The Colonels By Andrew Paul Grell (Part 2 of The Water Wars)

Colonel Malcom Kitchener, MBE, CMG, VC, formerly Kit, now Gimp, since he got his toes blown off saving his unit at the beginning of the Water Wars while still a lowly Lieutenant, was bronze statue still, staring at the 49 Parallel on the map. He was literally cornered between the wretches from Minnesota trying to make it into Manitoba below him and, to the east, what they were calling the Loyalist forces from Ontario and the Maritimes. Fortunately, the Loyals had their hands full with New England refugees and exhibited strategic nervousness about the still-undeclared Quebec forces. Gimp was in command of what were being termed the Realist forces, home guard and reserve types from Manitoba and Saskatchewan. Weekend warriors. A lot of pretty country which was pretty much empty. It was time to organize his troops.

“Rabinowitz!” Gimp was calling for his right arm, the Newfie lifer Master Sergeant Sammy Rabinowitz. The old campaigner had never been out of earshot for the entire time he was under Kit’s (or Gimp’s) command. The colonel found him on the commons past the Chip Truck in Piney, the little border hamlet which was now forward HQ. He was wrapping a leather strap around his left arm and he was wearing—what? A shawl?—when did Rabinowtz start accessorizing? And we did go off reg for facial hair?

The old fisherman soldier jumped to attention, but that was the limit of his military discipline for this interaction.

  “Laird Tunderin’ Jaysus, ya gimpy stick, Doncha know better than disturbin’ a man bout to? If ye don’t wrap yer phylacteries proper as a Turk’s head the whole thing’s fer naught, doncha ken?

  “What’s going on, Sammy? Rank and duty aren’t God enough for you?”

  “We trace who knit us back the Himyars, Saudi Arabia, the last Hebrew kingdom. I’m knit meself direct from Yusuf, the last of the fighters. Fourteen hundred years ago we fished the Sha’at al Arab but we had to give that the long main sheet and set course west by northwest, and now we fish the Newfoundland Straight. And Colonel, I’ll be damned to Gahanna if I’ll go into battle, a real shootin’ war, without my and my, what do the kids call ‘em now, dreadlocks?” Rabinowitz fingered his new side curls.

  “Very well, Sergeant. Get the Master Gunny and see if he can rig the 105s to fire something loud but not lethal. Then assemble the regiment. Put everyone who comes from Loyalist territory up front. That includes you, Sammy. Chop chop.”

Sammy had seen Gunga Din at least 20 times and gave the colonel his best Gurka Rifles salute and his loudest and clearest “Suh!”

Colonel Gimp took some time to have breakfast at Mom’s Way diner and gas station. The Mallory kids had bagged a moose three days before and it wound up being the breakfast, lunch, and dinner special. Good thing, too; shipments were “getting lost” and now there were two border crossings to watch out for; the US border and the front for what sure looked like a Canadian civil war. Manitobans were a tough lot and they would get by. But the refugees were a different issue. Hyacinth—Mom—spent a night dressing the moose and curing its butt. The breakfast special was quail eggs and moose bacon. Everyone who came in that day learned it took five quail eggs to make an omelet. Just as Gimp was ready to chow down, one of the granddaughters came in and sat down opposite the colonel. It was Jen. Jen, Cordelia, and Woodstock were granddaughters of American men evading the Viet Nam draft. They were the intelligence team for northern Minnesota. They had kept their parents’ American accents and could easily pass as natives south of the border.

  “Colonel Kitchener. The Horse has occupied Upper Peninsula Michigan and the rest of the state down to Ann Arbor. Detroit is pretty much out of the picture.”

  “Thanks. Have you ever had moose bacon and scrambled quail eggs?” Gimp asked, inviting Jen to breakfast. “There’s still some real coffee left. Get it while it lasts.”

  Gimp enjoyed mopping up the quail egg yolk with his toast while quaffing the last of his coffee; possibly his last coffee for a while, engaged the jakes and began to turn himself into—unlikely for him—a commanding officer. He addressed his troops from the cricket pitch on the commons.

  “Ladies and gentlemen and, of course, those in between, this is Canada, of course, my name is Malcom Kitchener, Colonel of the Royal Canadian Dragoons. Somehow, due to a series of increasingly tragic errors on the part of our neighbors to the south, resulting in the United States running out of sufficient fresh water for agriculture, industry, and having a population that bathes regularly. And I must admit there were some pretty tragic boners domestically as well. Canada now finds itself subject to encroachment by the part of the remaining American population capable of migrating north. There is a difference of opinion as to how Canada should react to these encroachments. Tobias Kitchener, our beloved Governor General, is of the opinion that the Canadian armed forces should remain cohesive as a value in and of itself. My cousin Tobias, and we played together as kids, was always a bit of a stick, if you know what I mean. Tobias understands the Queen’s message from six months ago to be a call to repel threats to our Canadian Way of Life. Parliament has not been able to form a majority government and the Prime Minister is a caretaker. No decisions are coming out of Ottawa for the foreseeable future.

