Saturday, February 5, 2011

Distance, Chapter 13


January Twenty-third
8:50 a.m.

“Almost ready?” Julie asked as Doug packed the last of his things in the overnight bag.

“Just about.  I had a little more cleanup after working with Roel than I thought I would.”

“You seem to have held your own.  Molly says he’s a beast when in comes to maintenance around here.”

“He seems to have a single speed: Full throttle,” Doug said as he checked the room one more time.

“What’s your plan for the week? Do you know yet?” Julie asked as they headed into the living room.

“Conference call later of course.  I have a fair number of contacts to get in touch with today, and a projected travel schedule later this month.  Most of the contacts are already Regent clients, so this is more of an introduction to a new line, rather than cold calls, which I despise.”

“Are you thinking of getting the rest of your things from your townhouse?” Julie asked, tone implying that she thought it was a bad idea.

“Not personally if I can help it.  I’m going to see if I can contract it—get a moving company in touch with the building manager, make arrangements that way.”

“I can’t see going back there, myself. Not after…” her voice trailed off.

“I can’t either, unless I have a really good reason.  I’ll probably get a bank account opened up locally this afternoon, and see about getting some things for the house,” Doug said as Arie appeared in the back hallway. 

“Adriaan, thank you for your hospitality.  I appreciate it more than I can say,” Doug said.

“Douglas, you are quite welcome. Let us know how things are out there in the world.  We’re staying on the farm for the foreseeable future,” he said.  “Maria has a few things for you in the kitchen. Come now.”

Around the corner, Maria had a well-worn thermos with coffee, and a large bag of food.

“Maria, this wasn’t really necessary,” Doug said apologetically.  “Dinner last night and that wonderful breakfast this morning was quite enough!”

“Nonsense. Julie told me about your house. You’re roughing it for a few days. This will help now,” she said, brushing some of her graying blonde hair back.  “And Sunday dinner is at two o’clock,” don’t forget.”

“Thank you again. I will try to make it.  I don’t think I’ll be traveling much at first.”

“Standing invitation. Douglas,” Adriaan said.

“I should get moving,” Doug said.  He’d said his ‘goodbyes’ to most of the family right after breakfast, as all were heading back to their various tasks around the farm. Peter and Molly were over at Catharina’s house, helping on a major kitchen project…Doug didn’t know what exactly.  Roeland told him that he could be ‘mechanic’s helper’ any time, which surprised him a little.  Doug was barely able to find the various tools that Roeland needed, despite the immaculate, well-lit machine shop.

Outside, the wind seemed colder than it had earlier, and the sky darker.

“Storm coming in later,” Julie said, perhaps reading Doug’s mind.  She took his hand as they walked to his truck.  Doug squeezed it a little in acknowledgement. “Thank you for everything, Doug. You’re a lifesaver.”

“I would like to think that I have someone that would do as much for me.  Until the past few days though, I’ve realized that I don’t.”

“You do now,” Julie said softly, giving him a quick kiss on the cheek and turning quickly to go back inside, her hand shoved in her pockets, head down. Doug didn’t even have time to react.

“Hey. Not fair,” he said. “That was like an ambush.”

“Always leave them wanting more,” Julie said, looking back over her shoulder with a slight smile as she opened the porch door, and was gone.

“Damn,” Doug said. “I guess that’s true enough.”

12:04 p.m.

“No, sir. Iowa,” Doug said to David Williams. “I’m standing in a very empty house at the moment. I have managed to put the things that I brought with me away….which makes the place look more empty than before.” 

Doug had gotten through to the property management company, and they had ‘secured’ the entire complex—meaning that the empty units were boarded up, and a full time security patrol was present in the parking lot and around the building.

“Sleeping on the floor tonight? I’m betting you ended up leaving most of your stuff in Chicago,” Williams said, a little smile in his tone.

