By Jim Gerrish
© 2002, Imagineering Magic. All Rights Reserved.
John Hancock Barnes was inordinately proud of his middle
name. It was as if he were destined for the role he came to play
in forming the ultra conservative Cougar Party. He was also
founder of the Cougar Militia that trained and played their war
games in the uppermost wilderness regions of the Michigan
Peninsula, just north of the town that also bore the famous
American name of Hancock.
Like John Hancock, signer of the Declaration of Independence,
John Hancock Barnes was an inheritor of great wealth and vast
land estates, mostly concentrated in the Upper Peninsula. How
Barnes came by his inheritance was a subject of concern and
suspicion at the time it happened, but nothing was ever proven
and he liberally spread his newly acquired wealth around until
the circumstances were all but forgotten. How he continued to
increase his wealth was a topic of discussion in certain
governmental circles, especially since he seemed to be involved
with buying and selling surplus military equipment. But he had
acquired friends in the Pentagon and with their blessing, he
continued to receive government contracts for disposal of surplus
and obsolete military equipment.
Barnes Cougar Militia seemed to be the recipients of
most of the military equipment. Indeed, when one visited Cougar
headquarters in the depths of the Michigan wilderness, one would
have thought one was visiting a regular U.S. army base, so
thoroughly was it equipped and outfitted with Quonset huts,
khaki-colored trucks and jeeps, men in uniforms, and the like.
The only difference was that everything was marked with the black
paw-print of the Michigan cougar rather than the usual star of
the US Military. Flying beneath the stars and stripes on every
building was the Cougar flag, black paw-print superimposed over a
map outline of the state of Michigan.
However, Barnes bought more surplus military equipment than
could be accounted for, if anyone in the Pentagon were paying
attention. Army supply officers were only too happy to have a
ready market to get rid of their embarrassing surpluses at a
price high enough to skim a little off the top without getting
caught. So Barnes factories were filled with his patriotic
and fiercely loyal workers who took on the job of refurbishing
old military weapons and materials until they glistened like new
and were packed in wooden crates that disappeared from time to
When the workers arrived each Monday morning, the filled
crates would be gone and there would be stacks of wooden parts
waiting to be formed into new crates for filling. The workers
never complained at the unending tasks. They lived on base with
their families and were well paid; with all the benefits they
never would have received working anyplace else in this
economically depressed region. The base had its own clinics,
doctors, dentists, childcare centers
it was like a small
city in the Michigan wilderness, with one exception. Every day
every man, woman, and child over the age of eight received some
type of military training. A common worker would be sent to the
firing range next to his dentist or a hospital nurse. All of them
wore the Cougar uniform when in training, and civilian clothes
while working other jobs, but there was never any doubt that
every person on that base was a full-fledged member of the Cougar
They all knew why they were there and what they were to do
when the proper time came. John Hancock Barnes
Barnes as he was called while on the base
made sure of
that. Each evening, when the workers were gathered into their
homes surrounding the base property, they heard the gospel of
General Barnes preached to them via closed circuit television,
their only means of information and entertainment during the
workweek. On weekends, there were church services, socials,
sporting events, dances and other forms of recreation, but always
with some sermonizing echoing the words of General Barnes, or
perhaps a lecture by the General himself.
Despite the rhetoric of their mission statement and
instruction manuals to uphold the state and federal
constitutions, the Generals slant on things generally took
this approach: state and federal government cant be
trusted; we are the only true Americans and only we know how to
interpret the Constitution; a day is coming when we will have to
take back this country by force and make all those other bad
people see things our way.
On the other side of the world, in a land that was as dry and
dusty as the Michigan wilderness was green and moist, another
kind of message was being spread. In a military training camp
surrounded by packing crates bearing the imprint of a large
cats paw-print, men dressed in a very different kind of
uniform drilled and practiced with the contents of those crates.
Just now, however, they were squatting or seated under the shade
of a canopy, listening to their leader, one Khalid Alshehri, a
black bearded Saudi with hypnotic dark eyes and a passionate
The message being preached in Arabic, was phrased in
religious piety, but boiled down to its bare essence turned out
to be: trust no one; we are the only true followers of Islam and
only we know how to interpret the words of the prophet; a day is
coming when we will force all the nations of the earth to submit
to our version of the one, true religion; but first, kill all
Americans and Jews.
