Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Remnant, Chapter 10


I had just enough time to grab a bite to eat at the cafeteria before getting ready for Pete’s memorial service. I’d started to work through another pile of reports on my desk, and realized that time had drifted away from me.  I noted outside, the snow was drifting as well.
The cafeteria was located in the old, ornate County Courthouse building, designed to imitate a French castle, and completed in the 1890’s. The quake had caused significant damage, which would require far more resources than we had available to repair. The damaged portions were boarded up to keep the weather out, and power was off in about ninety percent of the building. If things remained on the course they were on, it would resemble Frankenstein’s castle in another ten years.
The offices held a skeleton crew of staff for the mid-day meal, just enough people to keep information flowing in case there was some urgency that wouldn’t wait until after lunch. Most of the staff had either headed to lunch in the cafeteria or over to their temporary quarters over in the Public Safety building.  I grabbed a tray and was served a pasta-heavy casserole, with some ground beef and a creamed corn-looking sauce, along with a large wheat roll.  A far cry from the pre-War days, when there were ‘choices’ of what one could have for lunch.
I recognized a few of the staff from my floor as I shook the snow off my boots, and headed over to their table. I noted that there was some whispering about ‘who was coming over’ as I approached.

“Afternoon everyone. Mind if I join you?” I asked.

“No, sir. Please do,” one of the building department guys said. His name escaped me.   Had we met?

“Thanks. I’m Rick Drummond. You are?” I asked as I set my tray down.

“Dub Henshaw,” he said as we shook hands. “I think we met before your trip down south.”

“Right,” I said, remembering now.  “Pardon me for not remembering. You’re W.T., right?” remembering a lively discussion on his first and middle names, unknown to everyone, even the Human Resource department. Dub held multiple degrees, the most notable a structural engineering degree from Northeastern University, I recalled.

“Yep, that’s me. And no apologies necessary for the memory. You’ve been through some tough times.”

“I have at that, as have many of us,” I said, deflecting the attention from my own bumpy past.  “Since I have you for a minute, let me ask you a question.”

“Shoot,” he said, taking a seat.

“Snow loads on undamaged and damaged buildings. How much can they carry? Obviously it varies, but what do you think is a safe amount?”

“Pre-War undamaged buildings could take several feet of depth, it really depends on the moisture content. Forty pounds per square foot was the minimum requirement.”

“OK, so real-world, say that we’re in the third week of October and it snows, and we have eight or eighteen inches on the ground. And say, it keeps going off and on through March. What are we facing?” I asked, knowing the answer, as I took a bite of the casserole. Too much pepper.

“Without removing a sizeable portion of overburden, collapse, of course.”

“Right. Can you figure out, based on some of the sloppy patchwork construction that has passed for interim repairs, when we’re going to be needing to remove snow?”

“Commercial buildings will be the biggest threat. Flat roofs, no snowmelt,” he said, thinking it over more thoroughly.

“Right. And those comprise the balance of our salvaged materials warehousing, food warehouses, and a slug of small industries and residences. Have you seen any problems of this nature yet?”

“None in permanently occupied shelters, but we’ve lost temporary shelters---basically beefed up carports, already due to wind and rain. Not snow, yet anyway.”

“Can you get some staff to look into that? We can’t afford to lose what we’ve got.”

“I can do that.”

“Need any additional bodies to throw at it?”

“Always,” Dub said with a grin. “You’ve got a magic supply of structural engineers in your private stash?”

“No, but you might be able to put together a training session for some of our need-work people, and have a professional supervise a team of temp employees. Would double or quadruple your force,” I said, taking another bite.

“That might work. Timeline?”

“Well, looking outside, I’d say sooner rather than later.”

“I’ll have a training outline put together by the morning. How many people can you supply for me as temps?”

“A report on my desk that I just finished, said that we have six hundred unemployed men and women looking for something to do in eleven neighborhoods around town. And that number is growing.”

“I’m sure we can use at least some of them,” he said. “Pardon me for askin’, but how are you gonna pay them?”

“Working on that.”

“Good enough. If you’ll excuse me, I appear to have a new task to complete,” Dub said, rising to go.  I stood as well.

“I hope I didn’t sidetrack your other work too much.”

“We’ll get by. Engineering for maintenance and bulk material storage facilities. None of them are at risk from what you’ve mentioned though. They’ll wait.”

“Thanks, Dub. Let me know when you’re ready with your training outline. I’ll set up training sessions in the neighborhoods and get some of these folks to work.”

“Will do. See you tomorrow.”

I finished lunch, chiming in a little on staff conversations of the train derailment that took lives and some of our hopes, correcting some of the rumors with fact.  We wrapped up lunch and I headed back to the office to get cleaned up a little before Pete’s service. 

By five minutes of two, the Auditorium was full to standing room only. Mike Amberson had thoughtfully saved me a seat in the front row, near the rest of our department heads. Townsmen filled three rows, behind five rows of uniformed deputies and police officers.
We stood as the colors were presented by the Sheriff’s Honor Guard, and only took our seats when the priest of Pete’s ‘home church’, St. Aloysius, over on the Gonzaga campus, beckoned us to prayer.
As the service continued through hymns, eulogies and prayers, my thoughts kept returning to the many services that I’d attended this past year, and in years past, with each seeming to be more personal and poignant than the last.
Someone once said to me, that each loss we experienced was like the loss of a library of life experience, never to be retold, regained, or known again. I could not disagree.
By three o’clock, the service had ended and we slowly filed out of the Auditorium, and back upstairs towards our offices. I noted that as we did so, the law enforcement officers and military units in formal dress stood at attention and saluted a photograph of Pete, draped with a black cloth ribbon, as it was carried to the Public Safety building. It would join fifty-six other photographs in the entry lobby, each officer lost since the first of the year.

Back in my office, I was greeted by a half dozen emails through the buildings’ intranet system. Tonya Lincoln provided a nice summary on ‘normalization of trade procedures with the eastern States’ and ‘pacification of rail corridors through Oregon and Northern California’. Her attachments appeared to show the locations of the attack on our train and on six interstate highway chokepoints, all allegedly under the control of a single ‘entity.’  I thought it odd that she didn’t use the word, ‘gang.’   I saved the lengthy memo to my flash-drive to read later, at home. I wasn’t up to reading fifteen pages of text, and three in the transmittal letter, and wasn’t about to waste the paper on printing it.
The Personnel Department forwarded back their recommendation on accepting Dean Akers as ‘Engineer in Training.’ He’d be sharing time between Utilities and Transportation Departments. I fumbled with the keyboard, unaccustomed to the computer, as I gave them my thanks for addressing my request so promptly.
The next email, again from Personnel provided me notice that Akers’ permanent replacement would be selected from the current County employee ‘pool’, and if no suitable candidate could be found, then the position would be opened up to the general public. I assumed that this was standard pre-War procedure. For the time being the position would be filled by a ‘temp’ employee selected from a pool of applicants who were not currently employed by the County. I suppose this was a way to get their foot in the door. As some would say, a way of ‘sidling up to the public trough.’
By four-fifteen I was dragging, and I could hear the sounds of the second-shift—which I suppose I was on as well—getting packed up or meeting with third-shift staff to inform them of progress on assignments. First shift—midnight to eightish, would do the same for second shift tomorrow.
The whole two- or three-shift system was set up right after we found our feet in the spring, and was working fairly well. First shift was really a skeleton crew, about a third of our normal staff level throughout all departments. They were really there to handle continuing assignments on infrastructure, administration, supply and finance, and ‘crisis management.’ Second shift was the baseline against which first- and third-shifts were created, with full staffing in all positions, during a ‘normal’ workday, five days a week, although many worked six.
Pre-War, the County had about twenty-seven hundred employees. We now were making do with two hundred forty-one, about half of which weren’t employed by the County a year before. The loss of institutional memory, let alone skills, was crippling.  In order to make the infrastructure work better, or more consistently, or to repair damage, we needed more people. In order to provide a higher level of service in the ‘peace officer’ category, we needed more deputies. We needed more firemen. Nurses. Engineers. The list would fill pages. The problem was, we didn’t have enough money—real money—to hire anyone beyond the staff we already had, and we were flirting with not having any money on a monthly basis. Our governmental financial system was a cobbled-together mishmash of bartering, compensation in silver or ever-scarce gold, or payments of food or other goods. It couldn’t last forever.
Our ‘economy’ would get to a point in the near future, where savings outstripped spending, taking ‘real money’ out of circulation, and ‘traded and bartered’ goods would not be able to fill the void.

