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The Chippertwig Syndicate Versus Chill Style

               A tall, unkempt young man lurked in the Chippertwig Campground mail room when Jax, accompanied by two of his henchmen, walked in. The young man’s t-shirt featured a stretched neck-hole and a picture of a rapper Jax thought he remembered his daughter liking at some point. The combination of fluorescent overhead light and afternoon sunlight corrupted as it passed through grime on the glass door did no favors for the young man’s sallow complexion. He stood next to the columns of mailboxes on the wall rubbing his eye with the back of his left wrist. He held two items of mail in his right hand.

               “Clear out,” said Wyman, the thick-middled henchman on Jax’s left side. He glared at the young man and jerked his thumb toward the door.

               The young man stared back with the kind of slack expression that filled Jax with revulsion for most young people, even those whose faces did not make that expression.

               When the young man made no move to the door, Wyman took a step toward him, tilting his head back and curling his fingers half way to fists. Bodie, Jax’s other henchman, edged in front of Jax to serve as an extra layer of protection in case the brewing confrontation got messy. The young man’s expression did not change in the face of Wyman’s threatening approach.

               “Let him be,” said Jax. He flashed a tight smile at the young man. “There’s plenty of room for all of us to check the mail.” Jax had recently begun to think that one of the true marks of his power in Chippertwig Campground was his ability to categorize certain offenses as beneath his notice. He liked to think that he was now powerful enough to not need to prove it at every opportunity. Jax walked to mailbox #191, inserted his key, and opened it. The expected postcard with the coded directions to the drug package pickup spot was not inside. There was nothing inside; Jax’s mailbox was empty. He turned to his henchmen. “Artie said today.”

               Both henchmen nodded, each at their own rates of speed.

               “He confirmed delivery,” said Jax. “He didn’t say it was on the way. He said it was in the box.”    

               “Maybe he put it in the wrong box,” said Bodie.

               “He’s done it dozens of times,” said Jax. “Why would he put it in the wrong box?”

               “Put what in the wrong box?” asked the young man. Jax had forgotten he was there, Artie’s error having overtaken all other immediate concerns.

               Wyman glared at him. “None of your business. I told you to clear out.”

               “‘Cause I just checked the mail for my mom and my step-dad,” said the young man. “And there was a postcard in the box that wasn’t for them.”

               “What box number is yours?” asked Jax.

               “It’s not mine,” said the young man. “It’s my mom’s and stepdad’s.”

               “What number is it?” asked Bodie. Jax appreciated the intervention. He hated having to repeat himself.

               “It’s #190,” said the young man.

               “That’s right above mine,” said Jax. “My post card must have been delivered to you by mistake. Give it to me.”

               “I don’t have it,” said the young man.

               “What did you do with it?” asked Jax. “Did you turn it in at the front desk?”

               “I threw it away,” said the young man.

               “Threw it away?” asked Jax. “Why would you do that? Couldn’t you see it was addressed to someone else?”

               “It wasn’t addressed,” said the young man. “I don’t think it came through the mail. It didn’t make sense, so I threw it away.”

               “Didn’t make sense to you,” said Jax. “Because it wasn’t for you.” He could feel the heat of his temper rising in his face.

               “Where did you throw it away?” asked Bodie.

               “There,” said the young man, pointing at the beige trash can in the corner of the mail room.

               “Fish it out,” said Wyman. “And give it to Mr. Autrell.”

               “Who’s that?” asked the young man.

               “Me,” said Jax. “Get the post card out of the trash and give it to me.”

               “No,” said the young man. “Besides, I tore it up.”

               “Why would you tear it up?” asked Jax, his voice rising to a pitch that he hated. Losing control of his voice when he was angry always made him angrier, and this time was not an exception.

               “It made no sense,” said the young man.

               Wyman and Bodie both advanced on him. “Get the pieces out of the trash, ask for some tape at the front desk, put it back together, and give it to us.”

               The young man scoffed. “I’m not gonna do that. I’m not responsible for your mail that somebody else put in the wrong box.”

               Jax’s henchmen twisted to face him, the loathsome young man perfectly framed between their tensed bulky bodies, his dumb head hanging like a waning gibbous moon in a wig between their expectant, brutal, over-the-shoulder looks. Jax nodded. He wanted this young man roughed up. He wanted this boy punished. And he wanted the post card detailing the drug package pickup instructions without stooping to ordering one of his two most trusted henchmen to dig through the Chippertwig Campground mail room garbage can.

               The young man easily dodged Wyman’s attempt to grab him by the shoulder and drove his fists into the henchman’s solar plexus with such rapidity that he landed three solid blows before Wyman crumpled to the dirty tile floor, clutching his stomach and gasping. Bodie was shocked enough to halt his advance, which was his undoing. Or maybe it made no difference. Either way, the young man open-palm slapped Bodie across the face with such force that it spun him 180 degrees, exposing his backside to a powerful kick from the young man’s shabbily-sneakered foot. Bodie flailed his arms in ineffectual panic as he was propelled face first through the door which, mercifully, opened outward. From there, Jax lost sight of him. The door swung closed.

