Freedom Isn’t Free

Nothing says freedom like the open range, a cowboy and the American flag.

Nothing says freedom like  a cowboy hat, the American flag and a taxpayer-supported open range that allows fiercely independent welfare ranchers like Cliven Bundy to get rich.

Remember Cliven Bundy, the mouthy Nevada rancher who ganged up with his militia pals and used an arsenal of guns to bravely stand down the federal government over an obscure cattle-grazing dispute that nobody cares about as long as it doesn’t raise the price of hamburger at Walmart?

I do, and I also remember thinking he was batshit crazy. Not because he risked getting his brassy balls blasted to bits by a pissed-off posse of federal marshals waving assault rifles. Sometimes you have to fight for what you believe in, even if it’s shamefully wrong and gets you killed dead.

No, I thought Bundy was madder than a cowboy hatter because he believes in freedom with a capital F.

Freedom is a ridiculous concept. I’ll never understand why the word brings tears of patriotic pride to the eyes of flag-waving Libertarians, Tea Partiers, and mainstream conservatives everywhere from Poughkeepsie to Portland. Even liberals get a little misty-eyed when they hear the word, although I admit it doesn’t take much more than a box of kittens to make a liberal’s lower lip quiver.

Listen to me: There is no such thing as freedom, and there never was. There is fleeting freedom, or limited freedom, or relative freedom, sure. Given a choice between having lunch with an insurance agent and spending 10 years performing slave labor on the Gulag Archipelago, only a madman would pick the Gulag.

I think.

Maybe not. Insurance is extremely dull.

But what are we to make of this idea of pure unadulterated individual freedom? This nagging belief that every American ought to be able to strip naked, jump on a Harley Davidson and race at 145 mph from Denver to Detroit tossing hand grenades at bunnies in the brush just because it’s fun to blow things up?

Americans aren’t merely fond of this idea. It frames nearly every decision we make, from how we manage our health care system and regulate fracking to the size of the flags we fly on July 4th and how many loaded pistols we keep hidden under the condoms and vibrators in our nightstands. We treasure the idea of freedom, fantasize about it, mythologize it, and worship it like a god. If we could, we’d oil up and mate with it hoping to give birth to pretty neon butterflies that would float around spreading the true gospel of freedom to the rest of the world’s freedom-impoverished nations.

Is it any wonder our best-recognized state motto is New Hampshire’s Live free or die? Even more popular than Delaware’s motto, We can’t find ourselves on a map, either? Never mind that live free or die was stolen from the French, those unsupportive and arrogant butter-swilling socialists. Give me liberty or give me death is an idea that is as firmly wedged into the American psyche as a wet cork in a well-worn bunghole.

I don’t know how this idea of freedom grabbed ahold of America’s love handles so firmly. My conservative friends tell me it has a lot to do with the American Revolution, the Founding Fathers, the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, and the U.S. Constitution.

I Googled "Benjamin Franklin womanizer" but thought this picture of Brad Pitt with Madisen Beaty was much nicer. Pretend it's Ben with somebody French.

I Googled “Benjamin Franklin womanizer” for an image but thought this picture of Brad Pitt with Madisen Beaty was much more interesting than an old man in a wig consorting with Betsy Ross. Pretend it’s that rascal Ben with one of his French lovers.

As I understand it, these wise leaders ordered their wives, mistresses and slaves to stay in the kitchen and leave them alone while they consulted mano-y-mano with God to hatch a new paradigm valuing individual liberty above everything else. Even beer and sex, which is hard to believe given their records of drunken debauchery and womanizing. Benjamin Franklin may be best-known for offering sound moral advice like “Early to bed, Early to rise, Makes a man Healthy, Wealthy and Wise,” but let’s don’t forget that he also wrote gems like “After three days men grow weary of a wench, a guest & weather rainy,” and “Neither a Fortress nor a maidenhead will hold out long after they begin to parley.” It’s clear to me that if old Ben wasn’t in bed by 7 p.m., he went home. Presumably to write shallow and misguided aphorisms that would shape the nation’s destiny in unfortunate ways.

