With apologies to the Beatles, the Federation of Egalitarian Communities, and the state of Vermont.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Chapter Thirty-Three: Ed and Ralph Get Involved

Less than a week after Edgar left, Ralph and Ed showed up at the commune.

"Anyone know where Luna is?" asked Ralph.

They had come to the produce stand and Cat, who was working there, waved toward the back of the farm.  "She's with Viv and Chuck, checking out the fields and planning where they're gonna plant stuff."

There was still quite a bit of snow on the fields, but the three communards were slogging through it, drawing lines in it with sticks and pointing to various areas.

"Hey there," Ralph called to Luna.  "It's your favorite ex and his favorite current."

"Hey Ralph and Ed," Luna called back.  "What'cha up to?"

"I want to see that my investment's okay," said Ed as they got closer.  He turned toward Chuck, who was wearing a sapphire blue skirt and an army jacket, with a periwinkle and jasmine silk scarf draped over it.  "Love the look, guy, but no pearls with that?"

"I save the pearls for evening wear," Chuck said.

"Seriously," said Ralph, "With all the horror stories I've been hearing about what's been happening up here, I expected things to look a lot worse."

"That's not dramatic enough for you?" Viv asked pointing at the charred ruins of what had been their main house.

"I don't think you'll have trouble rebuilding it," said Ralph.  "Your Kissstarter seems to be going very well.  It's only into the third week and you're already almost at your goal.  I think you're going to go well beyond your fifty thousand.  I wouldn't be surprised if you pass seventy-five before the campaign is over."

Luna looked at him.  "And just how much of that is contributions from the two of you?"

"Oh, we've put in quite a bit," Ed said.  "But there really is a lot of folks contributing to the campaign.  People are very scared that Hillary Reagon is going to succeed at taking over the maple syrup industry and they see this farm as a major battleground."

"Not to mention all the folks that are just angry at Monsterinsano," Ralph added.  "All these attacks on you have stirred up a nest of yellow-jackets.  Or maybe flannel jackets.  There's some pretty irritated farmers around here, and a lot of them see contributing to the campaign as doing something against a corporate take over."

"Well," said Luna.  "All this money is great but we still gotta get builders and contractors and stuff.  Dan and Sal are good at making stuff like the EcoGreenHouse but I think making a major building is a bit beyond them.  Besides, things have gotten pretty busy around here.  None of us has time to build a new farmhouse right now."

"That's why we're here," Ralph said.

"You're not builders," said Viv.

"No," Ed said.  "But we know a few."


The kitchens of the two remaining houses were in constant use now, one for making all the pastries and baked goods that they were selling, and the other was being used for the commune's meals.  Later that day, Luna and Dan and Sal and Marge and Cat sat in the cooking kitchen with Ed and Ralph, sipping hot beverages and talking.

Dan said, "Luna said that you said that you knew a few contractors that might put up a new house for us, now that we have some money from the Kissstarter."

"It's true," Ed said.

"Would you like to recommend one?" Dan asked.

"Sure," said Ralph.  "How about Ted Roell, also known as The Troll?"

"The Troll?" said Marge.  "You're kidding."

"No," said Ed.  "Seriously.  He has a company called Trollwork.  I agree with Ralph. I'd recommend him."

"Does he do alternative construction?" Luna asked.

"Alternative construction is all he does," Ralph said.  "He builds Soilships and Underearth Houses, puts up all sorts of structures with Brown Roofs, and most of his buildings meet Pacifist Home Standards."

"Yeah," said Ed.  "He uses methods like Adobo, Crammed Dirt, Lumberplanking, Corn on the Cob, and Hay Buck construction.  The Trollwork folks got a Titanium Plus level certification from the SEED folks when he racked up 832 points on their last building."

"Wow," said Luna.  "I've never heard of anyone getting more than 90 points."

"That's because they made the entire building out of humanure," Ralph said.

"I think we should stick to Adobo and Crammed Dirt," Sal said.

"I know these folks," Ed said.  "They will work closely with you and put up the kind of building you want."

"And speaking of working closely," Ralph said.  "We'd like to stay here a while and help you with stuff, if you'd like."

"Well, there's not a lot of room here right now," Luna said, "but if you don't mind getting cozy, we just lost two folks and I think we can squeeze you in."

"I wouldn't mind getting cozy with that cute guy with the beard and the dress," Ed said.

"You mean Chuck," Cat said.  "Warning.  He snores."

"Peter did say that we shouldn't let anyone new into the commune," Marge pointed out.

"Ralph and Ed aren't new," Luna said.  "Ralph and Ed are part of the reason we have the commune."