‘What then?’ I wondered, as the desk intercom reminded me that my ride home was downstairs.

“Be right there,” I said, grabbing my parka, putting on the black watch cap over my stubble, and stuffing some more files into my backpack. ‘What then, indeed.’
Downstairs, there was a small group of folks waiting for the shuttle bus to the Central Line, huddled against the building, trying to keep clear of the light snow and out of the wind.
The shuttle bus in the County’s case was an old GMC school bus that someone had begun to convert to an RV, then abandoned. A couple of County mechanics had put the interior back together, after a fashion, and tuned up the diesel as best they could. Still, it resembled a prison bus, similar to those the State used to use to transport convicts to The Big House in Walla Walla, the Washington State Penitentiary.   My ‘ride home’ was already there, this evening a stock-looking Suburban.

“Anybody heading east?” I asked, as a couple staff took note, looking at each other, and then nodding. “I’m allowed, aren’t I?” I asked my driver.

“No one’s told me otherwise, sir.”

“Six seats in this or eight?”

“Six besides the driver. Some of the back end is filled with an emergency kit.”

“Let’s go then,” I said, beckoning to my co-workers. “No sense in taking an empty out east.”

I took the front seat, with finance guy Bill Winkler, who just needed a ride down to Bridge Avenue—he’d be transferring to another shuttle heading north and east. Our three other passengers were all ‘new’ employees since the Domino, most of who lived within walking distance to the Red Line.  One young man that I didn’t recognize; the other two from Utilities, both women that I’d seen before, but couldn’t remember exactly where.

“Thank you for the ride, Mr. Drummond,” one of the ladies said, after Bill was dropped off.

“Rick, please. I don’t think we’ve met.”

“Susan Connolly. This is Margie Hunt.”

“Nice to meet you both,” I answered.

“I’m Jim Benker. I’m an RN over in Health, although I’m working in the Jail at the moment.”

“Really? Staff assignment?”

“Dealing with a number of maladies in the prisoner population. AIDS and HIV among them, although without meds and in their weakened condition, most of that element won’t be around this time next year.”

“How’s nutrition over there?” I asked, suddenly interested in the captive population.

“As good as we can do. Better than some of the general population in parts of the country, according to the rumors anyway. Three meals a day, no work detail, not that any of them would be trusted for a New York minute out of their cells.”

“How many prisoners total?”

“Fifty-five. Eleven with either advanced HIV or full-blown AIDS.”

“Why aren’t they at the hospital?” Margie asked.

“Too dangerous. Not the disease---the men.”


We were passing again through the eastern end of Downtown, past the Intermodal Center where the trains were loading. It was nice to see streetlights on every block again, or almost every block.

“Streetlights. Nice,” I said.

“You’re welcome,” Susan responded.

“Utility Department. Right.”

“Not just that. We’re linemen in real life. Or, line women, more correctly. Margie and I ran these lights, last month.”

“Well thank you. You’re in the office now though?”

“One day a week. Trying to round up record drawings for restoration work.  The last of Sprague Avenue was hooked up last Friday, all the way to Greenacres.”

“You work with Lou Pecquet then?”

“He’s the boss. We’re his minions,” she replied.

“How is he to work for? Off the record, understand,” I didn’t want them to feel that they were ratting him out, I was just curious.

“Honestly, if I would have had had a boss like him pre-War, I think I’d have killed him,” Margie said.

I laughed a little bit, which may or may not have been appropriate. “Sorry, I couldn’t help it.”

“That’s OK. Lou’s not the easiest guy to work for. He’d rather work with you, and be in the trenches, than tell you to do something. We do know how to run wire. We’re all journeymen electricians. But if things aren’t done his way,” Margie said, “you’ll never hear the end of it.”

“I know the type. I’ve some of that in me, myself,” I said. We were approaching Altamont, where I noted the collapsed wreckage of the old Safeway-store-turned-bingo-parlor had been cleared away. I was pleased to see Northwest Seed was still there, with lights on inside. I used to buy my garden seed there…before the War.

Not too far to the east, just beyond Freya, the streetlights were out, it looked like all the way to Havana, home of the Fairgrounds.

  “Looks like your repairs need repairing,” I said.  The hair stood up on the back of my neck though, for some unknown reason.

“Stop the car. NOW!” Margie said before I could. “Back it up quick-like.”

“Yes, Ma’am,” our Army driver replied, perfectly happy to take orders from anyone who sounded like they were in charge.

“What’s up?” Jim asked. “It’s just the streetlights.”

“Individual services are still on,” Susan pointed out as we slid around to the west. “Somebody killed those lights, and that’s not exactly easy to do.”

“Head north, up to Broadway,” Margie told the driver.

“You thinking ambush?” I asked, the obvious question.

“Highwaymen are out there. Why not pick the low-hanging fruit?”

“Because the Red Line is a hundred yards north of Sprague,” I said.

“Doesn’t mean a thing. Might as well be in Kansas,” Margie said. “Not enough manpower to cover places like this.”

We were now at Broadway, and turned east again. “Soldier, do me a favor and call this into dispatch,” I said before addressing Margie again. “This happen often?”

“Coupla times a month. They’ll pick off a stray, a car or truck or a transport, traveling alone, leave the driver alone unless he does something heroic, and take what they want.”

“’They’ you say.”

“Thugs. Yes,” Margie said. “Why do you think we’re all armed? Who’d wanna shoot the guy or gal that’s putting power back in your house?”

“The guy who wants your copper, that’s who,” Susan replied.

“This stuff showing up on the black market?”

“Eventually it will,” Susan answered. “Ten percent of our parts inventory goes missing every week. To be re-bought again.”

“That’s gonna end quickly. We can’t chase our tail anymore.”

“Tell that to the thieves.”

“I will see to it,” I said as we passed the far end of the Fairgrounds, and then headed south to Sprague again, where the lights were still on.  I rode the rest of the way pretty much in silence, thinking about this new little evil in our midst.   Part of a verse from Hosea came to mind: ‘….They practice deceit, thieves break into houses, bandits rob in the streets.’

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Remnant, Chapter 9


October Twenty-Third

Once again, I entered what was ‘my’ office, feeling like a stranger. We’d lost Walt Ackerman, and now Pete. The desk, my desk, was too organized.  I grabbed the stack of department summary folders though, from the center of the desk. Someone was looking out for my schedule.

The large conference room was at the end of the hall, with a view to the north, before the Domino anyway. Now the window frames were filled with insulated panels and unfinished sheetrock. Our department heads, and a few of the Townsmen, were chatting, waiting for me to arrive.

“Good morning, everyone. Thanks for putting up with my tardiness,” I said.

“You’re fine. We don’t usually start until eight-thirty or eight forty-five anyway,” Tonya Lincoln replied. “Nice to see you, again, Rick.”

“Thanks, Tonya. You, too.”  Tonya was the acting head of our Commerce Department. She was hoping to get back to running a restaurant someday, as well.   I made my introductions around the room, shaking hands with each department head and Townsman. ‘Many new faces,’ I thought as I moved back to my chair at the end of the scarred conference table.

Drew Simons, one of my former Recovery Board members, joined us right after I sat down. Drew was the head of the Utility Department, when he wasn’t farming.

“Morning, Drew. Good to see you,” I said as I shook his hand.

“You as well. You finally healed up?”

“Making progress, slowly.”

“You did have about the closest call you could have and walk away from it.”

“Walk was a relative term.”

“Indeed. Ready to get to business?”

“Yes. Quicker we’re done with meetings, the better. For everyone’s information, I hate meetings. The quicker we can get through what we need to, the better. We’ve got more important things to do than sitting here.”

“Good. I’m first up,” Drew said.

