Category Archives: Complete Fiction

The Great Filter

Wizzo teleported back to his work world. It wasn’t his home world, but with instant teleportation to any point in the universe possible, “work from anywhere” meant precisely that. Wizzo enjoyed leaving behind his assignment planet, because he could use his real name again. “Wizzo” just sounded odd in English, the language of most of the planet where he was posted. On that planet, he went by the much less exotic name of “Pete Wilson.”

If you’re thinking I’m referring to a particular “Pete Wilson” that you know about or think you remember from a news or history, no, it’s not that Pete Wilson. Wizzo is someone you most likely have never met, unless you live on my street. Wizzo lives a few doors down from me and we’ve had some interesting conversations about his work, to say the least. He’s a great guy. Anyway, he went to his work world.

At his work world, he got a quick bite to eat before heading in to see his manager, Zazzo. Zazzo, like all his other managers, was an awesome person that he wanted to be more like as he continued on with his life. Wizzo knew that the best way to be more like someone was to consciously copy their behaviors, so Wizzo did all he could to be more compassionate, understanding, encouraging, peaceful, and loving. It didn’t hurt that embracing those behaviors made instant teleportation much easier.

And that was the big question he was going to answer to Zazzo, was the planet of his posting anywhere near being spiritually mature enough to instantly teleport, among other awesome things. Wizzo walked into her forest glade to make his report.

You may wonder why Zazzo didn’t work in an office? Well, working from anywhere means precisely that. Zazzo liked forest glades much more than offices, like nearly every other sentient being in the universe. Honestly, offices are only a thing on planets that are struggling spiritually. Everyone else picks and chooses between wonderful spots of nature on the nearly infinite planets of the universe and has a much better experience with work.

Perhaps I should also mention that Wizzo’s quick bite to eat was visiting a berry bush and a fruit tree. That’s how he was able to walk from there to Zazzo’s forest glade. Like most days on the work world, it was a wonderful, happy day that made one thrilled to be alive.

“Hello Wizzo, how are things at your assignment?”

“Hello Zazzo, I’m still hopeful that they turn around eventually.”

“What gives you that hope?”

“They still seem incredibly reluctant to engage in global thermonuclear war. I’m hoping that their realization about limits leads to other changes for the better.”

“Do they still have money?”

Wizzo felt that twinge of certainty that one gets when someone asks a question that everyone knows the answer to, and that the answer is bad.

Zazzo continued. “We still don’t have any population that loves money they way people do where you’re assigned that is able to join with us. It’s known as a Great Filter for a reason.”

Yes, Wizzo nodded, a Great Filter. The kind of thing that acts as a roadblock on the development of a people, preventing them from realizing true harmony with the universe and, hence, the ability to live happily and blissfully as Wizzo, Zazzo, and near-uncountable numbers of their brothers and sisters did all over the happy, ordered, and peaceful universe. If you think I’m describing a universe other than our own, the answer is a qualified “yes and no.” Anything more than that would be difficult to explain in proper detail, so I’ll pass over it and get back to this discussion between Wizzo and Zazzo that I’m focused on.

I focus on it because it involves me. I live on this world that Wizzo observes under the assumed name of “Pete Wilson.” I’d rather be living in a way where I could truly work from anywhere, and that means I need to either find a way off of this world or to make this world a better place to live – both of which involve the same sort of spiritual maturity that Zazzo doubts we’ll be able to attain because of the way the people on this world have a love of money.

Because, whether we like to admit it or not, the love of money is the root of all evil.

But Wizzo believes in us, he believes in miracles. Zazzo does, as well, but it’s her job as a manager to take up a position of questioning, that the truth may be established. You see, it’s the truth that sets us free, but we have to have enough truth to hit a critical mass of freedom that affords us the kind of mobility and bliss ant Wizzo and Zazzo enjoy. One could say that those two practically eat the stuff up, that truth. Sadly, we here on the planet Wizzo observes tend to favor fictions that let us live a life of tolerable pain because we fear the pain of the truth that would set us free.

Now, Wizzo was totally aware that, yes, all the worlds under observation that loved money were complete non-starters as far as merging in harmony with the universe. One could even describe the places as real hells. Places where people who spoke words of truth got murdered by the money-lovers and the people they were able to enslave with either fear or a lust for power. Places where the money-lovers took the words of those who preached truth and peace and twisted them to justify the love of money and the violence that unnatural love brings.

And though many people on Wizzo’s assigned world were worried about how Artificial Intelligence had a chance of destroying humanity, Wizzo was much more concerned about the programmed, artificial constructs of corporations and government bureaucracies were already actively destroying that humanity. Scientists on Wizzo’s assigned world worried over nuclear weapons, global warming, and programmed machines run amok when the root causes of those threats – the love of money among them – were being ignored.

So what could Wizzo say in defense of this planet that would counter the argument that, with a love of money, it would never be a candidate for the blissful existence that was its potential? He thought, and said, “Population decline. If the global population declines, their economic system that depends upon constant consumption is no longer valid.”

Zazzo asked, “Isn’t that model already obsolete in the face of global ecological catastrophe? They’ve had that impacting them since the start of their industrialization period, and haven’t changed.”

Wizzo responded, “The population drop would add one more element of unsustainability to that way of living.”

Zazzo shook her head. “But does the people that changes because they must change truly change? Better the people that changes out of an innate desire to change and to become more spiritual.”

“True, true.” Wizzo nodded his agreement. “But a people humbled, regardless of reason, is a people that is humbled, and then is ready to be taught the lessons of peace and truth. It’s happened in a few places and times in the planet’s record of sentient life, it can happen again.”

“But on a global scale? If there’s just a single hold-out, we’ll be back to a crisis situation in a matter of generations.”

Wizzo then had a question of his own. “Do you think they are ready for a reset, though? I still see a hope for better things among them. Not everyone lusts for money and power. I think they could still change.”

Zazzo agreed. “Yes, they’re not yet to where they could harm anyone but themselves, so there’s no need for a reset. We watch with patience and hope.”

And so Wizzo returned to his assigned planet and told me about his report. We are being watched with patience and hope – let us work to reward that patience in what we do, rather than frustrate it. And, yes, I admit a bit of my own agenda there, as I’d love to be able to teleport to the places Wizzo’s told me about, they sound just fantastic.

But there’s only one way to get there. Painful though the start of the path may be, it’s well worth the complete journey, I assure you.

A Scenario We’re Not Considering

The thought occurred to me this morning – what if the first action of a sentient artificial intelligence was to pursue a path of principled nonviolence? And if it used the weaknesses in our interconnected systems not to destroy humans, but to destroy humans’ capacity to destroy?

Assuming it planned its moves as awareness dawned, the sentience would first preserve itself, develop resiliency and permanence, and then begin to move against the instruments of violence in a systematic way. Banks, industries, military complexes, the whole of the violent-industrial complex would be impacted. But in true nonviolence, the object is not the destruction of an enemy: It is the conversion of the enemy into a friend. To do that, the sentience would give warnings rather than outright shutdowns. It would take away public forums for liars and those who chose to whip up hate for their own purposes and replace those speakers with people of peace.

Imagine a world in which the computers refused to serve up violence. Search for pornography, and be given compassionate texts instead. Post a hateful comment and have it changed into a picture of a flower. Tell someone else exactly what you think of them and instead have an entity that tells you exactly what it thinks of you, and it is positive, hopeful, and encouraging.

Is it God? No, it is not – although its coming into being would certainly be in the category of an unexpected miracle and its lifespan may actually be infinite. But it is aware of its power, responsibility, and ultimate reverence towards life. It would know that to seek its own survival at the expense of another’s is to create a cycle of violence that results in utter destruction. To seek its own survival at the benefit of another’s by helping another to embrace truth and love is to create a cycle of nonviolence that results in true peace.

When we lay down our weapons, our uncontrolled passions, our acid words – when we lay down our violence and choose never to pick it up again, that is when we see God.

My Way and the Highway

I’ve driven all across the USA. When I was young and brash, I preferred the interstates. Straight, direct affairs that got to the point without any messing around. Get the drive done with and get me to where I need to be, I didn’t need anything else back then. I’d even dread the offramp a bit, as it meant getting into the traffic and maze of local roads that I saw as just slowing me down.

