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Posted: 5/25/2009 2:11:34 AM EDT
[Last Edit: sharkman6]
New story.  More political/social commentary than anything else.  No zombies.  There may be some multi-cam.
All comments would be appreciated.

Prologue  
Jim Reegan eased his SUV up to the steel gate that blocked his path.  It was rainy, not a heavy rain, but the gentle drizzle that was common to the western part of Washington State.  On either side of the gate were piles of rock and dirt which effectively blocked his entry to the street he needed to get down.  This was frustrating to say the least.  He had driven from Chicago to this suburb North of Seattle, only to find that with less than mile to go to his destination, his path was blocked.  He looked at his wife and children who rode in the vehicle with him.  Their faces showed the same concern.  They had come so far, and now their path was blocked.  There had been so much despair, so much bad news over the course of the last year that he could barely stand it.   Now, here they were, miles from their home and staring at an immobile steel object that represented just another disappointment in lives that had been nothing but disappoint for too long.

It had all started a year ago.  The U.S. economy went from 1st world to 3rd world, to almost Medieval in a matter of weeks.  Social services, transportation networks, utilities were all either non-existent or reduced to level you’d expect in places like Central America or West Africa, but not the United States.  Crime rose, inflation rose, employment dropped, store shelves sat empty, riots flared up and things got to the point where they were unbearable.  Jim and his wife both lost their jobs.  That hadn’t really mattered though because their paychecks didn’t buy much and there were no stores open anyway.  With no other options, Jim packed up his family and headed out west to his uncles home in Washington State.  The drive from Chicago took them almost a month.  They started out with two SUV’s each pulling a trailer.  Now they had no trailers, and one SUV held his wife, two children, and everything they owned.  Maybe everything they ever would own.  There was no going back to Chicago now.  Even if they could get back to Chicago, there was nothing there for them.  They had a quarter tank of gas, and enough food to feed their kids for another day, two days if he and his wife didn’t eat.   And now they had a gate in front of them.

Through the rain, Jim could make out a man on the other side of the gate.  He was lean and rough looking and carried a rifle.   He wasn’t making any threatening moves, just watching.  Jim wondered if he should get out and try to talk to the man when there was a knock on his window.  Jim and his whole family jumped out of their seats in surprise.  While they were watching the man with the rifle, a second man had move to their car from the side, unseen.  This new man also had a rough beard and carried a shotgun, which he used to tap lightly on the window.  He made a motion for Jim to roll down his window.

“What do you need,” the man asked.

“I’m here to see my Aunt and Uncle.  They live down this street.”

“Who are your Aunt and Unlce?”

“The Reegans.”

“And who are you?”

“I’m Jim Reegan, this is my wife Judy.”

“You got ID,” the man asked.  It seemed like a strange question, but Jim got his identification out for the man who clearly wasn’t a police officer.  The man looked the it over, then looked Jim over, then looked back at the ID card.

“We’ll open this gate.  You’ll see a second gate ahead.  Pull up to it and turn off your engine.”  The man said it quickly and firmly, then went to open the gate before Jim could answer.  Jim didn’t like it, but didn’t see much other choice than to run.  But if they wanted to kill them, they could have done it already.

The gate swung open, and Jim pulled through it.  As soon as he was through the first gate, it was shut and locked behind him.  He shut off his truck once he got to the second gate and waited.
After a few minutes the shotgun came back with another man. The second man was tall with a blonde beard. It seemed nobody shaved anymore.  Maybe it was because there were never any razorblades in the stores.  The second man had a pistol in an old black leather military shoulder holster and carried a clipboard.  He wore a leather jacket that was patched in places with duct tape.

“Step out of the truck please,” this new man said.

Jim hopped out of the truck.  His family stayed inside. “I’m Chris,”  the man said, not offering his hand.  “The boss will be here in a few minutes.  Tell me, what is it you do?”

“I’m an environmental compliance officer for the State of Illinois.  Well, that’s what I was before I lost my job.”

“What does that mean?”

“I make sure that businesses comply with environmental regulations.”

The man who had guarded the gate and the man named Chris looked at each other and they both rolled their eyes.  Jim felt stupid for saying it.  It was like saying you were a typewriter repairman.
“You got any tools in your truck?  Welding stuff or chainsaws?  Things like that?”

“No, no tools, just the jack and tire iron.”

“Any food?”

“No.”  When Jim answered the questions, Chris scribbled the answers on the clipboard.  It was an interview and Jim could tell he was doing poorly.

“Any weapons or ammo?”

“No.”

“Two way radios, C.B.s, HAM radio, things like that?”

“No.”

“Guns?”

“No, no guns.”

“You and your family healthy, any medical problems,” the man asked.  Jim answered that they were all fine.  They were hungry, but fine.

The man with the clipboard and the man with the shotgun both turned and looked down the street.    Jim looked down the street and saw the man who must have been, “The Boss,” walking towards him.  Like the other men, the boss had a beard.  He wore a faded brown work jacket and a baseball hat.  Also like the other men, he was armed.  He had a pistol on his belt, and carried a pump shotgun.  One of his coat pocket bulged with what must have been shotgun shells.  He carried extra pistol magazines on his belt as well.  Walking next to the boss were two dogs; big powerful looking mutts who eyed Jim cautiously.  When the boss got closer, Jim could make out some scars he bore.  There was an ugly twisted line that ran down the back side of one of his hands.  On the man’s face, just above the line of the beard but beneath his eye, was a rough and ugly round mark the size of a quarter.  Jim thought the scar resembled a fine antique china plate, if somebody had taken that plate and smashed it with a hammer and then crudely glued all the pieces together.  Jim knew instantly it was the kind of scar that you could only get one way, when another man tried to kill you.

The boss walked up to where Jim and the others stood.  He didn’t smile, didn’t offer any greetings, just took the clipboard that the man named Chris had.  The he looked at the man’s ID and handed it back to him.

“Your Aunt and Uncle are dead.  They passed last week.  It was the flu.”  Jim didn’t know what to say.  He stood in shock.  Then the man asked, “What did you do before you left Chicago?”

“I was an environmental compliance officer.”

“What’s that?”

“I went to businesses and inspected them, made sure they were complying with environmental laws.”

The man nodded.  “What did your wife do?”

“She was an editor for a magazine.”

“What kind of magazine?”

“Fashion.”

“Are those your kids, or somebody else’s?”

“No, they are my kids.”

The Boss nodded.  “I ask because sometime people take others in even though they can’t take care of them.  Things aren’t what they used to be.  You take in people you can’t feed, you end up starving your own.  Good intentions can get you killed.  You two got any other hobbies or skills?  Fix engines, gardening, hunt, fish, things like that.”

Jim shook his head.  He really didn’t have anything he’d consider useful skills now.  He could type.  For hobbies he’d either watch sports or play video games, but what good was that?  He’d barely been able to change his tires when they went flat on the way out here.  In the past he’d always used the motor-club.  Now there was no motor club.

Jim looked down at the man’s two dogs.  They were sitting by the Boss, but still eyeing Jim.  Jim had no doubt that they could probably attack him on command.   The Boss looked over Jim’s truck.

“You got any weapons in there.  Any guns?”

Jim answered sheepishly.  “We don’t believe in guns.  Well, we didn’t believe in guns till recently.”  The man tapped the barrel of his shotgun on the back of Jim truck.  One of the quarter panels of the SUV was riddled with buckshot.  There were duct tape patches on the back window that covered up more bullet holes.

“I guess that seems a little silly now,” Jim said.  “To say you don’t believe in guns.”

The man nodded.  “I think it was always a silly thing to say.”  The man then asked, “You got any proof that you’re related to the Reegans?”

It seemed like a really funny thing to ask, Jim thought. “I don’t have any documents or anything.  I do have a picture.”

“Let’s see it.”

Jim handed the picture over.  The man looked it over then handed it back.  Then the men and the Boss looked at each other.  It was decision time.  The Boss took his time, weighing his decision before speaking.

“We’ve turned you Aunt and Uncles place into a warehouse for our winter stores.  That being the case, there are some empty houses on the street.  We’ll let you and your family stay there until we can get our stuff moved out”

“What,” the man guarding the gate said.  “We’re gonna let him stay?  It’s almost winter and they don’t bring anything to the table.  We can’t take them in!”  The man was excited but the Boss remained calm and even.

“We have enough.  Besides, the house belongs to him as far as I can tell, and I don’t feel like denying a man his right to property today.”  The Boss gave the man with a shotgun a look when he said this.  A look that Jim could tell ended any debate on the subject.

Jim was washed over with relief.  The fact that he now had a home made him overjoyed.  He could get his family off the road and out of all the dangers that entailed.  They had a chance to be safe.  Such relief was overwhelming.  The boss maintained his calm demeanor, but moved closer to Jim.  “We have a particular way of doing things around here, so that we all help each other out.  I’ll let you stay, but that means you need to pull your own weight so we all aren’t living like animals on the streets.  You may not have a whole lot of skills, but we’ll give you all the tools you need to take care of yourself and your family.  But remember one thing, if you become a burden to the others here, you put the other families here at risk, I’ll throw you out and I won’t think twice about it.”

The Boss stared hard into Jim eyes, making sure Jim understood and it all sunk in.

“Thank you,” Jim said.

“Don’t make me regret my decision,” the Boss said. Then he turned and walked away with his dogs trailing behind.

“I won’t,” Jim said.  He said softly, so that nobody else heard it but himself.


Chapter 1



Sheriff Maltby drove alone down the winding suburban streets.  He was alone in his car, with the radios all turned off.  He enjoyed the solitude.  He rarely drove alone anymore.  Traveling alone wasn’t safe these days, especially for the county Sheriff.  But today he could make an exception.

As he drove along, Sheriff Maltby reflected on the reason why it wasn’t safe for a man in his position to travel alone.  It had all started two years ago.  The economy had gone from bad to worse and then to disaster in one day.  That day was called, “the readjustment,” or “the seizure,” depending on who you talked to.  After sequestering themselves for a week, the President and his cabinet presented themselves before the American people and announced that in order to preserve the U.S. economy; the government was going to nationalize a wide range of industries.  Assets would be seized and controlled by the government.  Workers would be organized through special government programs.  Production and consumption would be managed based on a variety of economic, social, and political concerns that could only be understood by government experts.   The President talked about things like fairness, and equality and the need for sacrifice and how as long as everybody supported the process, things would get better.  But things did not get better.  Business owners liquidated their assets or in some cases destroyed them rather than see them seized by the government.  There was a run on the stock market, so the government instituted stock-market holidays.  There was a run on the banks, so the government declared a bunch of bank holidays.  In the cases where companies were successfully turned over to the government, production in almost all cases came to a halt, as the new government administrators often had no idea how to run the industries they were appointed to oversee.  Some states refused to help enforce the government sanctions, and continued with business as usual.   From what the Sheriff heard about a dozen states were talking about leaving the union.  Alaska had all but left the union, tapping into oil wells it had never been allowed to exploit and severing all communications with the government. The federal government, short on resources, concentrated on the states that were complying with “the readjustment,” while damning the other states in what soon became entirely government controlled media outlets.

It was in the midst of this economic crisis that another world wide flu pandemic broke out.   With doctors not working, pharmaceutical companies not making drugs, and hospitals shut down for lack of funds, the flu swept across the land killing on a scale beyond what anybody could imagine.  The Center for Disease Control, understaffed and without any assets was helpless to stop the pandemic, nor were its counterparts in the U.N. and other nations around the world.  While the Center for Disease Control’s official report listed U.S. casualties from the flu as 800,000 other reports had it as high as 1/10th of the U.S. Population.  In Mexico City alone, as many as million people died from the flu in one week.   In Russia, dead were piled in sports stadiums throughout the winter until they could be burned.  Those pyres burned all throughout the spring and smoldered until the end of summer.

That had all taken place in the first year, when plague was the killer.  In the second year, it was starvation.   Grocery store shelves sat empty, unable to buy food to sell at their stores because they had no capital to spend because nobody was loaning money.  Food in warehouses rotted because there was no way to transport it to market.  In the Northern cities of the United States, people froze to death that winter while heating oil sat in railcars that couldn’t move for lack of locomotives to pull them.  Crime rose to levels that the United States had never seen before.  Local Law Enforcement didn’t have the resources to respond to the increased crime, and Federal Law Enforcement was over tasked with protecting all the factories and shipyards and power-plants that the Government now owned from looters and vandals.  In many cases, law enforcement officials turned corrupt and became worse criminals than the looters they were sworn to stop.

But what bothered the Sheriff the most was that no matter how bad things got, the federal government was quick to come up with another solution to a problem it had created in the first place.  When that solution didn’t work, additional non-working solutions were put in place creating a vicious cycle that kept feeding into itself.

It had been two tough years, and two really tough winters, but Sheriff Maltby had made it through and brought his community through as well as he’d been able.  When that second winter ended the spring had been unusually good to them, and by summer the farmers in the county were reporting bumper crops.  Things were not back to normal, they’d never be back to normal if normal was defined as time before the readjustment, but people had figured out how to make things work.  The barter economy was flourishing, there was a gray-market and a black-market economy that was robust (and vital enough that the Sheriff overlooked it), transportation networks were back open to a degree, and the ordinary citizens had found some solutions to the crime problems which the Sheriff also overlooked.  His community had made it through.   But it looked like the coming winter was going to be another tough one and it would be here soon.  The evergreens still held their crisp green colors, but in the lowlands the leaves on the alder trees and blackberry vines were changing.  Fall would lead into winter soon.

Sean Bastle’s territory was marked by a sign that at one time announced the entrance to a suburban subdivision.  The sign, which read, “Cascadian Meadows,” was made out of a slab of concrete.  Sean’s men had built a berm out of dirt and broken chunks of concrete which tied the concrete slab sign to a series of swinging iron gates that barred access to the subdivision.   Sheriff Maltby nosed his vehicle up to the first gate and waited.  It wasn’t long before a young man with a rifle walked up to the Sheriff’s car.  The Sherriff recognized him from his tall gangly frame.  His name was Tommy Steven, the local high school basketball star who won a scholarship to Gonzaga just before the economy fell apart.   There would be no college education for him now.  They could barely keep the K-12 schools operating.

The Sherriff rolled down his window. “Sherriff Maltby, here to see Mr. Bastle,” he said.   The young man nodded, and then consulted a clipboard he carried. “Wait here a minute Sherriff,” the man disappeared to pass the message on.  It was only a few minutes before he was back and opened the gates one at a time to let the Sherriff through.  Between the gate was a set of obstacles designed to slow down and vehicles passing through.  The Sherriff had to swing his vehicle hard to the left, then hard to the right, and then nose up to a second gate that was opened only after the first gate was shut and locked.  As he drove through the gates, Sherriff Maltby was certain there were more men with rifles nearby watching his every move.  He might have been Sherriff, but here in Cascadian Meadows, Sean Bastle was the law.

Cascadian Meadows looked more like a medieval village than the suburban subdivision it once was.  The Sherriff drove past gardens that had once been front lawns.  In some places, entire houses had been torn down to make room for planting, or converted for other functions.  One single family home had been converted into a school house. Another house had been turned into a machine shop.   Others functioned as warehouses, or in a few cases, green houses.    Sean had really made a go of it here.  This area had once been home to 500 families.   Now there were maybe 100, the rest had either been killed by the flu, or left to find work or relatives, or to live in one of the government run refugee camps in the cities.   In keeping with the medieval theme, there was even had an honest-to-goodness blacksmith shop, and herds of goats that were grazing in what were once well manicured front lawns.  If Cascadian Meadows was now a medieval village, Sean Bastle was certainly the lord.

And since no lord would be complete without his knights, Sean Bastle had those too.  Soon after The Seizure occurred, and Sean was getting things organized, ex-military people started showing up at Cascadian Meadows and were quickly to work.  There weren’t many of them.  Maybe 20 at the most, but they were 20 well armed, well trained, well organized men who had probably spent the better part of their adult lives fighting in one war or another across the globe.  In this county, they were a force not to be taken lightly, especially under Sean Bastle’s leadership.  Sherriff Maltby knew what they were capable off.  Not long after the seizure, a criminal gang moved into the county with plans on taking it over.  Many people were found murdered, including several Sherriff’s Deputies.  Powerless to stop it, The Sheriff went to Sean for help.  In just a week he got rid of the gang with what could best be described as a “brutal efficiency.”   The gang was gone, the Sheriff now owed Sean a favor, and Sean Bastle’s reputation as a man who could get things done was solidified.

But if Sean was a lord, he was a modest one.  His house certainly didn’t have the feel of a royal manner.  It was just another split level home located at the end of the street, no different than any of the others.  There were even the same victory gardens planted in the yards.  The house had been his parent’s.  They had both succumbed to the flu and the house was now occupied by Sean and his family.   When the Sheriff pulled up to Sean’s house, two men were already standing in the driveway waiting for him. The first was Chris Lindsey, a tall blonde headed man who had once been a military pilot but now functioned as Sean’s second in command.  Next to him stood Jim Reegan, a shorter out of towner who served as Sean’s personal driver.  Next to his wife, they were probably the two closest people to Sean.  Both were armed with pistols and long guns.  From the first time the Sheriff had seen him, Sean had always been armed, as were those who traveled with him.
“Morning Sheriff,” Chris said.  “Sean’s taking care of something right now.  We can wait inside till he’s done.”Chris and Jim escorted the Sheriff into Sean’s split level suburban home.  Entering the house, they passed Sean’s wife who was working on something in the kitchen.  The men greeted her with a good morning.  She didn’t speak but gave the Sherriff an icy stare.

Jim and Chris led the Sheriff down some stairs and into Sean’s library which also served as his meeting room.  It was once an entertainment room, but the TV and other media devices had been removed and replaced by books. There were a lot of books, another testament to Sean’s ability to get things organized.  There were auto repair manuals, books on gardening, books on welding, guides to reloading shotgun and rifles shells, chemistry textbooks, and a wide range of medical reference books.  There were history books, and books on all sorts of military arts, like On Infantry by English, and Just and Unjust Wars by Walzer.  In addition to the practical works, there were also all the classics; from Treasure Island to The Iliad, from The Pocket Mark Twain, to Dante’s Inferno.  Given the circumstances, it was much more impressive than any big sceen TV and home entertainment system. The only things on TV any more were sports and government programming.  Hanging on the wall were two framed prints.  One was of General George Washington giving his farewell address to his officers.  The second was of a WWI Marine. The Marine was about to drive his bayonet through a German soldier.

Chris and the Sheriff sat down.  Jim disappeared and came back with a couple mugs of tea.  Coffee was saved for special occasions, and this wasn’t special enough.  The Sheriff thought about that.  Not that long ago you could get coffee for almost free, now it was almost impossible to come by.  Instead there was tea made out of pine needles, and that had to do.
“You got anybody here still working paying jobs,” the Sheriff asked.

“We’ve got a few still folks working at the aircraft plant.  They aren’t doing much work though, not too many airplanes being built. A lot of people headed up to Alaska for work.  India is paying pretty nice bonuses for any engineers that will go there.  China is too.”  Since America’s economy went south, India had been snatching up all the best brains it could hire, particularly aircraft engineers, and with good reason. They were at war with Pakistan.

The Sheriff and Chris enjoyed the tea and it wasn’t long before Sean walked in.  Sean was a middle aged man, tall and in good shape.  He wore a well trimmed black beard with some signs of gray.  He still had a full head of hair which he kept short.  Even though he was in his own house, he wore a pistol and extra magazines on his belt.

Greetings and handshakes were exchanged and then the men sat down to get to business.

“What brings you by Sheriff?”

“There’ll be a big meeting at the end of the week.  Some experts are coming in to talk to us.  All us government folks will be there, and most of the private citizens of this county who hold weight will be there too. Seems they’re expecting another bad flu season this year.  They also think the winter will be especially bad this year.  Seems the nukes that India and Pakistan were using on each other have messed up global weather patterns.  We may have as much as twice as much rain this year as we normally do.  That will mean a lot of flooding.”
“It will?  How will that affect the farmers in the valley?”

“Good question.  Food is a scarce commodity.  We have a bad season, people will starve.  That’s a cold hard fact.”

“So who are these experts,” Sean asked.  His face betrayed little, but the Sheriff could tell the wheels were turning in his head.

“There will be a man from FEMA, Paul Linggi.  He was a firefighter in New York.  He got hurt on the job and then went to work for FEMA. He’s a logistics expert, a really good man.  He’s there to talk about the flooding.  Our friends at Grass Roots will be there to talk about the flu issues.”  Chris and Sean both looked at each other at that statement.  Grass Roots was a self described political action organization.  They were in favor with the ruling political elites and used to help administer government services that had suffered from the seizure.  There were many who skeptical, if not outright hostile towards the organization. The Sheriff continued.

“There will also be some military folks showing up.  I don’t think they have anything to do with the flu or the potential floods.”

“National Guard,” Chris asked.

“No, regular military.  Marines I think.”

“Anybody else,” Sean asked.

“Well,” the Sheriff started the paused to sip his tea.  “James Pritchard will be there, so if he’s coming there’ll probably be some strap-hangers in tow.”  James Pritchard was a former Congressman and a big deal in the county.

The three men went over some more details of the upcoming meeting.  The Sheriff finished his tea and excused himself.  Chris and Sean walked him out to his car. Before he left, Sean’s wife handed him a basket of food and gave him another cup of tea for the road.  Like her husband, she also carried a pistol.  Sean, his wife, and Chris stood in the drive way and watched the Sheriff disappear down the street.  When he was gone, Chris was the first to speak.

“I’ll get the team ready for the meeting.  It looks like our government is coming to help us out again.”

Sean didn’t speak, but his wife did.

“I wish they’d just leave us the hell alone.”

Chapter 2



Congressman James Pritchard rode to the meeting in an armored SUV with a police escort.  The police escorting him were not the County Deputies of Sheriff Maltby, but the city police of Maysville, the biggest city in the county and home of the county seat.  The SUV was big black behemoth that was originally supposed to go to the Department of State for assignment at some embassy overseas.  Congressman Pritchard had managed to use his influence to get the SUV sent to the Maysville Police Department instead, where it was used exclusively to transport him around.  He did many favors for the Maysville Police Department over the years, and they in turn did many favors for him.  It was a relationship he enjoyed.

James Pritchard actually wasn’t a Congressman anymore, but he still held the title.  Not too long after “The Readjustment,” Congressman James Pritchard stepped down from Congress and turned his seat over to an up and coming party member who would easily make Senator or Governor.  His choice was both personal and political.  Personal in that he wanted to spend more time with his family and more time in his home town.   The professional reason was that his political career had more or less reached its ceiling.  He would never make Senator and had no real desire for any other political offices. No cabinet positions or ambassadorships for him.  So he turned his seat over to a man whose political star was rising (and who would now owe the congressman a favor), and went back to his home in Washington State to spend more time with his family and perhaps take his career path in a different direction.

Naturally, his thoughts drifted to, “the Readjustment.”  It was the one event that his life and the life of every other American revolved around for the last two years.  He was not opposed to The Readjustment.  The Government had grown to such a point that the only way to keep it going was to make major changes to the economy or to cut its size down.  As a politician he certainly wasn’t going to propose cutting Government, especially since most of constituents had shown that they embraced the idea of more government, not less.   Besides, as a member in good standing with the ruling political party, he had only to gain from a government run economy, even if it was run poorly.  The economy may not be generating as much wealth as it had before, but more of that wealth was making it into the pockets of men like the Congressman, which was what mattered most to him.  After all, he had himself and his family to think about.

The one problem he did have with The Readjustment was that it had been so poorly executed.  Word of the nationalization process had leaked out over a month before the target date.  This was enough time for those who were going to lose their assets to hide them, move them to a place where they couldn’t be seized, liquidate them, or in some cases, destroy them all together.  In California, somebody set fire to all the locomotives in a rail yard before they could be taken.  In West Virginia, somebody collapsed a coal mine rather than see it get taken.  There was a firearms plant in this county that had simply vanished.  On the day of the readjustment, State Police and ATF agents showed up at the plant to find it completely empty; not a single lathe or press, no metal stock, no computers or drafting equipments.  Even the light bulbs and paper towels were gone.  All that was left was a scrap of paper taped to the door with a single word on it.  “Mine”

The other problem with the nationalization was that many states simply decided that they weren’t going to enforce the new policies.  South Carolina and Texas were the leaders of that band wagon, with about a dozen other states following suit.  Alaska had pretty much excommunicated itself from the union. There was a rumor that the FBI had tried to arrest the governor of Alaska, only to be thwarted by the Alaska State Troopers.  What was not a rumor was that Alaska had tapped into Anwar and dozens of other previously off limit oil wells and was selling the oil abroad and on the black market.   One oil company was in the process of building what would be the world’s largest and most efficient refinery near Prudhoe Bay, and without the EPA or other government interference, the refinery would be done by the summer.   James Pritchard could care less about the environmental impact.  What he did care about was that a great deal of wealth was being generated and the government wasn’t getting its cut.

This was what concerned James Pritchard the most.  Texas and the others could talk about succession all day long, it was just rabble rousing as far as he was concerned.  The Union had been preserved in the past, and would be preserved in the future.  What did concern him was that there was a lot of wealth out there that wasn’t being collected.  The federal government, despite all its powers only had so many resources available, so rather than use them in states that were out of compliance, they focused those resources on states who were willing participants in the readjustment.  Fortunately for James Pritchard, Washington State was part of that community.

The one good thing about the rabble rouser states was that they provided convenient scape goats.  If the federal government had to seize somebody’s business, it was because greedy old Texas wasn’t participating in the plan.  No food on the grocery store shelves?  Well if South Dakota would do its fair share you’d have food.  Living in a government run emergency camp?  Blame those greedy racists in South Carolina.  With a media that was mostly state controlled, it was pretty easy to get that message out.  If there was one thing the Congressman learned in his years in politics, it was you had to have somebody to blame.  Having somebody to blame for a problem was more important than having a solution.

Despite all the problems with the Readjustment thus far, Congressman James Pritchard didn’t think it wasn’t over yet.  Of that he was certain, just as he was certain that when the next steps took place, he’d be in a position to take full advantage of the resulting crisis.

The meeting took place in what had once been one of the city’s better hotels, but had been since taken over for the use of several government and non-government organizations.  There were a variety of vehicles in the parking lot; government vehicles, some police cars, a row of military vehicles that must have belonged to the Marines who had just arrived, a variety of civilian vehicles, many of which were in states of disrepair but had to be kept running because there weren’t any new cars being made, at least none that ordinary people could buy. But what struck the congressman as his motorcade pulled in was a string of pickup trucks parked off in a corner of the lot.  There were six trucks in all, four-door 4 wheel drive pickup trucks, all parked in a neat little row.  They were all Toyotas, the last model to come out before the readjustment, and had most likely been looted from some dealership before the government could get their hands on them.  The way they were arranged demonstrated a level of efficiency and organization.  Each truck had been modified.  They all sported big front bumpers that could be used to smash their way through whatever needed to be smashed.  They all had a variety of antenna rising up off them, and extra lights mounted at all points.  Spare tires, towing equipment and high lift jacks were all mounted to the outside of the trucks where they would be easily accessible.  There were men standing around by the trucks, guarding them.  They were men with guns who appeared very confident in their ability to use them.  They were Sean Bastle’s men.

The congressman recognized Sean’s ability.  He would be a man that might prove difficult to congressman.  Then again, he could also prove useful.  Having men with such abilities was important for a man like James Pritchard.  “I’ll have to meet with him one of these days,” James said to himself.  Everybody needed something these days, Sean would be no different.  He’d have to figure out what Sean needed and then use that to get his support.  He’d heard the rumors about how he’d solved the Sheriff’s gang problem.  Maybe he could solve some problems for me, James Pritchard thought.

At the door to the hotel there were several people waiting for Congressman Pritchard. That was  always a good sign.  The Maysville Chief of Police was there, as was the county executive and some members of the county’s board of commissioners. Standing off to the side was a group of younger people, mostly college aged or just out of college.  Those must be the Grass Roots folks, Pritchard thought.  Standing alone near the doorway was another man.  He was short and round and unpleasant looking, with slicked back hair that was dyed black to the point that it couldn’t possibly be mistaken for a natural color.  He wore a blue and black windbreaker with a union logo on the back.

“Morning Chief,” Pritchard said.  Chief Kim was a smallish woman, just over five feet tall, who looked like she might blow away in a strong gust of wind.  She had been an officer with a few small town departments back east before taking the position of Maysville’s Chief of Police.  Her law enforcement record had been uneventful, but she’d held many of the right positions like internal affairs investigator and public affairs officer and she had the right political connections, so her assignment to the position of police chief had been a lock.  Plus she was a woman and Asian, which never hurt.

The Congressman shook the appropriate hands and made the appropriate greetings and then they all headed into the hotel conference room where the meeting would take place.  It was a large room, able to accommodate about 300 people, and it was almost at capacity with several people standing along the walls.  He made note of all the important faces that were present. Some people he took particular note off.  In the front of the room sat Gerald Sheely, the unofficial leader of the county’s larger farmers.  Gerry was a career farmer from a family of farmers and he looked and dressed every bit the part.  Sitting off towards the back of the room was Tien Nguyen.  Tien was a local businessman and like Gerry had an unofficial leadership position.  Tien was the spokesman for the county’s South East Asian community and old enough to have several grand children who were fully grown.   He was also a major player in the black market.  Prior to the Readjustment, Tien had several successful businesses with ties to Asia and Canada.  Even though most international business had ceased, Tien still maintained those relationships.  Word on the street was that Tien and Sean had a strong relationship of some sort.  Sean’s trucks were often seen entering and leaving Tien’s businesses late at night.

In the back of the room stood the man he was really concerned about; Sean Bastle.  He was accompanied by a few of his men, all were well armed and all were obviously ex-military.   Sean Bastle with his Praetorian guard, James Pritchard thought.  Also in the back of the room was a man in uniform who also had a security detail with him.  Major Polakatanski, or Major Ski, was the head of a unit of Marines had shown up to the county.  Pritchard had met with the Marine Major the other day.  He seemed like a good enough fellow.  He’d be guarding some facilities in the county.  The congressman made a mental note to call some people he knew at Headquarters Marine Corps and find out about the Major.

The Congressman shook more hands and greeted more people and eventually made his way to a row of chairs that had a seat reserved for him.  The meeting started out the way most meetings like that do.  The county executive introduced all the important people in the room and paid deference to everybody it was appropriate to.  Then he went into some talk about the challenges the county had faced in the past and challenges ahead and all the typical non-specific things that politicians talk about when they really have nothing to say.  Pritchard quickly tuned him out.  After what seemed like forever, the county executive finally introduced the county FEMA representative that would be talking about the floods.  And older man got up and moved to center stage.  He sported a long walrus mustache and a bit of a belly.  He walked to center stage with a slight limp and addressed the crowd.

“Good morning ladies and gentlemen.  My name is Paul Linggi, and I’ll be the FEMA representative for your county.  Just so you know a little bit about me, I was a firefighter in New York City for 25 years.  After that, I went to work for the U.S. Forest Service where I worked as a logistics expert whenever there were big wildfires.  After that, I went to work for FEMA and have been here for about six years now, so I’ve had a pretty long career in emergency management.   First off, I’d like to repeat what the County Executive said, and that’s that you people have done a tremendous job in the last two years of weathering the many storms that this county has had to deal with.  Believe me; a lot of counties both in this state, and in this country didn’t fare anywhere near as good as you have.  You all really came together to deal with your problems and that is what this is all about.  Unfortunately we’re going to have some new problems we going to be facing, and soon.
“As you all know, India and Pakistan went to war earlier this year, and the war quickly went nuclear.  We aren’t expecting fallout, but what we are expecting is heavy rains starting in November all along the West Coast of the United States, even down into California.  Not only will this cause local flooding, but with the potential for flooded agricultural land throughout the West coast, we’re very concerned that we won’t be able to produce enough food to meet demand next year.

“As your FEMA representative, I want to do everything I can to help you protect the agriculture of this region.  The agricultural output of the Pacific coast is vital to the country, especially given the precarious state of affairs we’re in right now.  Now I have access to a great deal of resources; heavy equipment, pumping equipment, sand bags and barrier materials, we even have some dredging equipment that is available for this region, but you are going to be the one on the point end of this crisis.  I need to know what you need from me so we can not only make it through the floods, but be setup to produce food once the winter is over.  If you need something, let me know what it is and I’ll find a way to get it for you.”

“We got anybody here from the Department of Agriculture,”  Gerry Sheely asked.  “No offense Joe, I know your work with fire fighting , and everybody respects it.  But farming and firefighting aren’t the same thing.  We could use somebody with an agriculture background on this team too.”

Paul looked off to the side of the room where the Grass Roots people were standing.  “Nobody from the Department of Agriculture, but we do have some of our Grass Roots folks here.  Connor Justin here from Grass Roots handles Agricultural issues.” Paul looked a little tired as he said it.

Connor Justin walked out to the podium where Paul stood.  Connor was young and looked it, despite his thick beard.  He wore a necklace of thick glass beads around his neck, and brown leather bracelets on each wrist.  His hair was twisted into thick reddish dreadlocks.  He wore the standard uniform of the Grass Roots members, a white hooded sweatshirt with the light green blades of grass and brown roots emblazoned across the front.

Connor’s voice was unsteady as he talked.  “We need to make sure that we respond to this crisis in a manner that is sustainable and has a near-zero ecological impact.  Just because we face potential flooding doesn’t mean we are going to abandon our responsibilities to the environment.”