“Sure, after the Pledge,” one of the Townsmen reminded us. We all stood, faced the wall-hung flag that had flown over the Courthouse through the Domino, pulled from the wrecked flagpole that had torn lose from the tall central tower. It reminded me as I reaffirmed my loyalty to my country, of the World Trade Center flag hoisted by those three firemen, years before.  

We took our seats, and I shuffled my papers again. “Let’s go then,” I said. “Mike might have to interrupt our agenda, so let’s get moving.”

“Utilities.  Expansion and restoration work in the urban area has been suspended for the winter on main electrical lines, but infill work within boundaries of existing feeds will continue until weather limits those operations as well. The good news is that with current work on the boards, we’ll have just under six thousand more homes on line by New Years, including four thousand with backup wood heat, leaving two thousand, or a few less, solely dependent on electric heat—forced air electric in most cases.”

“Wow,” I said of Drew’s report on electrical restoration work. “I had no idea your crews were able to get that many back on line.”

“Power’s back, but that doesn’t mean the houses are ready. Water service is spotty in many areas within the electric boundary, and at least half of those homes still need some pretty serious work to be close to pre-War condition. Of the total number of homes, there’s probably only ten percent that are ready to move into immediately. Those are almost exclusively in the Garland and Lidgerwood areas.”’

“How about work in commercial areas?” I asked. I noted that one of the Townsmen looked extremely bored, already.

“We’re at ninety percent within the Service Area, which is probably over-served, area-wise. There are more buildings served with electricity than are being used for commerce…unless you count warehouses of salvage as commerce.”

“So the next focus area, I mean when the weather turns, is what?” the Townsman who reminded us to take the Pledge asked. I looked at my notes, not remembering his name. ‘Bruce Weathers—Rockford township.’

Drew had several options available for us to consider. “Next year, I’d recommend restoring arterial power up to Francis on the north, from Assembly on the west to Market on the east; Division all the way up to the Newport Highway; and on the south side, power down the Hangman Valley to Hatch; Fifty-Seventh, all the way to Glenrose. That gives us a framework to work within, should we need to add more commercial and residential fabric back to the area,” Drew said, obviously noting Weathers’ expression of frustration.

“That’s just in the urban area. In the rural districts, I recommend further restoration work to Mica, Valleyford, more work around Rockford,” which I noted gained some satisfaction on the face of Drew’s questioner, “and restoration to other hamlets through the south end of the County, within reason.  There’s darned little in the way of power, or population, within a mile on either side of Highway Two or Three Ninety-Five, all the way to the Pend Oreille and Stevens county lines. We’d like to get more done up there, but probably don’t have the gear.”

“How about water?” I asked.

“Everything north of Francis is off line, unless it’s a private well. Too much damage in the Little Spokane River area to fix without more equipment. We’re short of everything. Pipe, couplings, you name it.”

“Thanks, Drew. You can head out if you need to.”

“I do. Many thanks.”

The Commerce Department was next, headed by one of my former Recovery Board teammates, Tonya Lincoln. Tonya provided us a ten-minute breakdown of the number of business operations in the County, although many were amalgamations of trading and bartering operations (ours included) and hybrid businesses that had many different offerings. Our businesses weren’t unique, nor were they alone. Everyone needed multiple jobs to keep food on the table.

She surprised me by stating that the main problem that Commerce was facing was in keeping businesses in operation, because of the local ‘banking industry.’

“Banking industry?” I asked, knowing there wasn’t a real bank in operation, and hadn’t been, since early spring.

“Sorry. Loan sharks is really what they are. They’re tying up physical dollars, silver and gold, and taking it out of circulation. If people need physical money, they charge rates that would make the Mafia blush.”

“I’m assuming there are negative physical consequences involved for those short on paying back?”

“Well stated in a clinical way, yes. “Unfortunately I really don’t have a recommendation for fixing this though, Rick.”

“Simple. We need a bank with real money.”

“Sure we do. I need a nice tenderloin steak for dinner too. Both of us will be disappointed, however.”

“Maybe. See me later today on this,” I told Tonya, arranging for a later meeting to discuss it in more detail.

The Finance Department provided us a report, a grim report, on the ability of the County to continue operations beyond February, due to a lack of physical money to pay vendors, staff, and contractors. Most of the regular County employees were paid in a little silver and more Spokane County Scrip, which was only redeemable at Central Stores, and a slightly reduced price over ‘retail.’ This had been the brainchild of our former Assessor, who had put it in place and run Central Stores, until leukemia took him early in August.

Again, it came down to money. We simply needed more real dollars, silver and gold, in the economy for ‘normal’ operations. There wasn’t enough in the first place, and with some people hoarding it (couldn’t blame them one bit), what had been in circulation was being held for rainy days.
Transportation at least was a bright spot in the series of gloomy reports, with fully operational freight and commuter service running twice daily, soon to be three times daily, on the Central Lines. Former freight cars had been converted to handle commuter traffic, with the addition of windows and bench seating, in the old Burlington yards. Passenger stations were built along each leg of the Central, reminding many of the old wooden stations of the past. These were framed of dimensional lumber, roofed with plywood and sheet metal, and sounded like the inside of a drum when a train passed.
Snow plowing, also the responsibility of Transportation was limited to emergency routes, roads near hospitals, militia centers, and along the Central Line. Snow removal, clearing, packing, or plowing in residential areas was the responsibility of the neighborhoods. Several areas were building snow rollers, large wood or metal drums towed behind a hitched team, to pack the soft snow down.  We knew that diesel fuel would be tight for using to plow roads, and had warned the neighborhoods early that they needed to make plans to deal with snow. 
It was now approaching ten a.m., and I knew that our two remaining departments, Health and Public Safety, were eager to get on with the rest of their days. Both Rene and at least one of the Public Safety staff sat in through all of the meetings, to hear any discussions that might impact the general public. I appreciated their time.  Two of our Townsmen had had to excuse themselves to tend to other Monday morning business.

“Rene, you’re next,” I said as she shuffled her papers.

“Good thing. I’m heading to Sacred Heart at eleven.”

“Let’s not make you late then.”

“OK. First, you’ve read the status reports, right? No need in covering ground twice.”

“I’ve made it most of the way through,” I said.

“A quick summary then. We’re on the down slope of deaths due to chronic conditions that pre-War were maintainable. Heart congestion, severe diabetes, asthma, some severe kidney ailments. Cancers that were being treated pre-War with chemo are now incurable, essentially, although homeopathic treatments have provided some relief.”

“OK. How about the flu? Any progress on treatments?”

“None. If there is any good news on that front at all, it’s that the CDC believes that by next spring, we will be at a saturation point across North America, with virtually all humans exposed to it by that point.”

“Small comfort,” Mike stated.

“Well, it might be. It will probably mean that survivors are either naturally immune or through some fluke, have survived the initial strain and the eleven identified mutations,” Dr. Sorenson replied, fetching another report from her file.

“What support can we give you?” I asked, guessing what was next.

“This is our needs list. Not wants, needs,” she said, handing a copy to Mike and I, and a couple others for the Townsmen, one who looked increasingly bored and restless. Weathers, seated next to him, looked over at him in some disapproval.

I scanned the list some of which I could actually understand, most of which, I could not. The pharmaceuticals alone were a page and a half on the double-sided single-spaced report.

“I’d like you to see what magic you can conjure to fulfill that list. We’re down to triage levels of medical supplies in every single hospital in the region. Meds are virtually non-existent. I’m hoping you can work a miracle here….” she paused a moment. “If you don’t, we’ll be truly back in the eighteen hundreds as far as medical care goes, and that will take effect by the first of the year.”

“I cannot say that I’m surprised by this. I’m assuming that all salvaged and stored medical supplies have been exhausted?”

“Nearly so, yes. And the Nova Pharma plant on the north side will be out of raw materials for their production, as of November one.”

“I’ll look into it. No promises,” I said, rising out of my chair and shaking her hand.  I didn’t want to tell her that I’d already all but demanded that the County received a ‘Priority Status’ for medicine and consumables with Pacific Northwest Command.   You don’t get if you don’t ask.

“None expected. I just don’t want to see many more sutures done with fishing line.”