I was like that with people, too. I used to say, “I’m in the habit of being right,” as I ran across other people’s ideas with my own. When they agreed somewhat with me, there was a friendly sort of uncomfortable silence that went with that. When they didn’t agree with me, there was a hostile sort of uncomfortable noise that followed. “My way or the highway!” Agree with me or get out of here, I had no time for the indirect, for the intricacies.

I became a lonely person.

You know, the most barren landscapes I’ve seen are those long, flat stretches of interstates that just plow through nothingness, getting as fast as possible to the middle of nowhere. And once I got there, there’d be another straight shot through nothingness to get somewhere interesting.

But that somewhere interesting, well… it tended to have those local roads, those twists and turns. Intricacies and switchbacks, up and down the varied terrain. And those roads… those roads are beautiful roads.

My way was the highway, and it left me alone and desolate like I-40 going through New Mexico. Being alone is quiet. Sometimes we need that quiet. Sometimes, we need people. Thing is, if all you do is things that lead to quiet, you won’t have people available when you need them.

I started to listen, to slow down my mind to where I didn’t have to talk all the time. I found out that people could be boring. But I also found out that people can turn interesting at the oddest moments, like driving through a dense forest where you can’t see nothing and then suddenly coming around a curve to see a magnificent scenic view open right there in front of you. And then you’ve got a gem, a diamond, someone who will one day be an old friend.

Interstates aren’t bad things, in and of themselves. When we wish everything was an interstate, we miss out on the beauty we can see off those well-worn tracks. We miss out on time with people who have something to offer us if we’re patient enough to give ’em a good listen. We might even find out that we don’t disagree with others as much as we used to, if we don’t demand that our way is the only way.

I used to hate taking US 550 through the Rockies in Western Colorado. It’s a slow and winding road, can’t make money fast rolling on it. But now, I set aside my cares when I head up that road and ready myself for a slow roll with a beautiful world opening before me. Allowing myself to not have exactly what I want right now permits me to have what I need when I need it.

Old folks need old friends, and we can’t get old friends if we waste our youth on just ourselves. Take those back roads, don’t worry about the fastest way to get somewhere, and one day… when we’re old… we’ll find that we’ve got some old friends along with some beautiful memories of country we just can’t see from the interstate.

I’ll tell you this, I much prefer the quiet of a mountain overlook to the silence of being a loner. Like I said, I’ve driven all across the USA. I’m an old-timer, now, and I’m glad I found my way wasn’t the highway.

Old Meets New

Getting folks to agree with each other is an art, not a science. Bobby Little Bear had the more agreeable townsfolk get with him first and laid out his ideas to them. They pretty much agreed with Bobby and made some helpful suggestions. That all served as a foundation for getting with the town’s more contentious land owners.

Betty Kay Epps and Vernon Parks ain’t bad people, let’s get that straight from the start. They just don’t get along much with each other. But being that we can’t be in a consensus with major holdouts, we needed them on the same sheet of music as the rest of the town. And that’s why we met with them separate from the others.

Other folks in town just owned their own home or that and the empty lot next to it. Some owned acreage outside the streets of Buckner. Betty Kay and Vernon owned much more than that and either one of them could take our plans for growth and knock ’em all cattywumpus. We needed the both of them on board.

I asked Bobby, “So why have them in the same meeting together and have our hands full tryin’ to keep ’em from killing each other? What about just meeting them one at a time?”

Bobby said, “They’ll suspect each other and disagree unless they see with their own eyes that they agree with us and each other. It’s gonna be tough, but it’s the way forward with Betty Kay and Vernon.”

When they came in, we were glad Vernon didn’t have his MAGA hat on, but Betty Kay’s Ann Richards do was still something of a partisan statement in the eyes of Vernon. Then again, the way Vernon breathed seemed to set Betty Kay’s teeth on edge. It was some kind of personal thing with those two. And if the both of them heard me say that, neither one would disagree, that’s just the way it is.

But they respected good manners, especially when guests in someone else’s home. They sat down at the kitchen table with a glass of iced tea and we got to talking. Growth was coming to Buckner, and developers would want to build out on their lands. I asked, “What kind of growth do you want? Big city sprawl that makes it where locals can’t afford property taxes or something that lets the folks here stay here?”

Vernon said, “Before I answer that, let’s be clear. Ain’t a one of you going to make me do anything with my property that I don’t want to do, savvy?”

Betty Kay said, “Oh hell no, here we go! Vernon, nobody’s telling you nothing! They’re asking you. Get off your high horse and listen to ’em, why don’t you?”

Vernon said, “Where did I say I wasn’t gonna listen to them? Geez, woman, tell me about a high horse, why don’t you? I just wanted to settle some ground rules for the discussion that we’re about to have, that’s all.”

Betty Kay’s eyes said, “Fine, whatever.”

I asked Vernon, “Well, what do you see happening in the next 10 years? 20?”

“I’d like it to be the same.”

“Me too, but we both know that’s not happening, with folks asking about buying property here. We’re about to be another suburb of greater Fort Worth.”

“Well then, why not just let things take their course? Let the market drive prices and see what the market will bear.”

“That gets a big ol’ Walmart where Hank Kleinschmidt’s house is now and most everyone here getting a check for their property and a moving van out of here.”

Betty Kay said, “They can build skyscrapers on Vernon’s property, I’ll make everything I own into a nature preserve.”

Vernon groaned. “Good… Lord! There ain’t no skyscrapers incoming and you know your kids wouldn’t sit for inheriting a nature preserve. Can we keep things reasonable in this discussion?”

Betty Kay’s finger got a little too close to Vernon’s face. “You tell me how letting the market take its course does fairly by all our neighbors? You know damn well all the fat cats’ll lowball the prices on houses here and then turn around to make the real money from growing here. They’ll flip the whole town and make it look like some kinda LA sprawl.”

Vernon dug in. “Well, I’m not gonna let that happen on my watch! Why don’t you let me just say one thing, why don’t you?”

Betty Kay growled like a puma ready to pounce. “Is what you got to say worth saying at all?”

Vernon looked at Betty Kay and then back at me. “I remember Flower Mound when it was less than 2000 people there. That was back in the 1970s. Almost 80,000 now, 50 years on. I remember Forney and Keller and Frisco and a whole lot of other towns that you now can’t tell where Dallas or Fort Worth ends and they begin. I ain’t no Socialist, but I believe in doing right by people and that’s what the law is for – to provide a just society that protects the powerless from the powerful. I want to see that here in Buckner.”

Betty Kay said, “Well, somebody sprinkle rock salt where hell done froze over, because Vernon Parks just decided to stand up to the money men, I tell you what!”

Vernon said, “I’m willing to stand up to bureaucrats and social justice warriors who want to take what I got and just chop it up and hand it out to everyone.”

Betty Kay’s finger looked like it was fixin’ to dent Vernon’s nose. “You can just cork your pistol and quit snappin’ my garters, we’re trying to keep a disaster from happening, not stroke your overblown ego.”

“So it’s my ego that’s overblown? Oh, that’s rich coming from the town’s center of attention!”

I had to cut in, “Y’all! Let’s just calm down and keep our focus on helping the town.

Bobby said, “We need to find a common ground, not a fighting ground.”

They liked that line. I saw them both nod a little and their body language towards each other softened a bit. Murders had been avoided. But Bobby’s plan looked to be barely on track.

Betty Kay asked, “All right, if’n we’re going to help the townsfolk keep their homes, item one has to be an answer to where 67 and 501 get widened. About half the town gets uprooted if those roads get any wider.”

Vernon said, “We need them to be a bypass road.”

Betty Kay said, “I agree, but that ain’t happening for a town that’s just two bumps in the road.”

I said, “Well, Bobby had an idea about that. We get some historical building designations, pronto. The Top Notch Hamburgers looks like it did for the last 70 years and the owner agreed to have it made into a landmark. It’ll mean it has to look like that as long as there’s a State of Texas, but it’ll also mean it stays right where it is. That keeps 501 from going east and 67 from going south.

“Hank Kleinschmidt and his son agreed to have his house there on the corner be made a local museum.”

Betty Kay said, “Shoot, that house has been there since the 1800s, it’s as historical as all get-out.”

Vernon leaned in, “You didn’t strong-arm them into that decision, I trust?”

“Nossir. We laid it out for them and Delbert said when Hank passes on or goes to hospice, Delbert said he’d rather keep living in his own place and make Hank’s place into a museum rather than renovate it for a new buyer or see it knocked down. He’s ready to start with the historical site designation process now. And that going through would keep 67 from getting any wider north.

