Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Installment 6.11: A bottle of wine


Grapes and wine are central to wide swaths of the Cali agricultural community.  It is the second largest cash crop in Cali.

Chad was no stranger to wine.  Chad enjoyed a good bottle of wine, an itch he rarely had time to scratch since the start of hostilities.  That was going to change tonight.

The bottle in front of him was a 2 liter “pop” bottle filled inky-black, red wine.  It had been a gift from one of the locals.

The local informed him that it was a 60/40 blend of Carignan and Cinsaut.  The vines were at least fifty years old and had been grafted on Kober 5BB.  Bona-Brown’s Ag Department had ruthlessly rooting out vines that did not produce wines that serviced the export market.  These vines had escaped the axe by virtue of invisibility.  They were part of the landscaping of one of the local, historical haciendas.

The wine had been aged three years in the bottle.

The wine was of a class called “rustic” by wine snobs.  It was fraught with a multitude of minor technical flaws.  It had a slightly raisiny aftertaste due to being aged in the plastic bottle.  The blend had a decent tannin profile but very little “varietal” distinction. 

The enologist (scientific winemaker) errored when he attempted to stretch his starter culture a little too far; the Montrachet had either mutated or been contaminated with wild yeasts…or perhaps the local strains of wild yeast had become resistant to the sulfides used to purge the must.  Regardless, the wine was riddled with fusel oils and odd ester nose.  That flaw had been exacerbated when the winemaker had innoculated the "must" (crushed grapes) while they were too high of a temperature.

The most notable flaw, the warm…even “peppery” mouthfeel was considered to be more of a feature by the winemaker than a flaw.  The alcohol content was significantly north of 14.5%.  This was a wine made to provide solace to men far away from their homes and to facilitate camaraderie during cold nights on distant plains.  It was not a wine made to win medals at fairs.

Wine lovers often define wines by the food they are most naturally paired with.  The wine that had been given to Chad paired well with bologna sandwiches, french fries and boiled cabbage dinners.

One should not judge the wine maker harshly.  He was “making do” with what he had.  It was impossible to know how many times the starter culture had been passed from one amateur wine maker to the next nor was there any easy way to test the potency of the chemicals needed to sterilize the crushed grapes or stabilize the wine.

The wine was a magnificent gift because it was the best wine the local had and he offered it in generous amount.

***

Willie and Chad sat looking at the fire, letting the westerly breeze carry the smoke away from their chairs.  The fire was a small one.  It was contained in an old, steel automobile wheel.

They were drinking wine from jelly jars and sharing news from back home.

“Mardi had some dogs get into her laying flock the other day.” Chad shared.

“How many did they get?” Willie asked.

“They killed almost half of them.” Chad said. “Times are getting tough with so many men displaced.  Folks are letting their dogs run.  Maybe they are figuring the dogs can forage for some of their food.”

“How did she stop them?” Willie asked.

“She has been carrying the .22 semi-auto handgun.”  Chad said.  “She didn’t see them coming.  It has happened before.  Sometimes she can slam the gate before they get there.  Once, she kicked one in the throat.  This time it was too many, too fast.”

“So did she just shoot the gun to scare them?” Willie asked.

Chad looked sideways, over at Willie.  “Nope.  She shot some of the dogs.  They would have just come back tomorrow if she tried to scare them.  Mardi said it was a pack of big and little dogs.  She started aiming at the biggest dogs that were close to her and ran through all ten shots in the magazine.”

“Do you think she hit any of them?” Willie asked, somewhat surprised at this side of his sister-in-law.

“She does not know if she killed any of them.  She didn’t track them or anything, but she is pretty sure she got several solid body hits on at least two of them.” Chad said.  “I have seen her shoot.  I have no doubt that she put a hurtin' on several of them.  The important thing is that those dogs won’t be back.”

“You know,” Chad said, “you have a situation you need to deal with back at your camp.”

Willie’s face became of study of abject misery.  “Yeah, I know.” he said.

“I know discipline is not your thing, but it has to be done.”  Chad said.

“I know how much you hate doing it.  And I considered stepping in but decided that I cannot do that.” Chad continued.

“Why can’t you do it?” Willie asked.

“It comes down to resources.” Chad said.  “We are in the ass-crack at the end of nowhere.  There are not enough of us to run these camps even if everything was 'normal'.”

Willie nodded in agreement.

“The camps have to run themselves.  There are simply not enough of us.  That means we need to use leverage.  We need to contract out work to the prisoners themselves.” Chad said.  “It also means that if I went over and handled the discipline at your camp it would cut the balls off every other camp commander.  I would end up having to do their discipline as well.  And there simply is not enough of me.”

