Deliverance (Or the Drone Killers)
With the gusto of a twelve-year old, Roger Pierce stripped off his clothes, sprinted onto the dock and cannonballed into his ten-acre pond.
“You are sixty years old,” his wife had snapped at him earlier. “Why don’t you act like it? What if you had a heart attack doing that?”
Loretta didn’t understand. Life was to be lived and there was no better living than skinny-dipping in his pond. It was his property and he loved it; the nearest house was a quarter of a mile down the road and who was going to see him?
Once in the water, he surfaced and leisurely treaded. Birds were tweeting, dragonflies buzzed over the glistening surface, and fish splashed in the distance. All of it served to drive Roger into a pleasant trance, one that he figured was better for his mental health than any kind of drug or shrink.
Suddenly something buzzed like a giant, malevolent mosquito. He swiveled his head this way and that, trying to see. And then he located it and his gut contracted. One of those damnable drones!
Lately, he and his neighbors had been bombarded with the nasty things – some on scientific missions from the university twenty miles north; recreational drones belonging to precocious teens or childish men, possibly spying on people; and delivery drones from various online businesses. Was there no end to it? Did he give a crap whether someone received their sneakers or air conditioner part or new tablet in one day from the time of placing their order? He and Loretta were sick of it.
Sputtering and red-faced, he heard the retort of a rifle and the drone flipped over before drunkenly spiraling into the pond. For a moment he was flabbergasted, but turning in the water, he saw his wife lowering a rifle and realized it was his best hunting gun and when did she learn how to shoot like that? She resembled someone from the Wild West, her hair askew and legs apart in a strong triangle stance.
“That’ll teach ‘em,” she said.
“Loretta,” Roger said, scrambling out of the water, “are you crazy? The cops’ll be here any minute. You’ve probably earned us both time in the clink! At the very least a whopping fine!”
“Put some clothes on, Roger,” she said, lowering the gun. “Just in case. And then we need to get our stories straight.”
A patrol car pulled into the driveway an hour later. “You let me do the talking,” said Loretta in her hard business tone. Roger grunted.
Two officers got out of the car, both looking uncomfortable. They were locals and most likely naturally understood the rural expectation of respect for privacy.
“Sorry to disturb you,” the short, red-faced one began, ”but we have a report from...(he checked his phone)...Rauch Enterprises, claiming that one of their delivery drones came down somewhere close to here. Did either of you see anything like that?”
“As a matter of fact, we did,” said Loretta in her more charming, company voice. “I’d just stepped outside to water the plants and saw the thing kind of far off (she pointed) up there, doing a funny wobble. Then it went down somewhere there, maybe into Keenan’s pond, who knows?”
“Keenan’s are your neighbors?”
“That’s right. Gregg Keenan is the owner. We only met his wife once. She doesn’t come up much. They live in New Jersey somewhere. Do you know where they live, Roger?”
Roger shook his head.
“So, the Keenan’s aren’t there right now, that’s what you’re saying, Mrs. Pierce?”
“Why do you think the drone might have fallen into the Keenan pond?”
Roger opened his mouth but Loretta overrode him. “Because that’s the direction I saw it go down in. Just assuming, that’s all. Could have fallen into the woods too, who knows?”
The tall cop eyed her. “What do you think about drones, if you don’t mind my asking?”
Roger knew his wife wasn’t going to fall for that one. “We think they’re nifty,” she said.
“Uh huh,” said the tall one.
The short one tapped at his phone before slipping it into his pocket. “Well, we’ll go over there and take a look. If you two see anything, give us a call, all right?”
“Definitely,” said Roger. He shot Loretta a sideways look but fortunately, the cops had already turned around or the tall one would have caught it for sure.
* * *
“You think they can detect it somehow?” Roger said nervously at dinner that evening. “You know, some kind of chip down there under the water shooting out signals?”
“Let’s call the nephew,” said Loretta.
Her brother’s son was Generation X and tech savvy, though Loretta was no slouch herself. “Well, most current delivery drones wouldn’t have that yet,” nephew replied to their query. Loretta had the phone on speaker so Roger could hear. “Not if they’re underwater. However, military and the ones built for underwater exploration, yes. What did you do, Uncle Roger?”
