Friday, December 31, 2010
Doug was looking at four long ballistic nylon bags nestled inside plywood-framed boxes, fitted between the floor joists.
“They slide out from that end,” Julie pointed. “The first bag is roped to a second. Eight total,” she said. “They’re heavy.”
“Damned right they are,” Doug said as he lugged the first bag out. “What’s in these?”
“Let’s get them out of here and go. We’ll talk on the way,” Julie said.
“This isn’t drugs, is it?”
“Most certainly not!” Julie said. “I’ll go back downstairs. Once you get those out of the floor, you can cut the tie rope with a knife in the front pocket of the first bag on the left,” she said. “Then get them loaded and we can go.”
It took Doug another few minutes to get the bags separated and then moved to the truck. Each bag was fully packed; two of them seemed to have hard-shell cases inside, three feet long or so, and a few inches thick. The remaining contents seemed to be in bags, and their contents could be moved around a little. After the last bag was loaded, Doug tossed some of the clothing over them and shut the tailgate, ineffective camouflage at best. Julie was reclined again in the passenger seat, but was scanning the street, her brown eyes perfectly sharp.
“We need to go. There are people to the north coming this way. Not friendly looking,” she said.
Doug gunned the engine and took off, steering around some junk in the road as he headed south, then west. A full minute passed before he asked the question.
“Just what the Hell is all that stuff?”
“Food. Medical supplies. High-performance clothing. Two M-4 carbines and around sixty pounds of ammunition in loaded magazines. Four forty-five caliber Glocks and twenty pounds of ammo. One modified twelve-gauge shotgun and a hundred twenty shells. Some gold, some silver, some cash.”
Doug had an endless list of questions, but was interrupted by his cell phone. The caller I.D. said, ‘Regent Performance’. He knew he still had two hours before the interview. He quickly put on his headset and took the call.
“This is Doug Peterson.”
“David Williams, Doug. How’re you holding up in Chicago?”
“To be perfectly frank, not particularly well,” he said, seriously understating how he felt.
“So I’ve seen on television. We’ve completed a fairly thorough background check on you, just want you to know. Everything was approved per Regents internal standards, which are significantly more stringent than anything the Government requires. Doug, we’re going to hire you if you’re interested. I’ve informed personnel in Palatine that the job is yours if you want it. We’d like you aboard ASAP. How’s that sound?”
“I’m floored, Mr. Williams. Speechless,” he said, quite honestly.
“Regent Delta is under some pressure from our parent interests. Given the state of the economy, I’m sure you can understand.”
“Call me David, Doug. I’m in San Diego at the moment, and things are getting a little odd here as well. I’m leaving here by the end of the day. I should be in the Palatine office late next week. I hope to have a face to face with you then. In the meantime, get over to the Palatine office when you have a chance and as circumstances allow. Personnel will have an orientation packet for you, non-disclosure agreement, and an outline of initial assignments.”
“That sounds fine, David. I’m looking forward to it,” Doug said, trying to focus on the road. His heart was pounding with the news.
“Do you plan to stay in Chicago, or…well, are you planning on relocating?”
“I’ve been considering relocating, David. Not too far out of the way.”
“Probably not a bad idea. I have a place not far from Denver, myself….Doug, I’ve got a priority call coming in. We’ll speak soon.”
“Sounds fine, David. And many thanks.”
“Quite welcome. Good day,” Williams said, then ended the call.
“Everything OK?” Julie asked, again reclining in the passenger seat.
“Yeah,” Doug said. “I just got hired.”
“Congratulations. Hopefully there’s still a city for you to work in when this is all over.”
“Yeah. That’d be good,” he said as they approached a line of cars at a roadblock.
“Don’t pull in,” Julie said. “Put your turn signal on like you’re planning to go left, and go left.”
“What? We need to go west.”
“They’re searching cars. They’ll take my stuff. Do it,” she said, firmly but reasonably.
Doug did as Julie directed, driving ‘casually’ into the center turn lane, down a side street, and meandered west, bypassing all of the traffic stuck on the arterial.
“All right, we made it around that one. Now, how about you come clean? Why do you have all that stuff…assuming that what you said is in those duffels is in fact correct?” Doug said, looking for both her facial reaction and scanning the road for the unexpected.
“The contents are as described,” Julie said, not really reacting to his comments negatively. “Peter has a virtually identical basic setup. The kicker for Peter is that his house was broken into over the weekend; he defended it with a shotgun blast over the heads of the guys kicking in the door, decided that was enough. I didn’t tell you that before. We’d planned on leaving the city today or tomorrow at the latest. My delay getting back from New York bumped that back.”
“OK. Go on,” Doug said. “Why?”