“The other thing is that if this gets away from us the prisoners could simply bury us the way the Angelenos buried the Cali forces in the first battle.” Chad said.  “We cannot run these camps without the support of the prisoners.  And we won’t have the support of the prisoners if we don’t stomp on the biggest trouble-makers.”

Willie and Chad pondered that for a bit, watching the fire burn down.  They drank a bit more wine.

“So what do I do?” Willie asked after a bit.

“If we had been out ahead of this we might have been able to separate them.  But we are behind the curve.  Or if we caught it when it was first happening we might have been able to kick them in the throat.  But we did not catch it due to the chaos.” Chad said.

“I am thinking that most of the folks in your Tent #14 were malingering, they were faking illness to avoid fighting.  Since they are mostly POSs (Pieces of Shit) it was not hard for the Cali force to leave them behind.”

“I think we are going to do what Mardi did, pick out a few of the big dogs and shoot them.” Chad said.

Willie leaned back in his chair.  “I…I can’t do that.  They are people, not dogs.”

Chad leaned forward.  “And they are bashing in the skulls of people.  And they are raping women…  You know that having five guys for every woman is a recipe for disaster.  We should not even try to stop the consensual sex.  But they are grabbing sick women on the way to the can to throw up or have an episode of diarrhea…and they are gang-raping them.”

“How do we know the ‘big dogs’ are raping the women.” Willie asked.  “I can’t just execute people who might be raping women.”

Chad said, “Not only ‘can’ you execute them, you ‘must’  execute them.  It is their job as leaders of their tents to KNOW what is going on.  And I guarantee you that they know to the dollar what their people are stealing and who is going out each night to rape women.  Their crime is that they are not stopping it.”

“What is the standard?  Reasonable doubt?” Willie asked.  “What does that mean?”

Chad said, “Not reasonable doubt.  We are under special circumstances and we have limited resources.  Have your trial.  Give them several chances to present evidence.  If you think it is more likely than a random flip-of-the-coin…fifty percent…that their tent will continue to commit those crimes then you must execute them.  If you think it more than fifty percent likelihood that the crimes will stop immediately…then you let them walk.”

“Why fifty percent?”  Willie asked.

“Because ‘reasonable doubt’ means different things to different people.  It might be 80% certain to one person and 99.99% certain to another.  Think about it from a measuring standpoint; it is easy to figure out if one box is heavier than another but it is very difficult expensive to weigh a 100 kilo box to the microgram.” Chad said.  “We don’t have the time or resources for 99.9% certainty and everybody intuitively understands 50%.”

The sat silently for a while and watched the fire die down into embers.

"You know," Chad began, "there is another reason for you to deal with this."

"What is that?"  Willie asked.

"Mardi tells me that we have become 'reality TV' stars."  Chad said.  "The thing about reality TV is that the characters become more real to the viewers than their next door neighbors."

"And those characters define everything most viewers 'know' about someplace.  Think about Agnes and Chip Hailstone, or Si Robertson.  They define 'Alaska' or 'Louisiana' to most people."

"The world is looking over our shoulder and every action we take is defining the new SD-LA.  We are the seed crystal and everything else will pattern after us." Chad said.

"I don't know how much you studied history," Chad said "but 90% of the people sit on the sidelines during revolutions.  Every revolution.  They hate the old government but don't have enough evidence to trust the rebels.  They don't want to jump out of the frying pan and into the fire."
 

"That is why we have to man-up, why you have to man-up, and do your job. Even if it is hard.  Hell!  We have to do it especially when it is hard.  Otherwise we will be no different than Cali...and so the sacrifices and deaths will have been pointless." Chad said.  "This is not about you.  This is about the 90% who are looking over your shoulder.  Are you going to echo Cali's failings or can you strike out and find justice for the victims...and protect potential future victims...of these predators?"

Willie went back to looking miserable.

Suddenly “Holy crap!!” Willie exclaimed.

Startled, Chad said, “What?”

“It just occurred to me that the pack of dogs has probably been pulling down and eating ‘walkers’.” Willie said.  “It is not a big step from pulling down a ‘walker’ to pulling down a single, isolated healthy person.”

“I never thought about that.  You are probably right.  ‘Walkers’ are the only big source of protein out there to hunt.  It is a good thing Mardi is so handy with that Buckmark.” Chad said.
Willie was surprised to find the wine bottle empty and was glad to have a driver to take him home.  His gait was unsteady and lurching as he walked over to the truck that was detailed to cart him home.

A sudden chill went up Chad's back as he watched Willie lurch toward the truck.  The stumbling walk of a drunk is a clear signal to predators that an easy meal was in the offing.  Willie's walk was not that much different than how Adam and Samuel walked.  Perhaps the dogs had not been targeting 'walkers' but Adam and Sam instead.

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