Regulator Bob moved south down 285 into the heart of the great wide expanse called South Park. South Park is a high mountain plain stretching north to south just east of the Continental Divide, 70 miles in length and some 40 miles wide. South Park in truth is a high mountain desert that has been irrigated to accommodate a large ranching industry. It’s not all that much to look at when compared to the interior mountains of Colorado, but it has its own beauty. Sweeping barren plains surrounded by high peaks that can hold snow year round. Another beauty is that few people find it a serious destination. Mainly it’s a pass through. An expanse to blast across on the way to something better. That little fact made it perfect for the Johnson family and others like them. Lots of space and not many people. For the most part, people who live in the Park like their elbow room and aloneness. Leaving each other be is an unwritten law around there.
About 15 miles south of Fairplay, Bob’s blood pressure started to rise as the intersection with Johnson road approached. Johnson road intersected at a slight angle to 285 and at 75 mph he drifted across the oncoming lane and dropped from the asphalt to dirt. Testing the resolve of the car’s suspension, he pushed fast into the nothingness of flat ranch land. The road had no special markings. No gate. Just a rusted out “No Trespassing” sign. Bob loved that turn. It felt as comfortable and predictable as rolling over in bed. Just as secure, too. This was where the fun began. The dirt ranch road continued on straight for about 3 miles heading south-east. Slightly undulating and with few potholes. Being late spring there were still small banks of rotted out snow but the road was clear and the dirt well-packed. He could open up the WRX and trust the tires’ grip. 85 MPH was just about right for a bit of air on the cattle guard ramps. At about 3 miles there was a split. One road headed northeast up across 9 and up to Mexican Ridge. The other due east also across 9 and into the family ranch surrounding Bald Hill.
Bob came into the fork fast. Blasting down through the gears and using the breaks to turn. The car heaved and went into a drift as he maneuvered left. Dropping the front left wheel into the roll off on the edge of the road. He felt it hook in. Foot off the break and on to the throttle. The WRX whipped forward straightening out and bolting to the northeast. She would be waiting at Mexican Ridge. The Regulator slid into the small turnoff at the top of the ridge. A cloud of dust followed. Man, I love that road he thought to himself. A stern looking woman stood tall next to an old jacked up Ford truck. A double-barreled shotgun slung over her right shoulder. A 44 caliber revolver at her waist. Cowboy hat pulled down tight to her squinting eyes. She had the crows’ feet of a woman set to long sunny days in the mountains, but that couldn’t hide her stunning beauty. A tall, slender woman holding brutal strength and generations of honor. Bob sat for a second staring at her; she stared back.
Bob pulled himself out of the car and stood, arms folded, leaning on the top of the door. He half smiled then nodded to the bed of the truck. “I forget which it is. Does the dog think he is a pig or does the pig think he is a dog?”
Just then Loki, a big blood hound started baying, obviously happy to see Bob. The pig then started in with a round of snorts. Lifting his head to imitate his unlikely partner. The two made an odd and remarkable sight.
“Well I guess that answers that,” said Bob. Now fully smiling. He closed the door and moved cautiously toward the stoic woman. The dog and the pig started up again but with a quick glance from the old woman they quieted down. As she turned back to Bob her face was now soft and framing her piercing pale blue eyes. Eyes filled with the understanding of a thousand years. Bob felt himself begin to soften. The tension of the morning, the past few days releasing from his muscles, bones, and nerves. He stopped a few steps from her, eyes on eyes they talked without words. After a long moment, she nodded and set her shotgun on the hood of the truck.
She opened her arms and Bob moved forward to embrace his mother. Her infinite smell of lavender and freshly tilled soil filled his nose as he took one deep breath and then another. She said, “Hello son.” The crushing severity of the past seventy-two hours rushed over him like an ocean wave. Drenched in all the doing, posturing, treachery and massive loss, he broke. He sobbed and buried his head in the old woman’s shoulder. It all needed to come out finally. It was imperative for him to feel like just another young man. Just another poor son, who had just lost his father. To fully surrender to the loss, the emptiness and the fear. To let that one emotion, the one he could not afford, to set in for just a second. In these arms, on this land, was the only safe place he could be, vulnerable.
After a few minutes, she spoke. “He was the most amazingly misguided saint to ever walk in this world.”
Then as quickly as the emotions had come the calm of the Regulator returned. He pulled back and through slightly blurry eyes looked once more upon the strongest person he knew. “Yes, in this world and the next,” he said.
Mom, as most knew her, is Bob’s mother. She is, from an odd angle, the overseeing matriarch of the family. Her real name is Bridget- Bridget Malcolm Johnson. Although she was technically dead, her influence was always close. She realized long ago; she was not cut out to simply stand by her husband’s side when the family was trusted to his keep. Both vicious and cunning she did all she could to secure her husband’s hold on his Colorado family business. When all the posturing was done and the problems solved she had become a dominating soul to deal with. Most looked to her as a better candidate to run the family, rather than Bob’s father, Reynor. She soon came to see this sentiment her self and knew that for Reynor to rule she would have to go, or at least be hidden from the picture. The problem is people don’t simply leave situations like these. You don’t just walk away. The history is too long, the web is too deep, and the secrets are too many. The whole of all that matters is held together by these things. Having a knowledgeable soul outside of the family’s control is much too dangerous. No matter how loyal that soul may be. So, with help from her husband she was “killed”. A fake death that was even faked upon her own children, 3 and 5 at the time. This death did not fully free her from the family, though.