“My grandfather served in the Eleventh Armored Division in World War Two. They liberated the Mauthausen concentration camp. The Germans did unspeakable things….but he told us what he saw when we were old enough. My father, my brother and I were taught by him to never get caught like those the Nazis butchered. Be armed, know how to use your weapon, have real money, have an escape plan and know when to and how to use it. He knew that it could happen here, given the right circumstances. It can still happen here. I was mugged because I let my guard down. Stupid. Shouldn’t have happened. I’m lucky to be alive.”
“So you bought guns and ammunition and silver and gold,” Doug said, a little more dismissively than he should have, and realized it right off.
“My investments are in my future. What are yours in, Mister Peterson?” she asked with some bite.
“Sorry. I didn’t mean…”
“The rifles are built by hand. My hands. I’m as good a shot as there is, including under stress. Better than my brother, almost as good as my father was. Instead of three weeks vacation per year at any of the Club’s sister facilities, I sometimes spend time shooting, sometimes shooting with live rounds coming in at me, over my head. You might say it’s unconventional, especially given my outward persona.”
“Yeah. Unconventional might be the right word,” Doug said.
“My father and grandfather warned us that there would be times that we would need skills and abilities that aren’t found in the native population…native, being those who aren’t awake enough to see the cumulative effects of seemingly minor events over a long span of time. By not adding up all the small events, by not paying attention, they are soothed into changes to their society…to their civilization, things that go against everything they’d believe. If they’d take the time to wake up and see it for what it is,” she said.
“He taught history. He studied the predictable cycles of societies and nations and civilizations and the rise and fall of each. Societies change; they then change nations; nations fall; the nations either change into something new and better, or regress for the worse. Civilizations follow,” she said. “We’re either in a permanent downward spiral, or we’re going to change and get better. No one knows which way it goes….yet.”
For days, Doug had not really believed that events around the country and around the world were anything but problems that would resolve themselves, and life would go on, more or less as it had before. Despite these feelings, he took Hal’s advice, jumped off the deep end, bought a bunch of stuff and taken an off-ramp from the freeway that was his routine life down an unfamiliar path. All the while he felt like an idiot, a nutcase, overreacting to normal ‘life.’
Others around him though, friends like Hal Downing and now people he barely knew…Julie Forsythe, believed that this was something much bigger. They believed that time was ‘up’….that this was ‘it’.
Doug was starting to believe.
Safe at Doug’s townhouse, he settled Julie into a recliner in the living room until he could get the second bedroom cleared out for her use. By the time he’d made a third trip from the spare room to his bedroom with his recent purchases, she was soundly sleeping.
He started dinner, a crock pot affair that could evolve into other meals over a couple days….a staple from his early twenties…and then unloaded the bed of the truck. The black duffels were interesting, even without looking at their contents. The design included padded shoulder straps, a cross-chest sling, and four handles. There wasn’t any way to carry more than two at a time due to their weight….but a larger more muscular type might get away with three.
Once the equipment and Julie’s clothing were inside and sorted out, Doug went into the master bedroom and called the Regent office per David Williams’ direction. He tried several extensions, finally connecting with Information Systems. After Doug identified himself, they gave him his employee I.D. information, created an account login for the Regent and Regent Delta computer systems, and configured a laptop for him based on his projected job requirements…and would have it delivered to Doug’s home before the end of the day. When Doug asked about the rest of the staff, the I.S. tech said that the building had lost power around noon, and they were running a generator to keep the Midwest region’s servers going.
Doug wrapped up the call, and realized it was about time for his call to Julie’s brother. He decided that he’d have Julie make the call, rather than describe the days events, and the days discoveries.
“Julie? Do you want to try to call Peter? He said he’d try to be in cell coverage about now,” Doug asked the sleepy Julie.
“Already? I just sat down,” she said.
“Most of two hours ago, Julie,” Doug said, handing her his cell.
“Oh. I guess I was tired.”
“Or the codeine is thinking for you.”
“Yeah, that is a distinct possibility.”
“I’ll give you some privacy—I’ll be in the master bedroom.”
“Thanks,” she said. “Thanks for everything, Doug.”
“Glad to help,” he said, excusing himself to the bedroom. He turned on the portable radio for background noise.
“…Expressway remains closed due to police action; drivers are encouraged to find alternate routes until further notice. Emergency warming shelters will be open this evening again due to the expected extreme cold and wind chill, and security screenings will be required prior to entry into the warming shelters after last night’s South Side shootings.”
“Chicago health authorities are contemplating city wide school closures next week due to a major uptick in influenza cases that has sidelined thirty percent of teachers and staff and students. Many area businesses, as well as the Transit Authority and emergency services are also suffering from staff losses due to the flu.”