There were grumbles from the farmers.  Gerry stood up to speak.  He’d been a farmer most of his life, except for a few years when he went to college and got a degree in agriculture.  Environmental issues were something he dealt with his entire life, so it was nothing that got him upset.  To him, environmental issues were just one more thing that had to be dealt with in order to run a successful farm.  “When you talk about managing our responsibilities to the environment, what specifically are you looking for? We just heard that food output may not match demand, now we are talking about our eco-impacts.  Specifically what does that mean?”

Connor Justin looked annoyed.  “It means we can’t be doing whatever we want to the environment.  We can’t be greedy and abandon our responsibilities for profits.  We need to leave this planet better than it was when we found it.”

Gerry looked confused and a little annoyed, but not too annoyed.  This was a game he played before.    “Right.  I understand the generalities about environmentalism, but what are the specifics.  We need specific details so we can make our plans and give them to Mr. Linggi there.  So when you say our environmental responsibilities, what does that mean?

Connor almost shouted.  “It means we can’t be killing our mother earth!”

“If these floods take place, it will be mother earth that will be killing us,” somebody from the crowd said.

“Don’t you blame this on the planet,” Connor screamed.  He was fuming and pointing his finger at the farmers who were sitting in the front of the audience. “This event was man-made.  It was India’s racist and uncalled for use of nuclear weapons that caused this. Not the planet.  And we need to take a sustainable approach to this.  I don’t want our children to grow up in a world of poison.”  Connor didn’t have any children, but that was beside the point.

“Didn’t Pakistan nuke India first,” Somebody in the crowd asked.

“Only because they had too!”  Connor Spat when he talked and his face was flushed to a shade of almost purple.  “India hates Pakistan because they’re a bunch of imperialist racists!  They hate muslims and they want to exploit Pakistan for the benefit of a bunch greedy corporate elitists!  I’m glad Pakistan had the courage to stand up against India’s hate!” Now the young man’s whole body was visibly shaking.

Before the meeting degenerated any further, James Pritchard stepped in.  “Perhaps we could table the issues with the war for another time.  I’m sure we all agree that the focus needs to be on the flooding at this point and our shared responsibility to find a solution. Gerald? If you and Mr. Linggi could arrange a time to discuss the needs of the farmers during one of the breaks I would appreciate it.  Thank you Mr.  Justin.  Pritchard’s manner was easy going, and the crowd quickly quieted down.  “Now I believe we were also going to discuss this year’s flu season?”

Next up was another Grass Roots activist.  Like Connor Justin, he was young, in his early 20’s.  He wore the same hooded sweatshirt, but no beard, probably because he couldn’t grow one.  As he was getting up, Connor Justin sat down. He was still flushed and his body was still shaking. I hope this one is better than the last one, James Pritchard thought.

“Yes, I’m Raymond Lynn. I’m also with Grass Roots.  I’m a Health and Human Services advocate for Grass Roots.”  As Raymond continued talking, it became quickly apparent that he really didn’t know much about the flu or its potential effects.  Many people in the crowds looked at each other in disbelief  that the person who would be running the program for distributing flu shots wasn’t a doctor or public health administrator, but a kid in his 20’s who looked like he just walked off a college campus.  Raymond continued.  “We don’t have a lot of specific information about the upcoming flu, like how it will spread or signs and symptoms or things like that, but all the computer models at the Center for Disease control project that the flu season is going to be really bad this year, so it is very important that everybody here gets their flu shot.  If people don’t, they’ll spread the flu to their neighbors and their parents and their children so we need everybody to get their shots, okay.

“We will be distributing flu shots at all our hospitals and all the still functioning schools starting next week.  What we need from the community is to get the word out about the shots and start raising awareness about the upcoming flu season.  For those that cannot make it to a school or to a hospital, Grass Roots teams will travel to the person’s home and give them the shots there.   We’ve posted all this information on the county Grass Roots website, but we understand that from time to time both the power or the internet goes out unexpectedly, so we’ve printed out flyers and hand outs in the back of the room.  Feel free to take as many as you need and hand them out, please.  Without your help getting this message out we cannot get the awareness up to the levels we’d like to see.”

Somebody in the crowd asked a question, “Every time I try to get information of your website I get prompted to register and fill out about ten screens of questions about myself.  Is there a way we can get info off the website without filling out all those profile questions?”

Raymond smiled.  “I understand your frustration, but we have people fill out those profile questions so we can build data-bases to better support the community.   One of the goals of Grass Roots as an organization is to gather community information so we can help with the Administration’s Health and Human Services programs.  But like I said, we have all the information printed out in the back.  But, we’d rather have people use the website if it available. We really need everybody in the county to log in to the website and get registered, but we know that if the power is out that won’t be possible, okay?

“And as long as we are talking about registering people, there is somebody else who needs you to register with his agency.  His name is Hugh Bowden and he’s for labor rights and he’s with the Progressive Union and so… I’ll let him talk right now.”

The short round man that James Pritchard had seen waiting by the hotel doors walked out.  He even looked more unpleasant now than he did before.  As unpleasant as he sounded, he was even more unpleasant when he started speaking.

“Yes, my name is Hugh Bowden and I’m the county representative for the Progressive Union.  This is totally unrelated to the flood or the flu, but we need everybody who is currently not part of another union to register for membership with the Progressive Union.  We’ll have registration stations at the hospitals and schools so you can register when you get your shot.  For those of you who are already union members, we need to see your union membership card so we can cross you off our list.  And like Raymond said, if you know people who cannot make it to a school or hospital cause they are old or whatever, let us know and I’ll get a chairman out to their house to register them.  That’s all I got, thanks.”  Hugh walked back over to the sidelines. Nobody said anything, but James Pritchard noticed most of the people in the room seemed uneasy after his speech, especially the farmers.  James Pritchard felt a little uneasy too.  Flooding and the flu were on the way and they were getting union reps and some political appointees who looked like they just came from a student protest, one of whom almost went berserk after just a few questions.  James thought that that might not be a good thing for the county, but in may be a good thing for him.

Jim Reegan was outside standing watch over the vehicles and chewing on a blade of grass when the meeting finally ended and Sean and the rest of the men came out of the hotel.  He’d rather be smoking a cigarette than chewing grass, but of course there weren’t many cigarettes around.  He and a few others had tried growing tobacco last year, but it just hadn’t worked out.  Maybe they’d try again next spring.  In the meantime, getting cigarettes, real cigarettes meant knowing somebody who was tied into the black market, or making the run to Canada.

Sean walked side by side with Chris, but neither one was talking.  That wasn’t uncommon.  Sean was very particular about where he discussed things.  He called it Operational Security, or Opsec.   In fact most of his detailed conversations took place in his truck.  As his driver, that put Jimmy in a position of particular privilege.  It was strange, but Jim was proud that he’d been chosen to be Sean’s personal driver.  It was a pretty big step down from his previous job, as an environmental compliance officer for the state of Illinois, but there wasn’t much calling for environmental compliance officers right now.  There was a calling for was men who were dependable and capable.  Jim was glad that Sean considered him such a man.

Before they made it to the trucks, the military man approached Sean and Chris.  From what Jim could tell, it looked like they knew each other.  They shook hands with each other in a way that showed they had known each other long ago.

“Good to see you Boss.”

“Good to see you too Major,” Sean replied.  That greeting had a whole new meeting these days, since anybody you had not seen recently could very likely be dead.  “What’s with the gold oak leafs?  I figured you’d be a Lieutenant Colonel by now?”

Major Ski shrugged.  “Congress has pretty much put a halt to officer promotions these days.  No money they say.  Unless you’re working in the Pentagon and have some political connections, you ain’t getting promoted these days.”

“That’s too bad.  You should be running a battalion right now.”

“Well, I guess I am, albeit a small one.  Two rifle companies, and a robust H&S company.  They cobbled us together just a few weeks ago and sent us up here from Camp Pendleton.”

“What have they got you doing?”

“We’re getting back to our Naval traditions.  We’re beefing up security at the Naval facility in Maysville.  We’ll also be guarding what’s left of the aircraft plant.  Lots of sensitive stuff there that we wouldn’t want to get looted.  No room for us at the Naval Station though so they got us set up in some ugly pink hotel on the water front.”

Sean’s face drew into an easy grin.  “Sounds familiar.  So are they worried about us poor folks storming the Naval base with torches and pitchforks. ”

“From what I’ve heard, you ain’t exactly poor.  And no.  Official word is that we are worried about a Canadian threat.” That got a puzzled look from Sean and Chris.  Major Ski continued. “It seems there was a conservative backlash in Canada this last election.  While we were going Doctor Zhivago here, they were going Winston Churchill there.  All the conservative leaning people in Britain and France moved to Canada, along with a few folks here who didn’t like what was going on.  They’ve withdrawn from NATO and the U.N.  They’ve even closed their borders to keep the riffraff out.  Too much crime spilling over into their border towns so they said the hell with it.  But they ain’t looking to invade us.  They just want us to stay the hell out.  It sure ain’t your Granddad’s Canada that’s for sure.”

“We don’t get much real news.  What’s going on with the war between India and Pakistan?”

“There’s a lot going on with the war,” The Major said.  “Might be the best thing if you stopped by our command post next week and we can talk about it.  The world is changing.  The war is what the whole world is watching right now.  Nobody cares about our economic collapse anymore. That’s yesterday’s news.”

They talked a little while longer, then they all shook hands and parted. Chris and Sean climbed into Jim’s truck. Major Ski watched Sean’s men.  They ran back and forth, passing last minute instructions and making some adjustments.  When it was finally time to go and everybody was loaded up in their vehicles, all six drivers of all six trucks turned the keys in their ignitions simultaneously.  The trucks all started as one.  Then the trucks pulled out of the parking lot aggressively and sped down the road.

Old habits die hard, the Major thought.  Then he headed over to his own detail.

The column of trucks sped down the road at breakneck speed.  It wasn’t reckless driving, but the trucks weren’t exactly sharing the road either.  In order to avoid being attacked on the road, it was better to drive aggressive.  The six trucks, all fitted almost the same and moving in unison projected what many call a “hard target,” meaning it would be hard to attack them successfully.  Projecting strength was an important skill these days.

Sean and Chris, driven by Jim, rode in the center of the column of trucks.  Inside the truck they recapped the meeting and discussed their future moves.

“So Boss, what did you think about our agricultural specialist?”

Sean took a deep sigh before he answered.   “I think if they are really worried about our farms being productive, they could find somebody who knows something about agriculture instead of some flunkie from Grass Roots.  In fact, I really don’t like the fact that instead of experts we have a bunch of flunkies to help us out.  I also don’t like what that union organizer had to say.”
“I’ll see what I can find out about him.”

“No need.  I knew Huey before the recent… unpleasantness,” Sean said.  “We never met but I know him by his reputation.  He was a union organizer down in the Port of Long Beach. He tried to get all the local owner/operator truck drivers to join the union.  His most convincing argument was to burn their trucks if they didn’t join.  He’s an opportunist thug.  He’ll use the Dignity of Labor act to start causing trouble.  We’ll need to keep an eye on him.”

The Dignity of Labor act was another government program that came about as part of the Seizure.  It basically stated that anybody receiving an income, any type of income, had to be part of a union to ensure they would not be exploited for their labor.  This applied to everybody; management, retirees, anybody who earned any type of income, even the self employed.  And to ensure that there was a union available for all these new members to join, the government subsidized the creation of The Progressive Union.  If the economy ever stabilized, there was potentially billions of dollars in union dues that the Progressive Union would be collecting.  But for right now the Progressive Union had to get organized and start consolidating its power.

“Regardless, we need to set up a meeting with Gerry this week.  If what the FEMA man said about the floods this winter is true, we’ll have a lot to talk about.  Food is looking tight already.  We also still need to visit Tien tonight, and Major Ski sometime soon.  We’re lucky he’s up here.”

“Yes we are,” Chris answered.  “It was good to see him.  It’s been a long time.   When we get done with Tien tonight I’ll go over the numbers.  I think we’ll have enough food, but diesel is going to be a problem.  Maybe we can get some from the FEMA guy.”

They drove on in silence for a little while.  The trucks moved as one down the winding roads.  They would appear to be a formidable target to anybody who might want to attack them, which was the idea.  Jim was the first to break the silence.  “Looks like the government is going to get real involved in our lives again.”

“Yup,” Sean answered.  “Which means we might have to get real involved in the government.”

––––Chapter 3: Midnight Deals––––

It was well after midnight when Sean Bastle and his team left from their compound to see Tien Nguyen.  There were no streetlights.  Electricity was too valuable to waste out in this part of the county. Only the cities had power to run street lights.  It didn’t matter though.  The trucks that made up the column had enough additional off-road lights on them to easily illuminate the way.  The bright off-road lights had the additional advantages of almost blinding any potential attackers and making the convoy look almost like one solid block of light, rather than a series of individual vehicles.  As well set up as they were, Sean and his men didn’t have night vision.  They had a few odd devices, but not enough that they could run a convoy blacked-out.   Even if they could, Sean wouldn’t have allowed it.  Driving on night vision even under routine circumstances was dangerous.  It was better to just go with the bright lights and hard target.

The convoy cruised easily through the roads and streets of the county.  They were the only traffic on the road.  These days, people didn’t drive unless they had somewhere to go, and most people  had nowhere to go at midnight.

Mixed into the convoy of pickup trucks were some other vehicles.  There was a large panel van, a mini-van and three smaller economy cars.  In their truck near the front of the convoy, Jim and Sean drove in silence.  Chris was in another vehicle.  He and Sean only rode together when they had too.  There were several radios in the truck; a total of four CB radios that allowed Sean to talk on and listen to several channels at once.  There was also a scanner that picked up police, fire and EMS traffic.   Sean had wanted a HAM setup in the truck, but so far they were unable to get one to work with much success.  The scanner was quiet, and the CB radios only gave out the hiss of light static.  They used the CB channels to control the convoy, but since they made the run to Tien’s place so often there wasn’t much to discuss.

Tien’s compound was affectionately referred to as “The Lions.”  The compound was a strip mall that housed some of Tien’s many businesses and after The Seizure, Tien had the whole thing fortified with a cinderblock wall and a heavy steel gate that blocked the only way in or out.  At the gate sat two lion’s that were carved from stone.  The lions were huge, each one as big as the mini-van in Sean’s convoy.  Tien had them shipped over from Vietnam decades ago.  The city of Maysville made a stink when he originally put them in front of his house.  Tien had given in to the city’s demands and threw them in a warehouse somewhere, but when things fell apart, the Lion’s came back out.  Now they stood guard at the compound, each illuminated by the flames from a wrought iron basket full of burning wood that hung on the wall above the lion’s.  As he drove his vehicle through the gate, Jim wondered how they moved those lions.  Each one must have weighed a couple tons.
When the convoy was all inside the compound, armed men shut the gate behind them.  As Jim and Sean climbed out of their truck, a young lady walked towards them.  She wasn’t armed, but there was a man on either side of her carrying an uzi submachine gun.  She was short, about 5’ 3” tall, but she possessed an air of confidence.  Jim and Sean recognized her immediately as Tien’s niece, Judy.  Judy was a smart girl who worked hand in hand with Tien to make all the family businesses run efficiently.  A few years ago, Judy was at UCLA, working away at an MBA degree.  Then some administrator in the University of California system decided that there were too many Asian women in attendance and that wasn’t fair to other ethnic groups. Judy was told to leave.  Using a strange logic, the University of California system explained that because Judy’s grades were so high, she made an ideal candidate to be asked to leave because it would be easier for her to enroll in another school than some other student who got worse grades.  She was told it was all in the name of fairness, she was told.  Judy went back to Washington and not too long after that the economy tanked.
Judy walked right up to Sean and Jim.  “Is Tommy with you,” She asked.  They way she asked it made it sound more like what she was really asking was, “Why isn’t Tommy with you?”
“Tommy’s watching the gate.”

Judy looked disappointed.  She and Tommy Stevens had something going when they were in High School.  Now each was back from college and it seemed that the old flame had rekindled itself.  Unfortunately for them, they rarely got to see each other.  The reality of the situation prevented it.

“Tien’s inside.  We made some food for your men.”  She nodded to the cars and the vans which had been parked in a neat row separate from the trucks.  “Those for us?”
“They are all for you, them and everything inside.”

“Good, I’ll get with Chris.  Tien’s anxious to see you.”  With that statement Judy walked off to find Chris with her bodyguards in tow.

“She’s all business,” Jim said.

“She is.  Tien’s lucky to have her.  Why don’t you go get some food Jim?  See if you can get yourself some cigarettes too.”  Jim liked that idea.  He could smell something cooking and went out to find it.  Around the vehicles the men were making individual trades with some of Tien’s men.  Chris and Judy were in the back of the panel van taking inventory.  The inside of the van was full of consumer electronics; big screen TVs, video game consoles, and even some high end kitchen appliances.  Some were used, some were still in their boxes.   It was all stuff that was valuable at one time, but more or less useless to the people of Cascadian Meadows now.  They had gotten these items from either their own houses, or taken them from houses whose occupant’s had either died or hit the road.  Tien took these items and somehow got them shipped over to another country with an up and coming economy where they were sold on the black market there.  The cars would go too, as would the panel van.  In the mini-van were things that were made in Cascadian Meadows which Tien would sell locally.  There were two huge cast iron stoves and several dozen tin lanterns.  Since power was limited and there was always plenty of wood to burn, the wood stoves were a hot item.  The lack of power also made lanterns an item in high demand. In return for all of these items, Sean and his people got things they could use.  Already some of his men were loading 50lb sacks of rice into the pickup trucks.

The smell of soup hit Jim’s nose again.  It smelled delicious, but first he had to take care of a trade of his own.  He fished into his cargo pocket and pulled out a bottle of Crown Royal.  It was time to find some cigarettes.

Inside Tien’s conference room, Tien, and his Lieutenant, Hoang, sipped Crown Royal and cola with Sean and two of his men; Hooker and Davis.  Davis was a slim man who looked ten years younger than he actually was.  At one time he was a Marine Scout-Sniper and was one of the first veterans that Sean had imported.  Hooker on the other hand was big and bald with the look of a bouncer.  He had also served in the Marines, but as a machine-gunner.   Now they served as bodyguards.   While Sean and Tien were on good terms, Sean wasn’t going to meet him alone.

“Looks like you brought us quite a haul,” Tien said.  He lit a cigarette, and then nodded to a pile in the corner covered by a tarp.  “We’ve got more for you than rice.  Judy wants to know when our trucks will be ready.”  One of Tien’s businesses was trucking, and Sean and his men were modifying  some of those trucks to be more in keeping with the times. Things like heavy-duty bumpers and rams on the front, armor plating around parts of the cab, and windows reinforced with wire screens to keep them from being busted out were on the list of upgrades.

“The first two will be done in a week.  Then we’ll be able to do one a week through the winter.”  Sean sipped his drink.  The cola wasn’t coke and you could taste the difference, but it was still good.  “We saw Judy outside.  It seems like she’s really on top of things.”

“Judy has been a tremendous help,” Tien said.  “She has a real head for business.  It was too bad about UCLA.  I have a plan though.   I’ll get her into a school across the border in Vancouver.  She can still get her MBA there.  Then she can come back down here and run some of my businesses.”  Tien paused as Hoang freshened up his drink.  After another sip he asked, “Isn’t her old boyfriend living with over there with you?  The basketball player, Tommy Stevens.  It sounds like college didn’t work out for him either.  What is he doing these days?  I’m sure you’ve got him doing some important work for your operation.”

Sean knew what Tien was getting at, and it killed him.  What was he to say?  That Tommy Stevens, the local basketball hero who won a full college scholarship was now standing guard duty when he wasn’t shoveling goat manure or growing potatoes, and before too long he’d probably get shot and killed out at that gate.  What else could Tommy really aspire to now?  Not much chance of being a doctor or an engineer or anything like that.  About the best life Tommy could aspire to now was to have one of the military guys teach him to be a gunslinger.  That was the reality of the world they were in now, and that didn’t sit well with Sean.  He gave Tien a pleasant non-answer.  Then he asked, “What’s under the tarp?”

Hoang pulled up the tarp revealing three wooded crates, a small metal ammo can, and three old canvas duffle bags.  Hoang opened two of the duffle bags and emptied out their contents.  There were five type 56 assault rifles; Chinese copies of the AK-47.  They were old and battered, with the spike type bayonets that folded back into the fore stock.  There were also two Chinese Type 64 suppressed submachine guns.  Hoang then set the metal ammo can on the conference table and opened it up.  Inside were half-dozen old Soviet fragmentation grenades.  Their bodies were made out of a clear, orange tinted plastic that allowed you to see the bb’s inside.

“I think you’ll like this last one most of all,” Hoang said.  He opened the last duffle and pulled out an RPD light machine gun.  It looked every bit its age and bore the signs that it had seen its share of action.   Hooker picked it up and performed a function check on the veteran weapon.  He nodded to Sean.  The weapon checked out.   Then he performed a function check and inspection on the rest of the weapons.  “They all work.  They aren’t pretty but they’ll do the job.”

Just then Judy walked into the room with Chris.  She didn’t miss a beat.  “We’ve only got about 100 rounds for each of those type 64’s,” she said. “But we’ve got plenty of magazines for those rifles and belts for the RPD.  Each of those wood crates holds a thousand rounds of 7.62x39.”

Tien jumped back into the conversation.  “There will be more where this came from,” he told Sean. “My contacts in China can get much more of this.  Lots of weapons are coming over the United States now. It’ll be easy for me to get a more of them.”

“What kind of weapons,” Hooker asked.

“Small arms.  Assault rifles mostly, but some heavier stuff. The U.S. government is buying  them up.”  When Tien said this, Sean and all his men thought the same thing; why would the U.S. government import old Chinese small-arms.

“What are they gonna do when they find out your getting your share of their shipments,” Sean asked.

“Who, the Feds?

“No, the Chinese.”

“They don’t care, as long as they are getting their money.  Besides, they know Americans love guns and they know some will make it to the black market.  As long as the Chinese government gets their cut, which they will, they couldn’t care less who gets them.”

“Well, keep ‘em coming Tien,” Sean said.  “We can always use more weapons.  Ammo is better than guns though.”

Tien nodded and then killed his drink.  He leaned forward in his seat to be closer to Sean.  “Sean, let me ask you something.  What do you think about that union man today?  I don’t like him. I think he’s going to cause trouble.  I don’t want him coming around here stirring up my people.  This is a family business.  I don’t need a union shop here, and I really don’t need him.”

“I think your right Tien.  I’m sure you know about what he did in LA.”

“I do Sean.  Some of those trucks he burned belonged to me and my family.  I don’t want any of my trucks here getting burned.”  Tien looked at his niece and son before going any further.  “I’m doing well, but in the black market business I have to cut a lot of people in.  I know that.  But I’m not cutting this guy in.  He’s a thug and a thief.”  Tien looked at his family members before continuing.  “How much for you to make him, disappear?”

Chris looked shocked at such a proposal, but Hooker and Davis didn’t seem the least bit disturbed.  Sean leaned forward in his seat towards Tien.  “Tien, I’m not assassinating anybody.  We aren’t hit men.”

“You killed all those gang members.”

“That was different.”

“How was it different?”

“It just was Tien, and I’m not going to argue about that.  We not doing murder for hire.”

“You know he’s going to cause us all problems.  It would save us a lot of trouble to kill him now.”

Sean leaned back in his chair again. “Tien, you are probably right about that.  But for now, we aren’t killing him.  And I don’t want you killing him either.  If he starts burning stuff or roughing people up, then we’ll take another look at it.  But for now, no murders.”

Tien shrugged.  “Okay Sean.  I’ll leave him alone.  For now.”
––––
 When the meeting ended and everything was loaded up the convoy headed back. Sean and Jim rode back with Chris in the back seat.  Chris sat almost sideways so he could get a better view out the side window.  He kept his carbine up, barrel out so he could employ it with ease should the need arise.

“What do you want to do with the weapons, Boss,” Chris asked.

“Have some of the guys with lesser weapons trade them out for those AK’s.  We’ll keep the machine gun in the armory for now.  Let’s see if we can fabricate a mount for it like we talked about. The submachine guns and the grenades we’ll give to our friends down south.”

“Sure you want to give those grenades away too Boss?”

“Those grenades aren’t as impressive as they look, and they are older than you and me.  Besides, they need them more than we do.”  Sean looked over at Jim.  He had an SKS rifle wedged between his seat and the door.  It looked incredibly awkward, wedged it where it was.

“I think you’ve hauled that SKS around long enough,” Sean said.  “Trade it in for one of the new assault rifles tomorrow.  Have Hooker fit it with a folding stock and give you some 20 round magazines with it.  Make it easier for you to get in and out of truck.  By the way, how was the soup?”

Jim didn’t take his eyes off the road.  They were moving at a pretty fast clip considering it was still dark out and the only light came from the trucks.  “It was good, which is the problem.”
“How is the soup being good a problem,” Chris asked, laughing a little.

“Well, all the soup was, was some prepackaged ramen noodles, the same kind you used to get at the store for a couple bucks for a case.  It was ramen noodle soup, and it was delicious and I devoured it.  I’ll be 35 in a few months.  The last time I got excited about ramen soup was when I was in college,  but I’ve had so little variety in my diet that what was once a ten cent package of ramen soup is like a steak dinner.  It can make you crazy thinking about it.

“Take bananas for example.  I haven’t had a banana since this whole mess started.  I’ve had banana chips and preserved bananas, but I haven’t had a fresh banana in two years.  Two years ago you couldn’t find a grocery store in America that didn’t have a banana.  But now, how would you even get one today?  The way things are now, I could live to be a hundred and never eat another fresh banana again.  If a baby was born here today, it might live its whole life without eating a banana.”

They drove on in silence for awhile before Jim broke it.  “How did it go tonight,” Jim asked.

“Went well, except for the parts about where we started talking about assassinations and arranged marriages.”

That startled Jim, and it showed on his face.  Sean grinned.

“Tien asked if we could take care of this union organizer who showed up.  He also started laying the ground work to maybe get our very own Tommy Stevens married off to Judy.”  Jim looked at Sean like he was joking.  “I’m serious Jim.  Serious as a heart attack.”

“What did you say?”

“Well,” Sean said.  “I’ve got no problem killing somebody who needs to get killed, but this ain’t a murder for hire ring.  I’m not going to just go out and assassinate this union guy, just because he may cause us all problems in the future.”

“But you think you may have to kill him at some point?”

“Well, I’d prefer not to kill anybody.  Things being what they are, that may not be reality.  If I have to kill somebody to protect my family, my friends, and this little community we got going on, I’ll kill them.”
“Even if they aren’t threatening us directly,” Jim asked.

Sean shrugged.  “What does that mean?  A man doesn’t have to be coming at you with a gun to be a threat, especially not the really dangerous ones.  This union guy for example.  He can cause all kinds of problems for us without ever pulling a gun. He can mandate that we all join his union and start paying him union dues.  He can prevent us from fabricating these stoves and lanterns for Tien because we don’t belong to the stove and lantern makers union, he can make us hire people we don’t want to hire because they have seniority on some list of his.  He can generally come in here and use a bunch of laws and union bylaws to take away our wealth for his benefit.  So yes, if he starts doing things like that, I might see to it that he stops it, one way or another.
“I’m just playing Devil’s Advocate here Boss, but does that really give you the right to kill him?”

“Well,” Sean said, thinking a few second before he spoke. “I can’t take him to the courts, because the courts are all corrupt and want to rule by empathy rather than by law.  I can’t go to the media, because they are now run by the state, the same state that mandated we all join his union in fact.  I can’t go to my local politicians, because most of them are too busy worrying about staying in the good graces of the Fed and the party so they can get re-elected that they don’t have the time to worry about the people they were supposed to support.  So since I have no other civilized recourse, so what am I to do?  Am I to bow down to this bully?  What if he starts burning our property like he did down in LA? If people take away all our civilized options, they shouldn’t be surprised if we resort to less than civilized means.”

"So what's this about arranged marrigaes?"

“Tien was asking about Tommy and talking about Judy.  He didn’t come out and say it, but it seemed like he was putting out the idea that the two of them get married.”
Jim laughed, “That would be the best thing that ever happened to Tommy.”

“Yes it would,” Sean agreed.  “And they both seem to at least like each other, but what if they didn’t?  I’d hate to think that we’re going to start marrying off our children for political and economic advantages, rather than let them chose who they marry on their own.”

“I don’t know Boss.  Arranged marriages are still pretty common in other countries.”

Right Jim, arranged marriages are common in other countries. But this isn’t other countries, this is America.  How would you like it if I knocked on your door one day and said, ‘Hey Jim, we need some more goats, so I’m going to marry your twelve year old daughter off to a 60 year old goat herder.’  Does that sound like a good deal for you?”

“I guess it doesn’t.”

“No, it doesn’t.”

“But what if you had to do that?  What if you had to arrange a marriage or go assassinate somebody?  How would you know you made the right choice?  Or better yet, how would we know you were making the right choice?”

“Well Jim, I’d say that I’d hope that you’d all have at least a little faith that as your leader I was making the right decisions when the difference between the right decision and the wrong decision weren’t so clear.”

“Okay Boss,” Jim said, “But just playing Devil’s Advocate again, but if that is the case, what is the difference between you and some of these idiots that got us into this mess.”

“Easy Jim.  They sought out power so they could personally benefit from it.  They chose power so they can serve themselves.  I’m doing this to serve our community.”

“Yes, but isn’t that what all those politicians always say?  So how do we know you’re different?”

Sean smiled.  “Jim, like I said, I hope you’ll a little faith.”

The convoy pulled into Cascadian Meadows just as the sun came up.  Once everybody was inside, the trucks were parked in a neat row, unloaded, and immediately made ready to go out again.  Wives and children came out to greet their men and see what deals they had made at Tien’s place.  Chris walked up to Sean.

“I’ll take care of getting this wrapped up Boss.  Do you want to go through all the numbers today?”

“No, Chris. I promised my wife we’d go running this morning.  Besides, it’s been a long day and I’m sure everybody could use some rest and some time with their families.    Tomorrow morning we’ll go through the numbers.  For now, I’m going to go spend some time with my kids before they forget what I look like,” and with that, Sean walked off to see his family.

––––
While Sean and his companions were making their run back from Tien’s, James Pritchard was on the phone.  He got up early to make a phone call to Washington D.C. because he wanted a friend he knew to work on a project for him first thing.  He was excited about the work he was doing, so he sounded wide awake in spite of the early hour.

“Fax the report to that number.  It’s an encrypted system so use one of the Department of Defense machines….  No, it will come to my home office so nobody else will see it…. Right thanks.  Also, I need you to get with somebody on one of the Department of Defense subcommittees and check out some names for me.  Get me everything you can on these guys. Ready for the names? Okay the first is Major Karl Polakatanski, he’s a Marine, active duty.  The second is Chris Lindsey, he’s was a Marine but now he’s a civilian.  The last one maybe was Marine too but I don’t know.   His name is Sean Bastle."


––––Chapter 4: Crunching Numbers––––



It was early in the morning and Sherriff Maltby was already tired.  It wasn’t the early hour that made him weary; it was the knowledge of the full day’s work ahead of him.  He had meetings and conferences with various government officials all afternoon and into the evening.  When you were attending one meeting after another it was hard to get real work done.  Last year, when the bullets were flying and food riots were commonplace and tough decisions had to be made, half these officials couldn’t be found, much less met with.  Now it seemed he was in four or five meetings a day, most of which resolved little, but wasted valuable time.

The issue that had his attention this morning however involved real police work.  Sprawled out on the ground in front of him were three dead bodies; raiders.  The man who killed them was laid out not too far away in the doorway of the home he had tried to defend.  It was another home invasion.  The Sherriff looked at the bodies of the raiders.  They had not been alone.  Whoever came with them and survived had stripped them of their identifications as well as their arms and anything else of value.  The Sherriff suspected they also took their colors.  He had heard through law enforcement networks that an outlaw biker gang had been moving north from parts of Southern Washington and Oregon.  This outlaw motorcycle gang called themselves, “The Mutants.”  The Mutants were into a variety of illegal activities before the Seizure and it was unlikely they had changed for the better now that everything had gone to hell.  They modeled their operation along the same lines as the Mexican Criminal syndicate, Los Zetas: they actively recruited from people who had backgrounds in the military and law enforcement.  That made for a criminal gang that was organized, technically and tactically proficient and had insights into all aspects of law enforcement and criminal justice.   There had been two home invasions just like this in the last two weeks.  If the Mutants were expanding into his county, the Sherriff would need more men and more resources to stop them.

As Sherriff, his job was often more administrative in nature than operational.  It wasn’t his job to kick in doors anymore, but it was his job to get his county the law enforcement resources they needed, not wanted, not desired, not the “cool-to-haves” but what was needed.  What he needed now more than anything was more deputies.  His county spanned a wide and diverse area.  The eastern edge extended up into the Cascade Mountains.   The Western edge of the county ended at the shores of Puget Sound.  To the South, just at the county line was the last of the urban sprawl stretching out from the City of Seattle.  To the North of the county were more farmlands, with the farms getting bigger and the population getting smaller the further north you went until you finally got to Canada, which was just a few hours drive away.  The county had once had a huge aircraft manufacturing facility, which was now just hanging on and only producing at subsistence levels.  The county also hosted a Naval Station which was home to part of a Carrier Battle Group, as well as several smaller port facilities that serviced ships whose primary port of call was Seattle.  Throughout the county were several railroad lines which connected Seattle with Canada to the north and the mountain passes through the Cascades.  But the primary money maker right now was the farmland.   Running north to south through the center of the county was prime agricultural land which was now valuable not just for the economic welfare of the county, but to the very survival of the people that lived there. From the mountains to the coastal shores, and from rural farmlands to suburban sprawl, it all made for a very diverse community which required a lot of manpower to police, even before the economic collapse, even without the possibility of the Mutants.