The South Park lands were what the family called their second home and had always been neutral. A place where no family or clan business could take place. This was a code established many years ago and it stands true today. Her death was staged somewhere in the late seventies. At that time the South Park area of Colorado was sparsely populated where one could ostensibly disappear. Many Colorado Mountain towns became easy hide outs for fugitives. Drug smugglers, bank robbers and the like. Some stayed for decades. There are actually a few, becoming so comfortable in their longtime anonymity, that they served on town councils. Mom would become the overseer of the Johnson land. Living and working from the shadows of the hills. A bit of plastic surgery helped along in her disguise. A life of seclusion in the hills suited the woman. Raised in the high mountain town of Crested Butte, she thrived in the wilderness. She was not much of a city girl and that is just where she would have lived with Reynor. This land was safe and perfectly suited for Mom. Still, to leave behind her family for the sake of her family took a strength not many possess. A strength, some say, reserved only for the gods. She watched over her children from afar until the time they could be brought back together again.
“I saw the funeral pyre from across the valley. A proper send-off it seemed,” said Mom.
“Yeah, it was a good fire. One the gods were sure to see, but he will not have an easy go on the other side.” Her eyes widened. Bob stared a hole in the ground, “He will be barefoot and without silver. At least he died with a gun in his hand, but I am not sure what good that will do on the high deserted plains.”
“Better than nothing but far short of a good sword,” mom mused in cold regard.
Bob always tussled with the strong mythological beliefs of the family and the clans. On the one hand, he understood the history and the governance it brought to the organization, but the belief part was where he struggled. Raised on the myths and fables of the old gods, the true gods. Raised to understand that our fates aren’t our own and that the wistfulness of the gods and the three Norns are what truly control our futures. Bob wants to believe this all, but he has his boundaries. As a family warrior one was always comforted knowing that if they died, they would spend eternity drinking and battling in the halls of Valhalla. They also believed that you take with you the weapons you hold upon your death. A sword or knife would be much more prized and practical than a 9 mm with a few clips. Belief in these kinds of myths can help dismiss the inherent dangers of their organized crime life. The problem lies in the fact that Bob and his generation grew up in a starkly different modern world than just the generation before them. The access to so much information made fairy tales less palpable to the mind. Mixed with his naturally curious and questioning nature, Bob had a hard time fully buying into it all. This was probably why he pondered so deeply the details of death. This questioning and mistrust also left him with a healthy fear of death. Something that most in his line of work don’t have. Most likely why he has lived so long, performing such a perilous job, with very few scares to show for it.
Growing up, his father would go on about the gods and their favor for Bob. Their favor on the family and what that favor meant to their success. The shamans would roll out their stones and bones and sticks. They would watch the birds fly and the winds blow. Then make predictions of the prosperity or trouble to befall the family. Reynor always had Bob in tow, quietly explaining all the rituals’ meanings. Reynor would also warn of the despair that would befall them if they fell out of favor. This part was seldom talked of out of superstition. Best not to anger the gods or give them any bad ideas. “The shamans have seen the signs,” Reynor would say. “You are to be powerful and respected,” he would say. “You are favored by Thor,” young Bob. Kind of a weird way to raise a child, Bob thinks. Telling him, he is favored by the god Thor. The God of thunder and fertility. A mighty and fearless warrior. Bob often wondered exactly just what this meant. Would Thor hang out with him in Valhalla when he died? Was Thor watching him right now? No, Bob would grow up and eventually find his own peace with Thor. A peace he would need in order to handle his ultimate role. As for Reynor, the Family, and the Clan- they knew just what to do with such a foreseen power.
Bob was stern now. “It was a dishonorable death. The only reason the gun was in his hand was that he sleeps with it under his pillow. He slept with one hand on it. Didn’t do him much good, did it? Four of them stormed in with full automatic sixteens. ” His voice trailed off and he stared at the dirt, even harder. Resolve built in him. “It was all so brutal and blunt and had no originality. No finesse! At least take some time to come up with something memorable for the old man’s final battle. Fuckin, no respect, piss-ant amateurs.”
“And now it is time for you to set it all right my son. You do realize the fate of your father’s afterlife depends on you?” Her voice was low and vicious now. “I know you don’t like it, but that is the way it is. This is your burden.”
“Yeah, I know. I know they are forcing my hand into properly avenging his death.” Bob knew without his acts of revenge his father would never reach the halls of Valhalla. Wandering the deserted valley forever. Bob looked up at the cool spring sun. “That is why I took dad’s shoes and silver eyes before he was burned. Figured I might as well let the shit heads know, “the games have begun.” Regulator raised his head and pointed his thumb back over his shoulder. The first step in solving this mess is in my rocket box.”
