Sunday, March 10, 2013

Distance, Chapter 50


Wednesday morning,
September Sixth
8:00 a.m.

Julie’s appointment with the family OB/GYN provided Doug an opportunity to check in with the FDA office via email from Fairfield, and hopefully get a better perspective of the world outside of the Farm. Doug would’ve preferred to stay for the appointment, but was shooed out of the office for an hour, with both of the ladies smiling.

The National Guard center had three civilian guards in full body armor, watching over the mostly empty facility.  Doug checked in with his Federal I.D., signed in on a digital pad and then had to use a thumbprint pad to gain access to one of the secure computer terminals. He wasn’t prepared for the onslaught of email, voice message and conflicting messages. He checked the emails in order, oldest-first, skipping over the departmental briefings, security memos and news summaries.

The first surprise was the replacement of Lorraine Bancroft with three new executive assistants.  Each had prepared what appeared to be a personal greeting; each greeting appeared to be jockeying for position or preference, as if the FDA were now a multi-level marketing scheme and each ‘Doug-level’ liaison was worth a certain number of points.
The next shock was a completely new itinerary and ‘encouragement’ to proceed with best time to the first location on the new itinerary, which was in the next email, abandoned in favor of a completely different strategy. 

The newer emails limited the travel, and then revoked it completely. The most recent emails directed Doug to return to Denver on September eleventh for meetings on the twelfth.

Doug skimmed the emails again quickly, seeing the pattern of confusion but sensing more.  Unlike his previous visit, the briefings, memos and news summaries were fully downloadable…which Doug thought was probably a breach in FDA security protocol. Doug weighed the risks, while fishing out a flash drive. He downloaded all of them for later reading.    As he completed the download, one of the assistants ‘pinged’ him for a video call. He authorized the call, and was greeted by an overly groomed late twenty something male. None of the names provided in the prior emails looked ‘male’. 

“Good morning, Mister Peterson. Sorry to disturb you are on vacation. I’m Britt Redmon, first assistant to the Secretary.” ‘First assistant my ass,’ Doug thought.

“Good morning. Just getting caught up on emails. Looks like things have been busy,” Doug said, not asking about Lorraine.

“They have, yes. You’ve by now seen your new itinerary, correct?” Redmon asked. Doug instantly disliked the man.

“There is a substantial reorganization coming to the Department, and to several other departments.  The Assistant Secretary and Under Secretary wanted to include you in the conversation, hence the meeting next week.”

“OK, fair enough. What about the production issues here in the Midwest? Are those issues magically resolved?” Doug said with some irritation.

“Oh, no. Those are just lower priorities at this time.  Given the fluidity of the security in that region, the Department does not believe that your prior assignment is worth the risk.”

‘No shit, Sherlock,’ Doug thought to himself, but forced himself to sit back in his chair as if surprised at the revelation. “Sorry. I didn’t really believe the news.  I should be able to get out of Des Moines on Monday for a Tuesday meeting.”

“Would you be in a position to receive any additional information from the Under Secretary prior to your return?” Redmon asked, looking at the camera over the tops of his overly thin glasses.

“No,” Doug replied flatly.  “This is my last trip into town before I come back on Monday.”

“Unfortunate,” Redmon replied with raised eyebrows.

“Such are current communications. I look forward to meeting you next week, Britt,” Doug said.

“That will have to wait. I will be in another location. Good day,” the ‘first assistant’ said before ending the videoconference.

Doug had about ten more minutes before he had to leave to pick up Julie.  In that time, he wrote his letter of resignation, effective September thirtieth, and sent it directly to the Secretary, bypassing the assistants, the Assistant Secretary and Under Secretary.  He cited the need to be close to Julie during the later months of her pregnancy, and wished the Department well.

“How’d everything go?” Doug asked as Julie and Cath climbed in the Jeep. He turned the radio down, after listening to the forecast…rain by evening.

“Couldn’t be better!” Julie said with a big smile as she kissed Doug. “Everything’s just fine.”

“And what did you do for entertainment?” Cath asked.

“I read a bunch of emails, departmental news and then resigned from the FDA.”

