Friday, January 20, 2012

Thanks to all.

I would like to thank our readers for their prayers and support during the past month. My mother in law passed away on 1/2/12 after ninety-two years on Earth.  "M" provided the basis for the "Grace" character in 'Deep Winter'.  She'll be greatly missed, but we'll see her again.

Distance, Chapter 33


April Eleventh
Near Hunter Lake, Wisconsin
2:10 a.m.

The shift had been relatively quiet, with Matt covering an irregular, but marked patrol route over many public roads in and around Eagle River and surrounds.  He’d told Doug that their shift tonight would probably end around four a.m., as they’d never had any criminal activity within their area of operations after three in the morning.
Doug passed a little of the monotony looking over a map of their patrol area.  Several properties had a ‘D’ placed over them; others were marked with a ‘V.’

“What are these markings on the map?”

“’V’ for ‘vacant’ of legal residents. Those were either owned by the banks when it hit the fan or whoever owned the property hasn’t made it back.  So, those get a little extra scrutiny by the residents of the area as well as us,” Matt replied.

“What about the ‘D’ markings?”  Doug asked. “There aren’t as many.”

“And we’re thankful of that,” Matt said. “’D’ is for ‘disappeared.’

“People just vanished? From up here? This seems like the ideal place to go to, not run from,” Doug asked.

“You misunderstand,” Matt replied. “People that were in those homes were ‘disappeared.’”

Doug was surprised. “By who?”

“Homeland…Military…black uniforms in black SUV’s in the middle of the night. Most of them were taken back in February. None since early March. Sometimes they’d be pulled over for what looked like a traffic stop, and never make it home.”

“Why? What’d they do?”

“They were nails.  Federals are the hammer…at least, the Federal government of the present.”

“Where’d they take them?”

“No idea,” Matt looked over at Doug.  “Have you been that out of touch to not know that this has been going on?”

“I’d heard rumors…conspiracy-theory, late-night radio stuff . I’d never heard of it happening first hand.”

“I knew one family.  Played against him in hockey for three years…Helluva defenseman. Ex-military, good man. Both he and his wife served, regular Army.  Two teenage boys. Home schooled, bright kids. We were part of their home church group. They were fairly outspoken on both the prior Administration and this one, since there’s not a dime’s worth of difference between the two.  Organized a lecture series on the Constitution last November.   They went missing on the morning of February Sixth. I remember that date because Bobby and I had talked about it—the date that Massachusetts ratified the Constitution…it was part of our lesson that week. I was first officer on scene.  Called to check on their welfare.”

“What…did you find?”

“Door broken in by a battering ram. Easy to tell with the marks it left. House ransacked. Firearms safe opened with a torch, mattresses shredded, sheetrock all kicked to Hell. Blood. Personal effects present, but scattered from here until Sunday….and a nice form-letter from the United States Government glued to the front door, stating that the residents of that home were a threat to national security and were being detained on the orders of the head of the Department of Homeland Security, Region Five, Chicago, Illinois,” Matt said.

“No warrant, trial…”

“Or Constitution to get in the way of the mighty State,” Matt said.   “You really had no idea this kind of thing was happening?” looking at Doug skeptically.

“No. I didn’t. I didn’t think it was real.”

“It’s as real as it gets. You pose a threat to the status quo and they’ll take you out, too.  They’re coming. It’s just time.”

“What can you do? What will you do?” Doug asked.

“We’re biding our time for now.  No one can do that for long.”

“Did your friend, fight back?”

“Dynamic entry,” Matt said. “Sorry, cop-speak,” he explained. “A dynamic entry uses overwhelming continuous force against an opponent, and that force doesn’t stop until the threat is eliminated. They flood you with assets. Men, equipment, whatever.  What that means in the case of Mister Robert James Baker is that he had zero chance to react, and even if he did, he’d likely have been killed for his efforts.”

“But if you’re the target, and you and your men put up a fight…” Doug began.

“The guys charged with a dynamic entry would back off. Then they’d call in the heavies and turn our place into a smoking hole in the ground, just like over in Michigan a couple weeks back,” Matt said.  Doug looked at him questioningly.

“Don’t tell me, you didn’t hear about that either,” Matt asked.  “I’m sure it wasn’t on any network news.”

“What happened?”

“Fed unit took out what they called a ‘hostile compound’ outside of Grayling. We listened to a rebroadcast of the attack on shortwave.  For now at least, we can still find out what’s going on,” Matt said as he started up the pickup for another random patrol.

“What kind of government unit?” Doug asked.

“Air strike,” Matt said. “That’s the new routine. If any military unit finds that they’ve got too much to handle on their own without an acceptable level of loss, they’ll just call in their airborne friends and the threat is eliminated. In this case, they eliminated about thirty people in one pass. Including women and children.”

