You say you want a revolution
Well, you know
We all want to change the world
– The Beatles
🔥 🔥 🔥
28 May 2027 – Big Twenty Township, Aroostook County, Maine
Jake Chartier wasn’t in a hurry, not on these roads.
First, no paved roads existed in the unincorporated Big Twenty Township. Second, any traffic Jake might encounter would outweigh him by a few tons. A log truck would win any argument, even unloaded. The logging companies did a decent job maintaining the roads, but blind corners and hills sometimes hid oncoming trucks using more than their share of them. Jake monitored Multi-Use Radio Service channels while driving on them and announced his location when necessary.
Estcourt Road crossed Wildcat Brook, signaling that the last major turn before the US border station lay ahead. Jake took that right onto Old Border Street, leading him behind the old, burned-out gas station and abandoned US Post Office. From there, a path through the tall grass behind people’s backyards led to his grandparents’ old house – now his ‘camp.’
Estcourt Station, Maine, is a curious mistake. Once part of the larger French Canadian village of Saint-Pierre d’Estcourt, Québéc (which is now part of the Town of Pohénégamook), a border survey during the nineteenth century revealed some of the houses on Rue de la Frontière straddled the border or were even totally in the United States. Until the late twentieth century, residents mostly ignored the international boundary. Instead, they acted like a merged town, mimicking the more famous Bebbe Plain and Derby Line in Vermont.
Even before the terrorist attacks in 2001, however, things began to change. Revenue Canada and the Canada Border Services Agency started to take a dim view of citizens slipping over the border to the United States for cheap cigarettes and gas, especially if they didn’t check in at the CBSA station afterward. Or pay possible duties on those purchases. US Customs and Border Patrol didn’t have a considerate bone in any of their bodies. After 2001, officials on both sides lost any remaining sense of humor they had.
Jake wandered through his house before unloading his truck, the northernmost legal residence in the continental US east of the Great Lakes. He’d paid for an extensive renovation after the pandemic of the early 20s finally broke, and this would be his first prolonged visit since the work had been finished. His visits over the past two years were to look over the place and plow the new driveway.
Jake nodded with the satisfaction that the quality of the renovation matched his memory. He appreciated the excellent work performed, especially after the premium he paid to the construction company from Allagash to work way up here.
Jake bought an adjoining plot after the old general store building next door burned, merged it with the house’s property, and extended the back portion of the house in that direction. He wasn’t sure what would happen with all the open land between the house and his property lines, but the space gave him some options. An Olympic-sized swimming pool was not one of them, despite the room.
Unloading his truck took a little while, given that Jake planned to stay for a month. He’d eventually have to cross the border to do some grocery shopping, but he hoped to put that off as long as he could. The Canadian border folks were a bit more relaxed than their US counterparts. But the less Jake had to interact with US Customs at the southwestern end of Border Street, as the Americans insisted on calling it, the better.
Jake raised his US flag once unloaded and walked into his house. His cell phone rang before he could sit down. Jake smiled at the name displayed.
“When did you get here?” the familiar voice of Pierre Joubert asked in French.
“Thirty minutes ago? The flag went up after I finished unloading my truck.”
“Come over, then.”
“I’ll be right there.”
Jake grabbed a six-pack from the refrigerator in the kitchen and a chair from the garage before walking to his truck. He drove the trails and parked behind 1145 Rue de Frontière.
“How are you, Pierre?” Jake asked in French as they shook hands across Pierre’s back property line. “How are Françoise and the kids?”
“Fine, fine,” Pierre answered.
Pierre handed Jake a beer while Jake extended one of his to his friend. People here considered this to be neighborly. US Customs and Border Protection and the CBSA considered it smuggling.
“Alain is eighteen now and looking forward to university next year,” Pierre continued. “Jocelyn is sixteen and is determined to give Françoise and me gray hair before she graduates.”
“Maybe I can convince her to become a nun...”
“Best of luck with that...”
The watches on Pierre’s and Jake’s wrists beeped, announcing the top of the hour.
“Well, mon ami, the border stations are now closed, and you are a prisoner on your side of the line for the next two days.”
