Thursday, January 7, 2010
Bank of the West was now branded, ‘Federal Bank.’ Not exactly an imaginative name, but they did have a colorful logo, with a stylized profile of Thomas Jefferson. No idea what the symbolism was supposed to foster in the mind of the artist. I supposed they were aiming for ‘trust.’ It seemed to miss the mark, for me at least.
Federally-hired contracting crews were shipped in on Air Force transport early in the day, and were tasked with rehabilitating and re-branding local branch banks in more than a dozen locations in the redefined ‘urban area.’ Fourteen different crews, one per location, each equipped specifically to refurb their particular building as quickly and efficiently as possible.
It was a minor miracle of organization, certainly unlike anything that I’d witnessed in my experience with large government.
The McDonald Road building was constructed in the early Seventies, strong through its bulky reinforced concrete shell and large interior vault, weak through the triple glazed storefront. That storefront had now been almost completely replaced with ballistic and blast-resistant glazing and frames; doors replaced in a similar manner, and work had been organized to create a force-protection zone around a perimeter, similar if not identical to pre-War Federal buildings.
Our ‘skeleton crew’ workforce at County Administration was covering things for the day without any interference from me, although I could have gone to the office without too much trouble. Curfew operations weren’t exactly routine, but there was a procedures manual in place now for the eventuality. Used a dozen times since the spring, refined a little each time.
I managed to find things to do out of the office that were still marginally within my scope of work, after dropping Karen and the gang off at the house. I was sure that Elaine would take us up on the offer for a new place to live, and I thought she’d be a good fit for the neighborhood and the house a good fit for her and her family as well.
I’d decided, after getting an OK from the Army and Karen (not in that order), to ‘blend in’ a little as a ‘regular’ County employee, and not ‘the boss.’ One of the maintenance shops happened to be located six blocks from the bank project, where the day-shift supervisor, also the caretaker who lived on site, checked me out a fairly well thrashed Chevy three-quarter ton diesel utility truck, and with a little negotiation in the form of some County vouchers for the employee warehouse, I paid for confidentiality. There was one work crew assigned to the bank, to ensure that utilities were operational and any of the needs of the Federal team were met.
I decided to assign myself to that team. I’d figure out a cover story along the way.
I arrived at the bank to find two Humvees with mounted machine guns on opposite corners of the property, providing a nice field of fire on all sides. The County vehicles were parked outside the perimeter, where I was directed to park as well. The parking area had been plowed all the way down to asphalt, a rare condition in this County this year. My truck was minus its two-way radio, so I went over to the Supervisors truck to ‘check-in’.
“Afternoon. They got any work over here for us?” I asked.
“No, sir. Not a blamed thing. Everything’s up and running, but we’re not supposed to leave until they’re done. Three hours we’ve been sitting on our asses.”
“Aren’t you supposed to be behind a desk somewhere?” a voice asked from behind. Mike Amberson.
“Sheriff, nice to see you,” I replied, shaking his gloved hand. The supervisor nodded, maybe figuring things out, maybe not. I figured that pretending to be someone else was a bad idea, and gave it up. Mike was almost immediately distracted by a radio call, and moved back to his cruiser, a few feet behind my beat up Chevy.
“You a desk driver?” the supervisor asked.
“I have been accused of that, but I’m not in my chosen profession. Field work suits me more often than not, and I hate meetings. I’m Rick Drummond.”
“Ryan Wizensky. So you’re the head desk driver.”
“Only when necessary.”
“Well, I’ll tell you, boss,” Wizensky said in a matter-of-fact way, “these guys have their act together. After we activated utilities, they escorted us to the property line and we’ve just been watching the show. Those two flatbeds out front have everything they need to put this place back together. Those three semi-trailers over there have a job shack, kitchen and bunkhouse. There’s fifty-odd men on this job right now, and none of ‘em has made anything that looks like a wasted move.”
“Escorted?” I asked.
“Yeah, as in, ‘Get the Hell outta my way and off-a my job.’”
“Are they contractors?” I wondered.
“Well they aren’t Army Corps of Engineers. First thing they did was set up a countdown clock. Twenty-four hours and this place is supposed be done.”
“You heard that from the workers?”
“One of the glaziers, yeah, before those Special Forces boys shooed him back inside. Didn’t look real happy to have one of their contracting boys outside of their comfort zone.”
“Hmmm,” I said. “So none of our guys have been inside since they got here?”
“Nope. But we haven’t really any business in there.”
“Maybe I’ll take a little walk.”
“Good luck with that,” Wizensky said. “They get outta hand and we’ll toss a wrench at them.”
“You don’t carry?” I asked in disbelief.
“Sorry. My ‘wrench’ is a 30.06.”
“Gotcha,” I said.
Mike had climbed back in his unit, taking some notes on a small pad. I decided that maybe a trip inside the ‘perimeter’ was a good idea when accompanied by law enforcement. Maybe not such a good idea when going incognito. I let myself in on the passenger side.
