Monday, January 18, 2010
“Spokane to one eleven,” the County radio spoke, jarring me back to the present. I was revisiting the ancient past, and close held secrets.
“I thought you said…” Karen asked, referring to our enforced radio silence.
“I did. Hang on a sec.”
“One eleven, go.”
“Be advised, rendezvous at location four niner-two, twenty six minutes.”
“One eleven, out,” I said as I wrote down the message.
“What was that? Karen asked, hands covered with flour from kneading yet another batch of wheat rolls. Kelly and Marie were even more decorated, although they’d been in the kitchen for far less time. Libby was just coming up from the basement, with another stack of baking pans, for future batches of bread.
“Need to check my cheat sheet. It’s code….twenty-six minutes translates to four minutes. Six minus two, second digit of the ‘twenty’ is disregarded. Location translates to….house thirteen on the street—four plus nine--disregard the last number.” House thirteen is Ray Alden’s place, I thought.
“SO?” Karen and Libby asked in unison.
“Meeting at Ray Alden’s old house. Three minutes.”
“Ron’s up there now—He’s working on that water filter in the basement,” Libby reminded me.
“Good to have company. I’m sure our Army guard friends are all over it, too. Alan should be back up from Pauliano’s any time. Hon, when he stops in, can you let him know I’m up there?” I asked as I pulled on my new-to-me chore coat, and my stumpy shotgun.
“Any idea what this is about?” Karen asked.
“Nope. Don’t have time to guess,” I said as I gave her a quick kiss.
“Aye, ma’am,” I said as I headed out the front door, Buck wanting to come along.
Ray’s place was north of us a fair amount, and to make it on time, I hopped in the little Escape the Army had provided me and quickly drove up the road, round the permanent obstacles of black locust and green ash. One of the ‘odd’ looking Humvees was in Ray’s driveway. This version had a larger turtleback, and was a forest of antennae. I waved at two sentries and parked in the deeper snow in what used to be the front yard.
“Yo!” I said as I entered the living room, my door opened for me.
“Mr. Drummond, thank you for coming so promptly. I’m Roger Wilson. I contract with the communications geeks around here. Army, Air Force and Navy.”
“Nice to meet you,” I said as I shook his hand. He looked like he would have been a video-game champ a year ago….too thin, scraggly beard...
“I’m working with Northwest Command to ferret out the comm problems in this region. I see the cheat sheet that Major Cross provided worked OK.”
“Yep, no prob,” I said, taking my jacket off and finding a seat in a folding chair. I heard Ron rattling around down in the basement.
“We’re starting up, in about fifteen minutes, increased broadcasts from Metro communication to units stationed around the area. They’re bait. All county staff at those duty locations are now accompanied by a couple soldiers, and we have nine triangulation units dispersed right now in the Valley. We know where our own transmitters are, and when fake responses come in, we have enough overlap to box them into pretty small cages quickly. Fast response teams will then move in at opportune moments, after some observation on the ground of course, and neutralize the offending transmitters. That’ll probably happen during mid-shift, probably eighteen-hundred hours or later.”
“OK, you sound like you’ve done this before.”
“Yes, sir. I served six months behind the lines in Virginia, before the Feds decided they wanted to play both sides of the fence.”
“All right, what do you need from me?”
“We’d like you to read a statement we’ve prepared, calm down the public, reassure…”
I cut him off before he could finish. “Mr. Wilson, you may or may not know this, but I’ve made the last announcement prepared by anyone else but me. I did that right before the BS banking situation manifested itself, and it made me look like a damned idiot. I’m not doing that again.”
“OK, I guess I understand that. Do we at least have your permission to proceed?”
“Yep…as if you really need it. The sooner the better. We have work to do and the natives are gonna get restless. You find a quick way to end it, and a double shot of twenty year-old Scotch is yours.”
“I’ll take you up on that.”
“I’ll look forward to it. Question, though. Why are you here at this house? Why not just come up to my place?”
“We’d like to use this home as a base of operations for the foreseeable future. Pretty centrally located and non-descript. And decent security.”
