Regulator Bob rolled south down 285 into the heart of the familiar vast expanse called South Park. Aa high mountain plain stretching north to south at the eastern base of the continental divide South park is around seventy miles in length and forty miles wide. In truth, South Park is a high mountain desert, but due to the wonders of irrigation, cattle ranching has flourished here. It’s not all that much to look at when compared to the interior mountains of Colorado, but it has its own beauty. High snow-covered peaks surround the sweeping barren pains. Another one of its virtues is not many people find it an attractive destination. Mainly it’s a pass-through—an expanse to blast across with lots of space and few people. That little fact made it perfect for the Alfson family and others like them. People who live in The Park like their elbow room and aloneness. Leaving each other be is an unwritten law around these parts.
About fifteen miles south of Fairplay, Bob’s blood pressure started to rise as the intersection with Alfson Road approached. Alfson 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 on to the dirt road and into the nothingness of flat ranch land. The road had no distinctive markings. No gate. Just a rusted out no trespassing sign. Bob loved that turn and always pushed the speed at which he took it. It felt as comfortable and predictable as rolling over in bed, and it was where the fun started. The dirt ranch road continued on straight for about 3 miles heading south-east. Slightly undulating and with few potholes. Being late spring, the road was clear with some small banks of rotting snow at the edges. The dirt was well packed, and he could open up the WRX and trust the tire’s grip. 85 MPH was just about right for a bit of air on the cattle guard ramps. At three miles, there was a fork. Going left headed back up to the northeast, across a series of rolling hills up to Mexican Ridge. The other due east across 9 and into the family ranch surrounding Bald Hill.
Bob came into the fork hot. Blasting down through the gears and using the breaks to turn. The car heaved and went into a drift as he feathered the break along with the gas. He could feel the extra weight in the cargo box pulling at the top of the car. He Dropped the front left wheel into the roll-off on the edge of the road. Feeling the tire hook in, he lifted off the brake and jumped on the throttle. The WRX whipped forward, straightening out the back end and bolting to the northeast.
The old woman would be waiting at the top of Mexican Ridge. The only reason she would not leave if he were late was that she could see him coming up the windy road from the valley floor. He moved through the turns with precision adjustments, keeping the back end in a perfect drift. Soon The Regulator slid into the small pullout at the top of the ridge, and a cloud of dust followed. Man, I love that road, he thought to himself. Once the wind had cleared the dust, he saw a stern-looking woman standing tall next to an old jacked-up Ford truck. A double-barreled shotgun slung over her right shoulder, and 44 caliber revolver belted at her waist. A dirty white cowboy hat was pulled down tight to her squinting eyes. Long blonde brads fell from the hat past her shoulders. She had the crows feet of a woman set to long days in the mountain sun, 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 signed and reached for the door handle. Pulling himself out of the car and folded his arms 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, a big bloodhound started baying, obviously happy to see Bob. Then the pig lifted his head and started in with a round of snorts, trying to imitate his partner in crime. The two made an odd and remarkable sight.
“I guess that answers that,” said Bob with a genuine broad smile. He closed the door and moved cautiously toward the stoic woman. The dog and the pig started up again, but a quick glance from the woman quieted them down. As she turned back to Bob, her hard-lined face softened. Her piercing pale blue eyes welcomed him with an understanding of a thousand years. Bob felt his protective layers start to melt away. The tension of the morning’s problem solving and the past week released 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. The distractions of all the doing, posturing, betrayal, and loss, were washed away. Then something inside him broke as he buried his head in the woman’s shoulder. It all needed to come out, and there would no other perfect time than now. Now and only now could he let himself feel like just another young man – just another poor son, who had just lost his father. Bob fully surrender to the loss. He let that one emotion, the one he could never afford to acknowledge, come forth to be recognized. In these arms, on this land, was the only safe place Bob could be, vulnerable. So he let the fear and sadness come.
After a few minutes, she spoke. “Your father was the most amazingly gifted and mischievous soul to ever walk in this world.”
