Friday, April 13, 2018

Queer as a Five-Dollar Bill: Chapter 32

In Chapter Thirty-One, Von Lawson production survey results show 29% of people now believe Abraham Lincoln was romantically involved with Joshua Speed. Wyatt blogs more evidence that Lincoln was Gay, The Elysium Letter, and explains how both Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr. had a dream that all of us would be someday be free, and equal. And how today it's up to each of us to make our world the world they dreamed about. But then the morning of the parade, Wyatt discovers that Wax Lincoln, the star of their parade float, has been stolen. And a call from Mackenzie has Wyatt headed out to track Wax Lincoln down so he can save the parade...

Want to start reading from the beginning? Click here for chapters One and Two.

To read about why I'm serializing my entire YA novel for free on this blog, click here.

Thoughts? Reactions? #queerasafivedollarbill / #qaafdb fan art? Share them as comments here or on social media (facebook, twitter, or instagram.)

Okay community, here's Chapter Thirty-Two!

* *

* *
Chapter 32
Saturday February 14

            Orange and white road barriers and groups of high school guys in yellow John Wilkes Booth Appreciation Society T-shirts blocked the way to Union Square on Grant and Johnson streets. The moon was more than half full, and Wyatt used the light to backtrack to 6th Street and head to the park above the stream, figuring he could sneak in that way. He passed four empty buses, and everything was eerie-quiet as he came around the corner of the Log Cabin. It was foggier here.
            A soldier with two weapons over his shoulder stood in front of Wyatt, silhouetted against the yellow-white light coming from Union Square just around the corner. Another guy dressed like a grunt soldier banged his way out of one of the five blue porto-potties on the park grass, saying, “For two hundred dollars, I’ll make a four a.m. call. But damn, I’m tired.”
            The first soldier handed porto-potty guy his rifle. “At least we don’t have to shave.” He took a sip from a take-out cup as they headed to the square.
            “You never get the close-ups if you do.” Porto-potty guy agreed.
            Wyatt hurried to follow them, trying to look like he belonged in the Butternut Gray uniform he’d borrowed from their military mannequin. The wool coat itched and he pulled at the yellow bandana on his neck. He’d tied it too tight.
            “Gentlemen, you’re late! We’re racing the sun, and it’s one take, no re-dos.” Someone with a clipboard and walkie-talkie shouted at them. She stood by an old-fashioned lantern hanging from an iron rod. “Starbucks in the trash can, tattoos covered, and make sure those cell phones are off. They didn’t have those in 1865! Everyone’s lined up and we’re shooting in three minutes! Hustle up!” She spoke into her walkie-talkie. “I’ve got three stragglers.”
            The two other guys broke into a run and disappeared into the bank of fog ahead. Wyatt heard a different woman’s voice from the clipboard lady’s walkie-talkie behind him, “Roger that. Ease up on the fog. Cue sound.”
            A snare drum rolled, echoing through Wyatt. He walked into the mist and as it swirled away from his legs what he saw was unreal, like stepping back in time. Two hundred Civil War soldiers stood in silent formation, everyone staring up at a waist-high stage ringed by bright oil lanterns. It was where the metal arch spelling out ‘Lincolnville’ had been but that was gone.
            Three men stood on the stage, one with a canvas sack over his head and his arm in a sling. The other two wore officer uniforms. Wyatt wove his way forward, trying to make sense of it. The soldiers all around him looked so real. Like his soldier in the photo come to life.
            No one glanced Wyatt’s way, but he was glad it wasn’t daylight yet.
            Suddenly, the drumming stopped, and everyone slapped their rifles to their sides at attention.
            Wyatt got his Springfield rifle from their display case in position and tried to look like a soldier. He reminded himself that some real Civil War soldiers had been younger than he was. He was five rows from a heap of scrap wood piled between the soldiers and the stage. His bandana was too high and the jacket collar continued to be super itchy, making him wish it wasn’t buttoned up all the way. When was the last time they’d cleaned this?