Now, before you storm my Chateau and exercise your Second Amendment right to shoot me in the face for criticizing our old-guard leadership, give me a chance to invoke my First Amendment right to free speech so I can explain what I mean. All I’m saying is that if it’s true our Founding Fathers are history’s greatest champions of the philosophy of individual freedom, then history sucks more than I imagined because they made several egregious mistakes when they laid out their case for it:

• One, they were horrible spellers. The Constitution and other documents are rife with mistakes. Choose became “chuse,” for example, and they couldn’t get Pennsylvania right, omitting one of the first two Ns, even though they were in Pennsylvania at the time, for fuck’s sake. Their grammar and punctuation was equally atrocious, sometimes making it hard for the Supreme Court to interpret what they meant. At the very least, these unlettered men set a troubling precedent for America’s educational system that persists today. But we can’t start redlining the Constitution now. It is what it is, and I suggest we chuse to ignore it.

• Two, when our Founding Fathers lobbied for freedom by writing “all men are created equal,” they meant rich white men. Voting rights weren’t extended to Blacks, Native Americans, women, or the poor of any race, perhaps because lead author Thomas Jefferson was a blatant racist who didn’t want his slaves stirring up trouble at his Monticello plantation while he was busy upstairs in the house “discussing abolition” with his scandalously young mistress, a slave of mixed race who ran the household. That same prejudice, misogyny and class elitism still taints our political processes and thinking today, and if you disagree then you’re most likely white, willfully ignorant, or one of the aristocratic Scrooge McDucks who runs the country. Possibly all three.

• Three, the Founding Fathers wrongly focused on rights when they should have discussed responsibilities. I blame this on youthful exuberance and ignorance. The more I study American history, the more I believe the Founding Fathers were basically like wilding teenagers who left home to attend college in another country. Having escaped the tyranny of their big, bad daddy, they wanted what all teenagers want: An endless supply of highly caffeinated energy drinks, beer, as much tax-free spending money as they could get, sex, and the keys to the Range Rover. When poppa—and I admit King George III was a little overbearing, as fathers of teenagers tend to be—tried to enforce some discipline, the Founding Fathers pounded their adolescent fists on the table and whined about their rights, overlooking the sad fact that adulthood is much more about shouldering dull and burdensome responsibilities than it is about running around naked and drunk with a pair of shoes tied to your unfettered dong, something I assure you I never did in college when I was supposed to be studying.

Really, I didn’t. I swear.

You have to admire the easy-to-clean lines of European toilets, even if they are freedom-hating socialists.

You have to admire the easy-to-clean lines of European toilets, even if the people who flush them are freedom-hating socialists.

I’d forgive the Founding Fathers the excesses of youth, but thanks to them America still behaves like a petulant tweener today, perhaps because the nation is just 238 years old. Europe has toilets older than the United States. Politically, it also grew up long ago, which is why people there are less materialistic, choosing to work less and make the financial sacrifices necessary to allow them to give decent minimum wages and benefits to all workers, invest in the education of their children, and provide health care and other social-welfare programs that ensure a basic quality of life for themselves and their fellow citizens.

• Four, the Founding Fathers failed to define freedom precisely enough. Their driving thought seemed to be that freedom means “no taxation without representation,” an idea that was closely tied to the idea that our society—not the African or Native American societies, mind you—had a right to self-determination, which was was in turn supported by laws protecting freedoms like speech and the right for militias to arm themselves.

Despite our modern mythological reverence for these freedoms as pure ideological concepts, however, none of them were viewed that way by early Americans. For instance, less than a decade after the First Amendment was passed, Congress passed the Sedition Act of 1798, making it a crime to criticize the government. Speech that threatened public order was also restricted, especially rants against slavery and the Civil War, or speech considered pro-union or pro-socialism. Even our precious guns weren’t left untouched by the law. 1813, Kentucky enacted the first carrying concealed weapon statute in the United States, and in 1837 Georgia banned the sale of most pistols. Indiana, Alabama and Arkansas all had concealed carry laws in the early to mid 1800’s. Some of these laws were later struck down, but the point is that our freedoms have long been mitigated by reason, as they should be.

Such is the power of the American freedom myth and corporate anti-tax lobbying, however, that over time the Founding Fathers’ poorly defined and often contradictory thoughts about freedom magically morphed in the American imagination into a definition of freedom best summed up by the phrase, “Those goddamned revenuers better keep their fucking hands off my money and get their noses out of my business or I’ll pump them full of buckshot.”