               Jax stood gaping at the young man, who now looked less blank and more happy. It was a change for the worse. Jax almost said, “You’ve made a huge mistake,” and then almost said, “Do you know who I am?” Then he almost turned and fled. All three choices would have been embarrassing, but would have also been less embarrassing than what actually happened, which was that the young man grabbed the garbage can, upended it over Jax’s head, then rammed it down around Jax’s shoulders so that Jax stood in muffled darkness with his nose mushed against the hard plastic of the garbage can’s interior and discarded junk mail piled around his feet as he tensed for a punch, a kick, a shove that did not come. Instead, he heard the young man leave. Then, as he tried to wriggle his way out of the garbage can, Jax accidentally stepped on Wyman’s hand and broke two of his fingers.


               Deep in the woods adjacent to Chippertwig Campground, Britton went through his pre-training stretches, pausing for occasional sips from his lime-flavored sports drink. The insects of late summer flitted through the surrounding greenery and darted in for tastes of Britton’s irresistible sweat. Some of these tastes cost the insects their lives, smacked from the world leaving only black smears on Britton’s pale flesh.

               His stretches concluded, Britton began to strike at the air with his fists, dizzying combinations of hooks, jabs, chops, slaps, uppercuts. After a few minutes, he began to mix in knees and kicks, annihilating an imaginary opponent with his unmatched mastery of Chill Style, the martial art that he had invented when he was 12 and which he had spent the past seven years perfecting at the expense of all other interests and responsibilities. In his heart, Britton had known that the hours he had dedicated to developing and practicing Chill Style would pay off, and just that morning his moment of vindication had arrived.

After his four-mile round trip walk to the Gasolineum convenience store to purchase the pizza and lime-flavored sports drinks that would serve as his lunch and supper, Britton had eaten in the woods, given his meal a half hour to digest, and attacked his afternoon training regimen with renewed vigor. He knew that he had not seen the last of the men he had affronted in the mail room. They would not allow to stand the humiliation he had delivered to them. Britton didn’t know who they were, exactly, but he felt he could surmise their type: low-level criminals protective of their dominance in what they considered to be their territory. In this case, their territory appeared to consist of Chippertwig Campground, a fact which spoke to the truth of their lowness.

Britton despised Chippertwig Campground and everything and everyone associated with it. He had known he would hate it as soon as his mother told him that was where he’d be spending his summer along with her and Mick, Britton’s step-dad. This foreknowledge had been confirmed immediately upon arrival at Chippertwig. Britton’s mom said he only hated it because he’d already decided he would, that he hadn’t given it a fair chance, and maybe that was true, but it did not make his hatred less real, less felt. It did not incline Britton to abandon his hatred in order to give Chippertwig a fair chance. Instead, he retreated to the woods and county roads beyond the campground boundaries. There, he did what he would have spent his summer doing at home: acquiring junk food, eating that junk food, and practicing Chill Style.

That Britton had been in the Chippertwig mail room at all was strange. He usually responded to all of his mother or Mick’s requests to do something with flat refusal. But that morning as Britton, wearing the same clothes he’d worn the day before, disentangled himself from the sheets on the couch in Mick’s RV and put on his shoes, his mother had asked him to run to the mail room for her “just real quick.” And to his mother’s surprise as well as his own, Britton had paused with his hand on the door, waited for a moment, and then said, “Sure, whatever. Where’s the key?”

Britton lived by his impulses, but he did not think that made him impulsive. His impulses were predictable; they rarely deviated from the well-worn grooves within him. But when they did deviate, Britton trusted them. This, he considered, was a crucial element of living one’s life as a Chill Style master. His impulse had sent him to the mail room in compliance with his mother’s request. There, he had finally been challenged, passed that initial challenge with flying colors, and embarked upon the conflict that he knew would define the birth of Chill Style for years to come, decades, centuries, millennia, etc. Which was all that mattered to Britton. Even if his own name were eventually lost to history, Britton did not care as long as Chill Style carried on, inspiring others to not care about stupid stuff and equipping them to beat up anyone who tried to make them care about stupid stuff.

Britton ceased his assault on the warm woodland air and leaned against a tree, breathing hard. He pulled the front of his damp shirt away from his chest to air out a little. Unlike other forms of martial arts, Chill Style allowed – even encouraged – its practitioners to wear normal clothes. Being required to wear a certain kind of clothing to practice your chosen martial art was the exact kind of stupid stuff to which Chill Style stood in direct contrast. Britton had created, developed, and mastered Chill Style all while wearing grubby sneakers, baggy jeans, and big, loose t-shirts adorned with screen-printed graphics. Why practice in some kind of light, breathable, flexible garment when most of the times people try to make you care about stupid stuff you’re going to be wearing normal clothes? And you’re not going to be able to pause to change clothes before you beat them up, right? That’s what Britton thought.

An impulse told him that it was time to recommence his practice, so Britton propelled himself off of the tree trunk as if an enemy had tried to sneak up behind him, throwing himself against that enemy as if it were real, his shirt billowing, his shaggy hair flopping, delivering an imaginary Chill Style beating that would have become legendary in Britton’s memory had he not delivered three real beatings earlier that day, that very day. And there would be more to come, Britton knew. Though today had been Britton’s first opportunity to field test the physical side of Chill Style, he had been living by the Chill Style philosophy for years, and if there was one thing he had learned during that time – from his mother, his step-dad, his high school teachers, and many others – it was that the Chill Style philosophy made people mad, especially people who cared about stupid stuff and felt compelled to force others to do the same. And if ever Britton had met someone who would not react well to an encounter with Chill Style, it was that guy from the mail room.


