Friday, January 1, 2010
At home I was greeted by a largely darkened house. Not exactly what I was expecting. The dogs were glad to see me though as I opened the door.
“Anyone home?” I called, hearing Carl reply from downstairs. “Where is everyone?” I asked.
“Uncle Alan’s. We’re having dinner over there tonight. Aunt Mary decided that Mom needed a break. And Grandma didn’t feel all that hot.”
“Nope. I volunteered to keep an eye on the place. I ate earlier.”
“You monitoring the radios then?”
“That, and a little xBox.”
“OK. Keep alert though. There’s always something out there in the dark, you know. I saw some of that on the way home.”
“The old-fashioned term was ‘highwaymen’…people who’d just as soon as kill you as not, for whatever they feel like taking from you. They kill the streetlights on one of the roads and wait for someone to blunder into their kill zone. Either kill you or not I guess, but you’ll end up lighter of whatever you’re carrying.”
“Where did that happen?”
“I understand it moves around town, from what I hear. Tonight, there was a blackout down on Sprague, maybe a mile long. Plenty dark enough for somebody to hijack a car, and almost no traffic on the roads.”
“The train…” he said before I cut him off, “…is north of there. And the passenger cars are lit, which doesn’t really let anyone on the train see what’s going on outside. Easy pickin’s.”
“What are you going to do?”
“It’s already been called in. That’ll mean it’s in the lap of Mike and our friends in green. Just keep this quiet. Your Mom’s worried enough about me without this tossed in.”
“You’re not going to be in the middle of this are you? Like out at the Samuel’s place?”
“Nope. Not this time. I’ve had enough excitement for one year, or five.”
“Good,” Carl said, showing some relief. “It’d be nice to keep you in one piece.”
“Truer words were never spoken, son. I better get going.”
“I’ll radio over if I hear anything important.”
“OK. Make sure the County radio’s on, too. Let me know if they’re looking for me. What’s my call sign today?”
“OK, and what’s ‘home’ today?”
“Good enough. See you in a bit.”
“’K,” Carl said before he headed back downstairs.
I washed up a little bit and made myself a little more presentable before going over to Alan’s, remembering to put the old .45 on before stepping out the door. Ada was curled up by the woodstove, perfectly content to thump her tail twice as I stepped over her, while Buck figured it must be time to go outside and find something to chase. He was disappointed that I left him inside as I pulled the door shut, locked behind me.
The low clouds were at least no longer dropping the light snow on the city, and I was glad for that. To the west, I could see across the garden and field to Alan’s, Ron and Libby’s, and Sarah Woodbridge’s homes; her house through the ribs of the greenhouse, its covering now stowed for the winter. I made my way down the steps of the porch and across the yard, the wood smoke from a hundred woodstoves on the cold east wind.
Dinner was wonderful, and a welcome mental break for me. A pot roast, potatoes, carrots and a burgundy sauce seemed like an extravagant dinner for the beginning of the week. More like one of our typical Sunday dinners.
“How was your day, hon?” Karen asked. I hadn’t talked too much about specifics, with the exception of the memorial service.
“First half was meetings. Second half, paperwork, except for Pete’s service of course.”
“Probably too early for good first impressions on how things are looking then,” Alan said.
“There is a lot to wrap ones’ head around, yes. Although, it’s not as bad as it could be by a long shot. Nor is it as good as it should--or could—be. The biggest problem it seems to me is that we just don’t have enough money.”
“Gee, there’s wisdom for the ages,” Ron said. “No one’s ever had enough money.”
I chuckled a little. “You know what I mean. There’s not really enough money circulating—real money, silver or gold—to achieve critical mass. We’re operating on fits and starts. Once money is acquired, it’s stashed away and therefore taken out of circulation. Hard to pay people in scrip or goods, when neither are universally accepted.”
“What are you thinking?” Karen asked. “I mean…”
“I know what you mean, babe. I don’t know. I can’t fix this from within. There simply does not seem to be enough physical metal to keep an economy going.”
“The silver mines up in Idaho are opened up though,” Mary added. “And those mines up in British Columbia.”
“Sure, but they’re months away from really making any headway in production. Most of those have been closed for years, and they’re scraping up equipment just to really open. No, I think this is something that we have to go to the outside to try to fix.”
“Walla Walla? Or the Feds?”
