Monday, January 17, 2011

Distance, Chapter 11


Saturday evening
January Twenty-first

All four rounds from somewhere west of Doug’s townhouse ended up penetrating the siding, sheathing, insulation and sheetrock of the outer wall, and two penetrated an inner wall, ending up inside a kitchen cabinet, breaking a plate and several water glasses.
For ten minutes, Doug and Julie both hugged the floor, wondering if more were coming.  Doug then carefully moved throughout the townhouse, putting the additional bulk of cabinets and furniture between the outer walls and his body as he unplugged the lights that he had on timers, and kept his small flashlight shielded.

“We’re out of here come morning,” Doug said. “Screw this.”

“Curfew ends at seven.”

“All right. For now we have power, and that means hot water. I’ll cover over the bathroom window with a couple of blankets and make sure it’s light tight. You can get a hot shower and I’ll keep watch. Then I’ll get cleaned up, and you can get some sleep. Your room has brick veneer on both front and back walls.  Hopefully that’ll slow down any more bullets.”

“It’ll help. You’re going to stay up all night, load the truck and then we leave in the morning? Won’t work,” Julie said. “You’ll need some rest.”

“OK, fine. I’ll set an alarm for four o’clock, and get you up,” Doug said facetiously.

“Fine with me,” Julie said, completely at ease.

“I wasn’t being serious,” Doug said.

“Fair’s fair. I’m not going to have you drive on no sleep,” she said. “No arguments. It’s a long drive.”

Working by flashlight, Doug made good on securing heavy black towels over the glass block bathroom window, and then turned on the lights.  Although he was nervous about going outside to check for light leaks, he carefully opened the second floor balcony door, and quickly looked over at the window, which looked fine, and then looked off to the west.  A large part of the neighborhood four or five blocks away was dark, although the rest of the area appeared to have power restored. With the distant sound of rifle fire, he didn’t linger outside long.

“OK, you should be fine with the lights on in there,” Doug said.  Julie had already gathered up a change of clothing.

“Thanks.  The luxury of a hot shower…” she said going into the bathroom.

Doug next covered over all the remaining windows in the apartment with blankets, furniture or layers of paper to block light from the inside.  By the time Julie was done with her shower and headed to bed, the townhouse was fairly light tight.   He then turned on his computer and sent an email to his ex-wife Brenda.

Things are pretty dicey down here in Elmhurst, and I’m going to be relocating out of the Chicago area. The townhouse was shot up a bit tonight, and that was the last straw for me. The good news is that I’ve landed a new job, and a fair amount of it will be work-from-home.  I’m going to be heading out tomorrow morning to look at a couple of houses outside of the area.  I’ll let you know how things work out.
Give Matt my regards—I know that’s about the last thing you’d expect me to say, but I have a whole new respect for what he has to do on a daily basis. Please give the kids a hug for me and above all else, stay safe.

The scanner was monitoring local police and fire activity as Doug made numerous trips to the garage.  He planned on coming back to the townhouse of course to get the rest of his things, but this trip would take the stuff he really needed while he was away.
Doug turned on the radio for any local news that might impact their decision to leave early Sunday, and found the Al Devlin show again, talking with someone watching the unwinding first hand. 

“Listen. I’m telling you what I’m seeing, and what I’m seeing is not what I’m hearing about on TV or network news.”

“We’re hearing that a lot, caller. Where are you?”


“How are things there?”

“Ever see Gone With the Wind? Picture that fire going through the poor parts of town, and no one showing up to fight it.”

“Any idea what started it?”

“You mean other than the riots? No, I have no frickin’ idea. How stupid are you?”  

“Calm down, caller. I’m in Tennessee. We’re not getting anything from the TV news. You are our reporter there.”

“Well then get this through your thick heads, America. If you’re rich, you’re a target. If you have a business, you’re a target. If you have food next week, you’re a target. The food stamps and the welfare checks and the Social Security checks didn’t show up in the mail on Thursday and Friday, and it hit the fan. Those people are Sherman’s army reincarnated. If it hasn’t happened in your city, it’s gonna, and you better be ready.”

