He was stockpiling weapons in case he had to go to war. Divine Fury. Chapter 17

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Chapter 17

Steve Walberg parked his black Blazer at the bottom of the hill and walked up the long driveway toward his sister’s house.  The weather had finally turned the corner to a warm Rocky Mountain spring and she was planting flowers along the side of the curved strip of asphalt.  She had on hiking boots, jeans over her long legs and a dark blue fleece shirt.

“Hi, Judith,” he said as she took off her gardening gloves, stuck a trowel in the ground and stood up to hug her brother.

“Hey, Stevie,” she said.  “Thanks for coming by.  Let’s go inside.  I’ll make some tea.”

It was a modest ranch-style house with three bedrooms, two acres and a view of the mountains.  She and her husband had stretched their finances to buy it and had needed her modest inheritance for the down payment.  They were only a 10-minute drive from the center of Bliss but with a town its size, it only took half that time to feel you were out in the country.

Seated at the kitchen table with placemats illustrated with bright yellow sunflowers, they  took their first sips of steaming English Breakfast tea with sugar and milk.  Her brother had thanked her perfunctorily but he hadn’t smiled in the ten minutes since Judith had seen him park his car below the house.

It had been that way since his return home seven years earlier.  He’d always been smart but shy, not somebody who gathered many friends or socialized much.  But within the family, Steve had always seemed comfortable and happy.  Playful.  Quick to laugh.  Even teasing his mother and sister who was his senior by two years.

Now, there was just the two of them.  Their parents had both died while Steve was in the army.  They had left their house to the two of them, although Steve was living there now.  They should have sold it after their parents died but hadn’t been able to sever yet another link with their childhoods.

Judith had seen no sign of the playful Steve since his return from the army.  He seemed withdrawn, emotionally flat except for the occasional angry outburst that could turn into a five-minute-long tirade before he fell back into a sullen silence.

“Molly tells me you have a lot of guns in the house,” Judith began, relieved to put on the table the reason she had asked Steve to the house.  “What’s that all about?”

Walberg shrugged, swallowed some tea, put it down and wiped his mouth with his sleeve.

“You know I’ve always liked guns,” he said.  “Dad had a couple of hunting rifles in the house.  I’ve been taking care of those.  I got a couple more at the gun shows.”

“What for, Stevie?”  she said.  “Are you planning on hunting?  Are you target shooting?  Killing rabbits?  What?”

“This is gun country,” he said.  “You don’t need a reason.  They’re just nice to have.  But they’re an insurance policy, too.  That’s how I think of it.”

“Insurance?” she said.  “Insurance against what?”

“Well, lots of things,” he said.  “Mostly the government.  I mean, look at some of the things they’ve done.  Ruby Ridge.  Other places.  I mean, they’ll execute you for stuff like not paying taxes or owning guns.  What about our Second Amendment rights?”

“Stevie!  What kind of crazy shit are you talking about!” she said.  She was trying hard not to yell.  “Are you going to war with the government?  With the country?  With the U.S. Army?”

“The U.S. Army?  The fucking U.S. Army?”  he said slowly, spitting out the words.  “Do you know what they did to us?  They let us die like dogs!  I don’t owe them anything!  They owe me big time!  Big fucking time!”

Judith shook her head in exasperation.

“I’m not going to argue with you about this,” she said.  “But you can’t take the kids anymore.  Not if you’re stockpiling weapons over there.  I’m not going to let them be around that.  You’re always welcome here, you know.  You can visit here.  They always like to see you.”

“Okay,” he said.  “They’re your kids.  Do what you have to do.”

The short tirade was over.  The mask was back on.  As she watched her brother put on his jacket as he got ready to leave her house, Judith felt as if she were watching a stranger.

Chapters of the serial are published Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday.

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