“Three, Pierre. Monday is a holiday here in the US.”
“You Americans and your holidays. You even have Thanksgiving on the wrong day!”
Jake smiled at the old joke. Pierre had grown up in this house, three doors down the street from Jake’s grandparents – now two since the store burned. Jake and Pierre met when they were seven and became best friends. Jake spent most of his summers here with his grandparents up until high school graduation. He loved this area.
Jake’s grandfather Marc Chartier had been a Maine Game Warden in far northern Aroostook County. He met a local girl from Estcourt, Québéc, while she shopped in the American side’s general store. Jake’s father and uncles grew up in this house at the tip-top of Maine, next to that former store. They endured the forty-mile ride to Fort Kent, Maine, for school each day since they couldn’t attend school in Canada.
Jake’s grandmother made sure her sons spoke French and English. That was hardly difficult when Québéc lay mere feet from you. Half of Mémé Chartier’s family only spoke French, and three-quarters of Northern Maine residents living along the border spoke French as a first language at home. Mémé Chartier also insisted on speaking only French when Jake visited Estcourt to help develop his language skills. Jake’s family was also the only one to make regular trips to this hamlet, so his cousins didn’t get the same education.
It was no surprise when Grandma Chartier left the house to Jake in her will.
September 11th, and subsequent ‘border security acts,’ caused a significant uproar in the once close-knit community. The US Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) wanted to build a fence along the border, even if it cut a property in half. The residents of the tiny hamlet told the US government agency it could go to hell.
An agreement between Ottawa and Washington killed the border fence idea. It also codified the rules on bisected properties. Land owned by citizens of either country was entirely in the country where the owner held citizenship. Residents could enjoy their yards without fear of prosecution because they simply stepped out the wrong door without clearing customs. The property owners of parcels straddling the border still paid taxes in both Maine and Québéc, however. Never a populous village, Estcourt Station, Maine, hadn’t had permanent residents for over a decade, primarily because of the new rules.
The two friends looked toward the shout to see a young CBP officer stomping toward them. Jake didn’t recognize him, and the officer’s official-looking CBP vehicle blocked the trail.
“You’re not allowed there!” the officer spat, pointing at Pierre.
Pierre looked down at the ground and the short, ankle-high fence, confirming he was still on his property. The border was where he expected it to be. Residents here always knew where the frontier lay.
“And where pray tell, am I not allowed to be?”
“You’re illegally in the United States! You’re under arrest!” Officer Kilbourne barked.
“Oh, f•©k off, dickhead!” Jake snapped back. “He’s in Canada, and you have no jurisdiction!”
“Oui, c’est vrai,” answered a new, calm voice behind Jake, one which Jake recognized. “Pierre is on his property which, by agreement, is in Canada.” Jake continued to glare at the CBP officer.
“You’re off-duty, kid,” CBP Officer Tony Balducci said as he stepped around the first CBP truck. “Stop harassing people who aren’t breaking the law. Get your ass in the truck and back to the station.”
Tony finally relaxed after the first CBP vehicle disappeared over the hill in a cloud of dust.
“Sorry, gents,” he sighed, speaking French. Tony was one of the few CBP officers here Jake could stomach.
“Not your fault, Tony,” Pierre assured the man.
“When’s he transferring out?” René Coulard asked his counterpart. Like Tony, he’d worked this border crossing for decades.
“Not soon enough.” < sigh > “I gotta head back to the office for a few minutes.”
“Come back after you tear him a new one, Tony,” Jake said. “We’ll still be here.”
“I have some cidre de glace and Sortilège, Tony...”
“I’m not thirty any longer, Pierre, and I’ve got a long drive ahead of me.” Tony laughed and turned back to his pickup. “I’ll be back, though!” he called over his shoulder.
“Comment ça va, René?” Jake asked the older Québécois as he stuck his hand over the line.
“I’m doing well, Jake, thank you. Good to see you. How have you been?”
“Comme ci, comme ça, René. I’ll need every bit of my month up here to unwind. Work’s getting to be a real pain.”
“They did a good job on your place.”
“With Pierre staring over their shoulders, how could they not?” Jake smiled at René while offering him a beer. René shook his head.
