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.”

1 comment:

  1. You wrote: If the office was cold at least I could peel off a layer or two...

    Shouldn't it be, if the office was warm....



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