Our neighbors Cyril and Hester Thwing were high-ranking Delreyans, of the Great and Holy Order of Lester and Judy-Lynn del Rey, and they were currently standing on their front lawn surveying the blue and white-trimmed house across the street and to the left.
Cyril was a huge, barrel-chested man well over six-and-a-half feet, with a thick shock of red hair pulled back into a ponytail and equally thick beard that fell over his chest. Hester was shorter than her husband by only two inches, with long red hair that fell to the middle of her back, wound in a thick braid, had the face of a supermodel and the build of a woman who either worked out with bulldozers or wrestled Brahma bulls.
Both were dressed like pirates: blousy shirt under a knee-length brocaded coat, knee-high boots, tricorn hat, a cutlass at their hips held by a baldric, and a brace of pistols.
I stood on my front walk with my morning paper and looked over the hedge that ran between our houses. "Ahoy, mateys," I said.
"Jericho," said Cyril, without looking at me, his voice a rich, sonorous baritone. " 'Ware the dungballed pump-pullers off the port bow."
"I know," I said. "The bastards have been taunting me all week. They even had the audacity to call me a 'lint licker.' "
"Using an open source sound editing program?" said Hester.
"Yeah, and blasted through speakers somewhere on their property," I said.
"Ruffians," said Cyril.
Then a tinny, amplified voice rang out from across the street: "You are all cabbage! Normal persons wouldn't steal pituitaries!"
"You know they're the ones who've been nailing dead weasels on your front door, right?" said Hester.
"What!" I said. "Anne and I were thinking it was the gun controllers down the street."
"No," said Cyril. "They're not that imaginative. Always parroting talking points by rote." He gestured toward the Scientologists. "It was them."
Suddenly, a mass of rectangular objects shot up into the sky from behind the Scientologist house, arced overhead, and rained down onto the sidewalk in front of us.
I dashed forward to look.
Several mass-market paperback copies of The Sword of Shannara bearing the Del Rey logo on the spine had been neatly chopped in half and flung at us.
Hester was at my side and I heard her sharp intake of breath.
"Goddamn animals!" she spat. "Greg and Tim would be horrified at this treatment of their cover work!"
"Especially Tim," I said, "may the gods rest his soul."
Cyril was there now, down on one knee and examining one of the chopped copies. "Foul beasts," he said and held up the fragment of book, his expression grim. "These were first printings."
Hester growled. "They wanna play dirty? We'll play dirty." She whirled and stalked back into their house.
"What next?" I asked.
Cyril watched his wife disappear inside, his eyes narrowed. "Not sure. But hell hath no fury and all that."
I nodded in agreement and turned to look at the Scientologist house. In the front window, I could see a pair of eyes peering out from the edges of curtains.
According to Cyril, they were Ray and Edith Jones, late of Los Angeles, and they worked for the Church of Scientology International's Office of Special Projects, aka OSP. The OSP, under the oversight of the Sea Org (their elite inner circle of Scientologists), was actually a secret army of shock troops whose mission was to seek out and destroy suppressive persons--their opponents and enemies.
That meant the Thwings.
That mean me and Anne.
At that moment, I patted the .45-caliber pistol in the flap holster at my hip, hidden beneath my safari jacket.
Good. Still there.
Praemonitus, praemunitus goes the Latin.
Forewarned is forearmed.
I knew the Joneses had only moved in a few months ago and when Cyril had found out they were Scientologists, he and Hester had begun war preparations. He'd told me and Anne shortly thereafter and the two of us had taken to keeping armed at all times. After all, I had told the Jonses they were batshit crazy. They hadn't liked that. It was good to know they'd been the ones to hang the dead weasels on our door. Probably also the ones who spray painted "monkey fuckers" across our garage.
I remembered asking Cyril some weeks earlier when the war between the Scientologists and the Delreyans had begun.
"Technically, mid-September 1949," Cyril had said. "That was when Hubbard started talking to Campbell about dianetics. Then came the article 'Dianetics' in the May 1950 issue of Astounding. A lot of hullabaloo when the issue came out. Lester panned it in a speech at Hydracon that July. And later in Marvel Science Stories the following May. But the Great and Holy Order didn't form until late '93, after Lester passed away. Hester and I joined in June of '94. Skirmishes had already been fought, but under the radar of most people."
"Covert stuff then?" I'd asked.
"Very covert," Cyril had replied.
At that moment Hester appeared from the side of their house pushing a wheelbarrow toward the sidewalk. It was piled high with copies of Battlefield Earth, Buckskin Brigades, Final Blackout, the Mission Earth series, Typewriter in the Sky, Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health, Dianetics 55, and The Way to Happiness. On top of the pile was a five-gallon jerrycan. When she reached the sidewalk, she parked the 'barrow, picked up the jerrycan, popped the cap, and began pouring its contents onto the books.
The sharp tang of gasoline hit my nostrils.
"Hester!" I called. "Sweet Mother of Dingos, Woman! Don't do it!"
"Back off, Jericho," Hester snarled, then pulled a Zippo lighter from the sash at her waist and thumbed the cover open.
"For the love of Anakin, don't fall to the dark side!" I said. "You're about to pull a Godwin!"
Cyril stepped between us. "Not that Godwin, Jericho," he intoned. "The other Godwin." He pointed to the chopped paperbacks. "You know it's right. You saw what they did."
That stopped me in my tracks like a punch to the balls.
h amount of fuel will not power an EDS with a mass of m plus x safely to its destination.
Cyril was right. It was the other Godwin.
I stared down at the surgically sliced sections of Shannara and could almost hear the pages crying out in agony. Like being sliced with razor blades and left in a lemon juice bath.
Bile bubbled at the back of my throat.
Barbaric. Simply barbaric.
At least Hester's way would be cleansing.
A cleansing fire.
Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust.
Requiescat in pace, baby.
I gritted my teeth, felt my eyes welling up with tears. "So be it," I said, my voice husky with emotion.
Cyril gave me a short nod and turned to Hester.
Hester snatched a soaked copy of Dianetics from the wheelbarrow and held it up. In her other hand, she flicked on the lighter. Then she faced the Scientologist house.
"Hear me, Defilers!" she called out, her voice ringing. "You have desecrated our books! Therefore we will desecrate the books of your lying, hack writer overlord! Xenu can kiss my ass!"
Then she lit the book and hurled it into the wheelbarrow. The entire pile gave a whuff! and erupted in huge tongues of flame that licked at the sky.
The Scientologist house screamed.
"You'll pay for this!" they screeched.
"Bring it!" Hester called back.
And local war descended upon us.
No matter, though.
I was armed.
And I was a Professional.
Come back next week for another entry of The Jericho Files!
Read previous Jericho Files entries here.
Read previous Jericho Files entries here.