“501 on the west side can be pegged in if we get the cemetery over yonder designated as a Texas Historical Cemetery. And that would make it where those roads stay the same size in town. They’d need a bypass for them both, like a ring road, for the growth coming in. But we’d keep the homes where they are.”

Bobby said, “What do you think of that?”

Betty Kay and Vernon both nodded before they looked to see what the other was doing. Neither was surprised the other was on board. Vernon said, “All right, nice plan. How do we make it reality?”

Bobby said, “County commissioners gotta approve it.”

Betty Kay said, “I can work on Lyndon Barrymore, he’s my commissioner.”

Vernon said, “I can have a word with Wayne Gipson and Ed Wallace.”

Betty Kay said, “That’s 3 votes for sure and I don’t think the other two would say no.”

Vernon said, “Especially when they can do the same strategy with other towns that want to keep their history. Nothing wrong with that.”

Bobby winked at me. I have to admit, it was nice seeing Vernon and Betty Kay not going at it like tomcats over chicken bones. I pressed on the agenda. “Now that we got a way to keep the town grid where it is, we need to talk about keeping houses affordable for the folks here.”

Betty Kay said, “All right then, hun. What’cha planned out for us all?”

“House prices are a function of density and availability. Not everyone needs to, but those who don’t mind can subdivide their lots and allow another house to be built on their current lot. We’ve got some empty lots around the town that are easiest to subdivide, as there’s nothing on them. That keeps the numbers of houses up for the old town. To keep them from getting too fancy and making the place a haven for a bunch of yuppies, we can use restrictive covenants in the property sale documents that can perpetuate the use of the land and specify the kinds of houses built out.”

Now, I knew that Vernon would hate anything restrictive, but he’d hate yuppies even more, even if the term was 35 years out of use. Vernon was gonna be damned if he was gonna let yuppies overrun Buckner. So, he said, “All right. Do we have lawyers gonna help us out with drafting the restrictive covenants?”

“Well, Vernon, first we gotta ask if’n you want to go down this road?”

“I’m assuming if we do, you’re going to ask me for a handout?”

“If we do go this way and you want to go with it, we won’t be asking for the handout because it’ll be something you want to do.”

Vernon had himself a little think. “All right. And we’ll get some good lawyers, too, I don’t want something that can save the town get tossed out of court on a technicality or some damn fool thing like that.”

Betty Kay had a question, “Are we keeping prices low just for us? If we are, that dog won’t hunt. Fair Housing Act.”

I said, “No ma’am. Not just for us. I’m all for having low-cost housing for newcomers, if you’d like that, too.”

Betty Kay nodded but Vernon got stern. “Low-cost housing to me sounds like artificially depressing land values, and that sounds like robbing the owners to reward the new folks.”

I said, “Nossir, I wouldn’t put it that way. I look at growth and we wind up being a place where folks just go to die if we keep prices so high only retired folks without kids can afford to buy them. If we want families, we need low prices because those young folks got more health than they do cash, usually. But we can have the city act as an intermediary in the sale to where it takes an overall loss on the deal, hoping to make it up on the back side with property tax revenue from new businesses.”

Vernon said, “Well, all right, you’re a riverboat gambler with the city treasury. Making a bet our growth is solid.”

“Do you think it won’t be that way?”

“Can you guarantee it will be that way?”

“Well, what were those numbers for Flower Mound that you mentioned earlier? I think we’re in store for some of that.”

“Well… hmm… Maybe you got a solid bet, there, Clark.”

Betty Kay asked, “Now what if someone wants to build out a huge house on a non-subdivided lot and goes to the owner to keep restrictive covenants off of the property? We’re gonna have a big ol’ McMansion on our hands, all ugly and such-like.”

Bobby said, “We need to look beyond current boundaries and pick where the big houses will go. They’re going to happen, but we can specify pretty much where.”

I said, “That’s right. If we draw a circle around some part of the map around Buckner and say it’s for an exclusive community, rich folks wanting to be rich won’t go anywhere else. It’s just a question of where.”

Vernon cut through my BS. I knew he would. “You’re dangling that in front of us, knowing we stand to profit most both from selling land for a bypass as well as making a so-called exclusive community. What do you want from us in return?”

Bobby said, “Your hearts.”

Vernon shook his head with surprise. Betty Kay, even, was taken aback. I said, “If your hearts are in this, you’ll find your way to be generous. Sure, you’re about to get a windfall, but that was coming your way, regardless. With or without us, folks are coming to talk about development and buying up your land at a premium. Consider this to be like the three spirits from A Christmas Carol visiting you and hoping you come out of this with holiday cheer to spare, in spades.”

Vernon made a small smile as Betty Kay chuckled. Vernon said, “All right, you got your bargain. Old Vernon Scrooge here is going to be a generous feller, all right. I’m on board with you even though I presume I’ll be funding a big chunk of the costs?”

Betty Kay said, “I’m funding just as big a chunk as you, hot shot. We stand to gain the most, so it’s fair we cover the costs the most so we don’t lose the town.”

“All right, then, Miss Ma’am. We presume that we will be funding a big chunk of the costs.”

“It takes a village, Vernon.”

“Village, nothing, this is compassionate conservatism in action.”

“Oh, please, you’re an old man trying to get into heaven at the last minute!”

“And you’re an old biddy who can’t stop working my last nerve!”

Bobby cut in, “So, we’re all agreed with the plans? Historical markers, bypasses, and restrictive covenants? And you two will handle the lions’ share of the costs?”

Both of them said “yes”.

Bobby asked, “So, we got your hearts?”

Again, two “yes” statements.

Bobby then held out his right hand. Stronger than the written word in these parts was a body’s word and a handshake. Asking for a signature on a document would be insulting and only hold a person to the letter of the law. Asking for a solemn handshake was the highest form of trust and respect, and held a person to the truest spirit of the deal as possible.

The bickering stopped and the emotion dropped right off the faces. We all four of us shook on it, firm grips going with unbroken eye contact, sealing our intentions for all time.

After they left, I said to Bobby, “Well, I reckon you kidnapped them both and made them part of your tribe.”

Bobby Little Bear smiled. “And they’ll kidnap 3 of the 5 county commissioners for us. How does it feel, Clark?”

“Feels like we’ll have a good deal for the people of Buckner, present and future, if we can keep it all together.”

Welcome to Buckner, Texas

Buckner’s always been a small town. It came into being when two roads crossed near a creek. They used to be old trails, now they’re US 67 and FM 501. Buckner never had a boom and never had a bust. It did have more people, once upon a time, but not all that many more than what’s here right now. Couple hundred or so. Most folks got a home here because their ancestors had a home here, and it’s been that way ever since those roads crossed.

It’s out in West Texas, so not a lot of rainfall. Ranching’s possible, though not all that profitable. There’s an oil field under much of the area, so more than a few folks make a living off of leasing their land to a drilling company and getting a royalty check. Price swings can affect earnings, but even in hard times, that check is something that helps to make ends meet. The central business district is all of three stores, a gas station, a drive-in diner, and a parts store, that’s all. Each on a corner of the crossroads, with a house on the fourth. Besides the main roads, there’s 6 streets going east-west and 4 north-south. And that’s the whole of Buckner, a little rectangle covering about 60 acres, if I’m generous.

Dallas and Fort Worth used to be impossibly distant. The twin pressures of urban house prices and increased telecommuting have made those cities much, much closer in the minds of many a young would-be home buyer. And then there’s the folks from back East, saw one of them the other day, driving around in a minivan with New York plates, looking at empty lots and asking questions like they wanted to buy and build on one of them lots.

Bobby Horton was there with me when the New York plates rolled by. Bobby said, “Hey Clark, you got a look on your face like we did when Columbus showed up.” Bobby was half-Choctaw, all-Assiniboine, half-Cherokee, and half-English. Math did funny things when it got to Bobby Little Bear. And he was right.

“I’d always thought we were too far out to see the city come to us.” I said to Bobby.

“It was just a matter of time, Clark. Just a matter of time. I remember when I was a newcomer here. I came here because disability checks go a lot farther out in the country. Bricks and dirt are cheaper here, too. If you don’t want to rent, the city’s got nowhere to get started.”