“How’s your day going?” I asked when he was done on the radio.
“Better than lousy. What’s up?”
“Four Regular Army dead last night. Patrol didn’t check in. Found their bodies at thirteen-hundred. All their gear gone, and their truck.”
“West Central. Also lost a State Trooper last night in Chewelah, and two reserve police officers in Pullman.”
“Is it a stretch that these are connected?”
“No, since all of them were head shots at distance, and all of them were stripped of their uniforms and gear.”
I stood there I’m sure looking like an idiot, trying to make some sense of it.
“You’ll figure it out in a minute,” Mike said. “Work the evidence,” Mike said. “You will not like the answer.”
“Somebody’s gathering up current issue uniforms of law enforcement and military. They’ve already proven they’re good enough or patient enough to learn the pattern language of patrol schedules and put together a series of relatively coordinated attacks. The only questions are ‘who they are’ and ‘when do they act.’”
“But the only important question is ‘when.’ Doesn’t matter ‘who.’”
“Well the only conclusion on ‘when’ is ‘now,’ or relatively soon. Nothing else would work, someone will put things together.”
“Three for three.”
“You think the banks are the target?”
“Honestly, I think the banks are the distraction. I think the murders are, too. Instill fear.”
“What’re the targets then?”
“Everything else. Step one, instill fear.”
“Do you think it’s the slightest bit coincidental that nationwide within the space of a day or two, the socialist experiment finally collapses with the assassination of their ‘president’, that we have a new ‘banking system’ arrive just when we need it, and little riots and pinprick attacks happen all over the country?”
“No, not really. I thought that it was probably part of the New Republic sympathizers. But I’m having a hard time connecting all of this. You said ‘step one.’”
“Right. Create fear in the population. We’ve had that in spades since January. Complete the decades-long destruction of their money. Threaten their health. Wipe out their food supply. Steal from them. Deprive them of security. Then come riding in on your white horse and save the day. The population will view you as their saving grace.”
Mike was right. I didn’t like the answer that was coming into view.
“And I delivered a speech that was playing right into somebody’s hand.”
“Since it was the same speech more or less all around the country, yeah. Probably correct.”
“All right, let’s play that angle. That can only mean one thing. That what is passing for the Federal government has tipped over into something decidedly ugly.”
“That is exactly correct.”
I sat there and looked at the dash, then outside to the bank.
“So how close are we to the heart of evil, I wonder?”
“Hundred and twenty feet, my guess. Problem being is that there are too many hearts to this beastie.”
“What do you know about this work crew?” I asked, pointing to the bank.
“All the workers flew in on Air Force transports first thing this morning. Trucks came in on a special freight train last night, fully loaded and ready to go. Special Forces troops, and all their gear by the way, are from Eastern Command in St. Louis, not Northwest Command. They were on the train too, by the way. And they’re not real friendly, I hear.”
“Wanna see if we can test the perimeter?”
“Sure. I haven’t been shot at in almost a whole day,” Mike said.
A few minutes later, we were inside, after a casual, nonchalant walk past the sentries and into the glassed—bulletproof glass—vestibule.
“May I help you?” a black uniformed man asked as we entered the lobby space.
“I’m the County Administrator here. This is Sheriff Mike Amberson. Thought we’d see how things are coming along,” I said as we shook hands. He did not give his name.
“Well enough,” was the cool reply. I looked over his shoulder, and sure-enough, there was the ‘countdown clock.’ Mike was looking about, as if a tourist. I knew better.
“You folks really know how to move things along.”
“We’re under contract. Time’s money.”
“I’m wondering if you still need our county crews out there. They’ve been sitting around for a while now.”
“We might. I’m not at liberty to give orders regarding local support.”
“Well, here’s the deal. I’m not paying them to sit on their butts in the cold. There’s work to do elsewhere, and if you’re not using them, they’re outta here.”
“Not my call,” he said, before calling out to someone who may or may not have been his superior. An inverted pyramid of a man came out of the front office cluster over to us in the lobby.
“Problem?” he asked, with no introductions.
“They’re pulling the locals,” our first contact replied.
“No, you’re not. We’re not done with them.”
“So three hours of them sitting in trucks is productive?”
“Don’t really care about their productivity. I care about ours.”
“We’re done here,” I said as I turned and headed for the door, with Mike getting there ahead of me.
“And you are who?” the Pyramid asked.
“The County Administrator.”
“You’re aiming to get arrested.”
That got my attention. “You threatening me?”
“Damned straight I am. I’m not working for you locals, I’m working for the Federal Government.”
“Well, then you oughta get acquainted with our local law enforcement situation. In this county, the Sheriff is the law. That includes superseding any Federal order or command if it’s unconstitutional. Power comes from the people, not from the government. I take it you haven’t heard that yet?”
“Don’t really care what your rules are. I know what mine are, and mine win. Constitution’s been suspended, and I’m getting paid to do a job.”
