“Hey, would ya look at that! Where'd they come from?”
The two men stood looking at the small barge as it made its way across the river.
"Hey Coop, you'd best call fer some he’p. Ain't no way in hell we kin catch 'em all by our lonesome."
“I'll bet they got themselves a load of tobacco in there," Coop said.
“Cain't say as I blame 'em none." Ralph replied. "Ever since the Yanks made ‘baccer illegal the price jest keeps goin' up and up."
The two men had been posted as guards on the Ohio River boundary for nearly a month and this was the first time that they had seen anything. Most of their time was spent playing cards and being bored but now they would see some action. This was a welcome change of pace for the two guards; a little something to write home about.
Coop made the call to report the sighting, then they went out to their boat with their guns ready. Getting in their patrol boat, they started for the heavily loaded barge that was now half way across the river. They sped toward the barge at top speed; it was their job to turn the smugglers back prior to them reaching the north bank. Before their patrol boat had gotten even close to their objective there
was a small jet fighter swooping down from the night sky. It made one pass over the barge, then came back, this time blowing the small freighter up.
The two Confederate guards looked at each other with their mouths open trying to understand what had just happened.
Finally Coop spoke," Did ya see that? That was a damn Yankee jet! Cut the motor off or we might be next!"
Ralph stopped the engine and let their patrol boat set dead in the water. The two men sat in silence waiting for the jet fighter to leave. After a few minutes they returned to their post still maintaining their silence.
After they were safely back in their lookout Ralph spoke in a quiet voice, "I reckon you'd best call headquarters and report what happened."
Coop looked at his comrade with a hurt expression saying, "An’ jest what am I supposed ta tell 'em?"
"Ya know they'll want a body count." Ralph said. Then as if talking to himself said, "Ya know whoever was on that old tub was jest tryin’ ta make a livin’. They most likely had families to support."
Coop listened to what Ralph was saying then went into the radio room to report in. When he came out he saw that Ralph had been crying but pretended not to notice. Sitting down he waited for Ralph to ask about his
call which came all too soon.
"Well, what'd they say fer us ta do?"
With sadness in his voice Coop replied, "They want a body count jest like ya said, and they want us to recover the bodies for identification."
Ralph raised his head to look at Coop, then said, "That was a direct hit! What do ya reckon might be left to identify?"
Coop nodded his head saying, " Yeah I know, but I don't get paid ta think, I jest do what I'm told."
The two men had stood up and started for their patrol boat when Coop heard Ralph mumbling, "That damn Civil War ended more’n 125 years ago on paper; so why are we doin’ this?"
Coop had to agree...the South had won the war, but only on paper. He guessed that everyone had forgotten to tell the Yanks.
The media on both sides of the river publicized the destruction of the barge. The Confederate States claimed that it had been an act of savagery on the part of the North, and the Northern United States claimed they were well within their rights to protect their boundaries. What no one seemed to talk about were the five dead men that had been aboard the barge. It was as if their lives had meant nothing compared to the continuing controversy between the North and the Confederacy. The five dead men were lost somewhere in the bureaucratic shuffle to everyone except their families.
Five years had passed since the tragic incident with the barge and the jet fighter. The smugglers were still hard at work trying to get their contraband across the river boundary into the North. The Confederate States had stopped all trade with the North only made it more profitable for the black market trade. Tobacco was still at the top of the list, but now cloth, fruits and vegetables were also in great demand. The boundary patrol on both sides of the river was working hard to stop the flow of goods crossing the water, but to no avail. There was one group of black marketers that were very well organized and were successful in moving their merchandise. No one knew who they were or how they did it...but they did it just the same.