Notes More background on the narrator’s exploits before coming back to Manchester.
During every election, everywhere, there are always people who say they will leave the country if their choice loses. They’re usually lying.
After the last US election there were some who followed through on the threat.
I’m in the house of James Vanderbrook in the south of France. It’s practically a fortress perched atop a cliff with views up and down the valley. Since the road up the hill washed away there’s only one way up there. Visitors park their cars in a natural garage under an overhang gouged by a river that has since swung across to the opposite side of the valley. Then they have to walk up a steep but well maintained path, stopping at every switch back to pretend to admire the view but really to catch their breath.
What you can see of the house is rustic French. Once upon a time, before the road up washed away, this was a farm house. There’s a huge upland meadow behind it, enclosed on the other three sides by ridgelines and the mountain they come down from. Goats graze the meadow. They look at us in that superior way they have as we settle down for coffee.
“I’m American. I always thought I was.” declares Vanderbrook, “But not this America.”
“They’re starting to call it the Divided States.” I offer.
“How can they not. They used all this rhetoric about ‘Real America’ and all their opposites not having American values, all through the campaign. And that was bad enough. But after they stole the election it became obvious that they actually had policies based upon it.”
He tops up my coffee. It’s the best I’ve had in a while. The French don’t like to admit it, but this strange pseudo war that’s being waged across Europe has seriously impacted the quality of the beans they’re using. Vanderbrook obviously has a stash of the highest quality somewhere on the compound.
“It’s obvious they stole the election, by the way. I know that anyone who went on a news programme and tried to explain was treated as a nut. So people stopped leaving themselves open to the abuse. But it was stolen.”
“You’re preaching to the converted. I spent most of that Wednesday drunk. And I’ve only ever spent a fortnight in the US ever.”
“You and the rest of the world. I didn’t even give them until the changeover. I started work on leaving the country before the end of November and I was out by the handover.”
“Not straight away. I lived out of a suitcase for a while. I employed a hundred people. They, and I, were paying taxes. I could have left the country and carried on paying them, but if I left the country but carried on paying them then I was still funding the regime. So I worked on getting as many of them as possible out of the country and working for me abroad. Sixty three of them came with me. There are some in Ireland, some here in France, a lot in India and a few in other places. Some of them are travelling. Nowadays you can have your offices almost anywhere. It’s not quite as productive and sometimes I miss the chatter, but it works fairly well.”
“So you don’t pay any taxes in the States?”
“Oh I’m sure I do, but I’ve gone out of my way to cut the amount of funding I give to their madness.”
I don’t know how well Vanderbrook lived in the States, but his life here is idyllic. He has a gorgeous wife and live in help. Crystal clear water is pumped up from the river using power from the windmill and solar panels and his rural hideaway is in contact with the rest of the world thanks to a line of sight radio connection to the telecoms centre at the bottom of the valley.
“What brings you to this rather beautiful piece of nowhere?” Vanderbrook enquires.
“I heard about the mad American on the hill and I just had to come and see what they were on about.”
“I hope I don’t disappoint.”
“Not so far. Are there many other ex pats that you know of around here?”
“Around here no. But I work with folks who’ve moved to India, Germany, Australia…. Enough of us have left that it’s taken a hunk out of the United States’ tax take. It’s…. I don’t know. I’m not proud of contributing to the bankrupting of my home country, but I’d be even less proud of what they’d do with my money if they got their hands on it.”
They killed him, of course.
It would have been hard to believe that elements of the largest and best equipped military in the world would go feral. But that’s what they did after the attempt to break out of Germany. They had to discard all of their high tech equipment- there are still abandoned tanks and humvees to be found all around Europe- but they kept enough personal weapons to out shoot any of the local police they most often tussled with.
The gang that came down Vanderbrook’s valley- by that point they’d degenerated from squads or whatever to simple yobs- had no doubt heard about his castle on the hill and decided to punish the traitor. There’s no comfort to be derived from it, but the castle was to be the location of this bunch’s last stand. But there were others.
Maybe if I’d never met Vanderbrook I wouldn’t have acted how I did in Apt.