“Understood all too well. I have a nice scar on my noggin that was stitched up with nylon monofilament.”

“Right, because on August twentieth, we ran out of the real stuff.”

“I’ll see what I can do,” I said as she turned to go.

“Thanks. And don’t push yourself too hard too soon.”

“You been talking to my wife?” I asked as one of the Forty-First command officers came in behind Rene.

“Nope, I can see it in your eyes.”

“Sharp as a marble, that’s me.”

That brought a needed laugh. “See you next week, if not sooner.”

“Thanks again, Rene.”

I poured a glass of water as the officer, a Major, took his place at the table.

“Major Kurt George. You are Mr. Drummond?”

“I am the accused,” I said as I shook the Major’s hand.

“I’ve been assigned by General Anderson to serve as one of the new liaison officers to the Eastern Washington region.”  I’d met Bob Anderson only twice, the first time when he visited my hospital room, the second at home, a couple weeks ago.  I’d had Carl fish out a couple bottles of a nice old Cabernet for him, after hearing that he’d be treating Governor Hall to a steak dinner in Walla Walla. I thought the wine might be appreciated by all in attendance. Anderson and the Governor had some history together.

“Welcome. And perfect timing by the way,” I said. “Public safety report is up. Mike Amberson, I hope you’ve met? And our Townsmen representatives?”

“We have, thank you. Sheriff, good to see you again,” he said to Mike. “Gentlemen, you as well,” acknowledging our other county representatives and shaking their hands.

“You as well, Major. We’re normally joined by one of our fire district chiefs, but they’re recruiting today. I have a report for you on that, Rick,” he said as he handed me a ten-page report.

“Lots to say here, apparently,” I said.

“About half of that deals with proposed emergency response times and noted shortcomings in coverage. A few pages on shortcomings and equipment failures. Concerns about low water pressure in the Greenacres area, which affects a good-sized hunk of service area adjacent to the Red Line out there. The rest is…”

I cut him off. “Let me guess. Staff shortages.”

“Yep. Which is why they’re recruiting. They’re approaching critical levels even in the all-volunteer stations.”

“What’s the key issue? Are we losing men and women, or what?’

“Not really, there were three more stations opened up in the Valley, and seven in the north and west areas over the past three months. All located in pretty well populated areas. We’re just spread thin.”

“I’m betting that you have the same issue.”

“Not as bad, because I have these guys covering what I can’t,” Mike said as he pointed at the Major. “But it will be an issue we’ll have to deal with soon.”

“Thanks, Mike. Major? I have some questions for you regarding a certain problem spot over on the east side of Coeur d’Alene Lake.”

“News travels fast,” he said with some surprise.

“My ride today was a Humvee that’d seen some damage apparently from a directed EMP hit.”

“Is that your conclusion?” he asked.

“From what the sergeant-major told to me, yep.”

“That does appear to be the case, yes.”

“I understand that a group over there killed a police officer and his wife in their driveway, and another wounded.”

“That is correct, with the exception of the location of one of the attacks. That one was at a church. The deputy was picking up his wife on the way home. She was the pastor there. The wounded officer was coming on shift, and we think their shooters miss-timed their shot.”

“Response?” I asked flatly, trying not to show how angry the preceding statement made me. 

“No time like the present to brief you on this. One of the reasons I’m here today is to tell you that a large percentage of Army personnel will likely be assigned to this mission.”

“Go on,” I said.

“The subject property is quite large and terrain is pretty challenging. Individual homes are not readily observable from the lake, and recon shows that each subject property has constructed observation posts at key locations. The result is that there is a five hundred acre area that has overlapping fields of fire, with most targets fairly well hidden by terrain. The homes, and community center, from what we’ve been able to determine from scant records in Kootenai County, are pretty well hardened against attack. Cast in place concrete. Ballistic glass. Safe rooms, etc.”

“I assume that Kootenai County had building plans on file for these?”

“Only one. The others managed to ‘disappear,’ along with most of the site plans, infrastructure plans, and accurate topographic surveys. Somebody got bribed to vacuum the files that well.”

“You figure a ground assault?” Mike asked, knowing that the chance of success without casualties was almost nil.

“Almost certainly.”

“What kind of opposition do you have?” I asked.

“Forty to sixty armed men and women, well trained, with top of the line equipment and the home-field advantage.”

“Do they really think that….”

“We gave up trying to figure out what they are thinking,” Major George replied, interrupting me. “At least half of the owners of these hardened homes have significant business connections on a national or international level. There have been several occasions where political pressure has been placed on the armed forces units in the area to pass on action in this case.”

“Bullcrap.” I said, leaning forward, and noting that Townsman Weathers was most attentive.

“Yes, sir.”

“How are they supplied power and water?” I asked, thinking about what I’d do if I were in the Army’s shoes.

“Water is supplied through multiple wells and large storage tanks. Power is provided through Kootenai County Cooperative, although we know there are shielded diesel generators serving each home and common buildings.”

“OK. We know what their response has been to outside authority, or at least some trigger-happy cowboys that might be running rogue.”

“No sir. From what we’ve gathered through recorded radio conversations, these actions were directed by the leadership of Black Pine.”

“That’s the place?” I asked.  “I’ve seen some of it. It was passably impressive. Been five years since I was out there.”

“That’s the place.”

“They broadcast in the clear? You said their radio transmissions…” Bruce Weathers asked, before being cut off by the Major.

“Sorry, no. They’re actually heavily encrypted radio transmissions. We deciphered them with some help from Air Force intelligence, while not raising any flags.”

“Major,” Weathers stated, “This ain’t a ground operation. This is an air op. You’ve said that your civilian authorities were fired upon, some wounded, some killed. If that happened here in Spokane County, and it did, Drummond here would make a quick case of taking those sumbitches out, period. You’ve given them the opportunity to play on their ground. I say you play it on yours.”

“You are, sir?”

“Bruce Weathers. In a previous life, I served on a -52 as a bombardier. If I may make a suggestion, you make a high-speed low level pass at oh-three-hundred hours and scare the sh•t out of the sentries. You then drop one GPS-guided bomb on a water tank or three from a nice, safe altitude, and give them fifteen minutes to surrender before your next pass to flatten the place. End of story, no ground-pounders at appreciable risk from hostile fire.”

“Not to be critical of a really good idea, Bruce, but GPS is dead,” I said. “War took out the satellites.”

“Not entirely, Mr. Drummond. There is still a significant operational capability,” the Major said, obviously intrigued by Weathers’ idea.

“Major, I really don’t want to lose the Army resources here in this county, even on a temporary basis, but of course that’s not my call. I suspect that you don’t really want to put your men and women at risk, any more than I do. If I may, I’d recommend that Mr. Weathers’ suggestion be explored with your counterparts at Fairchild.  Connections or not, political influence or not, we’re not going to put up with this, I don’t really give a crap who knows who.”

“Frankly, gentlemen, it had never occurred to staff to consider this as anything but an Army operation.”

“Where did your commanding General last serve, Major?” Weathers asked.

“Germany, from what I understand. One of the last bases to be evac’d,” Major George replied.

“Ground pounder,” Weathers said with a little friendly contempt. “Y’all have your General think out of the box a little. Give the Air Force a little something to do and keep your men and women outta harms way.”

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Remnant, Chapter 8


October Twenty-Third,
5:30 a.m.

My first day back to work started rudely, with my alarm clock going off in ‘buzzer’ mode rather than with some…any…radio program or music.  KDA was usually on the air at five, but today I didn’t check, I’d probably doze off, which I couldn’t afford to do. Karen though was already up and out of bed I noted, and both dogs were out of the bedroom I noted as I padded off to the shower.
After my short, hot shower, I dressed in a base layer, my well worn lined Carhartt jeans, rough-looking hiking boots, a winter shirt and a heavy shirt. If the office was warm, I’d at least be able to peel off a layer or two.
Downstairs, I found a crackling woodstove, real coffee brewing, a wonderful aroma coming from the oven, and no one in the house. Outside, I saw Karen and our kids, along with the Martins, were shoveling out a four-foot drift on both sides of the stock gate. The tractor would have been useless. I wondered if Karen called for help?  I pulled on an old parka that we’d salvaged from our neighbors house, and went outside. Both dogs were on me immediately wanting to play.