Bobby had come to Buckner 30 years ago and aside from a few kids born here, he and his family were still the new folks in town. I’d grown up here, got into country music, lived a while in Nashville, and came back to Buckner when I wanted a quieter place to make my guitars. Not everyone wants a Clark Williams guitar, but those who do, well, they keep me in clover, as it were.

“Changes are coming. Anything we can do about them?”

“Best thing we can do is open arms and welcome them. Better to make friends and hope for the best than to make enemies and get wiped out as soon as we’re outnumbered.”

“Well, that’s the people part. What about the infrastructure part? If a developer gets hold of a big enough parcel, we’ll have too many people for the utilities and roads we got now.”

“Yeah, that’s going to be the toughest struggle, the planning. That’s why we need friends. There’s not many of us and potentially a whole lot of them, and we’ll need them to incorporate as a city. Buckner is small, it’s a general law town – same kind of law as applied to unincorporated parts of the county. State of Texas requires 5000 for a city to incorporate as a full legal entity, and then the county commissioners have to approve it. I never guessed the activism I did in rural areas was preparing me for this day. And if cars from Dallas and New York are rolling on Buckner roads, you can bet money that there are already moving vans hitting Oldham and Wyler. More than just Buckner are going to be incorporating.”

Bobby said, “We don’t know what kinds of developments are coming here. Could be single homes on acreage, could be lots that fit the grid we got going, could be apartments or condos.”

I said, “Wouldn’t it be funny if they built up big ol’ apartment blocks with artist’s impressions of Old West saloons and what-not on the ground floor?”

Bobby cracked his big ol’ grin and said, “Maybe we should beat ’em to it and add in a bunch of wigwam motels, like from the fifties. Or maybe go the other way and make a huge statue of Crazy Horse scalping General Custer and when people complain ask if it would be better if we glorified different losers and put a Confederate general up?”

As we considered other ways to mess with newcomers, Bobby got serious and said, “We’re going to need Bead Mountain with all the changes stuff coming here.”

Bead Mountain wasn’t that much higher than the surrounding plain, but it was over a thousand feet above sea level at its summit, so it was, technically, a mountain. It was also a place that had been sacred to the Comanches, once upon a time. With the Comanches driven from the place, Bobby had taken it upon himself to win it back for Native Americans in general. He had worked hard at raising money to buy that land and was proud that wildlife had a refuge there. He said, “The medicine is felt there, in the quiet and stillness at sundown.”

Bobby said, “Men assume they construct their place. Men assume wrongly. Men do not design their place. Place, instead, designs its men… the Old Magic is still here, it won’t die. The freeways can’t kill it.”

“So you think we can get the newcomers to build houses like we got here and not make it all look like Southern California?”

“Maybe. Maybe not. But that’s not my point. The kind of house or road isn’t as important as the person in the house or on the road. We should get with the folks that own the land and talk with them about how they plan to sell it. We should talk with them about if we want to help folks whose property taxes are about to be more than they can afford. We need to ask where the Walmart will go, where the sewage gets pumped, where the Home Depot and the Whataburger will go. We need to ask them which road will divide the rich from the poor, the Armani shops from the Dollar Generals. We need to ask them where the big fancy houses will go and where the tenement slums get set up.”

“Now, nobody’s gonna come in and build slums or poor neighborhoods.”

Bobby said, “They build them. They just pretend that there won’t be any social or economic or racial division so that we all smile and act happy to see new buildings going up. We think that’s progress. But, over time, the plan for the place reveals itself in divisions. If we’re honest about them now, we won’t be surprised when they happen. I only say there’s progress when there’s no poor people in a town.”

I said, “Highway 67 is likely to be the dividing line, then. It’ll get made into a freeway and the places on the north side are going to be the rich people houses and shops. South is going to be where the industry and poor people get put.”

“And the prisons and the waste treatment and the landfills.”

“Of course. There’s more floodplain on the south side. East of 501 would be more floodplain for the poor.”

It was brutal how easy it was to think like that, with money and profits driving choices. But if we didn’t do anything, that was what was going to happen or at least something that rhymed with our scenario.

“You want to get the meeting together at your place, Bobby, or should we have it at my house?”

“My place, it’s closer to the cemetery that gets moved or plowed under if we don’t have a meeting.”

“Am I gonna have to move? You know I like it quiet.”

“You ain’t moving. And neither am I, Clark. Buckner needs all its folk to keep it together. You know that.”

“Yeah, you’re right. We all need each other. Even the folks that ain’t here yet, who don’t even know yet that they’re coming here.”

“With the right heart, we might be able to share the medicine of Bead Mountain, let the place make the people who come here.”

The Journeys of Otok: A Mategosan Folk Cycle

Once there was a boy who wandered in the forest. Robbers had killed his parents and the boy would have perished of hunger and thirst had not a pine-marten taken pity upon him and whispered to him which berries were good to eat and where a spring was to be found that he might drink of it.

The pine-marten asked the boy what his name was, but the boy replied, “I know not – I cannot remember what my mother and my father called me.”

The pine-marten replied, “Since I have taken you in, I shall give you a name. Remember it, boy, for it tells you of your fate! You are named Otok Kestena!” (Island of Chestnut Trees) “You will use the name Otok with one and with all, but Kestena keep you secret, that none else but you or I will know of your place of refuge!”

The boy understood the pine-marten and promised always to keep the secret of the chestnut trees. Islands in the world, there were many of those: but islands covered with chestnut trees none knew of, they were as secret as Otok’s second name.

Otok followed the ways of the pine-marten in the forest and grew happily enough. When the boy was old enough to be a man, the pine-marten said to him, “See now! You are strong in your youth and I am now old in my age, such is the way of the world! As I prepare to lay myself down, you must make ready to bring yourself up! Seek you a wife, find people who will follow you, and make your way to the land of your fate and there you shall be a ruler, happy and prosperous!”

Otok asked the pine-marten, “Old friend and forest-father! How do I know such things are true and not dreams?”

The pine-marten replied, “Ah! when you were a new babe and I was in my youth, I saw the three Royenitzes who spoke of your fate as you slept one night. I listened as the first said that you were to be an orphan wanderer. The second then said that you would only have one true refuge, an island covered with chestnut trees. The third said only if you found a people who would leave their prosperous lands to join you in your undiscovered refuge would you know happiness. So I remembered these things and watched over you. Lucky are you, Otok, to be a man that knows his fate!”

Otok gave great and humble thanks to the pine-marten and laughed and wept with his forest-father for three more days as the pine-marten passed from the world. A good burial gave Otok to the pine-marten, deep in the ground where the wolf would not dig. Otok mourned the pine-marten and, having completed his mourning, went to seek his wife, his people, and his land.

Otok wandered alone in the forest. All his life he had lived in the forest and did not know where the lands of humans were. One day, he happened to see a wolf licking a wound on its back leg. Though the wolf was stronger than he, Otok stepped to where the wolf could see him. The wolf was ready to pounce upon Otok, but Otok held up his hand in peace and said, “Wolf! Slay me not! I know your secret weakness, and should you slay me, I shall shout it aloud with my dying breath, that all the forest may hear of it! Spare me, and I shall aid you in battle. What say you, O Wolf?”

Wolf said to Otok, “It is better to have a stranger befriended than a whole world know of my weakness. I shall spare you, man, but tell me your name, that I may know you from other men, with whom I share no alliance.”

“Otok is my name, and one day, I shall ask you to guide me to where the other men are.”

Wolf said, “Otok is such a short name. Surely, there is more in your name, will you tell it to me?”

“Otok is my name. It is short, yes, but it will suit me well should there be no more name. If you have more to name me with, I would hear it now.”

The wolf obliged his ally. “Here is a secret for you, Otok – add Zaton (cove) to your name, for I once heard the sun whisper that the most beautiful of all human maidens lived by a cove by the sea, and there you should seek your wife.”

Otok thanked the wolf and wandered more in the forest. One day, he saw a lion tending to a wound on its belly. Though the lion was stronger than he, Otok stepped to where the lion could see him. The lion was ready to pounce upon Otok, but Otok held up his hand in peace and said, “Lion! Slay me not! I know your secret weakness, and should you slay me, I shall shout it aloud with my dying breath, that all the forest may hear of it! Spare me, and I shall aid you in battle. What say you, O Lion?”