Which is bullshit. Where on earth did we get the utterly false impression that laws, regulations, and taxes are freedom-stifling? The Founding Fathers never argued against the rule of law or taxes. In fact, they loved government. They just wanted fair representation and the freedom to plunder the new world for profit without interference from the homeland.

Of the nearly 200 nations on the planet, most of the advanced ones are more or less what many Americans would (wrongly) consider socialist, which is to say they have strong corporate regulations and social welfare programs funded by relatively high corporate and personal taxes. They should represent the antithesis of freedom and happiness, yet most seem as free and as happy as us, often more so. We may boast about our First Amendment and free press, for example, but according to the 2014 World Press Freedom Index compiled by Reporters Without Borders, the U.S. ranked 46th among 180 nations surveyed, falling 13 places since last year. Meanwhile, when it comes to overall freedom, the Canadian Fraser Institute ranks the U.S. just seventh among its most and least free countries for 2013.

But studies are just horseshit shoveled at us by Ivory Tower academics, so let’s try a difference approach: Ignore the fact that you’re a fiercely proud American for just a minute and ask yourself who’s more free, the average Italian who is guaranteed 42 vacation days a year and often gets more, or the average American who gets less than 10, none of it guaranteed by law? Or how about Swedish mothers, who are guaranteed 14 months of paid maternity leave to spend bonding with their newborns compared to none—zero, for fuck’s sake!—for American mothers? Similarly, were we freer without publicly funded healthcare, even when 30-40 million Americans couldn’t afford health insurance at all and getting sick was the single biggest cause of bankruptcy even for those who could?

No! We not only take give me liberty or give me death too seriously, we take it too literally.

• Five, and perhaps most importantly, the Founding Fathers based their thinking on a false philosophical assumption that rich white men are endowed by God with unalienable rights. These rights include life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, free speech, the right to bear arms, and access to a speedy criminal trial if you bear those arms too much and shoot your wife’s lover in his pimply arse after coming home from work early one afternoon and catching them betwixt the sheets.

This bold, faith-based assertion about unalienable rights wasn’t handed from God to Jefferson and his pals on stone tablets. It was borrowed directly from two Deist Englishmen—John Locke, a physician and liberal philosopher; and Sir William Blackstone, a popular law professor and armchair philosopher at Oxford University. Blackstone’s assertion that our rights are absolute and an inseparable part of our humanity because God is absolute and created us in His image struck the Founding Fathers’ fancy.

If you’re a heathen who doesn’t believe in God, you’re already cringing at Blackstone’s argument. But let’s set religion aside for a moment and look at the issue from another point of view.

Nothing in our life experience indicates we are independent, let alone bequeathed with independence by a creator. We might feel alone lying in bed at night with nothing to hug but an empty flask of whiskey and a crumpled photo of our high school sweetheart (I miss you, honey!), but we are never fully disconnected from others. We’re conceived as pairs, remain wholly dependent on our parents’ nurture for at least 10-12 years, and are raised in families. Families inevitably become clans, clans morph into cities, cities become states, and states form nations.

This is how it’s been since Ogg shacked up with Lucy 3.2 million years ago and they got busy populating the world. It appears this is how it will always be because there is no viable alternative. At every stage of our development we are by necessity governed by increasingly complex sets of rules that limit our individual freedom more and more, whether it’s simple familial rules like being expected to stop giving our brothers titty-twisters, or maddeningly complex rules that force us to sit down at the kitchen table every April 14th to fill out our federal and state forms. The very thing that defines our lives is the set of rules that bind us together with our families and society. We cannot live without them or one another, which means individual freedom is a complete fantasy.

Now this is freedom. Call me, Scarlett. Let's move to an island and start our own country.

Now this is freedom. Call me, Scarlett. Right now. Let’s move to an island and found our own country based the ideals of free love.

Because this point is important and may contradict your basic world view if you were blessed enough to be born in God’s first runner-up chosen land and then taught to mechanically recite the Pledge of Allegiance every morning, let me say it another way: Believing in individual liberty is right up there with believing in Santa Claus; Or the possibility that Johnny Depp or Scarlett Johansson might bed us if we only had a chance to meet; Or that there is a Mother Ship hiding behind Comet ISON waiting to take true believers to the New Earth. Any of these things is possible, but laughably improbable, although I swear Scarlett makes eyes at me in the theater.

*blink*

We aren’t independent.

Ever.

