Sunday, November 11, 2012
The Segher Farm
Roeland’s men went over the Jeep with the proverbial fine toothed comb, and found no electronic or paper documentation that might be expected to be retrieved by Regent operatives along Doug’s planned route. Only by accident did one of the cousins discover a second enclosure, adjacent to the Jeep’s powertrain control module that didn’t appear to belong. A wiring harness was present, wrapped up with electrical tape that looked factory enough, tucked behind the windshield washer reservoir under the hood. The silver module didn’t quite look the same as the real PCM though.
Dinner was simple but sumptuous, with Julie holding his hand throughout the entire meal, a smile on her face. After dinner the men had headed either to patrol, to bed (for those on patrol after midnight), or to the equipment shed for work on the Jeep. Doug watched as the men carefully removed the fake module, placing it on a workbench below a bank of radios within the cage.
“Stock power and data connections for a PCM. But not hooked up,” Jake Segher said, glasses halfway down his nose. “Crack it open?” he asked.
“Yep,” Roeland said. “Any marks or seals on the case?”
“Negative,” Jake replied.
“Let’s see what we find inside.”
Jake took a tee-handled tool from a rack and quickly removed several hex screws from the case, followed by the silver cover.
“Well, that’s easy,” Jake said. “Six flash drives, all nicely wrapped up and labeled for each location. Wanna bet they’re not encrypted?”
“How’re you going to find out without triggering a date code event?” Doug asked. All of Regent’s files were proprietary, and any access, even to just ‘peek’ at a file, resulted in a modification date embedded in the file.
“Trivialities,” Jake replied, not looking up from the case and its contents.
“Jake has a background in these things. Best not to ask any more about it,” Roeland said.
“If those files are compromised I’m blown,” Doug replied.
“I contracted for the National Security Agency for three years; Department of Defense two years before that as an information assurance officer. I’m very, very good at what I do,” Jake said, not raising his gaze from the computer enclosure. “And these are not flash drives. These are covering up the real data on the board underneath them. There’s a mini-USB port on this board. The flash drives are probably explosive charges. That one on the left there is a little electro-magnetic charge to wipe the data.”
“What?” Doug said in surprise.
“Self-destruct. Not enough to blow up your car. Don’t worry,” Jake said. “I’ll need to get my gear and bring it here. This is a fairly sophisticated piece of work for the civilian world. I can have the data retrieved and this back together by morning.”
“I don’t really need the Jeep until…”
“No, you need this tomorrow. You said you’d be in Fairfield in the morning, right? Told the police?” Jake said, still studying the case, the fake flash drives and the circuit board beneath.
“Yes,” Doug replied.
“That commitment you made to file a report, and any other communications made mentioning your name have already been communicated electronically. Which means that your corporation knows it already. They don’t expect you to drive a different vehicle I would expect, so if you show up and file a report in Fairfield, your vehicle would show up there. You’ll gas up there, use a credit card, call your office and report what’s happened to your house. There may well be some electronic track that can ping off of this,” Jake said, “and report back to the mother ship.”
“How can that possibly be true?” Doug said. “They’d have to monitor everything all the time.”
“It’s not that difficult for an entity with means and desire,” Jake said, looking over the top of his glasses. “Believe me. Child’s play when the cell network was in operation—and lots of the infrastructure is still intact, despite what you’re being told. The bandwidth is being used for other things,” he looked up as Julie entered the equipment shed. “It appears you have an appointment with your wife, Doug.”
“Yes, I do,” Doug said, looking at his curvy bride. “See you in the morning?”
Doug took Julie’s hand and closed the man-door behind them, greeted by the setting half-moon, just above the trees in the east.
“Do you have any idea how much I love you?” Doug asked.
“Very nearly as much as I love you. But not quite,” Julie said as they sat on the edge of an ancient wooden table between the shed and the back door of the farm house. “I have missed you every single day and had a lump in my throat just thinking about you. I don’t want you going back. I want you to stay.”
Doug paused for a moment before speaking. “I don’t want to go back. I just don’t know how not to. I don’t know what to do next. People I know…knew…are dead. I think my company killed them. How am I supposed to behave, knowing that? What am I supposed to do?” Doug found himself sobbing, finally giving in to the pent-up grief and months of stress.
Long hours later, well after moonset, they went to their bedroom and relieved pent-up stresses of another nature, in much more intimate and pleasurable ways.