            He thought about Martin and his dust mites, and how those microscopic insects really did look like aliens. His neck itched worse, like the mites or alien lice or whatever they were had realized that instead of plastic, they finally had human flesh to eat. But Wyatt didn’t dare move. Everyone but the officer walking the row was completely still.
Wyatt kept the forage cap low on his face as the officer approached, hoping the mix of oil lamp and pre-dawn fog would camouflage him. The officer’s brown and shiny brass scabbard with a sword in it came to a stop right in front of Wyatt. A fringed gold sash covered the officer’s belt and knotted at his right hip. Slate-blue wool pants tucked into high leather boots turned directly towards him. Hesitantly, Wyatt looked up at the officer’s face…Mackenzie’s dad!
Mr. Miller stared at him and Wyatt tensed up, expecting Mackenzie’s dad to shout, blow Wyatt’s cover, and kick him out of there. But Mr. Miller didn’t say anything. He just gave Wyatt a you-be-careful look and started walking again.
            “Soldiers of the Confederacy!” The shortest of the three men on stage shouted out. He had a funny, high voice. “I give you the President of The Confederate States of America, Jefferson Davis!”
            The guy with the goatee walked forward, arms raised in a rock star way that set off alarms in Wyatt’s head. The goatee was new and he was in period uniform, but Wyatt would have known those cowboy boots anywhere.
            Ernest Von Lawson.
            “Men. You are all witness to a moment that will change the course of our country’s history. For we have here, as a prisoner of war, captured this very morning by our brave patriot, John Wilkes Booth…” He gestured to the side, but Wyatt couldn’t see who was playing the famous assassin. “…None other than the Devil himself, false president of our brothers, our enemy to the North, Mr. Abraham Lincoln!”
            The soldiers around Wyatt jeered and booed. They did have wax-Lincoln! Was that him under the bag? And where was Mackenzie? He’d been so mad at her, but then she went and told him about this…Wyatt’s eyes searched but he didn’t see her.
            Von Lawson continued. “This war, which has rent country and families in two, must end. And it will end, right here. As I have long said, we desire peace at any sacrifice save that of honor and independence. Honor. Honor is the reason we gather here today, in this Tribunal to try Abraham Lincoln for conspiracy to subjugate us by arms, for indecency and lies, for offenses against our humanity, and for crimes against nature!”
            With that, the shorter guy pulled the canvas bag off the third guy’s head, revealing wax-Lincoln. His right arm that was usually out to shake was tight to his chest in a makeshift sling. He was gagged, and his hair stood up on one side, which made him look scared, even though Wyatt knew it wasn’t real. Despite everything, it was good to see him.
            Von Lawson pointed at Lincoln. “We have seen evidence of his unholy and heinous crime, lying with a man as one lies with a woman, if one is so blessed.”
            I gave them the evidence. This is all happening because of me...
            “A crime from the time of Sodom and Gomorrah to today. How do we find Lincoln?”
            The men around Wyatt roared the word, “Guilty!”
            Von Lawson dipped his head. “The sentence is death.”
            Before Wyatt knew what was happening, three soldiers rushed on stage, carried wax-Lincoln down, and pushed him standing up into the middle of the stack of scrap wood. They piled the pieces higher on his legs.
            Von Lawson jumped down. “We end this war now, with a new dawn. A new day.”
            They had timed it perfectly, shafts of sunlight just cresting the Cascade Mountains behind Wyatt.
            Von Lawson picked up a brightly glowing lantern. “In flames of righteousness, their disgraced and discredited Commander-In-Chief will be gone. The North will be left in chaos. And the South will rise… to victory!”
            Wyatt’s feet felt frozen in place.