“WOW! Effective now?  Say yes,” Julie said definitively.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone so excited to be married to someone unemployed,” Doug said. “September thirtieth.”

“Not soon enough,” Cath said. “And of Regent? When for them?”

“Soon as I can,” Doug said as he started the Jeep. 

“Remember to stop at Stefana’s before we leave town,” Julie said.  Stefana was a friend of the family who had a retail maternity shop before the collapse. The shop now ran on trades of all kinds. 

“Not a problem,” Doug said.

A few minutes later they arrived at the small storefront, sandwiched between closed franchised coffee and sandwich shops. Stefana Groesbeck’s family had leased the land to the national franchises and had built the three shops turnkey in exchange for a sizeable signing bonus and favorable terms over the lease.  With the closure of the franchise outlets, the property and penalties were paid to the family, more than covering the development cost.

“You stay put and we’ll be right back!” Julie said to Doug, now feeling like a chauffeur.  He noted that Cath took a file box into the store, which Doug figured was a front for a cell of the Weerstand.

Doug had not been invited to attend the meetings, held on three consecutive nights off the farm. He didn’t take offense at all—as he’d finally been cleared for night patrol.  In the distance, two nights before, Doug had been in a watchman’s location, a half-mile from the house.  The still night was interrupted by rifle and semi-automatic weapons fire…and not a single word was heard on any of the radio frequencies about it. 

It had been impossible to tell the range of the brief firefight; Doug wasn’t that experienced in such matters, and the fickle wind could’ve carried the sound for a very long way.  With no reports coming in from any of the farms, men from the Weerstand had to be hunting raiding parties.   The following morning, Arie took one of the small pickups from the farm, alone, and returned two hours later. Doug noticed that the bed of the pickup held a covered bundle of something that was missing when Arie returned.

The town was ‘quiet’ of course, with only a handful of shops of any kind open for trading, and Doug noted that each of them had someone nearby with a shotgun or rifle in plain sight.  On top of the hardware store, two men with rifles were positioned, and he noted that at least one other person had a large spotting scope atop the roof.  Most of the traffic in town was composed of bicycles with cargo trailers, although a few people rode in on horseback.  He turned up the radio to kill some time.

“…no idea what they’ve done. The shortages are everywhere, another unintended consequence of unending incremental regulation. Of course prices have been through the roof for years now, but as soon as stock becomes available, any ammunition not already in a pipeline to the Army or Homeland Security is snapped up in a frenzy that sharks would be proud of. It seems the only state left that has half a brain is Texas, now the home to ninety percent of firearms manufacturers in the country, and sixty percent of the ammunition manufacturers.”

‘You’ve visited the clue store,’ Doug thought of the talk show host.

“I don’t really see that changing any time soon, either, America. There are things going on in the East that demand our immediate action and the President is giving it lip service.  We’ve got thugs running around in packs and attacking entire towns from the Gulf of Mexico to the Great Lakes! Little towns! Farms! Where’s the Federal response? Where the Hell is Homeland? It’s on you, my friends, because they’re covering their own asses. The Feds are sending ‘advisory teams’ to the states. Right. Like we need more people playing dictator and demanding our allegiance!  It’s on you to defend yourself and your family…but thanks to the actions of this creeping regulatory parasite we know as the Federal Government, a whole lot of you will be defending yourself with bird guns and revolvers and no more than a hundred rounds of ammunition of all kinds per address. You’re in violation of that? Federal implications. You defend yourself and are investigated by even your local cop? He is mandated to report any and all findings of firearms, ammunition, reloading equipment of any kind. Unregistered thirty-round mag in fifteen states? Jail time and forfeiture of assets, citizen.  If Officer Friendly doesn’t report you? Well, thanks to the latest National Defense Authorization Act, his jurisdiction can lose all Federal funding and HE can be investigated!”

“This guy’s on a roll,” Doug said aloud, wondering whom the host was.

“This is where we are, America.  This is what we’ve come to.  Too late to fix it within the framework of legislation, because the legislators threw you under the bus.  Re-read the first sentence of the Declaration of Independence my friends, and keep going from there. Then ask yourself honestly, are you are in any better shape NOW, than the Founders were as they contemplated revolution. Are you? Hell, no you’re not. In fact, you’re probably much worse off and you just don’t realize it.”

