Monday, March 21, 2011

Distance, Chapter 18


January Twenty-sixth
9:04 a.m.

“Ten days, I’d guess,” Doug said, speaking with Regent’s ‘traffic controller’ in Ohio, who’d be setting up his first major business trip. The ‘Controller’ was essentially their in-house travel agent, who’d use the corporate resource base to get Doug from ‘A’ to ‘B’. In this case, from ‘A’ to ‘F’, from Iowa to the upper Midwest, New York and Atlanta.

“This will depend of course on commercial travel restrictions and our internal security review, Mister Peterson.  We’re having to work this backwards—finding which airline is flying and where, and then you’ll be able to set up meetings in your target cities. We at least have rental cars reserved throughout the system, so that won’t be a problem. Des Moines is currently showing no restrictions that would impact your planned itinerary.”

“OK.  Can you let me know later today?”

“Oh, certainly. Within the hour I would expect,” the pleasant voice replied.

“Excellent.  Assuming that cell service stays active, you can reach me at this number.  If not, just email me at the Regent address and I’ll get it eventually.”

“Things rough out there?” the agent asked.

“Much quieter than Chicago,” Doug said.

“Yes,” the agent replied quietly. “We’ve got restrictions in place for Chicago, Philadelphia and Atlanta right now, although they say that Atlanta might be lifted sometime tomorrow.”
“That’d be good news if true.”

“It sure would,” the agent said before signing off.

Doug’s morning had been a flurry.  He’d been up early to the sound of someone’s barking dog, and decided to get up and to work. The clear night led to a brilliant cloudless sunrise. The power was up and going, the furnace kept the place warm, which figured, since he now had a pile of split firewood in the basement and water stored in the storage room….

The request (demand?) for Doug to schedule face-to-face meetings with his primary targets came from David William’s office, but the email was sent by one of his assistants.  David had left the office early on Wednesday, feeling ill, the email explained, but they expected him to be back in the Denver office by Friday.

Doug would have some serious time in airports with this trip, from the Des Moines origin, covering Akron, Minneapolis, Battle Creek, New York and Atlanta, for starters. He’d spent an hour on the line with the ‘traffic controller’, getting his identification established, internal client invoicing assigned, and listing his needed cities of destination.

A later email from Williams’ statistics officer (Doug had never heard of such a position) informed Doug that there was an eighty-one percent favorable rating with Doug’s initial presentation of the RNEW product, followed up by a fifty-six percent immediate request for additional information up to and including sampling of the RNEW system into major food product lines. For a hastily written, haphazardly implemented (Doug’s impression of his own work) marketing effort, the results had been spectacular.

He would meet with a dozen representatives from major food producers on this trip, more if he could schedule it.  These companies made everything from breakfast foods to candy; prepackaged foods to gourmet goods; bulk products like flour, sugar, and spices to sports drinks, bottled water, canned coffee-drinks and soft drinks…in short, nearly everything consumed by the Western world as ‘food.’

Doug had worked for years for Leinhardt, and had never had anything nearly as large as this agenda in front of him, and had only met with one company with the scale of these: Agnew Middleton. He’d been received well by A.M., and generated some business from them but nothing like an exclusive in any of the product lines he rep’d. They were now ‘eager’ to meet with Regent Delta to explore ‘exclusive partnering on several product lines.’ It really didn’t get much better than that, Doug thought….

The cell phone buzzed on the desk, bringing up an unfamiliar phone number.

“This is Doug,” he answered.

“Mister Peterson, this is BlueStar Transport.  We would like to schedule our team to deliver your property today. Is that convenient?”

“Absolutely!” Doug said with surprise. “I’m tired of sleeping on the floor.”  Doug heard the man on the other end chuckle at that.

“I can understand that, sir,” he said, before asking for directions and providing an estimated time of delivery.

“The truck is between Dubuque and Cedar Rapids right now, so barring anything unforeseen, today should not be a problem with delivery. I do have a question for you though, sir?”


“How’s the diesel availability down your way?”