Mom nodded in approval. “The sheriff?” a bit of vengefulness in her voice, a rare show of emotion. Bob could feel the power of this tall, strong warrior mountain woman. Strength and pure hate were radiating off of her now. Loki and Noresh started to uncomfortably stir in the bed of the truck. Seldom would she show emotion but often it emanated from her. She would have stood in a shield wall to do battle in another time.
Regulator stood up a bit taller and his eyes narrowed against the sun. “Yep.” It was a short answer but said like the first word in the writing of a long-awaited story.
“This is a good start my son, a good death.”
“Not too soon?”
“Nah, it was expected.”
Mom was fully boiling inside. A good death if there ever was one she just kept saying to herself. She was reintroduced back into Bob’s life in his early twenties. This became a necessity once he graduated college and started working his destiny with the family. See, Mom had a special knack for dealing with the remnants of solved problems. Bob was producing a large number of remnants. As the shaman had predicted he was very proficient at his job. Mom was called on to help. She typically went about her duties in a studious manner. This time would be different.
The Sheriff was Reynor’s younger brother and was never one to be trusted. Never loved by Mom. He was given the nickname, Sheriff, as a child. He could always be found wearing a cowboy hat and a badge. A six-shooter cap gun pistol at his side. This was just the dress up part though. The Sheriff really did think of himself as a crusader of justice. In reality, he was just a snitch. Always telling on the other kids, mainly to save his own skin. The only justice he was trying to serve was for himself. Despite his constant defiance of his older brother, Reynor still loved him and kept him close. Maybe too close, Mom always thought. Reynor figured he was better kept where he could keep an eye on him. It was an odd relationship, but it worked for quite some time. The Sheriff ran small parts of the business but never anything too complicated. He definitely never ran anything that gave him access to high-level operational information. That is, until recently. He had been given a job to help secure the transport of some historical priceless items. To do this he would have access to almost every detail of the shipment and its benefactors. The benefactors having asked Reynor personally to help them transport the goods. This was a gamble for Reynor, but he figured after 30 years of seemingly faithful service his brother could now take on something bigger. It also kept fewer people in the family out of the loop. Reynor figured this would be a good thing.
The Sheriff resented his brother’s rise to power. Thinking Reynor was too sensitive. Too much of a free spirit. True, Reynor was a spiritual and emotional man, but he knew his job and went about it stealthily. After all, Reynor’s father knew he would be better at the job than his self-centered brother. Meaning he was let in on the inner working of the family at a young age. Reynor was favored by the god Loki. The trickster god. Reynor was more apt to outsmart someone than run him over with force. The Sheriff was never fully happy with his role, but he silently bided his time. Always believing Reynor was bound to miscalculate someday and he would be there to step in. Now that time had come. The Sheriff was now in a place of leverage and he had information. Information that if attained by conflicting powers could put his brother in a compromising position. Information that made the sheriff drunk with grand ideas of himself in a higher place. So, the information flowed from him like the water from a mountain stream. It was information that would find his brother dead and as he saw it, him as the natural successor to the family head. He would have the support of the Hansen’s. Now being the beneficiaries of the lost shipment, wouldn’t they back his ascension? But, the Sheriff was not a smart man and could not see farther than his reach. Delusion had set his mind wrong. The excitement to further his own lusts forced him into some miscalculations. One major miscalculation was the Regulator. The Regulator was not a man to seek power but was altogether pure power, pure will. He was a ghost. Thor favored him with the seeming ability to move from the real world to the shadow world at whim. He was protected by the gods if not actually being one of them. A power they said he got from his mother. How else could you explain his ability to avoid death even when it was swarming all around him? In the wraths of battle and conflict, he came to life, despite his calm exterior. One would say he thrived in the presence of death. Welcoming it. Death was comfortable around Bob and soon death came to find his uncle.
“Killing family is not an easy task, my son.” Mom had a quizzical eye on him.” Was this your hand?”
“Nope,” Bob said in a dismissive tone. “The Girls. They were in position so it made sense. I had too many things to put together for the funeral pyre to waste time on him. It sure didn’t take much convincing. They seemed all too happy to help.”
“Oh, I’m sure the Girls had no issue killing that man. The Sheriff always had a terrible way with women.” Mom, now showing a bit of surprise, continued. “Those were prudent management skills, son. You might be able to run this family after all.”
Bob smiled a bit, feeling a weird sense of pride knowing his Mother thought he had acted prudently. A small jest from the old woman but it held significance. Bob, although a steadfast killer, was not considered a manager of people. Too much of a loner. Too much in his head with other interests outside the family business. His preoccupation with action sports, music, literature, and spiritual enlightenment were all seen as unnecessary distractions. The clan elders wanted loyalty and as far as they were concerned, extracurricular activities just got in the way. They opened the rocket box and pulled out the body wrapped in plastic wrap and duct tape. It thudded to the hard half-frozen ground and threw up a small puff of dust.
The old lady leaned over the body. “The gods will not see your fire, Uren. You will not go to the afterlife with your arms or your eyes. This I promise.”
They loaded the body into the back of the truck, said their goodbyes and drove off the mountain in opposite directions.