“The former first, the latter only if absolutely necessary,” I said, taking a deep drink from a home-brewed porter that Ron had traded for. “Dang that’s good beer.”
“Should be. Came all the way from Bonners Ferry.”
“Nice. And how did the store do today? Snow keep things quiet?”
“Not really, although a few more days of this and I’m sure people will be staying in. Had about an average day I guess. We met with Randy Thompson—he’s all over taking the manager position at the store, but he’d like to talk to you about getting that house to the east of it for a dedicated gun shop.”
“OK,” I thought. “I’ll see what I can do. Why there?”
“The place is in OK shape after the quake,” Alan said, “but the key is that it’s reinforced concrete block, filled, and already has steel bars on the windows. Roof’s metal, has electric heat, and probably won’t take much to make it a go.”
“Sounds OK to me. Did you help Casey and Ray get their stuff moved?”
“Had some help there. One load in a west-bound transport, and we were done.”
“How’d’ja finagle that?” I asked with no small amount of surprise. Transports were expensive.
“Pint of Scotch and two cases of that porter.”
“And that paid for the fuel too? Diesel’s not exactly cheap anymore.”
“I gave him five gallons of my own.”
“Pretty gracious of you.”
“Casey said he’d make me a new gun belt when he was set up and had the right hides.”
“Good kid,” I said. “Did you touch base with Kevin Miller on any new prospects for the houses?” I asked, as Alan’s youngest came into the room, holding one of the little hand-held FRS radios.
“Uncle Rick, it’s for you.”
“Thanks, Sparky.” I wondered what was up now, as I excused myself to one of the small bedrooms off the hallway.
“Wyoming,” I spoke into the hand-held.
“Wait one,” Carl said. I heard some radio chatter in the background. Carl would tell me what was going on when he was ready. Whatever it was, it was worth calling me up for.
“Wyoming, structure fire, third alarm just called in right after the first two, with building collapse, Sprague at Havana.”
Smack-dab in the middle of the blacked out part of Sprague. “Anyone call for me?”
“Thanks. Keep me advised.”
“Out,” I said. ‘That son of mine could be in dispatch, tomorrow,’ I thought to myself as I headed back into the dining room, where Rachel was showing everyone a quilt that Grandma Grace had helped her make, with some assistance of course from Kelly and Marie. I noted the older girls were all but hiding in the kitchen, letting Rachel show off without distraction. This was her first sewing project, and she was quite proud of her work. Grace looked pretty pleased, too, but also, quite tired. I kept the radio close by.
“Anything wrong?” Karen asked me quietly as I sat back down, half-listening to the quilting procedure that Rachel was describing. Ron and Libby were listening in.
“Structure fire on Sprague. The old K Mart store it sounds like. Bad.”
“You need to go?”
“Don’t think so. Carl’s got his ears open for me, though.”
“Warehouse now?” she asked, watching Rachel’s presentation, but keeping her attention on our conversation.
“Yeah. Mixed goods and supplies,” I remembered. Pete had provided me a couple weeks back, a list of operational warehouses now located along the Central Lines, and what was generally stored at each location. “Food, too though there. Small store on the east end.”
“You got that look in your eye, Rick,” Ron said. “What’s going on?”
“Not in present company,” I said.
“Let’s get dessert served then,” Libby said, providing the excuse to take us to the kitchen.
“OK, out with it. What’s up?” Karen said.
“On the way home tonight, there was a darkened section of Sprague. A couple of electricians that I was riding home with said that it was probably a trap set for travelers—and that the streetlights aren’t shut off ‘easily.’ We called it in. The fire is probably right in the middle of that stretch of road.”
“Trap, for you?” Karen asked with some trepidation in her voice, eyes fixed down on the apple pie she was slicing, but really focusing on me with all her attention.
“Not likely. More for anyone that set foot in the spider web.”
“And the fire?”
“No idea. Coincidence? Probably not. Reasoning, again, no idea.”
“You don’t need to go over there, do you?”
“Not unless there’s a compelling reason to, no,” I said, even though she knew I was naturally pulled to such events.
“Back to business. Ron, did you talk with Kevin today?”
“Briefly. He has a list of six potentials for the vacant houses.”
“That’s a good start. We have what, sixteen total on all three blocks?”
“Impressions on his list?” I asked.
“Haven’t had time to even open the files yet.”