Americans may fear freedom-inhibiting collectivist societies like the Borg, the militant socialists who threatened the militaristic space cowboys who ran Starfleet in Star Trek, but like it or not, we are them. We live in hives, and we think and act in groups.

Simply put, the Founding Fathers had it wrong. If they believed in Jehovah and Jesus, something I increasingly doubt because most of them were Deists and Deists deny the Christian miracles and resurrection, then they weren’t listening to them because it seems clear he endowed us not with independence, but dependence. On Him and your fellow believers for starters, if you believe the story, and on one another.

For evidence, we need look no further than our own backyards. Even here in God’s country, individualism never existed–not among the settlers who landed at Plymouth Rock, not for Daniel Boone and the pioneers who pushed west looking for a little more elbow room, and not among the cowboys slept under the stars with nothing but horses, cows, and rattlesnakes for company. They all lived in societies, or at the very least, symbiotically with society.

Even America’s new freedom hero Cliven Bundy isn’t free. He might look good sitting on a horse with an AR-15 assault rifle and an American flag, but his ranch’s success depends on being able to graze his cattle on publicly owned lands without paying mandatory grazing fees, meaning he’s a freeloading welfare rancher who got rich on taxpayers’ dimes, not because he worked hard and tamed the land that our ancestors stole from the Mexicans and Indians.

Freedom is a treasured American myth, but in the real world, the serious, modern one that requires us to get up every morning and go to work so that we can pay our cable bills and then rush home at night to revel in the orgiastic sex and violence of Game of Thrones, it’s clear we’re not free at all. We are restricted by all sorts of bonds, and I’m not talking about the playful variety described (or so I’ve heard from my pervy friends) in 50 Shades of Grey. I’m talking about obvious laws designed to help prevent us from shooting one another or stealing one another’s comic book collections. Or behind-the-scenes regulations intended to keep companies from selling us poisonous food or dangerous cars. Or a host of unspoken rules that obligate us to our friends and families, and them to us.

Americans constantly grouse about these restrictions on our freedom, of course. We deeply resent them because they contradict our fundamental philosophical assumption that we are born free and should remain free. That the police and bureaucrats and government—especially Big Government, whatever those two frighteningly squishy words mean—are inherently bad and should be resisted at every turn. Sometimes, even violently opposed, Cliven Bundy style.

But mostly, we pout about these rules.

Why?

I didn't think I'd like the Captain America movies because I'm a grown man, but I was wrong. This dude is a stud and a half, and he appealed to the 13-year-old boy that dominates my psyche.

I didn’t think I’d like the Captain America movies because I’m a grown man, but I was wrong. This dude is a stud and a half, and he appealed to the 13-year-old boy who dominates my psyche.

In a word, we’re immature. We don’t understand why we need government and its rules to survive any better than 13-year-old kids understand why their parents tell them to go to bed and get a proper night’s rest before school. We disrespect rules because we stubbornly refuse to see how they benefit us, and harbor some vague notion that rules stand in opposition to freedom when in reality they more often make us freer. We refuse to accept that life without government, without rules and restrictions, would be, as 17th-century English philosopher Thomas Hobbes put it, “nasty, brutish and short.”

One final thought: Freedom doesn’t even mean what we hope it means. It is a word with philosophical roots that run counter to our modern American interpretation.

Etymologists, the extreme language nerds who study word origins when they’re not dressing up as lords and ladies for Renaissance festivals, believe the English word for freedom comes from the pre-Christian German word “friede,” which means “peace.” Friede described a unique peaceful period following the end of a blood feud between two warring clans when the softer, feminine qualities of the god Freda held sway. To achieve peace, the clan that had committed the most recent wrong against another clan had to fork over a gift of meat or animal hides. American historian David Hackett Fischer traced the origins of the word and concluded that to Northern European cultures, freedom wasn’t something individuals possessed—Gasp!—but a communal good shared equally between all members of a society, which may explain why they have a more sophisticated and nuanced view of what freedom means today.

I can only assume that when the American colonists traveled across the Atlantic, that communal notion of freedom got lost like luggage. Let’s hope we find it before we soil our shorts and need a change of underwear.