“Good God,” Doug said.  “What can you do to protect yourself against that kind of thing?” he asked rhetorically.

“You have a lot of eyes on the road.  This network up here, Eagle River,” Matt said, “has a lot of connections. If there’s any hint of exotic traffic—a convoy, a bunch of black Suburbans, helos, foreign people on the streets, word gets out quickly. Everyone that’s got ears on can at least have some warning,” Matt said, looking out into the darkness.

“When I came up to your property, you already knew I was coming,” Doug said, eyes focusing out into space.

“I knew someone was coming. Didn’t know whom. Remember what I just said: Foreign people on the streets.”

“How do you get the word out?”

“Plain old CB radio. They don’t seem to have caught on to that.”

“What—confiscate them?”

“They wouldn’t need to—they could just jam the frequencies.”

“How often does this happen? I mean, how many times have these people been in this area?”

“Three times since the Bakers were taken. Always the middle of the night. Last time they used a couple of verrrry quiet helos to bring their teams in.  Didn’t find anyone home, thank God.”

“What happened to the people they were targeting?”

“They spent three nights in our ‘basement’. They then headed west. Destination, Nowhere, Idaho.”

“When I drove through town, I thought everyone was looking at me funny,” Doug said.

“They were, most certainly. You’re ‘foreign.’ Out of state plates, first off. You were probably driving leisurely, looking around, playing tourist.  No one plays tourist anymore, and damned few people can afford gas, even it’s available. So yeah…you were probably being watched for miles before you ever got close to Crandon.”

Doug thought about the implications of that statement. “Do you think that other towns are like this, too? That they’re…on edge?”

“They’d be stupid not to be.  I have no idea how many people have been taken in the middle of the night, but it can’t be a small number.  Word has to have spread, which is why I’m surprised that you haven’t been convinced—until now—what’s really going on.”

“Too buried in my work I guess. Isolated from it.”

“I believe that is part of what cost you your marriage to Brenda.”

“Yeah.  I thought I was getting better about stuff like that,” Doug said.

“Apparently not,” Matt chuckled. 

Nearing the end of their shift, Matt pulled the big Ford into a parking lot behind a low, white building and shut the engine off.  There were no lights on in Eagle River.

“What’s this place?” Doug asked.

“C’mon in. I’ll introduce you,” Matt replied.  Doug noted he took one of the rifles with him.

Matt knocked at the plain metal back door, rapping his knuckles twice, and then five times. The door creaked open, light spilling out into the dark parking lot.

“Good morning, Deputy Bowman. How’re we today?” an ancient woman said from the door.

“We’re good, Agnes. You?” Matt replied.

“No complaints. And who is this young man?” she said, referring to Doug.

“This is Doug, Agnes.  He’s a friend of the family,” Matt said, speaking to her as he would a grandmother.

“Then he’s plenty welcome here. Come on in out of the dark,” she said. Doug noted she was wearing slippers, a thick robe, and walked with a four-footed cane.

“Virgil is working desk tonight.  You say goodbye before you go now, you hear?” she said to both of them.

“Yes, ma’am,” both men replied. Agnes went into a central ‘living room’, where a very old Fred Astaire / Leslie Caron movie was playing. She took a seat in a large recliner.

“She taught me in Sunday school,” Matt said. “She just turned ninety-six.” 

“Wow.  I’d figure her for maybe eighty,” Doug replied.

“My grandfather built this place.  He passed away a few years back—during his time here I got to know some of the residents. I’ve made it a point to stop in and see how they’re doing whenever I’m up this way. We’ve some other business here too, though.”

The ‘retirement’ facility, though small, was clean and well kept.  Doug was quite surprised. A few of the aged residents were still up in the middle of the night, and Matt introduced each of them to Doug.  

“How do they keep going? I mean…with the economy being a wreck and all.”

“Most of the folks here have family in the area. The families see to the upkeep…and staffing.   Virgil’s son Bill was a classmate of mine.  Bill had a four-wheeler accident three years ago. Instant quadriplegic, couldn’t breathe on his own.  Virgil took over management of the place last year to see that his boy was getting good care.  We lost Bill though when the power went down in February.  The emergency generator didn’t fire up in time and staff had too many patients to keep them all going.”

“That’s horrible,” Doug said, imagining what it must have been like for Matt’s friend, and his family.

“Yeah. Not the best of days. Virgil took it in stride though. There aren’t many people with faith like his. There he is,” Matt said, motioning to a man in a white doctors jacket, listening to a patient’s chest. The patient could’ve been the same age as the doctor. 

“You let me know if that cough doesn’t clear before morning, all right, Chuck?”

“You bet, Virg. Thanks.”

“Now back down the hall. You’re still in time for ‘Something’s Gotta Give,’” he replied with a smile.