“Sure, other than that pincushion Humvee that screams ‘communication vehicle’ out front,” Ron said as he came into the room, wiping his hands on a rag.
“Back atchya,” Ron said.
“Ron, you have occupants for this place yet?”
“Could, needed to go over the candidate list with you first. They’re ready though. Could put ‘em in Casey’s place.”
“OK. Roger, right?” he nodded. “Sorry. Memory’s not what it ought to be. You mind if I bring in some local talent?”
“What type of talent might that be?” he asked, cocking his head a little.
“We’ve got a friend of ours, active in the ham radio community. Frankly, I think he’d love to help out. Further, I think it’d be good for him. You mind?”
“Not a bit. I picked up this gig through my Dad’s hobby. Might be fun. Bring him in. More the better.”
“Ron, you got your hand-held on you?”
“Wife won’t let me out of the house without it.”
“Give her a call…” I said, before Wilson cut me off.
“No, sir. Just go get him when you have a chance. We’d prefer to keep operational security a little higher than a FRS broadcast over open frequencies.”
“That’s OK. Nobody got killed,” Wilson said. “This time.”
“We done here?” Ron asked. “I’ve got stuff to do.”
“Filters all set up?” I asked. Ron was rebuilding a slow-sand filter in the basement, in case our semi-reliable water system became less so.
“Yep. That’s an even dozen. Five more to go.”
“You’re the pro. That’s why you’ve got the assignment,” I said, rising to go and shaking Roger’s hand.
“Oh. I thought it was because I had a pulse.”
A few minutes later, Ron and I were unloading the tools of the day in the big shop next door to our place. Our neighbors hadn’t been heard of since the Domino, and it had only been in early August that I’d had the heart to even clean up the damage inside the building. Other than the early salvage operations in the house and boarding up the place after the quake, the house remained untouched.
The shop, split up into several bays, had been converted from auto restoration into an all-around workshop for work on ‘the block’. Salvaged tools ended up here, and most of our fabrication work, whatever that happened to include, was done here. The best improvement or adaptation, had been a wood-fired boiler that provided heat for the in-floor heating system. The far end of the shop housed most of the office equipment, salvaged from my company, that I didn’t have room (or use) for at present. Behind that, the wreckage of a little Model T speedster that belonged to the owner of the property, Pre-Domino.
“So what’s this big stack of stuff for?” I asked, looking at a fair-sized pile of already finished, good quality interior plywood and hardwood. Used and salvaged obviously, but in excellent shape.
“New cabinets in some of the neighborhood houses, if we ever get to it. Some of the pantries and supply storage areas are pathetic. Our place in particular.”
“Well, ours too from an organizational standpoint,” I said. Our basement storage room had never really been thought out. We just used it as it was when we moved in.
“That’s what your wife says, too. I think we’ll end up with six big shelf units out of this stuff. There’s more coming--hasn’t been delivered yet, obviously. We’re using your model that you used out in the barn, only enclosing some of them. Trying to modularize things.”
“Who’s the lucky carpenter?”
“We’re just doing the cutting here. Assembly’s going to be done in place. Sarah and John are going to do the slice and dice here, then building some units at her place, and two at ours.”
“Where’d they get all this stuff? You guys do some creative trading?”
“John did, yeah. This used to be the employee exercise room ceiling at AgriLending.”
I laughed a little, and felt a stitch in my side. “Nice to see that the exercise equipment for a mega-farm bank was housed in such nice surroundings.”
“You should see the conference room if you think this is good.”
“Do tell,” I said.
“Five kinds of wood, I have no idea what, inlaid in all the walls, along with what looks like a bronze strip.”
“What’d John trade?”
“Three downed Black Walnut trees, including stumps.”
“Gun stock material!”
“Where were the trees?”
“On the block west of his place, right across the street.”
“Sound like a fair trade to you?” I said, thinking that some nice looking plywood and other trim was much less valuable than the more rare walnut.
“He gets ten finished gunstocks out of the deal too, for whatever he wants them fitted to.”
“Well, then, I think that’s a fair trade! I wonder if I could buy one of those off of him….”