Mike replied. “Since you’ve not provided your name, let me inform you of this: In this state, the Constitution is the law of the land first and foremost. That might not be the case elsewhere, but here, that’s the way it is. Consider your actions carefully, sir, when in this County.”
“What a load of crap. Get out of my bank.”
“Your bank?” I asked.
“I’ll be the manager of this branch when we’re done with the re-fit.”
“Then you’ll be well shy of customers, if the so-called Federal Banks aren’t operating under Constitutional law,” I answered.
“When people get tired enough, they’ll be here. Just wait.”
“Where are you from anyway?” Mike asked.
“None of your damned business.”
“Watch your step in this county, sir. You will not receive a further warning.”
That received a string of expletives in reply.
“We’re done here,” I said to Mike and our difficult ‘contractors.’ “Let’s send the boys on to their next job,” I said, not knowing if they had any other tasks for this shift.
“Do that and our security forces will deal with you,” was the reply from behind me.
“OK, fair enough,” I said. “Mike, let’s head outside and have a little talk.”
Outside, it was beginning to darken with the lateness of the day and the increasing heavy overcast. It felt like snow again.
“You ready to take this on?” Mike asked.
“Call up our friends in the Forty First to weigh in on this before I poke them in the eye again.”
“Condor,” Mike said to his shoulder microphone, “You got that?” He tilted his head slightly, listening in on a very inconspicuous earbud.
“Good. Confirm ETA and force strength,” Mike said to his radio. Mike was listening to the reply, without looking like he was listening. A full minute passed before I could interrupt him.
“You got all this on radio?”
“Had a feeling about it. Set it up before you got into my unit. Forty-First command was listening live. We’ll know in a few minutes what kind of response we’ll get.”
“What do you think about all that ‘Constitution’s been suspended’ talk?”
“Stands to reason if you’re taking over and want a clean sweep, don’t you think?”
“Clumsy strategy though,” I said.
“Clumsy maybe, but we’re still several steps behind them, and you can bet there are people—a whole lot of people—who are willing to let them run roughshod.”
“Yeah, probably true,” I said. “It does make one wonder, if these men are in fact military, or mercenary.”
“There will certainly be a conversation on who’s in command, and the nature of an illegal order, I suspect,” Mike said as his eyes moved from one Humvee to the other. We were being watched, quite noticeably. Mike was distracted again by someone speaking in his ear.
“Affirmative. Holding in place with Mr. Drummond.”
I stood there, waiting for his delivery.
“Good enough,” I said. “Do we dare go get in our cars?”
“Nope. That gunner behind you just tweaked his mount toward us. I think standing here is just fine,” Mike said.
“More like Mexican Standoff.”
“We’re a little outgunned. I’ve got my .45 and four mags, not a frickin’ machine gun.”
“Not for very long we’re not. We have three general officers on our side, and their entire commands.”
“That’ll do,” I said, more than happily surprised.
Mike and I made small talk, me kidding him about his twins and sleep deprivation, him kidding me about being an old fart with high-school age kids, getting wiser by the day. Less than ten minutes after we’d heard that the Forty-First would send a response, I could hear the echo of a Blackhawk…or two…which we hadn’t heard in weeks. Helos just didn’t fly much anymore due to the lack of spare parts. I looked over at Mike.
“Yeah, I hear it, too,” Mike said, remaining non-chalant.
“Gunners don’t seem to think anything unusual, though.”
“Tourists,” Mike replied.
I heard the A-10 only a moment before I saw it, popping up over the trees to the north, passing low over us, and immediately snapping into a tight circle as the startled Humvee gunners obviously wondered what to do. The Hog snapped back to level and headed further east, probably for a similar action at another bank. By then though, two Blackhawks were in shooting positions, and ground troops were moving into a perimeter across the street and behind cover on the back side of the property.
I looked over at the main entry to the bank as the ‘manager’ came outside, as he was ordered to stand down over a bullhorn. The western Humvee gunner made a false move and was warned off any further futile action with a burst of fire from one of the helos. I’d never seen anything chew up pavement like that before….
Mike and I didn’t have much of a chance to move, let alone speak. When I finally came to my senses, I said to Mike, “I didn’t know they put mini-guns on Blackhawks.”
“Learn something new every day,” was his reply. He was obviously as surprised as I was at the response that the military had forwarded. A moment later, ground troops passed us and took the bank. Mike was listening to something on his earbud again, for a couple of minutes.
“I think we can send the boys home now,” I said.
“Yeah, and you better tell Karen that you’re headed with me to a meeting.”
“You are. We are required at Felts Field at seventeen-hundred hours.”
“Let me guess.”
“No need. Pacific Northwest Command is shuttling together the leadership in the region into meetings like this one. We’re being teleconferenced together with the Governor to talk about a Constitutional crisis.”
“Crisis?” I asked. “Heck. I’da called it a revolt.”