Wednesday, December 14, 2011
Near Crandon, Wisconsin
Doug pulled the SUV into a carport attached to the large, low barn and Matt rolled down a tarp to block any outside view of the carport. He flicked on a series of small LED lights to lessen the gloom and Doug started to unload the shrink-wrapped boxes, passing them to Matt to load into the barn. The rain was pounding on the roof above them, making it all but impossible to carry on a conversation.
More than half of the load went to Brenda, Matt and the kids. The rest would ride back to Iowa, hopefully supplemented along the way with Doug’s additional stops.
Inside the barn, Doug found his eyes adjusting to the dim interior. Shelves lined one wall, and seemed to be organized with hardware, lumber, and electrical supplies. The middle of the barn held Brenda’s Landcruiser. Another vehicle was on the other side; Doug couldn’t make it out.
“Help me with the hatch, if you would,” Matt asked Doug, as he reached under a workbench.
“Sure,” Doug said, a little mystified. Matt swept some dirt out from under a workbench, pulled a lift-ring from the floor, and a floor hatch appeared. There weren’t stairs or a ladder. The hatch covered up what looked like a smooth metal chute.
“Let’s us move stuff in quickly,” Matt told Doug.
“Move stuff where?”
“The basement. You asked about how bulletproof the house was. House isn’t. Basement’s a different story.”
“You have a basement. In your barn,” Doug stated.
“This is a chute that can be used to load up supplies, or provide an emergency exit. The ‘basement’ as we call it, is between the house and the barn. We built it using shipping containers, waterproofed it and covered with low-density concrete. There is an access point in the house, this one obviously, and a third that we can use to get out if things get really dicey.”
“I’m not quite sure I know what to say. I know some people in Iowa that would appreciate this, though.”
Matt took an odd-looking ladder from the wall and slid it into the opening, and then climbed inside. The ladder seemed to be angled at about forty-five degrees, down and under the barn wall. A light came on from inside the ‘basement’. “Slide down a box,” Matt directed.
“Sure,” Doug said, moving one of the heavy boxes to the ladder. The box slid down the ladder easily—the ladder had a central rail, just like the two normal side-rails. The box was supported evenly all the way down. A few minutes later, the barn had no evidence that there was any food in the joint. Matt covered the hatch opening with some dirt and two old wooden boxes, filled with scrap iron.
“Matt, I’ve got to ask you something,” Doug said.
“Sure,” Matt said, facing him.
“Why did you just show me all of that, given what I’ve just told you about the kind of people I work for?”
“Would you kill your ex-wife? Her kids?”
“Of course not,” Doug replied.
“What would you do to protect them?”
“I would tell them about what’s going on out there and try to keep them out of harms way.”
“Which is exactly what Brenda said you would do. She said you once pulled Mike out of the way of an oncoming car, and nearly got clocked yourself by the guy.”
“Yeah,” Doug said, remembering. Michael was about five. His big, red playground ball bounced into the street as they were taking the kids on a walk around the block. He’d almost forgotten the road-rash he’d received for his efforts, or the chokehold that Michael put on him, sobbing. “Anyone would have done it.”
“Would your employers do that? Would they do what you did?” Matt asked as he took another box, looking at him with piercing eyes, sounding like the police officer that he was.
Doug was not prepared to follow that through. Matt was right though, in asking. The answer of course was, ‘doubtful.’
“I thought not,” Matt said. “So what’s your plan? Exit strategy?”
“I don’t have one yet. To be honest, I’m not sure there can be one,” Doug said. He’d lost a lot of sleep over that question.
“You think they’ll ‘off’ you if you leave.”
“I do now. I didn’t ten days ago,” Doug said.
“Can you be part of an organization that is doing what they’re doing, even if you don’t know their end-game?”
“Can I leave an organization that will kill people I know and care about?” Doug countered.
“You need to answer both of those yourself,” Matt said. “Kids should be home soon. Let’s go inside.”
“I have one more box in the Ford. Stuff for you and Brenda, some stuff for the kids.”
Dinner was fried chicken and scalloped potatoes, crafted by Brenda and daughter ‘Ronnie’, who Doug had known as Veronica. During their marriage, Brenda had never allowed their given names to be shortened, no nicknames, nothing. ‘Apparently, things change,’ Doug thought to himself.
It had been more than three years since the divorce, which was enough it seemed, to allow the kids to nearly forget him, so it seemed.
All three of the kids had grown up so much that at first, Doug almost didn’t recognize them. Veronica was now a gangly ten, Michael nine and James eight. They were all quite polite when they met again, and helped set the table and clear the dishes afterwards without prompting. Small talk around the table covered their home schooling, the local soccer season for the boys, and Ronnie’s new single-shot .22 rifle. The children wanted to know more about Iowa, and how things were ‘down south’, but Brenda thought it best they get after their math and…French lessons.
The last box that Doug had given Matt and Brenda was filled with rarities, unobtainable on what passed for the open market. Doug checked to confirm that they were ‘clean’ of either the one of the ‘base’ or ‘catalyst’ RNEW products. The kids now had a stash of candy bars, hard candies and some bottled cider that he was sure that Brenda would ration. For Matt and Brenda, Doug brought a bottle of champagne. A bottle of Kentucky Bourbon was included for ‘medicinal purposes.’
“Where did you manage to find this stuff?” Brenda asked, before answering it herself. “Never mind. You’re connected,” she said, reconsidering the gifts.
“Company store. The booze was put in the car without my knowledge. I have a couple cases of the stuff. Thought you might find it useful, one way or the other,” Doug said, smiling a little.
“Hon, you’re shift starts soon. You should go get ready,” Brenda said to Matt.
“You’re on patrol? Tonight?”
“Yeah. Eagle River,” Matt said, rising from the table. “C’mon along. You might find it enlightening,” he said. Doug got the feeling that Matt was still assessing him. He couldn’t really blame him.
“Uh, OK. What do I need?”
“Warm clothes, boots, gloves, hat. And you need to know how to take orders and stay out of the way, just in case.”
“All right, let me get my things,” Doug said as Brenda headed to the kitchen. “Matt? Do I need a weapon?” he asked quietly.
“No,” he said flatly. “I saw that you brought a couple padded cases into the house. I don’t know your level of training, Doug, and of course you’re not carrying a badge. That could be problematic.”
“Yeah. Didn’t think about that. I suppose your boss would frown on that.”
