Wednesday, February 24, 2010
“Coffee’s on the table, Daddy,” Kelly said as I came downstairs. Karen was working in the kitchen, making something with a wonderful aroma.
“Thanks, Babe. And what are you doing up so early?” I asked, as she looked over my digital camo uniform, with mixed approval.
“Figured I better so I can see you before you take off tomorrow.”
“Saving up then,” I said.
“Sort of, yeah. Carl’s downstairs—he’s getting some stuff put together for you before you go—don’t let him know that I told you that though.”
“Surprise for me, huh?”
“Care package in advance, Mom said.”
“Nice. I’ll appreciate that I’m sure.”
“Is it true what they’re saying on TV about the soldiers?”
“I don’t know. I haven’t seen it,” I said, being technically correct, as Carl came into the room.
“They said that fifty thousand died in Colorado,” Karen said, interrupting, before I gave her another good morning kiss. “That was on the national news.”
There wasn’t much point in denying it. “True. The number is fifty-three thousand two hundred and six, or so I was told. More than were lost in Gettysburg on both sides.”
“And you’re going into that?” Kelly said.
“Actually, and I’m breaking rules here, Third Washington is going to bring those men and women home. We’re tasked with setting up and recovery.”
“How close to the fighting?” Kelly asked.
“Honest answer, no idea. It’ll be farther east of us, I’m certain. Not sure how far,” I replied. “We are not a front line unit. We’re support.”
“Sure, and we live in a safe suburb,” Karen said.
“Honey, I will try to be as safe as I can within reason. I will also keep my men as safe as I can within reason,” I said. “You know what it’s like out there now, all three of you. Nothing is sure, nothing is secure. We’re on permanent Condition Yellow all the time, and half the time on Condition Red. Maybe someday we’ll go back to Green. I know that if we don’t win this war though, if attacks like this continue, things will go downhill from where we are now to someplace just this side of Hell on Earth. Stuff I’ve read about the Statists would turn your stomach.”
I picked up my coffee, and Karen went into the kitchen, returning with a platter of pancakes. Carl brought out a pitcher of milk.
“Raspberry pancakes. Thought you might like these,” Karen said. “Sorry for the tone,” she said quietly.
“I think you’re justified. And I’m a little surprised you’re holding up so well with all this, and your Mom on top of it all.”
“Resignation. I can’t make you stay. I can’t do that much for Mom.”
“Getting her close by, and into a situation where she has the right amount of care is much more than you might think,” I said. “C’mon, you all sit down here and have breakfast. There’s no way I’m eating all of this,” I said. “And Mike’ll be here any time.”
“OK,” the kids said in response.
“Now listen up, and listen good,” I said, putting some butter on the hot pancakes. “I’m going to do what I need to do. I’m doing it because they asked me to, and given what we know today, I’d be more than half-tempted to volunteer anyway. I do this to try to keep that evil from coming here. Stop it now. Ron and Alan feel the same way, but they’re probably more important here than in a uniform just to keep things running. A whole lot more men and women are going to get drafted. Service is going to be compulsory. People are in this for good versus evil now, and I think they’re finally starting to realize the stakes involved.”
None of them said anything. “I can’t remember who said this, or something to this effect: ‘Let the troubles come in my time, rather than in the time of my children.’ Well, the troubles are here. You’ll see them for quite some time. Maybe your children will be free of them.”
They finally dug into breakfast, the radio broadcast and interviews droning on in the background. Yet another curfew notice repeated, as the dogs stirred and went to the door, knowing it was someone friendly on the other side. I finished my last bite of pancake as Carl got up to unlock the door, finding Alan on the other side.
“Well, good morning!” I said as both dogs sniffed him up and down, and Karen gave him a hug.
“Back atchya. Big day today, huh?” he said as I shook his hand, noticing the fresh snow on his coat sleeve.
“Meet the troops, check out the gear, put on a show.”
“You know your guys are all over TV today, right?” Alan asked.
“Uh, no,” I said. “I haven’t had it on.”
“Crew’s over at Yardley with some PR flack from the Army.”
“Nice operational security we have going,” I said.
“Well, things change,” he said, turning on the television. The big former Burlington Northern locomotives were in the background, behind the talking head.
“This looks like a repeat from a few minutes ago,” Alan said.
Sure enough, the reporter said that this was Third Washington’s outbound train, heading east for ‘the War Zone,’ they were calling it.
“Now, let me ask, what are you doing up so early?” I said to Alan. “Curfew’s still on, right?”
“Your Army boys down the street asked the Metro stores to be open at six, closed by noon.”
“All of the stores?”
“Yep. The corporal said that by having the stores open early, and closing early, they’d probably throw off the troublemakers.”
“Sure, they’re probably still in bed. That’ll work until they get used to a new schedule.”
“Right, unless the Army…or Guard, or whoever is running the show, constantly changes the schedule,” Alan said.
“Sounds like something you’d find in Russia. ‘Trains are always on time’ and all.”
“Well they were, since the schedules were never set,” he said with a little grin.
“And I need one more thing, before you head out,” Alan said.