Chippertwig Campground had not seemed like an attractive destination to her either, Summer was willing to admit that. Especially not for three months. But she, unlike her son, had been willing to give it a chance. She had been willing to trust that maybe Mick – a man she loved enough to marry even after the disaster of her first marriage and its many ongoing repercussions – just maybe he had a reason for describing Chippertwig Campground as his favorite place in the whole wide world.

And now that she was here, Summer loved Chippertwig Campground. The environment was relaxing but not boring, the other campers were friendly, and the mere fact of how much being here mellowed Mick made the lengthy stay well worth it. Britton’s attitude was the one disappointment. But really, how much better would his attitude have been at home? Even if it had been marginally better, he would have been hanging around the house, moping in his room or practicing his karate thing in the basement, whereas here his insistence on spending as little time in the campground as possible meant that Summer rarely saw him for more than a few minutes a day, which meant that his sour disposition couldn’t drag her down.

Unless she thought about him too much. So she tried not to.

Instead, Summer sat in a comfortable camp chair under the RV’s awning and read mystery novels while Mick played golf at one of the nearby courses with his campground buddies, including the guy who wrote and published Twiglings, the campground newsletter. Mick was very proud of his relationship with the Twiglings guy so Summer pretended to be impressed even though Twiglings did have a lot of typos, and why did it need to come out three times a week? If it wasn’t too hot after golf, Summer and Mick went on an evening walk around the campground, chatting with their neighbors about banal, soothing subjects. Then Mick grilled or they ate at Biffy’s, the Chippertwig restaurant which was better than it sounded, or they went into Multioak for a nice dinner. Then they sat around a fire at their campsite while Mick strummed his mandolin or they watched a movie in the RV.

Summer and Mick had usually been in bed for at least an hour by the time Britton came in and flopped down on the couch in the RV’s main living area. The few minutes between Britton waking up in the morning and leaving the campsite was the only time Summer had to interact with her son if she wanted to. She did not often want to. What had compelled her to ask him to get the mail that morning? Some need to assert her belief in her authority over him, even if he didn’t share that belief and she couldn’t enforce it? But maybe some part of him did still believe in her authority over him. He’d agreed to get the mail, hadn’t he? He’d seemed as surprised as Summer was. That was probably a sign of how deeply that belief in her authority was buried. He hadn’t known it was still there either. But Britton hadn’t seemed to resent performing the errand for Summer. In fact, he’d smiled at her when he’d handed her the two pieces of mail he’d fetched from the mail room. And when Summer had said “thank you,” Britton’s “you’re welcome” had been quick and, well, maybe this was just a hopeful interpretation on Summer’s part, but the “you’re welcome” had sounded sincere, too. Could that be?

The bottom of the sun was encroaching on the tops of the trees to the west. Summer was surprised that Mick wasn’t back from the golf course yet. She marked her place in her book, stood, and stretched, embarrassed at the gurgle emitted by her stomach. She was glad no one had been near enough to hear it. Maybe, if Mick was running late, they could forego the walk tonight and just head straight to dinner. Maybe a Mexican place in Multioak. Although, did she want to wait that long? Biffy’s would be the faster choice. And they had some Mexican dishes on the menu, though Summer had never felt tempted to try them. She doubted the likelihood of a place called Biffy’s producing decent Mexican food.


               Summer looked up to see a burly man with glossy hair and a glossy shirt standing on the gravel road at the edge of the campsite. He wore tan slacks and sandals, and the tops of his feet were hairy and streaked with gray dust.

               “Yes?” said Summer. She pulled her sunglasses out of the cup holder in the arm of the camp chair and put them on as an extra layer of defense against whatever this man’s questions might turn out to be.

               “Do you have a son staying here with you?” asked the man. He held a pack of cigarettes at waist level with both hands. It was too strange of a pose to appear as anything but intentional, though its desired effect was hard to parse.

“I have a son, yes,” said Summer.

“And he lives here with you?” asked the man.

“Barely,” said Summer. “What’s this about?”

“Nothing serious,” said the man. “A friend of mine had a talk with your son this morning in the mail room and was hoping to have a follow-up conversation.”

“He isn’t here,” said Summer. “How do you know it was my son who talked to your friend?”

“Well, that’s what I’m trying to confirm, isn’t it?” The man tucked the pack of cigarettes into his front shirt pocket. “But I was told this is where he lives.”

“My son did go to the mail room this morning,” said Summer. “But a lot of other people probably did too. And the only time he’s ever here is when he’s sleeping. By then, my husband will be back.”

“Mmhmm,” said the man, nodding so that the sun flashed in his hair gloss. “A big boy, isn’t he? Needs a haircut?”

“I’m through talking to you,” said Summer. “If Britton did something wrong, then tell me and we’ll deal with it. Otherwise, I’d like you to leave.”