“In national news, price increases in virtually all commodities have been observed in all major markets across the country in the past three days. Some items have been observed in short supply, and disputes have broken out in several cities. Here in the Chicago area, radio personality Danny Wilson was fired today, after broadcasting locations of stores alleged to have ‘extra’ food supplies. His comments resulted in listeners rioting at several stores, with three people killed by security teams inside an AmerMart store near Midway International. Riots at the stores spread to other adjacent business areas, resulting in millions of dollars of damage. ARC Radio Networks, Wilson’s former employer called the talk-show hosts’ comments ‘unconscionable’ and ‘unforgivable.’ ARC was hit with a fifty-million dollar lawsuit this morning by the family of Shakina Monroe, an AmerMart customer service representative who was shot and killed by a rioter when he was asked to leave the store, one identified by Wilson has ‘holding food in the back for the rich folks.’ ARC had no immediate comment on the lawsuit.”
“Doug, I’m off the phone now,” Julie said from the living room.
“Be right there,” he said. The news continued on.
“…..governors were reported missing late this afternoon. The Fed is effectively ruled by a small group of private bankers, determining monetary policy in the United States and within the world banking community. It is unknown where the three members of the board of governors had gone, or if this was a planned vacation or if foul play may be suspected. FBI and National Security Agents were seen leaving the Fed offices in New York, San Francisco, and Washington, prior to the announcement that the members were not present for a scheduled conference call with the Fed Chairman. Unconfirmed reports of a private plane that left the United States without a flight plan late Tuesday lend credence to a rumor that at least one of the Fed Governors may have left the country. The plane later was observed landing in Brussels.”
“Huh,” Doug said to himself, remembering the earlier rumors about the leaders of the Federal Reserve. He left the radio on and went in to talk with Julie.
“How’s your brother?”
“Concerned,” Julie said. “He’s about ready to come get me.”
“Not medically recommended, I hope you told him.”
“I did. He was…more concerned about me being here with you than being in Chicago.”
“Am I that much of a threat?” Doug asked with surprise.
“You’re an unknown to Peter. Unknowns need research to gain understanding.”
“And research comes with time, which we don't really have in abundance.”
“You said, yesterday was it? That you wanted to talk….about getting out of here I suspect. Am I right?” Julie said, looking around the apartment. “You weren’t kidding about buying a few things, were you?”
“A friend of mine bailed out of the city. He’s in North Dakota. He’s thinking the whole ball of wax is coming apart.”
“He’s probably right. I’m unfortunately an example of that unwinding.”
“So, if I understand it, you were going to leave this week with your brother?”
“And his wife, Molly. Her family has a farm in Iowa, way off the beaten path. I’ve vacationed there, well, a working vacation because there really isn’t any sitting about on the farm. I helped the family with some marketing of some of their products. Molly helped them with the bookkeeping and financial end of things, from here.”
“Now, those bags…” Doug started.
“The Last Resort bags,” Julie said. “The problem with relocating from ‘A’ to ‘B’ is that most people cannot possibly plan on what to take, when to take it, and how hard it is to just get up and go. Those bags, in addition to some of my personal belongings, were the last of my major supplies that needed to be relocated. Everything else of import is already in Iowa…and has been for quite some time.”
“How did you plan on getting it all moved?”
“My pickup. Half-ton Chevy four-wheel drive with a canopy, not too much different than your Dodge, just newer. I was going to take the eight bags, my clothes, and the food in the apartment, pictures, and that was it. No furniture, no electronics.”
“That’s still a lot to move,” Doug said.
“Once it was staged in the apartment, I figured about a half hour of loading. Planned on doing it around four in the morning. Not too many people up and about that time of day.”
“What about your job?”
“Planned on taking a leave of absence or resigning. Half of the clubs sister facilities are in receivership, and our membership is down by thirty-five percent. You saw the ads last fall in the papers for open membership, right?”
“Yeah, didn’t think much of it.”
“One of the most exclusive clubs in all of Chicago, opening the gates for open membership, no sponsoring member required? Thirty years ago, you could get in only through family. Twenty years ago, still through family relations, or if your net worth was north of fifty-million dollars. Five years ago, family relations or a net of five million. See the trend?”
“Yes. Clubs like Lakeshore have been trying to remake themselves to survive. Most haven’t. Those that are still around are mostly sports clubs…glorified sports bars with a focus on fitness. Lakeshore’s in trouble. Nothing I can do to stop it.”
“So just up and quit?”
“Or wait until they let me go or go under. It’s best to make decisions for yourself, rather than have them made for you, don’t you think?”
“Yeah, I do. I’ve been on the other side of the equation too many times. I’m starting to realize that.”
“Good for you. A lot of people never do,” Julie said.
“So, tell me about Iowa.”
“The farm? Pretty good-sized hunk of ground. Molly’s family has had it for about thirty years. Started out as a monoculture, now it’s back to self-sufficient, quite diverse operations.”
“How far from here?”
“Two hundred forty miles. It’s near Mount Sterling…far south end of the state.
“Never heard of it. How big is Mount Sterling?”
“Oh, it’s maybe fifty people? Probably less.”
“Pretty exclusive club.”
“It could be seen that way,” Julie said with a slight smile.