“I need you to read this through sometime today. It’s a proposal to set up a private bank,” he said as he handed me a thick envelope.
“Whose idea is this?” I asked. “And why me?”
“You’d be the primary investor for one thing. As in supplier of physical capital. Ron and I’ve looked at it, it seems to make sense. And, it came from Dan O’Malley.”
“I won’t find the words, ‘fractional reserve banking’ in here, will I? Or ‘fiat currency?”
“You won’t find anything in there that resembles any bank that has operated in the last fifty years, that I know of anyway. As a stockholder you’d get a portion of crops, product, whatever, is being produced with invested capital.”
“When did you have the time to look this over? Why didn’t you bring this up last night?”
“Got it yesterday at lunch. Honestly, we both forgot about it. Too much on our plates. Same thing today, with the store and work next door.”
“I’ll see what I can do,” I said. “Breakfast?”
“Already had some. Just wanted to drop that off.”
“One more thing. This curfew and getting the Woolsley’s house done. How’re you going to manage that? How’re you going to get the labor here?”
“Bribes. Works just fine, not too expensive.”
“Careful with that.”
“They’re just the post down the street—and all the labor’s within walking distance anyway. Tools are plenty, materials are a problem, but not enough to keep us from making do.”
“Right man for the job,” I said. “Just be careful.”
Mike showed up just after Alan left in the old, ethanol powered Ford pickup. We’d picked up another couple inches of snow overnight. It was still coming down, now like light feathers in the still morning.
“Spring in your step today, Colonel,” I said as I invited him inside.
“It is a lovely morning,” Mike said, sharing the inside joke. “Good morning, Karen.”
“Morning, Mike. Everything OK?” she asked, a little suspicious of his broad smile, as the kids said their good mornings.
“Just fine, thanks. Ashley said that she’d take you up on your offer for the baby clothes when you get a chance.”
“Thanks. Figured she could use them,” Karen said. “Here’s a couple travel mugs of tea. Sorry, coffee’s all but gone.”
“Much appreciated, thank you.”
“When did you talk with Ashley?” I asked.
“Yesterday. Phone, remember?” she said, holding up the cell phone.
“Yeah. Right. I remember phones….they used to interrupt me at all hours.”
“And shrink the world,” Mike said.
“That too,” I said.
“As much as ever,” I said before turning to Karen and the kids. “See you this afternoon. Should be home around five.”
“We’ll be ready for you,” Karen said as she gave me a fairly intense kiss. There was something she wasn’t telling me, but I didn’t want to pry.
“You two,” I said to Carl and Kelly, who were expecting orders, “Go easy on your Mom.” With a hug, I grabbed my day bag and hit the door.
“See you tonight.”
On the way out to Yardley, we were stuck, oddly enough, waiting for a train to pass moving all of a mile an hour, and it was probably a mile long.
“Good thing we’re early,” Mike said.
“That ‘drop in and surprise the troops’ tactic isn’t exactly going to work at this rate.”
We had a good chance to talk about how we landed where we were now, covering a wide swath of the past decade.
“….no, I didn’t vote for him. I voted my conscience,” I said. “Thought you knew that.”
“Figured you voted the party line.”
“I haven’t really believed that there were differences between the two in almost ten years. I mean look at what we’ve had in the last few years. The worst of Chicago politics. One termer booted out along with all his minions, but not before the damage had been done. Pendulum swung too far the other way, with that joke of a Texas cowboy, trying to resurrect the glory of Imperial America, a lot of patriotism and spending more money we don’t have, obviously didn’t learn a damned thing from his predecessor’s mistakes. We lose him to the flu, end up with a phony conservative who’s actually a fascist.”
“Can’t really argue with any of that,” Mike said, with a bit of a chuckle.
“The facts are self evident, unfortunately,” I said. “You know, I hope one day when we’re on the other end of this, we can sit on the front porch as old men, with grandkids on our knees, and tell them how screwed up things really were before the War.”
“You think this can be taken care of in a generation? I mean, undoing the brainwashing?”
“At least there are still some of us that realize that we’ve had that for the two generations ahead of us, and that there actually can be something better,” I said, not saying, ‘if we win.’
“Rick, the depth of belief in what is not real, or what wasn’t real, looking back on it now that it’s gone, is just astounding,” he said.
“No argument. There were just damned few of us before the War that knew it and we were all looked on like we were Grade A chrome plated nut jobs. I felt like one more than once, too, bringing home a case or two of ammunition, storing it, building lists of things, for the ‘just in case.’”
“You weren’t a conspiracy theorist, though, or at least I don’t think you were,” Mike said.
“No, Sheriff, I was not. Maybe I ought of have been. You look back at the way that debt went from evil to being marketed as something that you had to have to be one of the successful people, you know, ‘take that vacation, you deserve it! That home equity, it’s just sitting there! Put it to work for you! That new boat! It can be yours! The cancer spread of course across anything financial with insurance companies getting into banking, mortgage companies buying off underwriters and selling class C junk as AAA bonds. Banks getting into everything, convincing the public that they deserved that new house that they couldn’t afford, that new boat, convincing us that our home equity was just a wasted bank account, and since everything was intertwined, put at risk and collapsed when the fat lady sang.’”
