Saturday, December 19, 2009
“Ray Alden’s place,” Alan stated. “Any ideas on who we can recruit to move in?”
“No, got Casey Wallace’s place, too,” I reminded him.
Ray, his daughters, and another neighbor, Casey Wallace were going to relocate further west, toward what had been the heart of the downtown area. Casey had lost his wife, Martha, in late September to a septic infection. What should have been a minor injury killed her. He wanted to get out of the home they shared and start new. Ray would head up a new ‘plant’ of settlers in an area served by utilities, but severely under populated. He would recruit new settlers in a manner similar to his own recruitment into our neighborhood. The ‘new’ area had distinct possibilities for enhancing the overall region—it held the cities last stockyard and slaughterhouse.
Closed for more than two years, the meatpacking plant, built next to the main rail lines, was scheduled for cleanup and redevelopment as an industrial park. The St. Louis owners were looking for more money than the local market was willing to pay. I had briefly been involved with the project right after it closed, due to environmental cleanup issues on the site. The owners’ reviewed our firms’ fee proposal and decided we were too far out of their budget. I knew, however, that no one could meet the scope of work within that budget, and I wasn’t about to give away the farm. The owners countered our proposal, and we declined. No cleanup work had been started, and the site sat untouched.
The quake had caused significant, but repairable damage to the facility, most notably the collapse of a shade canopy structure over part of the cattle pens. Vandalism of the plant was limited to broken glass on the upper two floors.
Ray’s task for the last month or so, was to canvass the population of the Valley, then expanding into the City, for men and women with experience in working in slaughterhouses, as butchers, and meatpackers. These people would be asked if they’d like to relocate near the plant, with homes ready to move into, and signing bonuses as an incentive. Ray had been pretty persuasive apparently, as he had over fifty potential workers, not quite double what his goals were initially.
Coupled with Ray’s task to re-establish a relatively large-scale slaughterhouse in the area, Casey Wallace had also been tasked with finding people experienced or willing to be trained in leather working, as a by-product of the slaughterhouse operation. Casey was a master craftsman in harness making, saddlery, and all other aspects of leatherwork; knowledge gained from his father and grandfather before him. With the anticipation of more working horses in our future, we’d need skills like these to be commercially available. I’d met Casey a few years before, when he’d re-strung a couple of my antique baseball gloves. Since that initial meeting, I’d picked up a new belt, rifle case, and tooled purse for Karen, just to see the craftsmanship.
“Ideas?” Ron said.
“I think we get a meeting together with the rest of the original settlers and run a straw poll. They might have ideas on folks that would be a good fit,” I said. “We’re also about ready to have the east and west blocks opened up, so we’re looking at a much bigger issue here. Not two houses, but sixteen more, right?”
Alan responded, “Yes, once firewood is delivered. None of the places are ‘wet’ right now, either.” Meaning, the water was shut off in all of the homes to prevent freeze damage.
With the spotty reliability of electricity, we’d made the decision to repair homes that could be heated reliably with wood only, with electricity as a backup. This was pretty much the opposite of the ‘way things used to be’. We were now though, in a very new place.
In order to accomplish this, we worked with our neighbors around guidelines that I’d written in the spring for the entire area. Review the structural stability of the home. Determine if it could be heated with wood heat. Come up with a list of things that needed to be addressed to put the home back in service. Of course, only homes within the Utility Service Area would be considered for repair. Homes outside the Service Area would be preserved for future repair if the utilities could be re-established, or salvaged for parts.
When the massive amount of work just to get ready for winter wasn’t consuming all of our time and energy, our neighbors and some friends worked barn-raising style to repair and rebuild the handful of homes on the blocks east and west of our block. We’d usually work on two homes at once, with ten or so workers doing repair, cleaning, and testing. Of course, that would not have been possible without the help of our water and power utility crews. The company was originally a co-op, now that really had meaning to most residents in the area. It was always heartening to hear cheers go up when power and water came back on.