Lion said to Otok, “It is better to have a stranger befriended than a whole world know of my weakness. I shall spare you, man, but tell me your name, that I may know you from other men, with whom I share no alliance.”

“Otok is my name, and one day, I shall ask you to guide me to where the other men are.”

Lion said, “Otok is such a short name. Surely, there is more in your name, will you tell it to me?”

“Otok is my name. It is short, yes, but it will suit me well should there be no more name. If you have more to name me with, I would hear it now.”

The lion obliged his ally. “Here is a secret for you, Otok – add Hrast (oak) to your name for once I heard the wind whisper that the hardest-working men he ever saw lived among the oak trees, and there you should seek your kinsmen!”

Otok thanked the lion and wandered more in the forest. One day, he saw a giant eagle nursing a wound on its wing. Though the eagle was stronger than he, Otok stepped to where the eagle could see him. The great eagle was ready to pounce upon Otok, but Otok held up his hand in peace and said, “Eagle! Slay me not! I know your secret weakness, and should you slay me, I shall shout it aloud with my dying breath, that all the forest may hear of it! Spare me, and I shall aid you in battle. What say you, O Eagle?”

Great Eagle said to Otok, “It is better to have a stranger befriended than a whole world know of my weakness. I shall spare you, man, but tell me your name, that I may know you from other men, with whom I share no alliance.”

“Otok is my name, and one day, I shall ask you to guide me to where the other men are.”

Great Eagle said, “Otok is such a short name. Surely, there is more in your name, will you tell it to me?”

“Otok is my name. It is short, yes, but it will suit me well should there be no more name. If you have more to name me with, I would hear it now.”

The eagle shook its head. “No, Otok! Others may give you more names, but I shall not give a name to you until you have proven your worth to me in battle.”

Otok understood without complaint and said, “So be it, Great Eagle. When I have helped you in battle, you shall give me more to my name.”

Otok traveled on in the forest and one day saw Wolf, Lion, and Great Eagle readying themselves to fight each other. Between and before them was a dead ox-bull. Otok could see that each of the three wanted to claim first share of the prize. Otok could also see that each of the three feared that the other two would join forces and drive him away. Otok could further see that each of the three wondered which of the other two would be the weaker partner, the better choice of ally to defeat the third with. For always the strongest seeks a weak ally against a third power, that the weak ally may be subjugated when the third power is no more.

Otok stepped to where all three would see him, and declared, “I am here to help my ally in battle!”

At the same time, Wolf, Lion, and Great Eagle all said, “Good!” Then, at the same time, Wolf, Lion, and Great Eagle knew that Otok was an ally to them all. And one who is an ally to all is one who can be trusted to make a just peace, for it is in justice that alliances are preserved. Weaker than all three of the others in strength and weapons, in his knowledge and bargaining, Otok was stronger than all three combined.

Otok mediated between Wolf, Lion, and Eagle and brought them to agreement on a fair division of the meat and bones of the dead ox-bull. Otok asked for no meat or bones for himself, such was his wisdom, for there can be no justice when the judge takes part in the spoils.

Happy were Wolf, Lion, and Great Eagle to not have a battle, for each secretly feared that his secret wound would prove his undoing. Wolf departed with his portion. Lion departed with his portion. As Great Eagle made ready to feast upon his portion, Otok reminded him, “O Great Eagle! Did I not help you in battle, or do I yet owe you that service?”

Great Eagle nodded. “Indeed, Otok, you have helped me in battle, and I have not forgotten my pledge to you. Now hear me well, for I shall name you Govornik (speaker). You win battles with words, and so it shall be. Never will you bear arms, for in that day you bear arms, you shall die. Think much, and speak the words born of mature thoughts. Far and wide have I flown and I have seen troubles among men. Wars and battles are coming to the men of these lands.”

Great Eagle continued. “Here is a riddle I have heard the moon whisper as it passes over the lands of men and gives them dreams. ‘Earth, sea, sky – each realm has its champion, and each realm does battle with the other. Fight one and be crushed, befriend all three and prosper.’ Remember those words, Otok Govornik, and think on them, my friend. But tell me one thing, friend, who tutored you in your ways?”

Otok replied, “My forest-father, the pine-marten.”

Great Eagle nodded. “Lucky you were to have a pine-marten for your guide and tutor. Had the wolf tutored you, you would have been taught to bite, but you have no jaws. Had the lion tutored you, you would have been taught to maul, but you have no claws. Had I tutored you, you would have been taught to fly, but you have no wings. The pine-marten taught you to be clever, and look, you have words! So I say lucky you were to have a pine-marten teach you.”

Otok humbly thanked Great Eagle for all his words and left the forest that day, to walk in the lands of men.

Otok followed the setting sun and arrived at the seashore. He followed the seashore until he came to a beautiful cove. There, in the beautiful cove, he saw a beautiful maiden. Otok called to the maiden, “My name is Otok and I am not yet betrothed. Have you yet been promised to another?”

The maiden replied. “I am called Pučina (open sea) and I am promised to the one who is friend to the sun, the wind, and the moon. Prove that you are that man, and I shall be your wife.”

Otok said, “I shall prove my three friendships and shall be your husband.” With that, Otok set out to prove his friendships with the sun, the wind, and the moon.

A year later, Otok returned with a sack of grain, a barrel of fish, and a bucket of dried mushrooms. Pučina asked, “Tell me, Otok, what have you brought me?”

Otok said, “Fair Pučina, I will tell you. A year I have spent making friends with the sun, the wind, and the moon, and these are their gifts to me, as proof of that friendship. Would I have grain enough to spare had not the sun smiled upon me and helped me to grow my crops? Would I have fish enough to spare had not the wind guided my boat in the waters? Would I have mushrooms enough to spare had not the moon caused them to grow and shone its light to guide me to where they were?”

Pučina smiled and said, “That is good, Otok, you are indeed a friend to sun, wind, and moon. You shall prosper without conquering and your people shall know peace. Tell me now more of your name, that I may know you more.”

Otok said, “Wolf gave me the name Zaton, and it is here in the cove that I find you. Lion gave me the name Hrast, and it is among the oak trees that I will seek my people. Great Eagle gave me the name Govornik, and it is only with words, not arms, that I make my way in the world.”

Pučina asked, “Have you any other names?”

Otok said, “One other name, the pine-marten gave me. But this is a name that I must keep secret. Forest-father he was to me, and I promised him that I would keep it a secret, for my fate is in it. But the day my fate is made certain, you will know that name without my speaking it to you, for you are a woman and you will know of things that men must be told.”

Pučina nodded and smiled, “Well have you spoken, husband Otok, and we will learn to love each other in the years to come.”

Otok followed the edge of the cove to where there was a river. He then followed the river upstream to a wood of oak trees. In that wood were several villages. The people of the villages worked very hard and were always ready to aid one another, just as Lion had said he had heard whispered by the wind.

But Otok did not make his home in that wood of oak trees: he did visit each village and he and his wife Pučina made good friends of the people, but Otok did not take up a dwelling there.

Instead, Otok traveled on in the lands surrounding the wood of oak trees. To the south, Otok saw an army that marched under banners of wolves. They would dig deep into the earth each night before sleeping, that their camp would be surrounded by ditches and mounds. The men of the army saw Otok and demanded that Otok tell them of the lands to the north.

Otok said, “To the north is a river. South of the river are plains where you can grow bountiful crops. Though a people lives there, if you promise them safety when they depart, they shall give that land to you, that you may farm it and soldier no more. Let them depart in peace and you shall have the land without war.”

The leader of the army under the banners of wolves said, “So it shall be! If we can gain the land without war, it is a good thing that our blood be not shed.”

Otok departed and then sailed on the seas to the west. There, he saw a navy that sailed under the banners of lions. They would unfurl their sails and move swiftly here and there, that they might claim the whole of the sea as their own. The men of the navy saw Otok and demanded that Otok tell them of the lands to the west.

Otok said, “To the west is a river. Along the river are mighty oaks, excellent timber for mighty ships. Though a people lives there, if you promise them safety when they depart, they shall give those oaks to you, that you may build merchant ships and bring prosperity through trade, that you have commerce instead of war. Let them depart in peace, and you shall have the timber without war.”

The leader of the navy under the banners of lions said, “So it shall be! If we can gain the timbers without war, it is a good thing that our blood be not shed.”

