At two o’clock in the morning, Tansy woke Tucker to tell him that a group claiming to be the Texas Free Rangers was taking credit for the pipeline explosion.
“The Texas Free Rangers?” he repeated. “You’re sure that’s what they said?”
Tansy confirmed and Tucker lunged for his phone, dialing a number from memory.
Argus Reasonover was half drunk and dodging fists when his cell phone rang. He ducked under his adversary’s swing and shot out the bar door into the darkness.
“Tucker! How the hell are you – goddammit all to Satan’s fiery oven! No, not you Tuck, I jes got – hold on.”
Without hanging up, Gus ran pell-mell down the deserted street, sending a stray alley cat yowling up a drainpipe as the neighbor’s dog snarled madly at the end of a short rope. He shouldered his way into the only all-night establishment in that end of town and dove into the plush office of Madam Roxanne with a wink.
“Not again, Gus,” she groaned.
“Aw hell, jes’ lock the front door a moment, darling. They’ll be sweet as calves by morning. They always cool down in the face of cold sobriety and splitting hangovers,” he pointed out, kissing her roundly as she rose.
He hooked his hat on the back corner of the chair and slouched into the embroidered upholstery of the seat with a sigh of relief.
“Tuck? Y’all still there?”
“What’s going on out there, Gus?” Tucker asked in concern.
“Nothing I can’t handle. Some of the Free Rangers got a little testy this ev’ning ‘cuz I was winning the pants off them at poker. Then I won their guns and they got mad. A Texan would walk butt-naked down Main Street at high noon so long as he’s got his holster on and his gun in hand,” Gus sighed, “but take the gun away and he gets a tad insecure.”
“So, you weren’t blowing up pipelines tonight?” Tucker asked in confusion and hopeful relief.
“Pipelines? What’n the hell are you talking about?”
“Check the news, Gus,” Tucker urged and heard the television click on.
Argus Reasonover deemed himself an “undercover agent non-provocateur”. Among the widespread fans of the Dandelion Insurrection were several notable groups who wholly supported the aims of the movement, but weren’t keen on nonviolence. Among these, the Texas Free Rangers loomed larger than life: humorous, notorious, thoroughly disreputable, and ultimately loveable. Tucker considered them to be both great allies and worrisome liabilities. Years ago, they had shown up at his Kansas print shop to distribute the banned essays of the Man From the North. Tucker had called his old Texan friend Gus to find out the skinny on the Texas Free Rangers.
“Tucker, they’re about as likely to commit to nonviolence as the United States Marine Corps,” Gus had informed him. “Their idea of peaceful protest is riding their horses down to Austin and firing blanks into the air to piss off the liberals.”
“That’s hardly peaceful,” Tucker noted dryly.
“Well, nobody got hurt,” Gus explained.
“I’m surprised the police didn’t arrest them all.”
“Can’t. We’re an open carry state. They did get ticketed for letting their horses eat the state capital grass.”
“They tell the police they’re coming and that they’re bringing blanks,” Gus added. “For chrissake, the Governor’s related to half of them. They’re the descendants of old cowboy families that got edged out of business when the bigwigs monopolized the cattle industry, closed off the range, and used big government to ram their railroad down everybody’s backyard so they could profit and the little guys could starve.”
“So, they’re the Jesse James’s of today?”
“They’d like to think so, but they ain’t into robbery, murder, or revenge. They’ve got higher – and harder – goals.”
“Such as what? The second amendment?”
“Tucker, this is Texas. Our guns are safer than our drinking water. The Texas Free Rangers are after the end of crony capitalism and the restoration of the free range as a commons.”
“And they’ll do whatever it takes to achieve that?” Tucker guessed.
“Well, they’ve been around nearly ten years and nobody’s died yet,” Gus reasoned. “Though they did cut the barbed wire and run cattle through an oil tycoon’s hundred thousand acre backyard.”
Tucker frowned, remembering.
“They did a lot more than snip wire, if I remember correctly.”
“Sure, they pulled out ten miles of fencing before they were stopped. Just like the ole Levellers and Diggers in England.”
“Unlike their predecessors, however,” Tucker argued, “that land didn’t belong to their ancestors.”
“We-yall, that’s a matter of some contention. There’s some part-natives in the group and they’re working on building up a Cowboy-Indian Alliance.”
“How’s that going?” Tucker asked in a dubious tone.
“Oh, ’bout as well as you’d expect,” Gus snorted. “Every time they gain some common ground, some insensitive loud mouth pisses on it.”
“Gus,” Tucker sighed, “I just don’t think we can work with them.”
“Aw, come on, Tuck, they can commit on an action-by-action basis, leaving guns at home at the Dandelion Insurrection’s say-so. Just so long as they don’t have to hammer them into ploughshares and become vegetarians. I’m sure they can go nonviolent for the duration of a protest or a blockade or whatever. Why, just a couple weeks back, they went into a standoff with the Bureau of Land Management openly unarmed.”
“Someone tole ’em they were a bunch of lily-livered chicken peckers compared to the Civil Rights Movement. So, they did it on a dare. Ended up gaining some grazing rights, too, as a matter of fact.”