            Von Lawson whipped the oil lantern through the air and it smashed at Lincoln’s feet, an exploding ball of glass shards and fire. The wood, which must have been soaked with lighter fluid, erupted into flames.
            “NOOO!” Wyatt screamed, but it was drowned out by the cheers of 200 soldiers around him shouting at the top of their lungs, “HUWWWAAAAAAAAH!”          
            Wyatt watched, horrified, as Lincoln’s face sagged in the heat. His suit was on fire now, and the wax figure kept melting, sloping down like a pyramid in the flames.
            Von Lawson’s satisfied expression was lit by the fire consuming Lincoln, as the soldiers in their rows cheered.
            In minutes only the metal armature of the statue was left, and even that toppled and fell into the flames. The soldiers stopped their shouting and for a long moment everything was silent.
            A woman dressed in jeans and a sweater walked forward with a megaphone and addressed the crowd. “And… that’s a wrap! Thank you, and our P.A. Jessica will have your cash for you on the buses.” The soldiers broke formation and she put the megaphone on the edge of the stage. Von Lawson high-fived her.
“I can’t wait to get this footage to the edit bay.” She told him.
Wyatt walked closer, spotting Jonathon in a yellow John Wilkes Booth Appreciation Society T-shirt. He was standing with his parents and sister by some of the crew who were taking down the large film-shoot cameras.
            Von Lawson peeled off the fake goatee and rubbed his chin as they walked back to the crew area. “Civilization, here I come!”
            Someone spoke into a walkie-talkie. “Let’s clear this area and take down the barricades. We have to be out of here before their parade starts, and that’s at nine.”
            Wyatt saw his chance and cut past the burned down fire to grab the megaphone. He pressed a button to talk and a siren blared. Ow, that hurt his ears.
Everyone stopped moving. Wyatt tried again, pressing the other button. “What about slavery?” His voice, amplified, carried across the square.
            Wyatt watched Von Lawson push back through the crowd to face him from 20 yards away. The T.V. host stood there like a gunfighter out of some cowboy movie, about to draw and fire. Wyatt forced his voice to not shake as he pressed the megaphone’s ‘talk’ button again. “What about slavery, Mr. Von Lawson? If the South wins?” Everyone was listening. Watching him. Wyatt felt his face heat up, but told himself it didn’t matter.
            “Wyatt… Did you enjoy the show?” Von Lawson didn’t need a microphone.
            “No.” Wyatt’s voice got stronger. “What about slavery?”
            Von Lawson was casual. “Slavery would have ended on its own, eventually.”
            Anger pushed everything else aside. “That’s supposed to be good enough? Eventually?” Wyatt snorted his disgust. “And what about all the soldiers like me? One in ten are queer, like Lincoln was. Even back then.” Like my soldier probably was.
            Von Lawson inclined his head to the fire’s smoking embers.
            Maybe Wyatt could get him to say it, with all these witnesses. “Is that your Real America? Just kill the people you don’t like?”
            “Phineas didn’t kill people he didn’t like. Phineas acted to mend the displeasure of the Lord. Anyway, we haven’t killed anyone. It was just an effigy. Just a short film project we thought could maybe turn this thing around. Let people think it through to its obvious conclusion. If they want to believe Lincoln was this immoral practicing sodomite you think he was, America might have turned out to be a very different country. One they might not be so keen on. Though, for some us, it could have worked out.” Von Lawson smiled, the biggest shark of all. “And, as an added benefit, without your Lincoln, you can’t have your parade celebrating queerness now. You ruined that word for us, you know? ‘Queer’ used to be a perfectly good word, meaning disgustingly different.”
            There was a honk, and soldiers moved out of the way as a green pickup with paper flowers all over it slowly pushed through to the stage and stopped ten feet from them. A three-person camera crew jumped down from the back, and started filming Wyatt, Von Lawson, everything. Iron-on letters on a white pillowcase attached to the truck grill read,