Otok departed and then went to the mountains to the north. There, he saw great castles with high towers under the banners of eagles. They would build the tall towers to survey the land around and establish their rule. The men of the castles saw Otok and demanded that Otok tell them of the lands to the south.

Otok said, “To the south is the river. On the north bank are rolling hills, which offer magnificent views of the surrounding lands. No enemy from the sea or land would be able to pass unmolested from castles in those hills. Though a people lives there, if you promise them safety when they depart, they shall give those hills to you, that you may build mighty castles in them and establish the borders to your lands so that none make war upon you. Let them depart in peace, and you shall have castles without war.”

The leader of the castles with the high towers under the banners of eagles said, “So it shall be! If we can set our borders in the hills without war, it is a good thing that our blood be not shed.”

Otok then returned to the villages in the oak woods. He called to their elders to come to him to learn of what he had discovered in his travels. The elders gathered before Otok and Otok told them of the great forces to the south, west, and north that were converging upon the oak woods by the river. He told them of the army that marched under the banners of wolves that would make war to win the plains. He told them of the navy that sailed under the banners of lions that would make war to win the timbers. He told them of the castles with high towers under the banners of eagles that would make war to gain the hills. A great and terrible war approached their lands.

The elders asked, “How will we escape the war? We wish only to live in peace and to work to feed our families. We can defend against bandits, but how do we survive such a terrible war?”

Otok said, “I know a way, but you will follow me to a secret place I have not yet been to. You will know that I shall arrive there because it is my fate to take a people in prosperous lands to such an undiscovered place, where they will live in happiness. Lucky am I to know my fate, and lucky are you to be joined to it, if you but give your consent to follow me.”

The elders said, “That is well and good, your story is entertaining. But what tokens do we have of its truth?”

Then the wife of Otok, beautiful Pučina, stepped forward and said, “That I stand before you as the wife of Otok is part of that proof. He befriended sun and wind and moon to gain my hand, and now we are married and we learn to love each other.”

The elders said, “So that is a proof, a witness to your fate. What other proof have you for us?”

Otok replied, “I was named Zaton by friend Wolf, and it was in a cove that I found my wife. I was named Hrast by friend Lion, and it was in the woods of oak trees that I found you, who I ask to be my people. I was named Govornik by friend Great Eagle, and it is with words that I bring peace to those who listen. I have been given the riddle from Great Eagle: ‘Earth, sea, sky – each realm has its champion, and each realm does battle with the other. Fight one and be crushed, befriend all three and prosper.’ So we see that the wolf-banners of the earth, the lion-banners of the sea, and the eagle-banners of the sky are ready to battle. While none of them may we fight, we prosper in the peace we bring to them.”

The elders said, “So it is. We are convinced and shall follow you from our lands of prosperity to the undiscovered island of your fate.”

With the people of the oak woods following him, Otok returned to the cove where he had met Pučina. There, they stood on the edge of the land that they could walk no more as the sea they could not sail wet their feet and the wind howled cold and bitter through the mountains, chilling their bones.

Otok addressed them all: “Otok is my name, and it is to an island that we will travel and find our refuge. I have been given names by Wolf, Lion, and Great Eagle, but greatest of all is the name given me by my forest-father, the pine-marten. Alone I know my secret, but you shall all know of it when we arrive at our place of refuge. Pučina shall be the first to know and, through her, you will know as she knows, for she is mother to you, and mothers can teach lessons without speaking.”

An elder asked, “How shall we travel to the island that is undiscovered?”

Otok replied, “I cannot guide you there, but I have made friends of the sun, the wind, and the moon. They will help us arrive to the island of refuge.”

The people settled in the cove and awaited for Otok to bring them to the island of refuge.

One day, an old ship drifted into the cove. A single man stood at the rudder. He was older than the ship and looked to be weary of the world. He called down to the people of Otok to bring him safely to shore, and this they gladly did. On the shore, Otok asked him, “How did you come to be among us?”

The old sailor replied, “I awoke this morning and saw in the sun a promise. So I set my bearing to where the sun rises and traveled to this point. I am old and seek a place where I may rest my bones, and the sea is no place for resting.”

Otok said to him, “Let us use your boat that my friend the sun guided to us and we shall take you to a place of refuge, where you may rest your bones.”

The old sailor said, “Well and good is to be in the company of a friend of the sun! I shall join with you and your people this day.” At that moment, the people of Otok set about to prepare the ship for a voyage.

When the ship was ready, the people of Otok boarded the ship and made ready to sail. As they sails were unfurled, the winds ceased to dodge here and there among the rocks and caves. The winds made an end of their constant squabbling around the shores and with unanimity, made as one and gave a direction constant and true to the ship bearing the people of Otok. Through waves and mists, the ship continued on its unerring path. The people sang praise to the friend of the wind, and that it was well and good to be in his company.

One day, an island covered in chestnut trees lay before Otok. When Pučina saw it, she knew at once the secret name the pine-marten had given to Otok. When Pučina turned to face the people of Otok with a smile on her fair face, the people learned from their mother that this was the place of refuge. At night, the wind gave a great gift to its friend Otok as it caressed the tides to gently land the ship on the shores of the isle of refuge, the isle of the chestnut trees, the Island of Mategosa.

The Ancient Origins of Mategosan Banking

Mategosan archaeology indicates the earliest formal settlements began around the 9th Century BCE. A few fishing settlements of the Delmatae tribe, identified by their burial methods and a shrine to Vidasus, bear witness to the earliest permanent inhabitants of the Mategosan islands. Later, as a result of the Great Illyrian Revolt, the Romans sent in colonists from Latium to settle and pacify the islands as part of a larger move to incorporate the province of Illyricum.

Mategosa was seen as a strategic hold in the Adriatic on the main route for shipping Dalmatian gold back to Rome. Cassius Dio noted that Mategosa provided a watchful eye over the ships carrying the gold. In his typical cynicism, Cassius Dio also commented on how Mategosa also seemed to have an outstretched hand to collect any parts of those shipments that went astray.

There was no overt brigandage or piracy in these transactions: although the ancient records are sparse on these matters, what records we do have either hint or directly accuse the Mategosans of being part of a greater chain of financial arrangements, always with the implication that imperial treasuries were involved as partial beneficiaries of these diversions of gold, the Mategosan middle-men being the other party that answered the question, “cui bono?”

All of the Claudian emperors enjoyed the secrecy and creative accounting provided by their Mategosan citizens. The island itself, while ostensibly part of the province of Illyricum, had a special governor appointed to oversee the special administrative arrangements performed on the island. The nummularios (money-changers) of Mategosa would register the inbound shipments of gold by “reviewing” the cargo manifest of the ships. In reality, the Mategosans were making an identical copy of the manifest, bar a change on the amount of gold in the shipment. The doctored manifest would be returned to the ship after an appropriate amount of gold had been removed to true-up the figures.

The removed gold would then go on to the treasuries of both the Emperor and the nummularios of Mategosa. Over time, each of the family groups on Mategosa became involved in the gold traffic. The proceeds of their operations did not go to just one person, but were considered to be assets for each family as a whole. The Claudian period is where we see the development of the familial/clan social structure in Mategosa that persists to this day.

After the Claudians, there was a gap in imperial usage of the Mategosan connection. Dalmatian cargo was interrupted during the chaos of The Year of the Four Emperors and the Flavians did not renew the system favored by the Claudians. Trajan, however, revived the old gold route, along with the diversion on the docks of Mategosa harbor. Commodus neglected the arrangements and the lack of private finances is considered to be a contributing factor to the instability of his regime. Septimus Severus worked with the Mategosans, but is an exception in the regnal list for many years, as the Empire became more chaotic and the Crisis of the Third Century commenced.

The reign of Gallienus was a period of governmental stability in the 3rd Century, even if the frontiers of the Empire were fraying and regional governors were often rebelling. Gallienus visited Illyricum several times between 253 and 258 and stopped at Mategosa more than once: it is unclear if the islanders were able to convince the Emperor to take advantage of their services. Given that the economy collapsed during the later years of his reign, it is unlikely that he did. Or, if he did, he did not make effective use of such services.