But getting more deputies meant more political maneuverings.  In a world where resources were scarce, nobody was going to just give him more deputies, Outlaw Bikers or not.  The marines would help. They would reduce the need for patrols in the areas they occupied, but it wouldn’t be a real solution. He could always go back to Sean, but he had reservations about that.  Sean was capable, but he was a private citizen, not a cop. He was well on his way to warlord status as it was, the Sherriff didn’t really want to be adding further legitimacy to that status.  Sean was a good guy and the Sherriff trusted him, but once you go down some roads it is hard to turn back around.
––––––––––-
“What are we going to do with all this crap?”  It was a legitimate question.  Chris and Sean were “crunching numbers.” That meant they were reviewing all the logistics of their little community.  The topic at hand was sewage.  Luckily, the community was all on septic tanks, the bad news was that it had been over two years since any tanks had been serviced.  Some tanks were reaching capacity, which was a concern.  “Is there anybody out there who still does septic pumping?”

“Davis and Doc Hyde are taking care of that today.  They dug up a phone book and are going to do some cold calling.” Doc Hyde was at one time a Navy Corpsman and now took care of the medical needs of the entire community. Doc Hyde wasn’t a real Doctor, but he took his job seriously and was a tremendous asset.  Many people wouldn’t have made it through the flu or the famine if it wasn’t for Doc Hyde.  Chris continued. “Hopefully there is somebody still out there.  If we’re lucky we can get some equipment of our own and then just pump our poop ourselves.”
“Maybe,” Sean said.  “We’ve got a pretty long wish list as it is.”  And they did.  The wish list was their list of things it would be beneficial for their community to get.  It included ice machines, firefighting equipment, more generators, a variety of woodworking and metal working tools, dozens of different medical machines and equipment that Doc Hyde wanted.   They’d cross many items off their wish list over the last two years, but for every item they crossed off, ten more items needed to be added to the list.

With the sewage problem tabled for the time being, Sean and Chris went through the laundry list of other items they had to account for. The first thing they went over was food.  Food was the most important commodity and it was measured in weight just like gold or silver.  Pounds of sugar, pounds of salt, pounds of carrots they grew in their victory gardens, pounds of rice they got from Tien, pounds of corn and potatoes they could expect to get from Gerry and the other farmers.  The goats the community had were measured in simple numbers as well; how many goats they could send to slaughter and how many pounds of meat that would produce.  All those pounds were totaled up and then compared to the communities projected consumption rates.   The community would consume X number of pounds of sugar a month, this many pounds of starches a month, this many pounds of salt.  It was all simple mathematics. All the numbers were part of a big story problem, the answer to which might determine if people would starve to death or not.

Then they went through the vehicles; fuel, oil and other fluids, spare parts, spare tires, even spare vehicles.  In addition to the six trucks they ran up and down the roads, they had two spare pickups and a tow truck they had modified as well.  The tow truck was a different make and model from the Toyotas, which meant different spare parts and tires.  Then there were all the different cars and trucks and other vehicles the other people had.  They would need parts and fluids as well.  As impressive as they were, the trucks and all the other vehicles were still consumable items.  Eventually they would wear out to the point they could not be repaired, and then they would have to be replaced, or the community would have to function without them.

They went through their weapons and ammo.  They had plenty of weapons.  All the prior military men brought their own weapons with them, in some cases small stockpiles of weapons.  They also brought in a steady stream of black market weapons through Tien.  On weapons they were in pretty good shape, but ammo was questionable.  While they had a pretty large stockpile of ammo, and plenty of reloading equipment and components, the problem was there was never a certainty that would be more ammo.  Most of the ammunition factories shut down after the seizure, and those that hadn’t weren’t shut down were producing ammo almost exclusively for the government.  They would have enough ammo to survive many small engagements, but on a long enough timeline, that stockpile might eventually run out.

They had gone through the numbers a dozen times.  They’d have enough food to make it through the winter and into spring.  They might even have enough food on hand to make it through part of summer if they could stretch it out.  They had plenty of water. The water still came out of the faucets, sometimes.  Rain barrels and cisterns trapped the rainwater, and there was a river not far away.  Shelter wasn’t an issue. They had plenty of houses and enough spare materials around to fix things that broke.  They were even exploring the ideas of expanding their metal shop and building more barns and pens for their livestock.  They were good on weapons and in fair shape for ammunition too.  But the one thing they didn’t have enough of was fuel.

They had gone through fuel over and over again too, and no matter how many times they worked it out, consumption outmatched what they had and what they expected to bring in.  Part of the problem was they didn’t have the infrastructure to get more fuel.  They didn’t have any way to store fuel in bulk, except some 55 gallon drums and a few 500 gallon above ground storage tanks.  To get fuel, they could always go to Canada, or even go to Tien with his black market connections, but then the only way to move it was putting 55 gallon drums in the back of their pickups. They had done that a few times, but it just never seemed a real efficient way to move fuel.  Not having a fuel truck also limited them in terms or range.  The Toyota trucks they had were pretty fuel efficient, and each truck carried a few 5 gallon cans in the bed for a reserve.  The problem was there was no certainty of fuel once they were out on the open road. There were still service stations open, but with rationing and fuel holidays in effect, there was no guarantee that if they pulled into a gas station with six empty pickups there would be enough fuel for all of them.  That meant they could never stray too far from Cascadian Meadows. If they had their own fuel truck, they would increase their range.  If they increased their range, that would increase their sphere of influence.  Once the Vikings perfected the art of sailing their longboats, it opened up the world to them for both trade, and for conquest.  For Sean and Chris, a fuel truck would be a step in that direction.

“Fuel,” Chris said.  “Every time we do this it’s always fuel.”  He took a deep sigh and rubbed his tired eyes.  “We need a fuel truck, and we need a real tank.”

“We’ll get them,” Sean said.  “It will work out.  We have enough food to get us through the winter and that’s what I’m concerned about the most.  As long as everybody eats, we can figure out the rest.”  Chris nodded agreement.  Sean picked up a mug.  It was full of more pine needle tea.  He took a long sip.  “Let’s meet with Major Ski first thing next week.  Then let’s see if we can meet with our FEMA representative. Maybe he can help us out with our fuel problems.”

Chris sipped his own mug of tea.  “Next week they start handing out the flu shots.”

“Great,” Sean said.  “It’ll give us all something to talk about.”

While the Sherriff was going about his daily business and Sean and Chris were crunching numbers, James Pritchard was reading through a CIA report and one number kept coming up,
180 days.

When people think of the CIA, they typically think of the cloak and dagger aspects of intelligence collection.  In fact, much of the work the CIA does is much more mundane.  Anybody who has ever read the CIA world fact book has seen that the CIA tracks some pretty mundane information; things like median population age, annual soybean consumption, annual steel output. While these facts may seem unimportant, when waging war or negotiating trade or treaties, this type of information can be vital.  Knowing that a country exports a million cars a year, but needs to import all the copper wire it takes to make those cars would be helpful in a trade negotiation.  Knowing that a country can’t produce enough food to feed itself three months out of the year is good information if you are about to wage war on that country. In World War II, the Allies firebombed a German city and everybody in it because it made ball bearings.  The idea was, if the Germans couldn’t make ball bearings, they couldn’t make machines with ball bearings. How many machines necessary to wage modern warfare require ball bearings?

And so, the folks at the CIA who analyze things like ball bearings and copper production and soybean consumption had conducted a study on the current economic situation of the U.S. and the conclusion was that in 180 days the Federal Government would have no money.  What was once the most powerful nation in the world would have no operating capital six-months into the fiscal year unless something was done.  As incompetent as most of the federal leadership was, James Pritchard knew that they weren’t going to let the government just run out of money.  That’s what The Readjustment had been about two years ago.  But The Readjustment resulted in less productivity, which meant less tax revenue, which meant less money for the government.  And there wasn't going to be any money coming in from other countries.  Nobody was buying U.S. Bonds anymore, and foreign aid was out of the question.  Once the biggest contributor to the United Nations, the U.N. now openly condemned the United States.  In a four-hour speech at the University of Berkeley in California, the Secretary General of the United Nations blamed America for its economic woes, citing its greed, imperialism, racism, sexism, environmental fascism, lack of enlightenment and disregard for progressive thought.  The Secretary General, who had at one time been the Chief Justice on Haiti's Supreme Court, even spent 15 minutes chronicling the connection between America's lack of support to the Palestinian state and the collapse of its bond market.  It was all  nonsense and lies, but the lies worked.  The United Nations passed a resolution forbidding members to give financial aid to the United States as punishment for its past sins.  The United States may have given much of its wealth to the U.N. in the past, but as the saying goes, "That was then, this is now."

Aid or no aid, there was still plenty of wealth out there; the Federal Government just had to come up with a plan to get it.  From out of one of the drawers in his desk, James Pritchard pulled out a thick stack of papers.  The papers were bound together professionally, and had a title page protected by a clear plastic cover page.  The tile of the document read:

The Economic Adjustment, Progress, Equality, and Stability Act; An Enlightened Approach to Our Economic Future.


James read through again, the third time he’d done so in the last week.  Then he picked up the phone and made a call to the state capitol to arrange for a meeting.   When the Federal Government made its move, he was not going to be left behind.

Chapter 5
The day started with a trip to visit Major Ski and his Marines who were in the process of getting moved in. It was the same day that the flu shots were supposed to be handed out, so Sean knew he was going to have a long day ahead of him.  When they went to see Major Ski, Sean and Chris went with just Jim and Doc Hyde, their former Navy Corpsman in one truck.  The rest of the team and vehicles parked a safe distance away.  Everybody thought it was a good idea not to approach a marine encampment in a convoy of trucks loaded for bear and bristling with weapons.
The Marine compound was being built in what was at one time a nice hotel with a scenic view of the Puget Sound.  Now, the view was still beautiful, but the hotel was a dump.  The inside of the building had been gutted with fire.   Whoever owned it before had probably torched it for either the insurance money or to keep it out of the hands of the government.  Either way, the fire damage would have made it entirely unlivable for anybody with the exception of the United States Marines.

After making it past the security perimeter, Sean and the others pulled into a staging area outside the hotel building.  It appeared to be sheer anarchy.  There were 500 marines and sailors moving back and forth all in various stages of unloading, moving, and setting up all their gear, supplies, weapons, vehicles and communications equipment.  It was a controlled chaos that could only be understood and appreciated by somebody who had experienced it first-hand.  Trucks were being unloaded and reloaded.  Packing containers of every shape and size were being emptied.  One group of marines were tossing junk off the roof of the hotel, while at the same time a second group were pulling equipment up with heavy ropes.  From somewhere came the smell of food being cooked and from somewhere else the smell of garbage being burned.  From inside an armored vehicle came the sound of heavy metal music. There was an unbelievable amount of shouting back and forth.  Noisy generators pumped out thick smoke with a dull roar.  Forklifts beeped and whirred loudly as they moved pallets of gear.

All this chaos was being orchestrated by a single conductor.  In the center of it all was a thick Master Sergeant who barked out orders mixed with a liberal amount of profanity.  He was armed only with a clip board and a clerk that stood by his side.

“What,” the Master Sergeant demanded when Sean and his entourage walked up.

Chris answered.  “We had an appointment to see Major Polakatanski.”

The Master Sergeant gave them a look of contempt for a few seconds.  Then his expression changed to one of curiosity.  “You a pilot,” He asked Chris.

“I was.”

“Did you fly Skids?”

“Yup.  Flew snakes out of the East Coast.”

The Master Sergeant nodded.  “You ever do a FAC tour?”

Chris smiled.  “I was a Forward Air Controlled for America’s battalion for a tour overseas.  Then I got bumped up to the Battalion Air Officer for their next tour overseas.”

The Master Sergeant nodded approval.  “Yes Sir, I remember you.  I got plenty to do unscrewing this mess, Lance Corporal James will take you to see the Six.” He turned to his clerk.  “James, take these gentlemen to the Battalion Commander.  Don’t get them lost and don’t screw it up.”

The Lance Corporal answered with a quick, “Yes Top,” then led the men into the hotel.  Inside the building it was just as loud and chaotic as it was outside; shouting and yelling, the crashing sounds of equipment moving back and forth.  As they moved down a hallway the passed a group of marines pounding on pipes with sledge hammers for no discernable reason.  The passed another room where a group of sailors were setting up an aid station and Doc Hyde quietly excused himself.

Moving along through the hotel, they finally made it to an office where Major Ski was camped out.  The Lance Corporal and Jim left the room so the others could talk alone.   The Major actually had some coffee.  It was instant, but it was a nice break from tea.

“I was wondering when you were going to show up,” the Major said.  “I would have given you both a call, but I don’t have a number for either of you.  I don’t suppose either of you have phone?” As bad as the economy was, phone service, even cell phone service was still available. But landlines were unreliable.   The wires were usually torn down and stolen.  People still had cell phones though.  The government had determined that a cellular network was too vital to fail.  All the cellular companies had been taken over by the government and consolidated into one government subsidized company.

“We don’t have cell phones,” Sean said.  “I’m sure you can imagine why.  But enough talk about phones.  What do they have you doing out here?  Why aren’t you at the Naval Station?”
“No room at the inn, as they say.  They moved all the families on to the base now that things outside are so dicey.  There are also more sailors living there than the base was ever built for.  When the economy tanked and everybody started losing their jobs a lot of people either joined the military or went back into the military.  The Joint Chiefs got congress to lift the total force limits on personnel.  Some say they are using that as a way to fight unemployment.  Others say they want as many men in uniform as possible in case we have another civil war on our hands.”
“People taking that talk seriously.” Sean asked.

“Officially, no. And the media makes light of all the succession talk.  Of course, the media is controlled by the Fed now so they’d announce the sky is yellow if that was the party line.  But unofficially, yeah the talk is serious.  General Matts is still running the 1st Marine Division, and with all these new joins and marines coming back in from the IRR, the Division is pretty stacked.  Before we left Camp Pendleton, General Matts was flying out to Texas or Wyoming or some other secessionist talking state every month.  There’s been talk about secession for a long time but with the way things are… the unemployment and inflation and maybe a lot of hungry people, who knows?  When governments are bankrupt and people are hungry, things happen.”

“What’s going on with India and Pakistan, Ski?”

“Almost all the Muslim world has joined with Pakistan, at least in spirit.  The Suez canal and the Straits of Hormuz just got shut down.  They are trying to stop the flow of oil into India, but with Canada and Alaska pumping oil out like water that isn’t likely to make much of a dent as they’d like.  The European Union also passed a declaration that labeled India as a “Racist State,” whatever that means.”
“Anybody on India’s side?”

“Australia and New Zealand and Canada are diplomatically, but they haven’t committed any troops. Israel is an ally, but they’ve got the armies of Syria, Jordan and Egypt massing on their borders.  Iraq’s decided they’ve had enough wars and gone pure isolationist.  The big question is what is China going to do. Word is they are getting ready to join India.  Some Islamic extremists sabotaged the Three Rivers Dam and they have to start that over from scratch, so they aren’t too keen on this idea of a new caliphate.”

Chris and Sean nodded and let that all sink in.  It looked like World War III was about to erupt, without the United States.  Sean thought about that.  A World War without the United States, and all because the government broke the bank.  The Sean remembered the other night at Tien’s.  “Ski, any idea why the U.S. would be buying old school small arms from China?”

Major Ski looked at the door to make sure it was closed.  “Ever hear of the P.A.?”  Chris and Sean looked at each other and both shook their heads.  “The P.A. stands for Progressive Auxiliary.  Remember when there was talk about creating a domestic security force, one on par with the military?  The P.A. is it.  There is a rumor they are recruiting folks for this P.A. out of the Grass Roots camps all over the country.  They are probably buying up weapons from China to arm them all.”

“Why would they buy Chinese weapons?”

The Major laughed.  “There aren’t many gun factories left, at least not in states that don’t have one foot out the door, and those guys aren’t going to make guns for the feds.  During the Seizure, the Government seized most of the gun factories they could.  Since then they’ve either been run into the ground or shut down for political reasons.  The Congress also ratified some anti-gun U.N. treaty a few months ago to try to get back in the good graces of the world. Guess it didn’t work because the U.N. still hates us and hasn’t lifted the trade sanctions.  So, since we decided we weren’t going to make guns here, we now have to buy them somewhere else.  We owe China, so that’s probably why we’re buying their old stuff.  Plus, Ak-47’s have always been seen as a symbol of the people’s struggle.  What better weapon to arm the Progressive Auxiliary with?”

“Power to the people,” Chris said.  “That’s all we need, a civil defense force named after a political ideology.”

“That’s usually one of the key elements to starting a dictatorship,” Sean added.  They all thought about that in silence for a few seconds.   Sean broke the silence and asked, “Ski, anything we can do for you.”

“Glad you asked,” the Major replied.  “What I need are workers.  As you saw on the way in, this place is a dump.  We need to fix this it up, make it defendable before we get attacked and make it livable before we all get sick. I’ve got fortifications to build, sand bags to fill, razor wire to string, rooms to clean out. All this fire damage from the fire and water damage from when the firefighters put it out.  Basically I need to build a 500 man firm-base from scratch.  I’ve got marines but between defending this place, patrolling the aircraft plant, patrolling the Naval Station, and getting these guys some rest, it’s a lot more work than I’ve got manpower for.”

Sean and Chris both looked at each other.  Sean turned to Ski and said, “If you need workers, I can get them for you.”

“That would be a help.  I can hire civilian laborers, no problem,” Major Ski said.  “I’d be glad to have them.”

Chris asked, “Do we need to bid on a contract or anything like that?”

“Nope, we’re doing this Iraqi style. Cash only.  Workers show up, and they get cash in their hands at the end of the week. No contracts, no bidding, nothing like that.  You work, you get paid. Easy”
Sean and Chris both smiled.  “We can give you 20 guys starting this week, good guys, all real workers.  I’ll also give you a foreman who is former military so he can speak your language; make it easy for your staff.”

Ski laughed.  “How about ten guys, including the foreman?  I can’t afford more than that.”

“Ten it is.  I’ll have them here just as soon as we can figure out transportation, maybe a day or two.  Anything else we can do for you Ski?”

“That’s it for now.  Once we get set up, I’ll need you to show me around the area. Let me know who is who around here.  Get me oriented.  You know.  But is there anything I can do for you?”
“Two things,” Sean said.  “First, keep the information coming. We don’t get much outside news we can trust.  The second thing is help with our radios.  We’ve been trying to get a HAM radio set up at our compound and haven’t been able to make it work.  Haven’t been able to make any vehicle set-ups work either.  It would make communicating a lot easier.  Maybe even get some news from Canada.

“No problem with the communications,” the Major said.  “I’ve got plenty of good communications guys.  I’m still setting up our shop here.  Once they are done here, I’ll send them over your way.  They’ll be able to fix you up.”  The major then leaned forward towards Chris and Sean, “As far as the flow of information goes, let’s make sure it goes both ways, okay?”

––––––––––––––

After the meeting with Major Ski finished, Chris and Sean collected up Doc Hyde and Jim and the four men drove out of the compound.  The meeting only lasted an hour, but there were obvious signs of progress on the construction of the camp from the time they entered to the time they left.  The rest of the vehicles were parked in an empty lot not far away.  On the way back, Chris and Sean went over the progress they made.

“We just got ten men jobs.  Not so bad for a mornings work,” Chris surmised.

“Nope.  We got some decent information too.  And if we can get his radio guys to get us set up with our HAM equipment we’ll be in good shape.”

“So these guys we found jobs for, how do we want to work this.  Are we going to ask them to give us a kickback or something?”

“No,” Sean said.  “They keep what earn.  If they want to pitch in for the common good, that’s great, but I’m not going to ask them too.  Doc, you get anything?

“Just a few odds and ends Boss,” Doc Hyde answered. “I got some good stuff, but nothing to write home about.”

“Did you get any word about these flu shots, Doc?”

“Not really.  The Chief running the medical department there said they were just giving out the normal flu shots, same as always.  No extra precautions. Nothing to suggest another Pandemic was on the way.  Oh, I forgot to tell you.  We solved our septic problem yesterday.  We found the last guy in the area running a septic service.”

“And?”

“And he’ll start pumping this week on one condition.  He wants to store some of his equipment in our little compound.  Apparently he has all types of heavy equipment, machinery, tools things like that.  He wants to store some of it with us.  He says he’s afraid it’ll get either stolen by thieves or seized by the government if he leaves it out in town.”

“Is there a difference,” Sean asked, not expecting an answer.

When Sean and the others pulled back in with the rest of the vehicles, the team was waiting for them and anxious to get moving.  Hooker and Davis walked up Jim’s truck.  Jim rolled down the window and Davis leaned inside to speak.  “Boss, Gerry Sheely called for us.  He wants us to meet him out at his place in the valley.  He says it’s real important.”

––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––­––––––––––––––––––––––––––-

“Can you believe this,” Gerry yelled.  “Because I sure as hell can’t!”   Sean and Chris were in Gerry’s house, along with a half dozen other farmers.  Like Gerry, the other farmers were agitated.  The flu shots had not gone as expected.  One of the farmers, an older man about 60 had an eye that was swollen shut and starting to turn from red to a bright shade of purple.  He wasn’t the only one who showed signs of being roughed up.

Gerry continued.  He was standing and waving his arms wildly as he spoke. “My wife and I went in to get our flu shots, but before we could get any shots, you had to fill out this ten page form.  Well, the first page was typical government form stuff, name address that sort of thing, but the rest of the form was personal questions.  Questions those bastards at Grass Roots have no business knowing.  There were questions like, how much money do you make a year?  Do you have money stored outside the U.S.?  Do you own gold or silver?  Do you own a firearm?  There was even a question on that form that asked which presidential candidates you voted for in previous elections.”

“So what did you do,” Sean asked.  While the others were agitated, Sean kept a coldly calm demeanor.  The business at hand had implications that reached far beyond flu shots.

“I told those Grass Roots people they had no right to ask us those questions, and they told me that their policy was if the form wasn’t filled out, than no flu shots.  I told them that was bullshit.  They couldn’t withhold medical treatment because I wouldn’t fill out their forms, and they said that was the policy and we had to adhere to it.

“Well, I wasn’t going to fill out their forms, flu shots or not.  So I told them to keep their shots and we were leaving without them.  When we tried to leave, they told us we couldn’t!  Those little punks said it was against the law to NOT get a shot, and the only way to get a shot is to fill out their damned form.  They told me that my wife and I were under arrest!  I pushed my way past them and drove back here.”  While Gerry spoke, somebody handed Sean a copy of the Grass Roots forms. Sean read over them carefully.

“And what went on in the hospital isn’t even the bad part,” Gerry continued.  “The bad part is what took place at the schools.  Those Grass Roots people who were supposed to be handing out shots to our kids were asking them the same questions; what kind of work do your parents do? Do your parents keep guns in the house? Do you parents have more than a week of food in the house? Do your parents own gold or silver?  The list goes on and on.  They are using our children to get information on us, and they are using this pretext of flu shots to set it all up!  Where the hell are we living?  This isn’t America anymore!  How can they do this!  How can they say, ‘you need a flu shot, and to get this flu shot you have to fill out this form, and if you refuse either one you are breaking the law?”
Sean answered.  “They have the power to make the rules, and they are all either greedy or blinded by their belief in the party line.” Sean looked at the man with the black eye. “But I don’t think the Grass Roots kids gave you a shiner.  What happened there?”

“The union men,” the older man answered, gingerly touching his eye.  “The union men did this.”

Sean boiled inside at that statement, but outside he kept his calm demeanor “So what happened?”

“A little later in the day, men from the Progress Union showed up and set up their registration stations.  As people came in to get shots, they first had to go through the union men, just like they had to go through the Grass Roots people.  Well, the union men made you show them your union card.  If you didn’t have one, you had to join the Progress Union right there on the spot.  You had to pay a month’s worth of union dues right there too.  Well, who has that kind of money in their wallet?  For most people, they just took what they had right there and called it good.  Here we are trying to get a flu shot and we get shaken down.  It was a total hussel.  Highway robbery.”

“So how did you get the shiner?”

The old man continued.  “I didn’t have money for their dues.  When they found out I was a farmer, they told me I could pay my union dues for the year by signing over a percentage of my crop.  Ten percent!  I said no way.  No way I was going to give them that much.  The shoved a form letter in front of me.  It was a blanket form for any farmer to fill out.   If you don’t have the cash for your union dues, you just sign over a blanket ten percent of your crop. Let me tell you something, ten percent of my crop is worth a helluva lot more than a year of union dues. I refused to sign it and one of them roughed me up.  Then another one took my wife into another room.   They told me if I didn’t want my wife to get hurt I’d sign the form.  My wife is 63!  Who are these people?  Who do they think they are?  After that we all headed over here to Gerry’s and got  a hold of your boys on the CB.”

Some of the other farmers nodded in agreement and told similar stories.  The Grass Roots people wanted their information, and the Progress Union people wanted members and union dues.  The flu shots, which had seemed such a priority at the county meeting, was an afterthought.  Sean let the rest of the farmers talk to Chris and pulled Gerry aside into another room so they could talk alone.
“Gerry, How many of your people signed those forms?”

Gerry looked upset.  “More than a few.  It was robbery Sean.  These guys can’t give up ten percent of their crops!  What are we going to do?”

“Let’s not worry about that now,” Sean said. “It will be awhile before you harvest anything so we got time to figure this union crap out.  I’m more concerned about the floods.  Do you think about what the FEMA man said about the rains is right?”

Gerry walked over to a window and pulled back the curtains.  He pointed to east.  Gunmetal gray mountains capped with white stretched up to a pale grey sky.  “In the winter, lots of runoff comes down from those mountains.” He brought his finger down and traced along a river ran through the valley.  It was easy to pick out the river because its sides had built up with huge mounds of earth. “The runoff hits that river and flows through this valley.  That river is likely to flood every winter when we have a long stretch of rain.  That is why there are dikes built up alongside it.  But if we have double the rainfall this year,”  Gerry paused and shook his head.  “If we have double the rainfall this year, then this whole valley will be flooded.  We may not have houses floating away, but I imagine our fields will be underwater for a long time.”

“So what are you going to need to mitigate this?”

Gerry shrugged his shoulders.  “We’ll need earth moving equipment to build dikes and dams to keep the water out.  We’ll also need pumping equipment, and fuel to run everything. The FEMA guy seems to know what he’s doing.  He’s got dredging equipment out and he’s going to start clearing out the river this week.  He’s also going to help us with some flood insurance, for whatever that is worth.”
“He said he can help you get equipment.  Do you think he can help you out with the pumps and other stuff?”

The career farmer nodded.  “I think he can.  He has access to all the assets and equipment the government seized.”  Gerry sat down on an old chair.  “I hope he can.  It would be nice to get some good news once in awhile.  It’s been one struggle after another for the last two years.  One more big setback and I think a lot of these farmers will up and quit.  Canada ain’t that far.”

“Well let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.”   Sean also sat down.  “I’ll see what help I can give you with the equipment, Gerry.  I need you to have a good crop as much as you do.  So does Tien.”  It was Tien’s trucks that moved Gerry produce to market. “We’ll give you whatever help we can.”

“I appreciate that Sean.”

“What else is going on?  Any good news?

“Well,” Gerry started.  “We got a few new neighbors now.  We took some folks in from the city.  Good folks, not riff-raff. Since we had plenty of empty houses after the flu pandemic, decided to let some folks move in vice living on the road. If we didn’t, some of those people would have no other choice than to go to the refugee camps.”

“You gonna get these people farming,” Sean asked.  The tone of his question was skeptical.

“Maybe,” Gerry said.  “We’ll teach them if they are willing to learn.  Some of them have paying jobs, so they just live in the houses and we work the acreage.”

“What kind of jobs?”

“Oh, a few are still working at the aircraft plant.  We have one guy working for the water department,  a nice Government job so he’s protected.   There are a few other government workers.  Another guy and his wife work for the cell phone company.  They may not all farm, but they all help out.  It all works out for the best.”

Sean turned towards the window.  He heard the sound of an engine and the crunch of tires on gravel.  A vehicle was coming down the drive towards the house.  It was a big blue monster, the kind the government uses. Sean stood up.

“Gerry, you expecting anybody else to show up today?”

Jim was out in the yard, enjoying a cigarette from a few cartons he’d managed to get at Tiens’.  The yard was typical of the farm houses in the area.  There were a few barns close by, as well as tractors and other farm equipment.  Sean’s men had tucked their trucks in amongst the farm equipment and out buildings as best they could so as not to be seen from the road that ran in front of the house.  While traveling, they tried to present as formidable looking convoy as possible.  When they got where they were going however, Sean preferred that they remained as hidden as possible.  Sean preferred it if people didn’t know where he went or who he talked to.  Information was a weapon, he said.  The less information your enemies cold get, the better, especially when that information is about you.

A little ways off from where Jim was smoking, some of the other men were talking and joking.  They were the veterans.  Jim had been Sean’s driver for quite awhile now, but he still didn’t always get the unconditional acceptance of the veterans.  He knew they shared the common bound of being prior military.  Many of them had even served together in combat.  Jim suspected that many of them had served with Sean in combat too, although nobody ever spoke on that subject. It troubled Jim a little, that he wasn’t always part of the group.  Of course his background was much different from the rest of the men.  He had never served in the military.  In fact, before The Seizure, he had been a strong supporter of the politics and policies of the party that had more or less bankrupt the United States and caused so many of the problems they were faced with today.  In fact, when he had first shown up to Cascadian Meadows, many of the veterans wanted Sean to throw him and his family out on their asses.  That had changed over time.  Now he considered many of them friends.  But friends or not, in their eyes Jim was still untested.  They had the shared experience of being in the military, and of being in combat.  Until Jim had also faced combat, he would always be an outsider to some extent.

It was while he was out in the yard, smoking a cigarette and thinking these deep thoughts, that one of the veterans spoke in a calm, but loud and clear voice.  “Car coming.”  Jim turned his head towards a car making its way from the main road down the long gravel driveway.  One of the Veterans lifted a scoped rifle up to his cheek to get a better view.  The rifle was a civilian version of the M14 rifle.  The name of the man with the rifle was Cody.  He was another marine.  “Five military age men in the car,” Cody said.  “No weapons that I can see.  Looks like they are all dressed the same.”
When the car pulled up in front of Gerry Sheely’s house, the men inside must not have seen Jim or any of the others, or where too confident to care.  All five of them piled out of the car and carried that air about them like they were too cool for school.  Two of the men reached into the car after they got out and pulled out some baseball bats.  A few of the men had pistols tucked into their waste bands.  They all wore jackets with ‘Progressive Union’ written on the breast and the union’s crest emblazoned on the back.  Before the men realized what was going on around them, about a half dozen of Sean’s men came out from behind the outbuildings and farm equipment.  Compared to Sean’s men, the union men were pitifully armed.  Most of Sean’s men carried a civilian version of the military M4 Carbine, each rifle customized to its owner’s tastes.  The few that didn’t carry carbines had either tactical shotguns or civilian versions of the M14.  Each also had a pistol, and some type of webbing system loaded with spare magazine and other essentials.  Even Jim, who was relatively poorly armed compared to his compatriots, now had an assault rifle with several spare magazines, as well as pistol he wore on the center of his chest so he could still draw it while seated behind the wheel of his truck.

The man who was the leader of the union men looked around, but seemed unimpressed.  “We’re here to see that farmer,” he said, pointing at the house.

Nobody said anything.

“We’re here to see that farmer, he and the other farmers need to register with the union.  In fact, ALL of you need to register with the union.”

Still none of Sean’s men said anything.

“So you got guns, so what?”  The union man seemed a little too smug.  “You ain’t going to use them.  You aren’t dumb enough to tangle with us.  Now I want to talk to that farmer that’s been stirring up all this trouble.  Organizing labor against union organization is a violation of the law.  We know those farmers are in there.”

It was then the door to the farm house opened.  Sean and Gerry both walked out on to the porch.  A few other farmers followed them onto the porch.  The rest, perhaps a little timid at the prospect of a gun battle about to erupt in Gerry Sheely’s driveway, watched through the windows.

“What’s up,” Sean asked

One of the other union men pointed at Gerry Sheely with the end of a baseball bat.  “This man was supposed to join the union when he went to the hospital.   He didn’t, and he’s been telling all these other farmers not to join either.  He’s stirring up trouble.”

“So what.”

“He’s breaking the law,” The leader said. “He’s going to register with the union and pay his union dues today.”

Sean turned to Gerry and casually asked, “You want to join this guy’s union?”

“No.”

Sean turned back to the union man and said in the same casual tone, “He ain’t joining.  Go away.”

“He is joining.  He’s joining and according to the law, you are too.”

“Why?  Why do I have to join the union?  So my labor isn’t exploited?  I’m self employed.  The only person who can exploit my labor is me.  And even if I worked for somebody, if they tried to exploit me, I’d quit.  The way I see it, it’s you bosses in the Progressive Union that are doing the exploiting. The way I see it, I can take care of myself.  We can take care of ourselves.  We don’t need your help, or the help from all these other thugs that take our money or freedom in the name of helping us.”

“It’s the law,” the union man replied.  “Everybody has to join a union.”

“It isn’t law, it was an executive order, and it doesn’t matter because it isn’t constitutional.”

“It’s still the law.”

“If it ain’t Constitutional, it ain’t the law.”

“It don’t matter what you think.”

“Oh I beg to differ,” Sean said.  “I think right here, right now, amongst all these men with guns, and these wide open fields where I can bury five men without any trouble, I think it does matter what I think.  I think you should be very concerned with what I think, since I can have you killed today.”

