Friday, December 17, 2010
Doug heard keys in the front door, startling him. He realized first that he had no way to defend himself—the little .32 was in the bedroom, and then that only one other person had keys to his apartment: Cammie.
He turned the hallway light on as the door opened. He was caught without anything to say, so he improvised.
“Well, about time you made it back!” he said with some humor as she came into the hallway.
“We were late,” Camille said. “I came to pick up a few things, if that’s OK,” she said vacantly.
“Sure. Can I get you anything?”
“No, thank you. I have an early meeting tomorrow and need to get some sleep,” she said as she made a beeline to the bedroom. Doug noticed that she had an empty overnight bag slung over her shoulder as he followed her in.
“Everything OK?” he asked.
“Yes,” she said. Doug knew that she never said ‘yes.’ It was always, ‘yeah,’ followed by a long description on why things were not OK, and it always included a glass of chardonnay. Doug had learned to just listen and pour a refill. She opened the two drawers she had devoted to her things, emptied both into the bag, and zipped it closed without a word.
“Cam, what’s going on?” Doug said. “What’s wrong? Did I do something?”
“No. I’m fine,” she said, walking past him back into the hallway. Doug noticed that her eyes seemed slightly more dilated than normal…almost, vacant.
“Can I call you tomorrow?” he asked as she opened the door.
“Sure,” she said, walking outside to her older Mercedes SLK roadster, another part of her belief in signature-possession-as-lifestyle.
‘She didn’t even look back,’ Doug thought to himself, feeling both a little brokenhearted and baffled at what had just happened.
He went into the bedroom to shut off the light, and noticed she’d left the key to the townhouse on the dresser.
“Well, just damn,” he said, looking at the key and the fancy little key-fob he’d given her. He remembered the day he picked it up on Jeweler’s Row on Wabash, just off of State Street. He remembered how he thought that it suited her perfectly the moment he saw it.
Doug finished a cup of now-cool tea, and picked up the phone.
“Julie Forsythe,” she answered.
“Hi, Julie. Doug Peterson.”
She paused a moment before responding. “Uh, hi Doug.”
“Cammie was here a few minutes ago.”
“Seriously? I thought she was headed straight to bed.”
“Well, maybe that’s what she said. She showed up in her Mercedes, unlocked the door, said about three words, cleaned out her things, left the key, and left.”
“No, but I suspect I will be,” he said. “I didn’t recognize that person. I don’t understand.”
“I don’t either,” Julie said.
“She made some excuse about a big meeting tomorrow, and said she couldn’t stay. It seemed she was making an excuse to not stay.”
“There is a meeting, but she’s not in it. I cleared her schedule for the week and gave her the rest of the week off,” Julie said. “Doug, if she doesn’t return to her, uh, normal self, the club will let her go for certain. I’ll have to fire her.”
“I understand. Not sure how she’ll deal with that, but I guess that’s not something that I’ll be involved with.”
“Doug, I’m really sorry about all of this,” Julie said, obviously being honest and sympathetic.
“Thanks. I appreciate it. Are you doing OK with all this mess? I don’t mean Cammie—the financial thing.”
“Plenty of uncertainty to go around,” she said, not really answering the question.
“If you need anything, give me a call, OK?” Doug said. “I kinda stocked up on some things,” he explained. “Even sold my Acura and bought a pickup.”
“Doug, where do you plan on going when it’s time to go?” Julie asked matter-of-factly.
He didn’t know what to say. ‘She said, ‘when’ it’s time to go.’ Doug just said what came to mind. “Julie, I have no idea to be honest. A friend of mine has already left the city, and warned me that I ought to go too; along with anybody that had any common sense. He’s on the west end of North Dakota now, with his ex-wife and kids.”
“Can I call you tomorrow, Doug?” Julie replied.
“Sure. I’ll be here.”
“We’ll talk then. I have a meeting at ten. I’ll call after that’s over. OK?”
“Sure, Julie. Talk to you then. Goodnight,” he said.
“’Night, Doug,” she said and then ended the call. Doug thought she was smiling.
“Huh,” he said to the furniture. “Wonder what that was all about?”
Doug was up without an alarm, a rare event. He’d reviewed his background information on Regent before fading off to sleep, and managed to dream about it most of the night. This morning thankfully, there was no smoke or foul odor present.
He’d spent a fair amount of the morning on the computer, using stored files on the hard drive to map out potential areas for his relocation. Without internet-based maps and satellite imagery, he quickly found himself greatly hindered. The cable Internet was still out; television with it. For a few minutes, he was able to connect to an open network a block away, and he downloaded his email for later reading. He had more than thirty emails to finish, after the junk was tossed. The few that he’d read included a couple from former co-workers at Leinhardt that had written him; a series of emails from Raleigh that had a pleading tone regarding his decision to remove his funds from their oversight; and one from Regent Performance.