“OK. Maybe you and Alan and our lovely wives take some time tomorrow to vet them?”
“Works for me,” Ron said. “I’m planning on being in the Otis Orchards store for about half the day. Then out to the Greenacres store. Should have time in there somewhere.”
“Let’s get back in there and have dessert, shall we? No point in alarming the natives,” Karen said, referring to the youngest in the house. Both Rachel and Mark had just settled back down into normal sleep patterns, after months of nightmares. One of Marks’ continuing fears was of small, dark spaces. No wonder I thought, after hearing about the wreck that his room was after the Domino, and Alan having to dig him out of the sheetrock with his bare hands. Good thing he had a stout bunk bed….and slept on the bottom. Rachel was greatly startled by loud noises, but not of gunfire. She hated thunderstorms now, but had been raised with the distant sound of her father’s guns.
I was halfway through my carrot cake when Carl called me again.
“Wyoming, this is St. Pete.” I excused myself and found another quiet corner.
“Shots fired, multiple men down. Guard units being deployed.”
“I’m on my way to your location. Out.”
“Out,” Carl replied.
“Dammit,” I said quietly as I found my coat. Karen had tracked me down, and Alan and Mary were looking over her shoulder.
“I heard. You aren’t going down there are you?”
“No, but I want to get back to the County radio and scanners. I wouldn’t really be serving a purpose down there in any regard.”
“That might be, but I know you.”
“Yes, you do. I’ll find out what I need to from the radio.”
“I’ll wrap up your dessert and one for Carl and bring it later.”
“’K. Love you,” I said as I kissed her lightly.
“I’ll radio back over if things change,” I said to Alan. “Fill Ron and Lib in for me, OK?”
“Done. Watch that back step. Haven’t had a chance to get all the ice off yet,” he said as I headed out the back door.
“I noticed. If I fall, I’ll know who to sue.”
“Good luck finding a lawyer.”
“Or an insurance company,” I said, trying to make light of things. “Do me a favor though. Put a weather eye out. I don’t like the sound of this.”
“Think things will spread?”
“Don’t know. But if the Guard troops and the police and firemen are getting shot at, that means that other parts of the area have resources pulled. Which raises the specter of opportunity.”
“Mind if I let the rest of the block know?”
“Nope, not even one little bit,” I replied, thinking that it might be a good idea to really spread the word about what was going on.
I felt like I was becoming a propagandist, mulling over what sort of announcement might be made over the radio, telling the community that their policemen, firemen, and soldiers--all in reality, neighbors--were being shot at.
Home, Carl was bent over one radio, listening to two scanners, and handed me a note from County Dispatch that he’d just finished. I had a new call number, effective immediately. One Eleven.
“You need to call them now,” Carl said almost in a whisper as he was listening on one side of a headset.
“OK. You transmitting?” I asked, seeing the Collins was powered up, as well as the scanners, the County radio, and our big multi-band receiver.
“No, just listening. Stuff’s happening in the Northeast. Some stuff up in Canada, too.”
“Fill me in later,” I said, putting on a headset to call the watch officer in dispatch.
“One Eleven to Spokane.”
“Thank you, One Eleven, be advised of structure fire with casualties, Sprague and Havana. Three firemen down with GSW one fatal. Two missing in structure collapse. Looters on scene engaged in heavy action with Army and local police forces.”
“One Eleven,” I responded. “Dispatch, put me through to SIO immediately, please.” The SIO—Sheriff’s Information Officer—handled press releases and departmental communications. Time to get the word out.
“Wait one, One Eleven,” was the reply as I waited.
“OK, what’s going on back East?” I asked Carl, listening with one ear to my own headset.
“They’re saying Senator Blackburn’s been assassinated. There’s open revolt in the New Republic. Three different sources, different frequencies, said that. There’s also a lot of traffic coming out of Western Canada. Riots and stuff, but I can’t track all of it. Sounds ugly.”
“I’m sure it is. Take notes on what you’re hearing?”
“Yeah five pages so far. Nothing, and I mean not a word, on the normal radio. All of this is shortwave. TV’s been off since seven, so I haven’t watched anything there. Then this fire happened, so I’m behind.”
I wondered for a moment or two on if things were related, and then my headset came back to life.
“One Eleven, join One Fifty-four on secure channel one niner eight.”
“One Eleven, Thank you. Out,” I said before switching frequencies.
