk. I get it. But, I don’t have to like it.

Well, this country route takes longer, but even aside from the safety advantages, the scenery justifies the extra time.

As a person who, until recent years, lived his entire life in California’s dry valleys, his eyes can’t drink in enough of the sight of green Illinois woods scrolling by on either side of his car. To him, a forest has always been something you paid admission to, like Yosemite or whatever.

He waxes uncharacteristically eloquent:

The trees on the edge of these roads are like giant sentinels guarding mysterious, dark, vine-draped caverns.

Edelbach is delighted to find these stands of forest, stretching in almost unbroken array, along the byways of the entire Eastern part of the country: Georgia, the Carolinas, Maryland, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri and on and on.  He has to catch himself from peering too long into the green depths, and running off the road.

To him, those great guardians are like a message from Nature. 

They were here before this country existed and they will probably be here long after this insanity is gone. Through the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, two World Wars and the current civil chaos, they haven’t lost their dignity. 

He knows that some of them might be chopped down to make room for more city or more highways, but, to him, Nature is saying that she will prevail and there will always be the woods and forests of North America.

As the Mercedes hums forward, a glint in his peripheral vision attracts his attention back into the woods.  Glimmering through the trees is an oval shape of pale blue-white light. It is pacing him, looking stationary behind the hurtling tree trunks.

Oh, it’s the moon…

He forces himself to check the road ahead. 

The moon always looks like it’s going along with you.

He remembers being a kid, returning from the mountains with his parents, with the moon behind the car.  “Hey look, the moon’s chasing us,” they would always tease.

But, when Edelbach returns his gaze to the road ahead, there is the moon, high in the western sky.  The light in the forest was still pacing him. He felt a fleeting wave of fear.

“Demons” he whispers.

“Nah, gotta be a scientific explanation, probably ball-lightening or swamp gas,” he murmurs aloud, jerking himself back to reality.

The blue-white light fades and disappears, and the greenery threads on as he skirts Peoria, veering slightly off course for a while, in order to find an unblocked underpass that will get him across the Interstate without being noticed.

Near the cities, the underpasses are crammed with the shanties of “dispossessors,” people who lost homes or were evicted from rentals in the economic unravel of the early-2000s.

Edelbach winces at the irony. 

The good citizens, the taxpaying, law-respecting citizens are huddled under freeway bridges while the drug gangs have moved into these poor people’s abandoned homes.

Of course, the gang members aren’t paying property taxes, so, generally speaking, the cash-poor cities don’t have the police resources to remove the criminal squatters.

Year-by-year the Gang Nation has been able to recruit increasingly more members, using these purloined bases in Suburbia.

Many new recruits come from the dispossessors’ own ranks, usually older teenagers who long to be under a proper roof, especially in wintertime.

The gang enclaves have grown and they keep growing — their coffers being filled with the dribble of small-change from addicted people needing desperately to — at least momentarily — escape the reality of life. 

In Edelbach’s opinion, ever since the Federal Government’s period of accelerated commitment to ever-growing entitlements, the down-funding of police departments, the many foreign military interventions, and the never-ending battle against the terrorism movement, the states and cities have been left to their own devices to battle their own “domestic terrorist organizations” – which are virtually what the drug-gangs have become. That’s where Edelbach comes in.

Edelbach’s trunk full of “fireworks,” as he calls them, known only formally as civil ordinance, is what some of the larger cities, like St. Louis, are interested in.

With the right kind of community support, a city could move against the enclaves. And Edelbach’s products are the tools with which they can eradicate the criminal squatters while doing minimal damage to the structures.

But even as dire as the national situation is, many communities will not support such tactics, even if the courts are pragmatically looking the other way.

The majority in those cities still view the gang members as somehow redeemable young people instead of the totalitarian, barbaric occupying-power that they have become.

I guess there’ll always be people who are filled with wishful-thinking about the basic “goodness” of humanity. Such thinking usually blinds people to the danger that comes from permissive handling of criminality.

Edelbach views the gang “nation” as having gone so far in accumulating raw, primitive power that nothing short of domestic war can bring back a fully civilized country.

The enclaves, out of which the gang-bangers stream on their daily thieving, drug dealing, murdering and extorting sorties, provide law-enforcement with the rationale for viewing the gangs as enemy soldiers instead of citizens who deserved the normal legal process.  Hence the name of Edelbach’s best-selling laser carbine: “The Miranda,” meaning a shot from it was going to be the only warning the gang member got.