“Thank you caller. Keep the ammo dry.”

“Yeah. Right. Like that’s gonna stop a half-million hungry people…”

‘Damn,’ Doug thought.  He’d heard something on the radio about welfare checks being delayed but hadn’t thought any more of it.  He made another trip to the pickup, loading his least-needed stuff in the bed nearest the cab.   Devlin was still taking calls when Doug came back upstairs, talking about an order given by the President, regarding martial law.

“Caller? Philadelphia, are you there?”

“….if you are trying to make a call, please hang up and ….”

Doug shut off the radio and made a pot of tea as he packed up some of his kitchen utensils.  He then did a ‘bulk check’ of Julie’s stuff, his stuff, and the supplies that he’d bought.  About a third of the essentials weren’t going to fit in the bed and canopy of the pickup, and Doug figured that the back seat area would be packed full of essentials needed at hand…probably including a couple of Julie’s firearms and ammunition. 
Around two a.m., Doug finished packing up everything that he had boxes for or could expect to take with him in another load or two.  In the past, he’d hired movers to box up his stuff and do the heavy lifting.  
After packing, Doug weighed the various options for housing, realizing that he never had received a positive response from her on the opportunity to relocate in Iowa, rather than other options in Wisconsin.  Regent-owned properties east of Chicago were too close to other major cities, and he’d ruled them out. 
He narrowed the options down to three with further study: Each property had at least five acres; each could be heated with wood in addition to ‘regular’ utilities; none were located on major roads.  Each had drinking water wells, the only three that had this feature. One was of brick construction, the others wood frame.   He was still studying them when Julie came out of her bedroom; it was not quite four a.m.

“Good morning,” she said, looking around the darkened townhouse. “You’ve been busy.”

“Truck is pretty well loaded.  The back seat I figured we’d load up with our last minute stuff, and your rifle and such.”

“So you’re about ready to go then?”
“With some sleep, yeah,” Doug said. Julie was looking at his computer screen.

“Where’s this one?” she said, pointing to the brick house.

“Fairfield’s the closest town. It’s a ways out of town--south--off on a one-lane road by the looks of it. Water well; wood burning furnace and natural gas. Standing seam metal roof, built in Nineteen-Eighteen.”

“That’s the one you want,” Julie said.

“Why’s that?” he asked with some skepticism.

“Brick. Slows bullets down,” she said as she pointed over her shoulder to the taped-over holes in the walls.

January Twenty-second
6:41 a.m.

Doug awoke with a start, feeling that he’d missed his alarm.  The electric alarm clock was blank again, meaning the power was out. The room was cool, not exactly cold. It wasn’t enough to wake him up though. 

“No point in lazing around,” he said to himself.  He got up and dressed quickly, smelling breakfast and finding himself very hungry. Doug went into the very dark front half of the townhouse.

“Good morning,” he said to Julie, stirring some maple syrup smelling oatmeal cooking on the camp stove.

“How’d you sleep?”

“Like a log. I don’t think I moved at all once my head hit the pillow,” Doug said.

“Thought so. I could hear you snoring out here!” she said with a smile.  “Here—black tea,” she said, handing him a travel mug he’d forgot he even owned.
“Thanks—what’s the news? Anything good?”

“Not really. Europe seems to be in meltdown mode.  No pension checks or any entitlements or direct deposits have been made since Thursday. Credit cards aren’t working either in Europe or here, apparently.  Riots all around Parliament and stretching to Windsor Castle…students and retirees and regular people.  The Royals bugged out to Scotland.”

“Seriously,” Doug said, not as a question.


“And here?” he asked.

“Illinois National Guard is everywhere.  A big Army truck rattled by here about an hour ago.  I peeked out the window and there are troops in the street, down at the intersection.”

“Anything on the scanner?”

“The whole police band went dead about five-thirty. The AM band said that curfew is in effect until eight a.m., unless they state otherwise,” Julie said, looking at some notes she’d taken.

“Did you look over the truck? Do I have all the stuff you need?”