“Good morning,” I called out to everyone. 

“Hi, Daddy. Nice snow, huh?” Kelly said as she gave me a hug.

“Sure, great snow for January. Not so much in October.”

“See the drift? We could walk over the gate on the snow. It’s really hard.”

“And cold. What is it, fifteen out here?”

“Twenty. Just feels colder,” Ron said.

“Called out the big guns, huh?” I said.

“Nope, had breakfast already planned. This is just our morning workout. After this, the whole day will be easy.”

“Hope mine is,” I replied as Karen came over and kissed me good morning.

“Good morning, sleepyhead.”

“What time did you get up? I never heard you.”

“Four. Had to get breakfast ready.”

“It smells great.”

“Should be ready. C’mon everyone, breakfast is up!”

The kids raced by me on the way back to the house, saying their ‘good mornings’ along the way. Libby pulled up the rear.

“You in on this too?”

“Of course. I made the cinnamon swirls. And some of the coffee is mine too.”

“Quite a sendoff,” I said as we reached the back porch.

“Just remember to come home this time so you don’t worry your wife out of ten years….or another ten years.”

“I’ll be home, don’t you worry.”

“I know you. I don’t have to worry. Karen does enough for everyone.”

“Thanks. And good morning to you too,” I said as I hung up the grey parka.

“You ready?” Ron said. “Been waiting a week this morning.”

“Hush, you,” Libby said. “Or you’ll be last to eat.”

“That’s OK. ‘The last shall be first.’” Ron replied, quoting the Gospels.  “Shall we?” he said as we gathered around the table to pray.

I was directed to sit at the far end of the table, where my captain’s chair now rested. Karen and the kids (I guessed) had spun the table ninety degrees, put two leaves in it, and gussied it up for my send off.

“And what is on the menu this morning?” I asked, just as it came into view.

“Christmas comes early this year,” Karen said, placing my favorite breakfast meal in front of me. My mom used to make this every year that I could remember, an egg-bread-sausage-cheese-mushroom soup casserole. Why we only made it on Christmas I didn’t know, it was pretty easy to make. I noted that this morning there were two of the nine by thirteen Pyrex dishes, packed full and steaming.

“Wow. I don’t know what to say!”

“Then do us a favor and don’t,” Ron said. “Just dish us up.”

“I can do that,” I said as he handed me a spatula. “I am all about food…I do feel a little guilty though. What about Alan’s family?”

“They’ll be here for dinner. Little early for the kids.”

“Little early for everyone,” Carl said as I passed him his plate.

“It is. No argument. I’m doubting that the schools will be open today with this snow,” I said.

“Late start. Open at nine. Out early too,” Karen said as she brought out a pitcher of our Concord grape juice. “More wind this afternoon.”

“So what’s your new work schedule, Dad?” Kelly asked, between bites and her conversation with Marie.

“Don’t know. I need to see what everyone else is working. Before my accident, we had everyone working flex-time. Forty hours minimum, forty-eight max. Some people were working twelves and a short day, some were working longer than that and bunking in at the complex.”

“They have room for that?” Libby asked.

“We had plenty of room for that, if you didn’t mind spending the night in a jail cell. Three floors of empties, heated and powered up too, with intranet connections to the Metro network so you can do some work from your bunk if you have a laptop or workstation there. Also had one floor of one of the offices converted to a dorm. Pete had the other two converted this fall.”

“But you’re not going to do that are you?” Carl said.

“Hope not to. Rank has its privileges.”

“Sleeping in your own bed is a privilege?” Karen asked.

“These days in public service, yes, sometimes it is.”

The county radio crackled at me before I could take another bite of breakfast. “Spokane to one thirty-seven,” a male voice said.

I made my way over to the radio and replied.

“Be advised, transport arriving your location by oh-six-forty.”

“Understood. One thirty-seven, out.”

“One thirty-seven.”

“Transport?” Carl asked.

“I get a ride to the office.”

“Can I use the car?” he asked, a predictable response from a sixteen year old.

“Nice one, Carl,” John said, already knowing the answer.

“Not unless there is some really compelling reason for you to do so, no. That’s up to your Mom,” I said as I looked at Karen, sharing the same thoughts.

“Dang,” he said.

“Told ya,” John said to Carl as he cleaned up his first serving.

I had about ten minutes before my ‘ride’ would be here to shuttle me to the office. I’d packed an overnight bag just in case, under Karen’s watchful eye, the night before. The kids were engrossed in a video game (at this hour?), and Karen and Libby were in the kitchen, cleaning up the wreckage of breakfast. There were no leftovers, we noted.  That left Ron and I a few minutes to talk.

“You ready for this?” he asked me.

“Ready or not, not much choice it seems,” I said. 

“Any more news about Wolfson?”

“Nope. Still looks like suicide, the last I heard.”

“Damned shame. He was a nice kid.”

“Kid? He’s what, ten years younger than you?”

“Right. A kid.”

“What have you and Alan got on the calendar today?”

“We’re going to meet with Randy Thompson about promoting him up to store manager at the Metro, and we’re going to talk to Kevin about our vacancies. This afternoon I think we’ll be trying to help Casey Wallace and Ray Alden get their stuff moved.  Ray lined up a transport truck yesterday, and he’s anxious to get moved.”

“I’m going to miss those guys. They were good neighbors.”

“Hopefully we’ll have some good replacements, too.”

“Kevin have any leads?” I asked, knowing that he’d run into Kevin after church.

“Some. He’s pretty good at weeding through candidates. Like a pre-screening.”

“Yeah. Let him know that I appreciate that.”

“Well, you do own the houses. You ought to have some say in who lives there.”

“I ought to. I know that some people think that I’m discriminating against them by not picking them to live in one of our houses. And they aren’t just ‘my’ houses. We bought them, all of us basically for back taxes. The fact that I had some money to invest doesn’t change that.”

“Still hard to get through our heads though,” he said as he sipped some hot coffee.

“It was better to get the money into circulation than let it sit there. Besides that, it’s not like I had any better plans for it.”

“Well at least we’re in the black.”

“So far, yep. Be nice if we stayed on the profit side of the line.”

“Anything you can share yet, with all of your inside info?”

“Maybe. It’s not that it’s all that secret. It’s that I need to digest it first.”

“At least we’re over the first hump. We made it to winter, have enough food to eat, and things have settled down.”

“I’m really hoping you didn’t jinx us there, Ron.”

“Naw. You can feel it at the store. People are hunkered down, but they’re actually not in a bad mood or as pessimistic as they might be.”

“Right. But this is October. Give them a month or three of this weather, and get back to me on this in February. Cabin fever might be kicking in by Christmas for all I know.”

“Maybe. We’ll see,” he said, then looked with more attention out to the gate. “Looks like your ride is here. Hummer.”

“I miss my Expedition.”

“I’m sure you miss its twelve miles per gallon, too.”

“Not so much,” I said as Karen, Libby and the kids lined up for hugs. Karen was ‘last’. She got a kiss and a dip, like the sailor-nurse picture from Times Square or wherever, taken at the end of the Second War. I’d seen the picture countless times, and a sculpture of it in San Diego…was that only a year ago? Seemed like a lifetime.

“Off to the salt mines.”

“You take care of yourself.”

“I’ll do my best,” I said as I kissed her again.

“You better.”

I was out the door and back into the cold wind. At the gate, a soldier was looking for the gate latch, and gave up when he saw me.

“Are you Mr. Drummond?”

“I am. Call me Rick, if you would,” I said as I opened the gate.

“Yes sir. Sergeant Major Keith Enders. Nice to meet you,” he said as we shook hands.

“Wasn’t expecting this service today.”

“One of the deputies heard our convoy was heading into town, and asked if we might drop you off.”

“They get tied up?” I asked as I climbed into the front seat, and noted all the odd electronic displays.

“I think they’re shorthanded.”

“That’s a fact. I’d be quite happy to drive myself. Sheriff overruled me.”

“That’ll happen,” Enders said as we backed out of the driveway and headed south.