“I’m sure he’s open to negotiations. We done here?”
“Yep,” I said, shutting off the lights and locking the inner door.
“Let’s see what trouble we can stir up at home,” he said as we left the vestibule. It was snowing again.
“Dang snow,” I said, just as we heard the muffled sound of automatic weapons fire somewhere far south of us.
“Someone’s having a bad day,” Ron said.
“To say the least.” More gunfire, seemingly due west, more distant. Not an echo.
“Damn,” Ron said as we got back in the Ford and drove back home. “Sounds closer than I imagined it would be.”
“Me too,” I said, once again instinctively putting my hand on the butt of the .45 on my hip.
“Spokane to One Eleven,” the county radio across the table crackled, disturbing my study of Romans. I fumbled a bit for the headset. Karen and Kelly came in from the kitchen, where they were finishing cleaning up from dinner.
“One eleven,” I replied quietly. Karen moved to my side.
“Be advised, military announcement at nineteen-hundred hours, all active public radio frequencies, television stations, County frequencies and non-secure FRS and shortwave channels assigned to Pacific Northwest Command.”
“Understood. One eleven out.”
“One eleven,” the female voice responded.
“What’s up Daddy?” Kelly asked.
“I’m hoping, some good news for a change,” I said, getting up to warm up my cup of Earl Grey. “How bout you wake up your brother and make sure he hears this?” Carl went to bed right after dinner. He was coming down with a cold.
“Think it’s odd you didn’t hear anything from the guys up the street?” Karen asked, followed a moment later by a knock on the front door.
“Not anymore, no,” I said as I changed direction from the kitchen to the front door. Roger Wilson was shaking the snow off of his heavy wool greatcoat. Despite the Army’s earlier beliefs of quick restoration of ‘normal’ business operations and a limit of curfew to nighttime hours, we were now almost through a second day of lockdown.
“Mr. Drummond, I assume you’re ready for the next leg of the race,” Roger said as he came in, shaking my hand, all smiles.
“We’ll see, I guess. Roger, this is my wife Karen,” I said as they shook hands. “And my daughter Kelly and son Carl,” as they were coming into the room.
“Thanks. Nice to meet you all. I just wanted to say that the night shift will be taking over shortly, and to let you know how much I appreciate Mr. Watters joining us today. He’s quite a character.”
“That’s good to hear. His eyesight’s about gone, but he’s as sharp as a tack,” I said, then offering to take his coat.
“Can’t stay, thanks. He is at that. Showed me a thing or five, and not to brag about myself, that’s saying something.”
“Indulge me on what’s going on out there, if you would,” I asked. Roger then decided to shuck his coat after all. Kelly handed him a mug of tea.
“Thanks, young lady. Fast action teams, twelve of them, squad-sized, have been in action most of the day. Opposition was light to medium on most objectives. Really heavy at one location. Turned out to be the control point for the whole region. After that, secondary objectives bugged out. Left their gear.”
“So in English?” Karen asked. Roger looked a little lost for a reply.
“They didn’t destroy their radios. They didn’t burn their plain-text instructions. Didn’t burn their contact lists. Or schedules. Operational security and compartmentalization is apparently foreign to these people. That means we’re probably about done here. Every active transmitter has been eliminated. Brigade estimates that we have an eighty-percent kill.”
“The ones that bailed?” I asked. “How about them?”
“Disappeared into the crowd.”
“I believe a while back, over in Iraq, they called those kinds of people, ‘insurgents.’”
Roger replied, “Yep. We hunted them down over there, too. We’ll find them. It’s not like they’re making it hard.”
“Chances of repeat? You said, ‘active transmitters.’” I noticed Carl was looking on intently.
“There are almost certainly other hidden transmitters out there. Thing is, they’d have to be absolute idiots to try this again. We’ve got their playbook.”
“No more airplanes into skyscrapers,” I said.
“Right. It’s been done.”
“’Bout time for the broadcast, hon,” Karen said. “And Roger, here’s some apple pie. Have a seat there.”
He looked a little stunned. “Thank you VERY much, Mrs. Drummond.”