The union man didn’t say anything.  The others shifted their feet nervously.  Hooker pulled the RPD machine gun out of the back of a pickup truck and unfolded the bipod.  It was then that the union man realized that he the guns these guys carried weren’t just for show.  The men carrying them would kill him if their boss told them to.  The leader of the men looked at Sean.  He took in Sean’s all too calm demeanor.  He took in the ugly scar on his face.  The union man had seen a lot in his day.  He’d been in more than a few standoffs, and knew 90% of the time it was all show.  People most often didn’t want to fight, they just liked to bluster.  It was usually just a case of brinksmanship where the side who could puff out their chest the biggest one.  But looking into Sean’s eyes as he stood on the porch, the union leader realized this wasn’t a case of brinksmanship.  This was a case where he could reasonably expect to be shot.  He was outmatched, outgunned, outwitted and out of his class.  He may have been able to bully, threaten and intimidate to get what he wanted in the past, but today, he might be murdered where he stood.

“Do you have a cell phone,” Sean asked.

“What?”

“A cell phone, do you have one?”

The man didn’t answer. He wanted to, but he was so perplexed by the question he couldn’t speak.  Here were these men with guns who might shoot him down in this country driveway and he was being asked about a cell phone?

Sean sighed.  “Cody,” he ordered.  “Get his phone.”

Cody walked up to the lead union man and un-slung his rifle.  “Phone,” He said.  The man didn’t move.  In an instant, Cody slamned the butt of his rifle into the man’s thigh.  The man dropped like a rock to the ground, screaming.  Two of the other men took a step forward, but were stopped by the sound of safeties clicking off and raised weapons aimed at their faces.  One of the men looked over at Jim.  Jim slowly and deliberately unfolded the spike bayonet from fore stock of his assault rifle and snapped it in place on the barrel.

Cody slung his rifle and drew a semiautomatic pistol.  Keeping the pistol trained on the lead man’s face, Cody first took the pistol from the man’s belt, next he fished out a cell phone.  Cody held it up and used the phone option to snap a picture of the man, then tossed the phone to Sean.

When the man on the ground composed himself, Sean walked down off the porch and up to him.  “Now,” Sean said, “let’s see who is in your contacts list.”  Sean scrolled through the list of names till he found what he wanted.   “Here we go, an entry for ‘mom and dad,’  and its even a local number.”  He turned the phone around so the union man could see the screen.  “Nice picture of the two.”  After holding the phone up long enough for everybody to see the screen, Sean snapped the phone shut and put it in his pocket.

“What’s your name,” Sean demanded.

“Joe, Joe Salazar.”

“Cody, get his ID.  Joe, let me tell you how this works.  I have your parent’s phone number and picture.  I use that information to find out where they live.  If you come around here, and I mean you.  If you harass anymore farmers, or pull any more of this power grab shit in this county, I go to your parent’s house, I torture them, and I kill them.  When we are done with that, we pick some other names off this list of contacts and we go pay them a visit.  This is fact.  This will happen.  If you were in the union business, you need to get out of that business in this county or your parents will be killed. Do you understand?”

Joe nodded.

“You want to go around intimidating people? You want to manipulate the law and force people to pay you union dues?  Well guess what?  It goes both ways.  If you go around living by the force of your threats, don’t be surprised if somebody comes around who can make bigger threats than you.  In a world without the rule of law, might makes right. Around here, I have the might, and you don’t.”
Nobody said anything.  Finally Sean broke the silence.

“Chris?”

“Yes Boss?”

“Get the phones and ID’s off the rest of these fucks, and their guns. Them get them out of here.”

After the union men drove away, Sean walked over to Sheely. “So, you said you have a guy who works for the cell phone company.”

“Yes,” Gerry answered.

Sean handed him the pistols. “Take these as an advance payment, just in case I ever need his services.”
––––––-

After the business with the union men was wrapped up, Sean and his guard force mounted up and headed back to their compound.  Jim and Sean rode together.  The sun was dipping low to the West.  When the road bent in the right directions, they could see the tips of the Olympic mountains across the sound.

“Nice move with the bayonet,” Sean said.

Jim smiled.  “I didn’t think you saw that.”

“Oh I saw it.  Very scary.”

“Well,” Jim smiled as he spoke.  “Hooker had the machine gun and I didn’t want to be out done.”

“Bayonet is a scary tool. Nothing wrong with being scary when you need to be.”

“Speaking of scary Boss, I have a question.”

“I’m sure you do Jim.  What’s the question?”

“Would you do that?  Would you torture and kill that man’s parents.”

Sean shrugged.  “It doesn’t matter if I’d do it.  What matters is that he believes I do it.”

“But would you do it Boss?  Would you punish those people for the crimes of their son?  Kill them?”

Sean didn’t answer.  They drove on for awhile.  The sun was quickly setting behind the Olympic mountains far to the west.

“Jim, did I ever tell the story of Saddam’s glass prisons?”

“No,” Jim said.  “You never told me about any glass prisons.”

“Well, there is this story from Iraq.  Back when Saddam was in control, the Sheiks and the Tribal leaders still held a lot of power.  The Sheiks hold a lot of weight over there, so you can’t just kill them like a regular person without causing yourself trouble, even Saddam had to respect that.  So if a Sheik was stepping out of line, Saddam had to send the guy a message without actually killing him.
“The way the story goes, Saddam would have the man picked up by the secret police, usually when his family was present so the family knew what was going on and the family would get real scared.  Then they’d take the man to these public prison cells that were made entirely of glass blocks.  The glass was thick enough that the guy inside couldn’t break out, but still clear so everybody outside could see who was inside.  The Police would strip their prisoner naked and throw him in the glass cell and keep him there for three days.  So for three days this guy is in this glass house, naked, completely embarrassed.  His family is outside, weeping and wailing in the dirt.  Everybody outside is wondering if this guy will be executed.  The guy inside is wondering if his family will be executed. Generally it was a pretty miserable experience.  After three days behind the glass, Saddam would let the guy go.  The cops would get him dressed and take him back to his family.
“Now, when they dropped the man back off with his family, the secret police would hand the man an envelope and tell him not to open it until they left.  Of course the man would comply since he just spent the last three days naked in a glass prison.  So the police would leave and the Sheik would open the envelope and inside the envelope would be a note.  The note would always say the same thing.”

“What was on the note?”

“The note read: I AM SADDAM.”

Sean let that sink in, and then he continued.  “It was Saddam’s way of saying, I’m in charge, and it would be a good idea not to piss me off.”

“So you’re saying you’re going to be like Saddam Hussein?”

“What I’m saying is that if there is no more rule of law, if we’ve gone back to a society where those in power are allowed to do whatever they chose, then I’m not going to hesitate to use the power I have to protect the people I am responsible for.

“For years we’ve heard things like ‘The Constitution is a living document’ and ‘morality is relative’ and ‘Courts need to rule with empathy and sensitivity’ and countless other nonsense.  People in power say things like this because what they want is to do is change the rules.  They don’t want The Constitution to be the supreme law of the land because they want to make the rules as they please. They want the courts to rule by empathy and not by the law because they want the law to be applied as it is politically convenient. Essentially, they want to make up the rules as they go.  And while they want to make up the rules as they go, they still want us, the masses, the sheep, to follow the rules.  Well if they get to make up the rules as they go, then so do I.  If they get to use fear and intimidation to achieve their ends, then so do I.  If they get to use violence, then so do I.

“Fear and intimidation are weapons.  If your enemy is using those weapons and you aren’t, then you are putting yourself at a disadvantage.  And just like with any weapon, you should be better at wielding it than your enemy.”

“So then those progressive union men are our enemies Boss.”

“They are Jim.  They are our enemies.  If they were just trying to get everybody a better wage, or better benefits, that would be one thing.  But they aren’t.  They want to increase their numbers to get more dues.  They want to tell their members how to vote so they can curry favor with politicians.  That was what the whole ‘Dignity of Labor’ act was about.  It’s a payoff.  They got a lot of politicians elected and the ‘Dignity of Labor’ act was their payoff.”

They rode on in silence for a little while.  The hum of the tires on the blacktop and the hiss of the static on the radios were the only sounds.

After a few miles Jim spoke.  “You never answered my question Boss.  Would you kill that man’s parents?”

Sean grinned.  “You’re right Jim. I never did answer that question.”

Chapter 6
Jim was woken by a knock on the door to his house. He rubbed his eyes and looked out the window.  The sky was dark outside.  It wasn’t gray, or beginning to brighten, but oily black.  Jim rose and looked around the room.  He and his family had all moved their beds into what was once the living room.  It was the only room in the house with a fireplace, and thus the only warm room in the house once the sun set.  The power was only running for about 12 hours a day now, and somebody had decided to run the power only during the day rather than at night when the cold and the darkness would make electricity more valuable.  The reasoning was people would use less electricity during the day than they would if the power ran at night, which of course was better for the environment.  Jim didn’t know if there was any positive impact to mother earth since they had more or less lost power, but he did know that at night his family huddled around the fireplace to stay warm enough to sleep.

There was another knock on the door.  It had been a week since the flu shots were first handed out, and the complaints had been consistent about the process.  There had not been any more violent incidents with the Progress Union, but the Grass Roots people had kept up their policy of registration before you got the mandatory shot.  The good news was that since the incident with the union men, Sean hadn’t been out and about, which meant Jim hadn’t had to go out.  It was a nice break, and Jim enjoyed a few days with no other responsibilities than to his family.  Jim opened the door and saw Davis standing outside with a lantern in one hand and a carbine in the other.  Despite the early hour, Davis appeared wide awake and ready to go.

“Morning Davis. What’s up?”

“Lot’s to do today,” Davis said.  “More meetings.  Sherriff and the county public health doctor are coming over.  Once they’re done, we’re heading back out to the valley. We need to talk to the FEMA guy.  We’ll have a briefing at my place in an hour.”

Jim stretched and yawned.  He wasn’t enthusiastic about the idea of another day spent driving around.  “Okay,” Jim said.  “You know, I thought when the United States collapsed I’d be spending less time in meetings.  Now it seems like that’s all I do.  The Road Warrior and the I am Legend guy never went to any town hall meetings.”

Davis shrugged.  “Mad Max was a movie.  This is the real world.  Besides, there are worse things to be than the personal driver of the local Warlord.”

“Yeah, I’d be a big hit in the Third World.”

Davis smiled.  “This is the Third World.  We gave up our First World status. But we did it for the children so I guess that’s cool.  See you in an hour.”

“See you then,” Jim said.  Then he turned and went into his cold, dark, powerless house to get his gear.  “I really wish we stopped doing so much for those damn children.”
––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
It was early, but the Sherriff had a lot to do today with many meetings of his own.  He was starting the day with Sean Bastle.  He rode in a small convoy of his own, with a Sherriff’s Department vehicle in front of and behind his own truck.  In the passenger seat of his ride was the county’s Health Officer, Doctor Meadows.  The Doctor was sleeping soundly with his head resting against the window.  He was not used to being up so early and had worked long hours with the flu shots being given out all week.  The Sherriff had the radio on to keep him company.  The volume was low enough so the Doctor could sleep but loud enough that the Sherriff could hear the conversations taking place on the program. It was a news program.  The Sherriff didn’t put much faith in the media these days, but it helped to pass the time.  The commentator was opening up a panel discussion on the Sons of Liberty, a revolutionary group that appeared after The Seizure.

––This is Progressive News Radio; Where the enlightened go for their news.  In Seattle yesterday, the Right-Wing Domestic Terrorist Group ‘Sons of Liberty’ committed arson by burning several government buildings including the University of Washington’s newly constructed Jimmy Carter Hall.

Since making their first appearance two years ago, the Sons of Liberty has made numerous attacks of government institutions, the most infamous of these being a bombing at the Grass Roots community center in Charleston South Carolina that killed 87 underprivileged school children while they ate their Grass Roots provided free breakfasts.

The Sons of Liberty is a name, the very mention of which causes deep opinions.  Here to share some opinions this morning is an enlightened panel of experts.

Joining us is Professor Omar Stein who chairs the Department of History at California’s University of Berkeley and is the author of the recently published book, “AMERICAN HATE; Domestic Terrorists from Jesse James and Robert E. Lee to Timothy McVeigh and Sherriff Joe Arpaio”

We also have Jonathan Grant, long time political activist and Grass Roots chairman who was recently appointed Washington States Atheism Czar.

And last but not least, Sarah Roberts, award winning actress, author of an award winning series of children’s books, and outspoken supporter of the principles of progress.

Professor Stein, we’ll start with you.  You have argued several times that the modern day Sons of Liberty are misrepresenting their Revolutionary War namesake.  Would you care to expand?

What I think is Ironic is that these so called Sons of Liberty is their abhorrent use of fear and violence.  If you read the history books, you’ll know that the real Sons of Liberty from the American Revolution was a political action committee who engaged with the British Parliament in dialogues of mutual respect and compassion.  They were about conversations and discussions.  They never resorted to violence or vandalism.  So for these gun-loving rednecks to call themselves the Sons of Liberty is just absurd. It’s a travesty really.

The State Czar on Atheism spoke next:
Well, this is just another example of just how backwards non-progressive people in this country are in terms of their thinking.  The right has a history of sexism, racism, homophobia, greed, environmental pillage, you name it.  The only things they seem to care about are guns and bibles.  In the 1990’s, right wing groups like the Sons of Liberty killed over a quarter of a million abortion Doctors.  So why should we be surprised that they would burn or blow up some buildings?
The Professor spoke again
What I find is interesting is that like you said, these are gun loving zealots who only read bibles and the Constitution.  What they really need to read is a history book, because if you know anything about the Sons of Liberty from the revolution, they were made up almost entirely of freed slaves, and their primary goal wasn’t leaving Britain’s control, it was about abolition.  What the Sons of Liberty truly wanted was to end slavery because they knew that stood in the way of building a progressive society…
The Actress spoke next
Well you know, only a violent crazy person would even own a gun.  Those things are dangerous.  What if it went off and killed your whole family?  This is just another example of how repressed and mentally unstable these people are.  People who cannot accept the principles of progress have mental issues.  If this fake revolution the Sons of Liberty are fighting doesn’t prove this then I don’t know what does.


The Sheriff turned off the radio when he pulled up the driveway to the Bastle house.  He woke up the Doctor, then got out and told the Deputies to sit tight.  When he knocked on the door, Sean’s wife answered.  She had a pistol on her hip.  Just inside the door, a shotgun leaned against a wall. She was up, but she didn’t look at all happy to have any visitors at this hour.  She never looked happy to have visitors showing up, the Sheriff thought.  Sean’s wife led them to the study where Sean took visitors.  Sean was in his room, reading a book.  It was a biography on the IRA leader Michael Collins.  He set it down when the Sheriff and Doctor entered and they all shook hands.

“This whole flu shot distribution was a disaster,” The Doctor Meadows said.  “The way they gave out the shots was haphazard at best.  There was no planning at all.  There was no triage to speak of, so high risk patients like the elderly or young children went away with no shot while 18 year old kids as strong as team of mules got their shots.  The distribution was all wrong, so a school with 300 students got a thousand more doses than they needed and without proper storage those doses went to waste.  Meanwhile the county hospital and clinics had maybe 25% of the doses they needed. The regional hospital ran out of doses hours after they started giving them out.  I’d say less than 20% of the county got their shots.”

“So,” Sean asked, “aside from the Grass Roots people not knowing what they are doing, which I think we all figured out at the county meeting...”  Sean looked at the Sheriff and the Sheriff nodded in agreement, “what does it mean.”

The Doctor sighed.  “I don’t know,” he said.  “It could be that they are totally incompetent, or it could be that they didn’t care about the fact that this was done so haphazard.  I’ve been this county’s public health administrator for 10 years.  I’ve worked for the Center for disease control, I have a degree in epidemiology, and I was here when the flu pandemic swept through and not only was I not consulted, it was like they went out of their way to exclude me from their plan.”  Doctor Meadows sighed, “You would think they would want to use the local public health administration that was already in place rather than do something like this all on their own.  The one thing they did have setup well was all there registration process and information collection.  You know about those forms they wanted everybody to fill out?  They had that process running like clockwork.  Between those guys and those union thugs…” The Doctor shook his head.  “I just don’t know.”

“Did you speak with the Health Officers from the other counties?”

“No from to the south,” The Doctor said.  “He’s a political appointee and not the kind of person who can keep things quiet.  I did talk to the county Health Officer to the north and got the same thing.  Poorly put together, no local involvement, greater focus on information collection than actually administering the shots.”

“And who actually administered the shots,” Sean asked.

“More Grass Roots people.”  The Doctor said glumly.  “I wasn’t happy about that either, having a bunch of novices administer shots, but they were federally sponsored and backed by an executive order so there was nothing I could do.  I talked to a few of them.  They said they were in one of the refugee camps, the ones that Grass Roots runs, and that they were trained to give out the shots while they were in the camp.  Nice enough people.  They were from Baltimore.  It sounds like they had a real tough go of it in the camp.  They’d been there for over a year, so when the opportunity came to get out of the camp and hand out shots they jumped at the chance.  They said all that time in the refugee camp and had them going stir crazy.”

Now the Sheriff asked a question.  “Doc,” he asked, “Do you think maybe those flu shots weren’t actually flu shots?  Maybe they were something else?”

“I never thought about that,” the Doctor said.  “I doubt it, but it is possible.”

“Anyway to test them, you know, to see if they are the real deal?”

“Not locally,” the Doctor said.  “I’d have to send them out for testing.  It would be hard to do that without people noticing.  Anytime the name Grass Roots come up people get edgy.  It is like they are some old Soviet Secret Police.”

“They are Secret Police,” Sean said. “They have every confidence of the federal government and answer to nobody.  Maybe you could send some samples to the Naval Station.  There is a Naval Hospital there. They might be able to test them without attracting attention.”

The Sheriff and the Doctor both looked at Sean.

“Okay,” Sean said.  “You get me samples, I’ll drop them off.  I’ll have Doc Hyde do it.”

One more thing to do on a list of things to do that is already too long, Sean thought.  “Hey Doctor, I heard that those Grass Roots people and the union guys got a little rough with people who wouldn’t register.  Is that true?”

“Yeah, the union guys were pretty tough.  They made people pay their union dues right there on the spot, in cash.  People had to do this before they could get their flu shots of course. They must have made a ton of money.  They did get rough with a few people. I’ve got nothing against unions, but when you are forcing people to join, bullying them into joining…” the Doctor sighed again. “I think it’s gone too far.  I think lots of things have gone too far.”

“A lot of things have gone too far.”

“After the first day, the union guys cooled their jets a little bit though,” the Sheriff said.  He looked at Sean knowingly.  “They still registered people, but it sounds like they toned down the threats and the bullying.  One thing to keep in mind though, the Progressive Union is no different from Grass Roots. Like you said Sean, they have every confidence of the federal government and are accountable to virtually nobody.”  The Sheriff leaned forward so Sean would understand the importance of what he was saying.  “Going toe-to-toe with the Progressive Union would not be a good idea.”

“I think letting the union do whatever they want unchecked is not a good idea,” Sean answered. “And I can handle those union thugs in my sleep."

Nobody said anything, so Sean asked a question to keep things going. “So what is the other news in the county?”

“It looks like we may have another outlaw gang operating in our county.” The Sheriff looked directly at Sean.  “They are bikers this time.  Bad ones too.  They committed several home invasion robberies and last night they broke into some government offices and some of the government impound lots.  They call themselves, ‘The Mutants.’  They are organized and they are smart.”

“Do you need help with that?”

“What I need are more deputies,” The Sheriff answered.  “Right now I can’t even reliably pay for the ones I have.  The payroll comes in late every time, and since the government now has oversight on all the banks, direct deposit now takes almost two weeks to clear.  I’ve got almost no budget to speak of. ”

“I’ve noticed the Maysville PD seems to be doing pretty well.”

“Well, the Chief is pretty cozy with James Pritchard.  I guess that’s why she gets all the toys she gets.  About a year ago, I got approved to hire twelve more deputies.  The next day, some Grass Roots hot-shot comes into my office and hands me a list of names.  He told me, ‘these are the people you are going to hire as Deputies.’  I told that kid I wasn’t going to make somebody a law enforcement officer just because Grass Roots told me too.”

“Let me guess, your budget got cut and no new hires?”

“You got that right,” the Sheriff said.  “Meanwhile, the Maysville PD got approval to hire a few more officers and eight administrative assistants.  Hell, their administration department must have one worker for every officer they have in the field.”

“It pays to be connected.  Maybe the police will help you out with these bikers.”

“So far, all the crimes have been out in the county, not in the city.  The Maysville Police Chief wasn’t very friendly with us before The Readjustment.  That relationship didn’t get any better after.  Besides, she is way too cozy with the current party in power for me.  I don’t trust her.  Once you start taking every handout you’re offered, you find yourself in debt to a lot of people.  You lose your power to make decisions on your own.  Instead you have to spend all your time paying back everybody who did favors for you before.”

“That might just be the problem with the whole system,” the Doctor said.  Sean nodded in agreement.

“So what else do you have going on Sean,” The Sheriff asked.

“I’m heading out to see the FEMA folks today.  Hopefully the flood preparations are being managed better than these flu shots.  Our county has had enough disasters lately.  Maybe we can head this one off before it causes too much damage.”

“We’ve got a few things to do today ourselves,” The Sheriff said.  “We’d best be going.”

Sean and his wife escorted the Doctor and the Sheriff back outside.  When the Deputies saw them come out, they started their vehicles up.  The Sheriff stopped on the way to his truck and turned to the Doctor. “Doctor Meadows, think me and Sean can talk alone a minute?”

The Doctor nodded and climbed into the Sheriff’s truck.  The Sheriff looked at Sean and then his wife.  Before the Sheriff could say anything, Sean’s wife spoke. “Anything you need to say to him you can say in front of me.”  The Sheriff didn’t like that, but he spoke anyways.

“I need you to take it easy on these Union People Sean.  I can’t have you running and gunning all over the county.”  The Sheriff looked Sean hard in the eyes.  “I’m supposed to uphold the law.  Maybe the Union people weren’t following the law, but I can’t have you taking the law into your own hands.”

“I did with those gang bangers last year,” Sean said. “I don’t remember anybody in the county complaining about that.  Especially you Sheriff.”

“That was a mistake on my part.  I should have never asked for your help with that.”

“Sheriff, if I didn’t get rid of those gangsters, they’d still be here doing the same crap they were doing before I destroyed them, or worse.  You may be the top cop in this county, but I have duties and responsibilities too.  Maybe they aren’t written into law or the county charter, but they are real, and I intend to uphold my responsibilities.”

“You can’t fight the union Sean.”

“Actually I can.  At least locally I can.  But you can’t fight the union, not your way.  The rule of law is pretty much gone in this country.    The Progressive Union walks hand in hand with the federal government and the party in power.  They are not going to let a county sheriff stop their operations.  There is too much money and too much influence at stake.”

The Sheriff shook his head and left to get in the car.  He appreciated his friendship with Sean Bastle.  He hoped this wasn’t going to be the end of that.
–––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––­–––––––-
As the Sheriff was pulling out of the Bastle compound, James Pritchard was about to have a meeting of his own.  From the window of his house, James watched a trio of dark blue suburbans pull up his long driveway.  The man coming to visit James Pritchard this morning was Stephen Grant, one of the least know but most powerful men in politics in the Pacific Northwest.

Stephen Grant held no elected office.  In fact, Stephen Grant had never run for any political office ever despite spending over 40 years in politics.  He had however held numerous appointed positions throughout his career.  Currently, he held a position on over three dozen chairmanships, committees, review boards, panels, and other offices that paid him a total yearly salary well over a million dollars and more importantly gave him operating budgets into the 100’s of millions of dollars.  Stephen Grant worked behind the scenes and made things happen, and he had facilitated the party and principals of progress for his entire career.  Many people owed him favors, and if you wanted things done, this was a good person to know.  Even James Pritchard had to pay the man deference.  Congressman or not, Stephen Grant could end James Pritchard’s political career with a phone call or two.

The suvs pulled up to the front door and armed men in suits stepped out of the vehicles.  The men were bodyguards who wore dark suits and ear pieces, and some openly carried submachine guns.  Instead of the typical American flag lapel pins, the armed guards wore pins depicting a blue flag with a white star in the center; it was the banner that represented ‘Progress.”

James stepped out of the house and walked up to the motorcade just in time to shake Stephen Grant’s hand as the older man stepped out of his armored vehicle.

“Good to see you sir, I’m glad you could make the trip up here.”

Stephen smiled and looked around James’s house.  Stephen was sixty and a shorter man.  Decades spent in offices and conference rooms showed in his girth.  His hair was white and thinning.  But the older political man’s eyes showed that he was intelligent and experienced, and not a man to be dismissed as an ally or an opponent.   “Glad to get out here in the country James.  The state capitol gets stuffy after awhile.  Looks like a nice place you have here.  I bet you have a great view of Puget Sound from up here.”

“Yes sir, I certainly do.”

“Good,” the old man said.  “Let’s take a walk around.”  He then turned to one of the guards. “Mike, give us a little breathing room will you?  Big things to discuss, you know how it is.”  The guard nodded and the security detail kept a respectable distance as James and Stephen walked around the large house to the backyard.  The former congressman was correct; the view of the sound was breathtaking.  It was early, so light grey wisps of mist drifted above the lush green trees on either side of the dark blue sound.  The Olympic Mountains reached up to the sky to the east.  To the north, a Washington State ferry with its distinct green, white and black paint scheme worked its way across the sound to the Olympic Penninsula.  To the south, a gray Navy frigate and a white and orange Coast Guard Cutter were moving south to the port of Seattle.  James knew he was fortunate to be able to take in a view like this from his own house.  That’s what made this meeting so important.  He was not about to give up what he had.

“Nice view,” Stephen said.  “But as nice a view as it is, I’m a busy man, so let’s get down to it.  I’m guessing you’ve seen the new economic plan."

“I have.”

“And you want to own this little slice of heaven up here?  Is that right?”

“Yes sir, that’s right.”

“Well,” the old man said.  “I’m sure we can make this happen.  You are known in the right circles, always done the right thing for the party, never got too greedy.  If things work out right, we can get you this county.”  The older man started walking.  “How has everything been going so far.  Shots complete?

“They distributed the shots this week.  And FEMA is working on flood preparations.”

“How did it go with the shots?  Any trouble?  We had some riots in parts of Eastern Washington and Oregon.  Nothing too violent, but nobody was too keen on filling out those forms.”

James nodded.  “No riots or anything like that.  I heard somebody got rough with our Union men though.”

The old man smiled.  “Yes, I heard that too.  That idiot Hugh Bowden called about 100 times screaming for blood.”  He stopped and turned to face James.  “Hugh is a thug and an idiot, but he’s got teeth.  If we are going to give you this new office, we’ll expect you to keep the union folks happy to some extent.  Who is this guy who messed with ol’ Hughey’s boys?”

“The guy’s name is Sean Bastle.  He is like a local warlord or militia leader or something.”

“What do we know about him?”

“Not much.  I think he used to be military.  He took care of some gang members for the sheriff when things got real bad after The Readjustment.”

Stephen Grant nodded, then turned and started walking again.  “Lots of those around.  Militias and armed compounds and what not.  It’s best not to fight them unless you have to.  We’ll take a few down once things get going, you know, to make an example for the rest.  But for now it is just better to co-opt these groups, bring them onto the team and make them an ally.  Everybody has their price, just figure out what it is.”

James took in the advice.  It seemed like the right idea.  “What if things heat up between this guy and the union?”

“Just step aside and let Hugh and his boys do what they do if you can’t prevent it.  Don’t get involved, just give the union guys the latitude they need and stay out of it. Hugh’s pulled some dirty tricks in his day.  He knows how things work and can make things happen, and happen very quietly. This  Bastle guy might have more than he can handle.”

“And what about these Sons of Liberty people,” James asked  “It sounds like they are getting active in Seattle.”

“They are criminals,” Stephen said.  “Let the FBI handle them and stay out of it.  We want everybody thinking these guys are just regular criminals and vandals.  We talk too much about them and their movement gains credibility.  Same like the states that are talking about leaving the union, its best to ignore them, and if somebody asks you about them, just dismiss it as a few waco’s, just like we did with those ‘Tea Party’s’ years ago.  The Sons of Liberty are mostly active in the cities, so they shouldn’t affect you too much out here in the sticks.  What are your other concerns?”

“I’m also going to need a staff,  a real staff with good people.  I need people who know what they are doing.  This FEMA guy seems sharp, but the Grass Roots people here are fools.  The one who was supposed to be running the flu shots mucked that all up and now I have to deal with that mess, and the other one is such an enviro-nazi he can’t see the beyond his talking points.  You should have seen him at this last county meeting, the guy almost burst into a tantrum.  I’ll need people who can get things done, not just spout party rhetoric.”

“I thought the environmental guy was one of the good ones.  He’s got two Master’s degrees right?”

“His master’s degrees are in Environmental Racism and Gender Issues and the Environment.  His last thesis was on some tripe about the links between Global Warming and the Israel’s Oppression of the Palestinian State.  After three pages I couldn’t read any more.  Just because he has a collection of degrees on his wall don’t mean he’s got a brain in his head.  I need somebody who knows about farming out here to keep the farmers under control.  This guy is causing more problems than he is solving.”

“No problem.  Grass Roots has pretty much done their job and won’t be around much longer.  They’ve just about outlived their usefulness and soon they will be a liability. As far as getting things done, I’ve got the guy for you.  He’s been an activist behind the scenes for decades, now he’s high up on the Progressive Auxillary chain-of-command.  Tough guy, and knows how the game is played.  He was working for us in Montana and he almost got killed there. The Sons of Liberty folks had him on a target list.  Anyway, he can get things done for you and get them done quietly.  Once things get rolling, you’ll need a military staff too, we’ll get you setup.”

Military staff, James thought.  “Can I get a General?  The commander of the Naval Base is a Captain.  It would be nice to have somebody in my pocket who outranks him.

The Man laughed.  “No, no generals.  Those are harm to come by.  We’ll get you a Lieutenant Colonel though.  At least that way you’ll have somebody who out ranks those Marines that showed up.”  They walked on.  “Watch out for those military people,” the man warned.  “Not all of them are on board with our plan.  You know how they can be, they don’t always buy into change.”

“So how do we get this all started,” James asked.

“The first step is making you the county executive.”

“We already have a county executive.”

“You let me worry about that. We’ll get him out of office and have the Governor appoint you in his place.”

“That doesn’t jive with the county charter.  I’m sure the county council won’t be happy about that.”

“Who cares what the county council thinks,” the man said. “What are they going to do?  Take it to the courts?  It’ll be two years before the case before they got the case before the court.  Even then, we own the state supreme court.  Hell, we own the SCOTUS too so no problem there. No, we’ll get you in the position of county executive and then you’ll be set up for things down the road.  Besides, a few more months a county councils will be a thing of the past.”

The man paused, stopped walking and turned to James. “Now you know,” the man said.  “We aren’t doing this for free.  You have to pay to play.”
“I know,” James said.  “I have money.”

“Good.  And once this all goes down, we’ll expect regular payments.  You know how this works. This is business.”

“I know.”

“And while you are county executive, we expect you to keep things under control.”  The man stopped and turned to face James Pritchard.  “We won’t tolerate any lawlessness or anarchy, none of the crap from two years ago. If you can’t keep the masses under control, you are out.  Once the new economic plan is in place, if you have to use a heavy hand do it, but keep the masses under control.  You’ll be given plenty of men and resources to do it.”

“Understood,” James Pritchard affirmed.  They continued walking through the lush, manicured green lawn of James Pritchard’s backyard.

“Like this thing between the union men and your local Bastle guy.  Consider it a test.  Keep them quiet and in separate corners.  If you can’t, let Hugh do his thing.”

“Okay,”  James said.  “What kind of time-line are we operating on?”

The old man answered.  “I’ll have you behind the County Executive desk in a week.  We are tight on the time-line.  The White House wants to make this next announcement in 90 days.”

“90 days,” James Pritchard said.  “That will be the holidays.”

“It will,” Stephen said. “They want to make that an announcement right before Christmas.  Use it as a Christmas present of sorts for some of our constituents.”  James thought about that statement.  Sure it would be a Merry Christmas for anybody who believe in the cause, but it would be the end of everything for a lot of people.

“Maybe it will be a Merry Christmas for the party, but it won’t make for a Merry Christmas for a lot of people around here.”

Stephen Grant shrugged of that statement.  “That’s true, but what else can we do?  We have to keep the machine going.  The party policies have been leading down this road this for decades now.  Don’t get cold feet now that we’re right at the doorstep.  Besides what are you going to do, fight the government?  The plan is the plan.  Better to go with the flow and reap the rewards that try to stop the winds of change and lose everything.”

“So when this new plan goes into effect, what will my new title be?”

“We’re still figuring that out.  It was going to be Commissar, but the President said that sounded to Soviet.”

James thought about that.  “Maybe my new title should be ‘Duke?’” He laughed as he said it.

The man smiled.  “I guess that would be appropriate.”
–––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––­–––––––––––––––––––––––––-
When Jim walked up for the briefing, sitting in front of Davis’s house were three of the Toyota trucks, including Sean’s command vehicle with its host of antennae.  Also parked in front of the house was a big flatbed tow truck built on a Ford F-450 Super Duty chassis. The truck had been modified.  Wire screens covered the windows. On the front of the truck was a huge steel bumper that housed a winch and was reinforced with pieces of railroad track.  The doors were protected by ¼” thick pieces of plate steel.  Just for effect, a row of wrought iron spikes poked out of the hood. The truck looked like something out of a heavy metal music video.  Standing next to the tow truck was a man in a dirty leather motorcycle jacket with a huge blonde handle bar mustache.  The chain from a trucker wallet ran out of the back pocket of his greasy jeans up to his leather belt.  It was JD, the mechanic extraordinaire of the Bastle compound.