“Have a nice evening, then,” said the man, and he turned to stroll away.

               He’d only been gone for a few minutes when Mick returned from his golf outing. His round face and fleshy neck were sunburned, but he was in a good mood, whistling as he took his golf clubs out of the trunk of the car.

               Summer, who had been watching from the RV behind the floral curtains in the living room window, came out to tell Mick about her interaction with the strange man. When she concluded her account, Mick said, “Well, I’m not surprised. I told Britton a million times that attitude of his was going to get him in real trouble someday.”

               “But this guy scared me,” said Summer. “What if they seriously hurt Britton?”

               “He needs to be taught a lesson,” said Mick. “You and I have tried to punish him, but nothing works. Maybe Jax’s boys will show him that Cold Style – or whatever he calls it – has no place in the real world.”

               “Jax’s boys?” asked Summer. “What are you talking about?”

               “The Chippertwig Syndicate,” said Mick. “Who else would it be? From your description, the guy who talked to you must have been Ford.”

               “They work for Chippertwig?” asked Summer.

               “No, no,” said Mick. “Not officially, anyway. They’re a criminal organization. But very well connected.”

               “Like the mafia?” asked Summer, her voice cracking on the last syllable. “We need to tell security that they’re threatening us.”

               “They aren’t threatening us,” said Mick. “They’re threatening Britton, and it sounds like he probably did something to deserve it. My personal feeling is that we should let Britton see that his actions have real consequences. Maybe this will make him slightly easier to live with.”

               “But they’re criminals,” said Summer. “What if they…they…?”

               “They may be criminals,” said Mick. “But they’re decent guys. They’ve got honor. A code. They won’t seriously hurt him. Just enough to scare him straight, I hope. I might not agree with everything the Syndicate does, but heaven knows I agree with what they stand for a lot more than I agree with what Britton stands for, which is nothing. He’s 19 and he refuses to look for a job. He won’t even mow the lawn! He spits on the floor in the basement while he’s practicing!”

               “You already told me about that,” said Summer.

               “Well, he still does it,” said Mick. “Besides, telling security won’t do any good. The Chippertwig Syndicate has most of Chippertwig security on their payroll.”

               “What about the police?” asked Summer.

               “No,” said Mick. “Absolutely not. Do you know what happens to people who try to bypass Chippertwig security to bring the police into the campground? They get banned! Is that what you want to happen to us? Don’t you like it here?”

               “I do,” said Summer. “I do! But I’m worried about Britton.”

               “This is going to be good for him,” said Mick. “He needs to understand that you can’t go through life not caring about anything. And that punching and kicking the air in the basement doesn’t prepare you to deal with real guys who are actually tough.”

               “You sound like you’re on their side,” said Summer. “You sound like you like the Chippertwig Syndicate.”

               Mick shrugged. “I’ve been coming here since I was a kid and they’ve always treated me well. As long as you don’t cross them, they’re good guys. Britton shouldn’t have crossed them.”

               Summer didn’t know what to say. She didn’t want to fight with Mick. Maybe he was right. Maybe the Chippertwig Syndicate just wanted to warn Britton, just wanted to set him straight. He was a very disrespectful person. Summer covered her face with her hands, took a deep breath, and when she took them away, she was smiling. “What about Mexican food tonight?”

               “Sounds great,” said Mick. “Biffy’s?”

               “I was thinking something a little nicer,” said Summer.


               It was after midnight. In lot #191, the one Jax kept empty just so he could use its mailbox for Syndicate business, Ford stood in the shadows and fiddled with his pack of cigarettes: the last one he’d ever purchased and the last one he ever would purchase. It was almost 8 years old. Ford kept his eyes on the RV across the road in lot #190. Behind him, Bodie sniffed and popped his neck, a sound that Ford hated. “I asked you not to do that,” he said in a low voice.

               “It’s been getting stiffer and stiffer since this morning,” said Bodie. “I think the slap messed up my alignment.”

               “Serves you right for letting a kid take you down,” said Ford.

               “We didn’t expect him to fight,” said Bodie. “He surprised us. Wyman’s worse off than I am.”

               “Only because Jax stepped on his hand,” said Ford. “Besides, you saw what he did to Wyman and you still got wrecked.”

               Bodie said nothing, but Ford could feel the resentment radiating off of him.

               “Where’s Tom and Shane?” asked Ford. He narrowed his eyes to search for them in the darkness on either end of the kid’s parents’ RV.

               “They’re there,” said Bodie. “We’ll come at him from four sides.”

               “This is overkill,” said Ford. “I should be in bed right now. Or I should be here and the rest of you should be in bed.”

               “We’ll see,” said Bodie.

               “Oh yeah?” asked Ford. “You don’t think we’re enough? You don’t think we can handle one big boy?”

               “Jax was there,” said Bodie. “He saw what happened. And he’s the one who said we should do it like this. So maybe that should tell you something.”

               Ford snorted. “And did he tell you to bring a baseball bat?”

               “No,” said Bodie. “That was my call.”