“That will be the case until I get some furniture down here, yes,” Doug said as a series of tones sounded on the call, as other people added on the line.  He had arranged with the property manager and a moving company—again, a Regent affiliate—to clean everything out of his townhouse and garage, and ship it to his new home. He’d used some of his Regent signing bonus to do so, which was better than cash he didn’t have, out of pockets that held nothing but lint.

Williams made introductions, and proceeded through the agenda relatively quickly. The other five Regent employees were newly assigned to the Nutritional Enhancement Workgroup, with Doug as the spearhead on the market side. His distant workers would assist him in ‘target identification’, meaning identifying the gatekeepers within each current Regent client on the list; the suggested marketing strategy would focus on emphasizing the benefits of the nutritional supplements into existing product lines. The key selling points would be of course to increase nutritional value in each food product and would also enhance the flavor of many of the products…and Regent had double-blind clinical studies to back it up. The supplements would increase interest in the products; the clients could market their improvements as their own; and the cost from Regent to the end producers was negligible given the current Regent relationships. From the Regent side, the customers would recognize this as a value-add and that with increased interest in current products….Regent would increase their volume of sales…in fact making up the investment within a few bare months.
The sales goal was aggressive, with integration into the already-expanding Regent client base projected at eighty percent by the end of the fiscal year, October first.   The low hanging fruit would be product lines in the institutional-type food suppliers, including bulk restaurant product for fast food outlets; large cafeteria supply lines; and commercial grade dehydrated product typically ending up in military-style ‘meals, ready to eat.’ The more difficult targets were the higher end specialty food markets, organic suppliers, and unmodified foods—although those were all on the list.  Genetic modifiers in most key crops had already broken down many of the barriers for Regent and her sister companies, and further advancements into the ‘organic’ market were not perceived as insurmountable. The Los Angeles based ‘Strategic Group’ report on that market segment was exhaustive, Doug saw.
An hour and a half later, each of Doug’s team members had their assignments, as did Doug.  Williams had initially planned on Doug meeting each company rep face to face, but given the social climates in the major cities and near each key client, he would instead ‘work the phones’ in a modern fashion, through live video conference from Doug’s home.  Delta would require him to travel to Denver at least quarterly, as well as to Columbus and a few other locations for division performance reports.  The rest of Doug’s team signed off the call, leaving him to speak with David.

“Aggressive plans, sir.”

“Gotta strike while the iron’s hot.  There’s ample reason to proceed full steam.  The competition is on the ropes and we have something that no one else has, and that everyone will be demanding,” Williams said.

“So it appears,” Doug said.

“You should have a packet in your inbox about now. That’ll contain an e-catalog for Supreme Foods, one of our private store supply chains in the Midwest.  You should be able to place an order from that catalog for just about anything you need for your new place—grocery wise.  You’ll want to set up your account with your corporate card and arrange for delivery.  And Doug, I’d request that you stick with the Supreme catalog for most of your food purchases, unless you’re sure you’ve got quality food from a very local source. We’re hearing about some nasty contaminants and chemicals coming from abroad. We know our product and we’re confident in it.  The catalog is for Regent corporate purchases only, although if you have family you’d like to buy for, that’s fine. These products go through an extra level of quality control, at the request of our CEO and Board.  Questions?”

“Not a one, thanks.  I appreciate this, David.  This opportunity really is once in a lifetime.”

“We think you’re the right man for the job and have a lot to offer. Good to have you aboard. We’ll talk in the next few days, OK?”

“You got it,” Doug said, as Williams ended the call from his end.

3:30 p.m.

“Mister Peterson, thank you for your business. We have a number of Regent folks banking with us, and we’re quite happy to serve you,” Jane Steinberg, branch manager of the Liberty Bank of Fairfield said.  “We can handle all of your transfers from your former bank electronically, as soon as their operations center is back on line. Your credit card should be active right now, though.”

“Things were pretty dicey when I left,” Doug said. “I can’t imagine that they’ve improved.”

“From what our information systems officer said, the main data center in Palatine is down, and the secondary isn’t accessible, although it is still on the network.”