Then as quickly as the emotions had come, the calm of The Regulator returned. He pulled back and, though slightly blurry eyes, looked once more upon the strongest person he knew. “Yes, in this world and the next,” he said.
Bob’s mother’s full name was Bridget Malcolm Alfson, most knew her as Mom. Bridget was the overseeing matriarch of the family, even though technically she was dead.
During his father Reynor’s ascension to clan leader, there was a bid against him form other family members. Both vicious and cunning Bridget did all she could to secure her husband’s hold on his Colorado family business. She solved many a problem for Reynor, but her efforts and loyalty backfired in the end. When all the dust settled, she had established herself as a ruthless and dominating figure. Many started to look more favorably upon Bridget than Reynor, to run the family.
What most hadn’t seen was that Bridget was little more than just the muscle. Reynor was the master manipulator pulling all the strings from the shadows. But, the voices for Bridget started to become too loud. She soon came to see this was a distraction that was seeding division at a time when unity was sorely needed. For Reynor to rule outright and save the clan, she would have to go.
The problem was, people don’t merely walk away from situations like these. The history is too long, the web is too deep, and the secrets are too many. No matter how loyal a person may be, having them outside the family’s control would be all too dangerous. The problem was, Reynor and Bridget relied upon each other for so much. The two were a team, and their partnership was true. So, they schemed a plan to get Bridget out of the way, but retain there working relationship.
With help from a few trustworthy friends, they “killed,” Bridget. To be more specific, they faked her death. The plan was perpetrated so well by Reynor that no one has suspected a thing for decades. Not but a select few knew of the plot, not even their three and five-year-old children. This death did not free her from the family. It just made it easier for her to work from the shadows. One might think this as a cruel deed to lay upon such young children, but Reynor and Bridget saw the long game. They understood that keeping the clan whole and in productive operation was the most important thing for everyone.
The South Park valley is were the clan families held their second homes. The homesteads and ranches were always considered neutral lands. No family or clan business could take place there. The code was established generations ago when the first clan members migrated to this then wild country.
Her death was staged somewhere in the late seventies. At that time, the South Park area of Colorado was sparsely populated, as were many mountain areas of Colorado. Social deviants, Including fugitives, Drug smugglers, bank robbers, and the like, could ostensibly disappear from the real world into these communities. A few even becoming so comfortable in their longtime anonymity, that they served on town councils and ran respectable businesses. Mom would become the overseer of the Alfson land. She was living and working from the shadows of the hills. A bit of plastic surgery helped along in the deception and disguise. And, a life of seclusion in the hills west of South Park suited her.
She was raised in the secluded mountain town of Crested Butte, where she thrived in the rugged high country wilderness. She was not much of a city girl and that is just where she would have lived with Reynor. Still, to leave her immediate family behind for the sake of the clan took a strength not possessed by many. A strength, some say, reserved only for the gods. So, Mom watched over her children from afar and consulted her husband until the time they could be 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, and 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 of the middle world.”
“Better than nothing, but far short of a good sword.” mom mused in cold regard. “Fuckin’ bastards didn’t even have the courtesy of killing him right. The gods will not be happy.”
Bob always tussled with the mythological beliefs of his family and the clans. On the one hand, he understood the history and the overarching governance it brought to the organization, but the belief part was where he struggled. All clan members are raised understanding that our fates are not our own. The wistfulness of the gods and the three Norns are what truly control our futures. In the end, we are but entertainment for the gods. Bob has always wanted to believe it all, but his rational brain has boundaries. He liked the idea of a spirit world, but he also liked facts, and the fact remained he had no proof of such a place. One comforting belief was that once they died, and they were considered worthy, 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 mill with a few clips. Bob always carried a few tactical knifes with him, just in case. He figured it couldn’t hurt. This act was an excellent example of his belief in the face of skepticism.