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It’s Raining On A Thursday In September

Whale fluke

I want to sail to Iceland
Drink Reyka with a woman who wears a swan
Slip on the ice
Learn to pronounce Eyjafjallajökull

I want to row backward across the sea
Peer through the mist at Thjóðhildr’s husband
Drop a battle axe
Learn the words of the whale’s song

I want to walk on rocky shores
Make a harp of fish bones and wizard’s beard
Fall into cold water
Learn to speak like falling snow

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Swing Low, Sweet Chariot

I miss my grandfather, the mischievous one who squirted whipped cream into my little brother’s ear at Thanksgiving one year and started a food fight that made the day unusually fun and memorable for me as well as his many grandchildren and great-children. The one who played every musical instrument he touched with skill and joy even though he couldn’t read music. The one who put on a gaudy Western shirt and bolo tie and took his wife, my grandmother, square dancing every week.

Clarence was his name, although he was Ted to his family, and Whitey to his friends. He died more than a decade ago. Got old, got prostate cancer, and the medical treatments made him sicker and sicker until, as he would’ve said, God called him home.

I’d like to tell you there is offsetting good news. That because he lives on in my memory, or because I inherited my sense of humor and whatever musical talent I have from him through his son, my father, it’s okay he’s gone.

It’s not.

I accept his absence because I’m forced to. Not because it feels like life’s natural order has been fulfilled, or because I’m supposed to be comforted by the knowledge that because he was a man of faith, he’s in a better place.

From my viewpoint on this side of the dark veil between life and death, gone is gone.

I know that sounds harsh, and I believe I know why it sounds harsh: It’s because we don’t want to acknowledge that everything—every person, every creature and object, every experience—will eventually break down and turn into a pile of dust that will be picked up by the wind and scattered and re-scattered until it’s forgotten. We desperately want to believe that good follows bad in the same way that sunshine follows rain. That pain and suffering will be rewarded, for example, or that failure will lead us to new and greater opportunities. Or that hate fades away while love endures forever. That despite all evidence to the contrary, there is always hope.

There often is.

We lose a job and land a better one. Sickness makes us more empathetic and kind. Hedonism inspires purity. Sacrifice and suffering are rewarded with abundance. Death focuses our attention on life.

Good can arise out of bad, at least in the short term.

I’m not a pessimist.

But I am mindful of a discussion between the famously gloomy Czechoslovakian writer Franz Kafka and his biographer, Max Brod:

Kafka: “We are nihilistic thoughts, suicidal thoughts that come into God’s head…our world is only a bad mood of God, a bad day of his.”

Max Brod: “Then there is hope outside this manifestation of the world that we know.”

Kafka: “Oh, plenty of hope, an infinite amount of hope—but not for us.”

It’s sobering, this nihilistic view that nothing matters, not even hope. Because it rings true that even though good can follow bad, it’s far from certain. We know full well that one day our beloved pet dog might leave the house and never return. Or that an errant truck might run a red light and paralyze us from the neck down. Or that children might starve to death because of war, famine or unimaginable human cruelty. Deep in our hearts, we live with the constant frightening understanding that tragedy may never be infused with hope and connected to goodness in any discernible way. Perhaps more often than not.

Is that knowledge depressing?

Often, yes.

But to me, there’s no point in searching for happiness in sorrow. It’s a pursuit that will only make life unhappy.

It’s also realistic, which is to say it rings true, and truth feels more positive to me than the white lies we tell ourselves to get through the day without collapsing into tears. So I begrudgingly accept that everything functional will one day break; That everything, no matter how permanent it seems, will perish. Science calls this inevitability entropy, meaning that absent an external input of energy, order always moves toward disorder. It’s an immutable scientific law, and it means the very universe that supports us is inexorably unwinding regardless of how we feel. Ultimately, we are irrelevant, just temporary assemblages of atoms.

If that thought is too discomfiting, we can always turn to faith for solace. Christianity, for instance. The New Testament says “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”

I like this verse. It has poetic gravitas and implies that faith—sometimes defined as unshakeable conviction—transcends or supersedes hope, and presumably its ugly twin, hopelessness. Essentially, it says, “Fuck science, faith is the external input of energy that’s required to hold everything together in a meaningful way.” Perhaps that’s why the words come from The Good Book, a book that proffers eternal hope to the brokenhearted.