  “I disagree with my cousin. I am a Member of the British Empire, a Commander of Michael and George, a Peer of the Realm. The Commonwealth has consistently held itself out as ‘The greatest secular force for good in history.’ As a Peer of the Realm, I take that literally. We’re not going to deny water to thirsty people. Within five to ten years, with the grow-lines steadily moving north, The Beautiful Land, Ka Na Ta, Canada, will have an additional 60 million acres of land to farm, ranch, and log. We will need people to do that work.

  “My campaign last year at Roseau County Minnesota effectively assisted the water refugees, and anyone calling them drybacks will be flogged, and integrated them into Canadian life. I believe we can do that on a larger scale.

“Here is our order of battle. The Dragoons are now here in Third Division territory; I see Manitoba and Saskatchewan represented. The Horse is now in Ontario. We’ve switched places. The Canadian Naval Service doesn’t have anything strategic the contribute on either side. The Royal Canadian Air Force is sitting this out, and for good reason, no one wants to see civilians on any of the sides of this mess carpet bombed. It comes down what I consider to be realism versus maintaining a status quo just for the doing of it.

  “And yes, the rumors are 100% true. Colonel Sally Muldoon of Lord Strathcona’s Horse, until recently, was my girlfriend. Hopefully we can keep this lover’s tiff from becoming an all-out civil war. What’s the expression? We must keep the circle-jerk from becoming a cluster-fuck.

  “Now, for any of you caught up in what you think is the wrong side, I have travel papers you can use to get back to where you think you belong. You have 72 hours to make up your minds.

  “For anyone staying, here’s what you’re in for. Hussars, You’ll be doing border patrol along the roads heading north out of North Dakota and Montana. We’ll stick with Minnesota. Everyone gets fed and watered. Anyone who wants to work gets shuttled to Lake Winnipegosis. I see we’re lucky to have the 38
Combat Engineer Regiment. They can build it and blow it up both. They’ll be supervising the labor draft digging a canal from Manitoba into Minnesota carrying Winnipeg water, take a little heat off of us. We also have our Native friends from the Quebec 12e, the Silent Savages. They’ll be both sappers and intel. We’ll know what’s going on in Ontario and we’ll be able to do something about it. There’s a way out of this. I’ve done it before and with God’s help and yours, we can do it again.”

That was Sergeant Rabinowitz’s queue. “FALL OUT, YA SKEET GITS. Get a move on and defend yer country. And long may yer big jib draw.”

That night in his improvised quarters, Gimp heard someone climbing up Mom’s Way’s attic ladder and he drew his sidearm. It turned out to be a slightly lubricated Newfie straight out of the police blotter section of The Telegram. Rabinowitz knocked on the floor and Gimp opened the trap and let him in. He was followed by Mom herself.

  “Isn’t communication supposed to be an integral part of the army, like maple syrup and pancakes? How do you understand this guy?”

  “Now now, ya saucy. Them’s what knit me knows me jabber, and Himself as well, and that’s what counts. Show his lairdship there what ya got.”

  “See what I mean, Gimp?” She fished something out of her apron pocked and flashed it t the colonel. It was a gold badge with ornate initial DP.

  Gimp’s eyes bulged out of his head. “Dominion Police? Family heirloom?”

  “I thought you had to have some smarts to be a colonel. We let the Mounties catch the crooks. But we’re still around and doing the same thing. Policing the border. Quietly.”

  “So, I’m guessing the two of you have cooked up some plan?”

  “Gimp. It’s more of a strategy than a plan at this point, and your fisherman friend here proposed it. I’m behind it. With my resources.”