Bob’s extensive study of religion and tribal beliefs found that almost all fo them make some claim of an afterlife. Thousands of years of human imagined organized religious doctrines made one thing very clear; we are terrified of death. Bob’s struggled with all the mythology, and the afterlife was real, but it was an ingrained part of the clan. Plus, Belief in these kinds of myths helps 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 entirely buying into it all. This was most likely the reason he pondered so profoundly on the details of death. Ironically, Bob’s questioning and miss trust of an afterlife left him with a healthy fear of death. Fear of death is not a common trait for most in his line of work. It was most likely the reason he had survived so long, performing a highly dangerous 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 there stones, bones, and sticks. They would watch the birds fly, and the winds blow. They would then make their predictions of the prosperity or trouble to befall the family. Reynor always had Bob in tow while consulting the shamans, and he would quietly explaining all the rituals and their meanings. Reynor would also warn of the despair that would befall them if they fell out of favor. Reynor would inform Bob that they provided a service far more critical than their day to day criminal activity. Best not to anger the gods or give them any bad ideas. The shamans have seen the signs, Reynor would say. Thor favors you, young Bob. Your power will be great and respected. Bob would often think of ‘What a weird way to raise a kid. Telling him, he is favored by the god of thunder and fertility.’
Bob often wondered precisely just what this meant. Would Thor hang out with him in Valhalla when he died? Was Thor watching him right now? But, Bob grew up and eventually found his own peace with Thor, his talents, and the spirit world. He ultimately opted to trust but verify. He played along with the rituals and the ceremonies, but he would search for any proof to back it up. Or, truth to dispel it all. This tactic would be crucial in navigating his role as The Regulator. As for Reynor, the Family, and the clan, they knew just what to do with such a foreseen power, and they took every step to utilize it fully.
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. 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. No Fuckin’ respect. Piss ant amateurs.” The Regulator’s eyes turned black as he lifted his gaze to Mom.
“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 now.”
“Yeah, I know. I know they are forcing my hand into properly avenge his death.” Bob knew without his acts of revenge, Reynor would never reach the halls of Valhalla. He would wander the deserted valley of the middle world forever. Bob looked directly up at the cold spring sun. “That is why I took dad’s shoes and silver eyes before he was sent to the stars upon the funeral pyre. Figured I might as well let the shit heads know the games have begun. They were there. I could feel them. I am not fully sure who it was, but they were there.” Anger was building in him again. He pointed with 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. It made Bob’s own anger seem childish and soft. Her eyes clouded over black like Bob’s as Naag and Noresh stirred uncomfortably in the bed of the truck. Seldom would she show emotion, but often it emanated from her. In another day and age, she would have stood shoulder to shoulder with men in a shield wall.
The Regulator stood up a bit taller, and his eyes narrowed against the sun. “Yep.” It was a short answer, but it sounded like the first word in the writing of a long-awaited story. His eyes turned back to their piercing blue.
“This is a good start, my son. It is a good death.” Bridgets eyes also lightened, and the anger subsided as quickly as it had come.
“It wasn’t too soon?” Bob pondered.
Mom’s anger was not entirely gone, and her words came swift and hard. “No! A good death if there ever was one.”
Bridget reintroduced herself back into Bob’s life in his early twenties just after he graduated from college. Bob had started working on his appointed role within the family. It was not long after that he started solving a large number of problems. One of the products of solving problems is the remnants. Mom had a special knack for dealing with these remnants. As the shaman had predicted, he was very proficient and powerful at his job. Bridget and Reynor figured it was time to have her back in the mix.
The discovery of his mother being alive ll these years came as a slight surprise. Bob always felt like his mother was still with him. Not in a spiritual way but as in physically close. He had sensed her over the years. Bob had never mentioned his feelings about this to anyone. Not even his sister, who was quite close to him before she disappeared. He had an inner sense that if he talked about it, she would disappear altogether.