“It was available yesterday, price is going through the roof though. Haven’t checked today.”

“Fair enough. Thanks for that.  If you wouldn’t mind, give us a call when the team has left your location.”

“No problem,” Doug said as the call ended. ‘Why do you want me to report on your employees?’ he said to himself.

He looked around the house, and decided it was probably a good idea to stow the new Mossberg shotgun and the boxes of shells.  The salesman had walked him through the several remaining shotguns for sale at the store, and he had settled the an adjustable stock six-shot Mossberg twelve gauge.  It seemed to Doug that it would be easier maneuvering it around the house should it come to that.  The other options were longer and a little more bulky.  The salesman recommended at least five hundred shells, which Doug bought without question. A thousand rounds of .32 caliber for his ‘antique’ revolver, as Julie had called it, and a shoulder holster joined the shotgun and shells. By the time he was done shopping, he’d gone through a thousand dollars on his credit card with two shopping carts to show for it. They’d sold out of shotguns by the time he’d finished, and shells were going fast.

On Doug’s list today, at some point, would be practice firing both.  He’d bought several boxes of shells recommended to him for practice, which were quite a bit less expensive than the boxes of ‘home defense loads’.

A few minutes after noon, the BlueStar moving van arrived in Doug’s driveway, efficiently turning around and backing up toward the front door of the house before anyone left the cab. Doug was outside as the truck shut down.

“Good afternoon,” Doug said as the driver and another man climbed out of the truck.

“Afternoon, sir.  Could I get your name and the address of the property that we picked up from?” the man asked. 
“Sure,” Doug replied, giving his name and his former Chicago address.

“Correct.  Thanks, Mister Peterson.  That’s part of our security protocol.  Hope you don’t mind.”

“Not at all.  I hope there was still some stuff left worth moving,” he replied, not knowing quite what had happened after he’d left.

“It was an interesting couple of hours,” the second man said.  He was in his early thirties, Doug guessed, and probably weighed a good hundred pounds more than he ought to have. “We had two security men with us, plus the guy keeping an eye on the property. Almost wasn’t enough.”

“Mister Peterson, we really need to get moving on this stuff,” the first man said, showing some impatience at the small talk.  He was in his fifties, and thin, but athletic.  Doug noted that he had what looked like a similar shoulder holster under his coveralls.

“Sure. No problem. Most of the stuff can go straight into the living room and main floor and I’ll take care of it from there.” Doug signed for the delivery and they immediately went to work.

In a fast twenty minutes, Doug’s belongings were unloaded and generally placed in the main floor. He was surprised at the boxes that came inside. Virtually everything that he could remember in the townhouse arrived safe and sound, with the exception of the big television. The driver showed him a photograph of the flat screen, sporting four bullet holes in it—they’d come through the outside wall.   As the first load came into the house and the movers saw the staircase, he’d decided to make the main floor office his bedroom, thinking correctly that he could cut down the heat requirement by keeping the upstairs rooms closed off.

After the truck pulled out of the driveway, he called the number provided by BlueStar, and gave them the time that the truck left. In the background, he heard that the stock market had declined another four hundred points in a session broken by automated trading curbs. He wondered again, if Hal Downing’s strategy for Doug’s money was working, or if it had failed…there wasn’t any way to easily find out. He wrote himself a note to call Hal.

Doug got back to work, leaving the boxes where they sat. He wanted to get ahead on background research for the list of companies he’d meet with and think about the integration strategy.  He’d only heard from Rob Dowling, who’d left L.A. for anywhere he could catch a plane east. He’d planned on rejoining the Columbus office where he’d worked before moving to California. Working around his team, he outlined his plans for each meeting, figuring that either he’d integrate their thoughts later, or wing it on his own. He’d have liked to have someone on the inside to bounce around ideas.

He’d still not received a call from Regent’s traffic office, and it was now nearly two o’clock.  He called their number three times, and repeatedly received the too-familiar ‘all circuits busy’ message.