               “Shh,” said Ford. “Someone’s coming.” He heard footsteps in the gravel approaching with little sense of purpose. Lethargic, shuffling footsteps, those of a slacker. Ford leaned out of the shadow and looked toward the sound. The kid’s posture was not good. His whole way of carrying himself broadcast contempt for the world and everyone in it. Ford was disgusted. It would be a pleasure to beat some respect into this worthless scumbag. What did he contribute to Chippertwig Campground? Nothing. Sulking around, sneering, saying this sucks and that sucks and everything sucks. Ford knew the exact type. His nephew was that type, for example, and he had always wanted to smack his nephew around. Couldn’t, though. His sister would never speak to him again. Well, it looked as if Britton was just going to have to stand in for Ford’s nephew for a few minutes. This was going to be cathartic. Ford was suddenly glad to be here, glad to not be in bed.

               The men waited until Britton was almost to his family’s campsite before they emerged from the shadows. Tom and Shane moved to cut off the boy’s path to the RV door as Ford and Bodie spread out behind him to head off any attempts to run away. Then they converged.

               The kid, Britton, paused. He looked over his shoulder to note Bodie and Ford’s approach, then stepped into the campsite as if nothing unusual was happening, angling toward the door at an unhurried pace. Ford saw the flickers of surprise on Tom and Shane’s faces. They stopped and brought their fists up, letting Britton come to them. Out of the corner of his eye, Ford saw Bodie break into a jog, wielding his aluminum bat with both hands. Ford felt his gut twist. Where were these nerves coming from? It was the other guys, the way they were reacting to this kid was affecting Ford too. They were making him worry when there was no cause for –

               Before he could finish the thought, Shane was down and the boy was kicking him, stomping him. Distracted by Bodie’s timid charge, Ford hadn’t even seen how it happened. Shane was crying out for help. Tom lunged at Britton, but the kid sidestepped, grabbed the back of Tom’s neck, and used the momentum of his lunge to force a brutal collision between his knee and Tom’s face. The sound was sickening, the blood spray was dramatic.

               Ford realized that he was no longer moving toward the fight. He had stopped at the edge of the campsite, ten yards away from Britton, frozen in place. He could not step forward. His body begged him to flee.

               Maybe if Bodie had arrived while Britton was still engaged with Tom, he might have gotten a good crack at the boy’s head, but he didn’t, he arrived too late, and he didn’t get even one swing in before Britton latched onto his wrist and did something that made Bodie squeal like an animal. Bodie dropped the bat. Britton snatched it out of the air and knocked Bodie over the head with it in one fluid motion. The contact between bat and head made a bong sound that would have been so satisfying had the head not belonged to Ford’s last ally. Bodie flopped backward over a picnic table and lay sprawled with his tongue hanging out like a KOed cartoon boxer. His eyelids fluttered in a way that was in no way reassuring. Ford was no doctor, but that had to be a concussion symptom, right? He looked back to the boy.

               Britton stood among the fallen bodies of Ford’s comrades. He looked back at Ford impassively. “Do you have a message for me?” he asked. The tone did not seem consistent with taunting, but what else could it be?

               “There are other ways to get at you,” said Ford. He backed up until he was on the gravel road again. As if the only reason Britton had fought so savagely was to protect his family’s campsite against trespassers. But that was not the reason, of course.

               “Other ways like what?” asked Britton.

               “Your parents,” said Ford. “You won’t always be around to protect them.”

               Britton shrugged. “I don’t care about that stupid stuff.”

               “You think your parents are ‘stupid stuff?’” asked Ford. He was appalled. What was wrong with kids like Britton, kids like Ford’s nephew?

“Yeah,” said Britton. “I do.”

“You’re bluffing,” said Ford.

Britton shrugged again. It was the only thing he did with the same proficiency with which he fought. “I don’t care about anything except Chill Style,” he said. “And you can never take that from me.”

Ford had no idea what Britton was talking about. It sounded too much like nonsense to be usable intel. “I’m coming back with a van to get those guys,” he said. “Are you gonna try to give me any trouble?”

               “Depends how long you take,” said Britton. “If I’m still awake, I’ll beat you up, but I’m pretty tired.”

               “Will you be awake in an hour?” asked Ford.

               “Probably not,” said Britton.

               “OK,” said Ford. He turned and hurried up the road, looking over his shoulder every few steps to make sure Britton wasn’t rushing up behind him to brain him with Bodie’s bat. Maybe he’d come back in an hour and a half. Maybe two.


               Jax had a whole trailer in Chippertwig Campground that served as his office. He lived in an RV that he cycled between a few different spots, but his office stayed put. Mick knew where it was, had been past it countless times, and had always been a little curious about what it was like inside. But now that he was here in its waiting room enduring the glare of a large man with a massive nose bandage and two black eyes, Mick wished he could be anywhere else. And even under better circumstances, Mick didn’t think he would have found the waiting room interesting. It was just a few padded folding chairs in a small room with a muted TV in the corner showing a soccer game.

               The door to Jax’s office opened and Jax appeared to wave Mick in with a smile so tight it looked like it was about to snap like an overstretched rubber band.

               The office wasn’t impressive either. Jax sat down behind an unremarkable desk adorned with pictures of his wife and daughter. On the wall, Mick noted further pictures of Jax’s wife and daughter. And the background of the computer monitor on Jax’s desk was a picture of his wife and daughter.

