Sunday, December 23, 2012

Distance, Chapter 48


Friday evening,
September First
The Segher Farm

Thursday’s activities in Fairfield had stretched late into the day, including a prolonged visit to the National Guard center to review the files sent him; and the review of the stolen goods after they were processed by the police department. Doug noted that the hard drives from the digital security recorders were missing, and mentioned this to the police.  Now, in the early evening of September First, he was happy to help clean one of the smaller barns and just think.

Julie, Maria and the balance of the Segher family women were finishing up a large-scale peach and apricot canning project at Peter and Molly’s house.  Doug asked Arie for something he could do alone and in peace, just to think. 

“Much on your mind, ya?” Arie replied, looking at Doug for a long moment. “I’ve just the place.”

The ‘small’ barn formerly housed sixty or so dairy cows, all sold off the previous year as the fourth official ‘recession’ in eight years began and the real collapse started. With the endless list of more important things on the farm needing attention, the clean out of this particular barn had waited, until today. Doug worked with minimal lighting, which allowed him a narrow focus for both his work and his mind.

The e-dispatches forwarded to him by his secretary were encrypted and only portable if sent to his government-provided laptop, or viewable as read-only at the nearly deserted Guard facility—‘print’ and ‘save’ functions had been disabled.  He hadn’t thought of bringing the laptop with him, and as a result spent more than three hours reading the background material and ‘position statements’ provided by Lorraine.

After reading the many files provided—from many other departments, not just Food and Drug—Doug’s opinion on the New Republic changed from the organization being a minor distraction to what seemed like a major debacle in the making.  From the President on down, the statements didn’t seem to take the New Republic voices or actions with a level of serious consideration—indeed, they were dismissed as dope-smoking Communist freeloaders at best; America-hating parasites at worst. When the ‘official’ communiqués were viewed in timeline-order, the initial dispatches were serious, mindful of the consequences, filled with carefully chosen words, and obviously were put together by people who’d thought out the problem.  The later dispatches in the stream of communications—even those allegedly written by a previously ‘thoughtful’ senior staff person—were shallow, name calling, sycophantic responses mirroring the opinions of close friends and political appointees of the President.  Almost universally, the Vice President’s staff rejected the position that the Administration was proposing, using very strong language.  Doug thought, as he closed the last file in the series, that either the Vice President would be asked to resign or that the ‘popular uprising’ as the FBI had called it, would spread in the face of no meaningful resistance. 

Doug’s specific orders remain unchanged, but now had increased urgency to ‘ensure regulatory safeguards remain in place.’   It seemed to him that the Federal Government was utterly unprepared for the level of popular opposition against cutbacks in Federal programs including pensions, Medicare and Medicaid, farm, technology and fuel subsidies.  These had now festered for months, after years of ‘austerity programs’ that had delayed scheduled cost-of-living increases and ‘mandated’ growth.  States, after cutbacks of Federal funding proved themselves unable to continue the uncounted mandated programs.  Millions of people ‘slipping through the safety net’ were now the constituency of the New Republic.  The currency devaluations, the elimination of recognizable currency—the former ‘nickel’, now being made from an alloy was one of the changes—all worked against the Federal Government and the shreds of remaining confidence.

Doug had met with Arie, Peter, Roeland and Maria and Julie over dinner, and provided them a look inside of the Federal Government that only a relative handful of people would hear of. None of what Doug said really came as a surprise, but there was seemingly a feeling of resignation about the path that the Nation was on.
Late into the night, Doug lay awake in the darkened bedroom, Julie soundly sleeping at his side.

Early Friday morning, they’d had been roused by Roeland, in his deputy sheriff uniform and body armor.

“Doug, you’re needed in Fairfield. Pronto,” Roeland said quietly. Julie slept soundly.

Shaking the fog from his head, Doug finally figured out where he was. “What?” he whispered.  Roeland motioned him to come out of the bedroom. It was near sunrise, he noted as he quietly closed the door. A beautiful, cloudless Iowa sky.

“Your suspect died overnight, according to my sources. The Fairfield P.D. has no idea why.  Might be a good idea to get up there and find out anything you can. Be a little proactive on it,” Roeland said, in effect saying, ‘eliminate yourself as a conspirator in his death.’ 

“Uh, was he alone? Did someone kill him?” Doug asked as they moved into the kitchen, where Maria had just started to make boterkoek—Dutch coffee cake.

“No idea.  Probably not a great idea for me to be asking around about it,” Roeland said. “Might be a good idea for you to get to town by say, seven-thirty or eight.”

“All right. Is there anything else you can tell me?”