“Fine. Time for a break anyway,” Doug said, pushing away from his computer. He started digging into the boxes, and interestingly enough they were color-coded by room. ‘Kitchen’ boxes first, with a big red ‘K’ on each face.

“….markets in New York today, as the Dow Jones dipped to twelve-twenty, the S&P hit one-ninety-one point twenty, and the NASDAQ fell to three twenty-one point ten.”
‘Wow,’ Doug thought. ‘This keeps up and they’ll all be in double digits in days.’ He cut open the last of the boxes from the kitchen as the news continued.

“Fighting in the southwest and the former states of northern Mexico continued throughout the day, with consolidation of captured territory being completed as far as three hundred miles south of the former U.S. border. Senator Mardigan of New Mexico called for the immediate annexation of all captured territories, with expulsion of armed combatants south of the new border, which is still in dispute.   Comments made on Capitol Hill this afternoon centered on the status of the border zone, and when—not if—the captured territory would be formally annexed by the U.S. as a protectorate or U.S. Territory. Very few dissenting voices could be heard as the statement was made on the steps of the Capitol.”

‘Can’t take care of what we have now and they want more? Get real,’ Doug thought as he stacked up the stoneware plates in the cupboard.

“….. protest against the federal reorganization planned by the Administration is continuing at this hour on the Mall, with a significant response by the National Guard and regular Army units around the protest.  We go now to Curt Wilson on the Mall. Curt?”

“Thank you, David.  The Mall is under siege this hour from an unexpected quarter.  Well over a hundred thousand people are here, and have been here throughout the day, demanding that the government reconstitute the departments that the Reorganization has eliminated. Employees from hundreds of departments of the government turned out en masse this morning after night curfew ended, and attempted to march on the White House and Capitol buildings. Several Democrat senators spoke at ten this morning, as did several Republicans in the afternoon. Both groups are focused on urging the President and the Cabinet to reconstitute the thousands of well-paying public jobs that until two weeks ago were often held for life. That is certainly no longer the case, with the abolition of dozens of major departments, hundreds of smaller agencies, and even some Cabinet positions in the largest reorganization—and some say rollback—of the power of the federal government ever imagined.  This is plainly a gain for the states and the restoration of the primacy of State’s Rights, and a re-focusing of the entire federal Administration on the concept of government as the Founding Fathers originally intended. For many this is a second Revolution. For others, the end of their careers.”

“Now that’s just stupid,” Doug said aloud. “Stronger government does not come from fewer employees.”  He next opened up the yellow boxes from the living room, finding that none of his many DVD’s had made the trip, figuring that they were stolen from the townhouse or by the movers. He’d ordinarily be upset by this theft. Today he was just happy to have anything from the Chicago house.

“….the more violent the sentiment is. There are many voices in that crowd calling for the forcible removal of the President and the Cabinet, and their replacement with an interim President—elected by the Congress.” 

Doug stopped and listened intently, wondering what Julie would think of the news.

“No comment from the Administration was made following the speeches by the congressmen on the Mall today, other than a printed statement regarding the refocusing of National priorities within a framework that the States could afford.  That, in and of itself, drew comment from around the world, including from the European Union, who stated that the United States was systematically being Balkanized in order to avoid the repayment of debts garnered over generations of good faith by the countries of the world.”

“And they’d be right,” Doug said, arms folded across his chest, looking at the radio. “The President’s an idiot. People paid into Social Security and Medicare and they have a right to them…’

  “Senator Mitch Andrews, senior senator from Missouri and one of the oldest serving senators in U.S. history, stated that his debt to all countries was paid in full, thanks to his service, and the service of thousands of Americans in Europe and Asia in the early years of World War Two, and his three years spent in prison camps in France, and later Germany. The remainder of his statement could not be printed or broadcast, due to the rather coarse nature of his additional comments.”  

“Wheel out the antiques to wave a tired flag of nationalism,” Doug said.  “Not a real creative rebuttal,” he said aloud as he heard the chime of an incoming email.