The Regent email included a non-disclosure agreement that needed to be completed and submitted before the rest of the email could be read, complete with code-key. Doug had never seen anything like it at this stage of the process.
He completed the non-disclosure, and then tried a half-dozen times to connect to the wireless network before finally succeeding. The authorization key was submitted back, and Doug could then finish reading the Regent email.
Mr. Peterson: Regent Delta—a task force within Regent Performance Group--is currently working on confidential and classified assignments for high-value clientele. Regent Delta’s Nutritional Enhancement Workgroup is considering you for heading up the integration of current and proposed nutritional supplements into existing regional and national distribution networks.
These introductions will require end-user testing on a fairly widespread basis. Other Regent teams will be conducting market reaction to the various Regent products, with necessary refinements and re-introduction of the final products to the end-users.
This position requires travel throughout Regent territory and direct reporting to Regent upper management, outside the traditional Regent chain of command. Given the nature of the assignment, the position will not have an assigned fixed base location. Equipment and accounts for a home-office location will be provided. Your current location in Chicago, as an airline hub city fits the requirements of Regent, although alternate arrangements can be considered. Compensation is negotiable of course. I look forward to discussing this opportunity this coming Thursday---
Doug was quite intrigued by the email and the proposed assignment. His former job was generally predictable, with established distribution contacts, routes, and suppliers. He knew which restaurant or grocery store chain would need what and when; where to get it; how to get it there; and how to make enough money for the corporation to make it work. He’d worked with every major food producing corporation in North America, which these days included nothing but multi-national corps. None based in the States, although their brands sounded American enough. It could get boring though, working with equipment suppliers and meat and produce brokers; specialty suppliers always trying to foist their latest pre-made food creation on the restaurant market. The corporations were the worst though; they didn’t negotiate, they didn’t need to.
This opportunity sounded interesting on all levels. Living through the long economic slide that eventually cost him his pre-planned career, Doug realized that this opportunity was really a future-changer. ‘Delta’ sounded like a tactical team that Regent used to explore future opportunities, and if this worked out, he might be on a path to corporate, rather than sales. A whole different universe…..
Doug was brought out of the possible future as the lights flickered and then went out. The mid-day light was instantly inadequate in the townhouse. His laptop kicked over to battery power, keeping the email up on the screen. Doug saved the document to the drive and put the computer to sleep. Almost as an afterthought, he disconnected the power cord—if there were a power surge when the power came back on, it could fry the computer.
Without power, Doug’s news-source was gone with the shutdown home theater receiver and the cheap radio plugged into it. He disconnected the radio lead into the theater receiver, added batteries, and it came back to life. As the townhouse grew colder, Doug layered up with a sweatshirt, and quickly added thermal long johns and heavier socks.
Two hours later, the power came back on, and the furnace ran for an hour to warm the place. No explanation on the radio of the blackout at all. Doug tried calling Julie’s cell phone, but it went straight to voicemail. Her meeting should have been long over; maybe she just didn’t want to talk to him.
When the power came back on, Doug plugged the radio back into the home theater, and was greeted with an announcement from the public safety department, strongly ‘encouraging residents to stay indoors after dark due to increased criminal activity.’
With the budget cuts that all of the local agencies had seen as a way to deal with the economic slump, police, fire and emergency services were stretched thin on good days. Oddly enough, other departments never seemed to see cuts anywhere near as big as the cops and firemen, and the union leaders always seemed to stay the same, and were always employed.
When extended unemployment benefits began to run out months before, property crimes began to increase, and then skyrocket. People who were once law-abiding citizens, more or less, grew desperate enough put those civilized boundaries behind them. The police ceased to respond to property crimes, except in the cases of home invasions or when witnesses could reasonably identify the perps.
Violent crime began to really increase just a month before, just weeks after the last of the Federally funded unemployment checks arrived. People that had been out of work for more than a year weren’t regarded by prospective employers as good risks, in spite of good employment histories before their current misfortune. Their options were exhausted; in many cases their former lives taken from them; they were now reduced to predatory behavior.
The patterns of crime were well known by police and emergency services; generally radiating outward from the residences of those committing the crimes. In lower crime areas, the targets could be much closer, as the criminals didn’t care if they preyed on their neighbors or not, or perhaps weren’t even aware of their location due to drugs or whatever. Mostly though, the criminals worked ‘outside’ of their home neighborhoods, stealing from those a little further away, usually in circular patterns around their homes. Chances were, many reasoned, they wouldn’t be recognized just out of their own neighborhood, and their home turf was close by, where they could blend in and alibis were easy to come by. With enough time and resources, the police could have generally pinpointed the likely ‘home ground’ of the people committing the crimes. Without time or resources, the police could only react. With too many crimes to react to, the police could only react to the most violent or ‘important’ according to their superiors.