"Don't worry," Dan said.  "Peter knows Ed and Ralph."  He turned to them.  "We'll have to have you meet George and Fred, the lawyers working with Peter."

"When can we have these troll folks come and look at the building?" Sal asked.

"I'll give them a call," Ralph said.  "I think things are still pretty quiet on the building front right now.  I wouldn't be surprised if they could be here next week."

A moment later, Grace came in and signaled to Marge.

"Sorry, folks," Marge said.  "We've got to get dinner started.  I'm kicking you all out."

"That's okay," Ed said.  "Ralph and I gotta unpack.  We plan to be here for a while.  As I said, I'm gonna protect my investment."

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Chapter Thirty-Two: Uncle Sam Steps In

"Well," said Daniel. "The good news is that the Kissstarter campaign has gotten over thirty thousand and it's been running less than a week and a half. Thank you, George."

Nancy said, "That's great news!"  She blew a kiss at George.

Sal said, "What's the bad news?"

"The bad news is that we have no way to track the money and if the government has any questions about our financial operations, we could be in big trouble."

"Don't worry," Peter said.  It was the second meeting of the old-timers and the lawyers. "If anyone has any questions, refer them to me.  You've reported everything to the police.  We can run a very credible defense if we need to."

"At this point I'm not sure what we can do," Dan said.  "At this point I wouldn't be surprised if a government agent appeared on our doorstep."

"A month ago I would have told you to stop fearing the worst," Luna said.  "Now, unfortunately, I'm inclined to agree with you."

"I think we all are," Viv said.  "Although I'm not sure what can happen worse than what we've had."

"Don't say that," Cat said.  "I don't want to find out."

"Look," George said.  "We know who's behind all this."

"Yeah," Fred said. "But we can't prove anything.  Believe me, I want to find some evidence that implicates them."

"What bothers me is it's got us not trusting any of the new folks," Nancy said.  "They're out there working away and we don't want them here in this meeting because we don't know who else might be one of Ms Reagon's plants."

"I know," Luna said.  "It bothers me too.  But I liked Barbara so much.  I can't believe she stole our money and then set the place on fire.  It makes me wonder what else we don't know about these folks."

"Well, don't let anyone new into the commune for now," Peter said.  "And that includes lawyers, bookkeepers, and any other professional who might appear on your doorstep.  I'll vouch for George and Fred.  And when we do get a bookkeeper, one of us will be with them the whole time."

"Right now we really can't use a bookkeeper," Dan said.  "Not until we actually have some books they can look at."

"Yeah," said Fred.  "We'll have to do something about that.  And I want add that I'm in touch with some folks that are investigating Ms Reagon and Monsterinsano.  I'll let you know what I find out as soon as I find out something."

"I think they know a lot more about us than we know about them," Sal said.  "And we still don't know if they have other spies that are living among us.  What are we going to tell the other folks about this meeting?"

"We'll tell them the truth," Luna said.  "They know all about our worries and they're all being pretty understanding.  Or at least they're acting that way.  We'll just report the results of this meeting in our commune meeting tomorrow night.  At this point all we can do is hope for the best."

"Or at least that things get better than they have been," said Marge.


Ken was the facilitator for the meeting.  He was very surprised when he saw that Edgar had put himself on the agenda.

"Okay, Edgar," Ken said when they got to that item.  "You wanted to talk about yourself?"

"Yeah," said Edgar.  "That's right.  Everybody should sit back.  This may take a bit."

He sat up straighter and his voice suddenly became crisp and authoritative. "My name is Special Agent Edgar J Gordon. I'm with the Federal Investigating Bureau."

"I knew it," Marge said.  "I knew it as soon as I first saw you."

"How could you tell?" Edgar asked.

"Those shiny black shoes," Marge said.  "No one else wears black leather shoes with jeans."

"Government regulation footwear," Edgar said.  He paused and started up again.  "I came here because we heard there were anarchists living here and we wanted to investigate."

"And?" prompted Sal.

"And, yes, I think there are anarchists living here.  However, at this point, anarchists worry me less than arsonists, not to mention thieves and saboteurs.  I'm much more interested in the fraud and deceit that's being perpetrated on you than whatever political beliefs you might have...

"In other words, I want to put a stop to all this."

"You mean you want to help us?" Luna said.

"That's right," Edgar replied.  "I'm on your side.  I've seen how hard you work and I'm watching a vast right-wing conspiracy trying to destroy this farm.  I'm going to try to make sure that doesn't happen."

"Can you do that even with a conservative congress in charge?" asked Dan.