“There’s not much money in my former bank in any regard.  I should be seeing a direct deposit from Regent coming in at the end of the month. Until then, I should be fine,” Doug said, rising to leave.  He had some shopping to do before the end of the day. With his new Liberty Bank credit card, he could get some of things to make the house more habitable short term.

“We can email you when the transfers are complete.  Will that work for you?” Mrs. Steinberg said.

“That’d be great, thanks,” Doug said, shaking her hand, and noticing his phone was signaling a missed call, despite the fact that it never rang.

Outside, Doug punched in his call back number and retrieved the message.  His company car was ready, and he could have it delivered if need be.  The dealership was only a mile away, west on Highway Thirty-Four. Doug drove down the “other” main drag of Fairfield to the dealership to see for himself.   He’d get this taken care of, and shop later—‘town’ wasn’t far away.

By five p.m., Doug was back ‘home’, and his Dodge was taking up one bay of the three in the garage, and a brand new dark blue Explorer was taking up another.   Doug had taken the dealership up on the delivery option.  Two of the dealership staff had followed Doug out to his house, Doug driving the new Ford, the sales guy telling him about all the features of his new car, another guy driving Doug’s pickup. Doug didn’t know how to get the guy to shut up—the sale was already made, he didn’t need to hammer it in.

All day, Doug had wanted to go shopping locally, to get some ‘normal’ groceries and get some variety.  He’d enjoyed a pastry and some coffee from Maria Segher’s kitchen, but with his fairly busy afternoon, hadn’t thought about getting dinner going.  He locked up the house and took his pickup into town.
No traffic on the road north in to Fairfield allowed him to make good time into town, and there were few cars even on the main roads.  Caving into hunger, Doug picked up a couple burgers, fries and a shake….costing him twenty dollars on his credit card. There were no other diners in the place.
After savoring the meal, Doug drove a couple blocks to the west, and found a local grocery store.  The parking lot had about twenty cars in it, nothing like Chicago.
Inside, there were a handful of people shopping, a couple at the customer service area, no one toting a shotgun or asking to see ‘cash’ before entering the store. Doug felt a little like he’d stepped back in time, beyond his experiences at AmeriMart. The shelves told a little different story, although the untrained eye might not have noticed it at first.
The shelves were all front-loaded, meaning no reserve items beyond the stock on the leading edges of the shelves.  Someone was going through the store to make it appear that there was plenty of product, which wasn’t uncommon when shipments were due or overdue.  The leading name brands were all but gone from the shelves, with second or third-tier brands filling in.  The produce area didn’t have much in the way of greens, but had a vast amount of fruit…apples in particular.  Where lettuce, cabbage and out of region foods should have been, winter squash, potatoes (loose, not in bags) and onions filled the produce section.  Nice placement, but if someone wanted citrus fruit, tomatoes, bananas or kiwis, they were out of luck.
The prices were higher than Doug had seen in Chicago, but probably not out of line with the rest of the current commodity market.  The prices may have been the reason the customers were few and far between….not many people could have been prepared for food prices tripling within a few months, with most of that increase in a matter of days. Some of the other shoppers, he noted, were looking at their smaller baskets, and calculating prices as they went, to make sure they had enough cash. Doug’s large cart, full, was just over four hundred dollars, charged to his credit card.  Some people looked at him a little sideways as he made his way out the door. The drive home was uneventful.
Doug had just finished folding up the last grocery bag when the phone rang. ‘Bowman, Matthew’ appeared on the screen.

“This is Doug,” he answered, with a little caution in his voice.

“Doug, this is Brenda. Are you doing OK?” his ex-wife asked.

“Well, yeah. Everything OK with you?’

“Not particularly.  Matt’s cruiser was shot at today. Wasn’t hurt, but it was a near thing. I hear martial law is in effect in Chicago.”

“I’m sorry to hear about Matt. I’ve…moved out of Chicago, Bren.  The townhouse was shot up the other night and that was it.  I’m down in Iowa now.”

“Iowa? Why there?”