About that same time Inspector Joseph Pearson of the F.B.I.
New York regional office was in a private conference with Mr.
Samuel ONeil and his lawyer, Mr. Donald Thorpe, Esq. They
met in Joes private office within the F.B.I. regional
building, which was high enough to have a spectacular view of the
city. One tried not to pay too much attention to the gaping hole
in the skyline where the Twin Towers had once stood, but it was
not an easy thing to ignore.
When Sam and Don had their coffee cups filled and each had
been given a donut and a napkin, Joe sat down. Last time we
met, he began, was at the debriefing about six months
ago. I hope youve been able to enjoy yourselves since then.
Id like to be able to go and sit in a park all day.
What do you mean, sit in a park all day? asked
Sam, rising to the jibe. I work in that science park and I
work pretty hard teaching kids physics while they try their best
to ignore me.
Hes right, said Don. Ive seen
him in action, but Id say the kids definitely do not ignore
him. Especially once they see how his little physics lessons
improve their games of basketball, baseball and even golf.
Really? said Joe, raising his eyebrows.
They have a golf course in that tiny park?
Miniature golf, just good for putting lessons,
said Sam. But Tiger Woods donated some training tapes they
can watch and anyone who comes in under par gets a free pass to a
real golf club out in the country for the weekend.
And whats the lawyer doing with his spare
time? asked Joe.
Well Sam has inspired me to run some legal classes in
the science parks indoor facility, said Don. At
first I thought no one would be interested, but these kids come
in with all kinds of legal problems and learn to solve them on
God help us, said Joe, rolling his eyes.
More lawyers in the making!
So what have you been up to, said Sam. I
know you didnt call us in here just to catch up on our
lives since we last met.
Youre right, said Joe. Take a look at
this. He handed them a black and white glossy photo of a
You found the crate I was locked up in! exclaimed
Thats it, all right, said Don. I
remember that funny mark on the side.
No, we never found the crate, said Joe. We
think whoever was driving that SUV kidnap car came back soon
after the plane crash and got rid of all the evidence of your
kidnapping from the landing field. There was no windsock, as you
described it, no tents
nothing but a lot of holes and rake
marks where everything you described had once been.
So how did you get that photo of my temporary
prison? asked Sam.
Remember I asked you both to describe the markings on
the crate, and Don even managed to sketch that funny mark, as he
calls it, fairly accurately. It turns out that funny mark is a
A cat! said Sam, in sudden recognition.
Very good, said Joe. For the longest time I
thought it was a dogs paw-print, but eventually a cat-lover
pointed out the error of my ways. Since then Ive learned
that it is a cougar paw-print.
Not many cougars left around anymore, said Sam.
Theyre almost extinct. But I understand the Michigan
cougar is making a comeback.
Where were you when I needed you? asked Joe.
Its taken me months to track this symbol down.
You could have come to see us at the park, said
Yeah, said Don. We do nothing but lounge
around all day in the park. So whats it mean, this cougar
Ever hear of John Hancock Barnes and his Cougar
Militia? asked Joe.
Both Sam and Don shook their heads.
Good, said Joe. That makes me feel like I
didnt waste the last six months of my life.
Is that one of those right-wing Michigan
Militias? asked Sam.
Isnt there a town in Michigan named
Hancock? asked Don. Seems I knew somebody from there
a long time ago.
Is there anything you two dont know between you
both? asked Joe. Do you have any idea how much time
it took me to learn all that?
Im sorry, said Sam. Tell us what you
This photo was taken somewhere in the desert-like
mountains of Afghanistan, said Joe.
A Michigan militia in Afghanistan? asked Don,
raising his eyebrows.