Before The Seizure, JD had been a student at the University of Washington. After working as a mechanic rebuilding transmissions for several years, JD saved up enough money to put himself through school.  Since he liked mechanics, he got a degree in mechanical engineering.  After one degree, he decided he liked learning enough that he got another degree in electrical engineering.  Unfortunately for JD, just as he finished his second degree, the Seizure happened and the only person hiring mechanics was Sean.

Although he didn’t look like an academic, JD was extremely intelligent and the most mechanically savvy person that Jim ever met.  Not only did JD have the degrees, he had the practical skills as well.  He serviced and modified all the vehicles around the compound, and took the lead in fixing up Tien’s trucks.  JD could weld, wire, fabricate, repair, build and rebuild just about anything around of anything somebody could dream up.  The only person who could give him a run for his money in any mechanical area was Sean, who knew more about blacksmithing than JD. Jim always thought that was odd.  Sean didn’t seem like the kind of person who would have spent a lot of time using heat and a hammer to bend metal to his will, but then, Sean was full of surprises.

“You coming out with us today, JD,” Jim asked.

JD tapped the hood of the monstrous looking tow-truck.  “Need to road test this baby.”

“Hope you have some protection.  Things can get dangerous out there.”

JD opened his leather jacket. Inside was a large nickel plated revolver and a sawed-off double barrel shotgun.

“Okay,” Jim said.  “Let’s head inside.”

Whenever a convoy left the compound, first there was a briefing.  They did this each time, every time, without any exceptions.  The briefings were held in a shed built in the backyard of Davis’s house for that specific purpose.  The shed was elaborate.  It held a huge map of the county that covered an entire wall.  Smaller maps were also posted along the walls that offered detailed depictions of the city of Maysville, the aircraft plant, and the valley where Gerry Sheely and the other farmers were. In the center of the shed was a scale model that represented the entire county. It measured eight feet by twenty feet.  Davis had spent the better part of two weeks putting the whole thing together.  Building the shed and the model was a no small feat, but it proved to be an invaluable tool when briefing the many convoys that they had to be sent out.

Jim noticed there were less people than normal, maybe half as many people as they normally took out.  Besides himself and JD, Hooker and Davis were present, as was Cody.  Standing in one corner was a tall skinny man with a bald head and a beard that ran down almost to his stomach.  The others called him Ivan, because his last name was a jumbled mix of consonants and “y’s” that only a Moscow native could pronounce.  Ivan was meticulously cleaning a Heckler and Koch assault rifle that Jim had never seen him without.   In the center of the room was Davis.  He had a clip board in his hand and several notebooks in front of him.

“Before we get started, I’ve got a surprise for you guys.  Well, actually two surprises.”  Davis brought out a metal coffee pot.  Steam was coming out of the spout and the smell of fresh coffee filled the room.  There were eager oohs and ahs.  Somebody quickly produced a tray of cups and everybody got a sample and drank it down greedily.

“Where did you get this,” Jim asked.

“From Tien’s.  We finished two of his trucks early so he paid us a bonus. This was part of the bonus.”

Jim enjoyed the taste of his fresh cup of coffee.  How long had it been since he enjoyed a cup of coffee?  “You could have told me there would be coffee when you knocked on my door this morning, Davis.”

Davis smiled.  “If word got out that we had real coffee here, I’d have the whole neighborhood here.”

Somebody asked, “So if this was part of the bonus, where is the rest?”

Davis grinned like a little kid.  “We’ll save that for after the brief.  So pay attention.  Alright, everybody is here except for the Boss who is doing his thing, and everybody has a cup, so let’s get to it.  We’re going to be changing things up a little from now on. Fuel is getting to be an issue, so from here on out we’re cutting the number of trucks from six down to three to save diesel.  Today JD will also be with us. He’s just finished building that tactical tow truck you all saw outside and he’s going to take that out for a road test.  Sean’s meeting with the Sheriff this morning.  No follow on meetings today.  Check?”  People around the room nodded.  “Okay, let’s get to it.  This is your convoy brief for today.  If you have any questions, hold them for the end.”

Jim broke up his brief into five sections.  He had written out each section of the brief on his clipboard.  The first part covered an orientation to the area and recent events, the most notable of which was that since Sean had threatened the union men, it was very likely that any Progress Union men he ran into might be looking for trouble.

Next, Davis covered the purpose of the day’s convoy.  This section was the shortest.  Davis stated that what they would do was this; Once Sean was done with his meeting with the Sheriff, the convoy would take him into the valley to meet with the FEMA people in order to get some needed equipment for the community.  Once that meeting was over, everybody would return to the compound by a different route than the one they first took.  At the end of the day, the goal was to get Sean and everybody else to and from the meeting safely.

Once he told them what they were going to do, Davis went through all the details of how they were going to get it done.  He covered how fast they would travel, where each vehicle would travel in the convoy (one pickup in the front, followed by Sean’s truck, the tow truck, then the second pickup in the rear), how long it was expected to take, and most importantly the routes to and from their destination.  For each route, Davis went over alternate routes just in case.  When he went over the routes, Davis outlined them on the scale model of the county, tracing their line with a pointer.  Along each route, Davis covered potentially dangerous areas; places like bridges, stretches of road that where channelized by steep cliffs or drop-offs, and places where there had been violence of some sort in the past.

After going over their route, Davis went over a variety of contingency plans called immediate action drills.  These immediate action drills were a series of steps that would be taken in response to a specific scenario.  These immediate action drills covered mundane contingencies, like flat tires, broken down or stalled vehicles, and what they would do if a vehicle got separated.  After working through the more mundane contingencies, Davis talked through the more dangerous ones; what to do if they encountered a sniper, what to do if they were stopped by a roadblock, what to do if they were ambushed, what to do if somebody was injured badly.  Davis read each contingency plan out of a small booklet of plastic covered sheets with a blue cover, so as not to miss any detail.

Next, Davis went through all the logistical details.  He went over how much extra fuel every truck was supposed to have.  He covered where extra medical supplies and stretchers were carried. He went over where all the recovery equipment was, such as high-lift jacks, tow chains, and come-alongs.  He went over how much food and water they needed to have, as well what extra clothing everybody should bring along.  Then Davis addressed how much ammunition each member should have, what special weapons they carried (Hooker’s RPD, a scoped M1A that Cody carried, and Davis’s own scoped .338 rifle) and the ammunition available for each.  Finally, Davis addressed where any passengers they might pick up would ride.

Davis then moved on to the last part of his brief.  Here he went over all the communications aspects of the mission.  He covered what CB channels they would use, what visual signals they would use, and what to do if the radios went out in one or all of the vehicles.  After covering all the aspects of communication, Davis went over the chain-of-command.  While Sean would be riding in the convoy, Davis would have overall command, unless Sean felt it necessary to take over.  Otherwise, Sean would just be cargo.

When Davis was done going over his briefing, he opened it up for any questions.  There were a few, but not many since they had done this so many times before.  Once all the questions were done, Davis had them all review the immediate action drills again.  They all talked through the drills, using a set of toy vehicles to illustrate each procedure.  Since JD was new to all this, Davis made certain that JD was familiar with all their immediate action drills.

Once they had gone over everything, somebody asked, “So what was the other part of the bonus?”

“You’re right,” Davis said. “hold on.”  In the corner of the shed was a large cardboard box, the kind that held television sets.  Davis reached in the box, pulled out the contents and set them out for everyone to see.  The others gathered around the object mumbling their appreciation.  It was just then that Sean Bastle came into the room and walked up behind the crowd and got a look at what they all were staring at.

“What the hell?”

Somebody started to answer, but Sean cut him short.

“I know what it is.  It’s a Type 74.  A Chinese copy of the Russian LPO 50 flamethrower.  What I want to know is where did you get a Chinese copy of a Russian flamethrower, and why?”

“Tien gave it to us as a bonus for getting his trucks finished early. You never know when you’ll need a flame thrower.”

Sean rolled his eyes and shook his head.  He looked like a teacher dealing with unruly children.  “Just what we need, a flamethrower.  Does this thing even work.”

“It looks like the seals and the fuel lines need to be replaced,” JD said.  “Its old but it looks like it is in good shape.  I’m sure I can fix it.”

Sean tapped one of the three tanks on the backpack.  It made the distinct hollow sound that empty metal tanks make. “I’m sure you can too, but let’s leave it alone for now.  The last thing I need is one of you burning yourself because you want to play science project.  If it looks like we’re going to need a Chinese flamethrower we’ll know where to find one.”  Sean took one last look at the flamethrower and shook his head.  “We got work to do, let’s get going.”
Link Posted: 5/25/2009 11:25:20 AM EDT
[#1]
I like it.  When am I going to get more.
Link Posted: 5/25/2009 10:11:57 PM EDT
[#2]
My goal is to do a chapter a week.
Link Posted: 5/25/2009 11:03:58 PM EDT
[#3]
I dont like many things I read, but I want more as well.





Very good story. Good job.

Link Posted: 5/26/2009 12:04:49 PM EDT
[#4]
Great start!!   I'm already hooked.  Keep it coming please!!
Link Posted: 5/26/2009 10:07:40 PM EDT
[#5]
A big plus one from me.
Link Posted: 5/30/2009 5:18:10 PM EDT
[#6]
Excellent. I like the fresh non-zombie approach.

Mikey
Link Posted: 6/1/2009 12:25:43 AM EDT
[#7]
Waiting for chapter 5. Good read, and good writing.
Link Posted: 6/8/2009 12:24:59 PM EDT
[#8]
I cant wait this long between installments.
Link Posted: 6/17/2009 11:25:58 PM EDT
[#9]
I'll finish off chapter 6 this weekend.

Don't know if you all read this off the web, or cut and paste it into a doc.  Either way, if you want changes to the format let me know.

Link Posted: 6/18/2009 2:04:51 PM EDT
[#10]
I enjoyed it very much so far, please continue writing.
Link Posted: 6/18/2009 7:03:14 PM EDT
[#11]
Great job.. I can't wait to read more.....
Link Posted: 6/21/2009 12:45:54 AM EDT
[Last Edit: sharkman6] [#12]
Chapter 6 Continued:

The FEMA field headquarters was set up in the same valley as Sheely and the other farmers.  It was composed of several trailers and a few vehicles set up alongside the river that zigzagged through the valley.  A barge floated in the river near the trailers, its crew was pulling fallen trees and other debris out of the water and piling it on the deck.  Already a huge pile of mud covered trees, tires, appliances and other random junk sat on the deck of the barge.  The convoy of trucks pulled off the road and drove through a grassy field up to a trailer sprouting several antennas on the roof with a series of generators on the side buzzing and a hummvee in front. Paul Linggi and two men in uniform were standing around the hood of the vehicle.  The men in uniform didn’t wear the newer style digital patterns of the Army or Marines, nor the tiger stripe Air Force pattern.  They wore the older style woodland blotch pattern.  Even their equipment was older.  They carried the older M16A2 rifles. Their hummvee was unarmored and sported a Vietnam era M60 machinegun in the turret ring.  

“You must be Sean Bastle,” the FEMA man said with a thick New York accent.  “Sheriff told me about you.  Nice little army you got there.”

“Better to be safe than sorry,” Sean answered.  “How are the preparations going?”

“They’re going.”  Paul jerked his thumb in the direction of the men in uniform. “We’re getting some help from the Navy.  The Chief here is with the SeaBees.  They’re going to do some engineering assessments for us.  Make sure the levees along this river and the reservoirs up in the mountains will hold if the rains start.”

Sean introduced himself to the Navy Chief and the 1st Class Petty Officer standing next to him.  After a second or two, Sean asked, “Don’t take this the wrong way, but I though the Army Corps of Engineers usually did things like this.”

“They usually do,” The Chief spoke, “but these are unusual times.  They got the Corps of Engineers tasked out with maintaining the dams along the Columbia River, and protecting the lock and dam systems in Seattle and Portland.  Somebody thinks those Sons of Liberty people might try blowing them up.  Anyway, we’re here and our Commander thought it would be a good idea to help FEMA out so that we all don’t wash away.”

Sean nodded in agreement.   Paul spoke, “We’ve actually had a lot of help from just about everybody around here.  FEMA doesn’t really have a lot of assets. Instead we mostly do coordination and bring federal money.  Of course, there isn’t a lot of money these days, but we have had a lot of help from the locals, so coordination has been pretty easy.  Usually, I don’t show up until the disaster has taken place.  It’s nice to get a jump on things before things are totally outta control.”

“How much help have you been getting from Grass Roots?”

Paul shook his head.  “Little Shits… Those guys really don’t have a clue.  This ain’t rocket surgery, but you need to have some idea of disaster mitigation before you run around telling people what’s what.”

“They giving you any help at all?”

“They pretty much stay out of my way, but when it comes to the locals they are just worrying people and pissing them off. They are supposed to be overseeing this, but they’ve mostly just do their own thing. They’ve been driving around the valley the last few days and posting some notice on all the abandoned houses.”

“Any idea what the notice is about?”

Both the Chief and Paul shook their heads. Paul pointed to a small two story house across the field from them.  The house looked pretty run-down.  “No idea, but there’s one posted on that old farm house over there.  You can read it for yourself.”  

Davis, who was standing next to Sean the whole time, turned to his Boss, “Cody and I will go get it."

“Take a radio.”

Davis nodded, and in a few second he and Cody were walking across the field.  While they were walking, Sean asked, “At that county meeting you said you can help us out with equipment to help us through this?”

“Sure, I’ve already given out some pumping equipment to many of the farmers here.  Got sandbags and hesco barriers on the way.  Tomorrow I’m bringing some heavy equipment.  So what do you need?”

Sean pulled a list out of his pocket and handed it to Paul.  The New Yorker looked it over carefully.  “I can get you the water pumps, and shouldn’t be a problem with the earth moving stuff, there is plenty of that in government impound lots. But a fuel truck is a no-no.”

“Why not,” Sean asked.

“Well,” Paul started.  It was obvious he wasn’t enthusiastic about what he had to say. “It is against the law for private citizens to own fuel trucks now.  Just came down.  My bosses were very specific about that.”

“Why is that?”

“The reasoning is, if you had a fuel truck, you might go somewhere and get black-market fuel.  They say black-market fuel isn’t safe.  So to keep you safe, you can’t have fuel trucks.”
“Oh I see, one of those safety issues.  I’m so happy there are all these rules and regulations in place keeping me safe.  Good thing the government has so many people looking out for us.”
“Do I detect some sarcasm?”

“I hope so.  So without a fuel truck, how is everybody supposed to fuel all this equipment?  Those pumps and earthmovers don’t run on good intentions.”

Paul answered with the same lack of enthusiasm as before.  “A fuel company has been contracted by Grass Roots to do all the refueling for any disaster related equipment.”

“I thought in these situations, FEMA did the contracting. You don’t sound like you approve of this deal.”

“I don’t like being told how to do my job.  But I was told, and I was told these guys will provide all the fuel for this operation, no questions.  Look, I spent most of my life in New York, so it ain’t like I’ve never seen stuff like this before, still, when you’re the one being told to make the dirty deal, it don’t sit well, you know?”

“I know,” said Sean.  “So who is this fuel company anyway?”

“HB Green Fuels.”

The name didn't mean anything to Sean.  “Okay, no fuel truck, how about a fuel tank?”

Paul thought about it and then answered.  “Well, I suppose I’m not to give those out either for the same reasons. But I might have a solution.  There is this old railroad facility that the government now owns, you know, where they fixed locomotives.  Well, nobody is fixing locomotives there anymore, and there are two spare fuel tanks for a locomotives sitting there in a warehouse collecting dust. They are all yours.  I think they each hold about 5,000 gallons.  I guess that way I’d be giving you spare parts, not necessarily a tank.”

“Sounds perfect.”

“It won’t be easy,” Paul said.  “You’ll need a big truck to move ‘em.”

“Let us worry about that.”

Paul smiled.  “It’s nice to see some can-do attitude.  So many guys these days can’t do nothing for themselves.  Maybe you can help us out with something.”

Sean smiled.  It was always something.  “What do you need?”

Paul pointed his thumb at the Sailors standing next to him.  “The Chief here needs to get up into the mountains and check out the reservoirs, make sure they’ll hold if these rains come.  Those reservoirs are in the back country, not a place for just two guys who don’t know the area to be driving.”

Sean turned to the Navy Chief.  “You need a guide and some security I’m guessing?”

“You got it.  We’re a little short handed.  You’d be surprised how fast a Construction Battalion can get used up when they have a whole county to cover.”

“We’ll take care of you guys.  If those reservoirs can’t hold, I’d like to know about it as much as you would.  How soon you want to do this?”

Sean and the Navy Chief were working out the details when the sound of an engine came from the road behind them. “Here comes progress,” Paul said.  Sean looked over his shoulder and saw a big white government style van turn off the road towards them.  Stenciled on both sides of the van were the pale green blades of grass that made up the Grass Roots logo. The van eased its way through the grassy field and up to the other vehicles.  Sean’s men watched it warily.  The van shut down and out came a couple of Grass Roots workers along with Raymond Lynn, the Grass Roots Health and Human Services advocate.  He wore a heavy white gortex coat with the Grass Roots logo as well as a stupid grin on his face.  He seemed oblivious to the fact that none of the men he was about to talk to though too much of what Grass Roots was doing.

“How are you,” Raymond said to the group.  “How are the preparations coming?”

“Oh, they are coming along just fine Raymond,” Paul said, turning to face the river to do so.  “The dredging crew could use a hand on the barge if you and your boys ain’t busy.”

Raymond Lynn laughed.  “Oh no, we’ve got project of our own to do.  We’re identifying all the abandoned houses in the area.  Housing and Urban development is going to take all these houses and give them to families who have been displaced.  We’re going to start moving people out here from our Urban Transient Sanctuaries.”  Urban Transient Sanctuaries was the kinder and gentler name given to the refugee camps that Grass Roots was tasked with administering.  When the economy fell apart, many people, especially people in urban areas, had no way to sustain themselves.  Grass Roots was given the task of establishing and running camps to house and take care of those people.  There were many rumors about what went on in those camps.  Sean was anxious to talk to somebody who had been in one of these Urban Transient Sanctuaries, but as anxious as he was, he did not like the idea of people getting relocated from the camps to his county, especially in the farmland and amongst Sheely and the other farmers.

“Excuse me Raymond, but what do you mean you are going to start relocating people from your sanctuaries to out here?”

“Oh yeah, this is really amazing!”  It was obvious that Raymond was excited about whatever it was he was talking about.  He was almost jumping up and down.  “We are tearing down the cities of what was once the rust belt and making that area green again.  Places like Cleveland Ohio, Flint Michigan, you know, big factory towns.  We are tearing down those factories and returning that area to the planet.  We’re even tearing up the roads. We’re gonna make it all grasslands and trees.  Since the factories will be gone, all those people will need new places to live, so we’re going to move them here and make them farmers.  We’ll have the first group of people here in a week or two!”

“Why would you tear those factories down?”

“Well obviously they aren’t making any more cars or whatever it was they made, so we might as well tear them down.”

“So let somebody else buy the factory and make something else there.”

Raymond gave Sean a puzzled look.  “We’ll we could, but that wouldn’t be good for the environment, and we know where that got us. Our failure to protect the environment is what caused this whole economic mess we are in.”

Sean didn’t believe for a second that environmental malpractice caused the economic collapse of what was at one time the greatest economy of the word, but he could see in Raymond’s eyes that he was a believer.  There would be no convincing the young man what he believed as a pure and solid fact.  But, Sean though he might discuss another point. “So, you are taking people from the cities, who I am assuming were once mostly factory workers and you are going to bring them here and make them farmers.  How? Who is going to teach them to farm?  Do these people even want to be farmers?  This seems kind of pie in the sky to me.”

Paul and the two Sailors kept quiet.  As government officials, it really wasn’t wise for them to cross Grass Roots, the workhorse for the party of progress, the party in power,  but they were listening with a keen ear to everything that Sean said.  Raymond clearly didn’t have an answer to Sean’s question, so he took another route, one that he and other Grass Roots members had been taught to use when faced with just such a line of questioning.

“These people need a place to live. They are families, people’s brothers and sisters and parents.  Don’t you care? Don’t you have any compassion?  Where else will they go? Do you want them to live in our Transient Sanctuaries forever?”

“I care enough to think about this and I know that you can’t just take somebody out of a factory, give them a farm, and expect them to produce food.  Agriculture is a science.  If you take somebody who knows nothing about farming and just give them a farm, it won’t work. You won’t be doing them any favors.”

“You put the seeds in the dirt and water them. How hard can it be?”

“You ever farmed before,” Sean asked.

“No, but if all these people can do it, how hard can it really be.”

“That is a quite a gamble, considering that if your plan doesn’t work and these transplants don’t grow any food, people starve,” Sean said.  “And not just the transplants, but others who were dependant on this land producing food.  You’d be better off just letting the professional farmers here work the land that isn’t being used by anybody else.  We’ve done that for the last two years and that’s worked.  If these transplants can’t make anything grow, what’s the backup plan?”

Before Raymond could answer, there was a loud “crack” in the air above them.  Everybody but the Grass Roots, people dropped to the ground and the concealment of the grass and weeds.  Sean reached up and grabbed a handful of Raymond Lynn’s coat and pulled him to the ground just before a second crack broke the air over their heads.

Sean pulled the small radio from out of one of his coat pockets, then spoke into it slowly.  “Davis, Davis, any idea where that shot came from?”

The response from Davis was immediate.  “Not sure but he is close, break.  Sounds like he is just on the other side of the road, over.”

Sean rolled over to his side and yelled to Jim. “Get on the CB and call for the Sheriff.”  Not too far away, Hooker popped up and reached into the back of a pickup and pulled out the RPD.  He ducked back down to the grass.  Just a second or two later, two more bullets snapped through the air over their heads.  Jim opened the door to his truck, reached up into the cab of his truck and got a hold of the CB microphone and started relaying information on the emergency channel.  Laying on the ground, Raymond rolled onto his side to face Sean.  “They are shooting at you!”

“What makes you think they are shooting at me? They could be shooting at you, or anybody else here for that matter.”

“Why would they shoot at me,” Raymond asked.  His face was pale making him look even younger than he already was.

“Just sit tight here,” Sean said.  “I’ll explain later.”

There were more gunshots.  Six of them broke in rapid succession.  Three went into the big white Grass Roots van making a whacking sound as they punched through the sheet metal of the van’s body.   The other three went wild, zinging through the air.

“Got him,” the radio crackled.  “Across the road, looks like an old tool shed or something, just by the tree line. Maybe 300 meters away from you.”

“You sure?”

“Saw him kick up dust the last time he shot.”

Hooker also had a radio on and shouted the information to the rest of the group so Sean didn’t have to.  “Tool shed to the west across the road.  Up near the tree line.”  Several of Sean’s men started crawling through the dew covered grass and weeds to their left and right, spreading out from each other.  Jim could tell they were moving into positions so they could make an assault on whoever was shooting at them. Sean raised his head up through the grass just enough to get a look.  “I see about a dozen sheds,” he said into the radio.

“Standby,” came the response.  Davis reached into an ammunition pouch on his belt and drew a magazine for his carbine out.  He could tell which magazine he was reaching for by feel, because he wrapped a strip of rough and gritty skateboard tape along its base.  At the same time he drew the one magazine, he ejected the one already in his rifle.  In an instant, he had the new magazine in, put the old magazine into the cargo pocket on his trouser leg, the spoke into the radio again.  “On my tracers…”

Bright streaks of red from the magazine full of tracer rounds arced out across the road and impacted into one of the sheds. Davis didn’t fire quickly, just a round every other second, so that everybody could see where he was shooting and so he wouldn’t empty the magazine of tracer rounds too quickly.  Another loud report of outgoing rifle fire cracked from out of the shed.  This time Hooker answered with a short burst from the RPD.  The rounds kicked up dirt just in front of the shed.  Hooker adjusted the elevation and fired a second burst, this one smashed into the front of the shed and splintered several of the boards that made up the shed walls.

“Hooker’s on target,” Davis said over the radio.  His tracer fire had stopped, but now everybody could hear the distinct, heavier report of Cody firing his M1A.  He fired into the shed, not quickly, but steadily, one shot every few seconds.  As Cody fired, Davis scanned the shed with the scope on his carbine. When he heard Cody stop firing, he resumed firing with his carbine, allowing Cody the chance to reload and scan as well. In this manner they kept a steady stream of fire going into the shed without wasting ammo. While Cody and Davis shot, Sean and the others got up and started moving towards the shed, bent forward at the waist and staying as low to the ground as they could.  They moved in a line that faced the old tool shed, spreading out to the left and right as they moved.  Hooker and his RPD were off to the edge of the line of advancing men, that way he’d have the best angle to lay fire into the shed without firing into his own men.  The idea was for Cody and Davis to pin down whoever was in the shed, while everybody else advanced, eventually moving to positions around the shed to cut off the escape of whoever was inside or storm it.  The combined efforts of Sean’s men put the shooter in a dilemma. If they stayed and kept shooting they risked being surrounded by the advancing line of infantry.  If they tried to run they would be exposed to the fire from Cody and Davis.  

Whoever was in the shed must have known they were in a precarious position when they saw the line of gunmen advancing and heard the smack of rounds punching through the walls.  When the line of advancing men was less than 200 meters away from the shed, there came the high pitched whine from inside the shed.  Sean’s men could hear the unmistakable sound of a dirt bike engine starting and then revving up.  The whine peaked, and tufts of bluish grey smoke rose from behind the shed.  

The radio crackled again with Davis’s voice.  “He lit out on a bike Boss.  We couldn’t get a shot off.”

“We’ll sweep the shed anyway” Sean answered. “Cover us, and watch the tree-line.”  A search of the shed produced little, but Sean and the others did not expect much.  Inside the shed was a handful of spent .30-06 shells and the smell of gasoline and engine oil.  Somebody had knocked out several boards from the back of the shed to accommodate the quick getaway on the bike.  Whoever the shooter was, he left no clues to his identity, target or motives.  Somebody pocketed the spent brass to be reloaded.  It was during the search that a Sheriff’s vehicle pulled up.  Sean recognized the deputy, but didn’t know his name.  The deputy wore a Kevlar helmet and a bulky suit of body armor.  In addition to his sidearm, he carried a Heckler and Koch assault rifle.  Pouches carrying the extra magazines for his rifle and pistol were sewn into the body armor’s outer nylon shell.  The deputy wore no name tapes or anything else that could be used to identify him personally.  Doing so was unwise.  If a criminal could find out who the deputy was, they could find out who the deputies family was.  That wasn’t good.  The deputy took a report, but it was a cursory gesture.  He was just going through the motions.  Whoever had done the shooting was long gone.  Spending time combing through the woods to find the shooter might result in something, but most likely would just result in wasted time.  Times being what they were, it wasn’t worth the time or the resources.  Sean and the others walked back the FEMA camp and the Grass Roots people.

“Do you really think he was shooting at us,” Raymond asked when they got back.  His face was still pale.  He was obviously shaken up.  Sweat beaded along his forehead.

“Well, the only thing that got hit was your van,” Hooker said.  Folding up the legs of his light machinegun and setting it in the back of his truck. “He might have been a bad shot, but not so bad that he’d hit your van three times when he was aiming for something else.”

“But why would somebody try to shoot us,” Raymond implored.  “We’re only trying to help.  We’re trying to make things right.”

“Help who?  Make things right for whom? Look, I’m sure there are a lot of people who agree with your policies, but there are plenty who don’t.  Around here your ‘help’ has done nothing but cause people misery.  People around here don’t view the government as helpful right now, they only see it as greedy or incompetent.  People lost their businesses, people starved, had family and friends die or get murdered, all because the government tried to help.  People don’t want the government’s help, they want the government to stay the hell out of their lives and out of the way.   They want the government to stop doing what it thinks it should do for the sake of fairness and progress and all the other buzz words that get tossed around, because every time they do things don’t get better, they get worse.”

“So people don’t trust us? Don’t trust their own government?”

“How can they trust you?  Grass Roots is a quasi-government agency, that is answerable only to the White House and executes whatever Executive Orders come their way.  Where is that authorized in the Constitution?  How does that coincide with the intent of our founding fathers?  

Raymond didn’t answer, so Sean answered for him.

“This is the United States of America, and I, a civilian, had to build my own little private army to keep my family and friends safe.  I have to drive around in a convoy because people want to kill me, because if they kill me, it will be easier for them to pick apart the community I’ve created. So no, I don’t trust the government anymore.  I can’t afford to.  It isn’t safe for me, or my family, or the people I’m responsible for, if I put my trust in you.  There is a saying about trust, that it is hard to gain and easy to lose.  Well people around here don’t trust the government anymore.  They only see it as serving its own ends at the expense of the private citizen. So why not take a few pot shots at the local Grass Roots people?”

“But we’re only trying to help.”

“Help who?  You are helping one group of people by punishing another.  You are helping ‘them’ by taking from us.  And the sad fact is, no matter how much help you give them, it is never enough.  You can’t take things away from one group of people, things they earned through their time and effort, and expect them to be happy about it, no matter how you dress it up with all this talk about fairness or equality or progress or social responsibility.  At the end of the day, you are taking something from somebody who earned it, and giving it to somebody who not only didn’t earn it, but will also squander it away.  Is that fair?  Do you really think you’re going to take all these people out of your camps and they going to be productive farms?”

Before anybody could answer, Sean turned and headed towards his truck.

“When this little utopia comes crashing down around you, don’t be surprised.”
––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
On the ride back Jim only asked Sean one question.

“Boss, if they are expecting this valley to flood pretty soon, why would Grass Roots want to start moving people into it?”

Sean said he didn’t have an answer, but he thought it was an excellent question.
Link Posted: 6/21/2009 12:36:52 PM EDT
[#13]
Great chapter.  Keep it coming I need my next fix.
Link Posted: 6/22/2009 2:08:44 PM EDT
[#14]
Great job.... Can't wait for moar!
Link Posted: 6/28/2009 1:52:34 AM EDT
[#15]
more please
Link Posted: 6/30/2009 2:43:26 PM EDT
[#16]
Originally Posted By sharkman6:
I'll finish off chapter 6 this weekend.

Don't know if you all read this off the web, or cut and paste it into a doc.  Either way, if you want changes to the format let me know.



My vote would be to space the paragraphs out so it's easier to read.

Sometimes I copy into Word, sometimes not all depends.

Oh yeah, keep it up.  I like it.

Link Posted: 7/7/2009 4:37:51 PM EDT
[#17]
Sharkman6, How about another chapter soon????   Been waiting for Chapter 7.  Great story.  Thanks for your efforts.

Link Posted: 7/8/2009 1:31:50 AM EDT
[#18]
I need more soon.  Great story, this might be the most realistic thing I've seen on this board. Keep it coming.
Link Posted: 7/15/2009 10:14:15 PM EDT
[Last Edit: sharkman6] [#19]
Chapter 7:  Coronation

Chris Lindsey watched the fighting from a rooftop.  Platoons of infantry had occupied the street just across from him and were firing across another street into several buildings occupied by the enemy.  The battle was waging across a front of about 300 meters, with the friendly and enemy forces only about 50 meters apart, and was centered on an apartment complex that the enemy had turned into a strongpoint.  One of the friendly platoons was moving into a warehouse and firing at an angle into the apartment building, cutting off the retreat of the enemy.  The fighting had gone on most of the morning, with a lot of shooting back and forth across the dusty trash strewn streets, but so far, nobody on their side had been so much as scratched.  The way things were going, the enemy, which couldn’t have number more than two dozen at the most, would be surrounded in an hour at most.  A few blocks away, Chris heard the winding and squeaking sounds of friendly tanks coming up to support the attack.

But even though the battle was going well so far, Chris was worried.  A pair of jets were circling above through the cloudless blue sky.  They turned in lazy circles, like birds of prey, waiting for an opportunity to swoop down into the fray.  They had been on station for about 20 minutes, eager to get in the fight, but the close proximity of the friendly troops to the enemy troops made their heavy 1,000 pound bombs to risky.  As a Forward Air Controller, or FAC, was Chris’s job to ensure that their aircraft supported the efforts of the men on the ground, and so far it wasn’t happening, twice now he’d had to call off the aircraft as they looped around into attack runs.  They were driven by some overeager desk jockey in the rear who wanted to fight from behind a desk and computer from somewhere far away, and some other overeager person in the front of the fight, whose desire to drop bombs had blinded him to the fact that that if any bombs were dropped, their effect would spill over onto friendly troops.  For all their technological might, the jets would provide no help in this fight. It was a dilemma that as a FAC Chris had to consider often.  If the air support came in, it was very likely that their fire would hit friendly troops.  If the friendly backed off to make room for the air, the enemy would get room to breathe and to sneak off.

Chris’s assistant, a young kid from Alabama who spoke with a southern twang too stereotypical to be anything but authentic, pointed at the sky.  The aircraft had broken from their lazy loop and were turning to get some distance to make a run.  From a bank of four different radios lined along the high wall circling the roof top, Chris could hear somebody giving the pilots instructions.  
“Tell them to abort!”  Chris yelled and he and his assistant grabbed the handset of each radio, screaming into it and listening for a response.  There was none.  The back and forth dialogue between the pilot and whoever was calling in the mission continued.  Chris dug into his pack and pulled out a couple of smoke grenades and flares, signaling devices he’d use to try and get the planes to stop their attack.

