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.  

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments are welcome!