“Yes and yes.  Other than your last minute stuff, we should be good to go…when they let us,” Julie said. “Doug, how is this going to work? This house business I mean.”

“Regent has a number for me to call when I make a choice.  They’ll have a local real estate agent expedite the lease. Housing deposit, rent, first and last can all be handled through the company. I can show up and get the keys, get a walk-through on the property, done….”

“Simple as that,” she said, quite skeptically.

“So the paperwork says, yes,” Doug replied as the curfew notice repeated on the radio, followed by a general announcement that no banks in the United States would open under any circumstances on Sunday, and that waiting for banks to open on Monday would not be permitted until after curfews end…

8:05 a.m.
With the last minute packing complete, Doug locked up the house, looking around once more for anything forgotten. They’d waited a few minutes past eight, just to make sure the local curfew was over.
Doug punched the garage door opener, and realized the power was still out….no garage door opener. He disconnected the interlock, lifted the door, and then drove the truck out of the garage, just in time to catch the eye of a local Guard patrol. He pulled the door down and locked it with a key.

“Hold there,” said a soldier. Doug found himself looking down the wrong end of three rifles.

“Absolutely,” he said, raising his hands.

“This your place? You have I.D.?”

“Yeah—in my wallet.”

“Please retrieve it, sir, slowly. We’ve had some problems overnight,” the soldier said.  Doug didn’t know what rank he was, but he seemed to be in charge.  Doug did as he was asked, noticing the other soldiers were now facing out, weapons pointed away from him, scanning….

“Mister Peterson, can you tell me your address without looking at the building?”

“Sure,” he said, then giving them the address.

“Destination, sir?”

“The Hell out of Chicago for a while….sorry. West.”

“This your wife in the truck?” the soldier asked.

“No. A friend. I’m looking after her. She was mugged and is just out of the hospital.”

“Very well, Mister Peterson,” the soldier said.

Doug finally read the man’s name on his uniform, ‘Frye,’ as he called another soldier over. “Rodriguez, gimme one of those maps,” he said, as the younger, much fatter soldier handed his senior a piece of paper.

“Mister Peterson, this is your route out to the West—follow the red line, do not deviate from it. It’s clear as of oh six hundred. Interstate Ninety is closed—red means closed.  Eighty-Eight is open with no tolls, but do not exit anywhere within a hundred miles. Got it?”

“Yeah, but why?”

“Because you won’t make it back onto the Interstate. Good enough?” Frye said with hard, unblinking eyes.

“Yeah, I guess so.”

“I’d recommend you drive prudently, but as quickly as you can given the weather. Clear?”

“Yeah. I’m, thinking about coming back for more of my things,” Doug said.

“Sir, if this neighborhood is like most others, you’ll never see anything in that apartment again. Hope you got the important stuff.”

“Yeah, I did. Just hoping.”

“Prayin’ would be better,” Frye said as he shook Doug’s hand. “Good luck.”


Back in the truck, Doug noticed that Julie had a bundle across her lap.  The muzzle of a rifle protruded out near her right foot.  Doug didn’t know what to say, and chose not to say anything.
Fifteen minutes later, they’d passed by more wrecked real estate and were on the westbound lanes of the East-West tollway, now the ‘Reagan’. They began to find themselves traveling with more west-bound vehicles, all heavily loaded…and only then did Doug notice that the Eastbound lanes had Westbound traffic as well.  Many towed trailers, some almost thrown-together, along with pickup trucks and RV’s of every kind.  Once every mile or two, they’d see one broken down on the side or worse, wrecked and abandoned.  They didn’t see anyone walking or standing near the wrecks though—probably not recent.  Doug and Julie exchanged a little small talk, and Julie got Doug’s permission, and encouragement, to take a nap.  She looked quite tired as she reclined her seat the little she could with the stuff in the back seat, and tried to get comfortable.
Doug had his hands full, keeping up with traffic on the slick road. The low cloud deck served to enhance the sensation that they were driving into a fog. Miles west, there seemed to be a dark band always on the horizon, never reached. He turned the radio on for news.