“I got them on VHF,” his assistant called.  “I can hear ‘em but can’t talk to ‘em!” Chris grabbed the handset just in time to catch the last few phrases.  “Roger… Inbound…” Chris looked up and saw the two planes hit the gas and then move in an oblong loop to get room to make their run.  “Shit,” he yelled.  It was his job to make sure what was happening right now never happened.  In fact, as the FAC, what was happening right now was his worst nightmare.  It was his job to ensure this didn’t happen, and now it was unfolding before him in painfully slow motion. Chris grabbed another radio and put that handset to one ear while listening to the second handset on his other ear.  “Abort! Abort! Abort!  You have friendly troops in the danger area!” There was no answer on the one radio, on the other radio he could hear somebody talking to the pilots.  One of the platoon leaders to his front was calling in the air, oblivious to the fact that he was maybe 50 meters from the target his was directing them on.  “Abort! Abort!  You are not cleared to drop!”  

Chris grabbed a smoke grenade, pulled the pin and tossed it.  The grenade buzzed and hissed and after a few small sparks it slowly began to issue smoke, but too slowly.  Chris’s assistant popped the pin on the other grenade, then began firing flares with reckless abandon.  The two planes were now about to begin their runs, one close and making its approach, the second further back and higher, but only seconds behind the first.  Chris could tell by the way the plane was lined up on the target that his firing run would defiantly spill over onto the friendly troops in the warehouse.
“ABORT,” Chris yelled again.

Chris grabbed a flare. The smoke was coming, but not fast enough or thick enough.  From his handset, he could hear the idiot talking to the pilot.  The first plane was now low and moving fast.  Dropping the handset to the ground, Chris climbed up on to the top of the wall, the adrenaline in his system cancelling out the weight of the armor and gear he wore.  The plane was close, only seconds to spare. Chris fired the flare.  It rocketed up high and burst into a fiery red ball right in line with the nose of the oncoming jet. The plane hit its afterburners and climbed, banking hard to the right to avoid enemy fire, whose tracers chased after it in vain.  The ordnance loaded underneath its wings hung in place.  Chris followed the jet’s path as it tore through the sky. Relieved, he enjoyed his view of the grey dart until it got lost in the haze of the sky.

Chris breathed a heavy sigh then turned around just in time to see the second jet come in and release its bombs on to the warehouse and the friendly troops inside.


Chris woke in a panic, turned to see where he was, and immediately recognized his own bedroom he calmed himself down.  Sleeping next to him was his wife.  He knew she was awake, even though she was pretending to be asleep.  He knew his nightmares always woke her up, but she always pretended to sleep through them.  He rolled over and kissed her gently on the cheek, then got up and went to the bathroom.  

The sun had not risen yet, and because the sun had not risen, the power had not come on. Progress.  Chris grabbed a reed lamp and lit it.  A medieval invention designed to save candles, the reed lamp was a metal device designed to hold a reed dipped in oil then lit at both ends to provide light.  This one had even been modified, backed by a piece of mirror that reflected and focused the wavy, smoky, oily light.  Under its flickering light, Chris checked his face in the mirror.  Then he looked into his own eyes.  The one on the right was slightly larger than the one on the left. It wasn’t much, and unless you were looking for it, you’d never see it, especially not with the beard.  But Chris knew the difference between the two, just as he knew there were still some tiny pieces of debris, too small to see with the human eye, embedded in the back of his own eye in what the doctor called the vitreous humor.  On his last tour in Iraq, he had been walking down a dirt road along a canal when the earth underneath him erupted.  An improvised explosive device made up of an artillery shell hooked up to a cordless phone base station and motorcycle battery was buried in the road. When the shell detonated, the blast engulfed Chris; picking him up and tossing him into a wall so hard that when he stood back up his eye had been knocked out of its socket and hung out of his head by the optical nerve.  It was swinging back and forth under his cheek when the Marines and Navy Corpsman got to him. The damage to his eye wasn’t enough to make him blind; he could still see well enough to do most things. Unfortunately, flying for the Marines wasn’t one of them.  Chris spent a while recovering from his injury, then managed a desk until his medical retirement from the Marines came through.  Unfortunately, his retirement came the same time as The Seizure.  

And now he was here. Iraq was long time ago but the nightmares that woke him from his sleep hadn’t gone away. In recent days, they had become more frequent and more intense.  Chris didn’t need a doctor to tell him he was suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD.  He knew it. And Chris also knew he wasn’t the only one who was suffering from it.  Davis had been diagnosed as well.  The gunman they called Ivan rarely spoke, unless it was business.  That could be just the way he was, or it could be something else. Even Sean would get more aloof and withdrawn some times when they convoyed around the county.  Having a score of combat veterans all organized and working together had many advantages, but that combat experience came with a price.  PTSD was just one of the many harsh realities that they had to deal with, just like the lack of electricity or the constant worry about food.

Chris was pretty sure that the reason his nightmare had been getting worse was because things in the county were getting stranger and stranger.  Many things were going on and they weren’t adding up.  The path this country was one seemed to be headed in one of three directions: a failed state, a socialist tyranny, or civil war.  As a Marine, Chris had visited many countries which would fit into those categories, and he was never impressed.  America was supposed to be different from other countries, and it was those difference that made America great.  Why was it that so many people who championed diversity, wanted America to be just like every other country in the world. The argument that “the rest of the world is doing it,” was used to champion so many programs: Government run healthcare, the Value Added Tax, Cap in Trade.  The country was founded by people who didn’t want America to be just like the rest of the world.  Over 200 years later and the fact that America wasn’t just like the rest of the world was seen as a negative.

And as the nation turned down a road with the catch-all label of progress, the results weren’t just limited to Washington D.C. or some other far away part of the country.  There were very real effects at the local level that they were forced to come to terms with.  It seemed like every day they had to run somewhere to meet with somebody to discuss some new crisis that had its roots in the government and its embrace of the principals of progress.  Even today, Sean and the others would be heading out at the request of James Pritchard to witness his assumption of the office of the county executive.

But Chris wouldn’t be going on this trip.  He and Sean had talked it over, and with so much going on, they decided it was a good idea if they didn’t travel together unless absolutely necessary.  As the second in command, one of Chris’s primary duties was to be in a different place if Sean got killed. That way there would be some continuity of leadership.  So Sean and the others would attend tonight’s meeting, which was fine with Chris.  He didn’t like these county meetings, and he had a meeting of his own to go to tonight.

––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––­–––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––­–––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––­––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––-

“So what did you find out,” Congressman Pritchard asked into the phone.  He was talking to his contact in the Department of Defense.  His new office was set up in the top floor of the hotel that had been used for the county meeting earlier.  Today the hotel would hold another meeting, where it would be announced that the former Congressman was now the de facto head of the county.  As had been promised, the old county head had stepped down to take the lucrative position of Washington State’s “Compassion Czar,” whatever that meant.  After all the Czar positions had been established at the Federal level by the White House, many states followed suit.  California had the most, which included a Czar for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender issues whose operating budget was paid for by a special ‘bias’ tax leveled against  Catholic and Mormon Churches in that state. James Pritchard wondered if he’d be able to appoint Czars at his level once his consolidation of power was complete.  It would be a good way to reward those who supported him politically.

“What did I find out?  Not much juicy.  The Major who is running the Marine Detachment is career military.  Infantry officer, with multiple tours overseas.  He saw combat tours as a platoon commander, company commander, and as a Battalion Executive Officer.  Naval Post Graduate School.  Bronze Star. His fitness reports all look good.  It looks like he’d be a Lieutenant Colonel if it wasn’t for the slowdown in promotions.”

“What about the others?”

“Okay. Chris Lindsey.   Also a Marine. Helicopter pilot: Cobras.  He was promoted to major before he was discharged on a medical retirement. Looks like his last combat tour he was injured pretty bad, bad enough that he couldn’t serve any longer.  Air Medals, Combat Action ribbon, Navy Commendation Medal with a ‘V’ device for valor from when his was a Forward Air Controller with the Infantry.  Another good record all around.”

“Okay,” James said.  “What about the last one.”

“Right, Bastle comma Sean.  Not much on him. Another Marine. Started out enlisted, later became an officer.  Also infantry.  Not much else there.  Lots of pages in his record book are missing, or out of order.  It doesn’t look like he was in the Marines for too long.”

Pritchard asked, “How far did he get?”

“Can’t tell,” the voice on the phone answered. “Captain at least, maybe Major.  He’s got a combat action ribbon and a couple Iraqi campaign medals.  No fitness reports I could find.”

James thought for a few seconds.  “He wasn’t some kind of black ops guy was he?”

“No. I thought that too when I saw how many holes were in his record book.  But, I called around the Marine Corps Special Operations community and they never heard of him.  Same with the special operations communities in the other branches.  Not special ops, not recon.  It looks like this is just a case of bad record keeping.”  What the voice on the other end of the phone didn’t say was that there were a lot of personnel files that had gone missing throughout all the branches of the military as well as the Veterans Administration.  The FBI was conducting an investigation into allegations that the military and the VA were hiding personnel files in order to keep elements of the federal government from accessing that information.

James wasn’t satisfied with that answer.  “Keep digging on Bastle.  Can you send me the files you have on the others?”

“No problem. Your fax-line is secure right?”

“Of course. How is everything going on the beltway?”

The voice took awhile to answer.  “It is busy.  Very busy.”

“I’m sure it is.  Are you still coming out here?”

“Yes sir. I guess I’ll be there around Christmas.”

“Okay, see you then,” James answered and hung up the phone.  He swiveled his office chair around to look out the bay window behind him and catch a view of the sound.  He could have taken the old county executive office in the county administration buildings, but the view from up here was so much better.  It had the additional bonus in that the hotel also housed the Grass Roots offices and the newly forming Progressive Auxiliary.  James felt much safer amongst the Grass Roots activists and the paramilitary looking members of the Progressive Auxiliary than he did amongst the other government administrators whose commitment to the policies of Progress were less clear.

His enjoyable viewing of the sound was broken by a knock on the door. “Come in,” the Congressman said, swiveling back around in his office chair to face the door.

The door was opened by a pair of Maysville Police Officers, one of which carried a riot gun and the other carried a compact submachine gun.   In walked a tall slim man in an impeccably tailored suit.  It was the new hatchet man that Steven Grant had sent him.

“How is everything going out there Malik? Will everything be ready for the announcement tonight?”

The man nodded.  Malik King Jackson was a man who spoke little but got a lot done.  He was on the back side of middle aged, with dark skin that belied his mixed heritage.  His mother had been a white graduate student at the time she met his father, a member of the Black Panther Party who raised money by giving speeches at colleges.  When Malik was still a baby, his father was killed in a car accident.  Not too long after that the novelty of having a baby wore off for his mother so she put him up for adoption.  The one good thing about his mother was that her family was rich.  When Malik turned 18 he found himself the beneficiary of a trust that his blood relatives had set aside for him to go to college. Malik never knew if the money had been set aside out of love or guilt, and frankly he didn’t care.  He was given an opportunity and he wasn’t going to let it slip away.

In college, Malik gradually made his way to the many left leaning political groups. It wasn’t that he was particularly excited about politics parse, but he was interested in the money to be made in politics.  Malik was a capitalist, and realized quickly that politics was a good way to make money.  But instead of selling goods to consumers who paid for them with their hard earned money, you sold programs to politicians who paid for it with easily acquired tax dollars, or well meaning rubes with more money and compassion than common sense.  After college, he started a career in politics, but never as an elected official.  Instead he got involved in things like activism and lobbying, working on staffs, remaining on the sidelines where he could still enjoy the benefits of political successes without the many disadvantages that come with being in the spotlight.

“Everything is going according to plan.”

“Good, very good.  Listen.  After the ceremony there is one person I want to meet right away.  Make sure you find him and get him up here once it is over.  We have some business to discuss.”

––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––­–––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––­–––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––­––

From inside an abandoned house with a clear view of the front of the hotel, Cody and Davis watched every move that took place at the hotel’s entrance.  Davis took it all in through the scope on his big .338 rifle.  Beside him, Cody surveyed the scene through a pair of binoculars.  He kept his scoped M1A was just in front of him so he could drop the binoculars and pickup the rifle with minimal effort.  Also next to them was the RPD machine gun.  It had no scope, but it was setup on its bipod and further stabilized with some sandbags.  They could easily use the machinegun to pepper the front of the hotel with bullets, should the need arise.  Behind them another vet, nicknamed grandpa for his age, watched the other way to ensure nobody snuck up behind them.

“There they are,” Cody said.  Through his binoculars he could see the convoy of Toyota trucks pull into the parking lot of the hotel. The hotel had changed since the earlier meeting.  There were less privately owned vehicles in the lot than at the county meeting earlier. But there were more government vehicles.  White vans and black and blue SUVs.  There were even two armored vehicles; newly refurbished squat four wheeled Fiat 6616 armored scout cars.  The weapons had been removed from the turrets, but a dark blue paints scheme had been added as well as the Maysville police logo.  From the roof, workmen were installing heavy steel screens about two feet off the windows of the upper floors.  In front of the entrance to the hotel, the Maysville police had set up a check point with metal detecting wands.  They were searching everybody coming in, and out of the hotel.  

The convoy of trucks parked in their neat and organized line, and then the riders got out.  Most stayed by the trucks, but a group of six organized themselves and moved towards the main entrance of the hotel.  From their perch, Cody and Davis easily recognized the formation they moved in.  Sean and Hooker were in the center, with a single man in front, behind, and to each side of them. They moved confidently to the hotel entrance.

“Let’s see what happens,” Davis said to Cody when the formation neared the police checkpoint.  As the men neared, two police officers stepped out to bar their path.  

“You’ll have to surrender your weapons to come inside.”

The men turned to Sean.  He thought in over for a second then spoke.  “Okay, back to the trucks.  Let’s get out of here.”  He and his men turned around.  The two police officers looked at each other perplexed. Then one stepped forward and shouted.

“Where are you going?”

“You said we have to surrender our guns or we can’t come in.  Well, we aren’t surrendering our guns, so we just won’t go in.”

“But, you can’t, you’re supposed to be here,” the officer said.  Sean shrugged, and then turned around.  The police officers weren’t sure what to do.  They could keep the gunmen from coming in, but they couldn’t easily make them turn in their weapons and come in.  

“Wait!”

Sean turned around again to face the hotel.  Coming out towards him, but still on the other side of the police check point, came the short round form of Hugh Bowden.  He was flanked on each side by another man in the Progressive Union windbreaker that served as their uniform.  Although on the opposite side of the police search area, Sean and the others could tell that all of them had pistols tucked into the waistbands of their pants.  Hooker stepped in front of Sean and squared himself off against one of the union goons.  He brought the edge of the butt of his shotgun into the pocket of his shoulder, but still keeping the barrel pointed to the deck.  In his mind, Hooker visualized himself bringing the gun up, firing on the first goon, then swinging to his right to engage the others one by one.  The other gunmen did the same, with one of the men on the flanks turning to face towards the Maysville Police Officers, his assault rifle at the ready.  Sean, who carried only a clip board stood nonchalantly and faced down the union man.

“You wait right there, we have things to talk about.”

“I’m not going to argue with you. You don’t like what I did to your men, and then you do something about it.”

One of the Maysville police officer’s slid his hand down and as quietly as he could, broke the thumb-break on his holster.  He was no stranger when it came to the mechanics of a gun-battle, and he could tell that if things went bad, they would be bad really quick.  Each of Sean’s men had aligned themselves on an intended target, standing in a manner so that the ballistic plates in their body armor would give them maximum protection and they’d have the greatest ease in employing their weapons.   And while the police officers had some long weapons close by, Sean security detail had their rifles and shotguns in hand, ready to be put into action. Even if those assault rifles weren’t full capable of fully automatic fire, which they probably were, the few police at the checkpoint didn’t stand a very good chance.  But what the officer couldn’t see was that Davis had his rifle positioned on Hugh Bowden, the crosshairs of the scope aimed to put one of the heavy rounds right under his nose and into the union man’s brain stem.  Next to him, Cody focused on the clipboard in Sean’s hand.  If Sean tossed it aside, that was the pre-arranged signal to open fire.

“Clipboard,” Davis asked.

“He still has it,” Cody replied.  Then said to Grandpa, “Get ready to skin out in a hurry. This may be get hot.”

The standoff continued for a few more seconds that stretched into painfully long eternities.  It was the long slim form of Malik Jackson who broke the deadlock. Striding confidently out of the building and up to the scene, he spoke to the police officers with a voice that was calm but firm.  “Let them in, guns and all.”  Then turning to face Hugh Bowden he said, “Go in there and find your seat.”

It was obvious that Hugh didn’t like what he heard, but he turned and went through the doors of the hotel, his goons in tow.  Malik watched him leave.  Once Hugh was gone he looked Sean up and down, and without saying a word, headed into the hotel himself.

When they made their way into the conference room that would be used for James Pritchard’s inauguration to the head of the county, Sean took a seat in the back row of chairs, with Hooker and Jim beside him.  The others took places around the room where they could best keep an eye on things, particularly anything were the symbols of the Progressive Union. After surveying the room for awhile, something caught Hooker’s attention.

“Notice anything different,” Hooker asked, leaning over to Sean and Jim as he did so.

“Yeah, I saw it,” Sean replied, a slight tone of disgust in his answer.  Jim turned to them and gave them a quizzical look.  “Take a look at the flags,” Sean said.

On the stage behind the podium stood several standards, each in a big brass base that held their staffs upright; the national ensign, the state flag and the county flag.  This was normal.  But what was not normal was a new flag that stood in the position of honor next to Old Glory.  It was a simple flag; a field of blue with a single white five-pointed star in the center.  This new flag was the standard of ‘Progress’ and all that that idea stood for.  Jim took it in a nodded to the others that he understood.  There were other symbols of progress around the room, such as posters advertising Grass Roots programs, public service displays, and recruitment posters for this new quasi-official arm of the government, the Progressive Auxiliary.  But, the fact that a standard representing a political line of thinking was placed next to the standard of the nation was disconcerting to those who could understand what connotations such a subtle move could mean.  Sean leaned back against the back of the chair until he could feel the steel of the slim pistol in the small of his back press against him.  In light of the new flag on stage, the steel he carried on him felt unusually reassuring.
 
It was then that two men walked on stage.  When they did the two front rows of the audience rose to their feet, followed by the rest of the room.  The two men headed to the podium at the center of the stage while a host of hangers-on filed in to stand behind them. One of the two men was Congressman Pritchard. The other was some Washington State official of some sort or another.  There were some photographers in the front of the room who snapped away pictures.  When the audience sat back down, the second man spoke.

“Good evening.  For those of you who may not know me, I am John Bailey, the Washington State Transparency Czar.  The Governor wanted to be here this evening, but she was not able to make it due to other commitments.  As I am sure you all know, the former County Executive has left office to fill the post of the Washington State Compassion Czar.  To fill this vacancy, the Governor has appointed former U.S. Congressman James Pritchard as the new county executive for this county in the great state of Washington State…”

The speaker droned on about the Congressman’s illustrious past as a servant of the people and all the other pleasantries.  Jim leaned over to Sean and whispered, “Can the Governor actually due this?

“No.  According to the county charter, the assistant executive is to step up to the position until another election can be held.  The governor can’t give an executive one job, and then appoint somebody to take their place.”

“So how is this even possible?”

“The government, or I guess the party, knows they can basically do whatever they want.  So that is what they are doing.”

That’s bullshit,” Jim whispered as the droning continued.

On the stage, a judge came forward in her solemn black robes to administer the oath of office to the new county executive. She asked everyone to stand, which they did, and then she had James Pritchard take the oath of office by repeating the oath after her, line for line. James Pritchard gave the oath of office, pledging to support and defend the constitution of the United States, the State of Washington, and the County Charter (ironic, since what was taking place was in violation of the county charter).  But what was odd was the last part of the oath.  At the end, when the speaker normally said, “so help me god,” instead, the new county executive said, “Long live the principals of progress, and long live these American states.”  Jim, who had never taken an oath of office in his life, knew this was out of place. He turned to face Sean and saw eyes filled with rage.  As others around the room stood and gave their applause, Sean looked like he was about to jump up on stage and beat everyone there to death.

The oath complete, James turned to the audience, and, after the applause died and everybody took their seats, began to give a short speech.  He talked about the future and the way forward; how the county’s citizens had overcame obstacles in the past and would do so again in the future.  It was the typical meaningless speech that politicians always gave on such occasions; much feel good rhetoric but very little of substance.  When he finished, everybody stood again and there were more applause while James Pritchard walked off the stage, shaking hands as he went.  It was while James was making his exit that Malik walked up to Sean and the others.  He almost smiled as he spoke.

“Mr. Pritchard would like to speak to you upstairs.”

Sean turned to his men. “Hooker, go outside and tell the guys I’ll be out in a few.  Jim, let’s go.”  
Malik held up his arm.  “Just you.”

Sean shrugged.  “If he doesn’t go, then I don’t go either.”

Malik turned to Jim and looked him up and down, sizing him up. “Okay,” Malik said.  “He can come to.  Let’s go.” With that he cocked his head to the side indicating which way to go.  They walked past police who guarded the corridors and elevators.  After a ride to the penthouse and a walk past more guards, Malik, Jim and Sean walked into the office of the Congressman turned county executive.  Also in the office were the county treasurer and two members of the county council. James smiled when Sean and Jim entered the room.  Greeting him warmly, James made a little bit of small talk with Sean before shooing the other politicians out the room.

“Whisky,” The politician offered.

Sean nodded.  “Sure,” he answered. “Why not?”  When Sean got the glass he handed it to Jim, and then waited for a second glass for himself.  The whisky was good, but they obviously weren’t there to sample whisky. Sean and James looked at each other without speaking.  This was the awkward silence before they finally got to business.  Sean had a lot of things he’d have liked to have said to the politician, but he kept his mouth shut to let James make the opening move.

“I know you are a busy man, so I’ll get down to it.  These are trying times, not just for this nation, but for this county too. We have flu outbreaks, flooding, unemployment and crime.  In times like these, I could use the support of somebody like you.”

“Why me?”

James smiled. This was a chance to appeal to the Warlord’s vanity.  “You’re smart, your capable, you’ve built your own independent community out there.  You’ve got the support and respect of the farmers and some of the county’s business leaders.  After dispatching those gang members you’re a legend around here.  I think if we worked together it would be a real benefit to both of us.”

Sean sat, unmoved.  “There wasn’t an election; you were just given the office. So, I’ve got my doubts you are worried about a re-election.  So if we aren’t talking votes, what kind of support are we talking about?”

“I’m talking about somebody who can get things done for me, like with that gang of outlaws you took care of.  That was very nicely done.  Somebody with your abilities would be a real asset to me and the people of this community. It’s important for me to have somebody who can work from the sidelines and get things done quickly and quietly.  Bypass the red tape so to speak.”

Sean knew he wasn’t going to get any specific information out of James, just the usual meaningless and abstract language politicians use. So he came to the point.  “If you want my support, then I want some things first. The Sherriff is woefully short on deputies.  We still have outlaws running around and perhaps another major criminal gang coming into the area.  The Sherriff needs more deputies.  The people in this county who live outside of Maysville need the protection, so let’s start with that.  And before you protest about budgets or anything like that, let me say that if the Maysville PD can get those armored cars out there, I’m sure it will be no problem for you to get Sherriff Maltby a few more deputies.”

James nodded.  “Easily done.  I’m sure I can pull some strings.  Is there anything else?”

“Yes. Two things.  We drove past one of the government seizure lots and there were some fuel trucks sitting in there.  Three small 2,800 gallon International’s.  I want them.”  Sean turned to look at Malik with cold eyes and then turned back to James.  “I know it is not legal for me to own these trucks, but I don’t care.  I need them, and they aren’t doing anybody any good rusting in some impound lot.”
 
“I’m sure we can arrange something,” James said.  

“I’d like to pick them up tomorrow,” Sean replied quickly.  “Can that be done or do I have to wait for red tape to clear.”

James turned to look at Malik, who easily picked up on the politician’s body language.  “Done,” Malik said to Sean.  “Pick them up first thing. I’ll see to it they are ready for you.”

“Grand,” James said, standing up and grabbing the bottle of Scotch to freshen up his drink.  “Now what was the last thing?”

“Hugh Bowden and his union people.  Keep them away from me and away from the farmers in the valley.  He got his money during the flu shot business, now he needs to back off and keep quiet.  If he comes at me again I’m going to knock him down, hard, and he won't get back up.”

“Well, he does have a federal law supporting his activities.”

“That isn’t going to matter if he keeps pushing people to the point they start pushing back.  I don’t want to see a lot of violence in this county and as the newly appointed executive I’m sure you don’t either.  Get him to back down and it will do a lot to raise people’s spirits around here.”

James again turned to Malik who quickly gave a response.  “I’ll talk to him.”

“Wonderful,” James exclaimed. “I knew we could come to an understanding.”

Sean grunted, rose and downed the last of the glass.   “Well Mr. Pritchard, I’m sure you have things to do, and so do we.  We’ll be leaving now.”
“Of course, of course.  By the way, your name, Sean Bastle.  That’s an interesting name.   What does that make you? Scottish? Irish?”

Sean shook his head dismissing both.  “Neither,” he said as he walked through the door.  “I’m American.”

There was an awkward silence between Jim and Sean on the ride home.  Sean could feel the tension in the air, so after a few miles, he broke it.

“What’s up? You don’t like what took place up there.”

“I don’t like the fact the for the price of a few trucks we’re joining the side of a man who stole an elected position to do who knows what with it.”

Sean didn’t answer right away.  He sat back in his seat, listening to the drone of the tires on the pavement.  Then he asked, “Jim, what did we get tonight?”

“Some trucks.”

“Fuel trucks which we badly need.  And what did he get?

“You gave him your support.”

“No, I said I’d give him my support.  I haven’t actually given him any real support, nor do I intend to.”

“So you lied to him.”

“In war,” Sean asked, “isn’t it acceptable to deceive your enemy whenever you can?”

Jim nodded.  “It is.”

“And if you were in a war, and your enemy offered you a weapon, and assuming there was nothing wrong with it, wouldn’t you take that weapon, particularly if was a significant help to you?”

“I guess.”

“Well, that’s what those trucks are.  They are instruments I can use to gain advantage over my enemy.  War occurs on many levels, and just because there aren’t bullets flying at a particular time doesn’t mean there isn’t conflict going on.  A wise man wrote that ‘war is diplomacy by another means.’  Maybe diplomacy is war by another means.  Diplomacy, information, economics, those are all fields which people use to fight wars.  War isn’t a part of every aspect of diplomacy, but every war has aspects of diplomacy to it.  The days when wars were fought by lining up on opposite ends of the field and hammering it out with your opponent are over.  Nowadays, they are much more complicated, especially when you have a little guy fighting against a big guy.  In fights like those, the little guy can’t defeat the big guy militarily, so he has to find other ways he can win.  He has to use the media and diplomacy.  He has to say to the world, ‘give me a few million in economic aid and I’ll stop fighting,’ then spend that money on weapons as soon as he gets it.  They play against people’s better nature.”  

“But the big guys don’t fight like that?”

“They usually don’t fight like that because they don’t recognize or don’t want to recognize that those are aspects of war.  Sometimes they don’t even want to admit a war is even taking place at all.  If I decide to go to war with you, we are at war.  You may not recognize it, you may not believe it, in fact you may out and out deny it, but we are at war.  People here adhere to a playground ‘it takes two to tango’ mentality, that if somebody wants to destroy them, but they don’t want to go to war, then somehow there isn’t a state of war going on.  That’s not how it works, never has been.  In war, it takes only one side to tango.  If I am committed to destroy your way of life, and you can’t come to terms with that fact, that isn’t my problem, that’s your problem. And the fact that you are in denial only serves to give me the advantage.  Look at September 11th. You know how many times those towers were attacked before 9/11?  Rather than come to terms with the fact that a state of war existed between the U.S and Al Qaeda, we thought we were dealing with some rag tag criminals that the FBI was going to arrest someday.  Look how that turned out.”

“So does that mean we’re at war with James Pritchard,” Jim asked.

“It means that if James and the Progress people think my loyalty can be bought for a few trucks, that is their problem, not mine.”  

“I just don’t like the idea of you making a deal with the Devil Boss.”

“I didn’t make a deal with the Devil, Jim. James Pritchard did.”[/span]
Link Posted: 7/16/2009 12:13:16 AM EDT
[#20]
Another great chapter- waiting for the tension to break!!!
Link Posted: 7/16/2009 11:45:12 PM EDT
[#21]
Thanks for the kind words. I'm glad people here are entertained, but my intent is also to illustrate some things that are really going on.

The tension will build for awhile, but when it comes to a head, it will explode.

I've got this whole book outlined out, just filling in the skeleton, and am starting to outline a second book.  I may pursue the story line into a trilogy if the interest is there.
Link Posted: 7/17/2009 8:54:30 AM EDT
[#22]
Originally Posted By sharkman6:
Thanks for the kind words. I'm glad people here are entertained, but my intent is also to illustrate some things that are really going on.

The tension will build for awhile, but when it comes to a head, it will explode.

I've got this whole book outlined out, just filling in the skeleton, and am starting to outline a second book.  I may pursue the story line into a trilogy if the interest is there.


Very nice read you've got going here. Good Job..... I can't wait to read more.
Link Posted: 7/17/2009 5:55:01 PM EDT
[#23]
Another great chapter.  Really enjoying it.  More soon please!!!!!!
Link Posted: 7/18/2009 8:42:15 AM EDT
[#24]
Thank you for the Chapter!

I am really enjoying this story.

....Mounger
Link Posted: 7/24/2009 6:46:49 PM EDT
[Last Edit: sharkman6] [#25]
Chapter 8

Sean woke before the sun was up, and together he and his wife ran a few laps around the compound they now called home.  It was a good way for both of them to relax and burn off the stresses of the day.  They did their runs early, because there was no telling where the day’s events would take them.  

After the run Sean showered.  He was lucky in that the water was running even though the power wasn’t on yet.  Then he headed over to JD’s place with its metal shop/mechanic shop/blacksmith shop. With nothing on his agenda, Sean was looking forward to spending the day working on turning pieces of metal into something usefully.  Parked on the curb in front of his house were two of the International fuel trucks.  Malik had come through for them.  The morning after the meeting with James Pritchard, they had been able to pick up a total of four of the trucks.  As soon as they left the lot, Sean went to Tien’s compound and sold Tien two trucks.  JD was going to modify those trucks just as he had with the tow truck.  The fleet was getting large.  They had the ability to recover down vehicles, they could fuel enroute, and they even got the big fuel tanks that Paul from FEMA had promised them.  Now they just needed fuel to put in them.  

In the driveway, JD was under one of Tien’s trucks and putting on a reinforced bumper.  “What’s going on,” Sean asked.

JD set a ratchet down and looked up.  “Judy came by this morning.  Tien wants this cab over done as soon as possible.  He’s got some new client in the city and needs this smaller truck to make the run.  Hooker and Jim are in the back working on something.”

Sean headed into what was once a suburban backyard but was now a series of sheds and outbuildings that housed all sorts of metal working equipment.  Jim and Hooker were in one of the buildings.  They were looking over some pieces of scrap metal.  The old RPD and a never Chinese version of an RPK sat on a workbench nearby.  Hooker and Jim looked up as Sean came inside.
“We’re looking to build some mounts for these guns so we can put them in the back of our trucks,” Hooker explained.

“Pickup trucks with machineguns mounted in the back.  That will defiantly make us 3rd world warlords,” Sean said.

“What’s up boss?”

“Nothing Jim,” Sean said. “I'm just looking to work with some metal since we don’t have any meetings today.”

As Sean broke out a diagram of the project he had been planning, Jim turned on the shop’s radio and worked the dial trying to tune in a station.  It was a long shot, but every once in awhile they were able to tune in the news from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) in the morning. Moving the radio’s needle down the dial, Jim caught a break.  The voice of the CBC’s anchor came in loud and clear.  Everybody set down their tools and moved around the radio.  Even JD who was outside heard the sound of the broadcast and came inside.

Although the border was only a few hours away, they rarely got the CBC’s radio broadcasts, especially the ones that detailed what was happening in the United States.  There were many expatriated Americans now living north of the border, and the CBC had programs that were viewed as something along the lines of a radio Free America.  The American media mostly dismissed or ignored the CBC broadcasts, except for a few radicals who accused the Canadians of spreading anti-American propaganda.  Because the broadcasts rarely came in, it was widely assumed that the U.S. government was blocking the signals.  Whether that was true or not was unknown, what was known was that they rarely got news they considered trustworthy.  So when the voice of the commentator came in loud and clear, everybody listened closely.

“…and now the international news.  India announced today it would consider the nations of Iran, Syria and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia as belligerents if they continued to provide Pakistan with material support and personnel.  A peace delegation comprised of statesman from around the world, including several former U.S. presidents was denied entry into India despite protests from both the U.N. and the European Union.  India’s Secretary of State said the delegation’s peace proposal, which included India surrendering Kashmir and paying large reparations to both Pakistan and the Islamic Union, was not worthy of discussion.  

“In Belgium, the European Union today passed a proposal that will require member states to create separate Sharia courts for its Islamic citizens.  These Islamic courts will rule on both criminal and civil matters.  This legislation would also require crimes between an Islamic citizen and a non-Islamic citizen to be tried in Islamic courts. While the passing of this legislation was hailed as a tremendous step forward in equality by some, some E.U. member states have said that this is another example of the further Islamization of the European Union.  