The problem is that so much of the Bible’s hope seems to be about the day after tomorrow, or worse, about a long series of days after tomorrows stretching out to a tiny point that lies somewhere just beyond the vanishing point of all of life’s horizon. The Word seems to say we once enjoyed an intimate relationship with God that was irrevocably broken in the garden of Eden, and that the relationship will only be restored after believers die, experience rebirth, and are reunited with God in New Jerusalem. It isn’t going to happen this morning, or this afternoon, or even a year or decade from now, but sometime long after our bodies are planted underground and we get that first upward glance at the inscription on our headstone.

Meaning that temporally, today, right now, standing on this side of the veil and watching as the second hand slowly sweeps the detritus of the day into the gloomy night, there is no hope worth clinging to. Now, I don’t want to be a crybaby, but I don’t feel like waiting an eternity for that sweet chariot to swing low and carry me home. Like Kafka, I want some hope and I want it now.

So what am I saying?

That there is no hope? That there is some hope, but you can’t depend on it? That there is always hope, but you can only see its shining glory shore if you’re standing on a mountaintop in Beulah Land?

I’m not sure what I mean. I’m just an idiot. My words are full of sound and fury, and signify nothing. Even if they did mean something, I’m not convinced it would matter to anybody but me, if at all.

Maybe all I mean is that I’d like to hear my grandfather’s laugh again, or to see his smile. He had a kind smile.

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Orient

Orient

So you are empty
A hollow ball of copper floating on moonlit waves
Where am I?

Lying on the ocean floor
Half-buried in the mud
Looking up at a shadow drifting overhead?

In the heavens
Countless stars away
Staring down at a metallic speck of burnt red in a glittering sea?

Inside you
A hard steel ball
Wondering why my world is dark and tumbling?

Beside you
Another empty sphere
Drifting with the tide and wind?

In old Japan
Fishermen bound their floats together with cord and knots
So they wouldn’t get lost on the water

The moon is full tonight
Let’s follow her to the black shores of
Mount Kaimandoke

Maybe we will be picked up by salt-cracked hands
Carried like treasure
Into the heart of the Orient

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30 Minus 2 Days of Writing III: Yes, I Made That

My Dear Dr. Watson,

Imagine the ecstatic rush that shot through me when I realized the tracking device I placed in the hilt of the katana stolen by Moriarty had not only led me straight to Paris, but to the very place I expected to meet you, the Café Le Select. The chase was not only afoot, but underfoot!

I sped to the scene with great alacrity, expecting to locate my prey comfortably ensconced at a table blithely sipping espresso from white China, the fingers of her free hand indolently lingering on the sword’s intricately decorated scabbard while she gloated about her presumed victory over me. Instead, I found the café empty except for a young garçon, who was standing at the counter resting his head on his hands while he sullenly stared into a dark corner of the establishment that sheltered a table littered with the remains of someone’s lunch.

“Did you serve that vanished repast?” I queried, pointing at the table.

“Yes, I made that. What’s it to you?” he sneered.

“It’s quite a lot to me,” I replied, withdrawing a small stack of euros from my wallet. The waiter stood up straight, his expression suddenly alert. “Tell me what you remember about that particular diner, if you would,” I said, smiling.

“She was quiet, ordered a Croque Monsieur and a Pepsi Max, read a book that she pulled from our shelves while she ate.”

“And her appearance?”

“Hesitant smile, piercing gray eyes—like a wolf. Remarkably long and full brunette hair.”

“Moriarty!” I cried.

The waiter shrugged. “I didn’t catch her name.”

“When did she leave?”

“She didn’t,” he said, pointing toward the restrooms.

“What!?” I immediately bolted toward the rear of the café, performing a quick calculation in my head.

I’d been speaking to the garçon for perhaps a minute. From my studies at London’s Natural History Museum, I knew that all mammals, including homo sapiens, take an average of twenty-one seconds to urinate. This is as true for an gigantic elephant as it is for a diminutive bat—or 5-foot, 1-and-a-half-inch-tall criminal mastermind. There was a slight chance I’d catch her in time.

But I was a split-second too late. Moriarty must have overheard me speaking to the waiter, for I spied her fleeing out of the restaurant’s back door, her infamous hair whipping around like a tornado.

I chased her through the alley and into the street out front, where she hailed a cab, ducked into the rear seat, and urged the driver forward. I scanned the road for another cab, but it was hopeless; There were none, and she vanished into the city’s infamous traffic faster than a frightened ferret running from a feathered hawk.