Rabinowitz’s accent seemed to dissipate like cut limburger cheese. “Here it is. Colonel, you’ve been a cribbage player always. Your lady friend on the other side is a poker player.” He unfolded a map. “Sally had to make at least a pretense of defending the Ontario line from the Realists. She’s invested heavily in keeping you out. She’s weaker than she should be at the Michigander border. Mom’s people are going to give a hand to the convoys headed for Sudbury at the top and Toronto at the bottom. She’ll have to defend Ottawa from being overrun by K-Mart shoppers. You play cribbage and do the Show. And your colonel brains are going to have to figure out which of her columns are the bluff. “

Three days later, a Loyalist Chief Warrant Officer carried a white flag into Mom’s Way, sat herself down and ordered breakfast. Word got to Gimp and he came down to serve it to her personally. She stood up and saluted smartly and said her piece. “Sir. My commander wishes to inform you that you are to surrender your so-called Realist forces to her command. She is inviting you to meet her in Lake of the Woods in three days. If you don’t show up, and if you don’t die in battle, you’ll certainly hang. She asks if your brains are still scrambled from last year and if you remember what was pinned to your uniform. Rhetorical questions, she said.”

  She mopped up some quail egg with a piece of toast, left six Loons for the bill, furled her flag and left.

  Sammy, Mom, Rabinowitz and Gimp decided that the mechanized cavalry facing Manitoba was the bluff, but that she over-played her hand. That was an awful lot of ordinance to put on the line. They used their dwindling supply of hours to come up with a plan. Master Gunny had the 105 shells filled with talcum powder, grain dust, sawdust, anything fine enough to dissipate. That first night, the Silent Savages sapped as many vehicles as they could. In the morning, just after reveille, the howitzers powdered everything up to five miles behind the Ontario line. Any vehicle the Savages missed likely couldn’t start. The little quartet was able to take an ordinary armored personnel carrier and start the drive to Lake of the Woods unhindered. The meeting place was on Angle Point, the place were the surveyors just gave up on defining the US/Canadian border. Just due east was Oak Island, the inspiration for Rocky and Bullwinkle’s Frostbite Falls, with each country trying to push the island into the other’s borders. They got there just in time for breakfast.

  Mom took a long and appraising view of the American Diner, which seemed to be subsisting on Canadian supplies. Gimp and Sally took an even longer and more appraising look at each other. There’s no such thing as a Cribbage Face; Gimp was completely transparent. Sally dropped her stony visage when she saw her ex’s puppy eyes.

  “I got your message, Sally.”

  “You big dope. I had to gamble that you would remember what was pinned to your uniform. You were in a bad way, you might have lost that part.” Gimp, previously Kit last year, had been triaged out after he had saved his unit from the attack and was left with four morphine shots and wound dressings pinned to his uniform. Dope. It was Kit and Sally’s pet name for each other. Ever since, during training, Kit scored 10 bullseyes in marksmanship. On two other guys’ targets.

  “Very touching, you two love birds,” Mom said, standing up and fishing out her badge. “Sally Muldoon, under the authority of the Dominion Police, I am arresting you for abandoning Canada’s position on the Michigan border. Now finish your breakfast and be arrested.”

  Sally looked like she was trying to remember when the DP became the Mounties. Her poker sense clued her in to the smiles the Realists were desperately trying to hide. Her old fraternization buddy came to her rescue.

  “Chief Inspector Mom. Sally and I seem to each be in command of one of the two remaining operational forces in Canada. Nothing is going to happen unless the two of us can come to some agreement.”

  Mom did the standing-up thing again, reaching for her badge even more dramatically. “Colonel Muldoon. I am releasing you into your own recognizance in order for you to reach an agreement with Colonel Kitchener to unwind what nobody wants to call a Civil War.”

  It took an hour in a private room. Gimp and Sally filled each other in on what was happening in their respective zones; they declined to do any other sort of filling in until everything was wrapped and tied with a bow. Gimp managed to get his cousin Tobias on the phone, and the three of them eventually agreed to a plan and an official history. Sally had successfully defended the Ontario/Manitoba line. Gimp had successfully upheld Canada’s and International laws on the rights of refugees and asylum seekers. Toby, as Governor General, had the universal authority to dissolve Parliament and call for new elections. When there was a new Government voted in with the electorate now in full knowledge of the circumstances, the combined Realist-Loyalist force would place itself back under civilian command. Until then, anyone crossing the border would get food, water, and a place to stay. The new government would work out who was and who might not be good fits for Canada. The canal from Lake Winnipegosis would continue to flow into Minnesota.

  After Gimp’s first, and hopefully last, political action, he found Rabinowitz in the bar portion of the diner, which was now open and pouring drinks.

  “The badge, Sergeant. Tell me about the badge. Tell me about the Dominion Police.”

  “Well, yer lairdship, it’s a tale to tell, innit now? You know there’s no more Dominion Police. And you never know what’s going to turn up at a yard sale in Goose Bay. When I first met Mom, I thought the gold in the badge went very well with her blonde hair. So I lent her the use of it for’s long as she mights need it…”

 

PART 1 CAN BE FOUND IN THE MARCH ARCHIVE

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