“That’s about all I know. Rumblings in the East, though. Lotta shortwave chatter about this New Republic bullcrap,” Roeland said, cleaning up his language in front of his mother.

“Today’s supposed to be their Independence Day,” Doug said to no one in particular.

“Yeah. But will there be a ‘shot heard round the world?’”

Doug dressed quietly, and kissed the snoozing Julie good morning, explaining the situation.  She was out of bed immediately.

“I’m going with you,” she stated flatly. Doug knew there wasn’t any point in trying to change her mind, and for that matter, figured that there wasn’t any reason to try.  Ten minutes later, they were in the Jeep and had cleared the front gate.

“Do you…think that Regent killed this guy?” Julie asked.

“’Rule one: Kill the killer’, I read somewhere. It’s too pat. Too convenient for him to die in police custody,” Doug said, touching one of the radio buttons to scan.  “I don’t know where anything’s going. Just when I start to think I know where I’m going, I get broadsided.”

“You’re off balance,” Julie said. “Maybe you’re being deliberately kept off balance.”

“Huh?” Doug said, puzzled.

“In my former life, I saw lots of gamesmanship where an employer would pit one employee against another, stir the pot, create some sort of controversy to hide his real intentions—keeping his staff low-paid. I saw the same thing where employees would kiss up to the boss in his presence, while looting the till through all kinds of creative means,” Julie said. “Most of the time, I could prove it, given time and authorization. Maybe you’re being played.”

Doug didn’t know what to say.

“What would be the motivation, you’re wondering,” Julie said, trying to get comfortable in the passenger seat.

“Yeah. Exactly.”

“Your ties to Des Moines are cut.  Your ties to Fairfield are cut. People you knew through Regent are dead. Who would stand to gain?” Julie asked.

“I don’t know,” Doug said, turning north toward Fairfield.

“Someone who wants you to go a different direction.  If they’d have wanted you dead, you’d be gone already. So someone sees you as an asset, not a liability. For now,” she said with ‘that tone’ of voice.

“For now,” Doug repeated, his mind now going a completely different direction.  Doug slowed as he drove through the little hamlet of Birmingham.  A few people looked at the FDA label on the side of the Jeep and scowled.

A few minutes later, Doug drove up the driveway to the wrecked house to show Julie the place.

“My God. You weren’t exaggerating,” she said.

“No, I was not,” Doug replied, turning the Jeep around, and heading back down the driveway.

Fairfield was a bit livelier than Birmingham, but just barely.  Virtually all of the marginal business enterprises had long since closed, leaving only those that really were ‘important’ to the public.  In the case of Fairfield, this meant a few grocery stores, hardware, hunting and farm supply stores, the library, machine and welding shops, clinics and second hand stores.  Franchises of national restaurants and retails had vanished, including their signs.   Barter was more common than either local scrip or ‘dollars’ or the rare precious-metals transaction, but trust weighed heavy in any transaction.   The Segher’s had schooled Doug on the evolution of the local economy over dinner, the night before.

Doug’s Government Jeep was viewed with suspicion as he drove through Fairfield…the FDA logo drawing many stares. 

“You should travel in something that doesn’t draw so much attention,” Julie said.

“Yeah.  The big Federal logo doesn’t really go with my outfit,” Doug replied, trying to lighten the mood.

“I’m not kidding,” Julie said seriously.

“I’m not either,” Doug persisted. “The whole ‘For Official Business Only’ thing cramps my style,” he said, pulling into the police department.

Doug parked in the same spot, and he and Julie held hands as they entered the building.

“Officer Schwartz,” Doug said, introducing Julie. “This is my wife Julie.”

“Ma’am,” Schwartz said, looking at Julie over the top of his glasses.  “Mister Peterson, can you account for your whereabouts since you were here last?”

“He’s been at the farm, with my family.  Including Deputy Sheriff Roeland Segher,” Julie replied. Schwartz nodded and noted Julie’s statement.

“I understand that the suspect is dead?” Doug asked.

“Yeah.  Died in his cell last evening.  Window to the outside was penetrated, but we’re not sure by what. No visible wound on the body. No one heard a thing.”

“Have you identified him?”

“No.  State medical examiner should have the autopsy results back to us next week, unless there are drugs involved.  Takes quite a bit longer. You wanna pick up your property?” Schwartz asked. “Can’t prosecute the dead.”

“Uh, I guess I could,” Doug said.

“Gimme a few minutes and I’ll take you back to the Property Room.”


Good to his word, Officer Schwartz summoned them down the hall after getting an even older man to cover the dispatch radios.