“Mr. Peterson—
Due to health and security concerns, we are unable to complete your request for travel on commercial airline carriers. Regent’s Employee Care and Wellness analysts have recommended that no Regent employees travel via commercial airliner for the foreseeable future due to concerns of influenza infection. We believe that a formal declaration by the Centers for Disease Control of a pandemic emergency will be forthcoming in the next several days.

Currently, all corporate air travel is restricted to Regent-owned aircraft for senior executive travel.  Your position in Regent Delta unfortunately, does not place you in a position to qualify for this travel option. Obviously this is a massive disruption in the business of Regent, but given the risks we believe that these restrictions are prudent.
In the meantime, we believe that you should consider business travel by either Regent-provided vehicle or private vehicle, which will be reimbursed at rates to be negotiated. We would also state that travel should be made only as the highest priority as determined by you in concert with you and your Division Manager. Additionally, the following health-care and security recommendations are in place for all travel:

-Personal protection equipment (PPE) should be worn at all times in public. If you do not have anti-bacterial or anti-viral masks, do not travel. For further information on this, please refer to Appendix D of your employee manual.
-Face-to-face meetings should be conducted where there is exceptional air-exchange or even outside, to minimize the possibility of transmitting disease. At least six feet of separation is recommended between individuals due to the nature of the airborne transmission. Infection may occur through inhalation or contact of airborne particles with eyes.
-Frequent hand washing and sanitation practices on frequently-touched surfaces such as faucets, door handles, elevator buttons, telephones and other surfaces should be employed in all cases.
-Exercise cough- and sneeze etiquette in all cases.
-Avoid any crowds in public places, including elevators or facilities where you are less than six feet away from other people (airborne viruses typically are transmitted within a six-foot radius.)
-Do not ride-share under any circumstances.
-Avoid rental vehicles that have not been completely sanitized, including replacement of cabin air filters.
-Hotel stays should be in Regent-approved facilities.  The approved facilities have sanitation standards that are significantly more stringent than non-approved facilities. 
-Should you feel that you are becoming ill (cough, fever, sneezing, general body aches, weakness and or fatigue, etc.) immediately seek professional medical care….”

The email had three attachments, covering the aspects of travel in more detail; a list of ‘approved hotels’ covering the eastern U.S.; and further travel restrictions in the southern states and in other ‘volatile’ cities.

“Seriously. They want me to drive this?” he asked no one. “Damn,” he said, now not looking forward to this proposed trip in any way. The news continued on the radio, as he punched up a map on the computer, and started putting a route together.

“… Atlanta, officials of the CDC are at this hour preparing a statement regarding quarantines that have been issued in many U.S. cities. International air traffic has all but ceased due to the economic crisis, which appears to be slowing the spread of the disease.  The disease—preliminary identified as an aggressive influenza—has in rare cases killed its victims within twenty-four hours of the onset of symptoms.”

“The Vice President remains in Bethesda Naval Hospital, and word has come that his wife as taken ill as well. No comment has been made by the Administration, although rumors are—and have been—rampant throughout the day.”

Doug stopped looking at the map, and again looked at the radio. ‘If the V.P.’s got it and they can’t cure him…who’s the next in line? And it’s spread to his family?’

“Fox News is reporting that National Guard, Army and Marine units continue to engage in street fighting with rebels and terrorists in the Los Angeles, Tucson, Phoenix and Southern California regions.  While the Department of Defense has not released casualty information, Fox has learned that over seven thousand enemy have been killed in these urban battles, with losses of U.S. troops topping six hundred.  One hundred sixteen of these were killed when a KC-135—a refueling plane transporting troops—was shot down by a surface to air missile during a brazen, daylight attack, while on final approach to Mather Air Force Base east of Sacramento.  A small cell of terrorists operating the launcher were beaten to death by civilians before law enforcement officers could respond.”

“Damn,” Doug said, wishing Julie was here. He’d plan out his route map, and give her a call this evening…..


  1. Another good one Tom.Thanks for taking the time out of a busy life to write it up! I appreciate it.

  2. Awesome Sir! Thank you for another great chapter!


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