“Convoy should be a few minutes behind us. We might have to wait a minute or two.”


“Supply run to the One Sixty First. They’re getting ready for some action over east of Coeur d’Alene.

“Fighting?  In this weather?”

“Could be. Got an issue with a little group of big-shots that needs to be resolved.”

“Expound on that if you would, please.”

“All this gear was cooked by some version of a portable electromagnetic pulse.”

“I was going to ask about it. I’ve never seen the inside of a Humvee look like this one.”

“Striker model. Surveillance, laser rangefinder and targeting, night vision, portable computers for dismounted ops, inertial navigation, lots of good stuff. Of course, it’s all just ballast at this point,” Enders said as we picked up the convoy, near our darkened, locked and guarded store.

“So what happened?” I asked without looking at Sergeant  Enders. I noted the two passengers in the back were both listening to iPods.

“One of our recon teams apparently got a little too close to the target for comfort. Fired a burst of something and fried it all. Our team never saw it coming.”

“Anyone hurt?”

“Just their pride,” he said, pointing to the two rear seaters. “Intel analysts, these two. Lots of well placed fire around the vehicle though. If they wanted our team dead, they’d be dead.”

“Sending a message.”

“Yeah. You could say that. Our reply will be somewhat more aggressive.”

“So what precipitated this?” I asked, wondering why I didn’t know about it already.

“Two Idaho State Police units were shot up on Saturday night. One officer dead, along with his wife, in their driveway. One wounded, alive only because he was in an armored Jeep.  They were investigating livestock theft and intimidation of farms on properties adjacent to a gated community north of Harrison. They were scheduled to serve a search warrant this morning.”

“Were there previous conversations with this gated community?”

“Apparently so. Idaho State prosecutor was ready to bring a slew of charges, based on what the search warrant showed. Wanted to have it nailed legally. The residents of this place are apparently very well connected.”

“Hmm,” I said more to myself than Enders.  I looked again to the back seat, pointing at my ear, asking without words, what the left-rear seater was listening to.

Foo Fighters,” was the reply from the twenty-ish soldier.

‘I used to have a Foo Fighters song or three on my iPod,’ I thought to myself. ‘A billion years ago. What was that song? Right. Virginia Moon.’  I tried to play it in my head, remembered the tune, couldn’t find the lyrics.

It had been two months and a few days since I’d been into the downtown core area, and I remembered how much of a mess the main streets in the central business district were. This day, we drove down Sprague, swung north to Riverside, with virtually no building wreckage remaining in the core.
I knew that Pete had re-organized both the north- and south-central salvage teams to quickly finish street clearing and aggressively salvage remaining building materials, supplies, and whatever, from the core before the winter hit. What I saw though, were neatly stacked pallets of used brick from dozens of wrecked buildings, stacks of terra cotta from the Old National Bank, stainless steel from the wrecked Seafirst building, pipe, ductwork and piles of unusable debris in every surface parking lot. There were very few vehicles left in the core. They’d been removed to locations unknown for storage, salvage of parts in a post-gasoline world, or recycling.  Street lighting appeared to be back too, with wires strung above grade, pole to pole, for the first time since about nineteen-seventy. Odd.

“Looks a little different down here. I haven’t been down here in two months.”

“Yeah, it’s been interesting to watch, not that I’ve had much time. It’d be nice to see stuff get built though, instead of torn down.”

“Lots of work over in the U-District from what I’ve read in the reports.”

“Gonzaga’s starting classes in the spring I hear.”

“WSU and UW too. Consolidated campuses. There’s still a ton of work to do on the buildings though,” I said. The WSU Chancellor’s report that I’d read said that one of the five Spokane campus buildings survived the Domino with repairable damage. The others were burned out shells from the looting.

“Maybe someday, we’ll see GU or the Cougars back in the Big Dance,” Enders said, referring to both of our ‘local’ basketball teams past successes.

“You a fan?” I asked.

“Not of them. I wanted to go to U Conn when my enlistment was up. Went to Iraq twice though. College didn’t seem to matter that much after the first tour.”

“Huskies were good. Hope there still is a U Conn.”

“Me too. Haven’t heard squat since May.”

“Family back there?” I asked.

“Not anymore. They were vacationing in Florida when it went up. Touring at Canaveral that day.”

“I’m sorry for your loss.”

“Thanks. Lot of that going around this year.”

“Yep,” I thought, thinking of my surviving brothers, at least I hoped they were still surviving. It’d been months since I received any letters from either Alex or Roger.  They were quite well aged by the time I received them, as well.

We traveled rest of the way through downtown in silence, traveling to Monroe Street, and across the graceful arched bridge over the river to the County campus. The bridge hadn’t been reopened until late September, when the wreckage of the Federal Building on the south end, and a half-dozen collapsed buildings on the north were finally cleared.
The anti-ram barriers were still in place, as were now-permanent enclosed guard structures, these appeared heated. ‘Those woulda been nice back in January,’ I thought to myself as the Humvee pulled up to the door.

“Thanks, Sarge. Take care of yourself,” I said as I shook his hand.

“You too, sir.”

Shouldering my backpack, I headed for the door. Surprisingly, one of young guardsmen opened it for me, standing at attention as I entered. It was a little embarrassing, as I said, “Thanks.”

Inside a new reception area in the four-story foyer, with a young man awkwardly rising to greet me.

“Good morning, Mr. Drummond,” the young man said.

“Morning. This is new,” I said looking around. “You new here too?” I asked. He looked vaguely familiar.

“Yes sir, as of last week.”

“Have we met before? You look familiar.”

“Yes sir, briefly. We met at your home, with Captain McCalister.”

“That’s right,” I said. “Akers, right?” I asked, remembering that evening last spring, in the barn.
“Yes sir. Dean Akers. I suspect you didn’t know my first name.”

“That’d be correct. What are you doing here?”

“Lost my leg in that dust up at the golf course with the Captain.”

“Manito. Right,” I said, remembering the last stand of the hired thugs of one of our former county commissioners, Earl Williams.  Williams had been convicted of a number of murders and conspiracies, and after the sentencing for the first of the murders, there wasn’t much point in continuing any further trials. I’d missed his very public hanging which was held on September sixth.   “Couldn’t stay in the service?”

“Wanted to, but got a medical discharge sent my way.”

“And you ended up here?”

“Someone figured that this would be a good job for me.”

“You have any schooling, beyond the military?”

“Two years community college. Didn’t really have much planned, which is why I chose the Army. Figured it would give me some options.”

“What was your career track in the Army?” I asked, not really caring if anyone was waiting for me. There was something wrong about a kid like this being a receptionist.

“I was scheduled to go into Combat Engineering. After the Army, I thought that I might pursue civil or structural engineering.”

“Still interested in that?”

“Yes, sir, but there isn’t much chance of me getting a college education in it these days.”

“Maybe, maybe not, but there are a few engineering instructors at Gonzaga, and we have our own engineering needs here at the County. Let me talk with whoever’s heading up Personnel and I’ll see what I can do about getting you re-assigned.”

Akers didn’t quite know what to say. “Thank, you, sir. I don’t know what to say….”

“No problem. Just cover the front desk today, and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.”

“Thanks. I believe that the Sheriff is expecting you, in Conference Room two, at eight-ten. I don’t want to make you late.”

“Mike’ll understand. No worries,” I said as I headed to the stairs. The elevators were still down…probably for good.

I passed a couple more staff on the stairs, shaking hands and exchanging greetings along the way. Mike was in the conference room, looking south across the wrecked and patched Public Health building to the river and the downtown area beyond.

“Hiya there, ‘Dad,’” I said, dropping my backpack in one of the side chairs. “How’re the twins doing?”

“Morning, Rick. They’re doing fine. We almost made it through the night last night.”  Mike’s twins, Suzi and Matthew, were born in early June, healthy, happy, and neither had slept through a whole night yet.

“Perils of the job. Neither of our kids slept for two years.”

“Don’t tell Ashley that.”

“Not on my life,” I said, shaking his hand. “What’s the good word today?”