Doug pulled into the concrete parking lot of the Jefferson County Sheriff’s office, parking next to concrete barriers that were placed to keep vehicles away from the building. After parking his reassembled Jeep, he was met by an officer at the entry.
“Business here today, sir?”
“Name’s Doug Peterson. I need to make a report.”
“The Kliest murders. You’re on the list. Carrying?”
“Are you carrying a weapon, sir?”
“Oh. No, actually. Not on me.”
“See Officer Schwartz. Second door on the left, down that hallway.”
“Thanks,” Doug said. It was only then that he noticed the second officer, inside a ballistic enclosure with a shotgun on top of the counter, facing the door. Half the lights in the entry lobby were out, burned out or damaged.
Doug made his way to the assigned office, and knocked on the door jamb. Officer Schwartz was a much older man, Doug guessed well past seventy. He removed a headset from his right ear, keeping the left one in place. A haphazard collection of radios were to Schwartz’s right.
“Sit,” Officer Schwartz said, covering the mouthpiece to his headset. “Be with you in a minute.”
“Dispatch to two four tango, proceed on assigned patrol route.”
One of the speakers in the radio bank replied, “Two four tango,” and the transmission ended.
“What can I do for you?” the officer asked.
“I need to make a report. I live near….I lived across the road from the Kliests.”
“You Peterson then?” Schwartz asked with a critical eye.
“They hit your place too, then I take it?”
“Yes. There is, though more to it than that,” Doug said.
“Go on,” the officer said, leaning back in his chair a little.
“Mr. Kliest worked for a real estate firm, which was affiliated with the company that I worked for, Regent. They’re in the food business—Regent Performance. Wholesale, distributing, the works,” Doug said.
“You think there’s a tie-in?”
“I don’t know. Might be coincidence.”
“You’re working for the Federal government now?” Schwartz asked, looking at the paperwork in the Kliest’s file, with Doug’s business card.
“Yes. Food and Drug Administration. Based out of the Denver Federal Zone.”
“What was stolen from your home?”
“Some things were removed by my wife—she’s doubling-up with some family friends. There were a number of items that were stolen. Mostly electronics,” Doug said, not mentioning the security system. “I guess what surprised me was the destruction.”
“Deputy Earle said it looked like explosives. That right?”
“Yeah, I guess. It’s not like I’ve seen grenades go off before. The house is all but destroyed,” Doug replied. “The big generator out back…looked like they melted it. No idea how they did that.”
“All right, Mister Peterson. Here’s our packet for reporting stolen property. If you’d fill this out, we’ll see what we can do,” Schwartz said, with a ‘cold chance in Hell’ tone of voice. “You can use that meeting room across the hall if you’d like.”
“OK. Thanks. Is there a public phone I can use?” Doug asked.
“Need to check in with Denver? I hear they’re all in a dither today,” Schwartz said as one of the radios came to life.
“Those nutjobs back East. Call themselves the ‘New Republic.’ Decided to declare their independence. I hear it’s all over the television, where they have television. Guess the President’s called some emergency meeting or other.”
Doug involuntarily moved back in shock, and caught himself. “I…hadn’t heard. Radio’s been off.”
“There’s a phone in that meeting room. Dial nine for an outside line,” Schwartz said. “Close the door if you need privacy. That room’s pretty quiet, but not soundproof.”
“Thanks. I appreciate it,” Doug replied. He gathered up the papers and moved numbly across to the empty room, closing the door behind him.
He fished out the small, leather-bound notebook with his contact information and the security codes to gain access to the Federal communications network. Within a few moments, he was connected to his secretary in Denver.
“Lorraine? This is Doug.”
“Hi, Doug. You looking for the Deputy Director?”
“Thought it might be a good idea to check in. How’re things there?”
“Unevenly distributed,” she replied. A career civil servant, she’d seen all kinds of chaos over the years.
“What was that?” Doug replied.
“When it hit the fan first thing this morning, the output was not evenly distributed. For a change, the folks upstairs got the lions’ share.”
“That’s pretty good,” Doug said with a grin. “Director in?”
“No, actually. Very few of the folks upstairs are in. There’s word that they’re in an emergency meeting over at the Central Hall. We can’t get through at all. Security is Red throughout the zone.” Red was the highest level in the five-tier system. ‘Lock Down’ was more accurate.