“Never you mind,” said Roger. “We just wanted your technical knowledge in general, that’s all.”
“You don’t want to end up in prison now,” insisted nephew. “Aunt Loretta would go insane.”
“She might already be a bit,” said Roger. “But I know what you mean.”
* * *
All was peaceful for two weeks until another drone flew over. This one, noisier than the last, definitely looked like it was up to something. Loretta saw it first while cleaning up her potting shed. She stepped outside and shaded her eyes to watch.
It moved lower and closer until it was only seventy feet in the air. “I’ll be damned if that thing doesn’t seem to have a mind of its own,” she said aloud.
Roger who’d been dozing in the hammock jumped off and darted over. “Will you look at that?” he demanded, shooting it the bird. “That’s no delivery drone; it’s some kind of spy thing! Taking pictures of us, I’ll bet! Maybe it’s from one of those property buy up places, trying to see if we look like suckers to hit on.” His face was turning magenta.
“Roger,” said Loretta real low, “go get me the rifle.”
“I can do it myself,” he barked. “I’m as good a shot as you!”
“Well, get it then,” she said, and he disappeared to return a moment later with it in hand.
The drone seemed to hesitate, as if it could reason, but before it had a chance to retreat, Roger took aim. One shot and it fell to the ground.
“Now we did it,” said Loretta, as if she was already regretting their actions.
“We’ve got to get rid of this,” said Roger, his voice low. He looked about to panic, remembering what their nephew had said.
“Drag it in the potting shed here,” said Loretta. “Where’s the sledge hammer?”
Roger got it from the garage and proceeded to smash the thing to smithereens. It wasn’t very big, maybe 3 feet across. As fast as he smashed, Loretta picked up the pieces, stuffed them into double heavy-duty garbage bags and tied it all up with a twister.
“What are we going to do with this?”
“Get in the car,” said Roger, grabbing the bag. She hopped in and he pealed out, raising a cloud of dust. At the end of the driveway, he turned right. “Where are we going?” demanded Loretta, hanging on for dear life.
He whipped into Keenan’s driveway, bumped his way along until they came to a two-tracked trail leading into the woods. “Stay here,” he ordered as he got out. He pulled the bag out of the car before disappearing into the woods, leaving Loretta to chew her nails.
Once before, while hunting turkey, he’d found a little cave in this area. He located it, emptied the bag inside, kicked dirt over the junk, carried in rocks from outside and covered the mess. He rolled the bags up, returned to the car and stuffed them into the glove compartment.
He was breathing heavily, but appeared strangely contented. “Are you okay?” asked his wife.
“People have to do what they can to keep the world from turning into a science fiction horror,” Roger said firmly. “People have to self preserve!”
“I understand, Roger,” said Loretta, “but let’s get out of here before Big Brother arrives.”
They returned the garbage bags to the kitchen cupboard, washed up and went out to dinner where they enjoyed some fine seafood. But on their return home, the same two cops were parked in the driveway.
“Act perfectly normal,” said Roger. They got out of the car.
The cops got out too.
“Evening,” said the short one. Apparently, he did most of the talking. “Seems another drone has disappeared over your land.”
“I beg to differ,” said Roger. “That other one did not ‘disappear over our land.’ It went down on the Keenan property.”
“Whatever,” said the cop. “Today a drone from up at Cornell, one of their bird tracing ones, up and disappeared. It had something to do with owls.”
Roger and Loretta both looked as innocent as they could. “We did not see any drones chasing any birds,” said Loretta. “And daytime would not be the best for watching owls, duh. I was in the potting shed most of the day; then we went out to dinner. Roger was pretty much inside all day, weren’t you, Roger?”
“That’s right,” said Roger. “I was fixing the drain in the bathrooms and cleaning the water heater.”
“Uh huh,” said the cop. “We just think it’s kind of odd that two drones have disappeared in a short while in your area, so to speak.”
“Well, I can’t help that,” said Roger. “Maybe there is some kind of anomaly around here. Weird energy waves or something coming from the rocks that causes drones to come down. If I see any downed drones, I’ll be the first to call you guys.”