“Karen, please,” she said taking a seat next to mine. Kelly had the radio on, and was adjusting the volume and shushing us.
“Rog, have a seat. I assume you’re the author of tonight’s broadcast?”
“Only supporting cast. I leave the really big decisions to Division,” he said, taking a bite of warm pie, and savoring it as if he hadn’t had a pie in years. Maybe he hadn’t….
“Probably best that way,” I said. “The military sometimes has an uneven tolerance for civilians during a war.”
“Been there, done that,” Roger said, as he took another bite.
“Ditto,” I said quietly. Right on time, the announcement came on. We had the radio tuned to the TV band. We never thought to turn on the TV.
“This is Pacific Northwest Command with a special news broadcast. Today, combined units of Northwest Command and civilian law enforcement units eliminated numerous illegal Federal-backed transmitters throughout the region. These illegal transmitters have disrupted authorized communications and were used to disrupt law enforcement efforts, emergency response, and civilian news broadcasts, resulting in the deaths of numerous citizens of the region.
A number of Federal operatives running these transmitters were taken into custody during the operations while a greater number were killed after firing on Command troops.
Pacific Northwest Command expects to continue these operations in the coming days until all unauthorized transmitters operating on authorized frequencies, or anyone impersonating authorized broadcasters have been taken into custody or eliminated. Any problems with false radio communications, false news stories, or false broadcasts of any other nature will be immediately investigated and appropriate punitive action taken.
Given today’s operational success, Pacific Northwest Command is canceling the daytime curfew effective at seven a.m. tomorrow morning. All normal civilian businesses are expected to be open, as well as full municipal services.
A reminder to all citizens that official broadcasts happen only on 630 AM and 1510 AM at the top of each hour. Effective immediately, both of these stations will be returned to full-time operation.
This ends the special report. We will now return to regular programming.”
“There ya go,” Roger said.
“Well, maybe,” I replied.
“So, Dad, school tomorrow?” Carl asked through a yawn.
“Should be, but maybe not for you. See how you feel tomorrow.”
“’K. I’m back to bed. Nice to meet you Mr. Wilson.”
“You too. Rest up.”
Karen and Kelly cleared the dishes and then packed up another pie for Alan and Mary and the kids. “I’m going to run this over to Mom’s, hon. Be back in an hour,” Karen said. “Roger, nice to meet you.”
“You too, ma’am.”
“So formal. Karen, remember?”
“I’ll remember now.”
“Hey, don’t forget to take the dogs with you,” I said.
“I will, but John’s here too.”
“Pays to have hired muscle. Watch him though, he’ll kipe a piece of that pie.”
“Doesn’t have to. Sarah made him one this afternoon.”
“Like that’ll stop him,” I said giving her a quick kiss. “Watch your step out there. We haven’t plowed out the path lately.”
“I’ve noticed,” she said as she opened the back door.
“Roger, I think it’s time for that Scotch.”
“That doesn’t normally go with apple pie, but I’ll certainly make an exception.”
“Oban OK?” I asked, taking a bottle from the locked buffet cabinet.
“Sure, but that’s not twenty years old. Fourteen.”
“Well, you know a little bit about Scotch. Not this one, though. Thirty-two years old. Pre-Domino, this was a four-hundred dollar bottle of Scotch.”
“You must’ve done well, Pre-War.”
“Oh, I got this back in July. A little barter creativity.”
Roger sat there looking at me as I poured two fingers of the precious liquid in cut-glass crystal glasses.
“What, exactly did you have to trade to get this?” he asked, looking at the golden liquor.
“I’m not at liberty to say, sorry.” I replied.
“I hope it was worth it, whatever it was.”
“It was,” I responded. “Slaandjivaa!” I said as I took a sip, enjoying the smooth warmth.
“What was the toast? I mean, language.” Roger asked, after taking a sip himself.
“’To your health.’ Scots gaelic.”
“Then I’d counter with, ‘to our freedom.’”
We talked for a few minutes before the conversation found its’ way back to the broadcast and the meanings of the days’ work.