“Who was the someone?”
Tucker could hear Gus squirming on the other end of the line.
“I ain’t an official member of the Texas Free Rangers, but I sure’s hell support the general ideas. We get to drinking and arguing about once a week, and I generally talk ’em out of their more stupid ideas – like taking the Governor hostage. I tole ’em, it don’t matter if you’re the Governor’s goddamn conjoined twin . . . you’re gonna get shot or jailed for that harebrained idea.”
“Gus . . . ”
“Right, sorry. I got sidetracked. Here’s what I think y’all ought to do: tell the Free Rangers to avow tactical nonviolence for any Dandelion Insurrection actions they’re gonna participate in or organize.”
“No sabotage,” Tucker mentioned.
“No property damage and no waving guns or firing blanks, no fist fights or violence or threats to nobody,” Gus recited.
“But would they agree?” Tucker asked.
“Laying down the terms of a fight isn’t nothing new,” Gus pointed out with a shrug. “Usually, it’s along the lines of ‘Joe’s back lot, fists, no guns, just you and me at sundown’, but if someone put it to ’em in the right way, they’d see the logic of the Dandelion Insurrection’s terms.”
“But who’d proposition them?” Tucker wondered. “I suppose the Man From the North could write to them.”
“Naw, they wouldn’t listen to him. Better leave it to me. I can shoot a tin can off a fence at a hundred yards and knock ’em out with a single blow.”
“Gus,” Tucker sighed, preparing a lecture.
“They all owe me for money, drinks, or saving their lives. I’ll hold ’em to the terms. God knows I’ve talked ’em out of plenty of foolishness before.”
And so Gus Reasonover became an undercover agent non-provocateur for the Dandelion Insurrection, holding the Texas Free Rangers to their promises whenever they organized with the movement. Thus far, Gus had succeeded. And, as the replay of the explosion shot across the television screen, he sighed and stuck his boots up on Madame Roxanne’s desk.
“Wasn’t us, Tucker. I swear.”
“They were riding horses, Gus.”
“Bad horses, and riding like a bunch of weak-kneed shrinking violets who ain’t never been on an old nag outside of summer camp. The Texas Free Rangers would shoot anybody who rode that bad.”
“They publicly declared that it was them who blew up the pipeline.”
“Yeah? I declare it was a bunch of yellow-livered imposters without the gumption to make a reputation for themselves.”
“Gus, you’re all on video recording firing off guns – ”
“- wasting good ammo and risking lead coming down on their heads – ”
” – and whooping like spaghetti westerns – ”
” – which we consider insulting to the dignity of our profession. We got our own authentic style, you know.”
“Can you prove that?” Tucker sighed wearily.
“Tucker, the Texas Free Rangers are the most videotaped, media-covered group of crazies in Texas. There’s plenty of documentation. You just send Tansy Beaulisle down here and we’ll fight ’em in court and expose who these saboteurs really are.”
“You’re going to have to convince Tansy before you ever get to the judge and jury,” Tucker warned him as Tansy started breathing down his neck demanding to speak to that smart-mouthed, smooth-talking, scandalous son-of-a-drunk-donkey Gus Reasonover.
“Is that Southpaw standing there? Put her on.”
A pause. Then an explosion of colorful, only partially decipherable mix of greetings, condemnations, curses, and accusations slammed across the connection. Gus winced and rubbed his ear.
“Ain’t us, Tansy.”
“You’re gonna hafta provide more’n your sweet talk and long standing reputation for trouble to get outta this one, Argus,” Tansy Beaulisle drawled.
“Now look, you she-devil, why’n the hell would the Free Rangers ride around in circles like a pack of jackasses just waiting to get caught, huh? We’re crazy, not stupid.”
Tansy’s snort challenged the claim, but she let him go on.
“Furthermore, why weren’t those idiots caught? They’re on horseback, riding sacks of bone and hide that move about as fast as the glue they’re slated to become. The company’s got drones, for chrissake. Why weren’t they tracked and caught?”
Tansy lifted her eyebrows thoughtfully. He had a point.
“Third of all, there’s blue lights coming out from the pipe just ‘afore the big bang. That’s Dynatight – it’s got some long-winded chemical name, but basically, it’s a powerful, restricted explosive. Not only would the Texas Free Rangers have a hard time getting ahold of that kind of a controlled substance, it’s also a helluva lot cheaper to just make explosives out of stuff you can get at the hardware store.”
Gus leaned forward and started taking off his boots as Roxanne nuzzled his neck.
“So, there’s your case, Ms. Beaulisle. Hook, line, and sinker. We didn’t do it and we probably know who did.”
“We do?” Tansy blinked.
“Sure. Even the company would use something cheap to blow up a pipeline. Nope, Dynatight smacks of just one thing: bloated, overfunded government. So, get your sleuths working on it and call me back in the morning. I’ve got some pressing business to attend to.”
With that, Gus Reasonover hung up, tossed his phone in his hat, and turned to the urgent matter of Roxanne.