“Pack of lies.”
“Sure it was. But it was an exceptionally well marketed pack of lies, that’s what made it successful. And the financiers loved every minute of it. Think, a population too stupid to figure out what the meanings of ‘assets,’ ‘liabilities’ and ‘equity’ really mean. They voted for bread and circuses and bankrupted us all.”
“You’re doing OK,” he said, looking at me with a bit of envy.
“Through little fault of my own. I mean, I had some money in the markets, sure. My brother saved our asses. Not just mine, but all of our brothers—through bailing us from equities into physical commodities, silver and gold, as things came unspooled. If I’d put enough thought into things, I would have done that myself at far earlier and better prices than he ended up paying, and had way more than I do now,” I said. “Now let me ask you something, you don’t have to answer. How are you and Ash doing financially? You doing OK?”
“We’re doing all right. Things get tight from time to time. We have a load of credits at the Metro commissary, but that doesn’t cover everything. It’s not like they have anything anyway.”
“You know if you need anything, you just ask. Or, if you don’t ask, I’ll make sure that an anonymous donation ends up in your lap.”
“Rick, we’re doing fine.”
“Mike, I have, well, the Drummond-Martin-Bauer group has accumulated a fair amount of working capital. We loan out some, start businesses…”
“I know,” he said before I cut him off.
“Mike, we’re really not in any of this to make out like bandits. Fact is, we just break even. Money we earn over and above what we need to keep up the place and try to keep stocks up gets plowed back into something else. It’s an unorthodox way to invest, but it’s investing in the people and the enterprise, rather than in the machine of making money for money’s sake.”
Mike was quiet for a moment. “Let me ask a stupid question.”
“Perfectly all right. I’ve heard you ask plenty in your time,” I said with a laugh, “Like, your bachelor party. You asked that dancer, ‘Are those real?’ and she answered,”
“’Real expensive,’ I remember that part of the night.” Mike said, a little smile on his face. “Rick, you could’ve ended up owning this city with the money you have. Why haven’t you gone down that road, even a little bit?”
“Simple, although it sounds simple minded. I’m not wired that way. I have more than I need now. There’s a whole lotta folks that would think that I’m an idiot for doing what we’re doing,” I said. “Mike, I’ve seen what twenty dollars can do in places where two hundred dollars is a years wage. Miracles. Changes peoples’ lives. They have reason to work, employ others, grow, change economies, make their villages and towns better. Gives them hope. Money’s just a tool, a store of labor. We’re just using the toolbox.”
“In the old days, we had an abandonment of reason, from what was good and honest and wise, to latch onto whatever passing financial fad came through. Remember the price to earnings ratios that were double or triple digits to one? How many people really realized that you paid two hundred dollars, in the case of the triple digit P/E, to earn ONE dollar of earnings? How stupid were we?”
“Your words, ‘self evident.’ We’re sitting on the edge of a civil war, caused by the financiers.”
“Yep, and their greed for more,” I said, seeing the trailing car of the train approach. “Last car, finally.”
“Good thing, this tea’s starting to freeze up.”
“I thought this had a heater?”
“Occasionally, it does. I’m not sure what it takes to get the magic back to run the fan.”
We pulled ahead, getting into the queue for the Yardley train yard, where dozens of light towers lit up the yard like a circus. It had to be the brightest place in town.
“So what’re you ordered over here for?”
“Same as you, more or less. Except we’re on the next train behind you. We’ll leapfrog you at some point. You have a chance to read the operational plan for deployment?”
“That which wasn’t Greek. Why in God’s name does the Army insist acronyms when words suffice?”
“Question for the ages,” he said, finally getting the move-ahead to the vehicle search and storage lot. We’d be afoot from there on in.
“Any idea where I’m supposed to go?” I asked.
“Building Twenty-one sixty. Over there,” he pointed as we parked the Humvee, under the watchful eye of a body-armored soldier.
The deployment plan was to stage a series of trains, like our own, which were being constructed and assembled by the small army of yard workers, running twenty-four seven. Hundreds of transport containers had been converted already, more transport railcars than I’d ever seen collected in Yardley, being loaded by the yard cranes and the self-loaders. We would advance along the cleared lines east, and we’d determine on the fly where the Brigade would stage for ‘recovery’ of the civilian areas.
That plan of course would be after the initial push to Sixth Army. My late-night reading showed that our first train would have about half the brigade aboard, followed immediately by the remaining men and gear. Both trains would carry thousands of body bags and remains transport cases. A third train would carry still more cases. It would take all three trains to provide enough transport ability to return Sixth Army to a to-be-determined final resting place.
“Don’t forget your gear bag,” Mike said. “Hate to have a newly minted Colonel have to beg for a pad and pencil.”
“That’s what supply sergeants are for. See you for lunch?”
“Sure. Warning though stay away from the stew. I hear it’s mixed meats.”
“Good to know.” Mixed meats could mean almost anything.