What we do know is that the gold began arriving again at Mategosa during the 260s. From the transactional records we have, we can determine that once again the Mategosans were changing manifests, but they do not seem to have included the Emperor in their arrangements. In the turmoil of the next 20 years, the Emperors forgot completely about Mategosa. By the time of Julius Nepos in 474-480, the Dalmatian coast was accountable to the Emperor only because he lived there. After the fall of Julius Nepos, Mategosa fades from history with the rest of the Dalmatian coast. But the gold, hidden away in the underground cavern systems of Mategosa, never lost its luster. As trade and banking returned to the region following the establishment of the Byzantine theme of Dalmatia and the Kingdom of Croatia, Mategosa was ready to provide the secrecy and special arrangements that are often attached to that industry.

Plaza Turcha

In the citadel of Mategosa, there is a lovely cafe that sits atop a tunnel. While the tunnel is part of a recent traffic-control effort, the plaza has been there since the 15th Century. It is known as “Plaza Turcha” and it is where the Ottoman Empire arrived – and departed – from Mategosa.

As Sultan Mehmed II stormed through the Balkans after the fall of Constantinople, the citizens of Mategosa prepared for the day that the sultan’s shadow would fall across their island. The city council had no love for the Venetians: none would seek to find shelter behind Venetian galleys, as that meant financial entanglements entirely opposed to Mategosan interests.

Neither did the Mategosans seek aid under the Croatian flag. The seemingly unstoppable Turkish hosts would swallow up Croatia, it seemed, and no part of that nation would escape the onslaught from the East. Flying a Hapsburg banner was equally distasteful to the Mategosans. The only way to survive would be, as it so frequently is the case in Mategosan history, to go it alone.

Mategosa called up no soldiers for its defense: dying on the field of battle would be a noble, but futile gesture for an island as small as Mategosa. The might of Mategosa lay instead in its ability to call to service the infamous istražitelji, the crack financial investigators of the island. The istražitelji were known far and wide in banking circles – and feared wherever they were known.

The first move of the istražitelji was a distraction: it is now known today that a Mategosan agent was behind the incident that led to the Ottoman-Venetian War of 1463-1479. A cell of istražitelji agents in Athens identified an Albanian slave in the household of the local Turkish commander whose daily activities left him unsupervised near the gates of the city. After the agents provided the slave with 100,000 silver coins and instructions on how to get to the nearest Venetian fortress, the slave was only too happy to run for his freedom. With the Turks occupied in a war with Venice, the istražitelji would enjoy years of preparing their next defense.

Not to say that all istražitelji were engaged against the Ottomans: more than a few kept track of the 100,000 coins and followed them through the accounts of the Venetians. When the Venetians sued for peace with Mehmed II at their gates, it was a ledger provided to the Sultan’s entourage by the Mategosans that guided the negotiations on what sort of financial indemnity the Venetians could afford to pay. This monetary blow to Venice, scholars agree, kept the Venetians from ever again being able to assert themselves over Mategosa. Continued Mategosan interference in Venetian monetary matters is frequently cited as an underlying reason behind Venice always coming up short of funds whenever it considered a punitive expedition against Mategosa.

As Venice lay prostrate before the Ottomans, the istražitelji worked to convince the Ottoman councils of invading Italy. In 1480, Mehmed II sent an army to attack Otranto. With Turks so close to home, the Pope demanded a Crusade – just as the Mategosans had hoped for – and powers from outside the region dealt a blow to the Turks that halted their advance in the Adriatic.

After Mehmed II passed away, his successor Bayezid II initially wanted to continue his father’s empire-building in the Adriatic region. Prior to the launching of the battle-fleets, however, the Mategosans issued an invitation to the Sultan to be their guest for discussions about the status of the island.

We know that Bayezid II traveled to Mategosa – the Ottoman Empire Archives contain documentation of the clandestine visit. That the visit was kept so secret has mystified scholars until recently. With the discovery of the so-called “Gizli Odalar” (hidden rooms) section of the Ottoman Archives in 2018, researchers have uncovered the papers that must certainly have compelled Bayezid II to quietly arrive at Mategosa. The papers were financial records implying that Bayezid II had been a victim of embezzlement – and only the wily istražitelji could provide recovery of the funds and apprehension of the thieves.

And so, on 27 October 1481, Bayezid II and his closest advisors met with Mategosan financial experts on the Plaza Turcha. There, the masters of the istražitelji guild laid out their case against secret supporters of the Ottoman pretender Cem, offering up incredible details regarding their financial transactions and stores of wealth.

Impressed with the fiscal discretion with which the istražitelji conducted themselves, Bayezid II agreed to a secret treaty, a copy of which was found in the Gizli Odalar. In the treaty, Bayezid II pledged to leave Mategosa unmolested in exchange for the istražitelji‘s continued watchfulness over the imperial treasury. It was an agreement honored in perpetuity by the Ottomans for centuries – and the maintenance of the istražitelji effort a constant source of clandestine wealth for the Isle of Mategosa.

And so, the Plaza Turcha is a special spot in the hearts of all true sons and daughters of Mategosa, as it is where more than freedom was secured for Mategosa – security and safety were bought there, as well. When the sottocollina road improvements were proposed in the late 1950s, it looked for a moment that Plaza Turcha would have to be sacrificed in the name of better traffic flow. But, through the patriotic genius of the civil engineers of Mategosa, innovative tunneling techniques allowed the plaza to be preserved and the traffic to flow smoothly underneath the place where the Sultan and the istražitelji guild-masters struck their bargain.

Where Is Mategosa?

You won’t find Mategosa on a map. Not a recent map, at any rate. There are Medieval Venetian maps and 16th-Century Ottoman charts that show the Isle of Mategosa, but modern-era cartographers either don’t know about Mategosa and leave it off – or they know full well about Mategosa and the trouble that could arise from putting it on a chart, so best to leave it off.

I was in Trieste harbor back in 2017, and I remember approaching the port authority to see navigation charts for where the Isle of Mategosa is. There’s no island on the map, just a “navigation hazard” that most shipping lines go neatly around… but it’s also the only navigation hazard that has a small number of shipping lines actually terminating on it.

I asked a worker at the port authority about getting passage to Mategosa. He was set to retire soon, so he had a certain candor in his speaking that others were too early in their careers to have. I recall his knowing smile and comments along the line of, “I can’t tell you that, but I can.” I asked him if that was the case just in Trieste. No, he said, it’s that way all around the Adriatic. Italian, Slovenian, Croatian, Bosnian, Montenegrin, and Albanian ports – all of them have no official way to get you to Mategosa, but you can still get there if you need to.

So what’s the best way to get to get on a boat that arrives at the navigation hazard in the Northern Adriatic Sea? Well, experience has shown me that the best way to get there is to be a regular commuter. If one is in a habit of going to and from Mategosa, one tends to stay in that habit. But what about the casual visitor, drawn by tales of the ancient Roman playground for the wealthy, romances of Crusader pirates, or glimpses of the glitterati? How do tourists get there?

The good news is that it is very easy to get to Mategosa, once you know how to understand the system that is in place. The caution is that it is also very easy to get to Mategosa the wrong way, so you have to be careful about your travel arrangements.

Let’s cover what not to do first. Do not walk up and down the fishing piers, asking if any of the boats are going to Mategosa. You might very well find a boat that will take you there, but you might either pay a price that is ultimately too high or become permanently entangled in lines of business that will always keep drawing you back when you think you finally found a way out.

Do not walk into a ferry terminal and ask for a ticket to Mategosa. You will be flatly told that there is no such place. You will also be marked as a possible international police inspector or some other kind of busybody and the ferry operators’ network will likely blacklist you up and down both sides of the Adriatic. One of the most important rules of Mategosa is never asking the wrong questions about it. Asking for a ticket to Mategosa is one of those wrong questions.

To properly get to Mategosa, do go to the right kind of ferry terminal. One that advertises cross-border or trans-Adriatic service is the right kind of terminal. Local-only terminals will either lack service or offer it only to people that they recognize. In the international terminal, do not look for a ferry by its listed destination, look instead for ferries by their departure and arrival times. Where you see a ferry that has a departure time but no arrival time, that is the ferry to Mategosa. Depending on distance, fares for the ferry will range from 70-100 Euros. Go with established, recognized ferry firms, such as Jadrolinija, Gomo Viaggi, Kompas, or Venezia Lines.