Scurrying back inside, I handed the waiter several of the bills that were still clutched in my hand.

“May I examine her table?” I asked.

Oui, knock yourself out,” he said, grinning.

I stepped into the shadows and studied the area closely.

My katana was resting on the table, the hilt split open with a bread knife, the tracking device defiantly stuck into a pat of butter. So she had known about it all along, and used it to lead me here. A taunt.

A book was lying open on the table, Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast. Moriarty had circled a line on a page, “Never go on trips with anyone you do not love.”

Like you, I thought, wryly. Another taunt.

But Moriarty wouldn’t be satisfied with mere taunts.

I sat down to think, ordering a coffee and a chocolate Napoleon as aids, for I was sure the book itself was a clue, however obscure. Long after the sun had set and the moon had risen over the city, it finally came to me. Based on Hemingway’s experiences when he was young and working in Paris, the short collection of essays was an ode to a city he admired and loved like no other. In it, he deliberately mentions many of the city’s most-famous landmarks—the Luxembourg Gardens, the Louvre, a number of cafés, specific neighborhoods he walked in with friends, even a favorite English bookstore, Shakespeare and Co., which doubled as a library and boarding house for aspiring writers like himself.

Yet curiously, to the observant reader there is one object he never mentions.

Located on the Champ de Mars in Paris, it was built in1889 as the arched entrance to the World’s Fair, and at 324 meters high, it remains the city’s tallest and best-built structure next to Bernadette Brigitte, the comely burlesque striptease artist at the Moulin Rouge: The Eiffel Tower.

It’s world-famous, visited by millions of tourists every year. So how could Hemingway write about Paris yet fail to mention the Tower? It’s absence is striking, almost as if it had been lost, or stolen.

Stolen!

I knew with certainty that was her clue, and her cunning plan—to steal France’s beloved cultural icon, no doubt that very night, if not already, while I insufferably wasted time solving the puzzle she had set before me.

But how?

I scanned the site for other clues—not the ones she meant me to find, but ones she had overlooked.

There was a cloth napkin with a smear of lipstick on it. Having earlier made an effort to memorize the various brands and shades of women’s makeup to assist my investigations, I recognized the light-pink shade as an expensive one manufactured by the German company OEKAbeauty.

At the table’s far end, I spotted a notepad that appeared blank. When I held it up to the light at a severe angle, however, I saw the faint traces of handwriting from the missing page above it, and made out the word “Hochtief,” which proved in a quick Google search to be a German construction company headquartered in Berlin. One of the few companies in the world with employees who have the necessary expertise and contempt for France to dismantle the Eiffel Tower and spirit it away.

I turned to the waiter.

“What did Moriarty say to you while she was here?”

“Not much. Said hello, ordered her meal, told me I have wonderful eyes, and thanked me for my service.”

“In English or French?”

“German,” the waiter spat. “Fucking Nazis.”

So that was it. Moriarty, already a mistress of half a dozen languages in addition to her native Finnish, had mastered one more. I knew instantly she intended to take the Eiffel Tower to Germany, where she could seal her reputation as the world’s greatest thief. To Hochtief’s corporate warehouses hidden in the beating heart of old Deutschland, Berlin.

I should look on her scheme with disapprobation, Watson. But I confess I cannot help but admire her audacity and assiduous attention to detail. She is brilliant. A challenge even to me, if wicked where I have chosen serve the good. Or if not the good, then at least the lesser of evils.

Still, I mean to foil her, Watson. Not literally, of course, because aluminum’s expensive. I mean the other foil, as in “to thwart.”

I am headed to Berlin even as you read this letter, which I left in the waiter’s hands to keep you informed. Meet me there as soon as you can, at the currywurst stand near the Holocaust Memorial in the city’s center. Bring strong rope, a gag, and your handcuffs. We will need them to stifle her pleading and hold her fast once we finally have her in our grasp.

Together, we will set a trap that even Moriarty cannot escape…

Sincerest regards,
Sherlock

———————————

This overly long post was written for the prompt “Yes, I Made That,” on Day 21 of 30 Days Minus 2 of Writing III, hosted by Nicky and Mike at We Work For Cheese. It’s also the third installment in a thrilling mystery written by my Team ZiMi teammate, Ziva, at Ziva’s Inferno. Look for part four on her blog soon.

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