“You know ASFC considers that smuggling, Jake, but I appreciate the gesture.”
ASFC = Agence des services frontaliers du Canada the French name for the Canadian Border Services Agency.
René bent down and pulled a beer from the carrier beside Pierre’s chair. “I’ll steal one of Pierre’s instead.”
“That’s still a crime, René,” Pierre pointed out.
“This kind of theft is a provincial crime, not federal, Pierre.”
“Allô!” a young boy called out as he waved from the yard across the unpaved street. The older men waved back.
“That’s your new neighbor, Jake. Émile Bélanger,” René answered, waving at a green-and-white house that, like Pierre’s, straddled the border. “He lives at 1139 with his mother, Charlotte Poulin.”
“Sad story,” Pierre muttered, shaking his head. Jake looked at René.
“Her husband used to beat her,” René said in disgust. “Quel con!”
“Good thing my mémé’s not still around, René. She’d wash out your mouth if she heard you talk like that!”
“Émile seems like he’s dealt with it, but Charlotte still has problems. She doesn’t like being around men when she’s alone.”
“I can understand that, I guess. Though not why any man would strike his wife.”
The talk turned to more pleasant topics when Pierre’s wife, Françoise, brought food out for the cross-border friends.
The sunlight streaming through Jake’s bedroom window the following day was painful. His bedroom faced north so it wasn’t shining directly on him, but still, the brightness hurt his eyes. And it worsened his headache. Why Jake had thought trading shots of Sortilège – maple syrup-infused whiskey – with Tony last night would be a good idea would forever be a mystery. Tony probably had to sleep it off at the CBP office.
Jake forced himself to roll out of bed. He had too much to do outside today, and recovering from a mild hangover was no excuse not to get things done. Jake poured himself a large glass of sports drink and used it to wash down eight hundred milligrams of ibuprofen. A mixture of that drink and water went into the hydration bladder he used on hikes.
Jake walked out to the garage with the bladder on his back and uncovered his riding lawnmower. He wouldn’t need a field mower since Pierre kept the grass on Jake’s property short when Jake was away. The three-year-old machine started right up. The fusion batteries powered the whisper-quiet electric wheel motors and the rising whine of the bearings. Jake remembered how strange this mower sounded to him when it was new. His grandfather’s gasoline-powered one had been deafening!
Jake allowed his mind to wander as he drove the mower in a familiar pattern covering the empty lot next to his place where a store once stood. Again he questioned the snap decision to have the old ‘summer camp’ winterized and made into a potential year-round home. No schools, hospitals, stores, or churches existed in Estcourt Station, and no government offices except for the customs house. He couldn’t work in Canada. His law degree was no good there.
On the bright side, he didn’t have to worry about electricity, not with the fusion generator and its large water tank in the basement. Lord knows they got enough snow in the winters up here to keep it running, too. Between internet access and satellite TV, entertainment wasn’t an issue either. The drone of the mower continued unabated as Jake drove back and forth over his property.
One question kept resurfacing as Jake worked: why was he still at his law firm? There didn’t seem to be any chance that Jake would make senior partner soon. Jake had been one of those ‘eat-sleep-live for the firm’ types when he started working out of law school, but that passed after the first few years. The last ten had been like treading water. Jake still brought in clients and billable hours as a junior partner, but there was no longer any passion involved.
As Jake neared the property line near his new neighbor’s house, he noticed young Émile standing nearby. Émile waved when Jake looked over. Jake shut the mower down.
“Bonjour!” Jake said as he walked up. “I’m Jake Chartier.” He pronounced his last name ‘shar-tee-YAY,’ as Mémé had. The young man smiled and stuck out his hand.
“Émile Bélanger. You’re new here.”
“Not really. My grandparents owned this house, and my father grew up here. I’ve been coming here for almost forty years. Monsieur Joubert and I grew up best friends.”
“Really?” the young man goggled. “Americans used to live here year-round?”
“Sure. Until everyone got super serious about the border.” Jake waved at the empty lot between them and his house. “There used to be a store here. People used to walk up and down the street without a care, cross the footbridge to go to church, and come and go regardless of which country they were citizens of. It was like an actual neighborhood.”
