Sunday, February 27, 2011

Distance, Chapter 16


January Twenty-fourth
1:30 p.m.

Doug felt a little like this was a first date. He’d cleaned the pickup as best he could, even though they wouldn’t be driving anywhere, and changed into a clean shirt and a sweater.  He couldn’t remember if he’d done the same thing for Cammie, the first time he’d met her.  It felt as if a good first impression was necessary.

After he’d talked with Julie, he left the radio off and plowed back into work, following up all of the client emails with a draft schedule for obtaining product samples and outlined integration strategies, all of which were accelerated by several weeks from the initial schedule that Delta had planned.  The iron was hot; the hammer light in his hand.

He’d had sent emails out to his team, informing him of the ‘OK’ from senior management about relocating outside of threatening areas, and encouraging them to log back onto the company network as soon as possible. He’d heard back from his product researcher Jim McGillicuddy, he was on his way out of L.A.; Austin Childress in finance, who was based in Columbus; and Rob Dowling, also in L.A., who was the integration specialist that had given Doug the ‘thumbs up’ on the schedule change.  He hadn’t heard from Jenine Wendt, a creative consultant or Ann DeMumber, the corporate marketing rep who covered all Regent product lines….but they could catch up.  He thought they were in the San Diego office though, and that could mean anything.

He’d also tried to get in touch with the moving company and the townhouse property manager, but the calls never went through to Chicago. Before he left for the Segher Farm, he’d tried to call Brenda. Again, the call wouldn’t go through.

The road hadn’t had much traffic, and the going was slow with the compact ice. Doug put the truck into four-wheel-drive when he’d slewed around just coming out of his driveway. He’d almost taken out the mailboxes across the road.  ‘Kliest’, the realtor; and ‘Miller’, the name on ‘his’ mailbox. He then realized that he’d forgotten to forward his mail….

“I wonder what else I’ve managed to forget,” he said to himself.

Doug realized his heart was beating a little faster as he turned into the long driveway…and he was smiling.  Julie was sitting on porch rail as he pulled up to the house, wearing an oversized sweater and a big coat. She met him as he parked the pickup.

“Hi! How’s the new house?”

“Other than sleeping on the floor, it’s okay but with a few surprises.”

“Let’s go inside.  I’ve been out for awhile, and I think Maria has coffeecake.”

“That sounds good. The heater in the truck just started putting out heat about three minutes ago,” Doug said as Julie took his hand. “You’re freezing!” he said as he saw Maria.

“Good afternoon, Douglas. Here. Coffee. Black if I remember,” she said as she handed him a huge mug.

“Thank you Maria. This is perfect.”

They sat at the kitchen table, which would be too small for even the immediate family for a meal.

“So, let’s hear about your surprises,” Julie said. “I need a distraction from the news.”

“I understand that,” Doug said. “I have a generator for one. Didn’t know I had one.  I also have some firewood in one of the barns, not enough for a full winter I’m sure, but it’ll do in a pinch. Surprise two is that without the generator, water pressure drops pretty quick….as I found out the other night when you called.  The power died, then the phone.  I didn’t think about water of course.  And the place has a security system…that has some sort of battery backup.”

“Hmmm,” Julie said, taking a cup of coffee from Maria as she set a plate of coffeecake on the table, and made herself scarce.

“How’re things here?” Doug said, cradling the mug and warming his hands.

“I’m a bit of a fifth wheel, to be frank. I can’t lift anything, twist, or bend. So I’ve a list of things that I can do, which seems like much less than everyone else around here, and it is. Everyone is working their tails off.”

“You know you can’t push yourself. Doc’s orders,” Doug said.

“It’s not really in my nature to sit around,” Julie said.

“You’re not sitting around, Julie. There is plenty to do inside that is just as important as outside work,” Maria said, coming back into the kitchen with an armload of dishtowels. “You’re our stand-in accountant for one, and that’s a full time job itself.”

“I know, Maria.  It doesn’t seem like enough.”

“Time will come you will look forward to rest. Trust me,” Maria said as she headed to the dining room. Doug could hear the news on in the living room.

“Smart woman,” Doug said. “You’ll heal up soon enough.”

“The President is on. Come in here to the television,” Maria said, beckoning them from the kitchen.

The entered the living room just as the television switched from the anchor desk in either New York or Washington to the blue background of the White House, the Great Seal centered on the screen.  Two ‘crawlers’ on the bottom of the screen ceased as they all sat down to watch.

“Good afternoon, my fellow Americans. 

I am speaking to you about the invasion of the American Southwest by forces harbored, sheltered and sponsored by the enemies of the United States and enemies of the freedoms we enjoy.

In a synchronized attack against U.S. forces in the Far East and at home, terrorists backed and supported by Mexican army troops have staged a series of attacks and invasions on the border cities shared by our countries. This effort, widely called the opening of the Reconquista—or re-conquering—of the Southwest, was joined nation-wide by terrorist cells operating in predominantly Hispanic areas of the country.”

Doug noticed the steely look in Maria’s eyes, but something like resignation on Julie’s face.  