This name was Edelbach’s suggestion and the factory in Arizona readily adopted it as a name with which local authorities could relate.

Edelbach chuckles at his own cleverness — but then, his smirk fades into a look with a twinge of remorse.

I don’t know how I ever became so callous. I guess the dark humor of the police locker room has been rubbing off on me.

For the cops, it’s a defensive behavior.  Maybe for me, it’s the same: I laugh so I won’t cry. 

He now imagines the gang nation as being like a beloved family dog that has contracted rabies. It is headed toward your children as they play in the yard. You are holding your hunting rifle. You do what’s necessary, dropping the dog.  Your joy at saving your children is mixed with a terrible dread and sadness. The dog was like a family member as well. 

This is North America’s situation right now; and England’s, and Australia’s and the EU and most of the rest of the world.

But Edelbach has the consolation of one positive outcome from his profession: his client-cities have the lowest incidence of vigilantism on the continent.  This is because the citizens could see that the government was addressing the problem.

Ironically, those cities controlled by the “peace at any cost-ers” were the least peaceful in North America. The gangs in those cities were bolder and the desperation of the citizens led to some ugly, random vigilante incidents, sometimes to innocent people – as often happens with vigilantism.

This chaos had all started with permissive laws then it flourished and grew with a lack of economic investment in law enforcement.

The lack of economic commitment was not only caused by the decline in property taxes, stemming from the foreclosures, but also because of the wishful-thinkers’ refusal to support the necessary draconian measures to stop the growth-momentum of the gang nation. 

Edelbach couldn’t imagine where this was all going. 

How can the police do anything to slow down this criminal-explosion when the authorities are already so vastly outnumbered? It’s a good thing the gangs don’t know how vastly outnumbered, they would be even more blatant. Why couldn’t I just stay in my little glass office and write code for our control systems

As head of the engineering team that developed the Miranda, and a specialist in the embedded software that controlled its function, Edelbach had been recruited by management as the corporation’s most technically-knowledgeable person and the one most capable of representing the company on these monthly sales rounds.

Deep in his subconscious he suspects his age was a factor in the decision to turn the engineering department over to his assistant.

He suddenly focuses on the highway ahead, tapping the brake to ease off speed.

It looks like there’s an empty overpass up there on the right. 

Sure enough, the overpass is free of tents and blue tarps, so he makes a sharp, drifting turn and shoots through to the other side of the Interstate.

It won’t be long now… 

He relaxes his grip on the wheel. 

Another 30 miles and I’ll be close enough to St. Louis to be able to get back onto I-70 so I can get across the Mississippi.  Then I can relax a bit, maybe go over to the Hill for some Italian. It’ll be good being back in a little piece of civilization again.

But as civilized as St. Louis is — relatively speaking — the city is only a faint image of what it used to be. He remembers his first visit in the very early 2000s. 

He drove into town on 55 past the old red brick Anheuser-Busch brewery with its friendly sign: “Come Visit Us.” He had rounded another couple of curves and there it was.  The Arch, with its sparkling, beautifully tapered steel curves vaulting impossibly high, seeming to float without any visible support.

He had followed the directional signs, parked and walked right up to the base of it, placed his palm on the cool, brushed stainless steel and gazed up at the intersection of the North and South sections, fully 65 stories directly above his head. He knew it was supposed to be very big, but still, it literally took his breath away.

Someday if archaeologists ever come upon this, they’ll say “Something really important happened here.” And they’ll be right, because for us it was important:  The Westward Expansion that opened up the rest of the continent to our culture and our civilization and God’s word. That was the dream, anyhow.

He shakes his head and frowns. He is thinking of the Arch as it now appears: covered with gang graffiti. The graffiti goes nearly to the top. Even the police have no idea how the gangs get in so quickly and are able to gain traction that high on both sections.

The city might have posted stakeouts to catch them in the act, but the vandalism would only come back again and neither the local government nor the National Parks Service had the money to keep up with “cosmetic” issues: there were life and death matters to address.

So, in Edelbach’s eyes, this beautiful and iconic mega-sculpture, that celebrates the expansion of civilization, has come to symbolize the expansion of anarchy.

He suddenly awakens from his reverie with a shock and a sick feeling in his stomach. Directly ahead is a roadblock.

End of Chapter One.
Keep that dial where it is. More to follow.

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