”ÉMILE!” echoed across the yard behind the boy. Both looked at Émile’s house to see a blonde lady on the porch motioning for him to come home.
“That’s my mom. I have to go.”
“It was nice to meet you, Émile. I’ll see you around.” Jake waved to his new friend and walked back to the mower.
Thirty minutes later, Jake walked the back perimeter of the shed near the corner of his property. He used a string trimmer to cut the grass along the property line. There wasn’t enough room for the mower without crossing the border.
As he walked the line between his place and Émile’s, Émile’s mother stalked toward him. Jake turned the trimmer off, removed his earbuds, and waited. Charlotte Poulin was beautiful, stunning, even with the scowl on her face.
’Any man raising his hand to such beauty needs to have his head examined,’ Jake thought.
“You stay away from my son!” Mme. Poulin roared in French from three feet away. Jake held up his hands.
“Émile said hello. It would have been rude not to answer him. He offered his hand in greeting, and it would have been rude not to shake it. If you want to treat people your way, that’s your prerogative. My parents taught me better.”
“You arrogant pig!” she spat. “You think you’re better than me?”
“At the moment, yes. Now, excuse me, but I have work to finish.” Jake put his earbuds back in and turned his music back on.
Charlotte Poulin continued to rail at him, but the music drowned out her tirade. Jake finished trimming along the shed and walked away without a backward glance.
Two days later Jake scrubbed at the soffit of his house. While most people would blast away at the dirt with a pressure washer, the long-handled brush allowed a more gentle cleaning. The rinsing spray from a regular garden hose had less potential to damage the house. Brushing the house allowed Jake to inspect parts of it up close. He didn’t expect surprises less than three years from a complete renovation, but Northern Maine winters weren’t mild. The potential was there.
Scrubbing the house by hand took Jake all morning and into the early afternoon. Once finished, the white paint gleamed and nicely offset the forest green trim. He felt someone staring holes in his back as he inspected the house but didn’t turn toward the Poulin residence. Instead, Jake left the ladder in the side yard to dry off in the sun and walked inside.
“Are you finally going to relax and enjoy your vacation now, Jake?” Françoise Drouin, Pierre’s wife asked that evening.
“Had to finish my chores first, Françoise,” Jake replied as he handed her the hamburger she had requested.
Jake invited his neighbors to Parc de la Frontière for a Memorial Day cookout. The four Canadians who accepted and their families sat on the Canadian side of the park while the Americans – Jake – sat on the US side. Other Americans were in Estcourt that weekend, but none accepted his invitation.
Jake enjoyed dishing up the traditional foods for them: hamburgers, hot dogs, pork ribs, potato salad, macaroni salad, and tossed salad. A table at the boundary line held the feast. His friends appreciated the generosity of the man who grew up among them.
“If you put a fence around your property, Jake, your flag will make it look like a fort,” Edouard Pepin joked. His wife, Émilie Ouellette, rolled her eyes.
Jake smiled and looked over at Old Glory, now flying at full staff after spending the morning at half-staff. His flag pole sat at the northwest corner of his property, nearest the Rue de la Frontière. His property was physically all in US territory.
“You didn’t invite Charlotte Poulin or Émile Bélanger, Jake?” Pierre asked.
“Françoise, smack your husband, please?” The sound of flesh hitting flesh soon came. “Merci!”
Pierre rubbed his arm as he glared at his wife.
“I might not be the brightest bulb on the string, Pierre, but I wasn’t going there!”
“Smarter than you look, then.”
The friends sat in the park until sunset when the mosquitoes came out. Pierre and Françoise collected the trash on their side of the line. Jake brought everything else back to his house before putting his ladder away.
Jake watched some random movie until he started falling asleep on his couch. Then, he trudged up the stairs to his bedroom.
An odd, acrid smell woke Jake from his slumber that night. The world outside was dark, and his phone told him it was close to two in the morning. He rose to shut his window against the smell despite the underlying cool breeze.
Jake froze when he noticed the flickering light from across his lawn through his window. Flames danced in the Poulin house’s attic. Jake dressed faster than he ever had and bolted downstairs.