“OK. Let’s put the word out. Can we meet at the store, and when?” I asked.
“Tomorrow soon enough?”
“Yeah, I was thinking next week, but if this snow keeps up, there’s no way that it’s going to be easy to get people into those homes, not to mention get wood moved in.”
“Right,” Alan said. “Which is why time is of the essence.”
“All right, next on your Rick-only agenda.”
“Just kidding about that. But we thought you’d be interested in how the stores are doing,” Ron said.
“I am. Things going OK at the other sites?”
“Better than OK. We’re thinking about opening up three more in the South zone.”
I was surprised. Good news for a change. “Elaborate!”
“Otis Orchards, East Farms and Greenacres are all above expectations on trading levels and outright sales. Sullivan, Evergreen and Park are about on target. Trentwood and Logan are above projections.”
“So you’re looking now at south of Sprague?” I asked.
“Population’s there. Again, once the weather turns really nasty,” Alan said looking outside, “those folks will have a tough time keeping supplied on a regular basis with necessaries.”
“Don’t look now,” Ron said.
“I know, we’re there early,” Alan replied, looking again at the snowstorm.
“Altamont East is the riskiest, Liberty Park is almost ready and Havana at Sixth is two weeks out. That’ll handle almost all of the serviced areas where there are shortfalls,” Ron said.
“Those are the first three. All three sites near precinct barracks?”
“Or co-located in the case of Liberty Park.”
“Right,” I remembered. “Part of the old milling complex.”
“They get all the structural work done?” I asked. “It was a mess the last time I saw it.”
“Yeah, your structural engineer didn’t like it much at first, but once Cavallini got done with it, he signed off on it. The last of the windows went in last Friday. Heating plant should be on line today.”
“Good. How about staff?”
“Twenty-two officers at the barracks proper, with about half of them also having homes in their precincts. Six spouses have signed up for shifts at the Liberty Park store. The rest are either teachers or medical staff at the LP clinic.”
“K,” I said. “Altamont is the problem child. The store is three blocks from the precinct house?”
“Yeah, and on the other side of the freeway.”
“That area’s always been rough. Are we considering ‘now’ or our historical bias?”
“Three dead in fourteen days says that we’re not biased. Seven in the past two months.”
“Adultery in one case. Robbery in one, drug murder in the third.”
“What’s the status of the store?”
“Needs the most work of any of them yet.”
“Remind me why we thought that location was a good idea?”
“It was free, remember? And in the service area and next to the school and the church. And has working gas pumps.”
“Free isn’t always a good deal,” I said, thinking about options.
“We thought it might be worth looking into enhancing the precinct house in that neighborhood. Hence, the reason for us stopping by, seeing’s how you have some influence in that area.”
“What, parking a Guard unit there?”
“That, and maybe taking the old school and using it for a militia center. Manned, of course.”
I hadn’t even considered that idea before. I seemed to be thinking slower these days though.
“That would mirror the Hillyard idea, and South Monroe,” I said, looking again at the snow.
“Yep. And once the militia centers there opened up for business, problems dropped dramatically,” Alan stated.
“Yeah, the magic influence of belt-fed weapons near by,” I said.
“As long as they’re in the right hands,” Ron replied.
“All right, I’ll talk with Mike and our liaison with the Guard. I think we’ll be able to swing that. Might be tough getting the school put in good enough shape though, won’t it?”
“There’s work to do. Cavallini did the preliminary look-see,” Alan said. “Six weeks minimum.”
“It’d probably be smarter to co-locate the store and the militia center,” I said.
“Yeah, if you can swing it,” Alan said. “You know how much fun it was to prove to the locals that the militia or Guard units were good things to have near their stores.”
“I do. Liberty Park was no fun. At least as far as the food distribution operation goes, Pete Wolfson says its working OK.”
“Sure. But when you put a barter store in operation, it might be a different story.”