All People* Are Created Equal
*No Exceptions

Wyatt looked to see who was behind the wheel.
            Martin put up a hand and smiled at him.
            Inside Wyatt, hope soared. He ran over to the passenger door and wrenched it open. “Hey! You’re like the cavalry.”
            “Not exactly a Bond-car entrance, but we made it!” He beamed. “It’s good to see you.”
            Wyatt tossed in his rifle and grabbed Lincoln’s hat from the passenger seat where he’d put it earlier. He spoke into the megaphone. “We’re still going to have our parade.”
            “How?” Von Lawson mocked him. “You don’t have a Lincoln!”
            In that instant, Wyatt realized he wasn’t scared anymore. The weight of holding the secret was gone. Everyone there knew he was gay. Some people weren’t okay with it, but that wasn’t Wyatt’s problem – it was theirs. And a lot of people were okay with him being him. Some of the people who had been to his blog. And probably all of the ones coming for the parade later this morning – fingers crossed some people would show up! But it wasn’t about what strangers thought.
There was his dad and mom. Mackenzie, and Jennie and all their friends who had been watching his back at school. And Rhonda. Martin. Most of all, himself. He was okay with it. Okay with being 100% Wyatt.
            He felt the camera lights on him as he said two words under his breath, for courage. “Soul Force.”
            Wyatt leapt into the back of the pickup, took off the bandana and belt set with his bayonet and, Superman-style, pulled off his wool jacket. The leather suspenders holding up his Butternut Gray soldier pants framed the Super ‘G’ on his chest. It was time to be his own superhero.
            The boxes of Lincoln hats were by his feet. But he had the one from wax-Lincoln, which even though he knew was imitation beaver fur, felt more real now than ever. He picked up the hat in one hand and the megaphone in the other.
Von Lawson had said they didn’t have a Lincoln, but he was wrong.
Wyatt put the stovepipe hat on his head and spoke into the megaphone. “I’ll be Lincoln. All men are created equal. Women, too. Everybody! That’s the world I want to live in.”
            Von Lawson scoffed. “Nobody who wrote the Declaration of Independence was thinking about gay people being equal.”
            “Right!” Wyatt got sarcastic. “Equality should only be for rich white straight men who are the descendants of other rich white straight men from Europe.”
            “RAAAHHHHH!” “Get him!” “Shut him up!” The truck got rushed by twenty shouting guys – from school and the Freshman basketball team – all of them in yellow John Wilkes Booth Appreciation Society T-shirts. They started pushing it sideways, rocking the whole pickup back and forth.
            “Wyatt!” Mackenzie screamed, and he saw her running towards the truck from the other side of the stage. More people were coming behind her.
            Martin shouted, “Hold on!,” a grinding sound telling Wyatt that he was trying to start the engine. Wyatt clung to the cab roof as the arbor snapped and its top crashed to the truck bed, missing him by inches. He was sure they were going to flip the truck over.
            “Stop!” Someone in a yellow shirt was waving his arms. Wyatt looked at him, wide-eyed.
            It was Jonathon.
“STOP!” Jonathon yelled it again, pulling Charlie’s arm off the pickup. The guys stood down. “It’s gone far enough.”
            Mackenzie came to Jonathon’s side, out of breath. “Let them be equal! Everyone equal.”
            “Whose side are you on?” Charlie snarled at his best friend.
            Jonathon paused. He looked at Wyatt. At Mackenzie next to him.
            “Your choice, big brother.” Becca called to Jonathon as she strode over from where she’d been standing with the film crew, alternating steps on her pink zebra-print prosthetic leg. “You can be Luke, or Darth Vader. But Von Lawson, he’s pretty much Emperor Palpatine.”
Wyatt wasn’t sure what Jonathon was going to do. The crowd pressed in thick around them with soldier-actors and townspeople drawn to the commotion.
Suddenly, Jonathon stripped off his John Wilkes Booth Appreciation Society T-shirt and threw it to the ground. Camera lights on him, he vaulted into the back of the truck.