“All right. Listen, there’s been some trouble out here. A couple of my neighbors were…murdered. My place was pretty much ransacked as well.”
“My God! That’s terrible!” Lorraine replied. “You aren’t close to the New Republic areas, are you?”
“I just heard about them from the police officer that I’m making my report to. I don’t know anything about them.”
“Are you in a location where you can get an electronic dispatch?” E-dispatches were encrypted files normally sent to Federal locations only, with special log in information required to access the terminal, and upon approval, the actual message.
“I’m in a police station in Fairfield, Iowa. Not exactly up to Federal security levels,” Doug replied.
“Let me cross check locations in your area,” Lorraine replied. Doug could hear her entering his location in her computer. “You have a National Guard Center there. If you’re at the Fairfield Police Station, they’re about a thousand feet north, northwest. Head west to Twenty-Third, head north to West Stone, Turn right. They’ll be on your left. I can send your account the flash traffic immediately and you should be able to log in there.”
“Perfect, as always, Lorraine. I’ll have to finish up the police report here, and then I’ll head over there.”
“Remember that at my performance review in October, OK?” she laughed quietly.
“Done.” He ended the call, and then deciphered the number for the Columbus office on a piece of scratch paper from his small notebook. It might look suspicious to have his former employers’ corporate headquarters phone number in plain sight in his ‘official’ contacts list, he’d figured. He simply disguised it by scattering the numbers across a series of pages in apparently random locations.
“Good morning, this is Regent Columbus Operations Center. May I help you?” the pleasant voice answered.
“Yes, this is Doug Peterson, with the Food and Drug Administration. I’d like to speak with Kevin Martinez if possible?”
The pleasant voice paused before answering. “Do you know what division Mister Martinez is assigned to? I believe that he may be in the shipping department,” the pleasant voice asked as the challenge question.
“No, unfortunately, but I believed that he was in quality control. I was given this number to contact him,” Doug replied with the correct response.
One moment, Mister Peterson. I’ll try to connect you to that number.”
Doug heard several tones and a loud blast of static, and then Martinez answered.
“Mister Peterson. What can I do for you today?” the familiar, and intimidating voice answered.
“What were those noises on the line?” Doug said, irritated.
“Internal protocol to check your phone line for anyone listening in…local, on your end. Big Brother’s always listening. Where you calling from?”
“A police station near my what’s left of my home. Kevin, do you know August Kliest?” Doug asked. He was met with a few moments of silence.
“Of course,” Martinez replied.
“Do you know that he and his wife were murdered?” A longer silence.
“We have not been in contact with Mr. Kliest in three days. We had assumed that there was a power issue. This has happened several times in the past two months.”
“I came home from Des Moines. I topped the hill near my place, and Augie’s driveway was full of emergency vehicles. They were apparently shot in the back of the head, execution-style. From what the deputy said, it sounded as if they may have been died in a manner similar to people that I worked with in Des Moines. A bolt gun,” Doug said, referring to Rob Dowling’s death.
Martinez didn’t answer.
“Did Regent kill these people?” Doug pressed, trying to keep his voice quiet.
“No,” Martinez responded finally. “No Regent, or subsidiary company acted to terminate the Kliests. There is…”
“Terminate? Really Kevin?” Doug said, losing his temper. “They were slaughtered. Bound with zip-ties. If they weren’t murdered by Regent; if Rob Dowling and Francine Redmond weren’t, then who? Four people in my immediate circle are dead!”
“Regent did not kill the Kliests,” Martinez replied.
“Did Regent kill Rob and Francine?” Doug pushed.
Martinez paused. “Not on my orders.”
“So yes then? Jesus Christ! Who made the call? They didn’t know anything about RNEW!”
“Higher ups,” Martinez said quietly. “It is not prudent of me to look into it. Des Moines was certainly an internal action. I’ve only found out about this in the last two hours.”
“The internal security system at my house was removed, and then my home was blown up. Removed. Not stolen. Cameras, digital recorders, cables. Gone. All of it,” Doug snarled. “The backup generator was melted somehow. Kliests’ place might’ve had similar damage. I don’t know.”
“There is more in play here, Doug. It was not a Regent operation,” Martinez said.
“Is this hit tied to this New Republic bullshit?”
Martinez took a long time to reply. “Doug, there is more in play here. It’s not Regent. I do not know if the ambitions of the Republic play into it.”
“What do you know about them?”