“With us today is one of the most controversial figures in international politics today, The Governor of Iraq’s Al Anbar province, Sheik Dulaimi.   Sheik Dulaimi was instrumental in destroying the Iraq’s insurgency during what was called the Al Anbar awakening during the United States surge in Iraq in 2007.  Since that time, Sheik Dulaimi has secured the seat of governor in one of Iraq’s largest provinces in landslide elections.  But Iraq’s neighbors call the Sheik dangerously nationalistic and isolationist.  Sheik Dulaimi also caused significant controversy when he cancelled the contract of all EU companies in his province.  Despite these many criticisms, Sheik Dulaimi has done what many thought impossible; uniting the many factions and minority groups in the one of the world’s most oil rich countries, and it is said that his election to Prime Minister of Iraq is all but certain.  

Sheik Dulaimi, welcome to the program.

“Thank you.  I am pleased to join you.” The Sheik spoke in clear English with an accent that betrayed an education in the United Kingdom which included military training at Britain’s Royal Military Academy Sandhurst.  Sheik Dulaimi  truly was every bit the controversial figure the commentator made him out to be.  He served as an officer in the Iraqi army during the Iran Iraq war. After the U.S. invasion in 2003, it was said that Sheik Dulaimi served on both sides of the insurgency until 2007 when he and the other Sheiks in the area banded together and drove out the insurgents with a variety of tactics.  During this period, the Sheik survived no less than eight assassination attempts.

After Iraq quieted down, the Sheik went into politics.  He became governor of Iraq’s Al Anbar province.  Like most political figures, the Sheiks rule was shrouded in controversy, particularly about how he made things happen.  But the results he achieved could not be denied.  He made significant improvements to the provinces infrastructure, brought basic services like water and power online, and reformed the school system.  He was a man who got things done.

The commentator continued. “Several weeks ago you canceled the contracts of EU companies and threw them out of Al Anbar province.  

“Certainly.  The European Union and its member nations had never supported the Iraqi people when we lived under Saddam’s rule.  Nor did they give us any support after Saddam was deposed and our country was fighting everyday to rebuild itself.  In fact, they openly mocked the idea of a stable and secure Iraq.  Now, we have achieved that goal.  Violence in Iraq is at all time lows, our oil and natural gas deposits are being harvested.  This year our agricultural output will reach record production.  And through this all, it was Iraqi and just a few allies who made this happen.  Now that our nation is ripe with economic opportunities, certain European elements are quick to come in and exploit those opportunities.  My memory is long, and I do not remember the EU doing anything for the Iraqi people when our nation was in turmoil. So I do not think it is fair to the people of Al Anbar for us to turn these lucrative energy contracts to nations that did nothing to help us in our hour of need.”

“You have also drawn criticism from some of your neighbors as well as the UN and the EU for your stated goal of bringing nuclear power online in Iraq should you be elected Prime Minister.”

“Nuclear power would not only solve our energy problems, but also free up more oil to be sold on the open market.”

“But you have plenty of oil?”

“Just having oil doesn’t answer a nations energy needs.  Right now we are also using hydro-electric power and solar power for our electricity needs.  Our decision to pursue nuclear power is an economic one.  The more oil we can sell, the more money we will have.  The more money we have, the more we can invest in our own infrastructure, rather than ask outsiders to build that infrastructure for us.  With our own money, we can build the technical schools and universities needed to train our children to harvest our nation’s energy, rather than asking outsiders to come in and do it for us. If you have money, you have power, you have choices.  If you have no money, if you have debt, than you do not have choices.  This is just as true for an individual as it is for a nation.  I do not share the view that debt is an asset.   I assume debts that will cripple my country for short term gains or for the personal benefit of just a few.”  
   
“But the UN has said they will instate sanctions to prevent you from developing nuclear options?”

“Yes, they have said that, but we know from experience that what the UN says and does are quite different.  Under Saddam, many sanctions were established against Iraq by the UN.  And yet, oil flowed out and weapons flowed in.  Sanctions were put in place against Iran, and once again, those sanctions were not enforced by the members who established them.  The UN is quick to pass sanctions, yet they have no teeth to enforce them.  And more than that, if it is profitable for those member nations to do business in violation of the sanctions, historically, that is what they do.  So any sanctions the UN makes against Iraq, I dismiss them entirely.  Without the United States to behind them, the UN is just a paper tiger.”

“Speaking of the United States; it is well know that you are a bit of an Amerophile.  You worked very closely with the American military during the Al Anbar Awakening in 2007, helping them to dismantle the insurgent networks in Iraq. Now, your former ally has reached record debts.  Some say they have economically collapsed to a point that they cannot recover.  There is an active domestic terrorist network in the United States, and some say that the nation that was once hailed as the most powerful on the planet is on the verge of a civil war.  Would you care to comment?

“The United States has strayed too far from its roots.  It was founded on principals of individual freedom.  That was always the source of its strength.  That was what allowed it to rise to become the most powerful nation in the world less than 200 years from its founding.  That was what gave them the power to come to Iraq, depose a vicious dictator, and create an Iraq that is run by the Iraqi people.

“But the United States has strayed much too far from those principals.  Some say they are becoming socialist, or tyrannical. What I do know is that the United States is turning into a nation its founders never intended for it to be. For the United States to deny their heritage of freedom and liberty of the individual would be like for Iraq to deny its Muslim roots.  You cannot change something into some other thing it was never meant to be and not expect conflict.”

“So you believe that some type of civil war in the United States is unavoidable?”

“As we of the Muslim faith say, Insha’Allah.  If God wills it.”

“Thank you Sheik Dulaimi.”

“Thank you for having me on the program.”

Everybody was listening to the radio as the exchange took place between the commentator and the Sheik.  For a room full of people hungry for news of the outside world, many of who had served in Iraq, it was only natural.  What Jim noticed was the way Sean sat focused intently on the radio as the interview took place.  He hung on every word that was spoken with an intensity that Jim could not see, but knew was there.  Whoever this Sheik was, it seemed to Jim that Sean though he was pretty important.

After the interview, the CBC broadcast a story about labor riots in France, and then switched to national Canadian news only to quickly fade into static.  JD adjusted the radio, but could only pick up static, the progressive news radio, and some music stations.  JD shut the radio down, put in a CD, and they all went back to work.

Before Sean could get very far on his project, Tommy Stevens, the former basketball player turned gate guard walked in.  He had an SKS rifle in one hand and an energy drink in the other.  “Sir,” he said timidly. Sean set down his tools and looked up.  

Tommy continued.  “Gerry Sheely called on the CB radio.  He is on his way in.  He wants to meet with you.”

Sean nodded.  He was hoping to get through the day without another meeting but it looked like it wasn’t going to happen.  Tommy turned to leave, but before he got out the door Sean called out to him.

“Where did you get the can of pop?”

The lean young man smiled.  “Judy gave it to me.”

“I’ll bet.  Get back to the gate.”  

“Looks like another meeting.  It doesn’t pay to be popular boss,” Jim said.

“I suppose not.  I’ll be heading down to the house Jim, why don’t you go find Davis and meet me down there.”  
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[span style='font-size: 14pt;']Inside Sean’s study, Sean Jim and Davis sat across from Gerry Sheely and a man they’d just met.  His name was Israel Moreno.  An immigrant from Venezuela and a father of four, Israel had just been relocated to an abandoned farm in the valley.  Prior to that, he’d been a resident of a Grass Roots Urban Transient Sanctuaries in Cleveland Ohio.  Israel had the look of a broken man; nervous and on edge.  He cast fearful glances at the others around the room.

“The Grass Roots moved him into the valley a couple days ago Sean,” Gerry said.  “He and his family spent over a year in one of those camps.  I figured you’d want to talk to him.”

Sean nodded.  “I would.  You were there with your family?”

Israel looked awful.  Dark rings circled his eyes.  It was obvious he was a worried man.  “My wife and daughters, and my parents were there.  We moved to America from Venezuela when the government began seizing industries.  My father insisted on it.  We ran a plantation there.    We were lucky.  We sold it and came here just before the government seized all the large scale farms. When we got to the United States, my father was too old to work.  I took the money we had and opened a fertilizer business in Ohio.  We never thought they would nationalize property in America.  I guess we were wrong.”

After everybody thought about Israel’s last statements for a few second, Jim asked, “So how did you get out of the camps?”

“I was let out on a Department of Agriculture program.  When the famine hit, the Department of Agriculture wanted to get as many people who knew how to farm out where they could grow some food.   The people who ran the camps took detailed information on everybody in there.  Stuff like their backgrounds, employment education, things like that.  Anyway, our family had a long history of farming before we came to the U.S.  So when the word got out that I could take my family and leave the camp to go farming, I jumped at the chance.  I thought they were just going to have me picking in the fields, I never thought I’d get my own land and a house.”

“So the camps were bad?”

“Yes,” Israel said. His eyes dropped to the floor and his speech got slower.   Israel explained that right after the collapse, Grass Roots had rounded up his parents.  They had been in an assisted living facility.  Israel had no idea where they were or what had happened to them.  After a few months, the camp administrators had asked his parents if they had anywhere they could go.  Naturally, they said they could stay at their son’s house on the outskirts of Cleveland.

It was then Israel learned his parent’s fate because a Grass Roots team showed up at his house.  They told Israel about his parents.  Then they said before they could let his parents out to come live with him, they had to first inspect Israel’s house to make sure the conditions were suitable. They looked at things like how many TVs they had.  How many toilets they had and what types.  What kind of heating and cooling and thermostat they had.  The Grass Roots inspectors were courteous and pleasant.  When the inspection was over, Israel was certain it would only be a matter of time before his parents would be living with him.

Only a week later, more Grass Roots arrived at his house.  But this time they came with a team of police officers.  They said that his house was environmentally unsustainable.  They said that the neighborhood was not safe.  They told Israel that he and his family had an hour to pack some bags before they were going to be evacuated to the same Urban Transient Sanctuary that his parents were in.  It was all for their safety after all.  Israel tried to protest, but it was no use.  The police were there for a reason.  They packed what they could and then were herded out into a police van.  The passenger area of the van was caged off to separate it from the driver’s area, and had doors that could only be opened from the outside. From inside the van Israel and his wife and children watched the police go inside what was once their house, take out whatever they wanted and load it into the trunks of their vehicles.

When they got to the camp, they were searched along with all their bags.  Besides their clothing, they were not allowed to take anything into the camp.  Of course, nothing that could be used as a weapon, such as multi tools or nail files could be taken into the camp.  But the inspectors also confiscated things you would not have expected them to.  Medicine, even non-prescription things like cough drops were taken on the basis that people might use them incorrectly.  Besides, there was a clinic with a pharmacy to take care of those needs. Legal documents such as birth and marriage certificates, social security cards and passports were also taken by the Grass Roots for, “safe keeping.”  Any extra food was taken, even gum and candy.  Even the extra bedding that Israel and his family brought was confiscated.  “It wouldn’t be fair for you to have more blankets than everybody else,” a smiling Grass Roots member said.  Stripped of not only their possessions, but their dignity as well, Israel and his family were herded into the general population of the Urban Transient Sanctuary.

Inside the camps, it was horrible.  Israel and his family met up with his parents.  His father was livid.  He kept going on about how this was the kind of thing he left the old country to avoid.  Not too long into their stay, Israel’s mom caught pneumonia and died.  Soon after, his father followed.  All the while, Israel had to deal with the other challenges of camp life; no privacy, thievery, armed gangs who seemed to have no trouble getting in weapons and shook others down, inadequate food and shelter. People who were obviously suffering from mental problems roamed freely among the others, often causing problems, sometimes getting violent.  Everyday his children looked sicker and skinnier.  Israel began contemplating risking the armed guards and police that monitored the camp and trying to escape.

    But after a few months, things in the camp changed, but not necessarily for the better.  The chaos ended, and the rations increased.  More armed guards showed up, not police, but the quasi-official Progressive Auxiliary. Some people in the camps were hired into the PA to police their former neighbors.  Grass Roots set up stations to process information about the people inside the camp. Every week or so, they would take some of the people out of the camp based on skill-sets.  One week, a group of people with medical training would go.  Another week people with construction skills would go.  Then the Grass Roots set up a school system in the camp.  The school project got larger, and eventually the children were separated from the adults entirely into an isolated portion of the camp.  As the children were going through their schools, the adult got classes as well.  A mandatory two-hours of “Awareness Training,” was given every day before lunch.  Issues they were made aware of ranged from the environment, Israel’s relentless oppression of the Palestinians, India’s “Hindu Crusade” against Islam, LGBT issues, the failed policies of past administrations, and everything in between.  But mostly it focused on the economic collapse at why it happened and whose fault it was.  As time went on, awareness classes went from two hours to four hours then to eight hours a day.

     The population of the camp grew as well. Even though people were being taken out of the camp based on their skill sets, more and more people came in. Some were volunteers, but most were ordered there.  Eventually everybody with agricultural skills got to leave with their families.  But when they were relocated, they all were sent to different areas than the ones they came from.  People from Ohio and other parts of the rust belt were loaded onto a train and headed to the Pacific Northwest.  On the way there they passed a train full of people from California heading to the Mid-Atlantic States.  Several times during his story, Israel got choked up and had to compose himself before continuing.

    “I had to sign a contract to come out here,” Israel coughed.  “For seven years I get to live in the house and work the land.  In return, I give 90% of what I produce to the government.  After seven years I’m free.”

    “Sounds like indentured servitude.  Do you at least get the house and land?”

    “No. The government gets to keep that.”

    “That doesn’t sound like much of a deal.”

   “It got me and my family out of the camp,” Israel said. After his explanation, everybody in the room could understand Israel’s reasoning.  

   “Concentration camps, here in the U.S.?  Who would have ever thought it,” Jim said.

   “Not concentration camps, Re-education camp,” Sean said.

   “That’s right,” Israel said. “Re-education camps.  They are preaching at you all day, non-stop with their various agendas.  Some people buy into that stuff right away.  Some people don’t at first, but after hearing the message long enough they start to believe.  Plus, the Grass Roots are genius in how they deliver their message.”

 “How is that?”

    “The conditions in the camp are bad.  Even when they got better, they were still bad.  You got enough food and it was survivable, but it is nothing like the lives people lived before they got sent there, before the seizure.  What the Grass Roots people tell everybody is that it isn’t their fault they are in the camps.  They say that the reason people are in the camps, is because of all the people outside the camps.  It is all because the people living outside the camps were greedy, or hoarders, or religious zealots, or racist, or whatever.  For the people inside the camps, all their misery, every injustice and wrong doing is laid at the feet of the people who didn’t go to the camps.”

    “And you said they get this message for several hours a day? Every day?”

   Israel nodded his head solemnly.

    “And some have been in the camp for a year or more?”

    Israel nodded again.

     Sean looked at each of his lieutenants, holding their gaze for a few seconds before turning back to Israel.  “How many people were in your camp?”

    “Had to be thousands,” Israel answered.  “At first we were in a stadium.  When that filled up they parked trailers and mobile buildings in the stadium parking lot.  When that filled up, they bulldozed some nearby buildings to make room for more trailers.”

   “And that’s just one camp Sean,” Gerry added.  The deep look of concern spread across the old farmers face. “One camp in a country full of them.

Israel started choking and tearing up. “I went into the school.  My daughter is eight years old.  Her class was making this huge banner to be displayed in the camp.  The banner read, “Capitalism Is Not a Victimless Crime.’  The children were getting the same message we were getting in our awareness training.

“The worst part is I have two teenage daughters; one 14 and the other is 12.  When it was time for us to leave, they refused to go.  They said they didn’t want to leave, they wanted to stay and be part of the Grass Roots.”

“But they’re your children.  Why didn’t you just take them?”

“The camp people told me I couldn’t.  They said that my girls were old enough to make their own decision, and if they wanted to stay and be part of the Grass Roots, I couldn’t force them to come with me.  They had fully embraced the idea of Grass Roots. Between family and progress, they chose progress.”

“You, a father, couldn’t ‘force’ your own children to be part of the family? It’s ridiculous.”

Israel couldn’t answer.  The thought of his daughters staying in the camp to be part of Grass Roots was too much for him.  He broke down completely.  Sean’s wife came into the room and helped him to his feet.  “It will be alright,” She said, walking him out the room.

When Israel left the room, Jim spoke. “That’s horrible about his daughters.”

Sean only shrugged.  “It’s nothing new.  Tyrannies typically try to destroy family units, and they typically do it by co-opting children and turning them on their parents.  Children are young and impressionable.  If you start them on an agenda young enough, and if you take the parents out of the picture, well, then they grow up not knowing anything but what the state has approved. That’s the mild option.  When they start getting children to turn their parents in for crimes, that’s when it gets really nasty.  They did this in Cambodia, in the Soviet Union, in China.  It is not unusual.  It hasn’t happened here yet.  But that doesn’t mean it won’t though.”

“There is more to all this,” Gerry said.  “He isn’t the only new neighbor in the valley.”  Gerry reached into his pocket, pulled out a digital camera, and handed it across the table to Sean. It was on and its screen showed one of the farmhouses in the valley.  The house had been abandoned earlier, but in the picture there were about eight young men hanging about in the front yard.

“Nice work,” Sean said.

Gerry nodded. “I’m learning. There are more pictures.”  Sean scrolled through the picture on the camera while Davis looked over his shoulder.  

“All males, all military aged.  No women or kids Gerry?”

“Nope, just those boys.  The Grass Roots moved them in the same time as Israel.”

“Well, they don’t look much like farmers.”

“No they don’t. Israel tried to talk to them and said they came out under another program.  Called it urban relocation, or something like that.  These guys don’t know anything about farming.  They are all inner city kids.  Some even came out of jail.  Supposedly they are supposed to come out here and learn how to farm.”

“They probably aren’t supposed to farm,” Sean said. “They are probably here to change the demographics of the neighborhood, make it friendlier to the Grass Roots and whomever.”  

“Figures,” Davis said.  “Think this is some kind of power grab Sean?”

Sean nodded.  “It has been done many times before.  You want to take an area over from some other people you don’t like; start moving in your people and see what happens.”  Sean leaned back in his chair and let out a deep sigh.  Jim watched his bosses face.  He looked tired.

“Gerry,” Sean asked.  “Can you keep an eye on these guys?” Gerry nodded.  “Be careful around them too.  Like I said, I doubt they are here to do any farming.”
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[span style='font-size: 14pt;']When Gerry left, Sean and the others had just enough time to catch their breath before another meeting kicked off.  This time it was with Doc Hyde, their medical expert.  He had just come back from a trip to the reservoirs with the Navy Sea Bees and wanted to give everybody a debriefing.

“They completed their engineering assessment,” the former Navy Corpsman said.  “The reservoirs in the mountains will hold up to what they are expecting in terms of rainfall.”

“That’s good to know.”

“Yeah, well, that isn’t the big news,” Doc Hyde said.  His face was always a bit stoic, but now a little more so than normally.  “I got a chance to talk to some of the Corpsman in the clinic at the Navy base.  They’ve been tracking the number of flu cases both on base and off.  We’re in prime flu season, and the trend is down.  In fact, its way down.  The Navy Doctor who runs the clinic has been in communication with Doctor Meadows from the county.  It is the same thing out there.  Granted, collecting data now isn’t as easy as it was a few years ago, but the data we do have doesn’t support any new flu pandemic.  Based on what we’re seeing, looks like just a mild flu season this year.”

“I guess we shouldn’t be surprised,” Davis said to nobody in particular.  

Jim asked, “Could it be because of the vaccinations?”

“Doubtful,” Doc Hyde said.  “Estimates are that less than 10% of the county’s population got these new flu shots.  And those new flu shots they were so hot to give everybody, were just ordinary flu shots.  There was nothing special about them.”

“How do you know that Doc?”

“Easy,” Doc Hyde answered.  “At the clinic they were able to trace the lot number of the sample we got from Doctor Meadows and the Sheriff.  Just an ordinary flu shot.”

“Doc,” Sean asked. “Do you have any data from outside the county?”

He nodded yes.  “Doctor Meadows has been talking with the medical folks in the other counties.  And at the clinic they’ve been in touch with the major Naval Hospitals around the country.  Same story on both routes.  If there is a pandemic, we haven’t seen the signs of it yet.”

“Maybe it will hit us later in the year,” somebody suggested.

The Corpsman shrugged. “Could be.  But under these conditions, at this time of year, we should be seeing a lot more people with the flu than we are seeing now.  I can’t say that there is no pandemic.  But what I can say is that the number and severity of the flu cases we are seeing doesn’t support the idea.”

As he listened to what Doc Hyde had to say, Jim felt sick to his stomach.  If there was no flu pandemic, and it sounded like there wasn’t, then that was good on the one hand.  He wouldn’t have to worry about his family getting sick.  But, if there was no pandemic, then why all the efforts to prevent it?  Why the shots and the meetings and the planning? Why all the work put in by the Grass Roots unless it was to hide some other purpose.  It was all too much.  The economic collapse was one thing, but to think that the government was actively plotting against its own citizens was quite another. Jim had learned not to trust the government in the last year.  But this wasn’t typical corruption and greed.  This was something much worse.  Jim couldn’t tell how or why, but he knew it.

As Jim was thinking and the others were talking, there came a knock on the door.  Somebody leaned their head in. “Davis, somebody is here to see you.”  Davis walked outside while the others kept talking.

“The flu shots could have been a cover, to get information.  They seemed more interested in getting the information than actually distributing the shots. But why?”

“Grass Roots is a Quasi-official entity answerable only to the White House,” Sean said.  “No telling what they are up to, but most likely if there never was a pandemic, the whole thing was engineered so they could get the info they wanted.  Why? Who knows?  But it wasn’t some half-cocked plan that is for sure.  I’m sure will figure out what they are up to in a matter of time.  But for now, let’s assume that the flu threat is still real.  Doc, let’s keep being aggressive in prevention measures.  And let’s keep all this talk in this room for now.  If this is a conspiracy, I don’t want the Grass Roots knowing we’re on to them.”

Davis came back in the room.  “Got somebody outside who needs to talk to you Sean.  And Stumpy needs to talk to you too.”

Sean gave Davis a quizzical look.  “Who?”

“Stumpy, he’s the guy who runs the septic truck,” Davis answered.

“What does he want to talk about?”

“Shit I suppose.”

“Very funny.  Who is this other guy?”

Davis turned and said something out the door and another man walked in. “Sean,” Davis said.  “This is Marcus. He works at the aircraft plant as a machinist.”  Davis turned from Sean to Marcus, “Tell them what you saw Marcus.”

Marcus was a young man.  Still in his mid twenties, he had sandy blonde hair and stood a little bit shorter than average.  Marcus had worked in the aircraft plant before the seizure, and had been lucky enough to keep his job there, in various new forms, since everything had changed.  Although he had spent four years in the Coast Guard, he had never interacted much with the other veterans.  This was probably because he was one of the few people who still had what they called, “real jobs.”  Like Israel, Marcus seemed a little timid and nervous when he spoke.  His eyes frequently went to the floor, and he shuffled his feet as he spoke.  

“We only worked half shifts today at the plant.  We don’t really build aircraft anymore.  We haven’t built a plane there for awhile. We just kind of form metal into shapes for a few hours every day and then collect our checks at the end of the week.  What they do with the metal is anybody’s guess.   Anyways, today at the plant this whole group of people showed up just a few hours before it was time to quit.”

“What kind of people,” somebody asked.

“All kinds. There were some government people there in suits.  There were some union people. Not our regular union people, but Progressive Union people.  There were those new guys in the blue uniforms, the P.A. and Grass Roots people.   And then there were these foreign guys.  They were Italians.  They were all touring the plant.”

Much of what Marcus explained next was speculation.  But the rumor was that the plant was being turned over to an Italian company.  This company was going to administer portions of the plant, but instead of making airplanes, they were going to build and refurbish military vehicles.  The delegation that showed up today was doing the opening stages of the planning.  

Although Marcus presented mostly rumors and very few facts, none of the men in the room were in a position where they were going to doubt what he said.  After Israel’s talk about his families experience in the camps, Marcus’s story was entirely plausible.   Somebody brought up the fact that at James Pritchard’s inauguration, the Maysville Police had been sporting two newly refurbished Italian armored cars.  Sitting next to Sean, Jim was still trying to get his head around the issue of the flu.  

“Marcus, think you could get more information for us.  Things like the names of the officials who are touring the plant and all the different groups they represent.  What they are going to be making there, production schedules, things like that?”

“I suppose I could.”

“That would help us out a lot.  Pictures are better than words sometimes, so if you can take pictures… take pictures safely, that would be good too.  But don’t do that if you can’t do it without getting caught.”

Marcus nodded and smiled.  “No problem.  I have a camera on my cell phone.” He reached into a pocket in his coat and held up the small black device.  Sean, sitting across the room, moved his gaze from Marcus over to Davis.  The man they called the Boss didn’t say anything, but he didn’t have to his look said it plain enough: You fucked up.  Davis nodded once signifying both his understanding and his promise that he wouldn’t let it happen again.

“Okay Marcus.  That will be fine.”

Marcus looked at Sean and then looked at the other many faces around the room.  He shuffled on his feet again.  There was something else he wanted to say, but hadn’t yet figured out how he was going to say it.  Finally Sean asked if there was something else he had to say.

Marcus spoke timidly.  “Well, if I’m going to risk my neck getting this information for you… well I…”

Sean held up his hand.  “Give us good information and we will take care of you.”

Marcus smiled.  “Thank you sir.”

“Of course and thank you.  Why don’t you head on home now.  I’m sure you’ve had a long day.”

When Marcus left the room, Davis followed him.  After walking him out of Sean home, Davis pulled the young man aside in the drive way.  Over head, the sky was a dark and dull grey.  It would rain before the day was over.

“Do me a favor Marcus.”  Davis spoke in a direct and firm manner.  He was glad Marcus came forward with the information, but what he had to say he wanted the young man to understand without any doubt.  “Don’t bring cell phones around the Boss okay.  In fact, don’t even talk about cell phones around them.  He wants nothing to do with, okay.”

“Yeah sure.”

“It’s one of his things.  He wants them nowhere around him.”

Marcus nodded in understanding.  “Okay okay.  No cell phone.  But listen, there is one other thing.”

“What’s that?”

“These missions you go out on.  I’d like to start coming along too.  If I can that is.  I mean, if there is room for me.”

Davis looked Marcus up and down.  “We’ve been doing this for awhile, and you never wanted to participate before.  Why the change now?”

Marcus shrugged.  “There is just so much going on.  So much weird stuff.  I just want to do my part I guess.”

As Marcus walked back up the street to his house, a battered sedan pulled up into Sean’s driveway a sputtered and clattered to a stop.  Chris Lindsey climbed out of the driver’s seat.  He’d been gone a few days and looked worn out.  His beard and hair were greasy and unwashed.  His eyes were ringed with dark circles.  It looked like he’d been sleeping in his clothes on somebody floor.

“Welcome back,” Davis said while offering his hand.  “How was the trip to our friends down south?”

Chris shook Davis’s hand hard.  “It was rough.  Very rough.  They’ve planned something big.  Real big. I don’t know what it is, so don’t ask.  But whatever it is, they’ve run out of money.  What’s been going on here since I’ve been gone?”

Davis smiled.  “Everything.  It’s been a busy day today.  I’ll fill you in later.  Right now the boss is in a meeting with Stumpy.”

“Who’s Stumpy?”

“He’s the man that’s been pumping all the waste out of our septic tanks.”

Chris took a deep breath and then sighed.  “What does he need to talk to the Boss about?”

“I don’t know,” Davis said.  “But after everything that I’ve already heard today, nothing would surprise me.”

Stumpy was an older man.  He was maybe sixty years old, and stood tall and lean from a lifetime spent largely at hard physical work.  He sported a handlebar mustache that was a mix of black and grey. Stumpy found his niche in this world when he was still a young man.  Taking a load from the bank, he bought a truck and some equipment and started his own business pumping out septic tanks and servicing sewers.  People were always going to have to use the bathroom, he said.  There was no reason why he shouldn’t have made a profit from that.  Once he got his septic service business up and running, he never looked back.

Certainly not his real name, Stumpy was the nickname he’d given himself for having one leg two inches shorter than the other.  Pointing to his knee, he explained that he was kicked by a mule when he was four years old.  The leg broke and never healed correctly.  Why he was hanging around a mule when he was four was information Stumpy didn’t volunteer. He didn’t come to see Sean Bastle to talk about mules or his leg.  He came right to the point.  

“I’m here today because those damn Progressive Union goons have been following my truck around.  They’ve got me scared out of my mind.  I don’t know what they are up to, but if you wouldn’t mind killing a few of them it would make me feel a lot better.”

Sean didn’t want to get into another conversation about assassinations.  Too much had gone on today already.  Instead he asked, “How do you know Progressive Union men are following you?”

“I seen them with my own eyes didn’t I?  They’ve been following me around the last couple of days and watching me.  I know it’s them.  Who else would it be?  It ain’t normal thieves or high-jackers. I’m certain of that. I drive around in a truck full or raw sewage.  That’s not exactly the kind of thing many people want to steal.”

“I suppose not,” Sean said.  “But why would the Progress Union follow you around?  If they wanted to make you pay your union dues they wouldn’t follow you around to do it.”

Stumpy spoke loudly.  “Of course they don’t want to make me join their union.  They want to get me out of the picture.  Once I’m gone they’ll have a monopoly in this county.”

“Who’ll have a monopoly?”

“The Union of course,” Stumpy answered. Because everybody around the room looked confused, Stumpy explained further.

“The only other person with septic equipment is that company working with FEMA, H.B. Green Fuels.  They’ve been buying up all kinds of equipment that was seized by the government.  Don’t know what they plan on doing it, but they’re getting it.  They are all crooked as snakes.  That’s why those Progressive Union goons are following me around.  One day they’re gonna take my septic truck or worse.  If I was younger I’d give them a run for their money.  But, I’m old and gimped up.  There ain’t no sense in me fighting when I can get a bunch of you young bucks to do it for me.”

Sean looked around the room.  He could tell everybody else was just as confused about what the man was saying as he was.  So he came right out and asked what was on his mind. “What the hell are you talking about?”

“H.B. Green Fuels, its run by the Progressive Union. Hell it is all right there in the name.  It’s named after the damned union guy running the show around here.  H.B. Green Fuels: Hugh Bowden Green Fuels.  Everybody knows that!  How do you think he got that contract to fuel on the emergency equipment?”

Davis chuckled.  “You can’t make this stuff up.”

“So wait a minute,” Sean said. He looked incredulous.  “The government seized all these assets from private citizens in their huge nationalization project.  And now the local head of the Progressive Union is buying them all up to start some kind of contracting company?”

“Well he didn’t really buy those trucks.  He got a grant to form the company and buy the trucks. So we bought those trucks for him with our tax money.”

Now Sean turned red.  “Let me get this straight.  The Government seizes those trucks from some private entity.  Then the government gives a grant to Hugh Bowden to form a ‘Green Fuel’ company.  He uses the grant money, which came out of somebody’s taxes, to buy the trucks the government seized.  Then he uses the trucks to execute some sweetheart contract he got from the government, the same government he works for as a leader in the government run labor union.”

“That’s about right son,” Stumpy answered.  “I don’t know where all these oversight committees and transparency czars are, but they ain’t looking at Hugh Bowden and his poop trucks.”

Sean tapped his fingers on the arm of his chair.  He didn’t have a lot of manpower to spare, and with everything that was going on he didn’t want to over commit the few forces he had.  He also didn’t have fuel to spare.  Already they’d had to cut down the number of vehicles they’d used in convoys.  But as restrained as he was, he didn’t want Hugh Bowden to have any kind of monopoly on any form of services in the county.  The very idea of that was unacceptable.  He’d have to find new resources somewhere.

“We’ll see what we can do Stumpy,” Sean said.  “I want Hugh Bowden and the union to have a monopoly less than you do.”

“That would help.  Once it starts raining, I’m gonna be really busy.  Gonna be a lot of business for me after a few weeks of steady rain.  I don’t just pump out the tanks.  I fix sewer systems too.   Repair pipes and things like that.  Once those rains come, people are gonna be throwing business at me.”

“Why’s that,” Chris asked.

“Those sewer systems haven’t been maintained or serviced for two years,” Stumpy answered “And even before we got into this mess, the county wasn’t spending much money on maintenance.  I can think of about two dozen places off the top of my head where the sewer lines are cracked and broken.  And the sewage treatment plant hasn’t been operating since who knows when. The separator tanks there are almost over flowing.  When we have the flooding that they talk about, everybody will be breaking out their hip waders come January.”  

“You sure about this?  You sure the sewer system is going to fail?”

“Son,” Stumpy said, speaking slowly for emphasis.  “I’ve been in the septic business for over 40 years now.  Nobody takes a shit in this county without me knowing about it.”

Everybody smiled and a few chuckled.  “I suppose not,” Sean said.  “Okay Stumpy, we will give you some protection. I’m not going to go around killing people, but we’ll see to it that you have an armed escort.  Davis, that’s your job.”

“You got it boss.”