               “How’s the family?” asked Mick. There was nowhere to sit. He saw a chair like those in the waiting room folded up in the far corner of the office and wondered if Jax had stowed it there specifically so Mick would understand that he was being denied a seat.

               “My family’s fine,” said Jax. He gestured around at the many pictures of them. “Truth is, I don’t know what else to put up pictures of. Like…I don’t even know. I was going to give an example of something else someone might put up pictures of, but I don’t even know.”

               Mick’s chuckle was nervous.

               “But we’re here to talk about your family,” said Jax. “Your son.”

               “Step-son,” said Mick.

               “So he isn’t your responsibility?” asked Jax. “That’s what you’re saying? You didn’t bring him to Chippertwig with you?”

               “I did do that,” said Mick. “Sorry. But I didn’t raise him. He was already like this when I married Summer.”

               “So you knew he was like this when you brought him here,” said Jax. “You knew how dangerous he was and how disruptive he could be to my operation, but you brought him anyway.”

               “Well, no, I didn’t know that,” said Mick. “I knew he had a rotten attitude, but I didn’t know that he would actually be, uh, good at fighting.”

               “You had no idea he was a black belt in karate or whatever?” asked Jax.

               “Well, he said he’d mastered a martial art, and all he ever does is practice it, but he made it up himself and he never practices with anyone because his attitude makes it so he has no friends, which he claims he doesn’t care about, but all he does is punch and kick the air, I never thought that would translate to any, you know, real-world, uh, application.”

               “He sent five of my men to the hospital in one day,” said Jax. “Two of them are still there.”

               “And I’m very sorry about that,” said Mick. “He says it was self-defense, but I know that there would have been no reason for him to defend himself if he’d just listened to you and shown you the proper respect.”

               “Exactly right,” said Jax. “I appreciate you saying that, but now I need you to do something about it.”

               “Like what?” asked Mick. “I’ll do anything I can.”

               “Convince him to come talk to me,” said Jax. “Here. In this office.”

               “I’ll try,” said Mick. “I promise I’ll try, but he won’t listen to me. He doesn’t listen to anybody.

               “Convince him,” said Jax. “If you can’t convince him, then you’ll be punished too. You’ll have to suffer for your son’s offenses against the Syndicate.”

               “Step-son!” cried Mick. “He won’t listen, I tell you! He doesn’t care if anything happens to me or his mother! He hates us!”

               “Make him care,” said Jax.

               “What will the punishment be if he doesn’t listen?” asked Mick. “Will you have security ban me?” He steeled himself for the answer as if facing a firing squad.

               “We don’t make security do our dirty work,” said Jax. “They’re paid to look the other way, not to handle our business for us. We solve our own problems.”

               “So in this case,” said Mick. “How would you solve this problem if Britton won’t listen?”

               “We’ll burn your RV to the ground,” said Jax.

               “No,” said Mick. “No, please, Mr. Autrell. I love that RV. It’s a classic that I personally restored and updated. It has all the elegance of the past with all the modern conveniences of today!”

               “Then you’d better convince Britton to come talk to me,” said Jax.

               Mick felt a surge of irrational bravery. “I’ll go to Twiglings about this. I’m personal friends with Chet, the guy who runs it. We play golf together a few times a week. I’ll expose this whole dirty business, your threats to long-time loyal campers–”

               Jax laughed. “I own Twiglings too, Mick. You really think Chet is going to choose you over me? He’s been on my payroll for years. I’ve got coded messages to my guys in every issue of Twiglings.”

               Mick deflated. His brief courage looked pretty bad from the back side.

               “So maybe you should just do what I say,” said Jax. “That way no one has to see such a sweet RV reduced to ash.”

               “I’ll try my hardest,” said Mick. He turned and scurried from Jax’s office.

               Summer burst from the RV as soon as Mick pulled up in the golf cart. “What did he say?” she asked. “What’s going to happen?”

               “Jax wants to meet with Britton,” said Mick. “At his office. If Britton won’t go, Jax is going to burn the RV, Summer. He’s going to destroy my RV with fire.”

               “We have to leave,” said Summer. “We have to go home right now.”

               “No!” said Mick. “I have to convince Britton to talk to Jax! If we run away, I’ll never be able to come back, Summer! Chippertwig Campground is my favorite place in the world. If I can’t come to Chippertwig, than why even have the RV? Why buy it and spend years and thousands of dollars restoring it and updating it until it has all the elegance of the past and all the modern conveniences of today?”

               “But we can’t send Britton to talk to that crime boss by himself,” said Summer. “What if they’re planning to kill him?”

               “They won’t,” said Mick. He turned and headed for the car.

               “Where are you going?” asked Summer.

               “To find Britton,” said Mick. He glanced at his watch. “He’s probably on his way to Gasolineum right now. I should be able to find him out walking on the road somewhere between here and there.”

               “I’m coming,” said Summer. “He’s my son.”

               “No,” said Mick, climbing into the car and slamming the door. “You’ll make excuses for him even though he doesn’t care about you any more than he cares about me.”

               “He doesn’t care about me because I married you,” said Summer.