“Where’s your flash point? Where do you decide that you want the Constitution back? Is it after the thugs steal everything you’ve earned and built? Then you’re late—because they already have.  Your retirement funds were nationalized, remember? That 401K you worked so hard for? That investment account? That 529 plan you worked so hard to fund so that your kids could go to school? Remember when you could choose your own doctor, and decide for yourself if you wanted to buy insurance—or not? BAM—nationalized so that the Ponzi could continue. Remember when you could order ammunition and have it delivered? As much as you could afford? Remember walking into a gun shop and being able to walk out with a rifle? Or three? Remember those days? Remember folks who had licenses for Collectible and Antique firearms? They used to buy weapons and have them shipped to their houses!  That’s now a Federal prison sentence!  Mark my words: They’re going to come out with some cockamamie scam with rainbow colored money and start it all over again. If you get in their way, they’ll run you over—they’ll find a way to outspend you, wear you down, deny your God-given rights, deny your Federal train-wreck of a medical insurance program…and kill you by doing so.  This is how they plan to win. This is how they plan to wipe out opposition,” the host said as Julie and Cath opened the doors to the Jeep. Cath was carrying a different box that seemed heavier.

“Whatcha got on?” Julie asked.

“Some guy on fire,” Doug replied as the commentator continued. Cath answered.

“Rice. Danny Rice. He’s down in Hannibal,” Cath said, listening to the continuing monologue. “It’s too bad no one’s been listening to him. He’s been saying this for years.”

“It’s coming. It’s coming as sure as the sun will rise. There’s a real fine line between sovereign citizen and partisan. A real fine line.”

“Honey, you should be getting some sleep. You’re on watch at midnight,” Julie told Doug at half-past four. 

“I know. Almost done,” he said. “Arie’s up at six, right?”

“Yes, then on watch,” Julie said. Doug couldn’t get over how pretty she looked.  “Why?”

“I think he should read this. I’ll write a note for him.”

“If you’re not in bed in fifteen minutes, I’ll not be happy,” Julie said with eyebrows raised and chin lowered.

“I’ll be there,” Doug said with a little grin. She’d made him a light dinner that would be followed by ‘breakfast’ before he went on watch.

He was tired, but he plowed ahead, with just a few more pages to cover.  He’d been reading more than two hundred pages of briefings sent out to Federal administrators, succinctly covering news events, foreign and domestic, that could have an impact on Federal operations.  The distilled news briefs had been provided for decades to those in D.C., and now were produced and coordinated in all Federal zones in North America and in the handful of remaining overseas bases. 

The briefs clinically described ‘bandits’ robbing numerous local, state and Federal locations; first of food, later of other equipment; later still of people, thought to be held for ransom. No analysis or other commentary was made—the statements were reported for the analysis of the reader.

President Lambert’s coverage included meeting with families of two Medal of Honor winners from a battle in Monterrey; his looking forward to the Supreme Court ruling on a number of crucial issues in October; and a pending address to the full Congress—the first since January—on September fifteenth.  No mention of the Vice President or any Cabinet members was made.

In Mexico, the briefs described current efforts in ‘pacification’ in the most general terms, without unit descriptions of any kind or any enlightenment of how the war was progressing.

Throughout the review of the briefs and the FDA departmental memos, there was very little—perhaps only a hundred words—covering the New Republic.  For such a dramatic threat—even a small group of radicals—Doug could not understand why so little coverage was provided.  The dearth of crop production in the Midwest in a general Federal briefing covered eight hundred words, and that particular brief was an update of a monthly projection.

For threats of secession, there was virtually no ‘news’ to report.   Doug wrote Arie as much, posing the question for Arie’s consideration.

September Sixth
11:35 p.m.

Julie’s wind-up alarm clock sounded next to Doug’s head, and he gently extricated himself from the soundly sleeping mother-to-be, curled into him after some brief, intense lovemaking.  Doug hadn’t ever dreamed that sex with a pregnant Julie could be so…incredible. To the contrary, he’d expected to be ‘cut off’. To their mutual delight, he was quite wrong.