“You gonna be able to I.D. what’s yours out of this stuff?” he asked, looking at a clipboard. “There’s five pages of stuff inventoried here.”

“If I can’t, I won’t take it. As is, I’m not sure what I’m going to do with any of this in any regard,” Doug replied.

“Fair enough.  Here’s the checklist—just initial there in the left hand column that you’ve retrieved it.”

Twenty minutes later, Doug and Julie had finished loading five boxes into the back of the FDA Jeep and were headed back to the Farm.  Julie flipped on the radio in time to hear the last tones of the Emergency Broadcast Signal.

“This is the Voice of the New Republic, transmitting over the Emergency Broadcast System.  The New Republic has accessed this system for a special broadcast from Montauk, New York, where Senator Cynthia Blackburn and Representative David Abdul Muhsin.  Friends, I give you Cynthia Blackburn,” a game-show style male voice announced.

“What the Hell?” Doug asked.  He pulled to the side of the empty road to listen to the weak transmission.

“We are here on the dawn of a new day. This day brings us the promise of true social justice for the people, the end of a corrupt and collapsing regime geared only toward the profit of a few at the expense of the rest of us.
We are here to bring commonsense solutions to millions of people who have been disproportionately oppressed.  We are reaching out with a message of hope to those embattled masses.  Your fair share is coming.  The extremist right-wing leadership that has driven us into the ground will pass away, and we will rise to lead. We are not in denial that the mean spirited practices and outright domination practiced by the leaders of the United States of America is the best thing for this world. They are plainly not!  The violence that they’ve inflicted on millions must end. We mean to see that it happens now!
It is time for us to rise up, to throw off the shackles placed on us.  It is time for positive outcomes and shared values.  It is time for sound governance through protection of our environment.  It is time for proper taxation of corporations and individuals who choose to work outside the bounds of fairness. It is time that the burdens of unfair debt are thrown off, especially those placed on the young through the Federal Student Loan system. There are so many marginalized and underserved people in this nation that strive for a vibrant new community!  We call on you to help—to repurpose your lives and the lives of others to serve all in the struggle for equality and to work within the global community!  We will no longer tolerate corporations disenfranchising the worker--we will bring our demands to these corporations and see that they are satisfied. The globalist system has failed us; it is time for us to see that we don’t fail each other. We are taking this continent--we are remaking it! Their failed policies will no longer be tolerated and we have the power to end them and put in place new systems that recognize the value of the creative; that reward those in need and that benefit our culture! We declare our Independence.  Today is the day of the New Republic!”  Blackburn said, as thunderous applause rose.   

“And now, Representative Mushin,” the gameshow voice announced.

“On behalf of the many cultures here today, I thank you for your time,” Mushin began.
“We are here to create, not to destroy.  To unite, and not divide.  These are not just words, they are true commitments to equality for the most abled, and for the least. We are here to see that proper investments are made in the future of the people, that the emerging consensus of the past few months grows and thrives.  That we empower those around us and that we end the cycles of violence and poverty and division reinforced by the United States on the people of the world.  The New Republic is founded on these principles.  We are here to give voice.  We are here to listen.  We are here to grow support for those policies of fairness and investments in the future of our people.  Our nation’s children and indeed, the people of our nation live within and outside the physical borders of the United States of America, for our nation reaches beyond mere physical lines on maps.  We have brothers and sisters in Africa. In Europe. In the embattled Middle East.  We call on our brothers and sisters to join us.  It is a new day; it is our day!”

“Certainly full of themselves, aren’t they?” Julie said as more applause flooded the radio. Doug didn’t have a chance to answer.

“We are poised to…” the broadcast was terminated and static filled the airwaves. Doug punched the ‘scan’ button on the radio, and found all frequencies nothing but an even level of static.

“Big Brother didn’t like that show, it appears,” Doug said. “Let’s get home.”

“What do you think that means?” Julie asked.

“Civil war maybe? I don’t really know. What would this ‘New Republic’ use for an army? For weapons? It’s not like they can seize stuff laying around—most of it is in Mexico.”
“Have you heard of their…territories?” Julie asked. “Are they just in New England?”

“No, they’re spread out, but from what I know it’s not like they’re consolidating their areas of control,” Doug said, getting the Jeep back on the road. “One of my contacts with Regent said that the company was involved in, ‘efforts to distract and destabilize current leadership models’.  That tells me that they’re part of the New Republic.  Am I wrong?” he asked Julie. She sat there, unspeaking.

“Which means,” Doug continued, “that I’m an agent for someone that wants to overthrow the United States Government.”  A chill ran through him. He was on the same ‘side’ as those people on the radio. “Good God.”