"That isn't going to matter.  We don't work for congress.  Our ultimate boss is the president and, fortunately, there's a liberal in office."

"What can you do for us?" asked Nancy.

"I'm going to go back to headquarters and push to have the investigation expanded to include Mr Nixon, Ms Reagon, and Monsterinsano.  I'm only going to ask one thing of all of you."

"What's that?" Luna asked him.

"I want to be able to come back from time to time and help out with the farming," Edgar said.  "I was raised on a farm in Wisconsin and haven't had a chance to play in the soil since I was a kid.  I'd love to be able to help out here when my work isn't too busy."

"Well," Chuck said.  "You can till my fields anytime, big boy.  And I mean it in the nicest possible way."

"Absolutely," Luna said.  "You're welcome back anytime.  We can use your help."

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Chapter Thirty-One: The Kissstarter

A several days later they were still surveying the damages.

"The main building is a total loss," Luna said to Peter.  "We weren't able to save anything inanimate.  Fortunately, everybody's alright.  Even Carrie and Harry.  Carrie managed to slip out of the building and one of the firepeople rescued Harry."

"Do you have enough rooms to sleep in?" Peter asked.  "The weather's still pretty cold."

"It's a bit crowded in the other two buildings but let's say that it's a good thing that everybody's pretty friendly here."

It was a meeting with the lawyers and all the old-timers at the commune.

Luna, Dan, Sal, Nancy, Cat, Ken, Viv, and Marge were there.  So were Peter, Fred, and George.

Darren and Will were working at the bake stand and Chuck and Edgar were keeping the produce stand going.  Chuck was wearing a flowing green gown for the occasion.  Grace was running back and forth between the two stands in case anyone needed anything.

Peter was looking over the fire and police reports. "It was definitely arson.  The fire was set in several locations.  Gasoline was used as an accelerant."

"Any word on locating Barbara?" Nancy asked.

She was looking at George but Fred answered.  "There are reports that she's now filming a movie in a South American country.  I don't think she'll be returning here and this isn't a nation that we have extradition treaties with."

"There was no insurance on the buildings," Luna said.  "We lost a lot of stuff in the fire.  Between that and the theft and the money Cecil Nixon is trying to claim for damages on the woman who was injured in the produce stand, we're talking about twenty thousand dollars.  That's a lot of vegetables and pies we'll need to sell."

"We're pretty sure that phony victim was an actress as well," George said.  "The medical reports that Mr.Nixon sent us appear to be doctored and we weren't able to find a trace of this woman anywhere.  She seems to have come out of nowhere and returned there."

"I doubt that old Cecil is going to press his case at this point," Peter said.  "He hasn't actually scheduled anything with the courts.  I think this is simply more harassment."

"And if he does take you to court, you don't have to worry about lawyer's fees," Fred added.  "The three of us are pretty committed to making sure you're okay legally."

"Well, we appreciate it a lot," Sal said, "but we're still out of quite a bit of money."

"I think I might be able to help you out there," said George.  "Trust me for a week.  I think you're going to be pleasantly surprised."

"In the meantime," Peter said, "I'm working on finding a professional bookkeeper that can go over your books with a fine tooth comb.  As I said, I want to make sure everything is completely on the up and up.  I don't want to give Ms Reagon another chance to try to press charges."

"Don't worry," Dan said.  "I've been keeping meticulous track of all the sales and purchases that we've made and Sal has been double checking everything I do.  Fortunately, I had the books with me the night of the fire, otherwise they would have gone up with everything else."


Several days later the bookkeeper showed up.  He was a balding, middle-aged man with an ill-fitting suit and a dark, narrow tie.

"Peter sent me," he said.  "He told me you need a complete audit."

Luna took him to a room near the back of the house and sat him down with the books.  No sooner had he settled in than the doorbell rang again.

This time it was Roy, a farmer who lived down the end of the street.  "I came to shop at the farm stand but I just wanted to know how important the survival of your commune is to all of us," he said.

"Thank you," said Luna.

"I'll have you know that I contributed fifty dollars," he added.

Luna looked confused.  "Thank you again, I think," she said.  "But I'm not sure what you contributed to."

"To the Kissstarter," Roy said.  When Luna looked even more puzzled he said, "Don't you know about it?"

"I'm afraid I don't," Luna said.

"Oh.  Someone must have started a campaign for you."

"I guess they did," Luna said.  "But I still don't understand what a kiss starter is."

"Oh," he said again.  "It's a fundraiser.  On the computer.  People contribute money and they try to raise a certain amount.  In your case it's fifty thousand dollars."

"Wow," said Luna.  "That must have been what George was talking about when he said he could help us get some money back."