Joe gave him a stern look for interrupting and Don waved his
hand apologetically. We dont know how the crate got
there, said Joe, but the Michigan Cougars have
probably been selling arms all over the world. It seems unlikely
that they would do business with al-Qaida, or rather that
al-Qaida would do business with any American, given their well
known hatred for all Americans and Israelis. Its more
likely that al-Qaida intercepted a shipment of arms bound for
That argument would hold except for the very strange
coincidence of the box I was being transported in having the
exact same marking. I told you I heard Arabic voices, said
Maybe, maybe not, said Joe. Would you know
the difference between someone speaking Arabic or Pashtu or
OK, you got me, said Sam. But I can tell
you which languages it was not. It wasnt English, Spanish,
Italian, Japanese, Russian, French, German, or Chinese.
That still leaves quite a few languages to choose
from, said Joe. About seven thousand would be my
guess. But maybe we dont even have to identify what
language your kidnappers were speaking. Let me tell you what we
found out from the plane wreckage.
Bodies, I hope, said Don. Especially of
that bastard who was shooting at us.
Yes, said Joe. It was just he and a pilot,
and both of them Saudi nationals linked to al-Qaida. They entered
the country from Canada, just a short trip by airplane to where
you encountered them. Another al-Qaida was in the woods sniping
at us north of Albany. At least two others got away, but they
left behind their SUV.
Was it the same SUV as the one they used to kidnap
me? asked Sam.
Youre losing some hair, said Joe. We
found some in the back of the SUV. Id return it to you, but
its being held as evidence.
Keep it with my compliments, said Sam.
Ill lose a lot more before this is over, Im
sure. So it looks as if I was kidnapped by al-Qaida. Where does
this Cougar Militia come in?
We have no idea, but I cant imagine al-Qaida was
going to fly you back across the ocean in that tiny plane,
On the other hand, Michigan is a lot closer, said
Very good, said Joe. My thinking exactly.
Now heres the problem. John Hancock Barnes is a
multi-millionaire. He has friends in the Pentagon, hangs around
with congressmen in Washington, even has friends in the C.I.A.
So it seems we dont want too many people in on
this investigation, said Sam. How many know about
Too many, said Joe. Its a good thing
I had this copy made as soon as I found the original, because now
the original is missing from the files, and the negative,
So he knows that you know that he knows, said
I dont know, said Joe. Maybe he
knows, and maybe its just someone else within the Cougar
organization. But Ive got to act as if he knows and he
certainly will know if the F.B.I. launches a full scale
investigation in his direction.
So you didnt call us in here just for coffee and
donuts, said Sam.
Were not trained for this kind of work,
said Don. You have no right
Leave it to a lawyer to bring up rights, said
Joe. Youre correct. I have no right to ask you, but I
dont need trained F.B.I. investigators for this job. I just
need someone with a sharp inquisitive mind to go to Michigan and
do a little snooping. Nothing dangerous. Just look around and
tell me what you think.
Michigan in the spring, said Sam. It sounds
like a great vacation, Don.
Hancock is on the north end of the peninsula,
said Don. It can be damn cold up there even in the
Do I get to carry an F.B.I. badge? asked Sam.
Have you ever watched Mission
Impossible? asked Joe. Sam and Don looked at one
another warily. Well this mission is like that. If anybody
catches you snooping around, youll be
Disavowed? asked Don.
Yeah. I dont know shit about it, said Joe.
No badge then, said Sam, a little sadly.
Cheer up, said Joe. Ive got a friend
in Houghton, Michigan which is just across the river from
Hancock. Ive told him about your science park in Irvington
and he wants to set up something just like it in Houghton. The
funds have already been approved
you both have a cover reason for being in Houghton. Then you can
snoop around, but dont be obvious and dont play
secret agent or youre sure to get caught. My
friend is a retired F.B.I. agent and now works with the
recreation department in Houghton. Hell find a place for
you to stay, but remember he knows nothing about your snoop
mission. Ive told absolutely no one about this, so
its just between the three of us.
How do we contact you if we find out something juicy to
report? asked Sam.
Do you guys still have the cell phones? asked
Sam and Don nodded. They still used them occasionally to
Good. I just got a new cell phone for my own private
use. Youre the only ones who will have the number.
Whos Big Fish?
Thats me, said Don.
Im Little Fish, said Sam.
So Im Red Lobster, said Joe.
Lets all do our best to avoid getting caught.
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