“Not really a good word, but news at least. First, Pete died from an aneurysm, not suicide.  Second, the U.S. Attorney and his prisoners fly out today, although only a half-dozen or so know that.”

“Some consolation about Pete. Small consolation, that is.”

“Yeah. His memorial service will be this afternoon, downstairs in Council chambers. He requested a private burial.”

“I’ll be there. I assume that most everyone will.”

“That’s what I expect, yes.”

“Mike, what can you tell me about this business over in Idaho? I had an interesting talk with my Army driver on the way in. Their Humvee got hit by an EMP burst?”

“We’ll hear more about it from the Forty-First directly. C’mon. Get yourself some coffee and get ready for your briefing. You should have department heads showing up any time now.”

“Great. Meetings. My favorite.”

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Remnant, Chapter 7


Saturday evening,
October Twenty-First

“Hibernating up there?” Libby asked as I came into the dining room.

“Nope, reading up on some files that Pete Wolfson had.”

“I’m very sorry. Karen told me a little while ago.”

“Thanks. Pete was a good man. I’ll be trying to figure it out for a long time.”

“Some things we can’t, ever. But you know that. Are they sure it was…suicide?”

“They found him at his desk. Mike said it looked suspicious.”

“Autopsy?” she asked.


“That’ll tell then.”

“Yes it will. Don’t dwell on it,” Ron said.

“Thanks. I could use that,” I said as Ron handed me a hot-buttered rum. “Ron, that’s the best idea anyone’s had all day.”

“And the mix is from scratch.”

“Even better. I bet the ingredients were tough to come by.”

“Probably, but worth it.”

“Who made it?”


“She trade some doctorin’ for nutmeg, cloves and cinnamon?” I asked.

“She isn’t talking, so I’ll leave that up to you,” Ron said.

“I’ll not ask.”

“Probably best.”

After dinner, the kids got involved in a fairly serious game of poker, where Kelly’s game face was as stoic as could be imagined, even more so when holding four of a kind.  She’d won three of five hands, and was quite pleased with herself I saw, with a little glint in her eye as the adults talked in the living room.

“Monday back to the grind, huh?” Alan said.

“Yeah, duty calls,” I said.

“What kind of schedule do you think you’ll be working?” he asked. “Store stuff and all. Do we need to get some more help to cover for you?”

“Probably. I’m foreseeing myself spread mighty thin.”

“We’ll see what we can do,” Ron said.

“I was thinking Randy,” referring to Randy Thompson, who had a number of enterprises going, one of which, a bike shop, out of the back of our store.

“I was, too,” Alan said.

“Frankly, Alan, I’m thinking of being ‘out’ of the store business on a day-to-day basis. Maybe if there’s some big issue I could remain involved, but I have a couple problems. One, probably a conflict of interest, now that things seem to be settling down and I’m back in this job. Two, I think there are better people to run things…but you already knew that.”

“Yep. I know you don’t like dickering.”

“No, to be precise, I hate dickering,” I said to emphasize my dislike for the necessary evil of a barter operation, or even a regular store with real money, and somebody wanting to pay less than the asking price.

“I was being kind.”

“You were, that’s fine. Karen, Libby, what do you think?”

“I think you think too much,” Karen said with a smile as she finished off another rum.  “And, you have too many irons in the fire at any given moment, and you have since the day I met you.”

“Yes, but you married me anyway.”

“I did. Naiveté being what it is…” she said laughing quietly. “You should quit the stores and let the guys run them. Your heart’s not in it and probably never was.”

“True enough.”

“So find a general manager for each store, and have Uncle Alan and Ron run the whole operation. Duh,” Carl piped in from the card game.

‘Wheels always turning in that young man’s head,’ I thought.

“Play cards. Focus,” John said. “We can’t let the girls win again.”

“Poker isn’t a team sport, is it?”

“No, but the girls have won eight of twelve.”

“Good thing you’re not betting real coin.”

“No kidding,” Carl said. They were, however, using what passed a year before as real money, Federal Reserve Notes, non-silver quarters, halves, and dollar coins, with no real value these days. It was odd to see more than a hundred Old Dollars in green and colored bills and change, used for a card game.  The money had been hoarded or saved or stashed away for a rainy day in one of the homes we’d salvaged, and had evaporated in purchasing power before we took over the house. We did though keep a couple of the mint-quality bills for posterity.

Karen could see I was preoccupied with something, and asked me quietly when we were bussing the dessert dishes to the kitchen.

“So, something in the files bothering you?”

“A lot of things in the file are bothering me.”

“Can you talk about it?”

“Don’t think so. Not yet, anyway. One of them was not quite classified, but was ‘sensitive.’”

“Who’s it about?”

“No one in particular and everyone in general.”

“Oh, then it’s a government file.”

“Yeah, and how did you…”

“Generalities and no specifics. Unless I’m wrong of course,” she said as she looked at me, hands in the dishwater. “But I’m not from the look in your eye.”

“You’re not wrong.”

“Anything immediate that we need to worry about?”

“Worry, no, but there is a lot to think about.”

“Great. My favorite.”

“Not so much,” I said. “C’mon. I think we have a movie to watch.”

“We do. ‘Sound of Music.’”

“Dang. I was hoping for ‘Ben Hur,’ or maybe, ‘The Punisher.’”

“Men,” Karen said as we headed back to the living room.

Sunday morning,
October Twenty-Second

The nine o’clock service was sparsely attended with the new snow, which was fine with me, as I was slated to be a ‘greeter’, and to serve as the lay assistant to the Missouri Synod Lutheran pastor this morning. I was totally at ease in my own church, which was of the evangelical, Bible-based non-denominational variety. But in the much more ordered format of today’s service, I felt like a school kid. I did at least have the fact that I was thirty years out of confirmation classes, and twenty years older than the minister, who was serving his first call at New Hope Lutheran when the Domino hit.
The eleven o’clock service more than made up for the light attendance at the early service, with a potluck scheduled right after the service was over.
The sermon theme was ‘A Fruit Bearing Life’, with the text taken from Psalm One, one through six.

 Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.
 But his delight is in the law of the LORD; and in his law doth he meditate day and night.
 And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.
 The ungodly are not so: but are like the chaff which the wind driveth away.
 Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous.
 For the LORD knoweth the way of the righteous: but the way of the ungodly shall perish.

With the dismissal after the sermon, I felt that I’d received more from this message than any other in months. Good preacher, this kid.

“Rick, you’re almost the last in line!” Ellen Watters, Aaron’s wife chided me.

“Part of the job, Ellen. Nice to see you. How’s Aaron doing?”

“Well enough for a crotchety old man,” she smiled. “He’s over with the Thompsons.”

“Thanks. I’ll go visit.”

“After lunch. He’ll be here for awhile.”

“How’s his vision doing?”

“Doc says he’s got about a year at the current rate of degeneration.”

“We’ll pray for him.”

“Thanks. He’s decided of all things, to take up painting.”

“I probably would too.”

“He’s got a good eye for art. Too bad he didn’t start sooner.”

“Some lessons come late.”

“The best ones often do.”

“What do you recommend for lunch?”

“The gumbo that Lou Pecquet made. Start there---I think he brought five gallons of the stuff. Watch it though, might be a little hot for you.”

“Sounds perfect.”

“Your wife had a cup. Said it was too hot for her. Your friend Ron said it needed pepper though.”

“Figures. Thanks, Ellen.”

“You’re quite welcome. Remember, you were warned.”

The Drummond-Martin-Bauer family was seated over on the south end of the multi-purpose room, where I noted that they’d saved me a spot.  I waved at them across the room and quickly dished myself up a medium sized bowl of the gumbo, and a small loaf of wheat bread.

“You sure you want to try dat?”  Lou Pequet asked.

“It is legend, isn’t it Lou? I’ve been hearing about it for a week or two.”

“Itza secret, dat recipe.”

“I won’t ask.”

“Watch out now. No shame if’n you can’t finish.”

“I’ll take that advice to heart.”

“Do dat now. No shame.”