“I think we’ll be done quickly. Ten days, tops,” Roger replied to my questioning his progress, holding the glass in both hands, leaning forward toward the woodstove. In reality, my question was more an attempt to sound the depth of his understanding of the wider picture.
“That’s all well and good to think that, Roger, but don’t you think it was a little easy?”
“What do you mean? They did shoot back after all,” the young man replied.
“Too easy, Roger.”
“OK, I’m not dense, but I do not understand where you’re going with this.”
“They’ve played with our comms for what, two, three days? Your guys took them down in what, a day?” I said, stretching my back a little before I went on. “Rog, you’ve never heard of Frank Mikkelson. Guy I knew in a previous life. He made us memorize what are known these days as Murphy’s Laws of Combat. Saved my ass more than once in a very short period of time. Get a pen and paper out.”
“Uh, OK,” Roger said, fishing out a little pad and a technical pencil out of his shirt.
“Good. Here you go,” I said and then paused, remembering a million years ago in North Carolina, and an eternity of weeks I spent there. “Number One: If the enemy is in range, so are you.”
“No, not ‘of course.’ Do not take anything for granted, ever. Number Two: Incoming fire has the right of way.”
“Meaning keep your head down or get it blown off. Time your team response to minimize casualties,” I said. “It’s not as easy as it sounds. None of this is. Number Three: Don’t look conspicuous. It draws fire.”
“No, not ‘sure.’ In too many situations just looking like you’re in charge will put a target reticle on your chest or head. Don’t get in those situations.”
I was starting to get through to him. “Number Four: There is always a way. Followed by Number Five: The easy way is mined.”
He wrote that down and paused.
“Now you see where I’m going?”
“Beginning to, yes.”
“Good. Number Six: Try to look unimportant, they may be low on ammo. A corollary is that they are picking their target in their own time, and the merest hint that you are ‘the man’ just got you killed.”
Wilson continued to write.
“Number Seven: Professionals are predictable, it's the amateurs that are dangerous…”
“Are you? Are you dealing with professionals or with amateurs? You said earlier that they blew off all normal protocols for destroying their gear, their playbooks, all of it. Are you SURE you’re dealing with amateurs?”
“You’re making me think otherwise.”
“Good. I’m not even to the one that drives it home yet. About that gear you seized. You sure it’s clean? No explosives? No bugs that they’re now using to listen in on OUR communications without us knowing about it?”
Wilson paused. “I don’t think so.”
“Better find out. Number Eight: The enemy invariably attacks on two occasions: when you're ready for them and when you're not. You might be getting played right now. You’ve exposed your mechanism for dealing with this communications interruption. You have to assume that they will now react in a manner that you’re unprepared to deal with. Do not fall into the trap that an attack will be conventional.”
“We hadn’t considered….”
“That’s an easy thing to do…the excitement of a solution, even if the solution is wrong but seems right, can overcome good judgment. Number Nine: Teamwork is essential, it gives them someone else to shoot at.”
Roger was writing again. I felt like I was not the one who should have been schooling this young man. Distinctly out of place. My mind felt sharp though, for the first time in months.
“Number Ten: If you can't remember, then the claymore is pointed at you. In your case, I’m not sure how that might apply. In most cases though, I’d say that if you’ve set a trap, make sure you’re not the one caught up in it. I have some experience with that one.”
Roger wrote without comment.
“Number Eleven: The enemy diversion you have been ignoring will be the main attack. You may consider that statement in light of the current situation.”
“Number Twelve. If your attack is going well, you have walked into an ambush.”
“Get my point?”
“Good. Don’t ever make the mistake of believing that you’ve defeated the enemy until they are dead and in the ground. And I mean all of them. If they’re not ambient temperature, then they remain a threat.”
Roger was mulling all of this over. I had succeeded in making him feel distinctly uncomfortable about the ease of the days’ success.
“You know Roger, that successful battles don’t win wars. We’ve seen the treachery that the organization passing themselves off as the Federal Government can descend to. They’re not going to be defeated this quickly or this easily. Not by a long shot. Consider this the scouting mission. One more rule for you: Drawing ‘point’ equals dead.”