               “He doesn’t care about anything!” shouted Mick as he backed out of the campsite. “And there’s no explanation for it!” As he drove away, he saw Summer standing shrunken and forlorn in the rearview mirror as if she were trapped in the reflective glass itself.

               It did not take long for Mick to encounter Britton ambling along the dirt shoulder of a county road separating two corn fields right out of a Biblical parable: one green and healthy, one pale and feeble. Mick pulled up next to Britton and lowered the car window. “Get in, Britton. We have to talk.”

               “Nah,” said Britton. He kept walking so Mick was forced to ease the car along beside him to keep pace.

               “Get in,” said Mick. “Please, Britton. Jax wants to talk to you. It’s the only way to set this right.”

               “I don’t care,” said Britton. He wiped a trickle of sweat from his forehead, then wiped it on his shirt.

               “He’s going to burn the RV down if you don’t go talk to him,” said Mick. “I’m asking you to go for my sake. For our sake. You sleep there too! You’ll never admit it, but I know you enjoy both its classic elegance and its modern conveniences.”

               “No, I don’t,” said Britton. “I don’t care about the RV. I don’t care if the whole campground burns down. I don’t care about any of that stupid stuff. You know that. I’ve explained it a million times.”

               “I’m not asking you to care,” said Mick. “I’m asking you to talk to Jax even though you don’t care.”

               “What does he want to talk about?” asked Britton.

               “He didn’t tell me,” said Mick. “Maybe he wants to ask you about Cold Style. Maybe he saw how easily you beat up his men and he wants to know how you did it. Maybe he wants you to teach Cold Style to him and his men.”

               Britton stopped walking. Mick had to put the car in reverse and back up a few yards to continue the conversation. “It’s called ‘Chill Style,’” said Britton. “Not ‘Cold Style.’”

               “My mistake,” said Mick in the most even tone he could muster.

               Britton opened the car door and climbed into the passenger’s seat. “I’ll talk to him.”


               Jax was eating a sandwich at his desk when he heard the outside door to his office trailer open. Then he heard Tom say, “Wait, stop.” A different voice said, “Britton, don’t, just–” and the rest of the sentence was swallowed by a scuffle, a crash, and the moans of a man grievously wounded for the second time in less than 24 hours. Jax’s office door swung open and Britton entered. Mick hovered behind him, apparently unsure where he should be. Britton solved his dilemma by closing the door in his face.

               “I didn’t think you’d come,” said Jax. He held onto his sandwich so his hands wouldn’t shake. He did not want to show this young man any sign of weakness, but he also knew the ease with which Britton could batter him if he wanted to.

               “You want me to teach you Chill Style?” asked Britton. “You and your men?”

               “Chill Style?” asked Jax. “What are you talking about?”

               “The martial art that I developed and mastered is called ‘Chill Style,’” said Britton. There was something like interest in his eyes, now, which made him look a bit unlike himself.

               “Ah,” said Jax. “Chill Style.”

               “Isn’t that why you wanted to meet with me?” asked Britton. “To offer me a position teaching Chill Style to the Chippertwig Syndicate?”

               “No,” said Jax. “But I have a different offer for you.”

               “You want me to teach it to your daughter?” asked Britton.

               “No, I don’t want you to teach Chill Style to anyone,” said Jax. “But I will give you a thousand dollars to attend a Syndicate meeting tonight and declare your loyalty to me in front of my men.”

               Britton scowled. “But I’m not loyal to you. I’m not loyal to anything except Chill Style.”

               “That’s fine,” said Jax. “I just want you to declare your loyalty. Then you can go back to doing whatever you were doing before yesterday morning in the mail room. We won’t bother you and you won’t bother us. I just can’t have my men thinking I lost to you. I can’t have word getting around Chippertwig Campground that we never got you under control.” Jax’s own words gave him confidence. He sounded like himself again: authoritative, shrewd, practical. He wielded many forms of power. Threats of physical violence were only one form. Reason was another, money a third. He set the half-eaten sandwich down on the be-crumbed section of saran wrap on his desk top, certain now that his hands would not shake.


               Britton looked down at Jax and tried to remain chill as the boss of the Chippertwig Syndicate chewed, wiped chicken salad residue off of his hand with a Biffy’s napkin, and leaned back in his desk chair. Britton went through the Chill Style Steps to Becoming Chill in his head. He had been duped. He had let himself believe that this man had recognized the superiority of Chill Style to all other ways of life and had wanted that for himself, his employees, his friends, and his family. But no, all he wanted was to save face with a cheap bribe. All he cared about was the respect of his fat, dumb associates. All he cared about was the stupidest of stupid stuff.

               “I’m glad you don’t want me to teach you Chill Style,” said Britton. “You could never grasp it anyway. It would have been a waste of my time.”

               “Well, Britton,” said Jax. “I’ve gotta say, if ‘Chill Style’ would make me like you, then I don’t want it. No matter invincible of a fighter it would make me. It seems like a very empty way to live. Empty and lonely.”

               “You run drugs in a campground,” said Britton.

               “And it fills my life completely,” said Jax. “I’ve got tasks, goals, friends.”

               “But it’s all stupid,” said Britton.

               Jax shrugged. It was a shrug that almost rose to the level of a master of Chill Style.