“The New Republic? They want to overthrow the United States Government from within. Decentralized resistance, masterfully orchestrated. Cell-based units, shaping up to be classic revolutionary tactics. They’re pointing out all that is going wrong and all that the Federals are doing badly, and right now there is no voice that opposes them. Their words don’t match their real goals though. This Senator Blackburn,” Martinez paused a moment, “is ostensibly the leader. She doesn’t fit the mold though. Someone is pulling her strings.”
Doug didn’t know what to say.
“You still there, Peterson?” Martinez asked.
“Yeah,” he replied more calmly, now with brow furrowed. “I don’t get it.”
“What’s not to get? The traditional parties have both failed the country in the past few years, because they’re essentially the same and are utterly unwilling to do what they need to do. Most people call the current Republican President the best Democrat in fifty years. Can you blame someone for coming up with something different? Or for people to get behind them? Look at the results of the last three elections. Damned close. All of them. Meaning that there’s an ‘Us versus Them’ atmosphere. Ripe.”
“Yeah. I can spread blame around. You just described how people like Hitler came to power.”
“Yeah. Yeah it is,” Martinez said.
Doug reviewed his FDA itinerary with Martinez, who knew little of Doug’s pending trip, only that at the conclusion of the trip, he’d likely be recalled to Regent for his next corporate assignment. He was poised to ask another string of questions when he saw Officer Schwartz get up from his desk and hurriedly rush to the front of the station, carrying a pistol-gripped shotgun.
“Kevin, I gotta go. The cop across the hall just ran to the front of the station with a shotgun.”
“Make contact when you can,” Martinez replied as Doug hung up.
Doug quickly moved toward the door, peeking out the window to the front hallway before opening the thick door. He couldn’t see anyone, and opened the door slowly.
Moving into the hallway, he saw Schwartz and three other officers with weapons drawn on a scraggly blonde male, face down in the parking lot, struggling with more force than Doug would’ve expected from a man his size. Another officer zip-tied the man’s hands and ankles after hitting him with a taser. Within moments, two of the officers hauled the young man to his feet and dragged him through the front door.
“Back in that room!” one yelled at Doug, who complied but watched the proceedings.
The young mans’ face was not quite smiling, his eyes black….and soulless, he thought. The officers hauled him through the entry lobby and down another hallway; Doug assumed into a holding cell. Schwartz returned to his office a few seconds later.
“What the Hell was that?” Doug asked.
“That might be the murderer of your neighbors. He just shot four people at a food co-op. His car was full of electronics. Maybe you can I.D. some of it,” Schwartz said, breathing heavily. “I’m getting too damned old for this short of shit.”
“Who is he?” Doug posed.
“No I.D. Didn’t speak. Apparently he walked in, emptied his gun, and stood there. Some God-damned druggie from the city is my bet,” Schwartz spat. “This way. Deputy Ryan should have the vehicle out back right about now.”
Schwartz led Doug through a poorly lit hallway, through a massive door at the back of the station. He heard someone start screaming from another hallway to the right.
“Bastard probably just figured out he’s been caught,” Schwartz said.
Two officers were looking over an ancient, rusted-through S-10 Blazer. The back of the small SUV was stuffed with clothing, boxes, and electronics. Doug immediately recognized three cameras as being similar, if not identical to those from his home. Upon further inspection, he saw one of the video displays and a digital recorder from the security system.
“That’s from my house. Augie might’ve had the same stuff though,” Doug said to Schwartz, before noticing several other packages. He picked one up. It was from Regent.
“You sure about that?” Schwartz asked.
“Yeah. Absolutely,” Doug said, flipping over the Regent package, and then picking up another.
Both were RNEW-line products from the small markings on the packages. Doug knew that the combinations would produce the altering effects desired by Corporate. Doug scanned the rest of the contents of the SUV, now being unloaded, and saw dozens of RNEW-line packages…most empty.
There were far too many for an individual to have consumed over a couple of days’ time—and neither he, nor Augie would’ve had RNEW products on hand. Doug noticed among the debris in the passenger-side foot well, a map of the region. Despite the stains on it, he could make out yellow highlighting on a highway into Fairfield.
“Step away if you would, Mister Peterson. We need to process this all as evidence,” Deputy Schwartz asked.
“Uh, sure,” Doug said, walking around the front of the beat-up Chevy.
The license plate was from Ohio; the plate frame from a Chevy dealer in Columbus.