“Sure, if we had a boss. We don’t really have a department anymore. We’re…sort of freelance.”
Brenda packed both of them ‘lunch’ along with twin thermoses of black coffee. Doug was near the ‘police truck’ as Matt left the house. He noticed that Matt was wearing a snowmobile-type coverall, with a sewn-on badge on the left chest. He tried not to look as Brenda kissed him goodbye, and turned his attention to the drab green truck. The pickup, an extended-cab F-350, had a huge and heavy push-bumper on the front. The bumper was apparently a recent addition--it hadn’t even been painted and was rusting significantly.
“Passenger handle’s been disabled,” Matt said as Doug reached up for the handle. The truck had been raised up a number of inches over its’ stock height. “I’ll have to let you in from the drivers’ side.”
In a few seconds, Matt opened the heavy passenger side door, and Doug climbed up, immediately finding a roll bar brace crossing through the door opening. He noticed that there was a sheet of clear plastic bolted to his window area, and another that covered the vast majority of the windshield. Two M16 rifles were in the cab, in a dash-mounted rack. A short shotgun was next to the rifles, next to it, a scoped rifle with a wood stock. A satchel in the center back of the front seat held numerous magazines. A black Kevlar helmet sat in the center of the front seat.
“This is quite a truck,” Doug said, trying to find room for his left knee.
“A lot of hours went into it. We have three of them, my partners and I. We were receiving an allowance for our patrol vehicles. We subsidized that somewhat to put these together. Way safer than a stock cruiser,” he said as started the diesel.
“I saw that bumper. Must weigh a ton.”
“Had to add it after some unwelcome guests from Milwaukee decided to make themselves a nuisance. Pushed them out of town—literally,” he said. “We’ll rendezvous with another patrol unit, get their take on what’s going on up in Eagle River and surroundings. Hopefully not much.” They pulled out of the driveway and headed north.
“Tell me about this freelance police department,” Doug said. “We still have a department down in Fairfield…or we did when I left.”
“You’re far enough away from major cities to not have been hit with people heading for the boonies when things started to get bad. Problem is, that things got bad, have gotten worse, and there’s not really an end in sight. So the first wave of refugees was probably the prudent people. The ones that we’re getting now are more predator than prudent,” Matt said. “We’re not that lucky up here.”
Doug noticed that he slowed significantly for what seemed a gentle curve in the road. The curve though, held several burned out vehicles, one lying on its’ side. Matt waved at two armed men manning the barricade.
“We’ve a number of those out here. Not always manned. Apparently there’s some trouble up here, so some of the locals have taken it upon themselves to keep an eye on things.”
“And you’re OK with that?”
“Beats having your door kicked in by some strung-out meth-head. We can’t be everywhere,” Matt said, before continuing on about the local police presence.
“Before it hit the fan, we had about sixty-five officers active duty, another twenty-five or so for support. Communications, resource officers, traffic, the whole works. When it went up, the sheriff cut salaries of anyone not in his inner circle….in other words, anyone that he didn’t really like. Kinda went to Hell after that.”
“Yeah, I bet.”
“Then we started getting outlanders by the dozen, there wasn’t any meaningful response…couldn’t be without men on the roads. Anyone who had been in law enforcement stayed home to protect their own, and no one would blame them. It took a while for everyone to adjust to that of course. Didn’t help that the phones only worked for about half the time; that power went out at the most inappropriate times; that copper weevils decided to strip the cell-towers of their copper. Communications went down across three counties. All the decent communications gear that the department had disappeared in about three days. No cell phones, the radio repeaters were destroyed, anyone using CB or Ham listened and didn’t broadcast. Some bastards from down in Chicago figured out a way to triangulate the broadcasters, and then they of course were targeted.”
“Targeted?” Doug asked.
“Sorry, PC-speak for robbed and butchered.”
A chill ran down Doug’s spine. “We don’t have that kind of violence down in Iowa.”
“Correction—you don’t have that kind of violence, ‘yet.’ It’ll come, when everyone’s supplies run out and what is left of local government says ‘screw it.’ So we don’t use the radios, even car-to-car, unless there is really some shit hitting the fan.”
“So you do this on your own? I mean, you’re carrying a badge, but…”
“We are ‘paid’ with livestock, fuel, stuff like that, to maintain a law enforcement presence where we can. For right now, that’s this area and sometimes on the far side of Crandon. Nowhere in Crandon, nothing south of it,” Matt said.
“What’s up with the plastic?” Doug asked, tapping on the side window. “This stuff is really thick,” he said. ‘Has to be more than an inch thick.’
Matt smiled. “One of our life-saving modifications. It’s an acrylic alloy called ‘Polycast.’ Inch and a quarter thick. It’ll stop most everything.”
“How’s it hold up to rifle fire?” Doug asked, wondering about his own windows.
“We try not to go there,” Matt replied. “Truth is, it’ll stop a lot of calibers. It won’t stop twelve-gauge slugs or a very large rifle round. Mid-sized rounds will damage it. Hopefully by then though we’ve seen the threat and are not caught cold. The doors, roof, cab, and some of the rest of the truck got a little welding.”
“What’d you use? My Explorer…well, it’s got bullet-resistant glass and some sort of fabric in the doors.” Doug said.
“You’ve got an armored vehicle?” Matt asked with great surprise. “Your company car?”
“Yeah. They saw to it…the intelligence department saw to it that I got that vehicle.”
Matt drove without saying anything. “You must be pretty damned important to warrant that type of treatment.”
“Yeah. I guess so.”
“The fabric in your doors is ballistic Kevlar or something like it. Damned expensive.”
“What’d you use?” Doug asked.
“Ballistic steel, quarter inch thick, two layers. Damned heavy though, which meant we had some extra suspension work to do on the trucks to make sure they behave when we’re driving them. It’ll stop small arms fire…or at least slow it down. If anyone’s using big armor-piercing rounds though, it won’t matter anyway.”
They drove for a few more minutes before Doug spoke again.
“Do you have many problems with the city people out in the woods? I mean, are they, camping or squatters or anything like that?”
Matt replied, “Most of the ‘urban youth’ are actually afraid of the woods. Seriously afraid….so not really a problem with anything more than a few hundred feet off of most of the roads. They’re looking to score food, drugs, guns, fresh women. Those are not associated with ‘woods’, so they hit the easy targets—houses, small towns, areas of opportunities,” he said. Another big truck was up ahead at a crossroads, and flashed its parking lights. Matt slowed down. “There’s Jess,” he said. “He lives on the thirty acres just west of us.”
“He’s an officer too?” Doug asked.
“Yeah. Six years,” Matt replied as he pulled alongside the other truck. “We’ll be a couple minutes.”
Matt left the truck running. Both men had opened their doors, and they’d parked close enough to create a space that used the doors of the trucks to shield them front-and-rear.
“Ride along? Seriously?” the other officer asked.
“Doug Peterson, Jess Mecklenburg,” Matt said as introduction. “Doug is Brenda’s former husband.”
That drew an interesting look, with Jess involuntarily raising his eyebrows, before furrowing them.
“Just up here for a short visit,” Doug said, noting the reaction and wondering what had been said about him. Mecklenburg’s truck was a few years older than Matt’s, and much more scarred up. Doug noted that the young man wore a heavy snowmobile suit, similar to Matt’s uniform.
“Not the greatest time to vacation up here,” Jess said. “Good to meet you.”
“You as well. Not a great time to vacation anywhere, actually.”
“Fair enough,” the young man said.
“What’s the word tonight?”
“Jolly’s are on the run west of Eagle River. Two aid calls. One from out on County ‘G’ and up near Hunter Lake. Locals fended off the problem. Figure the Page brothers are to blame. Nothing to be found when I got on scene, other than a few shell casings. Probably Ryan and his AK. No one got their ticket punched.”
“Didn’t show up back at home?”
“If he does, his momma’s gonna whup his ass. She wasn’t happy that I came calling.”
“Not this time. One of these days though, those folks up on G are just going to bait him and be done with it.”
“His momma didn’t know…or wasn’t willing to say.”
“Typical. Anything else?”
“Usual. Got flagged down by Jensen, bitching that someone’s stealing firewood from his woodlot. Nothing serious.”
“Quiet would be nice for a change. What frequency tonight?” Matt asked.
“Sixteen for general traffic. Twelve for emergencies.”
“All right. See you tomorrow.”
“You got it,” Mecklenburg replied. Both men got back in their respective trucks and closed the doors simultaneously. Matt switched on two radios, and switched frequencies to match those that Jess had provided.
“Who sets the frequencies? Do they change every day?” Doug asked as they drove off. Matt flipped on the high beams.
“The Eagle River folks set it. Random changes. They have a different means to communicate with the people within their area.. We don’t know how they do it, nor do we care. They pay us for our skills; that’s enough. We can listen in on their general chatter if we want to, which is sometimes useful. That other frequency is for real emergencies, no BS allowed.”
“One thing that your friend Jess said, I don’t understand. He said ‘Jolly’s on the run west of Eagle River.’ What does that mean?” Doug asked.
“’Jolly’ is a little term we use to identify ‘pirates’. ‘Jolly’, as in ‘Jolly Roger.’ Once in awhile, you’ll get someone that just decides that stuff that belongs to someone else ought to be theirs, and they hoist the Jolly Roger so to speak, and go pirate.”
“Hadn’t heard the phrase,” Doug said. “Saw lots of that behavior in Chicago though. We barely got out.”
“’We?’” Matt asked. “Brenda didn’t mention that you were seeing anyone.”
It seemed a lifetime ago as Doug told Matt about his prior interest, Camille, and how he came to meet Julie, and their relationship.
“So, does she know the score with this Regent outfit?” Matt asked after Doug’s lengthy explanation.
“She knows the score for the first two innings. We’re now in the middle of the game….so, no. Not entirely.”
“You better find a way to warn her and her people,” Matt said, turning the truck down a narrow, two lane road.
“Yeah. I know. I’d like to find a way to do it without getting her killed.”
Posted by Tom Sherry at 8:43 PM
Sunday, November 27, 2011
‘Monday, finally,’ Doug thought to himself as he waited for the alarm to go off. He’d be able to get out of Wausau today, and out of the ‘zoo’, as he’d come to think of it.
There were a dozen Regent staff that trained alongside Doug, but none had exchanged any names or other information, on Martinez’s orders. They had numbers for names, each trained as directed by the Regent security trainers, for nine hours a day. Doug was able to keep in touch with his business team sporadically, which seemed enough for the moment.
It took several days, but he’d worked through the shock of what the RNEW product was really all about, and read the internal files prepared by the creators of the ‘nutri-chemical’. The creation of RNEW (named internally, ‘six six zeta’ on the executive summaries) had taken Regent almost thirty-five thousand man-hours over five years, an obscure footnote that led Doug into further analysis. He ran the math on just the R&D and the return on investment needed to offset the research and development process. The math didn’t work.
Regent could not realistically expect to recover their investment within the timeframe of a complete market saturation. He didn’t share that information with anyone. ‘Something else had to be factored in, because there was no way that this amount of investment would be thrown at an objective without a guaranteed return,’ Doug knew.
The mental pressures that Doug endured with the knowledge of the RNEW product had been stressful, but less so than actually using training weapons inside a huge warehouse a mile or so from their quarters. The training weapons fired blanks, but also registered ‘hits’ with a laser-like beam of light on and around the targets. Martinez had warned all of them about the noise and the recoil on each of their weapons, and all had done fairly well in the controlled firing range. Actually working with their firearms in an environment where someone was shooting back was a completely different experience.
Each of the Regent trainees had been pitted against one another, without knowing it at the time…they thought that they were up against their training instructors. In preparation, each of the trainees was taken aside for all of five minutes of instruction in the scenario they were about to begin. In one case, the trainee was a ‘defender’, another, an ‘attacker’. Several of the scenarios were ‘home invasions’ as described to the ‘defender’, but as ‘hostage recovery’ to the ‘attacker.’
Doug’s first experience in the mock-village had rendered him dead within five steps of his cover position. He’d moved too slowly when traversing the uneven terrain, and the opposing shooter had easily taken him out with three hits to his chest from an M4 from fifty feet away.
His second effort, scant minutes later in another part of the building, had his heart pounding and he was sweating. None of the trainees had any sort of uniform on, just ‘street clothing’ with the reactive vest and headpiece.
He quickly located his objective, spotted the target through a ‘window’, and took out the trainee with a single shot to the head. She’d never seen him coming. Once he’d completed that mission, he realized he was quite calm. ‘I can do this,’ he thought.
After successfully completing the ‘individual’ missions, each trainee was thrown into scenarios where they were part of, or defending against, a larger force. The lesson that only two trainees out of twelve learned, is that if there is a way out of the target area, they should take it. Doug wasn’t one of those—he’d stood his ground and the three surviving members of the attacking team made him pay for it. The two trainees who’d picked up and moved let the attackers take the ‘objective’, and then had killed the entire attacking force single-handedly. The lesson was that it was sometimes better to let the enemy win the battle so that you could win the war.
The trainee group was also thrashed in the automotive arena, with attempted car-jackings and learning behind the wheel in a day-long aggressively-defensive driving course. Doug had done far better than all of the other trainees, a legacy of his winter-driving experience and a half-million miles as a salesman on the road.
“Graduation” had taken place the night before for the dozen trainees, precisely at eleven twenty-eight p.m. Each of the trainees had turned in early, taking their training weapons with them as they had for the duration. Each night, they’d been instructed to place the weapons in a position in their rooms as they would to defend themselves in case of sudden attack, to ‘make it normal. Part of your routine from now on.’
Doug didn’t know if any of the other trainees knew what was coming--for certain, he didn’t. Doug had been sleeping, but he woke just before his door burst open. He found his M9 trainer in his hand, safety lever in the ‘fire’ position as a darkened figure charged the room with an M4. Doug fired three times into the chest. Three of the twelve trainees had ‘survived’ the ‘attack.’ A half-hour debrief followed the exercise.
Now, Doug was functioning on a bare minimum of sleep, with an uncertain drive ahead of him, not to mention an undesired future.
Breakfast was delivered promptly at six a.m., Doug had already showered, dressed and packed. By seven, he was in a different company vehicle, headed north.
Regent didn’t have a particular threat assessment for any point north of Wausau, nor did they have any traffic going north. The only thing that he had going for him was that he’d be driving a three year old Ford Explorer that had once belonged to someone who thought they needed to have it upgraded with some bullet resistant features. Martinez had seen to Doug getting this vehicle.
The Ford had about fifty thousand miles and looked it. Martinez explained that the tires were all-season ‘run-flats’, meaning they could take small arms fire and he could still drive. The battery area, oversize fuel tank, radiator and side panels of the engine compartment were all protected as well, and the cabin glass was all tinted ‘ballistic grade’ material. None of the windows were operable as a result. Within the doors and under the carpet, a blanket-like material that was also supposed to protect everyone inside.
Regent had also seen to it that the company vehicle had the standard emergency kit and a console-mounted citizens’ band radio. The contents of Doug’s former vehicle were re-sorted and packed up again neatly, and the Regent commissary in Wausau had filled an additional order for Doug, at Martinez’s direction. The vehicle was full to the ceiling. The company had also provided a rack in the front seat for his new rifle and shotgun. The center console had a fitted holster for his handgun. Most of the ammunition for the weapons was stored in the back.
Doug had headed east and then north, winding his way on two-lane county highways that would take him all the way to Crandon, hopefully without the roadblocks that were routinely encountered in Iowa. The snow of the previous week had almost all melted, but the temperatures were still in the thirties and the sky was lowering. Again, no farm equipment in any of the fields, he noted. He’d had the CB radio on ‘scan’ mode, and picked up a few spotty transmissions. He then switched over to the car radio for background noise.
“…evacuations. The ashfall is relatively light, but after the surprise that Mount Rainier gave the nation, no one is taking any chances with either Mount Shasta or the uptick in activity in the Mammoth area. The good news is that the mudflows as of the moment have not taken any lives,” the reporter said. Doug hadn’t heard anything about an eruption at Shasta. It took him a minute to realize he hadn’t heard any news at all in five days. The radios at Regent’s facility hadn’t picked up any broadcasts. ‘Perhaps that was by design,’ he thought.
“In Occupied Mexico yesterday, the Southern Marine Expeditionary Force finally quelled the attack at the KMZ Cantarell oil complex, while the Northern Force completed the clearing of the demilitarized zone, a hundred-mile-wide area just south of the current occupied area. Administration spokesmen had no comment on the evacuation of wounded American troops from the area, or an accounting of those killed in action. Numerous helicopters could be seen however, landing in an area known to be used for offloading those lost in battle.”
“In the Republic of China today, the naval base at Suao readied U.S.S. Antietam for transit to Pearl Harbor. Chief of Naval Operations Terrence Adams and numerous members of the Pacific Command were present as surviving crew members hoisted the colors, resting them at half-staff in the memorial service. Antietam may be at sea for another two to three weeks before arriving at Pearl. It is not known at this time if the guided missile cruiser will be rebuilt or salvaged. Hundreds of citizens of the island nation have kept constant vigil over Antietam since her arrival.”
“Also coming from our staff on the ground in the R.O.C., news reports are coming from the Mainland that former Communist Chinese Army leaders are in hiding and are trying to mount a takeover of the nation. Basic services have collapsed across the nation, and millions of former military are reported to be stealing from the population at gunpoint.”
“In Washington, the Acting Congress has again taken up the task of the currency re-valuation, while widespread criticism flares around the President and Homeland Security on the ‘containment’ of rioting in urban areas. Many major cities afflicted by relatively minor unrest have seen dramatic increases in violence as residents are quarantined and prevented from leaving the cities. Air National Guard units have completed numerous humanitarian missions in several of the areas under quarantine. As of today, seven major cities are in ‘lockdown’, including Detroit, St. Louis, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Atlanta and Chicago.”
“In downtown Chicago today, hundreds of police officers manned barricades to prevent further looting. The fire at the Chicago Board of Trade continued to smolder, a full thirty-six hours after arsonists torched the six-hundred-foot tall building and dozens of other buildings along Michigan Avenue. Local officials estimate the number of dead at more than three hundred, while emergency workers, speaking on conditions of anonymity, said that the number is many times higher. The Mayor had no comment on reports that Chicago Police had been ordered to fire on unarmed civilians along Michigan Avenue. The entire area east of the Kennedy Expressway, from Lincoln Park to the Stevenson Expressway has been ordered evacuated by the Office of Emergency Management.”
Doug couldn’t believe what he’d just heard. His adopted hometown was tearing itself apart. ‘The Board of Trade? They burned the Board of Trade? How did things get THAT out of control?’ He drove a dozen or more miles, not really seeing the road as he imagined what Chicago must now be like. The fat drops of rain roused him from his trance. Crandon was only a few miles ahead.
He’d never been through the little town, which was sort of sandwiched between two small lakes. It looked like a pleasant place to live, he thought as he drove down what passed for the main street. Doug noted there weren’t any roadblocks. Neither were there any cars on the street, but given the price of fuel, that wasn’t exactly a surprise. A few people, trying to shelter themselves from the sudden rainstorm, looked at him with some interest as he drove slowly through the town.
Brenda had provided Doug the street address, which he’d mapped on his GPS before leaving the Regent complex in Wausau. He wound his way out of town along the poorly maintained roads, finally passing the driveway. Their home was indeed tucked away, about ten miles out of Crandon, near a series of small lakes. The GPS showed that the border between the Nicolet National Forest was probably abutting the Bowman property. Doug backed the Explorer up and pulled into the driveway.
The home wasn’t visible from the road, and Doug imagined that the hundreds of feet of driveway must have been a real challenge in the snow. He rounded a large group of trees, and finally spotted the house. A huge, dark green pickup truck was parked just off the driveway, with a police light bar on the roof. Doug parked and got out of the Explorer, not seeing any signs of life from the house.
“Doug? Is that you?” Brenda’s familiar voice called from the right side of the driveway. She’d been hidden in the brush.
“In the flesh, Bren. Everything OK?”
“I was over in the barn. Heard a car and found a hiding place. I can’t believe you made it,” she said. Awkwardly, they gave each other a brief hug. She waved off to the north; Doug looked and saw nothing.
“How’re the kids?” he asked. The kids had ‘adjusted’ to Doug during their marriage. They’d never really been as close as they should have been, he thought in retrospect. He wondered what they thought of him.
“They’re over at one of the neighbors for afternoon classes. We split duties so that we can all get some things done,” she said. Doug thought she looked thin…too thin, and tired. Her hair was pulled back into a ponytail. He’d never seen her hair that way before.
“It’s good to see you. I’m…sorry for everything, Brenda. I was a real shit.”
“No argument. You’re forgiven though. Let’s get under cover.”
“Where’s Matt?” Doug asked.
“He’ll be here in a sec. He was keeping an eye on you as you drove in,” she nodded over to the north again, and this time Doug saw Brenda’s husband Matt appear from the thicket that Doug had driven around. Matt carried a scoped rifle.
“So things are interesting up here, too,” Doug said.
“You have no idea,” Brenda replied.
“I’m sure we all have stories,” he said as Matt drew closer—he was wearing an earbud, connected to a small radio in his vest. Doug reached out and shook his hand firmly, looking him in the eye. “Good to see you, Matt.”
“Doug,” the other man said. Their last meeting wasn’t pleasant, Doug remembered.
“Apologies for our last meeting, Matt. I had no business…”
“Ancient history,” Matt replied. “Let’s not be idiots and stand out in the rain. There’s hot tea inside.”
“Sure there is,” Brenda said. “Once I make it.”
They made their way up the front steps and inside. Doug noticed that the walls seemed much thicker than a regular house. Matt saw him looking at the construction.
“Superinsulated. Eighteen inches thick.”
“How is it for bullet resistance?” Doug asked, not really expecting an answer.
“Not great. We’ve other options.”
“Did you build it? It’s great,” Doug said, meaning it.
“Yeah. Took five years, off and on.”
“When you weren’t helping with the other two,” Brenda said from the kitchen.
“My partners are on adjacent parcels,” Matt replied, anticipating Doug’s next question. “We built them all about the same time.”
“Good to have backup,” Doug said, not quite realizing he was quite accurate in his statement.
Brenda put a teakettle on the wood-fired stove. They all took a seat around the heavy, obviously hand-made kitchen table.
“I’ve got a stack of supplies in the car…thought you could use them,” Doug began. “Probably stuff you can’t get too easily.”
“We can’t get anything easily. You drove through town, didn’t you?” Brenda said.
“Yeah,” Doug said.
“See any cars?” Matt asked.
“No fuel. No money. Whatever’s left in the one remaining store isn’t worth buying,” Brenda stated.
“When was the last time you were able to buy what you needed?” Doug asked her.
“Five weeks ago, today,” she replied. “People stripped Margie’s One Stop. Then they moved over to Farm Fresh. By the time Matt and the other duty officers got there, it was all the could do to keep Nelson’s intact.”
“What triggered it?” Doug asked. He couldn’t recall anything that might have happened during that time period, but he’d been busy himself.
“No idea. Rumors, probably. It’s been dicey ever since. Not a lot of trust between anyone in Crandon right now, or the area right around it,” Matt said. The water was coming to a boil, and Brenda got up to make tea.
“You work in other towns though too, right?” Doug asked.
“Yeah. Four. And I had been helping out the county when they needed it. The sheriff though seemed to think that he could keep my paycheck for his own, so I told him to shove it. Things haven’t improved obviously since then.”
“And won’t in the near future,” Doug replied, and paused. “I need to have a long talk with you both.”
Matt and Brenda exchanged looks, but didn’t say anything.
“I’m still trying to figure things out. What’s going on is much bigger than nearly anyone realizes,” Doug said.
“Global depressions are like that,” Matt said.
“It’s bigger than that. I’m coming to believe that it’s engineered. Not just the financial stuff. Bigger. They’re trying to enslave people.”
“Of course they are. They have control of the money, the politicians, the courts….” Matt said in a matter-of-fact tone.
“Not what I’m talking about,” Doug said, cutting Matt off. “Those are part of the puzzle. They have control of the food. Who gets it, when, where, but most importantly, what’s in it.”
“IN food? What are you talking about?” Brenda asked, brow furrowed.
“The company I work for, Regent, is engineering many everyday food products to work in ways no one ever dreamed was possible. Not in a favorable way. Brands you know. Stuff you probably use without thinking twice about.”
“What on Earth are you talking about?” Brenda asked dismissively.
“Food products that have been in the Regent production line for months, when combined with other food or beverage products that are either in early distribution or about to become widely distributed, work to create a psychoactive reaction on the consuming population. The consumers of those foods…the longer they consume them, the more…docile they become,” Doug said, before correcting himself. “No, that’s not quite right. It’s like they cannot understand anything that they do could be wrong…so there are no consequences to their actions or the actions of their superiors,” he said.
“That can’t be possible,” Brenda said flatly.
“It is possible. I’ve seen the results. I’ve read the clinical study. It’s real.”
“You’ve got to get out,” Brenda said. “If this is true, you’re part of it.”
“I can’t get out…I don’t think I can, anyway, certainly not easily. I’ve seen too much….know too much,” Doug said, looking down at the empty mug he was cradling. “I think for the moment I’m safer on the inside.”
Matt sat back in his chair as Brenda poured the tea. His hands were folded across his chest, head tilted slightly, considering what Doug had just said.
“What do you think their end game is?” Matt asked.
“I’m not a geopolitical consultant.”
“You suspect something. I see it in your eyes.”
“The company has successfully marketed….no. Not the company. I, on behalf of Regent, have successfully marketed the products to major food manufacturers of all kinds. Primary targets though—the first in the priority list—were manufacturers of institutional food products and military food products.”
“Yeah,” Doug said, seeing that Matt was beginning to understand the implications. “The institutional food products though…their end users might be anyone from people in prison to people on the receiving end of a Federal handout. Some emergency or disaster or…”
“War,” Matt said.
“Right,” Doug replied. “So when you think about tens of thousands…or hundreds of thousands or millions of people who will do whatever they’re told to do essentially without question….you can see my reason for concern.”
“Concern?” Matt said incredulously. “That’s what you call it?!”
“I could call it ‘panic’, but given the week that I’ve just spent, it was best to play my cards closely,” Doug said, understanding Matt’s reaction completely. “Had I reacted differently, I suspect they’d have just taken me out back of the building and shot me.”
“Where are these people from? Which country?” Matt asked.
“They’re from here. The company is based in Columbus. Big presence in Denver, some smaller units scattered around the country,” Doug replied.
“That doesn’t make it better,” Matt said, taking a mug of tea in his hand.
Wednesday, November 16, 2011
Doug finished breakfast, poured another cup of coffee and dressed it with cream and sugar. He struggled to maintain an outward appearance of calm while inside he was a screaming for answers.
Off of the main gathering space, a plain steel door was labeled ‘Security’. Doug knocked and was beckoned inside.
“Peterson, right?” the man behind the desk asked.
“Yes. You Martinez?” Doug replied, taking a seat across from the desk, putting himself in ‘confident sales rep’ mode.
“Call me Kevin,” the man said, reaching across the desk to shake hands. It was only then that Doug noticed that the man was in a wheelchair.
“Sorry, I didn’t realize you were on wheels.”
“Courtesy of the Taliban. I’d be fighting distant relatives now, if I hand my choice, down in old Mexico. For now though, I’m here. I understand you had some dealings with the great unwashed down in Madison.”
“I did. Not pleasant.”
“There will be more of those types of actions taken against perceived opportunities. I’m going to try to give you some advice and direct you toward some training that will hopefully keep you out of that kind of situation, at least until we reach the next level.”
Martinez leaned back in his chair, assessing Doug before speaking. “Your immediate superior stated awhile ago on the phone that Regent teams would take care of those individuals in Madison that were responsible for your detainment, did he not?”
“He did,” Doug said, wondering just how many people were listening in on that call.
“That doesn’t exactly happen autonomously. The Company and its allied relations can’t just decide to go out and off people like that.”
“So who’s approving it?” Doug asked, straining to maintain an interested, professional demeanor.
“I’m telling you this because you’re in the middle of it, and by the looks of you, you have no idea exactly what you’re in the middle of,” Martinez said. A perfect assessment.
Doug didn’t reply. He did notice that his question was left unanswered.
“Your product—RNEW—is key to the success of Regent and their plans for the next five years. Sometimes those plans are at cross purposes with what certain Federal agencies would allow in normal times, but these aren’t normal times.”
“The FDA,” Doug said.
“Among others, yes. RNEW testing was dramatically accelerated, fielded in trials and released to the public. The next level is an upgrade to the product. The Feds are looking to the States to now regulate that which the Feds are no longer able. The States are therefore restricting things that they do not understand, slowing things down through taxes and permits and inspections. Regent teams are going to help smooth the transition through encouragement or direct action.”
“Encouragement?” Doug asked.
“The teams will threaten those that get in their way,” Martinez said. “Saying it plainly, because that’s what is done. Direct action means that we take out those that threaten our people.”
“Or the process,” Doug said.
“Or the process. Correct,” Martinez replied. “You’re not consuming anything with RNEW, are you?”
“Well, uh,” Doug was caught off guard.
“Don’t bother. I know you’re not. Your boss is, same as those team members who will be visiting the folks down in Madison. Bollard was kind of flip about the upcoming task over in Madison, don’t you think?”
“Uh, yeah. He was,” Doug said.
“Bothered you. Bothered you a lot.”
“Yes, it did. Still does.”
“He’s taking the product, along with the upgrade. Figure that about twenty percent of Regent Performance is on the full program. The team members in the field, well, naturally they’re on RNEW.”
“Why are you telling me this?”
“Figure you ought to know what you’re in the middle of. Also figure that you should think about your future with the Corporation.”
“That cannot be the only reason.”
“On Company orders, I’ve run background on you as far back as possible, which is pretty much your whole life. You’re being vetted for your next assignment. Think of it as a liaison between Regent and a second party.”
“OK,” Doug said. ‘Jesus Christ,’ he thought to himself. ‘What is he talking about?’
“You’re not taking RNEW because you were told to avoid it, correct?”
“Yes, although I didn’t think much about it.”
“RNEW consumers…think of them as malleable. They can effectively do things quickly, efficiently and repeatedly without being bothered by the ramifications of their actions.”
“How in the Hell is that even possible? RNEW was just a…”
“…Nutritional Enhancement. Yeah. It is that of course, depending on your perspective. It does allow several things, in addition to a little useful mental de-programming. It allows more efficient processing of less-than-optimal food products in the human body; increases apparent energy; instills other feelings.”
Doug sat there, taking in what he’d just heard, holding his cup of coffee with both hands.
“Now you’re wondering what you do with what I just told you,” Martinez said. “You’re not the first one I’ve had this conversation with.”
“You’re not on RNEW because the higher ups have plans for you. Pete Bollard wasn’t deemed adequate for the task. Corporate needs a certain percentage of their staff to be able to think quickly, clearly, analyze, strategize, plan and react. RNEW consumers are producers. They really aren’t all that great at strategy. Give them an assignment and they’ll beat it all to Hell and gone and not give it a second thought, especially if they’ve been on the program a while. Don’t ask them to come up with an assignment on their own, though. Just doesn’t work. Bollard, your boss, is assigned things. He’s been on the product for about six weeks. Dramatic increase in production on your whole team. Only a handful of them aren’t in the system, mostly because the Company needs them to be the creative juices to lube the rest of your team. As of today, they are being informed by my people of their positions in the big picture.”
Doug felt both lucky and sick at the same time.
“You’ve got a bunch of effing drones,” Doug said.
“More correctly, you do,” Martinez replied.
“This is a helluva thing to hear from a security person,” Doug said, thinking that ‘security’ meant a guy who guarded the parking lot.
“Think of my department as ‘intelligence,’” Martinez said, leaning forward on the desk.
Doug sat for a moment before responding. “OK. That makes a little more sense. Are you with Bluestone?” ‘Tied in with Kliest?’ Doug thought.
“No. Bluestone is…a little more provincial,” Martinez replied, a slight smirk on his face. “Julie Forsythe. Her family. Let’s talk.”
‘Provincial?’ What the Hell does that mean?’ he thought before replying. “Julie and I had…”
“Have,” Martinez interrupted. “Don’t bullshit me. Seriously,” he said, unblinking. “My legs might be gone, but I still understand the need to get laid on occasion.”
“We have a relationship. We write letters, talk on non-company phones, very rarely.”
“And you help them out with supplies on occasion.”
“I have done that, yes. Medical mostly.”
“OK. Not a problem with me. None if it. Others would have a big-ass problem, because they like to control everything in everyone’s pond, including their own. Miss Forsythe, her brother and his wife and his wife’s family don’t pose a real threat to Regent. They do pose a perceived threat, and that’s enough for some in the higher echelons of the Company.”
“What do I do next?”
“My guys found this stuff out about you, ran your history, ran the check on the whole Segher family. They have some quaint beliefs but are non-militant. From where I sit they just want to be left alone.”
“That is accurate, I believe.”
“If you can stand it, keep it quiet. Everyone needs family, although there are higher ups that don’t fully agree.”
“How long are we supposed to do that?”
“You’ll know when,” Martinez said. “Questions?”
“I’m sure I will have many. To be honest I don’t quite know where to start.”
“Yeah. You’re down the rabbit hole, Alice,” Martinez said, backing away from the desk and reaching down to a small refrigerator on his left. He pulled out two identical bottles of orange juice. “Look these over. Tell me what you see.”
Doug took a drink of his coffee and picked up one of the bottles. Both were produced by Regent for a national brand. Both had intact and identical bar codes. Doug couldn’t see a difference.
“Look closer,” Martinez said.
The bottles were slightly different. That was all Doug could find…just a small indentation on the bottom of the plastic bottle. Typically, the indentations were part of the molding process to allow for alignment of the bottles on the filling and sealing lines at the plant that filled the bottles with whatever product was being sold. These didn’t look any different.
“Different manufacturing plants. Plastic mold is different. Probably a different fill machine.”
“Good for you. Look for that triangular indentation on any plastic container at the ten-o-clock position from the mold seam. That’s a RNEW activator container. Other one is not.”
“Activator? I don’t understand.”
“Every single product produced for commercial distribution by Regent, with the exception of the Preferred line, contains the genetically modified building blocks needed to implement RNEW, as of mid-February. The activator products build the adjustment system. Without the Activator line, the products just taste better. With, well, it’s a different game.”
Martinez provided Doug a thumb-drive with the identification on all products with RNEW integration, the various activator products, and the means to spot them.
“That info will help keep your brain from getting addled,” Martinez said. “Memorize as much as you can. It’s not that tough. Now, on to a subject near and dear to my heart: Firearms. You don’t strike me as all that proficient. Correct?”
“Uh, yeah. Not something I’ve trained in,” Doug said. He thought he sounded numb.
“You do have a shotgun at your home in Iowa, however.”
“Yeah, I’ve practiced with it a little, mostly to get used to the recoil,” he said. ‘They know everything,’ he thought.
“For the next week, you will be receiving training in some additional weapons that are being issued to select Regent personnel,” Martinez said, reaching into a desk drawer. “First, the Beretta M9, favored by a lot of people wearing digital camouflage these days. Next, you’ll get defensive training with your Mossberg shotgun, although you’ll be provided a modified version. You’ll then receive training on a military-style rifle. I understand that you’d like to take a few days off. Depending on how things go, you should be able to hit some vacation time come next Monday. Fair enough?”
“Sure,” Doug said, trying to sound believable. “I’m supposed to be carrying these with me when I travel?” Doug asked skeptically.
“You may have the need to defend yourself. The Company would prefer you alive,” Martinez said. “Weapons are your last resort.”
“My first resort then?” Doug asked.
“Your first, best option is threefold: Avoid trouble, use deterrence and de-escalate the situation. It’s harder than it sounds.”
Doug tried to stay focused through the blizzard of information provided by Martinez, who was going through various scenarios where he might be faced with unpleasant outcomes.
“You’ve had enough for this morning,” Martinez said, observing that Doug was glazing over. “Be back in here at two o’clock. I know you have work to do with your team in the meantime.”
“Sorry. There is just so much you’ve thrown at me. I just wasn’t quite ready for the kind of day you’ve put in front of me.”
“Could be worse. You could be a RNEW consumer. You’d have a shitty day and not think a single thing about it.”
“Yeah, I suppose there is an upside,” Doug said as he stood.
“I want you to remember the first thing I told you about your first best option: Avoid trouble. Distance is your friend. Get out, go left, right, wherever. Get away from trouble, first.”
Doug nodded. The irony of what Martinez had just told him nearly made him sick.
The laptop was waiting in his room, along with a lunch menu, should he care to order. The laptop was powered up, and the desktop was identical to his missing machine.
‘How in the Hell am I supposed to get any work done after that?’ he thought to himself, nearly saying it aloud. He caught himself though, figuring that he was being listened to, probably watched as well. ‘Play it cool. Normal. Order lunch and get to business.’
For three hours and change, Doug emailed his team leaders, reviewed strategic plans, production figures, and further marketing efforts…all while tumbling down the well of a black hole, courtesy of Kevin Martinez.
“Which branch did you serve?” Doug asked Martinez, who’d just provided Doug an overview of the M9, including a very fast demonstration of field stripping and reassembly. He doubted that he would ever be able to complete it so quickly…or that he should need to, for that matter.
“Contractor. We were a security detachment working to provide safe transport for American government workers. CIA, State Department, others.”
“Sorry. I figured you were in the service.”
“Pay was better outside. Fewer obstacles as well,” Martinez said. What Doug ‘heard’ was ‘fewer rules to obey.’
“All right, Mister Peterson, into the firing range for step two,” Martinez ordered.
For two hours, Doug was instructed on the finer points of reaching out and touching someone with a nine-millimeter handgun. By the time Martinez called it quits for the M9, Doug’s hand hurt from gripping the weapon.
Another forty-five minutes in the range, this time with the twelve-gauge Mossberg, a similarly configured Remington, and a few minutes with an “M4”. Doug thought it looked like an M16, asked about the difference, and received a twenty-minute long lecture on the subject. Most of it was over his head. Martinez, Doug learned, liked to talk about weapons at length.
A little after five p.m., Doug headed back to his room and immediately changed out of his clothing and showered. He was surprised that his clothing was so dirty from the afternoon in the improvised shooting range. He hadn’t noticed it from his own practice. Perhaps it was the difference in ammunition.
He flipped on the television but found no outside channels. Regent did have an ‘in house’ movie channel, a travel advisory crawler and that was about it. He switched to the radio as he packed up his dirty clothing for the laundry service. He was pleasantly surprised to find all of his clothing laundered and pressed.
“Syria today condemned the Israeli action, the third strike in as many days. Today’s reaction destroyed a missile base near Adra, located in a valley surrounded by high terrain. The interim government in Damascus, newly created after the coup in February, reacted strongly, pushing for a new offensive against the Israeli Defense Forces in the Golan Heights and in southern Lebanon.
The European Union condemned the attack, with significant percentages of the E.U. representation demanding military intervention. Riots within the E.U. spread for the sixth day, with foreign ‘guest workers’ demanding a greater voice in the governing of the E.U. Islamic clerics are blamed for instigating the riots, with the increased percentage of Muslim believers now outnumbering non-Muslims throughout southern and central Europe.
In related news, the Iran mobilized several divisions of Revolutionary Guards and appears to be moving to invade Iraq, although this cannot be confirmed. The Iraqi government, shaky even when the U.S. was still in country, appears to be failing to recognize the threat at this time. Unconfirmed reports state that Iranian forces are moving into eastern Iraq unopposed.”
“So much for nation-building,” Doug said to himself as he logged into the corporate network.
“Federal troops are continuing to assist local authorities in Northeastern cities in the U.S. Urban youth in many locations have been blamed for widespread rioting, theft of food shipments and flash-mobs at medical facilities. Authorities in Philadelphia have pulled out of many of these neighborhoods, attempting to keep the riots from spreading. Federal troops have been seen even further out, and appear to be preparing to seal all roads out of the region. More on this as it develops.”
“In the Midwest today, food producing super giant Agnew Middleton is rumored to be unable to supply many producers with adequate agro-chemicals for the remainder of the planting season. Spokesmen were not available for comment, but local growers state that fertilizer supplies were exhausted.”
Doug’s ears perked up at that story, knowing both the implications on the market and the reason they were having a difficult time—he’d forecast it a month and a half ago, based on output from the fertilizer producers. Their raw materials were largely based on petrochemicals, and with the collapse of the economy and disruptions in the energy sector, fertilizers and plastics were both in scarce supply.
The impact on the American farmer in a normal year would have been huge. The impact in a year such as this would certainly spell huge shortages in food for domestic consumption; disruption in export markets (if there were any); many of the ‘wrong’ crops being planted (many were geared toward export, and the domestic market wasn’t geared toward them). Many increases in production over the past decade had been aimed at the ethanol market—grow your own energy. Those markets had displaced food crops from those fields, and couldn’t quickly be switched to food production.
Between Agnew Middleton and Carlyle, three quarters of the grain trade worldwide would be affected by the petrochemical shortage. The other three or four ‘major’ companies handled the rest. A whole lot of people would be hungry this year.
Doug filtered through three-dozen emails from his team, hitting the oldest first. A half-hour later, the computer chimed, and he found an email from his ex-wife, Brenda.
I don’t know if you’ve tried to call or email or write, but I finally have a chance to email you. Don’t bother emailing back—we’re in town at the library, and for the first time in a long while, they actually have Internet service. There’s a long line of people waiting so I’ll keep it short.
First off, everyone is doing OK, despite the circumstances. Power has been undependable, phones have been down for weeks, cells haven’t worked for at least a month. Someone’s been systematically harvesting the copper out of the cell towers and power lines closer to civilization, and all of us out in the boonies are paying the price for it. The utility companies can’t do a thing of course. There aren’t replacements to be had for love or money (Money! Ha!)
We pulled the kids out of the government school you may remember, and I’ve been home schooling them with another Mom in the area. They’re all doing well and are ahead of their grade levels and all growing like weeds. The town school is barely hanging on. Most kids eat all three meals there, because there isn’t enough food at home. A lot of folks have been lost to the flu…more every day.
I know you said you were down in Iowa, but are you sure that’s safe in the future? Matt and his fellow officers are seeing more and more people try to get out of the cities and into the rural areas and it is becoming a real problem. We’re far enough out, just, but other folks have had home invasions and roadside robberies.
If by chance you happen up this way, you are welcome of course for a visit, but Matt and I wanted to warn you first. Don’t travel by night at all, and if there’s a chance to caravan, be sure you know whom you’re caravanning with.
Take care of yourself Doug. Despite everything in our past, I still remember you in my prayers.
Doug replied immediately, hoping she was still on line.
I have some work here in Wausau until Sunday. Will plan on being up in Crandon on Monday. I’m doing OK. Will try to bring you some supplies.
Thanks for the prayers. I could use them—
Doug didn’t really have a strong belief in God and was non-committal on an afterlife. Faced though with recent events, he was beginning to doubt in his cavalier attitude. He knew that his parting sentence would probably shock Brenda. She’d tried to get him to attend church, talk about her faith and her beliefs. He just wasn’t interested at the time.
He ordered dinner ‘in’, so that he could spend time alone and deal with the tumult in his head. The implications of what Martinez revealed could change the face of the business…no, the face of everything. Anyone consuming the RNEW product long enough could be completely pliable to whoever was in control. Bollard was a first hand example. No remorse, no sense of the wrong being done by Regent. Of course that just meant that they could be happy slaves…or remorseless butchers.
Doug was inclined to believe he was helping create the latter.