"Oh, if he's the one who started it he did a really good job.  It's just been running a few days and they've already raised over ten thousand dollars.  The deadline to raise the money is in a month and at this rate you might pass the fifty thousand mark in a few more weeks."

"Wow," Luna said again.

She was still thinking about all that money when Peter showed up.

"The bookkeeper is already here," she said.

"Excuse me," said Peter. "The bookkeeper?"

"The one you sent over," Luna said.

"I didn't send over a bookkeeper," Peter said.  "I'm still in negotiations with someone about doing the audit."

"Oh, oh," Luna said.

When they went to the back room, the bookkeeper wasn't there.

Neither were the commune's books.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Chapter Thirty: Even Bigger Problems

"Four thousand, six hundred, and thirty-two dollars, and twenty-seven cents," Dan said to Peter a few days later.  "And it's all gone."

"Who knew where the cash box was?"  Peter asked.

"No one outside of the commune as far as we know," Luna said.

"Any sign of a break-in?"

"None that we've found," said Dan.

"I hate to say it," said Peter, "but it sounds like an inside job."

"We've been thinking the same thing," said Luna, "and it's tearing us apart.  I'd hate to think that anybody here was responsible for our troubles.  I like all of them."

It was just the three of them in a back room.  Peter and Dan were sitting in chairs while Luna paced.

"George and Fred should be here soon," Peter said.  "Maybe one of them will have an idea."

"Maybe..." Dan said, but he sounded skeptical.

However, George surprised all of them by coming in and announcing, "I knew it.  I knew I saw her before."

Peter squinted at him.  "What are you talking about?"

"I was watching Wolf TV last night and they had on one of those super-patriot movies that they play frequently, and there she was.  She had long blond hair but I know it was her."

"Sorry, George," Peter said. "But I have no idea what you're trying to tell us."

"That young woman here with the short blue hair.  She's an actress.  She's in all these movies the conservatives make.  Her name is Barbara Busch."

"Barbara..." Luna whispered.

"She was at the produce stand right before the house meeting the night we think they tampered with the floorboards," Dan said.

"She asked me some questions about how we keep cash the other night," Luna said.  "I think it was just a couple of nights before the cash box disappeared."

"How well do you know this woman Barbara?" Fred asked.

"About as well as we know any of the new folks," Luna said.

Dan added, "Which is to say, not at all."


The confrontation with Barbara did not go at all well.  She denied everything.

"I've been working away for you for nearly two months and now you think I'm responsible for sabotage and theft just because I look like some woman this lawyer saw on TV." She looked like she wanted to throw something but she didn't.  "I know where I'm not wanted.  I'll be out of here in the morning."  She did slam the door behind her.

No one slept well at the commune that night.  Ken had woken twice before he was awoken a third time by Harry frantically clawing at the glass sides of the aquarium.

Ken had never heard him do that before.  He got up to see what was bothering Harry and realized that he could faintly smell smoke.

He opened his door carefully and realized that the hallway was filled with clouds of dark gray smoke.

"FIRE!!!" he yelled at the top of his lungs.

He banged on Cat's door until a sleepy Cat appeared and then the two of them banged on Viv's door.  Viv woke up quickly when she realized the situation.  "Is there anyone else up here?" she asked.

"Barbara," Cat said, but when they checked Barbara's room it was empty.

"The flames are at the bottom of the staircase," Viv said.  "We can't get out that way."

She led them back to her room.  There was a ledge outside her window they were able to crawl out on.

Ken noticed the drainpipe nearby.  "I can slide down on that," he said.  "I used to do it when I was a kid."

"You're crazy," Viv said.  "That drainpipe won't hold you."

Ken paid no attention and swung down on the pipe.  It broke off the house when he was two-thirds of the way down, but he landed on the ground, uninjured.  He shook himself and ran for the other houses, yelling as he ran.  Edgar was the first one out, followed by Sal and Nancy.  When they realized what was going on, Sal and Nancy split up and each ran into one of the other houses, banging on everyone's doors.

Edgar found a phone and called in the fire.  He then ran back to the building with Ken.  "Stay where you are," he said to Viv and Cat.  "We'll get you off there."  Viv was watching all of them while Cat was curled up in a ball at the edge of the ledge.

Edgar spotted Dan struggling with a long ladder.  Together the two of them got it back to the burning building and Viv and Cat were able to climb down it.

The fire engines arrived just as flames began shooting out of the second floor windows.

"I don't know how much of the building we'll be able to save," one of the firepeople said to Luna.

"I don't care," Luna said.  "Just as long as everyone is safe."