Dialing 9-1-1 in Estcourt connects you with a regional call center run by the SQ – the Sûreté du Québéc, the state police in Québéc Province, Canada. All the local cell towers were in Québéc. Jake dialed as he ran down the stairs. In panicked French, he told the dispatcher about a house fire in Pohénégamook before tearing open his side door.
As Jake’s steps took him across his porch he planned his actions. He hopped over the small fence lining the Poulin property and sprinted across the wide space for the front door of 1139. Jake charged up the steps before his shoulder hit the door at full speed. The wooden frame splintered under the force, and Jake continued up the stairs. The second floor was half-full of smoke rolling down from the ceiling, and Jesus it was hot!
Jake dropped to a crouch and duck-walked to the first bedroom. He flung open the door and found Charlotte still in a fitful sleep. He could also smell the alcohol still on her breath. The only sound in the house was the faint cracking from burning building materials.
“CHARLOTTE!” Jake yelled as he shook her. Charlotte lurched awake and started to scream at the sight of a man in her bedroom. “FIRE!” Jake yelled. She blinked, finally noticing the smoke pouring into her room.
”Émile!” she gasped.
They heard screams of pain from down the hall, and Jake bolted out of the room. He reached for Émile’s doorknob, but felt the heat coming off it. Another door frame in the house cracked as he kicked the door open.
Émile’s ceiling had partially collapsed. Burning wood strapping and insulation from the attic space had showered his bed with debris, burning the boy’s legs through the sheets. Jake flung those blackened rags off the bed and scooped Émile into his arms. Then, turning to leave, Jake ran into Charlotte crouching behind him.
“OUT!” he bellowed, drawing in a lungful of the roiling smoke. “OUT OF THE HOUSE!”
The smoke’s heat licked at Jake’s skin and nearly seared his throat. The air cleared as the group descended the stairs. It was still too hot for comfort, however. The cool night air felt like heaven as they stumbled outside.
No fewer than three SQ cars and five Pohénégamook area fire vehicles crested the hill to the west a few moments later, and then packed the shoulder of the narrow street. Two ambulances parked in front of Pierre’s house, which was as close as they could get, before one ambulance crew rushed up to take Émile from Jake.
Jake was soon alone and ignored in the chaos on Rue de la Frontière. He shrugged and wandered toward his house, coughing up soot and spitting it out, unnoticed by everyone else in the crowd. His shower, though necessary, proved uncomfortable because of the mild burns. Jake shook his head, knowing he could not have lived with the shame of doing nothing, especially if Charlotte or Émile had died.
Closing his window and turning on a fan to drown out the noise from down the street, Jake fell into a deep slumber.
Jake continued his yard work the following day, which would be a plausible reason for his reddened skin. A pair of clippers took care of the singed hair from his head. He wasn’t all that worried about someone noticing either, given the population density in the village, but better safe than sorry. He wanted to avoid the hassle of being branded a ‘hero’ through his actions. Jake deflected Pierre’s comment about seeing him near the fire the night before when his friend called him from the street later that afternoon.
“I’m a prisoner in my house this weekend, remember, mon ami?” Jake scoffed as he waved at the border obelisk in 1139’s yard.
Pierre coughed “bullshit” into his fist in muffled English before placing a paper bag at the property’s edge. The iced cider tasted fine with Jake’s dinner of cookout leftovers that night. Another restful night followed, assisted by the cider.
It wasn’t until Thursday that everything started going to shit.
Three US Customs and Border Patrol SUVs roared down Rue de la Frontière and slid to a stop in front of Jake’s house at 1133 just after breakfast. A dozen overly officious and self-important CBP agents boiled out of the vehicles, most wearing raid vests and carrying rifles.
The agents all but sprinted across Jake’s side lawn to where he worked and drew down on him. Tony wasn’t part of the group.
“HANDS UP! DON’T MOVE!”
’Which is it, dickheads?’ Jake wondered before rough hands threw him to the ground and cuffed him. Pulling him up by his manacled left arm – and nearly dislocating his shoulder in the process – the young CBP agent from Friday waved a folded piece of paper in Jake’s face.