Was that so he wouldn’t get his shirt dirty when they fought?
Wyatt resisted the urge to take a step back. He met Jonathon’s eyes, determined. He was not going down without a fight. Not this time. Not ever again. He spoke into the megaphone, his voice mocking. “What, no lightsaber for the big Star Wars duel?”
Jonathon flinched, and then put up his palm, “I don’t want to fight you.”
A hard laugh burst from Wyatt’s mouth.
One of the boxes of souvenir Lincoln hats had broken open, and Jonathon bent to pick up a stovepipe hat made out of heavy paper. Looking right at Wyatt, he stood tall and put the hat on his own head.
Wyatt was stunned.
            “What the hell?” Von Lawson shouted. The guys from Jonathon’s team, in a cluster around the truck, looked lost.
            “You’re right. We’re all equal, or should be.” Jonathon told Wyatt. He took a deep breath, like he was about to reveal something big. He turned to the crowd and cameras and his sister and watching parents, “If the Galactic Republic can include everyone, freaky-weird aliens like Wookiees and Twi’leks and humans, too, then shouldn’t there be an equal place in our world for humans who are different than us?” He looked at his teammates. “Come on, Cohen: Asians and Jews. Anderson, what about girls like your mom and sister?” His eyes swept Miguel from the basketball team and up to Martin, who was standing on the truck step bar, staring at him. “And Latin people and Black people…” Jonathon looked back at Becca, who was standing there with one eyebrow raised, watching him. He smiled at her in apology, “And disabled people!”
He turned back to Wyatt. “Even gays. And if celebrating all that needs a Lincoln, okay. I’m Lincoln.”
            Mackenzie came closer to the truck and reached up a hand. Jonathon lifted her to join them. She grabbed a hat, and put it on. “And I’m Lincoln, too!”
            “Count me in.” Becca said, and with a leap hoisted herself up into the truck bed as well. She put a hat on her head and crowed, “I’m Lincoln!” She hugged her brother and put her hand out to Mackenzie, who clasped it.
            “I’m Lincoln!” Martin beamed at Wyatt, and pulled on a hat.
            A hand shot up from among the soldier actors, a guy with a beard. “I’m Lincoln!”
            “And I’m Lincoln!” That was Jennie.
            “I’m Lincoln!” Another soldier.
            “I’m Lincoln!” Sandee, from the candy store.
            And more soldiers, and townspeople, like a wave.
            “I’m Lincoln!” “I’m Lincoln!” “I am Lincoln!”
            Mackenzie glanced at Wyatt. “I’m sorry I didn’t tell you about Jonathon, but I didn’t think you’d understand. But now, maybe you can see what I knew all along…” She smiled at Jonathon with a mix of admiration and pride. She turned back to Wyatt. “Are we okay?”
Slowly, Wyatt nodded. “Yeah.” He turned to Jonathon. “Hey, why did you help get word out about Lincoln, like with the radio program?”
“I needed you to be a big deal.” Jonathon said.
Wyatt gave him a what-does-that-mean? pop of his hands.
Jonathon shrugged. “Luke wouldn’t be anyone without Darth Vader. I mean, he wouldn’t be a hero.”
“So I was your Darth Vader?” Wyatt asked. Not much of a compliment.
“Well, yeah.” Jonathon admitted. “I didn’t really work out that way, but…”
That explains the Death Star.
“Guys, it’s quarter-to-eight!” Martin looked up from his phone.
Wyatt tilted his head to where the parade groups were supposed to line up on Hayes Street. “We should probably go help them get ready.” He looked over at Mackenzie, “You staying for the parade?”
“Wyatt!” Then she shook her head. “It was going to be a surprise, but… I’m in it. Sensei Jodi’s got our whole dojo to march!”
She was about to hug Wyatt when a voice cut the air. “I am your Commander in Chief!” Wyatt whipped around to see it was Von Lawson, on another megaphone. “Soldiers of the Confederate States of America – I order you to block that street and stop this parade!”
No one moved.
Von Lawson pointed to the North-West corner of the square. “If you want your two-hundred dollars, you will form a human barrier at that intersection and prevent anyone from marching in this so-called ‘parade’ honoring perversion, immorality, and the radical homosexual agenda.”