“These attacks included the bombing of a daycare center not far from here, in Alexandria, Virginia. This attack wounded and killed people that I know personally. Children that I have met. Network television has broadcast all day the results of this bombing, in graphic detail. But that is not all. This type of attack has been used in many of our cities, against police forces, hospitals, and schools. Eleven such attacks have occurred so far today, fourteen have been stopped. At this hour, five hundred and seven have been killed, and over two thousand injured.”

“Good God,” Doug said aloud.

“Units of the U.S. military have eliminated Mexican Army units at the border, and are working both south into Mexico in pursuit of these attacking units, and north, into cities and neighborhoods where these terrorists have hidden like cowards. The U.S. military, acting on my orders, has seized major economic centers and resources of the Mexican people, and will retain these until a peaceful and unconditional surrender of enemy forces occurs and a stable government is in place. Funds received by the operations of these facilities will be retained for the Mexican people.”

“How long have we been planning this?” Maria asked. “Nothing like this happens overnight.” 

“Using our national resources and intelligence assets, we have determined without question that the current invasion of American soil was led by none other than the president of Mexico and his leaders, in concert with the Chinese and other nations. This man I called friend, who I have dined with, who I believe shared a vision for the common good of both countries and our common peoples, has betrayed his people, the people of the United States, and the good will of neighboring nations.”

“Look at him. Leaning forward like that. He wants to strangle the man,” Julie said.

“No one would blame him,” Doug said.

“Working with the leader of Venezuela, one of the attacks first actions was to seize our diplomatic staffs in both countries.  I am sorry to report that both the Mexican and Venezuelan governments have executed all American diplomatic personnel and numerous American citizen contractors in both countries, and did so before we could mount any meaningful response to their seizure.

There will be no safe harbor for people such as these.”

“When this war is over, I pray that there will be a new world, one which has no room for men like these, for countries like these, for evil such as has been committed this day.  I will do all in my power to ensure this is so.

Good afternoon.”

The television screen switched back to the Presidential seal for a few moments, and then switched to a network correspondent in San Francisco.  The footage showed the wreckage of a Chinese freighter, still afire, although it appeared to be beached. Some sort of oil-boom was surrounding the wreck, and a fireboat was spraying foam on the wreck. 

“That’s a body in the water…look…on the left, inside the boom,” Julie said.

The scene then switched to a fire in Sacramento, where the distinctive tail of a fighter plane was visible in the middle of the blazing neighborhood.  The reporter said that there were reports of small arms fire in the area as the plane took off from a local Air Force base.

“Unbelievable,” Doug said.

“To the contrary, Douglas.  It is all too believable,” Maria said. “I have work to do,” she said as she stood and left the room.

Doug and Julie finished their coffee and cake, and then talked for another hour, and both wanted the conversation to continue. Doug needed to get back into cell coverage and back to work though, and to try to get in touch with the rest of the team.

“It was nice to see you, Julie.”

“You, too….despite the unpleasantness all around us. Can you call later?”

“Can you get calls here?” Doug asked.

“On the business phone, of course.  Here’s the number,” she said, handing him a business card. Her name was on it, with the ‘Segher Farm’ logo.

“You have a business card? Already?”

“As of this morning, yes. Printed them up here after getting my drivers’ license switched.”

“I need to do that,” Doug said. “And my mail.”

“Maybe sooner than later. If you’re questioned about where you live, you ought to have a local license.”

“One more thing to do,” he said, giving her a hug as he neared the truck.

“You should do it today if you can,” she said with some quiet steel behind her voice.

“I’ll try,” he said, feeling she knew something that she wasn’t telling him. “What’s going on?”

“Things happen fast. You’ve seen that,” she said. “Especially now. Look at where we are this week and where we were a week or two ago.”

“Yeah. I know,” Doug said. She was right of course.  Two or three weeks ago, he would never have dreamed that things would be the way they are.

“Especially now….” Julie said. “Listen. We had a long talk last night. All the adults and some of the adjoining neighbors. Everyone believes that it’s going to get worse. A lot worse.”

“Julie, we’ve beaten the Chinese. Paid a helluva price for it though. We’re going to beat the Mexicans…..”

“The Chinese were the major creditor and supplier to the U.S., and invested elsewhere as well.  What happens when other governments are no longer afraid that China will stop them from their own expansionist policies? What happens when other governments don’t have the U.S. to fear because we’re pre-occupied?  We have had the largest loss of life due to a natural disaster in our history. The economy isn’t a shambles, it’s a funeral pyre. We’ve been attacked on our own continent by our immediate neighbor and invaded. What happens next?”

“It’ll work out. We’re the United States,” he said, realizing that the statement was a bit naïve, given the events of the past day.


“It’ll be fine. We will be stronger in the end.”

“The ‘end’ might be years. Meanwhile we are facing things that we don’t even recognize. Where’s our fuel going to come from? What kind of restrictions will the government place on us now? You think the TSA requirements were bad before? What about now? Who, if anyone will replace the things we used to import and now cannot? We don’t have the industry we used to have. We don’t have a currency that anyone except maybe us has any confidence in. This will not end well. You need to be ready.”