               Summer pounded on the bell resting on the front counter of the Chippertwig Campground security office. After thirty seconds of continuous ringing, a sour-faced man in a security uniform came out of the back room. “What do you want?” he shouted.

               Summer started to answer, realized she couldn’t hear herself, and realized she was still ringing the bell. She stopped. “We’re staying in lot #190. Some criminals in the campground are threatening my son and threatening my husband’s RV. I need you to stop them.”

               “What kind of criminals?” asked the security guard, narrowing his eyes to skeptical slits.

               “Organized,” said Summer. “My husband says they’re a syndicate. The Syndicate? The Chippertwig Syndicate?”

               The security guard blinked rapidly, and each blink edged the skepticism away, replacing it with feigned skepticism. “That doesn’t exist,” he said. “That’s a campground legend. There’s no Chippertwig Syndicate. Not anymore, anyway. It may have existed back in the day, but not now.”

               Summer started to protest, but the security guard turned and walked back through the doorway from which he’d emerged.

               And no amount of bell-ringing could bring him back.


               Jax was calling. Ford answered his cell phone with a deferential grunt.

               “Burn it down,” said Jax. His voice sounded strange.

               “Are you OK?” asked Ford.

               “I’m fine,” said Jax. The strain could not have been more apparent. “Burn the RV!”

               “Why do you sound like that?” asked Ford.

               “I’m under my desk,” said Jax.

               Ford was confused. “Like, crouched under it? Like, um, hiding?”

               “No, not hiding,” said Jax. “The kid flipped it on top of me. And then he jumped up and down on it and left.”

               “It’s still on top of you?” asked Ford.

               “Do not say another word to me!” shouted Jax. “Go burn the RV! Now!” He hung up.

               Ford slipped his phone back into his pocket and went out to his golf cart, already loaded with a full gas can and a reliable lighter he used for grilling. He left his camper unlocked. That was one nice thing about living in Chippertwig Campground: you didn’t need to lock up after yourself. Not if everyone knew you worked for the Syndicate, anyway.

               Ford saw the column of black smoke before he got half way to Mick’s campsite. By the time he arrived, fire was greedily consuming the RV in its entirety. A crowd of neighboring campers was assembling. Among them stood Britton, who turned at the gravel-crunch of Ford’s golf cart wheels. He did not smile, but there was something deeply pleased about his voice when he said, “Beat you.”

               “You set this fire?” asked Ford. “You burned down your own dad’s RV?”

               “Step-dad,” said Britton. “And I don’t care about that stupid stuff.”


               Mick faced his step-son in the sticky twilight as the remains of his beloved RV smoldered behind them. It was a smoking husk, sodden with the efforts of the Chippertwig Fire Patrol, who had prevented the fire from spreading and that was it. Summer stood between her son and her husband, serving as a buffer to prevent Mick’s pride from leading to his hospitalization.

               But Mick had a different idea. He would remain calm. “Chill,” as Britton would say. He would push the lost RV from his mind, its classic elegance, its modern convenience. He would tell himself the RV had been stupid. He would hold that idea as firmly as he could for now, then grieve later, perhaps, or perhaps not? “You know my friend Chet?” he asked.

               “No,” said Britton. Hands in jean pockets. Back hunched. Hair in his eyes.

               “He writes and publishes Twiglings,” said Mick. “The Chippertwig Campground newsletter.”

               “Sounds stupid,” said Britton. “I don’t care about it.”

               “You might,” said Mick. “Once he starts his multi-part series on you and your conflict with the Syndicate.”

               “No, I won’t,” said Britton. His brow had begun to furrow, though.

               “You will,” said Mick. “When he uses me as his primary source. When he refers to ‘Chill Style’ as ‘Cold Style’ and explains that it’s just your childish name for karate. When he explains to his readers – which is everyone in this campground – how you beat up those Syndicate guys because I, as your father, instilled a passion for Chippertwig Campground in you, and you hated to see what their criminal activities were doing to the culture here.”

               “That’s not true!” shouted Britton. “I don’t care about the culture here!”

               “Well, that’s not what the Twiglings readers will think,” said Mick. “They’ll send you notes of support for your cause, they’ll write letters to the editor praising your dedication to using your karate skills for the common good, lauding your passion for justice, so uncommon in today’s youth.”

               Britton rushed him, darting around his mother and throwing himself at Mick with his arms flailing. An undisciplined charge, no tactics, no precision. Even Mick, who had not been in anything resembling a real fight for 15 years, had no trouble placing his punch.

               “You hit him!” shouted Summer, rushing to Britton’s crumpled figure in the dirt, kneeling next to him as he clutched the side of his face with both hands and moaned. “You hit my son!”

               “Summer,” said Mick, marveling at how little his hand hurt. “Chill out.” 

Discussion Questions

  • Aside from his family, what are some ideas for things for a middle aged man to have pictures of in his office?

  • Is it possible for a classic RV to truly retain the elegance of the past while also offering the modern conveniences of today?

  • How would you punish a son who doesn’t care about anything and who can easily beat you up?

  • List some of the stupid stuff that you care about that you wish you didn’t care about?

  • Do you think you’d be a better fighter if you cared less about stupid stuff?