‘Breakfast’ included hot tea, hard boiled eggs, smoked ham and biscuits, retrieved from a sealed container that Maria had set aside for the night watch.  The tea was quite strong, brewed automatically on a timer, and he poured the thermos full, saving a cup for the meal.  Doug ate quickly and suited up in black, cloth-type raingear before heading out to the equipment shed for a pre-patrol briefing.  The rain was spattering into the windows despite the wide, covered porch.

The waterproof rain shell and overalls were made of some kind of soft cloth that shed water, remained quiet when rain hit it, and blended in well with the darkened watchmen’s positions.  Roeland called them Elven Cloaks.

Doug entered the blanketed vestibule in the equipment shed, and found Arie, his daughter Elisabeth and son Hendrik gathered around the radios. Hendrik and Arie’s watch wrapped up at midnight, and it was not customary for them to be anywhere but in the watchmen’s positions until relieved.

“What’s going on?” Doug asked.

“There’s an ambush about to be sprung. We didn’t want to be in the middle of it,” Hendrik replied. Doug noted that neither of them was wet from the rain.

“What about patrol? Watch?”

“Not tonight. The Weerstand is close,” Arie said. “Hendrik, show him on the map,” Arie said, listening to one of the headsets. Doug thought he heard someone on the radio speaking Dutch.  

Hendrik motioned Doug to a large map of the farm, marked with a coordinate grid that would normally correspond to GPS coordinates for nearly automated farming. With the loss of the GPS system and most communications satellites, the map was a bit of a relic.

“The Weerstand put out some information that we were having some storage issues here—implying that we had supplies at risk because we didn’t have enough men,” Hendrik explained.

“A trap? Here?”

“Sure. Good reason too,” Hendrik continued. “They came up from the south, through these farms that pulled back defensive and patrol lines. This is a funnel that they had to pass through,” he said, showing three and a half miles of woods and streams through a well-defined drainage, leading toward the Des Moines River.

“How many men?”

“Enemy count is one hundred thirty, more or less. They have boats at the river and men there.  When action starts here, they’ll go down too,” Hendrik said.

“Where is the target? I mean, where do you spring it?”

“Half mile south. The Gunder cattle barn.  The red one,” Hendrik said.

“The Weerstand is there?” Doug asked.

“No, just south of that in force. There are a few men there, to make it look like a soft target. If it goes as planned, most of the enemy will never reach the barn.”

“Hendrik, why wasn’t I told about this?”

“We didn’t know where they’d be striking or when. If they had picked another night, you’d be out in the far post, looking at black rain. They picked tonight, so tonight it is.”

“Where did they come from?” Doug asked.

“We’re not sure. If we catch some alive, we might be able to find out.”

Doug heard Arie say something firmly, that sounded like ‘Aanvallen’.

“What did he say?” Doug asked.

“Dutch. ‘Attack’.”  Hendrik replied.

Elisabeth took off her headphones and flipped on the speakers for all to hear.  As Doug had been instructed in this eventuality, the men in the field at this point were in charge to direct the battle. There was nothing to do now but to listen and wait. Six frequencies on each of the radios and scanners competed for attention. The enemy conveniently had a single unencrypted frequency; the Weerstand had eleven that were encrypted, covering various parts of the route from the Des Moines to the Gunder barn.   The fighting was over within fifteen minutes.

“All right then. It is over for now,” Arie said. “Douglas, you may proceed to Wilde boom,” the ‘wild tree’.

Doug knew that even with a large raiding party being wiped out, there could be stragglers or lone attackers, waiting for advantage.

“Thomas will be at the spring house soon,” Hendrik said. “He’ll be covering that side. Kurt is down with a fever.”

“Anything serious?” Doug asked.

“Too soon to tell. He didn’t get the flu in the spring, so we’ll have to wait and see,” Hendrik said, handing Doug his radio and his pack. Doug tucked the thermos into a pocket.

“We talk tomorrow, Douglas. Ja?” Arie asked. “This news of yours. Interesting.”

“For what it didn’t say and for what it did.”

Arie nodded without speaking, looking at the map of the farm. “You sound as if you are surprised that your government is lying to you. Surely you are not that naïve, Douglas.”