“This isn’t going to sound right Julie, but with the resources that have been made available to me through this new job, I am better off now than I would have been a week ago.”

“Not enough. It’s not near enough, Doug.”

“There’s only so much time in the day and so much money in the bank. And I need to work to make money.”

“You need also to take time to learn,” Julie said. Doug didn’t know if he should be offended by that or not, but it didn’t sit well with him.

“And where do I start? With what? To what end? I’m not a farmer,” he said with barely veiled irritation.

“That isn’t what I meant,” Julie said, knowing too late that he was reacting as she feared, not as she’d hoped. “I’m sorry,” she said, eyes downcast.

He realized that she’d said nothing that he hadn’t already figured out, and that his defensiveness was entirely wrong. “No, nothing to apologize for. I’m sorry…I’m slow to realize how late I am to the dance,” he said, taking her hand. “I’m not sure I even know where to start, because I don’t know what I should know.”

“My own epiphany was a while ago. I’ve had more time.”

“Prepare a crash course for me maybe,” he said. “You can be my tutor.”

“Now there’s a visual,” she said with a coy smile and a squeeze of his hand, taking the conversation in a direction that Doug never anticipated.

“For certain,” he replied.  A long kiss and gentle embrace later, he drove out of the Segher property, smiling.

Doug made the quick trip into Fairfield, found the license bureau about to close early, but they’d stayed long enough to get his ‘smart license’ processed, linking to the Illinois data network to verify his information. He didn’t know the specifics of the ‘smart license’, but he’d been using the Illinois version for a few years. In his business travel, it allowed him a shortcut in the TSA lines at O’Hare, fast processing at rental cars, hotels and banks.  The rest of its functions he didn’t think about.

The Post Office had a long line in a special ‘customer service’ line, watched over by three police officers. Doug filled out his mail-forward application fairly quickly, with a dozen or so people in front of him for ‘regular service.’ The people in the special line were anxious; some angry, and all were being watched. He checked his phone for email, and found again, that he had a ‘no service’ message on the screen.  The voices in the other line grew louder.

“My pension check didn’t arrive.  Neither did the direct deposit from Social Security.  Social Security said they’d mailed it here to general delivery,” Doug overheard the much older man say, his wife clutching his arm.  She looked very worried.

“I’m sorry, Mister Breckenridge, but we’ve not seen any checks arrive from Social Security for more than a week.”

“I know that, Mary Jean.  And I’ve known your mother for forty-five years and I know that you wouldn’t lie to Nora and I. How do we find out when we’re going to get them?”

“I don’t know, sir. I’m sorry. We’re in the same boat—Jerry and I. Our paychecks didn’t show up on Friday like they were supposed to,” Doug heard the clerk say as he moved forward in his line.   He’d remembered hearing something like that on the radio a couple days before, but that was in….Atlanta? ‘Did all checks from the Government come from one place, or had they just cut everyone off?  Welfare and Social Security? How could they do that?’ he wondered.

“Next,” the bored clerk in his line said to Doug.

Ten minutes later, his business done, Doug walked back to his truck, and saw the old man and woman drive off ahead of him. The woman was wiping her eyes.

‘Could people be that close to the edge?’ he thought to himself, almost forgetting that he’d been nearly there days before. ‘And if they are…here, in Iowa of all places…Is this what Julie was talking about?’

He drove home, trying to figure out what Fairfield, Iowa might look like in a week or three, if the pensioner’s checks and Social Security and welfare and other government payments didn’t resume.

While it wasn’t Chicago or Atlanta, and the entire ‘downtown’ area could be seen in minutes. What happened when the rural United States ran out of money?

7:40 p.m.

The cell service was still down, but the Internet connection was working.  After arriving home, he made a light supper and attacked the incoming email inbox. He noticed that no new email had arrived after four p.m. He had several emails in the ‘junk’ box, including three from his team.  The first two were routine, the third was not. 

Mister Peterson—
I’m not on the company network, but I hope this goes through. I’ve had to move my family out of Chula Vista—our house was a block away from a hospital that was bombed and now the whole place is a war zone.  We barely made it out before they took the whole area.     I’m up in Victorville right now at my parent’s place. My husband and I have no idea what’s next.  Marketing for the Delta release seems pretty unimportant right now---but I hope that when all this settles down I still have a job. Hope you understand.  Please contact me at this address.  It should still work even if we need to move again.

Best regards,

Ann DeMumber

She provided her phone number in the email footer, and that of her parents.  Doug sat there for a minute, imagining what it might have been like for Ann and her family. She was right obviously, marketing didn’t really matter.   For her, right now, it was just survival. He thought for a few minutes, wondering what bothered him about this email, and came to the conclusion that he was bothered that she felt the need to send it at all, it seemed to have an apologetic tone to it.  Was Regent the kind of employer that would take offense because a valued employee running for their life and the lives of their families?   ‘…I hope that when this all settles down I still have a job.’

“So do I,” Doug said to his computer. 

1 comment:

  1. great update! stories turning scary, I love it!


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