“You have to get out. You have to get out of Regent and out of the FDA,” Julie said in pleading voice.  “You have to, Doug.”

“I know.  But I can’t just ‘not show up.’ I need to complete this assignment and resign.  Then we need to disappear,” he said, thinking about what that really meant.

“What will Regent do?” Julie said, reading his thoughts.

“I have no idea,” he said, lying.  He knew perfectly well.  They’d kill him.

They arrived at the Farm a half-hour later, and were immediately directed back into the equipment shed, and the giant metal cage within.  Jake Segher, dressed in coveralls, waved them inside.  He pulled the huge door closed behind them.

“Let’s see what they’ve done to your rig,” Jake said flatly.

“Who?” Julie asked.

“Oh, I dunno.  Just the global conspiracy.”

“Not funny, Jake,” she replied.

“Not really meant to be. Contact at any time means that something could be added to, or taken away from, your person or your vehicle. So we check to see,” Jake said, picking up some sort of hand-held scanner. “Big batch of stuff in the back. Yours?”

“These were stolen from my house up north.  A few things that belonged to the Kliest’s as well,” Doug said. “A half dozen radios.”

“All right, we’ll start with these then,” Jake said, opening up the hatch, and holding the scanner over the boxes. “Well, now,” he said, looking at a small LCD screen on the scanner. “Someone’s added a few cookies to your cookie jar.”


“Something here is actively transmitting. Weak, but it’s there. Something else, here, too,” Jake said, brow furrowed.

“I don’t understand,” Doug said.

“Think of this as a rotating transmitter,” Jake said.  “Something in there answered back. Whatever is in there responded with a data stream when it was hit with the initiating frequency.”

“Can you…tell what was sent?” Julie asked.

“Not a chance in Hell,” Jake said. “Not without a supercomputer and the correct programming algorithm.” 

“Who’d have that kind of technology?”

“The National Security Agency, for one,” Jake said. “Doug, can you positively identify each piece of equipment here as yours or your neighbors?”

“Yeah, pretty sure.”

“Pretty sure won’t cut it. Positive ID is definitive.”

“I can ID 80% with certainty,” Doug replied, initially irritated but understanding what Jake was getting at.

“Dig out your stuff, put it on that bench over there.”

“Doug, I’m going to go inside. I’m late for my nap,” Julie said, yawning.

“I’ll let you know what we find,” he said, giving her a quick kiss and a hug.

Doug pulled out the electronics and placed them on the copper-covered workbench, where Jake immediately ensured they weren’t transmitting anything, or responding to any signal from his scanner. 

“That’s all of the stuff that I can ID as coming from my place.  The rest might be mine or Augie Kliest’s.”

“OK. One piece at a time, on the table to the left.”

Doug started with a ham radio that had belonged to Augie, a big Yaesu transceiver, the FT2000.  Jake scanned it as he moved it from the Jeep to the workbench.

“That’s one of them—it’s transmitting when hit with a certain freq,” Jake said.

Doug pulled out several other items, including digital video recorders, cameras, Internet routers and a laptop.  Nothing responded to Jake’s scanner. The last items were a pair of Sony AM radios and a cable TV box.

“Cable box.  Put it over there near the Yaesu. The Sony’s are clean.”

“What do we do now?” Doug asked.

“I do some surgery here and see what I can find.  You go take care of your better half and see if Arie needs any help. He’s working on a new woodshed out back of the house. There’s twelve cord of wood back there that needs to be stacked before the bad weather sets in.”

“Thanks, Jake.  I appreciate your expertise with this stuff. We’d never have known…”

“Most people have never known.  There’s more of this stuff out there than anyone realizes. And you’re quite welcome.  Anything I can do to put a wrench in the works, and I’ll do it.”

The late summer morning was growing hotter, but many of the leaves had already started to yellow with the coming of autumn, much earlier, Maria had said, than she’d ever seen.  Doug walked back toward the house, looking across the large garden, to the empty fields to the west.  Nothing had been planted in any of the fields, as far as he could see.

“Pretty bleak, ya?” Arie said, coming toward Doug.

“Yes, it is,” he replied.

“Fallow year.  Think of it as a fallow year.”

“Yeah, that’s the bright side,” Doug said, feeling a little depressed at the view.

“There’s another bright side.  There’s no food to be found for others to take.  So they go elsewhere.”

“Is that what you had planned? I mean, you and…the others. The Weerstand.”

Arie looked at Doug with a glint in his eye. “Some learn from history. Far too many don’t, are instead rewarded by death. We do not intend to be among the latter.  Come now. I have a hammer and nails and some tin that need your undivided.”