“Good idea,” said the cop borderline sarcastically. “We wouldn’t want to have to get a search warrant or anything.”
Roger let that sink in and said, “Oh, you can search the house and land here anytime you like, officers. Just give us a heads-up so we’re not naked.”
The cops did not laugh, but nodded and climbed back into their car.
As they disappeared down the road, Loretta said, “Maybe we’d better give up on taking down drones.”
“Hell no!” said Roger. “I’m just starting to warm up. Those little bastards insist on entering our private domain, they are gonna die!”
“I don’t want to go to prison,” said Loretta.
“You’re right,” said Roger after a moment. “I don’t either. Maybe we should cool off, I don’t know. It’s just that when I see one, I seem to lose control. “ He paused. “But you can’t fight progress, can you? Maybe we just have to learn to live with being spied on and annoyed.”
He was being sarcastic, but she was probably right. They hardly wanted to spend whatever time they had left separated and miserable with murderers and rapists. Loretta liked things just so and it would finish her off.
So they behaved for three weeks. Then their grandkids came to visit.
Lindsey was fifteen and closely resembled the actress Scarlett Johansson only with dark hair. “She is just too beautiful for her own good,” Loretta remarked upon the girl’s arrival. “It’ll cause her nothing but trouble.”
“Or get her married to a billionaire,” said Roger dryly.
Lindsey’s brother Seth did not appear to be related to her. He personified the socially awkward geek with his soft little body, pale skin and wiry black hair. His glasses were badly smeared and slid down his nose; he was forever pushing them up.
“How about we do something interesting every other day and in between just stay home and relax?” suggested Loretta hopefully. She wasn’t sure she had enough energy to properly entertain kids anymore.
“I don’t care,” said Lindsey, looking at her cellphone. “I’m fine with hanging out here, Grandma. I’ll work on my tan.”
“It might get boring,” said Loretta.
“I have work to do myself,” said Seth, nodding toward the laptop and gym bag he carried. “You got Wifi here, right?”
They did. Soon their grandson disappeared into the guestroom to set up his laboratory or whatever it was he had in mind, while Lindsey, who was assigned the sleeping porch, emerged from there in a very brief bikini and carrying a magazine and beach towel. “I’ll be at the pond,” she said.
In the kitchen, Loretta who was putting together a chocolate cake said, “Use sun block. You don’t want to get melanoma!”
But her granddaughter, staring at her cellphone, was already out the door.
As Loretta was sliding the cake into the oven, Lindsay ran breathless into the house. “Grandma!” she shouted. “Grandpa! Some stupid drone is watching me out there! I know it’s taking pics and it’s moving up and down like it’s trying to get a better view! Some dirty creep, that’s what! And he’ll post them online for other creeps to look at all over the world!”
Loretta shot out of the house at a speed no one would imagine a sixty year old could produce. “Where?” she demanded, searching the sky.
“There!” cried Lindsey. “By the tallest tree, see it?”
Loretta’s eyes shot to the hemlock – yes, a small, black, flat thing with wheels around it, a little flying saucer. She felt she might pop an artery.
Roger bolted from the house, holding a rifle, not the one Loretta had used, but larger. “Son of a bitch,” he muttered as he sped on by. Seth was running behind him.
“That’s a Jaguar 2.4GHz 4.5CH spy drone!” Seth shouted. “For sure it’s probably taking pics of your disgusting, almost naked body, sis!”
But the Jaguar 2.4GHz 4.5CH camera spy drone was soon toast. The reverberating roar of Roger’s gun made that perfectly clear. The drone, no longer visible, must have fallen behind the hemlock. Everyone made a beeline for the tree.
“Oh, Roger,” said Loretta. “I know it had to be done, but-“
Roger was grim faced. “Seth, get a shovel from the garage. We’ll just bury the piece of crap right here now.”
“I don’t know, Grandpa. They might be able to trace it.”
“Well, what do you suggest, Einstein?”
The boy stood there thinking. “I’m pretty sure this has GPS on it. We need to think fast. Wait!”