“One Eleven to One Fifty Four.”
“One Five Four,” came the reply. Unfamiliar voice female.
“One Five Four, you up to speed on the Sprague and Havana situation?”
“I want a press release going out ASAP about this, including radio and television. I want to make it clear that firemen and police as well as Guardsmen are under fire at that location, and that there is looting going on. I want to put the city on alert to watch out for any suspicious activities in any part of the area. Do-able?”
“Yes, sir, but we’ve not confirmed casualties at this time.”
“We’ve confirmed wounded, and I’ve heard one dead. That’s good enough for me.”
“We’re also hearing some shortwave traffic on a revolt in the New Republic territories and that Senator Blackburn has been taken out. You hear anything about that?”
“Yes, not through conventional media.”
“Break the story as unconfirmed then. Get the word out. I want the vigilance part of this thing strong. I want people to be ready for whatever’s going on, if there is anything going on. The timing is suspicious. Questions?”
“Not unless the Sheriff or Army want to put it back in place. Anything else?”
“You want to hear a brief of it before it goes out?”
“You’re competent to do this job, or Mike wouldn’t have assigned you to it. Right?”
“I like to think so, sir.”
“Then go for it. Sooner the better.”
“Understood. One Five Four out.” She—whoever she was, sounded a little more confident after my reply back to her.
“One Eleven Out.”
I took off the headset, and listened to the scanner traffic. Carl had two scanners listening in on the Sheriff’s tactical frequencies, and one on the Fire Department incident frequency.
“Bud, make sure that the AM radio is up. KDA or KLXY. There should be an announcement coming over about this soon.”
“So which are you listening to?”
“Police is pretty quiet. Sounds like they’ve switched over to Guard secure radios. Fire’s a mess. Sounds like one of the Captains got hit, and two guys running hose to a hydrant. Then the hoses got shot up. Sounds like one of the pumper trucks, too.”
“I’ll tell Alan to get his ears on.”
“K,” Carl said, not lifting his head from the radios, still taking notes.
Alan had already put out a radio call to all of our immediate neighbors, who had in turn, called their small network of friends, over the CB radio. By the time I called him, there was a good chance that there was at least one armed person in every occupied house on our block, and in a dozen blocks around us, just keeping an eye on things. In the matter of another ten minutes, and the whole city would know.
I heard the dogs rustle and move to the back porch as they heard Karen and Kelly approach the house. I looked out the west window, and saw John and Sarah escorting them.
“Spokane to One Eleven,” the radio spoke.
“One Eleven,” I said as my wife and daughter came into the room. I heard John and Sarah talking on the back porch.
“Be advised, Northwest Command has instituted curfew for the entire command area, effective twenty-one hundred hours. No word on termination of curfew time for the morning, if any.”
“Understood. One Eleven out.”
Karen gave me The Look.
“You’re staying home.”
“Yes, I am. I’d just be in the way.”
“Glad we’re clear on that.”
“What brings you two over here?” I asked of Sarah and John. Sarah was dressed in a deep blue wool coat and matching hat that looked of British design. John wore a camouflaged coat, in the old ‘woodland’ pattern, but this one was blacks and dark greys.
“Dad thought it’d be a good idea travel in herds,” John said. I noticed his Remington 870 at that point, in the corner of the kitchen, leaning against the cabinet.
“Probably smart. You taking Sarah home next?”
“We’ll be at Mom and Dad’s tonight.”
“OK. Despite the curfew, plan on a normal day tomorrow.”
“Whatever that is,” Sarah said. “I’m supposed to be at the Clinic at six.”
“Meet us over here at quarter to. I can get you over there, unless like I said, you hear otherwise. Curfew starts at nine tonight. No word on when it’ll end in the morning, or if it’ll be lifted tomorrow at all for that matter. We don’t know quite yet what the evening will bring.”
“OK. Thanks, though. We’re really short staffed at the clinic. I almost spent the night over there,” Sarah said. “You have a good evening,” she said as she squeezed John’s arm and gave him a little smile, which said, ‘Let’s go!’
Another minute and they were out the door.
“Those two,” Karen said. “They can’t keep their hands off each other,” she said out of the earshot of our kids.
“Wasn’t that long ago and neither could we.”
“Wait ‘til later, mister,” Karen said with that come hither look in her eyes.
“Promises, promises,” I said, receiving a mitten upside my head.