“…influenza is having a dramatic impact on the population, with the elderly taking ill and in many cases dying of the quick moving illness within a day.  Officials from the Centers for Disease Control declined immediate comment, and appear to be taken by surprise.  Local health departments have recommended that all public schools be closed for the next ten days due to the infection, and many universities and colleges are already considering continuation of education through the Internet only….”

‘Hmmm,’ Doug murmured to himself. ‘When was the last time that the CDC declined comment on something like this?  They’re usually overstating the ‘don’t worry’, rather than shutting up….’

“In Richland, Washington, Department of Energy containment teams along with Army specialists are rumored to be struggling to contain radiation released in the Domino earthquake.  Officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, stated that while the Columbia Generating Station was heavily damaged in the earthquake, the reactor itself shut down as designed.  The leaking radiation is apparently from Cold War era buildings that were being studied for cleanup.  Rumors in the community include reports of numerous deaths of first-responders, but the DOE and Federal officials decline comment.”

“Relief efforts and fund-raising efforts for the disaster in the Pacific Northwest again came to the forefront today after last nights benefit concert in Los Angeles, with numerous survivors attending the concert. More than fifty million dollars has been pledged to help relief efforts and the victims of the earthquake. Survivors and evacuees are continuing to arrive in Utah, southern Idaho, Nevada, California, and Arizona, with many local communities setting up shelters and offering evacuees housing and financial aid.  Critics of the Federal Government are pointing out the late response of FEMA and ineffective implementation of emergency response plans.  Neither the director of FEMA nor White House Press Secretary Tompkins would comment.”

Four hours and a hundred-fifty or so miles later, they arrived in the Quad Cities. It took a little while to get past the airport with the heavy westbound traffic, and Doug found a gas station with a smaller-than-average line of vehicles waiting.  The first few were at least a block long.  Nearing the west end of ‘civilization’ though, the options were fewer, and most people probably stopped at the first few they found.

“Fill ‘er up, sir?”  the attendant asked.  Doug noticed the Guard troops fifteen or twenty yards away, keeping watch.

“How much per gallon?” Doug asked as Julie got out of the truck, carefully hiding her rifle, and made her way to the restroom.

“Ten, even.”

“Holy smokes,” Doug said.

“That’s the price. You want gas?”

“Fill it up,” he said, remembering how much cash he had.

“You taking plastic?”  Doug asked.

“If it’s wrapped in cash, sure…Sorry. Cash only. You got enough?”

“Yeah,” Doug said. He and Julie had pooled some cash for fuel expenses.  Julie’s bills were well-used, mostly small bills.

“All right then,” the attendant said. “I need to see your cash, bud.”

“Sure. No prob,” Doug said, fishing a handful—deliberately looking it like was all the money they had, wadded up—out of his jacket pocket. “I’ve got one-fifty here.”

“Jackie! Get over here!” the attendant said. “Put no more than fifteen even in this Dodge! Move it!”

“Done, Ray,” the pump jockey said as he efficiently started pumping.

Doug waited for the fuel to be pumped, noting the five National Guardsmen walking around the convenience store.  He saw then, a line of bullet holes in the safety glass of the storefront. Julie appeared from the ladies room inside the store, and picked up a something from one of the racks, paid for it quickly, and returned to the truck. 

“Your turn,” she said.

“Thanks—here’s the cash. Plan on a hundred-fifty. No more.”

“All right,” Julie said. 

Doug headed inside to relieve himself, noticing the prices on the few things that the store had left on the shelves.  Five dollars for a candy bar…


  1. great story bud - maybe even better than the first 3 - i can't wait to read more! 8D

  2. The Story is great so far. Character development is great too. Thank you. Eagerly looking forward to each new Chapter!

  3. Excellant,like the way it's coming togther. Moar pleaze!

  4. Tom,
    Great story so far. I've read your first 3 novels as well. I couldn't put them down. When I read your books, I have Google Maps open to see where your characters live and follow their trips!
    All the best.
    Dave Raftery


Comments are welcome!