“Matt! Good to see you” the older man said, eagerly shaking the deputy’s hand.  “Don’t really need that bang-stick inside you know.  These old folks aren’t much of a threat,” he chuckled.

“You never know.  Those ex-Marines down the hall seem to think it’s Quang Tri Province every now and then,” he replied. “Virgil, this is Doug Peterson. Doug happens to be Brenda’s former husband,” he said. Doug noted he did not say, ‘ex.’

“Doctor Virgil Trautmann.  Pleased to meet you, Doug,” he said with a smile, shaking his hand. 

“You as well, sir,” he replied.  “This is quite a place. I’m…surprised by it.”

“There’s a lot of love that lives in these walls.  That makes the difference. C’mon. Fresh coffee’s down the hall. Real coffee.”

They walked down the central hallway to a glassed office, where two nurses were reviewing patient charts, nodding at the men as they came in. Doctor Trautmann’s office was further inside, abutting the front wall of the building.  Doug noted that he large window centered on that wall had been recently bricked in.  

“What’s the word on the road, Deputy?” the doctor said as he poured three cups of coffee. Doug noted it was indeed the ‘real thing.’

“Pretty quiet tonight. You heard about the Page boys, I assume?”

“Through the grapevine, yes.  I’ve heard there was an attempted break-in at the old Villers Pharmacy building.  Sounds like someone might’ve been in need of bandages. Fair amount of blood on the ground.” 

“Ryan or Jerry or Justin, doesn’t much matter to me,” Matt said.

“What has been your route tonight?” Virgil asked, unrolling a large map on the side table. Matt reviewed their patrol route, their parking locations and general observations, while Doug looked on.   Doug correctly identified the Doctor as the main interface between Eagle River and their ‘police department’.

“All right, so far, so good. Take a swing up around Twin Lakes. That northeast loop out to Fifty-Five.  Maybe a few passes between County Road ‘A’ and Three Lakes.”

“You hear anything?”

“One of Laura’s neighbors saw some foot traffic this afternoon out by their place, but lost it north of Franklin Lake, headed north.” Doug noted one of the nurses raise her head at the mention of her name. She rose and came into the room.

“Lone wolf?” Matt asked her.

“Yeah, a single, keeping to the road, not overland. No one out that way had anyone afield today, and that little bit of snow tipped one of the folks off,” she said.

“Lot of empty houses out there,” Matt said.

“A good half, yes, but the rest of the folks are keeping an eye out. If someone’s out there, the empty houses might look tempting at first, but they’ll probably be spotted sooner or later, especially if they try to just move in. Every house has at least one rifle,” Virgil replied.

It took a good ten minutes to say goodbye to the residents who were up, eager for contact with the outside, pleased to be able to spend some time with the younger generation.

“That was…pleasant,” Doug said.

“They run a good place,” Matt replied.  “Could not happen without a lot of commitment and resources of each family.”

They drove the big Ford through the ‘target area’, and found nothing of consequence.  If someone had passed through the area, and he didn’t have any reason to doubt the locals, they were either laying low or had continued north.  Until a follow up report, there wasn’t any reason to continue to watch the area.  Follow up reports, Matt explained to Doug, usually took the form of a report of a homeowner who’d killed a burglar.

As the end of their shift neared, Matt headed back down towards his home, passing three manned roadblocks and receiving a wave from a spotter, well in advance. 

“You plan on doing much more road traveling? Matt asked Doug.

“After this last adventure, I’d like to say, ‘no.’  Nor am I sure where exactly my place is in the scheme of Regent.”

“You need to be pretty damned proactive if you’re going to keep it up. Highwaymen. Rogue cops. Ambushes.  They can be anywhere, and at any time. You sure it’s worth it?”

“No, I’m not.”

“How good are you with your firearms?”

“I’d say, passable, and that’s being liberal.  I had a week of some fairly intense training. M4, M9, combat shotgun; solo and small group tactics in both defense and offense.”

“Where?” Matt asked flatly.

“Regent. Last week.” 

Matt drove on toward the checkpoint, taking considerable time to respond.  “All right.  Did they teach you to fight fair?”

“Of course not. You lose fair fights.”

“Yes, you can. One of the first things I learned in the military was this: Be courteous to everyone, friendly to no one.  Be polite. Be professional. But, have a plan to kill everyone you meet.’

“Our instructor taught us that as well.”


“He said he was a contractor….security for American government workers.”

“Mercenary,” Matt said. “I don’t have a real high opinion of them as a rule, but they do have their uses. If they’re good, they’re damned good. If they’re not good, they don’t last long. What do you know about your guy?”

“I’m not sure I’m qualified to answer that.  He seemed to know his weapons and the tactics made sense,” Doug said.

“Why’s he with Regent?”

“I’d guess the money…but the power to throw his weight around I’d add. He said he was in ‘intelligence.’ The information that he gave me…rather, the dossier he had on me, was extensive. I’m sure he’d probably make more he were still mobile.”