“I can work from home for quite a bit of the time, and just need to have airport access the rest of the time. It’s not that far from a couple of airports, and the company had housing here,” he said, not filling in much detail. “ How’re the kids doing?”

“I’m starting them in home school this week. Things are…different now. Michael’s not liking the idea one bit, James couldn’t care less.  Veronica’s all ready for her birthday of course, ten going on twenty.”

“Did her birthday card arrive OK?” Doug said realizing that he’d messed up again.

“Yes, you were a month early, as always.”

“I never could get her birthday right,” Doug said.

“Three days before your Mom’s, remember?”

“Maybe someday I will.  How, if you don’t mind asking, did Matt get shot at? It’s not like he’s a big city cop or anything,” Doug asked, realizing that what he said might be taken as an insult. “Not that a small town cop is a bad thing. I’m in a small town myself.”

He heard Brenda exhale before answering. “Matt covers parts of two counties and is constable in four small towns, and works part time for emergency services, too. So he’s all over the map.  He was on patrol and some car with Illinois plates started shooting at him from the oncoming lane.”

“Jesus. He’s damned lucky.”

“Yeah. He’ll be wearing body armor now. And a helmet,” Brenda said. Doug could tell she was probably on the verge of tears.

“Brenda, you did the right thing….I mean, everything.  Matt’s a good guy, although I haven’t ever said that.  He’s right for you and the kids. Given what I’ve seen and people that I know, getting out and staying out of the big city is a good idea for you all. Is Matt there?”

“Yes,” she said.  “Thanks, Doug for saying that.”

“Can I talk with him for a minute?”

“Uh, sure. Let me go track him down,” Brenda said, getting her composure back.

“Hello?”  Matt said.

“Matt, this is Doug.  Bren told me you had a near miss today.  You doing OK?”

“I’m fine. She’s making more of it than it was,” Matt said, coolly.

“Matt, I’ve told Brenda this already, but I’d like to apologize for stuff I’ve said to you and Brenda. I was a jerk, and I know that now.  She made the right choices for herself and the kids. I wanted you to know that.”

“Well, thanks I guess, Doug,” Matt said, having trouble finding anything else to say.  “You still in Chicago?”

“Nope.  Townhouse got shot up, a friend of mine was mugged; there was looting going on all over the place…I took the escape hatch. I’m not far from Fairfield, Iowa.”

“That’s definitely out of the way,” Matt said.

“Matt there’s something else I’d need to tell you. The cops in my neighborhood were dressed in full SWAT gear, the place looked like something out of third-world country. There aren’t enough cops to go around, and the ones that are out there are targets and they know it.”

“Yep. Nothing I don’t know already,” Matt said. 

“Matt, are you and Brenda….I guess I’m saying, are you guys ready for this? For what’s coming?”

There was a long silence on the other end of the call.  “No one is ever ready, Doug.  But we’re prepared, or better than most.  The question I’d ask is, are you?”

“No. But I’m getting there. Late to the party as always.”

“You can’t really do it alone. I hope you realize that,” Matt Bowman said, in a more official tone.

“I know that.  I’ve got some contacts down here,” Doug said. “I’m hoping that I can count on them if the time comes.” 

“Works both ways.  They need to count on you, too. And trust has to be earned,” Matt said.

“I know. I’m working on that,” Doug said. “Take care of yourself, Matt.”

“You too,” Matt replied as Doug ended the call.   He heard for the third time in a few hours, the Emergency Alert System tones, and then the closing, ‘This is only a test….’ statement. 

“Crying wolf again,” Doug said to no one, just as he heard someone from the White House announce that the President was about to speak. 


  1. I am really enjoying this, on the edge of my seat! thank you.

  2. I'd say it's getting good, but it's really been a page-turner from the first paragraph.
    Thanks and keep 'em coming.
    Stay safe

  3. Another excellent chapter! Really enjoying the differient approach. Thank you for doing it.

  4. Keep them coming. I like the tie ins with the Deep Winter series. Interesting to have a "behind the lines" point of view.


Comments are welcome!