“Agreed,” I said. Ron, Alan and I talked next about the capital investment needed for each of these stores to get them initially established, and needed for on-going operations.
In our case, this meant an investment in the form of silver coins used for currency available to establish trade. At the barter stores we’d started, and therefore had a significant stake in, we had invested a portion of the pre-nineteen sixty-four silver coins in each operation. Along with our monetary investment, which I viewed as necessary to get real money into our new economy, other traders become stakeholders in the barter store system. For our return on investment, we bought goods that we thought we’d need, were ‘rare’, etc. These purchases were made with our share of profits that the stores generated, after expenses and after all other stakeholders had been paid. Most of the time, we ended up on the edge of being ‘in the black.’
I also, nearly always anyway, paid the asking price, to put more money into circulation. For this, I was usually rewarded with thanks, sometimes more product than I paid for, or preferential treatment the next time I needed to buy something. Karen, Mary and Libby were asked to the do the same thing. Ron and Alan haggled a little for sport, but usually paid the asking price. I hoped that this would establish our reputation as being honest and knowing the value of items. If it didn’t it would illustrate that we had more money than brains. Either way, my goal of putting money to work would suffice.
Our families also traded what we could produce or items that we saw as extra, hand-made items, or ‘knowledge’ in the case of many of my computerized files on primitive skills, food production and storage.
“Your company is here, Dad,” Kelly hollered from the kitchen.
“Thanks, babe,” I said. “You two wanna stick around?”
“Sure, curiosity being what it is,” Alan said.
“That’s Mike’s Explorer,” I said to Ron and Alan as I looked out the window. “No idea who the suit is though.” Mike’s new ride was formerly a civilian model, which had been upgraded with police radios, scanners and computers, and of course the Spokane County paint job.
Mike made his way through the stock gate and pulled into the driveway, while his passenger held the gate. His passenger also held a briefcase, shiny leather at that. He was also seriously overdressed for Spokane at least I thought that.
“Good grief,” Alan said. “He’s got wingtips on.”
“Don’t make fun of him just because he dresses like a lawyer.”
“Not much use for lawyers these days,” Ron said.
“Manners, boys,” I said as they arrived on the front porch, which I still hadn’t fully repaired after the Domino.
“Afternoon, Mike,” I said as I shook his hand. “Getting much sleep these nights?” I asked, making reference to his new twins.
“More than my lovely wife, but not by much, thanks. Rick, this is Chuck Severa,” Mike said by way of introduction.
“Welcome,” I said as I shook hands. ‘Tall. Really tall,’ I thought. ‘Fortyish,’ I guessed. “This is Alan Bauer, my brother-in-law, and Ron Martin, old friend and life-saver. That goes for both of them I s’pose.”
“Pleased to meet you both,” Severa said as he shook hands.
“Come in and have a seat,” I said, motioning them to our rather scarred oak dining room table, inviting both to have a cup of elderberry tea which both declined, obviously wanting to get to business. “Before I forget Mike, here’s a nice thick file for staff,” I said as I handed him a heavy folder with police and fire staffing and equipment requests, most of which we couldn’t fill. “Now, what’s this about gentlemen?”
“Mr. Drummond, I’m the United States Attorney for this region, and I’d like to talk to you about the disposition of four prisoners in the county lockup.”
“Don’t need to guess which four,” Alan said. Four ringleaders of an anarchist organization, which also happened to be tied into a criminal family, tried to dispose of me in a rather creative way. Mike’s undercover task force had rooted them out, although nearly too late. I was quite happy to have missed that gun battle.
“Sure. Want to hang them now, or later?” I asked, only half kidding. “They did have a first class trial,” I said, reminding myself of Brian Dennehy in the movie ‘Silverado.’
“Neither, actually, or at least not yet.”
“Please explain,” I said with a little irritation. “These people tried to have me killed. And did kill a few of our Guardsmen, and two deputies. What they did was unspeakable.”
“We have reason to believe that they are part of a larger organization and we’d like to determine if that is in fact the case.”