“He’s in a wheelchair. Said ‘courtesy of the Taliban’.”

“Hmm,” Matt replied. “I sound like an advice dispenser, but one more bit. Practice every bit of time you have. It will save your ass….good. There’s Nate.” Headlights flashed in front of them.

Nate Delacroix was the ‘day shift’ officer of the day for their patrol area, as well as a neighbor to Matt and Brenda.  Delacroix was older, Doug saw as the officers set up their ‘box’ of armored truck doors, allowing them to speak in the open without being exposed to fire.   Nate appeared to be in his mid-fifties, lean and muscled. 
The men went over a map showing the patrol routes that both Matt and Jess had covered; the comments made by Doctor Trautmann; and expected issues coming in the next several days, including a ‘greatly increased potential of a large surge of people from the cities heading for the sticks.’ Matt received a flash-drive from Delacroix. Doug realized that he’d never really asked about the hierarchy of Matt’s organization, or their ‘mutual aid group.’   Less than ten minutes had passed for the shift-change handover, and they were on their way back home.

“Is that a pretty typical shift?” Doug asked, not really paying attention to the briefing that Matt had been given by Delacroix.

“I would like it to be.  No. That was about as easy as it could ever be.  No robberies in progress, burglars shot full of holes, homeowners shot full of holes, house fires, stolen livestock, invaders….”  Matt replied.

“Thanks for taking me along. It was…enlightening.”

“This,” Matt said, holding up the flash-drive, “will be as well.”

“What’d he give you?”

Matt paused a minute before responding. “Outside intelligence.  Bigger picture stuff. Don’t ask,” he said, looking at Doug, anticipating his next question. “If, once I go through it, there is something in there that I think you need to know, I’ll tell you. Fair enough?”

“More than,” Doug replied, a little shocked.  ‘Outside intelligence? From where?’

The eastern sky was beginning to lighten by the time they arrived back home.  Brenda was already up, and had a skillet simmering on the woodstove.  She was working by lantern light.  The kitchen was warm, but the rest of the house was quite cool.

“Power’s down again?” Matt asked after kissing her hello.

“Went down about two,” Brenda replied.  “Everything go OK?”

“Quietest night in months.  I think I may have bored Doug with it all,” he said as he retrieved a laptop and brought it to life.  He plugged in the flash-drive.

“Not really,” Doug replied.  “It was quite interesting,” he said as Brenda scooped out breakfast for the men.  “That smells unbelievably good, Bren.”

“Scramble. Ham, eggs, potatoes, sweet onions, peppers. Dried tomatoes. Some secret spices. Easy.”

“Nothing beats fresh food,” Doug said, inhaling the steam from his plate.  Thick bread and a pot of butter were on the table, with fresh milk. “Whole milk?”

“Yep, the real deal.  We’ve friends with a dairy nearby, although we have goat’s milk if you’d prefer,” Brenda said with a grin.

“This is great, thanks.  It’s been a long time since I’ve had goats milk.”

They enjoyed breakfast, but Matt was pre-occupied with the contents of the report that Nate had provided. As Doug finished a second piece of the fabulous home made bread, Matt closed the laptop, brow furrowed and eyes fixed in thought.

“Matt? What’s going on?” Brenda asked, seeing his concentration.

“Doug, how long will it take you to get back to Iowa?” Matt asked in reply.

“Good couple days, the way things are right now. Why?”

“I think you ought to plan on being there by Friday. You might even want to get some sleep and head out later this morning.”


“Middle East is going out of control,” Matt said, leaning back in his chair, still looking out into nothing. “That flash-drive contains among other things, two reports.  One report from a source in the State Department. Another from inside the Pentagon. The third is from a multi-national corporation. That one has a far better track record for depth and accuracy. Their execs, critical staff and succession resources have been dispersed already.”

“Dispersed?” Brenda asked, beating Doug by a moment.

“They’re in their remote locations now.  Their continuity-of-operations plans are being activated. The cities can go to Hell and There will still be a business on the other side,” Matt said.  “They think we’re going to be at war by the end of the week.”

A chill ran up Doug’s spine. A Regent plan had to be in action as well, if Matt’s source was correct.  He checked his cell phone for any news.  ‘No Signal’, the screen read. 

“Matt, how far do I have to go to get a cell phone signal?”

“Anybody’s guess. I have no idea what’s still working.  You think your company….”

“Yeah. I do. This would be exactly the kind of thing that they’d be ready for….no, that’s not right.  This would be the kind of thing they would aim to capitalize on.”

Matt thought about this and then replied, “They’re all free for them at this point, I suppose.”

“What? I don’t get it,” Doug said.

“It relates to murderers,” Matt explained. “After you kill the first one, the rest are free. You can’t get more punished for a million than you can for the first.”