Lou came to us out of the woodwork, about mid-summer. He’d been living in Coeur d’Alene before the War, working as a temp electrical contractor on one of the big resort projects. After as much recovery work as could be completed was done over there, he decided to up and quit the City, and come further west for some better opportunities. He wasn’t into salvage he was into building, fixing, and making things work. We got along pretty well. Pete had asked him to serve as the County’s electrical engineer in charge of municipal facilities—that gave him a pretty big slate of construction, from the first day. I was still getting to know him. I did learn that he hailed from a little town called Hahnville, in St. Charles Parish, Louisiana, and that he didn’t suffer fools.

“Ohmygosh. You’re going to try it,” Marie exclaimed as she saw my bowl.

“I am at that. I like gumbo.”

“You really better take it slow. It creeps up on you,” Alan said.

“The best gumbo usually does,” I said, sitting gingerly down. My ribs still gave me a twinge now and then. I noted that Karen was looking at me with skepticism.

Lou was every bit right in warning me. Good grief that was hot.

It was almost half past two by the time the cleanup was done and we were ready to go. Carrying at least one firearm was of course ‘regular’ these days, but none were allowed in public buildings and most retail stores. One citizen of Colville, the county seat of Stevens County to the north, ‘went off’ one nice sunny Sunday this past August over some minor argument, and killed fourteen people before being shot by Army Guard soldiers who just happened to be there. I’d read the report before my Walla Walla adventure. I’d read that the argument had started over a half-pound of cheese, and a price that was arguably, too steep. 
All of the visitors firearms were stored in the small coatroom now used almost exclusively for temporary weapons storage. No one entered the center without checking their firearms. The young Private assigned as guard inside the center, was attired in a set of BDU’s more worn than this young man could have caused. I noted that he had an earpiece to listen in to the perimeter guards, and any other military traffic in the area.  He also had a phenomenal memory, correctly retrieving all of the visitors’ weapons without being prompted.   I noted that all of our groups’ adults had at least one weapon or another. I collected my newly-refurbished .45 (courtesy of Annika Thompson) in it’s GI holster, and one of our AK’s and its’ magazines. This one now sporting a synthetic stock.

“Dad? Can I drive?” Kelly asked, about a year too early.

“Uh, no. You cannot. I’d be happy to have you learn on the tractor though. Lots of practice plowing snow.”

“Too hard.”

“It’s in your future. You can learn how to run it, and graduate to the pickup.” I could see Karen’s smile out of the corner of my eye.

“How about something with an automatic?” she asked. “That’s what Carl learned on.”

“Different times. You need to learn how to drive a clutch,” Karen said, beating me to it. I noted Carl was smiling and trying not to, in the back seat.

“I wouldn’t be smiling too much, pard. You need some clutch time too.”

“I know. It’s still funny.”

“Glad you think so. You get the next shift of plowing, which oughta start, riiiight about now,” I said, as we pulled into the driveway. “Feel free to get started.”

“I’ll get my snowsuit on,” he said. “What about Kelly?”

“I’d rather have her start when I’m up to it, which isn’t today.”

“’K,” Carl said.

“Time, I think for a nap.”

“Slacker,” Carl replied.

“Not hardly.”

“Kidding, Dad.”

I napped for about an hour, and then went back to reading some of Pete Wolfson’s papers, after getting a cup of Echinacea tea and clover honey. The second in the stack, after the Army report, was an interesting single-page recap of correspondence between farmers and ranchers in both Idaho and Washington, and Department of the Interior ecologists. The topic was ‘wolves’.

“….acceptable losses of one human per year were deemed reasonable pre-War, in addition to unquantified losses of livestock.  Since the outbreak of the War and the Guangdong Flu, total human losses in the Pacific Northwest have totaled fourteen however, in addition to four hundred and six documented kills of sheep, horses and cattle.

Pacific Northwest Army Command (PNWAC) expeditionary forces in the Grangeville and Salmon, Idaho areas noted that remaining civilian authority had (rightly) authorized bounties on wolves in that region, and that a uniform bounty in the PNW area of operations (AO) should be set.   Department of the Interior ecologists strongly oppose this measure however, believing that the wolf population will soon stabilize.  General R. Howard of PNWAC overruled the protest, and authorized both civilian and military use of force in eliminating the wolf population from settled areas.”

At least we didn’t have wolves to worry about…or perhaps our wolves were bipeds. The third report in the pile was an illustration of rising crime in Spokane and Kootenai counties, which began about the same time the weather turned.   Increases in theft up thirty percent. Increases in robbery, doubled. Six murders unsolved. Fifteen attempted murders, with six alleged perpetrators killed in defense. Two drug labs destroyed, one by civilians, one by the Army. 
The fourth report a similar criminal activity report in Stevens, Lincoln, and Whitman counties, the remaining counties with sizeable populations near Spokane. Several other largely rural Eastern Washington counties, Pend Oreille, Adams, Grant, Ferry and Okanogan, now had populations measured in the hundreds to a couple thousand. Drug and criminal activities were highest in Yakima and Kittitas Counties, despite the thinning out of most of the Hispanic population, and the relatively high military presence. Perhaps because of the high military presence?
The ‘Six-Monther’ syndrome began showing itself in August, actually about eight months into The Troubles. These were people, predominantly men and only rarely families, who had either evacuated to retreat properties or lived out in the boonies pre-Domino. After their stored goods were gone, many began to quietly filter back into remaining towns, or began trading trips in an attempt to stay at their secluded locations.
The ‘six-monthers’ were few and far between at first, because the weather was good enough for them to try to stay ‘away’ from settled areas, subsisting on their stored food and what they could hunt, fish, or, well, loot from abandoned homes. Most of the survivors of the flu that had ‘bugged out’ were good people, skilled in field craft and basic subsistence. Most of them.
Some of them however, were out-and-out predators or had become predators since January. Some of them were all hat and no cattle, or more correctly, all weapons and gear, and no knowledge of growing anything or feeding themselves beyond their MRE’s.  They took what they wanted, almost always at gunpoint. When they didn’t get what the came for, they murdered for it.
Spokane really saw the influx start when the weather turned cold. This year, that happened on June sixth. Within two weeks, we had an additional five hundred families in town, and sixty-five singles.  By the time the real cold hit in the fall, we had another fifteen hundred families…a population increase of six thousand.
Virtually all pre-Domino residents were living in single-family homes, duplexes, or in residences carved out of owner-operated retail or manufacturing buildings.  Most had had some assistance in putting their homes and businesses back together; many had needed to move out of their former homes into ‘new to them’ houses within the utility service area. Six thousand newcomers, very late to the game, had to be housed, fed, and given something to do.
Pete Wolfson, standing in for me, led a big percentage of this effort, which was no small task. Salvageable homes and businesses needed to be found, repaired, connected back to the ‘grid’ of water and power, and supplied with firewood for the winter.
Of the fifteen hundred or so families, five hundred were able to be accommodated by the first of October. Two hundred more were expected to be housed by the end of the month. The remainder were housed in four community shelters near or in neighborhoods that had a good percentage of homes that could be adapted to reuse and were served by power.
What we didn’t count on of course was the weather. Ninety percent of rebuilding efforts on the residential infrastructure was halted by the cold and snow. Many older homes that had been designed to be heated with wood or coal, and later converted to more modern means, had to be refitted with whatever could be found in the way of woodstoves or furnaces. Some newer homes were stripped to the foundations for their lumber, doors, sheathing, and roofing. What little work that did continue took far longer due to the difficulty of getting materials and working without adequate clothing.
Virtually none of the newcomers brought any substantial amount of food with them. Many were already showing signs of malnourishment, and their recovery would be difficult without proper medical care. The ‘excess’ food stocks that we had were adequate for the time being, but the variety of foods that were available to those who didn’t produce it themselves was at best, boring.
You could live on wheat, rice, beans, lentils, and whatever other bulk foods we as a County could negotiate for, but meat products were scarce and expensive.  The toll on the human body wasn’t long in being illustrated. Malnutrition in those less well off came again in America.
The mental and physical condition of many of the newcomers wasn’t good either. Many, in the words of my late father, were ‘broken’ in spirit and even I could see that some just didn’t have the will to fight for themselves or their families. Some were walking shells, only doing what they were told and nothing more, faces and eyes, showing a thousand yard stare.