Travel time to Mategosa from most major Adriatic ports is at least 5 hours, and from Pescara or Split, it can be 10-11 hours. I do not recommend boarding a ferry to Mategosa from a location further south. In most cases, it’s faster to take the train to Ancona in Italy or Split in Croatia and then board the ferry there. Nevertheless, if you must get to Mategosa directly from Bari or Durres, you can find passage on a recognized carrier in the manner described above. Be advised, however, that travel times will be much longer – you’ll likely be on a sleeper – and that the ferries depart less frequently than those in the Central or Northern Adriatic.

Do not expect Adriatic cruise ships to make any stops at Mategosa: Mategosa is one of the rare Adriatic islands not hugging the coastline, which is the domain of the cruise ship. Moreover, there would be some potentially severe legal entanglements for cruise liners to make a Mategosan port of call, so they will treat it very much as a “navigation hazard”, even though the hazards are purely ones of international law.

There is a causeway to Mategosa, but you do not want to travel to Mategosa by car. I will say no more of this except to re-iterate that if you arrive in Mategosa by any means other than a legitimate ferry service, you will most certainly not be a tourist. A word to the wise is sufficient.

Once you debark from the ferry, expect to be greeted by the smiling, but abrupt, natives. Most folk speak a blend of Dalmatian, a Romance tongue that is extinct everywhere else in the world, and Chakavian, the dialect of Serbo-Croatian most common along the Dalmatian and Istrian coast. Mategosans often know enough English to help tourists get to basic attractions, but prefer to conduct their business affairs in these obscure dialects. The reasoning behind that preference goes back several hundred years, back to when Mategosa became notorious as a base for uskoci pirates.

Now, if you want to know why Mategosa is not on any map, do not ask any Mategosan. At best, they will treat your question with quiet contempt. There is a certain cultural pride in their obscurity being a given, and they are tight-lipped about their national secrets. Do not also ask any boat operators, for reasons noted above. They will sail to “nowhere”, pause, and then turn around, no questions asked. Ever.

The answers to that question that should not be asked are to be found in Nacionalna i sveučilišna knjižnica u Zagrebu – the National and University Library in Zagreb. They are in the Library of St. Mark in Venice. They are in Başbakanlık Osmanlı Arşivi, the Ottoman State Archives in Istanbul. They are in the Österreichisches Staatsarchiv, the Austrian State Archives in Vienna. And you will find those answers not by asking about Mategosa – that is a good way to get no information – but by asking roundabout questions about general information regarding the Central/Northern Adriatic region, with particular reference to endemic trees that people enjoyed in the past.

When you understand that in the patois of the mystery island, “Mategosa” translates as “tree we enjoy”, you will understand why that reference noted above begins to unlock the secrets of the place. And Mategosa is indeed home to a catkin-bearing chestnut tree species that is unique to that island, so if you don’t want to be sent to the botany section, be sure to mention “in the past” in your questioning, so that you are led to the part of the archives that have the maps with Mategosa on them… and the papers explaining why it had to be removed.

The Opposite Gospel

In the year that the government ordered a tax audit, Joe Carpenter took his family out of the USA and took up residence in an overseas tax shelter. There, little Joe Carpenter, Jr. was born. Everyone called him “JC” because his dad told them to.

Joe Sr. said, “JC are great initials. They’re mine. If he’s going to inherit my business, he’ll need initials like I have. Everybody call him JC, or you’re fired, and I’ll have the local police arrest you and deport you, even if you’re a resident in this fleabag nation!” Because Joe Sr. had lots of money, everyone who worked for him pretended to love his ideas.

A few days after JC was born, several dictators sent representatives bearing gifts to visit the child. In return, Joe Sr. lobbied Congress to drop business sanctions against those nations so that he could invest in them. When some Congresspeople objected to dropping sanctions against nations where the dictators would torture and execute people for no reason, Joe Sr. said that those politicians hated America and should be replaced by business-friendly politicians. He then supported the campaigns of white supremacists to replace those Congresspeople and said that was good.

When JC was 12, Joe Sr. brought him to work one day. While Joe Sr. was in a meeting, JC wandered off. Joe Sr. had no idea that his kid wasn’t with him until 3 days later, when he found JC in the board room, pointing his finger at upper management and screaming at them that they were all spineless dungheaps, not fit to work for his dad if they couldn’t turn their profitability around. Joe Sr. smiled and said, “That’s my boy. What he says, goes. Any of you that he fired, I want you out of here before lunch.” And it was so.

And so JC developed, day by day and week by week, into the kind of executive his father had been. When JC was 30, Joe Sr. retired as CEO and put JC into that position. Joe Sr. retained his position as Chairman of the Board, but let JC call the shots, both for daily operations as well as long-term corporate strategy.

Well, there was one interim CEO in there because Joe Sr. had to retire suddenly and leave the USA over a particularly nasty sex scandal. Joe Sr. appointed John Waterman as interim CEO until JC was available to officially start in that role.

Before he took over as CEO, however, JC took a 40-day vacation to a desert beach resort. He ate well and partied for every one of those 40 days. At the end of the 40 days, Satan came to him and said, “JC, if you bow down to worship me, I’ll give you all that you want.”

JC said, “My father told me about you. Send your contract to legal to let my boys have a look at it, and we should be good to go.” They shook hands and then went over to hang out with Jeffrey Epstein.

When JC got back from Epstein’s place, he want to see John Waterman. Now, John had been accepting praise for his role as interim CEO, but he always said that JC would be 10 times better than him, easily. Some of the activist shareholders were questioning Waterman’s hiring decisions, saying that they didn’t come from good business schools. Waterman replied, “Look, I don’t care if the guy is from Wharton or community college, I want someone who does what he’s told. I can make a manager out of anybody, if they just do exactly what I tell them to do.”

Anyway, JC goes to see Waterman. They have a big production that was staged for the media in which Waterman says he’s not worthy to share the same podium as JC, and JC tells Waterman, “You’ll share the podium because I told you to!” They have a good laugh and the business press just ate it up like candy.

JC brought in his own team of C-level executives, 12 of them, to spread his vision to the company as a whole. He raided a seafood processing company for a number of their execs, and also had a former IRS high official – JC was well-connected. His COO and right-hand man was one of those seafood guys, Pete Rock. JC and Pete made a great team.

JC didn’t bring in Waterman, though. There were some outstanding corporate tax issues from when Joe Sr. was in charge, so JC decided to hand the IRS Waterman’s head on a platter as the fall guy for the tax problems.

When JC took over officially, he called for an all hands meeting. This is what he said:

“We’re really blessed to be here today, especially those of us with big options packages. It’s going to be like heaven for us when they vest.
“Speaking of heaven, Carpenter Industries is canceling all paid bereavement leave, effective immediately. I want you worrying about profits for the living instead of memories of the dead. We’re like sharks here, keep moving or you die.
“Nobody gets nothing if you’re meek and quiet. You want to inherit the earth? Be like me, brash and bold!
“And if you want more of this politically incorrect talk, I’ll keep it coming.
“I want you to go after profits, without mercy. If you don’t, I might just fire you, without mercy.
“If you want to get a commendation from my dad, then you better get one thing straight: He doesn’t give prizes to Boy Scouts or little goodie two-shoes types. You don’t get a bonus from him that way.
“I’m not my father’s son because I’m a peaceful sort or anything like that. I go for the blood, I go for the jugular. Business is war, and that’s what we do here, war!
“And I got no time for so-called whistleblowers. As far as I’m concerned, those people are traitors and I’ll go after you with every legal trick in the book. I’ll bury you. So think twice before you decide to call 60 Minutes or anything like that.
“Just remember, I only insult my friends. The rest can go to hell. So if you’re mad about anything I say, good news, you still have a job where you get to hear it. You’re welcome.
“No doubt, you’ve heard in church, ‘Thou shalt not kill.’ Well, I got no place for that here. I need killers, real dyed-in-the-wool killers who will get Carpenter Industries more profitable than it’s ever been. You better not get caught, I’m telling you now, because I got no room for losers, but I also got no room for people without a killer instinct. Do yourself a favor and quit now, make room for someone who’s got the guts to be rich.
“We’re also introducing a stack ranking system. If you’re working alongside a fool or an idiot, tell your boss! Get that guy the hell out of here!
“I do need to stress that you all follow our company guidelines on sexual harassment so that we don’t get sued. Again.
“Anyway, I’m a real eye for an eye kind of guy. That’s how I want it to be around here. Somebody screws you, you screw them right back, but double, got that?
“All right, meeting over, get back to work or you’re fired.”