“You’re under arrest, asshole, for illegal re-entry into the United States.”
The agent smirked and glanced at a tree behind Jake’s property. It was then Jake noticed a trail camera commonly used by hunters. Jake kept his mouth shut.
Unnoticed by CBP, Brad Fenton, Jake’s American neighbor from the house just south of his, walked to the side door of Jake’s house before closing and locking it. The man wore a chest rig holding a small camera, and his wife stood near their property with her phone, also recording the goings-on.
One of the CBP agents approached the house and grumbled in disgust at finding the door locked.
“Where are your keys?” the agent demanded of Jake.
“Where’s your warrant, shithead?” Jake’s neighbor asked. “You have an arrest warrant, but where’s your search warrant?”
“We don’t need one! We have probable cause!”
“Unless you produce a valid search warrant, you’ll be in violation of Mr. Chartier’s Fourth Amendment rights if you force entry into his residence. And we’ll have it all on video. That video is currently streaming to the web, by the way.”
The agent scowled at Fenton before dragging Jake to one of the SUVs. Two had already turned around but were now nose-to-nose with the two CSBP vehicles blocking Rue de Frontière. The four CSBP agents looked pissed.
Everyone started yelling back and forth. The Americans demanded that the Canadians move to allow them to leave the scene. The Canadians stated that the Americans were under arrest for bringing weapons into Canada. The Americans drove across Jake’s property – tearing up the yard – and disappeared into Northern Maine.
Jake stared straight ahead at the wall and kept silent, as he had for the past two hours while agents tried questioning him. Driving the logging roads in his truck was bad, but riding in someone else’s back seat for hours wearing handcuffs behind his back, was far beyond that. The drive here had been an excruciating four and a half hours.
Jake briefly caught sight of a building’s sign when they pulled into the parking lot. He was at the CBP sector headquarters in Houlton, Maine. Jake was starving, thirsty, and needed a bathroom. Part of him wanted to piss on the floor in the interrogation room, but with only one hand free, that might be a bit of a challenge. Agents had yet to allow him a phone call, though Jake knew who the recipient of that call would be.
They eventually brought Jake to a small holding cell and provided him with a ‘meal.’ He got a dry turkey sandwich, a bruised apple, a bag of half-crushed potato chips, and a box of warm milk. What he didn’t get was his phone call.
A lousy night’s sleep and a dismal breakfast followed. After another two hours of CBP trying to question him, they grudgingly allowed Jake to make his phone call. Jake dialed a number from memory.
“Pierre, it’s Jake.” Jake spoke in rapid French.
“The CBP office in Houlton. Ready to write down a number?” Jake rattled off a number with Maine’s customary 207 area code. “Call that office and ask the senior attorney, Cole Benjamin, to drive over here, please? I’ve got a bunch to vent about.”
’Illegals always complain about something,’ the CBP officer in the holding area thought. He rolled his eyes while listening to the chatter.
It was another four hours before Jake left his cell again. The CBP officers who came to extract him looked unhappy, which meant Jake would be unhappier than he already was in a few seconds. They brought Jake to an interview room, chained him to the floor, and then brought in a man in a suit.
“Mister Chartier, I’m Cole Benjamin,” the suited man announced once the guards departed. “Mister Joubert asked me to represent you. I understand you asked for me by name?”
Jake looked at the Houlton based attorney. While Cole Benjamin wouldn’t star in any TV shows, his air of confidence was unmistakable. That’s why Jake had given Pierre this man’s name and phone number.
“I did, Counsellor. Have a seat,” Jake said as he nodded to the chair across the table. “Forgive me for not shaking hands, but...”
“Understandable, Counsellor.” Pierre must have told Attorney Benjamin what Jake did for a living. “Now that we have dispensed with the necessary formalities, I’m Cole. Tell me a story.”
Jake made sure Cole understood the particulars of Estcourt Station, then launched into a summary of his brief vacation.
“So your first priority that night was saving the lives of your neighbors?”
“Without question.” Jake then told Cole of his efforts to deflect attention from Pierre and his neighbors.