Bridget’s adult relationship with Bob was an odd mix of business consultant and motherly insight. She often gave her son vital insight into the workings of the family business. Being on the outside, she could see things for what they really were and what they were not. Bridget also had a healthy respect for Bob’s talents. She seldom gave him advice on how to solve any problem unless directly asked. Bob respected her opinions and trusted her judgment, but he had a nagging feeling she was holding back something. There was a limit to what she would share about the family. If he pushed, she would just smile and say, “That is for another time.”
Typically she went about her business in a disconnected and studious manner. Taking care of the problem in a rapid and orderly fashion, but this time would be different. The Sheriff was Reynor’s younger brother. Mom never trusted much less loved him. His real name was Uren, but he was given the nickname, Sheriff, as a young age. In his childhood, he was almost always seen wearing a cowboy hat, a badge, and a six-shooter cap gun pistol at his side. This was just the dress up part, though. Uren 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, or further his position. The only justice he was trying to serve was for himself. Despite his constant annoyance from his younger 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 a long time.
The Sheriff ran small parts of the business but never anything too complicated. He never ran anything that gave him access to high-level information. That is, until recently. He had been given a job to help secure the transport of some priceless historical items. To do this, he had access to almost every detail of the shipment and its benefactors. The benefactors had asked Reynor to transport the goods personally. This was not something Reynor did – Not for anyone. He never had a personal touch in any of the individual operations. This kept him at a safe distance and that much more inculpable. He offered to have his faithful brother handle transactions and transportation. Giving this job to The Sherief 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. Sone if this was true. Reynor was a spiritual and emotional man, but he knew his job and went about it in stealth. 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 trickster god Loki. Reynor was more apt to outsmart someone than run him over with force.
The Sheriff was never entirely happy with his role, but he silently bided his time. Always believing Reynor was bound to miss calculate 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. He leveraged his knowledge with some other power-hungry clan members. The Sherief might have been a lib lazy and self-absorbed, but he was very alert. He knew who was disenfranchised and unhappy in the clan. He knew who thought themselves to be in a position beneath their stature. So, the information flowed from him like the water from a mountain stream. He thought of himself as the logical air apparent once his brother was forced to step down. There was one slight problem. The Sherief thought of himself as smart, but he aligned himself with people who were actually smart. Much smarter than him. So, once he had revieled his precious information, his usefulness was over. Unceremoniously pushed aside, he found himself alone, and soon, his only alley in the world, Reynor, was murdered. His allies made sure all the evidence pointed to him. He tried to hide, but hiding from shadows is fruitless.
The Regulator was not a man to seek power but was altogether pure power. He moved through the world with a complete force of will. Many thought he was just a ghost and not truly from this world. Being favored by the gods, he could seemly move from the real world to the shadow world at a 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 around him? Despite his calm exterior, he thrived in the wraths of battle and conflict – This was when he came to life, . One would say he welcomed the presence of death, and death was comfortable around Bob. So it was not long before death came to find his Uncle.
“Killing Family is not an easy task, boy.” 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 couldn’t waste time such an insignificant shit head with all the things to put together for the funeral pyre and researching why Dad was killed. It sure didn’t take much convincing. The Girls seemed all too happy to help.”
“Oh, I’m sure the Girls had no issue’s killing that man. The Sheriff was always terrible with women. There must have been a host of them he treated badly over the years.” Mom, now showing a bit of surprise, continued. “That was 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 jester from the old woman, but it holds significance. Bob, although a steadfast killer, was not considered a manager of people. Too much of a loner. He lived too much in his head and had to many interests outside the family business. His preoccupation with action sports, music, literature, and spiritual enlightenment was 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 plastic-wrapped body. Throwing up a small puff of dust as it thudded to the hard half-frozen ground. Mom leaned over the body. “The gods will not see your fire, Uren. You will not take your arms or your eyes to Helheim. This I promise.”
They loaded the body into the back of the truck. The dog and pig whimpered as they sniffed at the long lump of plastic wrap. Bob hugged his mother, letting himself be a boy again for a short second. They said their goodbyes, then drove off the mountain in opposite directions.