The Government inspectors climbed into one car, piloted by a hateful-looking State trooper, eager for a fight. He was a big fella, to boot, almost too big for the seat. The pale sedan crept forward towards the farm and the ready line of men waiting there. It was flanked by troopers, truncheons at the ready, like a somber funeral procession, like a mafia phalanx for a fallen thug, scowling for retribution. Their faces were carved in stone, spirits hardened for the inevitable battle. It was more than their duty. The law was the sovereign of these men, and they had fully taken that realm into their hearts.
The men opposing them were cousins of a different sovereign. Their king was an ambiguous notion of freedom, filtered through flawed hearts. They saw themselves as defenders to the ramparts of their individual fortresses, as if a man’s freedom could adequately be negotiated against the community’s. The lawmen were alternately enemy and ally. In moments such as this, when the law waved the enemy banner, it was impossible to see that it was the law that maintained peace when the ramparts encroached upon their neighbor’s freedom.
They met in the road, pausing for a moment, crushing the air between them so that it was explosive and alive. It was inevitable, the battle, and as brutal and calamitous as promised. On cue, as if it had all been choreographed, truncheons rose in the heated air on the lawman’s side. This, this was the moment where law and liberty could not be reconciled, and could be defined only in violence and blood.
Clubs met fists and pikes and two-by-fours. Men cried and fell and bled as the tempo of battle rose. For some it was over all too quickly. They fell or leaned in the grass and dirty and the spit, dazed and bloodied and exhausted despite their cause. Around them the battle rose to its pitched conclusion.
At first numbers and determination favored the famers. Still the lawmen pressed forward, driving their adversaries steadily back across the ditch, leaving the bloodied and defeated scattered on the ground. The battle spilled into the yard where it degraded into individual grudges.
C.W. was in the thick of the fight. Struggling against neighbors and old friends, he found the whole mess utterly obscene and decided it was enough. Seizing Stan Pickett by the collar, C.W. shook him hard, hoping to wrestle enough sense that together they might stop all this. For a moment he truly believed it was in the power of a single man to stop the fight by no more than strength of will and character. When an axe handle came down upon the crown of his head all reason disappeared in a cold white flash of pain and gushing blood.
The sound of solid wood meeting skull momentarily stopped the fight. It sounded like a gunshot, and might have brought down a lesser man. Instead it set C.W. on fire with anger. Pouring blood down the front of his body, C.W. tore the two sides apart, with the ease of an autumn twister smashing a path through tall harvest corn. Opening his arms wide, as though he might embrace the troopers in those massive arms, C.W. herded them back to the ditch, all the while shouting at the farmers to retreat.
On both sides the injured and bruised gathered themselves up and rejoined their ranks. It created a sudden vacuum the sheriff was quick to seize upon. C.W. went across, straight to Stan.
Avery Lysander, sporting a busted lip, pushed his way through the line and strode right up to Stan Pickett. The men closed ranks quickly behind Stan. Avery Lysander pushed his way forward, standing beside Stan.
“Your boys had enough, C.W?” said Avery, fighting to catch his breath.
“Pipe down, Avery,” said Stan, sympathetic to the wounded man before him. “Ain’t suppose to be how neighbors settle things, C.W.”
“Then put an end to this, Stan,” said C.W. “No point in seeing anyone else get hurt.”
“Afraid I can’t. I’ve got to stand my ground and defend my family. It’s all I got, and I think those government friends of yours aim to rob me of what little I got left, and I just can’t stand for that, C.W!”
C.W. looked at him a good long time, trying to figure another way. Stan, Avery and the others had dug in their heels, and there was no other path but the hard one. He turned and rejoined the troopers. The moment he reached them they started forward in a line towards the seething anxious mob opposite. This time Avery was out front.
“Send ’em to hell boys!” he cried, before the end of a police club caught him in the gut and then across the shoulders.
The troopers now enveloped the farmers like a glove. Stan Pickett led them forward in a charge at the center of the police line, but it was a trap. The line curled around, forming an unbroken circle. One by one the farmers were hauled from that circle to a spot where they were forced to sit at the point of a gun. It was all over in less than three minutes.
“Sit still, boys. Sure would hate to pull this here trigger,” callously cautioned one of the troopers, holding a twelve gauge on the men. It was loaded with salt pellets and not lethal buckshot, unknown to the momentarily defeated farmers…