He turned and bolted for the house. Loretta was wringing her hands.
“Calm down,” said Roger.
“I’m picturing my cell in the prison. My roommate will be this giant, furious gang leader who hates her mother who smashed cigarettes out on her arm when she was a kid and I look just like the woman, so now I’m going to pay!”
Roger shook his head.
Seth came running, holding something in his hand. “Let me at it,” he said.
“What’s that?” asked everyone.
“It’s a jamming device. Me and my friend Coby made it. It’s pretty much like the kind you buy online only better. It not only jams the drone’s flight abilities but scrambles whatever it’s sending back home.”
“Yeah, but wouldn’t they already have the location of where it went down?” said Lindsey.
“It might. We need to get this somewhere else now while it’s scrambled, then I’ll unscramble and they’ll pick up signals from the new location.”
Loretta ran inside the house to turn off the oven, then joined the others as they grabbed the drone and pieces that had broken off and jumped into Loretta’s car. Roger tossed the rifle in the back. This time they took off in the opposite direction from Keenan’s. Roger made a skidding turn onto a narrow dirt road, followed it to its end and turned right onto a winding paved road. About a half mile down, he turned into a two rut, grass covered lane and stopped the car. “Will this do?” he said.
“Good enough,” said Seth. They climbed out and dumped the drone behind a rock.
“Get in the car,” ordered Seth.
“Can the camera see us now?” asked Roger.
“No, but get in the car.”
Seth aimed his device, did some finger pressing and ran. They backed out in maniacal fashion and headed on down the paved road away from home.
“Where are we going?” asked Loretta.
“We’re going for ice cream cones. And we’re gonna take our good ole time eating them.”
“But I have a bathing suit on,” whined Lindsey.
“Tough,” said Roger. “You can eat in the car.”
An hour and a half later, as they neared their house, Roger suddenly pulled off the road. “Seth, hide your device somewhere around here. I’ll hide the rifle. We’ll come back for them later.”
Seth did as told and a few moments later, they pulled into their driveway to see the cop car sitting there.
“Wow,” said Seth. “I don’t know why you thought it might be boring staying here, Grandma.”
The same short cop climbed out, but this time he had a female cop with him. She looked tough and permanently enraged.
“Well, here we are again,” said short cop. Female cop said nothing, just glowered.
“No use denying it, we know you did it. I’m afraid now we’re going to have to take you in.”
“Wait just a minute!” said Lindsey, still in her very brief bathing suit and acting with the authority of a New York lawyer. She stepped in front of Roger until she was two feet from the cops. “This is what happened. I was out there by myself, relaxing by that pond over there, wearing this in case you’re interested! And this perv driven thing suddenly comes out of nowhere and hovers like four feet over me. I’m not stupid. Some fat, pimply piece of garbage was sitting on his deck somewhere looking at me! That should be illegal, not protecting your own self in your own back yard!”
The female cop looked her over. “I agree with you, sister,” she said. “Bunch of damn deviants out there. I’ve run into a few myself.” She scowled at the other cop. “Let’s get out of here. Too bad if some sicko’s toy went down. That’s his problem!”
She must have been his superior, because short cop obeyed and without a word climbed into the patrol car.
“You have any more trouble, you call me,” said female cop, handing Lindsey her card.
Everyone walked to the kitchen, exhausted. “Is it going to rain tonight?” asked Seth. “’Cause I’m too tired to go get that stuff.”
Roger put an arm around his grandson. “We’ll get it later,” he said. “Right now, I want us to make a pact.”
Seth came alert; even his sister lost her habitual blasé expression.
“Everyone sit at the table here,” ordered Roger. As the chairs scraped on the floor, he held out his hands. “Hold hands.”
“Roger, what on earth?” said Loretta, but she went along.
Roger said, “Repeat after me. We solemnly swear….”
“that we will never tell anyone, even under severe torture, that we have ever had anything to do with taking down drones.”
They swore and let go of hands.
“And,” said Roger, “maybe we had better let up on this sort of behavior. Until things cool down anyway.”
They all nodded.
But just then, even from inside the house, they heard the buzz of a drone, coming from the direction of the Keenan’s.