“OK, almost reasonable. Why a U.S. Attorney? I thought that you handled cases like ‘United States versus John Terrorist.’”
“The office handles the prosecution of criminal cases brought by the Federal government, which this is one; prosecution of civil and criminal cases where the United States is a party; and the collection of debts owed to the Federal government which are uncollectible.”
“That last item ought to keep your office busy until the end of time,” Alan chuckled.
“Indeed. But this matter reaches well beyond this city, which is why I’m here. I’m asking for the County to allow the U.S. Marshals Office to take these men into custody.”
“Why not just take them?” Ron asked.
“Protocol. Courtesy,” Severa said, “and because these organizations were on the radar screen well in advance of the attempted attacks on your local officials, and the former Administration dropped the ball. They should have been apprehended long in advance of that time.”
I didn’t know quite what to say to that. Good thing Alan did. This had the added advantage of giving me time to think.
“Naw, I think we ought a just hang ‘em here and save everyone the time.”
“These men are anarchists first, criminals second. That puts them on my plate.”
“With all due respect, sir, they are murderers first, and anything after that doesn’t really matter around here. Once convicted of that, they’re pretty much compost,” Alan said.
“What organizations?” I asked flatly.
“We actually don’t know all of their names or even their acronyms. There are actually dozens, nationwide. Or were before the War.”
“Why here? Why now?” Ron asked. I wondered if this guy liked being tag-teamed.
“One of them is suspected of being the head of the Anarchists Union. They were big pre-War. More violent than not, which sets them apart.”
“Again, why now?” I asked.
“And what happens to them then?”
“Interrogation, prosecution on Federal charges.”
“And then they’re hung?”
“If they’re prosecuted and convicted of a Federal offense, it is customary for that sentence to be served first, if they are apprehended first. In this case, the Attorney General is willing to make an exception.”
“No plea bargains?” I asked.
“Plea bargains no longer exist,” Severa said.
I found that interesting to say the least.
“So,” Severa continued, “they’ll still get their hanging.”
“Not a lot of incentive for them to give up information,” Ron said.
“Giving has very little to do with it. Interrogation these days is….aggressive.”
“Fine. Take them.” I said. “But why are you asking me this?”
“Your interest is personal.”
“It is at that.”
“I’ll have a cup of that tea now, if you don’t mind.”
“Not a bit,” I paused. “Let me have my daughter round up a few other things as well,” I said, and then called to Kelly, who produced a tray of delicate pizzelle cookies from a recipe that Joan Pauliano provided.
“Where you from, Mr. Severa?” Alan asked.
“Chuck, please if you would. Denver most recently. I served as assistant state attorney general down there, and was appointed to my current post on one October. Originally, North Platte.”
“Appointed?” I asked, ignorant of how one was hired to his post.
“Yes sir. A Presidential appointment. The new Administration has been trying to fill a number of vacant posts, including the Pacific Northwest.”
“Just how many positions are there? I’d have thought one per state. Is that correct?”
“Actually, there were ninety-three pre-War. There are forty-two districts in the continental United States at present, which is a considerable consolidation. It is likely that there will be a number of additional appointments in the Mexican Territory, and at least two more in the Canadian Territories.”
“How long’ve you been in Spokane?” I asked.
He looked at his watch. “Two hours, six minutes.”
“Welcome to town. Nice of you to bring Denver weather with you,” I said.
“There’s a good two feet of snow in Denver right now I heard, and probably several more feet on the way by the middle of next week.”
“So what can you tell us about the East? We’ve heard a lot of rumors. Damned few facts.”
“Where does one start?” Chuck said.
“The secession movement might be a good place to start,” Mike said, as Ron, Alan and I shared a shocked look. Mike noted our concern. “I picked him up at Fairchild, so I’m a little ahead of the curve.”
I looked at Alan for a moment. “Why does every day feel like a Twilight Zone episode?”
Posted by Tom Sherry at 5:43 PM