The re-enactment actors grumbled.
“I thought we were done. Didn’t the Director call wrap?”
“I didn’t wake up at two a.m. for nothing.”
Von Lawson spoke again. “In fact, I’ll double your pay for every man that stands his ground until their parade permit expires at noon.”
Wyatt heard a re-enactment soldier by the truck. “Four hundred dollars? Okay!”
What looked like half of the soldiers started to move in a group to block Route 37 at Johnson Street.
Wyatt looked at Mackenzie, Martin, Jonathon, and Becca, but didn’t know what any of them could do to stop it.
“Enough play acting!” Mr. Miller pushed through the crowd to get in front of the men heading into Johnson Street.
His costume outranked them, but would they listen to him?
“I am a duly sworn officer of the law, and the permit allowing this re-enactment filming has expired!”
Mackenzie seemed to hold her breath.
 “First of all,” Von Lawson spoke through his megaphone. “You’re working for me right now, security? And second, you’re not even a real cop.” Von Lawson sneered at him. “You’re a meter maid! You write tickets.”
Wyatt noticed Mackenzie’s hands ball into fists.
            “That’s right.” Mackenzie’s dad pulled his parking ticket pad out of his uniform’s jacket pocket. He flipped the book open, and with a raised pen faced the re-enactment actors who had started for the intersection. “You all need to go back to your buses, or I will be forced to issue you citations for obstructing a public thoroughfare. And jaywalking.”
Wyatt saw Mackenzie’s proud look as she watched her dad.
Mr. Miller continued, “Trust me, it’ll cost you a lot more than four-hundred dollars. And you’ll have to show up in court.”
The mass of men hesitated.
Von Lawson threatened them. “Leave now and you don’t get paid!”
Martin stood on the top of the truck bed side, his Lincoln hat making him even taller. He shouted, “My mom’s a lawyer! She’ll help you sue Von Lawson for wages, but you can’t stop this parade from happening!”
Wyatt put his arm out to Martin, and they grasped hands. “But you can stay and be IN the parade!” Wyatt spoke into his megaphone. “Come on! What kind of world is it going to be? Shouldn’t everyone be equal?”
“Please.” Mackenzie said it quietly. Almost like a prayer.
They waited to see what the crowd would do. Jonathon put his arm around Mackenzie.
“How about one of them hats, if we’re staying?” One of the soldiers called up to them.
Mackenzie turned to Wyatt. “I have some birthday money saved up, and I can’t think of anything better to spend it on!”
He nodded at her, grateful.
Mackenzie handed the soldier a hat. “Here you go…”
“I want a hat!”
“Absolutely!” Mackenzie said.
            “Me, too!”
            Mackenzie, Wyatt, Martin, Jonathon, and Becca passed out Lincoln hats to the crowd that surged forward. No one went to block the street. The tide had turned, in their favor.
            Wyatt spotted Von Lawson slink off into his Limo and drive away. Good.
Mackenzie moved closer to Jonathon, and Wyatt heard her ask, “You stole the wax figure, didn’t you?”
“I wish I hadn’t.” Jonathon said, like he really meant it.
She touched his cheek. “But when it counted, you came through.”
            He gave a shrug. “What can I say? I’m a Jedi.”
            “I think you really are.” And with that, Mackenzie kissed him.
            Wyatt looked away, but this time, not out of anger, or betrayal, or hurt. He wanted to give them a moment of privacy. After all, Mackenzie was his best friend. And, he realized, he was happy for her.

* *

* *

Want to know why I'm serializing my entire YA novel for free right here on this blog? Click here.

Ready for the book's final chapter, Chapter Thirty-Three? It will be posted on April 20, 2018.

Thoughts? Reactions? #queerasafivedollarbill / #qaafdb fan art? Share them in comments here, or on facebook, twitter, or instagram.

Don't miss a chapter - you can sign up to follow this blog and get emailed every post! Just enter your email at the top of the left column.

Thanks for being part of my community, and for being one of my READERS!

No comments: