Friday, January 7, 2011

Distance, Chapter 10


10






Saturday
January Twenty-first
6:30 a.m.

Saturday morning once had been a sleep-in day for Doug, no longer. The economic collapse was in full throttle, and he had no time to laze about it bed. There wouldn’t be another chance like Regent Delta had provided him, and despite current circumstance, he had work to do.   His ancient wind-up alarm clock roused him to the cold apartment.  He’d dig out the camp heater he bought and get it working.  It wouldn’t heat the entire place, but some heat would be better than non. Maybe figure out which room to heat and keep it closed, he thought, but he’d have to be careful about carbon monoxide…

Late Thursday, as promised, Doug was visited by a Regent Delta team, one clearly a security agent, the other a wary looking computer geek, who delivered Doug’s new laptop, complete with a USB thumb-scanner security device.  Without it, the laptop couldn’t be accessed. Doug signed for the computer and a bulky security envelope, and the two Delta workers promptly left, without a word of small talk.
Starting with the packet, Doug found a security badge inside, with a typical magnetic strip, but also a three-dimensional holographic Regent Delta logo, formed into the clear plastic badge.  On closer inspection, he thought he could make out some sort of electronic circuitry, but he couldn’t be sure.
His formal employment agreement was presented in thick paper contract, and although it was written in plain English, he spent a solid hour on it to get a decent understanding of it. The more he read, the deeper the non-disclosure and confidentiality requirements were.
The contract terms were more than generous, with a salary of nearly a hundred-thousand dollars per year (and interestingly, indexed in value to the purchasing power of the dollar, effective January first; a ten thousand dollar signing bonus, payable in either cash or through store credit at Regent facilities worldwide; two weeks vacation and a week of ‘personal leave’; full medical and dental coverage, again through Regent subsidiaries; the choice of either a company sedan or an SUV; and, with a note from David Williams, a list of Regent-owned residential properties for rent or sale within three hundred miles of Chicago. Doug merely had to log onto the laptop, e-sign the agreement, and confirm it with his thumbprint.   He never really thought about the thumbprint device, and how Regent could verify that it was in fact Doug that was using it.
Early on Friday, He discussed what he could with Julie, namely the company car and the possibility to relocate outside of Chicago, and the potential to use the Regent signing bonus.

“It sounds like you’re working for the Company Store….you know, that old Tennessee Ernie Ford song…”

Sixteen Tons?” Doug said, laughing a little bit.

“That’s the one.”

“It might sound like that, but the pay is pretty respectable. More than I was making in my old job, better benefits, and a company car, and this bonus and an ‘in’ on housing.”

“What does this ‘Regent’ outfit do, anyway?”

“They’re a multinational. I’d be working for a division of it, marketing some of their products to producers and manufacturers for end use.”

“You realize that you didn’t really say anything there, don’t you?”

“Confidentiality agreement. Can’t really talk about it much.”

“Fair enough. It still sounds, not right.”

“If I were to compare them to my former employer, in a head-to-head basis, in my former specialty, they’d be the up and comer.  My former employer would be the old-school leader, on the way down.”

“So you knew about this company before you left your previous employer?”

“A bit.  And I didn’t leave.  I was let go…they’re going bankrupt….probably are bankrupt by now, with all this,” Doug said, motioning to the television. All of the regular channels were filled with bad news, the cable went out again, and Doug and Julie were reduced to radio.
For a good portion of the day, Doug reviewed the files on the computer, his proposed assignments, overview of sales targets and a list of the ‘gatekeepers’ at the target companies. The Regent Delta product line was fairly concise, despite the massive breadth of the Regent umbrella. Julie, moving carefully, laundered her looted clothing, and sorted her remaining belongings.  Doug also noticed that she’d unpacked a rifle and at least one of the handguns from her bag, keeping them in sight and close at hand. Several times, Doug caught her holding her side in pain, and made her sit and rest. Once she nodded off to sleep, he went back to work.

Delta was currently focused on increasing the overall saturation of Regent Performance creations (that was the right word, as the products were highly engineered) into food producing, food preparation, and food delivery systems worldwide. 
The Regent Delta marketing goals included bulk manufacturers, prioritized around the Northeast United States first, with secondary objectives in the Southeast and Central U.S. On the top of Doug’s list for the Delta nutritional supplement program, were a series of firms that assembled M.R.E’s for the military, freeze-dried and shelf-stable foods for public and government use.  The ‘meal, ready to eat’ had a reputation that had clawed its way up from ‘meal, rejected by everyone’ to a decent variety of field expedient meals.  The Delta supplements promised to increase nutritional value of the meals; provide greater shelf stability of the lower-quality products; and best of all for the manufacturers, it wouldn’t increase production costs by a significant amount.  They didn’t provide a pro forma on the implementation of the supplement program, but for the effort that Doug was leading to be profitable, Delta would have to sell many tons of the supplements.
 
Stock market trading in New York ceased at noon, again with trading curbs in place.  Doug listened to the closing numbers for the day, with the Down at a little over twenty four hundred, the NASDAQ just under five hundred.
Doug and Julie were having a dinner of thin-sliced pork in a honey sauce with rice, when the announcement came through from D.C., essentially stating that the U.S. was giving the finger to any nation who’d been stupid enough to extend credit to the United States.  ‘Foreign obligations cannot be met, but domestic obligations in the form of bonds and treasury bills would be honored.’  Both Doug and Julie, listening to the radio, said nearly simultaneously, ‘Yeah, right.’  Before the hour was out, reports of rioting from Atlanta to California were coming in.  The electricity flickered twice, and went out, at five minutes before nine p.m.  The battery powered radio worked fine…but there wasn’t a clear signal they could pull in.


Now on Saturday morning, in a dark and cold apartment, Doug was putting fuel in the camp stove, realizing he needed another layer of socks on his feet. He’d get some coffee going, and then figure out breakfast, and after that, heat. He looked outside, and found he couldn’t see more than a couple hundred feet for the driving snow.

“Good morning,” Julie said, already dressed warmly, holding her side.

“Morning. How’d you sleep?” Doug asked.

“Better than I thought I would.  What’ve you in mind for breakfast?”

“Not sure, yet.”

“Make up some hot water and do a big batch of oatmeal. Easy and fast and it’ll keep if we don’t eat it all.”

“That works for me,” Doug said. “Already tried the radio. Nothing yet.”

“Do you have a scanner?”

“A what?”

“Radio scanner. You can monitor emergency frequencies with it, CB radio, ham radio frequencies…”

“Nope, sorry,” Doug said. “I’m new at this.”

“How’re you fixed for batteries?”

“I picked up what I could on…Sunday. God, is it less than a week?” Doug replied.

“What kinds? Be specific,” Julie asked.

“C, D, double and triple A, a handful of nine volt. Bought all I could get my hands on.”

“All right….and I’m betting they’re not rechargeable, right?”

“Uh, no.  Just alkalines.”

“They’ll work.  I’ll be back in a minute,” Julie said.

Doug heard Julie digging through one of her bags, and she returned with a large walkie-talkie looking radio, a loop of wire, and a battery pack.

“I need three double A’s,” she said. “Mine are all bagged up.”

Doug fished around in one of the AmeriMart bags, and retrieved a twenty-pack, and sliced it open.

“That’s quite setup,” he said, handing her the batteries, and noting the long antenna lead and an add-on antenna.

“A few hundred dollars worth,” she said, turning on the scanner. “This should be able to pick up most of the local stuff from my stored channels.  Any of the ham frequencies we’ll have to scan for,” she said, and then looked up at Doug. “What?”

“How do you know all this stuff?”

“I like to learn things, and I don’t like being in the dark or uninformed. I admit though, that I forgot I had this. Stupid of me,” she said. “Could’ve had this up last night. I should have trained more,” she said to herself.

With a flick of the switch, the unit scanned the pre-programmed frequencies and quickly locked onto a Chicago Police Department frequency, miles away.

“Can you program the Elmhurst police?” Doug asked.

“Sure. Just need to look up the frequency,” she said. “I need to find my reference cards.”

Doug got the coffee brewing, and put water on for breakfast. 

A half-hour later, they were enjoying breakfast, and the Elmhurst police department ‘tactical’ frequency was entertaining Doug and Julie.  Working with the Illinois National Guard, they were sweeping through a neighborhood west of Doug’s, hunting for a gang that had just ripped off a food truck near a major grocery store.

“I can’t believe I’m hearing this stuff,” Doug said.

“That it’s happening you mean?”

“No, that I can listen in on police frequencies.”

“Oftentimes you can’t. A lot of…maybe even most of the emergency services encrypt their transmissions. You can hear them talk; you can’t make out what they’re saying. Not the case here.”

“Hmm,” Doug said as the frequency went dead. “What happened?”

“Good question,” she said. She hit the ‘scan’ function key, and received static. “Could be that your police department’s off the air.”

“What about other frequencies?”

“I’ll try,” Julie said, unlocking the scanner from the preset, immediately finding another police action, east toward the Loop. “See? Everything’s still falling apart. Not to worry,” she said laughing at first, then grimacing.

“Watch that humor. It’s painful, in more ways than one.”

“I believe you,” she said. “Doug, what are your plans for staying in Chicago?”

“I found a number of options yesterday, courtesy of Regent’s corporate property portfolio. I need to be within a reasonable distance of a major airport, like Chicago, but a fair amount of my business can be done from my location, as long as I have decent Internet and cell coverage. I can’t see staying here, given what’s going on all around us. I’m a little surprised we haven’t had visitors here, like in your neighborhood.”

“Are you any good with a firearm?”

“Not particularly, no.  I have a little .32 pistol, belonged to my late father. I’m not exactly a sharpshooter.”

“How much ammunition?”

“Maybe twenty, twenty-five rounds.”

“That’s it?”

“That’s it,” Doug replied.

“What kind of .32? Revolver? Semi-auto?”

“Revolver…It’s a Colt. I think my Dad called it a ‘Police Positive.’

“Oh. It’s…kind of an antique then,” Julie said almost apologetically.  “Have you fired it recently?”

“Not recently…not, well, in the past fifteen years as a matter of fact.”

“Have you ever had any classes? Firearm safety, hunter safety…”  Julie asked, looking doubtful.

“Nope. Just what my Dad taught me when I was a kid.  Used to shoot .22’s with the neighbor kids.”

“All right,” Julie said. “You really need to know how to use that revolver, I think Doug.”

“I believe you.  It just never occurred to me that I’d ever have need of it.”

“What do you have for options to relocate? Is anything jumping out at you?”

“That depends on what you might have to say to my next question,” Doug said, putting his coffee cup down, looking down at the table for a moment, and then at Julie.

“What might that be?” she said, turning her head slightly.

“Julie, I spent a considerable amount of time last night not sleeping. I listened to gunfire on three sides, wondering when someone was going to kick in the back door or break out a window. That little pistol is loaded, and in my nightstand. I’m going to have to get out of this city unless this stuff stops, and there is no sign of it stopping. You’re heading out to Iowa. There are a number of properties in Iowa. Would it be acceptable to you if I relocate to a town that’s not too far from where you’ll be? I have no one to cover my back if needed,” he said. “I have nowhere to run to. I cannot imagine that you will say yes to this. You hardly know me.”

Julie smiled a little. “No, I really don’t know you too well, but I think I know you well enough to say, ‘maybe.’  Doug, you need to realize that the farm isn’t some sort of fortress or anything, although it’s well stocked and can be well defended.”

“I realize that’s probably the case. But if things continue to spiral down, it would be good to have a ‘Plan B.’”

“I will need to talk to the family about any sort of Plan B,” she said. “To be brutally honest, the family might look at you in terms of assets and liabilities, skills and your ability to master new skills. You…don’t have a lot of skills that would be of interest.”

“I understand that,” Doug said. “Completely. My housing options are within two hundred and fifty miles of Chicago or Kansas City or St. Louis, and close to a number of regional airports. A number of them are in Iowa, not all that far from Mount Sterling.”

“What’s, ‘not far?’” Julie asked.

“Twenty miles or so, some a fair distance more. Mount Pleasant, West Burlington, Fairfield, and a couple of smaller towns. One over on the Mississippi. I think that one is called Fort Madison.”

“How is it that your company has these properties available?”

“One of their subsidiaries is a mortgage servicing firm. Called Bluestone Mortgage Servicing.”

“These are repos?” Julie asked, eyebrows raised.

“Yeah, I suppose so, given what’s been going on for the past few years. Why?”

“I would think that if the folks around those repo’d homes find out that you work for the company that took the house back, no matter what the circumstance?” she asked questioning, “you’d have a problem.”

“I hadn’t thought about that,” Doug said, furrowing his brow.

“And are they ready for you to move into? Are they stripped out or vandalized?”

“They’ve all been up for rent or sale for more than a year, and maintained by…”

“Don’t tell me,” Julie said, “Another subsidiary company.”

“Well, yeah,” Doug said. Julie rolled her eyes.

“Seriously.”

“They’re big. They own a lot of stuff.”

Saturday
January Twenty-first
6:10 p.m.

 “Reports from Asia that U.S. factories have been seized in Taiwan, China, Indonesia, Korea, and other nations this afternoon and evening. Troops of these nations have apparently occupied factories and escorted Americans out of buildings and transported them off-site, and their whereabouts are unknown. Six executives from major American corporations have reportedly been executed, although the State Department is not releasing any information on this report, although anonymous sources report that the companies involved are Ford, Chrysler, and Delphi. Reports have just come in that protests around US military bases appearing within last hour in Europe, Korea and Japan….”

“There wasn’t one bit of that was anything approaching good news,” Julie said.

“Been like that all afternoon,” Doug said. “You slept through it.”

“Sometimes I’m thankful for that.  It was nice to be warm.  I shut off the heater, by the way,” Julie said. Doug had set it up in her bedroom prior to her taking a nap. “What’s for dinner?”

“Re-runs from the magic evolutionary crock pot.  I added some mild pork sausage to it….and we should clean it up tonight,” he said as he ladled a largish helping into each bowl. Unexpectedly, the power came back on.

“Well, that’s a surprise,” Doug said. “Thought we were down for the count,” he said as the furnace kicked on.

“You should get the lights off. Bright lights equates to a target,” Julie said. “Your curtains aren’t dark enough.”

“Hadn’t thought about that,” Doug said.

“How many units in this building?” Julie asked.

“Six. Empty on either side of us.”

“So you’ll stick out like a sore thumb if you’re all lit up.”

“Yeah,” Doug went around the apartment, making sure lights were off and the blinds closed.

“Oh it’s nice to have heat,” Julie said, holding her hands over the vent. “Without that heater you bought, I’d have turned into a popsicle.” 

“Good to know it works.  I’m not sure where it makes sense to use it.  This place isn’t exactly designed to close off big rooms and heat only part of it,” Doug said as he heard something odd, getting louder. A puff of sheetrock, then a second, blew down from the back wall of the apartment. Something whacked into the back wall of the kitchen.  “What the heck…”

“Get down!” Julie said, pulling him down to the floor, where she was already grimacing. “Someone’s shooting at the building!” 

7 comments:

  1. Keep em coming, getting exiting! Great job.

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  2. great!! can't wait to see how they fair!

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  3. Cliff hangers! Every one of them. More please!

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  4. Good job. Can't wait to read more!

    AP

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  5. MOAR!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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  6. Tom, I read the Deep Winter series last year but purposely did not start reading Distance until you had a few chapters posted, in order to minimize Cliff Hanger Syndrome. I just read the first 10 this morning, and the story is wonderful! Thank you for your entertaining and informative books.

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  7. Tom,

    I also read all three before starting this one. Excellent work sir. I sincerely hope it remains a work of fiction.

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Comments are welcome!