In the lower income or lowest income areas, the story was completely different. Human trafficking, extremely violent crimes and open criminal activity were everyday and routine occurrences, and almost always beyond the ability of the local police to respond in a meaningful way. As the easy money of unemployment, based on legit or forged claim forms, dried up, the predators went further afield as opportunities allowed and targets appeared.
The malignancy of violent crime was growing quickly. People that thought themselves ‘safe’ because of where they lived were now learning otherwise.
Doug was making dinner, with the radio news providing unwanted background noise…unwanted in content. He’d been thinking about trying again to call Julie, but decided against it.
Prices were climbing constantly, with the local talk show host inadvertently fueling the fire by telling Chicagoland of basic staples costing double what they might have a few days before. Coffee was unavailable in many stores, and callers were told where items of many kinds could be found for sale….creating a run on that store. Both gasoline and milk topped six dollars a gallon; steak was pushing twelve dollars a pound. Bread was five dollars a loaf; potatoes three dollars a pound; eggs almost seven dollars a dozen. Canned food was long gone. Doug was now better off than he was a few days before, but with no one to ‘watch his back’, he was wondering how long he could stay in Elmhurst with the rising crime. Three murders within six blocks in the past two days; daylight armed robberies….he stared into the thick soup warming on the stove, wondering how he got to this point in life. How Chicago was coming to this…
He heard his cell phone ring in the next room, and left the soup to warm. The caller I.D. read ‘Grace Hospital.’ He answered immediately.
“Mister Peterson, this is Cindy Wright at Grace Hospital. I’m calling on behalf of Julie Forsythe.”
“Has something happened? Is she OK?”
“She’s in surgery at the moment, Mr. Peterson. She was admitted about forty-five minutes ago. She was assaulted. I have your number on a contact list. We were not able to get in touch with any immediate family members who are also on the list though.”
“Good God. I’ll be there as soon as I can. Is she going to be OK?”
“I’m sorry sir, I don’t know the answer to that.”
“I’m on my way,” Doug said.
“Thank you, sir. Please go to the Patient Information desk on the first floor of the surgical wing.”
“Thanks,” Doug said, ended the call, shut off the stove and headed to the garage.
At twenty after seven, Doug pulled into the parking lot at Grace Hospital, two security guards standing watch at the parking lot entry; one carrying a shotgun. Traffic and roadblocks had cost him a solid hour of extra drive time.
“Jesus. Here too,” Doug said to himself as another guard directed to a parking stall, far away from the building. Doug shut the truck off and climbed out.
“Sir, may we look in your pickup?” a fourth guard asked. Doug saw he was carrying a huge flashlight.
“Sure. It’s empty. Let me get the canopy open.”
“Please step away from the truck if you would sir. We can see in through the windows.”
“What the Hell is going on?” Doug said as the monster flashlight temporarily blinded him. ‘It had to be one of those two million candlepower lights,’ he thought. ‘So much for my night vision.’
“One of the hospitals was robbed by a gang that came into the parking lot in a pickup with a camper. Cleaned out the pharmacy, killed two guards, two nurses and three civilians,” one of the older guards said, not taking his eyes off of Doug.
“Go for it. I have a friend inside in surgery. That’s the only reason I’m here.”
“He’s clear, Sarge.”
“Thanks,” Doug said. “You guys know which way to the surgical wing?”
“To the left there, about a hundred feet,” the older guard said.
“Thanks,” Doug replied, walking as quickly as he could on the ice.
Inside, the patient counselor talked with Doug for a few minutes, giving him an overview of her injuries. She had a pneumothorax—punctured lung—and a broken rib, a concussion, numerous contusions, and was suffering from hypothermia. She had apparently been attacked in the morning on the way to her car. It was luck that she’d been found by a neighbor, who found her in a snowbank where she’d been dragged. To the police, the motive appeared to have started at simple robbery, but her apartment had been ransacked as well.
Doug provided the counselor his contact information, and he in exchange, was given the contact numbers for Julie’s brother, Peter and his wife Molly. He remembered that if her brother had done as he said he would, the ‘home’ number would go unanswered—they were on the way to his spouse’s family farm in Iowa. The other number was her brother’s cell number. The hospital had tried it twice and left voice mail. Doug left a message as well.
The surgical waiting room was full of people, probably families and friends of patients, speaking in hushed voices, stress thick in the air. Extra chairs in the hallway outside were clustered together, where other small groups sat, some praying, some in tears. He’d never seen anything like this.
Doug busied himself by making a fresh pot of coffee, making small talk with some of the other people waiting, and wondering what to do next. His interview was less than twenty-four hours away; he’d hoped for a good nights’ sleep, but that probably wouldn’t happen. More curves thrown his way….