“Good,” Sean answered.  “Now Stumpy, could you tell us where all these brakes in the sewer systems are?”
–––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––­–––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––­–––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––­–
It had been a busy day.  A lot of information was passed, and most of it was not good.  When Stumpy left, they had filled Chris in on everything that had happened since the inauguration of James Pritchard.  It was a lot to take in.  Once the explanation was over, everyone sat around the study without speaking.  Thinking but not speaking.  It was a lot for them all to process.  For Jim it was especially tough.  He lived his life in a much different environment than most of the other men in the room.  The idea that governments went to such extreme lengths of corruption and tyranny was something he never expected in his own country.  Things like this were restricted to certain parts of the third world, not the United States of America.  In the circles that Jim ran in before the seizure, liberal ideas were seen as the salvation of American, not the destruction of it.   It everybody was part of a union, labor wouldn’t get exploited.  If government oversaw all commerce, the gap between the rich and poor would narrow and wages would be more “fair.”  If access to guns was restricted, crime would go down.  The list could go on and on.  But now that the pendulum had swung so far to the left, Jim had seen the way things really work.  Unions exploited labor just as much as an employer, if not more.  If government oversees all commerce, then they get rich and everybody gets poor. When you don’t have guns you are at the mercy of those who do, be they criminals or the agents of the government you thought would protect you.  Jim had changed his outlook on many things, but he still struggled sometimes to grasp things the way the others did, particularly his boss.  
 
Since nobody else seemed like they were going to speak, Jim did.  “It seems so convoluted,” he said.  “So many things are going on all at once.  Different groups with different agendas.  There just doesn’t seem to be any clear goal to all this.”

“There doesn’t have to be a clear goal. Things don’t always come in clearly defined neat and tidy packages.  More often than not things are confusing and chaotic.  But while there may be many different groups at play, they are all falling under the same umbrella.  The powers that be, the ones that are ultimately in charge, have unified all these different factions.  Doing that required them to make concessions; the union people gets legislation that requires everybody to join a union, the environmentalists and Grass Roots get their quasi-official powers.  But these are all short term goals that fit into the larger strategic goal.  Call it socialism or state-ism or liberalism or progressivism, the end state is the same.  The freedom of the individual is sacrificed in the name of the collective good, for the benefit of an increasingly elitist and tyrannical government who are only concerned about their own wealth and power.  People like us, we’re only seen two ways; in terms of political capital, and how much wealth they can take from us.”

“So what do we do?”

“First, we work on our exit plan.  At some point we may have to get our families out of here.  Whether it is out into the mountains, or up across the Canadian border, we need to have plans to get them out of here if comes down to it.  We also need to start getting some more money to our friends down south.  Next, we need to take a good hard look at that valley that Gerry and the others are in.  If they are moving outsiders in, there is something about that valley that they want, which means at some point they might start moving Gerry and the others out. We also need to step up our own preps in case the people making all these moves get more aggressive.  Finally, we need to start up a training schedule.  We have a lot of skills in this room, a lot of military skills.  But as we all know, those skills are perishable, and we have not been using a lot of them lately. Whatever challenges are on the horizon, we’re going to need to be at our best to meet them.  Whatever happens, this won’t be like Iraq or Afghanistan, where we were in harm’s way and our families enjoyed the relative safety of being here.  Whatever happens now, our families will right in the midst of it.  And don’t think for one second that those that oppose us won’t use our families against us.  If you don’t believe me, go ask Israel about that.  So for their sake, we’d best be at our peak.”

“So, I want you all to go home.  Spend some time with your families and get some rest.  Tomorrow morning, we’ll start the planning process.  Alright?”

Everybody around the room nodded in agreement.  With that, they all made their way to the front door, with Sean walking them all out.  After everybody was gone, Sean absent mindedly reached into his pocket and pulled out the rough sketch of what he intended to build that morning.  Looking over the drawing, he realized he hadn’t even gotten started on it. Weary from the days many developments, Sean set down the drawing and headed to his bed room.

As he lay on the bed the clouds broke.  Sean stared up at the ceiling and listened to the rain pound down onto his roof.
[/span]
Link Posted: 7/25/2009 2:15:52 PM EDT
[#26]
One of the many things I enjoy in reading this is that you incorporate current news events and politics and economics in a way that is part political commentary, part crystal ball predictions of the future and at the same time develops the story and characters. Keep up the excellent work!
Link Posted: 7/25/2009 9:45:28 PM EDT
[#27]
Thanks.  The one good thing about time right now, and working just a few minutes from Berkeley California, is I'm never short for finding inspiration.
If I ever do make this a "real" book, I'll probably put some kind of footnote system in to reference some of the oddball and yet real things that inspired elements of this story.
Link Posted: 7/27/2009 12:11:13 PM EDT
[#28]
Sharkman6:

Thanks for another great chapter.  Scary stuff happening in these camps.  It could so easily be our future with the president and the people who support him.  I have to fight this type of "education" from the public school system about various enviromental issues all the time.  Keep up the good work.
Link Posted: 8/2/2009 11:26:56 AM EDT
[#29]
I was actually sitting here reading this almost having an anxiety attack cause we could really be duped into this
Link Posted: 8/8/2009 2:01:45 AM EDT
[Last Edit: sharkman6] [#30]
Chapter 9
“You never want a serious crisis go to waste”
White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel.


[/div]James Pritchard, Malik Jackson, along with Raymond Lynn and Connor Justin from Grass Roots all sat in James Pritchard’s newly finished office.  Outside there was a steady drizzle of rain.  It had rained every day for the past week.  But nobody in the lavish penthouse office was concerned about the rain right now.  They were all intently focused on the large television screen mounted on one of the walls.

[/div]They had all come to the office to watch a press briefing.  A historical executive order had just been signed that would have profound effect on everybody in America.  But as far reaching as that document was, it was overshadowed by the separate events that followed.  The Sons of Liberty had just launched a nationwide campaign.  At 11 am, Eastern Time, Sons of Liberty cells across the nation launched simultaneous attacks.  Every radio and TV station in America was covering the attacks, with any coverage of the President’s, “Industrial Safety and Environmental Sustainability Mandate,” going all but unnoticed.  For those who were in line with the principals of progress, the timing couldn’t have been better.

“How many people do you think have been killed,” Raymond Lynn asked nobody in particular.

“Who cares,” answered Connor Justin.  He wore baggy cargo pants and a Che Guevara t-shirt under his dirty white and green Grass Roots coat.  “There are too many people on this planet any way. We can stand to lose a few.”

The attacks the Sons of Liberty carried out were mostly bombings and mostly directed at elements of the emerging Progressive Auxiliary.  There had been a few cases of direct action.  In Atlanta, a six man team had seized a Progressive News Radio station and broadcast anti-government information for 45 minutes before their signal was blocked.  After an hour, local police and PA teams stormed the radio station killing all six.  In New Hampshire, the motorcade transporting the head of the political action group, American’s for Gun Ownership Reform, was attacked on its way to a rally with the Secretary General.  But aside from these and a few other limited acts, it was bombings that the Sons of Liberty used as their primary tactic.  In most major cities along the eastern seaboard, PA recruiting centers were bombed.  In St Paul, the PA’s center for Information and Awareness was leveled by a truck bomb.  In Wisconsin, two bridges used to transport supplies to a PA training camp were hit by car bombs.  Although the bridges still stood, word that the Sons of Liberty were blowing up bridges spread like wildfire and soon bridges in most major cities were shut down.
Closer to home in Seattle and Portland, several warehouses full of PA equipment were firebombed and a bus full of PA trainees blew up as it drove along the interstate. So far, nothing had happened in Maysville.  James Pritchard was hoping it would stay that way.  His future was riding on his ability to ensure that law and order was maintained.  The last thing he needed were a bunch of extremists with bombs ruining that.

“It was bound to happen sooner or later,” Malik said.  “I honestly wish it would have happened sooner.”

Raymond was incredulous. “You can’t be serious.  Innocent people are dead.  They joined the PA to help people, to make the world a better place.”

“They are serving the cause,” Malik said.  “After these bombings, we can do just about anything we want and lay it all on those Sons of Liberty.  By dying, those PA kids bought us a ton of political capitol.  Hell, nobody’s even talking about the executive order that got signed this morning, and by the time this winds down, nobody will even remember it.”

Now it was Connor Justin who spoke.  “I’m glad that the Industrial Safety and Environmental Sustainability Mandate is in place.  We need it.  The planet needs it.  As far as all these people dying, well, there are too many people on this planet already.  We could stand to lose a lot more if you ask me.  But why did we have to start the aircraft plant up again?  We should be tearing that thing down and returning it to Mother Earth.  Not using it to build more weapons.”

Malik didn’t think much of Connor Justin.  Connor was a rich white kid who spent too much time in school and not enough in the real world.  He was angry at the world and his dad and everything else, and was using the environment as an outlet for that rage. Malik had met plenty of kids just like him when he was in school.  They were angry and passionate and pains in the ass, but they were easy to manipulate.  The only problem was that Malik had to explain things to them in terms their simple minds could understand, and that got old very quickly.

“The factory is going to be used to equip the P.A.   The P.A. needs equipment, and we need the P.A. to enforce these laws.  Not everybody is going to want to follow these new policies.  We need the P.A. to ensure they do, and the P.A. needs equipment to do that.  Unless we can crush people for not following the rules, your environmental mandate will be worthless.”

The Industrial Safety and Environmental Sustainability Mandate which had just been signed by the President was designed to not only protect the environment, but also make the workplace safer.  The mandate limited most types of privately owned commercial vehicles that utilized internal combustion engines to only operate for four hours a day.  The idea was that if all the tractors and trains and commercial trucks were only operating for four hours a day, then the amount of emissions would also be cut by half.  The other benefit was that if people were only working four hours a day, rather than eight, they would be safer, because there would only be half as much time to get in an accident at work.  Thus, the party of progress was able to demonstrate not only how much they cared about the environment, but how they were also committed to the safety of their citizens.

The technology to monitor how many hours a day a particular piece of equipment wasn’t available yet.   Instead, people would be required to buy a license for each piece of equipment they had.  After paying a modest fee and affirming that they wouldn’t operate their equipment for four hours in a 24 hour period, the owner would be given a certificate to keep for their records and a sticker to attach to their equipment.  During the press conference, nobody asked the obvious question; what would stop somebody from buying the license and just running their equipment all day.  Nor did anybody ask how this would be enforced.  The first question the president was asked was why it was necessary to use an executive order to implement this program, rather than send it through the legislative process.  The president answered that time was of the essence.  He did not want to waste valuable time waiting for approval from the House and Senate.  Besides, his party had an overwhelming majority in both houses.  The proposal was guaranteed to pass, so why waste time debating it?  The next question the press asked the president was if his children were proud of him for signing the order.  After that, the press continued to lob soft ball questions into the President that he could answer with feel-good talk about how good this would be for the environment and how this would protect America’s workers.   The mandate wasn’t going to win over too many new recruits to the principals of progress, but it would reinforce the beliefs of those already committed.

The best thing about the Mandate was the power it gave to the P.A.  Since it would be necessary to inspect people’s property to ensure that any equipment they had was properly licensed, the executive order gave the P.A. the power to conduct inspections on private property without first obtaining search warrants.  In the event they found unregistered equipment, the PA could seize those assets.  But, the P.A. was also authorized to seize other items that might, “have a negative impact on the environment or the environmental movement.”  In the name of Mother Earth, the 4th Amendment had been largely done away with.   And now that the media could focus solely on the Sons of Liberty, the sacrifice of the 4th amendment was going to go almost entirely unnoticed.

“I just can’t believe we’re talking about this in terms of political opportunities.”  Raymond spoke softly.  He eyes welled up and his face was flushed red.

“Malik’s right,” James Pritchard said.  His eyes never leaving the TV screen.  “These bombing are one hell of a crisis which is also going to be one hell of an opportunity.  While everybody is watching the Sons of Liberty, we can use this to get a lot of legislation passed in a short amount of time.”

“Pass Legislation,” Raymond exclaimed.  “We need to be meeting with these Sons of Liberty people and resolving our differences!  We need to come to some common ground. We need to stop the violence.”

“Common ground?  You reach out for common ground when it is to your advantage to do so.  Right now it’s to our advantage to use this crisis to get some more laws on the books.  We can worry about common ground and the peace process later.”

Raymond didn’t know what to say.  He couldn’t believe what he was hearing.  The country was tearing itself apart and instead of trying to reach some kind of peace, the people in this room were talking about using the deaths as a means of political capital.  As Raymond searched his mind for words to express his thoughts, James Pritchard spoke.

“Son, the President has about 147 executive orders that he’s going to sign by Christmas.  There are another 248 pieces of Legislation that the House and Senate need to pass and get on his desk for signature by then too.  This little campaign those Hill Billy Boys launched just made it a lot easier to green light all that.”

“By Christmas!”  Raymond was even more shocked. “They can’t even read that much legislation by then.”

“They can read it next summer.  Reading it is secondary to passing it.”

“But… But how can they understand all those bills?  How can they even read them in that amount of time?”

“They don’t need to read them,” James Pritchard said.  His voice filled the room.  “They aren’t paid to read or understand these bills, they are paid to vote for them and turn them into law.  What those bills contain is immaterial.  All that matters is that they pass what they are told to pass.”

James turned from the TV to address Connor and Raymond directly.  “Gentlemen, Malik and I have a lot to discuss.  Good afternoon.”

The two young Grass Roots activists left the room without speaking.  Malik produced a packet of cigarette from one of his pockets.  He lit two and handed one to James Pritchard.
“I think those kids need to toughen up,” Malik said, blowing smoke through his nostrils.

James Pritchard shrugged.  “Come Christmas they’ll be gone.   The PA is going to take over Grass Roots.  Those two are too high up the food chain, they won’t make the cut.  Useful idiots as Stalin would say.”

Malik nodded.  Grass Roots was established to get people elected.  It often used questionable means to ensure that candidates who were dedicated to the ideals of progress won elections.  Over the years it morphed into something else, but nobody in power forgot the original purpose of the group.  At some point, the Grass Roots with its history of dirty secrets would be more of a liability than an asset.  When that happened, the Grass Roots would be dismantled quickly.

Raymond Lynn and Connor Justin were men whose days were numbered, but there was another man Malik wanted to talk about.  He finished his cigarette and stubbed it out.

“We need to talk about the county Doctor, Meadows. He’s causing problems.”

“What kind of problems?”

“The Doctor thinks that this whole flu pandemic talk was a hoax, a way to get the Grass Roots involved in people’s personal affairs.  Maybe, maybe not.  It doesn’t matter.  What does matter is that he’s stirring up trouble.”

“Yes,” James said.  “I’ve heard his stories.  How bad is it?”

Malik shrugged.  “It is not too bad, yet.  In two months it won’t matter anyway.  But, this talk could spread.  Most people around here have no faith in the government anyway; however they do hold this doctor in high regard.  If this conspiracy theory gets traction, that could be bad for you.  You’ve been made county executive, but your appointment to the next level isn’t certain.”

“No,” James said.  “My next appointment isn’t in the bag yet.  And if I can’t keep the angry mobs in check, it won’t happen.”

“We can make him go away.  Now is a good time.  He’s a government employee.  We can make it look like the Sons of Liberty did it.  It would look like just another attack on the government.”
James turned from Malik back to the TV screen.  Along the bottom of the screen scrolled a list of all the day’s attacks.  It was hard to believe that Americans would be so upset with their government that they would take up arms against it.  But then, it was hard to believe he would have to have somebody killed for speaking their mind.  As a career politician, many times he did things that were ethically questionable, but nothing he couldn’t justify in his mind, and never murder.  

“Could we just have him arrested,” he asked.  “We could say he was a member of the Sons of Liberty and throw him in jail.”

“We could,” Malik answered.  The tone of his voice made it clear he didn’t like the idea.  “The problem with throwing people in jail is eventually you might have to let them out.”

James thought about that.  Doctor Meadows was a strong personality.  He wouldn’t shut up if asked nicely.  Money or a promotion or other influences wouldn’t stop him either.  He had a wife, but no children they knew of, so not much leverage there.  

James turned from the TV screen and walked over to the huge bay windows that made up a corner of his office.  The rain drizzled down steadily.  Down below, men and machines cleared out an unused section of the city to make room for the worker barracks that would serve the aircraft plant.  The old politician thought about how far this country had come, and how far it would go in the coming months.  It was a pretty far cry from what it was intended to be.  Despite being dedicated to the many principals of progress, there were a lot of things about the way the country was going that James didn’t like. But what could he do?  He couldn’t stop a system that was marching steadily to its intended goal.  Why would he even try?  He was in a privileged position.  As the nation moved further along its path of progress, he would be there to enjoy ever increasing comforts and prestige and power.  To fight the system was to risk not just everything he could have, but everything he had already.  The nation’s elite had chartered a course.  The smartest and safest thing he could do was to not fight that course, but benefit from it.  

“Every crisis is an opportunity.  Better that the Doctor goes away now than stirs up trouble.  I’m not going to risk my neck just because some quack is worried about some flu shots.”

“I’ll take care of it,” Malik said.[/span]
––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––­––––––––––
[span style='font-size: 14pt;']Hooker and Cody were following behind Stumpy as he made his rounds for the day.  Stumpy was right.  The rain fell steadily, and now sewage spilled out of cracked pipes into the streets and basements of Maysville and the surrounding county.  Stumpy was also right about something else.  Two men in an old black Chevy pickup had been following him.  Hooker kept a close eye on them in the rear view mirror.  The radio was broadcasting a recap of the day’s actions by the Sons of Liberty.

“It’s about time this happened,” Cody said.  “I’d just about given up all hope that those boys were going to get anything done.”

“Well, they need to be careful. This isn’t Belfast or the West Bank.  American’s aren’t going to like the idea of people setting off bombs.  That’s a tactic they associate with terrorists, not legitimate revolutionaries.  The last thing we want is people comparing the Sons of Liberty to Timothy McVeigh.” Hooker glanced into the rearview mirror again.  “They are still there.”

“What do you want to do?”

“Stumpy has a job up ahead.  When we stop, let’s see what they want.”

Cody nodded.  He did a press check on his .45 caliber pistol to ensure it was hot.  Then he holstered it and did another check on the carbine he had across his lap.

When Stumpy pulled over to his next jobsite, Hooker and Cody followed suit in their Toyota pickup.  They both got out and turned to face the Chevy behind them, which also pulled to the side of the road.  Cody had a .45 caliber carbine and Hooker had his weapon of choice, the RPD.

There were two men in the Chevy, a black stepside that was immaculately maintained.  Both got out at the same time and walked towards Hooker and Cody.  A pistol was tucked in each man’s waistband.  Neither carried long weapons, but each did have a something black and leather in their arms.  When they got closer Hooker could see what they carried.  They were leather vests.  Making a big show of it, the older man shook out the vest and put it on. The leather jacket covered with a variety of patches.  On the back was a patch with a rocker above it that said “Mutants.” On the chest was another patch that read, “Sgt at Arms.”

“I’m guessing they aren’t union men,” Cody said.

“Looks like they want to talk,” Hooker said.  They did. Both bikers walked up to Hooker and Cody.  Hooker asked, “What do you want?”

“We want to talk business,” the older biker with the Sgt at Arms patch answered.

“What kind of business?”

“We have a business proposal for your boss.”

“Let’s hear it,” Hooker said.

The biker looked around, then back at Hooker.  “It’s for your boss’s ears, so how about we set up a meet with him?”

Hooker shook his head.  “You got a pitch to make, you make it to me.  You all have pulled a lot of shit around here.  There’s no way I’m letting you meet up with our boss.”

“No offense buddy, this is the kind of deal that bosses discuss.  Not the guy guarding the shit-truck.”

Hooker gestured towards the ‘Sgt at Arms’ rocker on the man’s vest.  “You ain’t the Boss either.    So since neither of our bosses are here, how about this? You tell me, I’ll tell my boss.  That’s the way it works.  So talk… or walk.”

“Ok, here’s our proposal,” The Mutant’s Sgt at Arms said.  Then he told Hooker and Cody their plan. When he was done he asked, “Think your boss will go for it?”

“I don’t know,” Hooker said.  “He isn’t going to like a scam like that.  Especially after all those innocent people you’ve killed.

“What’s not to like.  It’s free money.”

“It’s a scam, scamming the government.”

“So what do you care?  Last I heard Sean Bastle and his little ‘Team America’ was a private enterprise, and not necessarily friends of the Fed.”

“You’re right.”

“Well the Mutants are a private enterprise too.  And we aren’t friends of the man either.”

Hooker looked the two bikers up and down and stroked his RPD.  “I’ll pass your message along.”

“Fair enough,” The Sgt at Arms said.  “How do we get in touch with you?”

Hooker shook his head.  “You need to get in touch with us, do what you just did.  Follow the shit truck.”
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“What do you think?  Will it work,” Hooker asked Sean after telling him about the Mutant’s business proposal.  Chris and Jim were in the room.  So were Cody and Davis.  They’d been going over the Sons of Liberty campaign and the potential ramifications when Cody and Hooker got back from escorting Stumpy around.

Sean nodded solemnly.  “It will work.  People around the world have done some version of this for thousands of years.  Nations and non-state actors do it all the time.  The Mutants just want to do this on a micro level.  Whatever his motives and agenda are, James Pritchard isn’t going to want an escalation of violence around here.  So yeah, I think it will work.”

“I don’t like it,” Jim said.  “Those guys are criminals.  We should be getting rid of the Mutants, not working with them.”

“The last thing we want right now is a street war with the Mutants.  They are a lot more powerful and a lot tougher than you might think. Supposedly they have a deputy director from the DIA in their ranks. If we go to war with them, it will be bad for us.  Not to mention the fact that a fight with the Mutants takes our eyes off our real enemy.   I don’t want to be wasting time and energy and resources… and lives... fighting the Mutants when we have bigger battles ahead.”

“Sheriff Maltby won’t like it,” Chris said in a flat, matter of fact tone.  

“I know.  I don’t like it either.  But the Sheriff doesn’t need a war with these guys either.  These aren’t a bunch of dopers like last time. They are made up of all sorts of members from the military, intelligence and law enforcement communities.  If it came down to it, they’d make short work of the Sherriff.  Sherriff Malty is a good man and does a good job.  Maybe this is a chance to keep the Mutants under control without any more people getting killed.”

“So what do we do,” Davis asked.

“This.”  Sean explained his plan to Hooker.  Everybody around the room nodded in approval.  Jim was both impressed and shocked at the same time.[/span]
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[span style='font-size: 14pt;']After the meeting with James Pritchard, Malik felt a bit worried.  It wasn’t the murder he was organizing that worried him.  He specialized in behind the scenes political maneuvers.  But Malik was concerned that he wouldn’t be able to make it happen as quickly as perhaps he’d like.  His worries were unfounded.  Amongst the P.A., the union goons, the new people who had just been relocated to the farmland in the valley, and some of the more radical members of the Grass Roots and the Maysville police, Malik had endless number of willing accomplices.  Once he found his assassins, he was able to put the rest of the details relatively quickly.  It only took a few hours after the go ahead for Malik to put the entire murder together.

Sheriff Maltby had just been wrapping up another home invasion when he got the call about the Doctor.  He arrived at the hospital to find the crime scene already taped off by his deputies.  Doctor Meadows slumped across the front seat of his car.  The pock marks of bullet holes stretched across the front and sides of the vehicle.  Spent shell casings and broken glass covered the ground.  Fluids and blood pooled up underneath the car.

“Two vans boxed him in as he left the hospital,” the lead deputy told the Sherriff.  “Once they had him trapped, the rifles came out.  They emptied their mags and then took off. We’ve counted over 100 shell casings so far.”

The Sheriff picked up a shell casing.  It was a 7.62x39 round, the same type of round fired out of an AK-47.  He set the case back down.  Then he went back to his car to go deliver the bad news.  As the Sheriff drove out to the Doctor’s widow, the local news station received a communiqué from the Sons of Liberty.  It detailed the Doctor’s various perceived crimes and the justification for his murder.

When Sheriff Maltby arrived at the Meadow’s household to deliver the bad news, he found the front door ajar.  Inside the Doctor’s wife lay in a crumpled pile. She’d been raped and beaten to death.  A safety pin attached a second communiqué from the Sons of Liberty to her body.  

Sheriff Maltby didn’t believe for a second that the Sons of Liberty had anything to do with this.  He knew very well the Doctor’s thoughts about the flu pandemic.  That didn’t threaten the Sons of Liberty one bit. When he got back to his office, the Sheriff pulled a bottle of whiskey out of a desk drawer and spent the rest of the night alone in his office, drinking from the bottle and trying to figure out what he was going to do.

Killing the Doctor’s wife was not necessary.  Malik made it happen because it cast a negative light on the Sons of Liberty, portraying them as not just anti-government, but rapists and murders as well.  Similar stories of Sons of Liberty atrocities were springing up from around the country.  Some were made up, some were true, and many were engineered to spin America’s view of the Sons of Liberty in a light more beneficial to those in power.  It was harsh, but it was something that Malik could live with.   The crisis initiated by the Sons of Liberty had quickly turned into an opportunity for the forces of Progress, and Malik thought they were coming out ahead.[/span]
Link Posted: 8/9/2009 2:14:08 PM EDT
[#31]
The president answered that time was of the essence. He did not want to waste valuable time waiting for approval from the House and Senate. Besides, his party had an overwhelming majority in both houses. The proposal was guaranteed to pass, so why waste time debating it? The next question the press asked the president was if his children were proud of him for signing the order. After that, the press continued to lob soft ball questions into the President that he could answer with feel-good talk


Hmmmm, that sounds familiar...
Link Posted: 8/11/2009 12:03:33 AM EDT
[Last Edit: sharkman6] [#32]
Chapter 10
[/span]

[span style='font-weight: bold;']"You cannot be on one hand dedicated to peace and on the other dedicated to violence. Those two things are irreconcilable."[/span]
[span style='font-style: italic;']~Condoleeza Rice trying to convince Mideast policy makers Russia, the EU and the UN to stop aid to the new Hamas Palestinian government on January 30th, 2006. Six months later, Palestinians launched a series of cross border raids that would touch of the 2006 Lebanon War.  The war would be ended by a UN sponsored cease fire in August with significant concessions and aid going to Palestine. [/span]

Hugh Bowden seethed with anger.  He could feel the pounding of his pulse in the veins across his head, and the heat coming off his flushed skin.  He had always been a hot–head, and he was not the kind of person who took setbacks easily.  Scanning the ruin and devastation before him, he just wanted to scream.

In the middle of the night, the outlaw biker gang the Mutants came to his storage lot.  It was one of several lots that housed the seized equipment that HB Green Fuels had bought off the government.  Now the equipment was destroyed. The Mutants took whatever they could, and burned the rest.  There was about a million dollars in heavy equipment, commercial trucks, generators and all sorts of machinery that now sat in blacked piles around the yard.

This had been the third robbed and vandalized lot in as many days.  Whoever these Mutants were, they were systematically targeting either the Progressive Union, HB Green Fuels, Hugh Bowden or all three.  Hugh kicked the remains of a burned tire with the toe of his boot.  HB Green Fuels wasn’t just about Hugh Bowden.  There were many backers in the Progressive Union that made this company happen.  Now it looked like it wasn’t going to happen.  The fuel trucks that were set aside to fulfill the FEMA flood prevention contract were all long gone, stolen by the mutants.  Sitting on their burned out rims were a pair of water-tankers Hugh had set aside for another FEMA contract when the fire season started.  Along one fence sat a row of burned earth moving equipment. In the far corner of the yard sat the hulks of half a dozen septic trucks.  Their plastic tanks melted into pools that solidified on the ground around the wreckage.

Hugh would have to answer for all this.  While he may have been a big union man locally, he was still a small fish in the grand scheme of things.  Putting together HB Green Fuel took time and money and effort from people higher up the food chain than Hugh Bowden.  Things would start rolling down hill now that the company was literally, up in smoke.  Hugh needed to make sure he wasn’t at the bottom.

“Are you sure it was the Mutants,” Hugh asked one of the two security guards who had been beaten, but luckily not killed.  He didn’t look at them when he asked the question.  He just stared out at the wreckage.

“It was them.  They wore their motorcycle vests and everything.  They weren’t even trying to hide who they were.  They didn’t even have masks on, and its Halloween.”

That statement struck a chord with Hugh.  It was Halloween.  Another month or so and it would be Thanksgiving.  After Thanksgiving it would soon be Christmas.  Hugh didn’t know all the facts, but he had a rough idea of the timeline the political elites were working on and what they wanted to accomplish.  If he could hold out till Christmas, everything after that would be gravy.  But for now, he had to figure out how he was going to deal with this disaster.

“Alright,” Hugh spoke to himself rather than the guards.  “I’ll find a way to deal with these Bikers.”

Although both his battered and bruised security guards said it was the Mutants, Hugh Bowden had his doubts.  Somewhere in the back of his mind a voice kept nagging him, telling him the someway, somehow, these attacks involved Sean Bastle.
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Major Ski bounced along as his personal security detail drove him to the Bastle compound.  He had a lot on his mind, and the worries and concerns on his mind showed on his face.  The night before, he spent a long time on the phone with General Matts and the division chief of staff.  In the highest circles of the nation’s military, conflicting ideologies were at odds.  Major Ski possessed a strong grasp of both history and politics.  He did agree with the course the country had taken over the last few years, but after his conversation with the commanding general last night, the apprehension he felt had transitioned to outright alarm.  It was impossible to tell where this country would be in another year, maybe another month.

A career military officer, Major Ski had taken and administered the oath of office many times.  If it came down to a point where that oath manifested into something more than a series of words or a hypothetical argument, he knew what he would do.  But he worried how many other members of the military might do something else.

The convoy of military vehicles halted at the gate to the Bastle compound.  The Major hopped out of the back of his command vehicle and with a Marine on each flank, he walked up to where the guards stood.  Tommy Stevens stood guard.  His eyes were wide at the sight of the military might.  When the Major got up close, Tommy gulped down the lump in his throat.

“Major Ski here to see Mr. Bastle.”  

Tommy didn’t know the Major, nor did the Major know him. They looked at each other.  Tommy looked down the column of vehicles before turning back to the Major and asking an honest question.

“You aren’t going to arrest him, are you?”  

The Major’s heart dropped. The young man’s face and wide eyes betrayed just how scared he was, and that scared the Major.  They fear us, he thought.  The people of this country no longer trust the government.

“No, we’re just here to talk,” the Major said.  After he said it he realized how hollow and false it sounded.

It took a few minutes before Chris made his way up to the gate and waved the vehicles in.  The convoy drove to Sean’s house and parked along the curb.  Chris showed the Major into Sean’s study.  “Sean just got done running with his wife.  You can wait here till he gets back in.”

The Major looked around the room at the bookshelves that lined the walls.  As far as personal libraries went, Ski hadn’t seen many that compared.  From what he knew of Sean Bastle, the books weren’t just for show.  Major Ski didn’t know Sean real well, but he knew him well enough to know that he possessed a brain that enjoyed exercise.  On a side table sat a beaten and dog eared military manual.  Major Ski picked it up and flipped through the pages.  The pages showed their age.  Some were torn and some stained with dirt.  Throughout the manual, passages had been highlighted and notes scribbled in the margins.  He flipped to the last page and saw the signature of the manual’s author there.  It was then that Sean walked into the room.

“Good to see you Ski,” Sean said as he crossed the room and shook the Major’s hand.  Chris and Jim stood behind Sean, who was still dressed in his running clothes.  “What brings you by so early in the morning?”

The Major took a few moments to speak. His body language showed that what he had to say made him uncomfortable.

“We agreed to share information last time we talked.  I have something to share, so I guess I’ll share it.”  The Major took a deep breath before he continued.  “This isn’t easy for me to say, so I’ll say it. A meeting of the Joint Chiefs of Staff took place yesterday.  Apparently, half way through that meeting both the Commandant and the Chief of Naval Operations walked out of the room.”

“Where did you here this rumor?”

“It came directly from the Commanding General of the 1st Marines Division.”  Major Ski nodded.  “General Matts just flew back from Helena Montana and a meeting with the Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps.  Apparently there are some differences of opinion amongst the Joint Chiefs about where this country is going.”

“Really?”

“Yes.  The Chairman is big on the sanctity of the union.  The Commandant and the CNO are not.”

“What about the Army and Air Force?”

“No idea.  The secretaries are all shills though.  I’ve got Lance Corporals that are older than the Secreatary of the Navy.”

“Yeah,” Chris added.  “I heard the Secretary of the Airforce used to be part of ‘Code Pink.”

“Yeah well, they are loyal to the politicians in power and their agenda.  That seems to be the only real qualifications for any public office these days.”

“I’ve got more,” Major Ski added.  “It gets worse.”

“Worse than the highest officers in the Navy and Marine Corps walking out of a Joint Chiefs of Staff meeting?  Is that possible,” Sean asked.

“Yes,” Ski answered.  His face lost color and his eyes strayed to the ground as he spoke.  “The 3rd Marine Division is abandoning Okinawa and Guam.  They are in the process of returning to the U.S. About half the division already landed in Chicago.  I don’t know about the other services over there.  But the 3rd Marine Division is moving its flag to the Naval Station at Great Lakes.”

“They’ve abandoned Guam and Okinawa?”  Chris sounded incredulous.  

“That’s not the scary part. The scary part is before they left, the Division’s Commanding General resigned his commission.”

“You mean retired,” Chris asked tentatively.

“No I mean resigned his commission.  Almost 30 years in the Marines and he just said the hell with it.”

Chris and Sean looked at each other.  Jim could feel the tension, but he wasn’t sure what was going on.  “What do you mean he resigned his commission?

“Officer’s are given a commission by the President of the United States.  That is the source of their authority.  If somebody resigns their commission, it is like saying they refuse to be an official in the government.  When officers resign their commission, it’s a big deal Jim.  General’s resigning their commission just doesn’t happen.  If the Commanding General of a Division resigned his commission, it means something big is happening.  It sounds like he wasn’t happy about the Division moving from Guam to the Greater Chicago area.”

The Major nodded.  “It gets worse.  When the lead elements of the Division touched down in Illinois, there was a whole new officer core waiting for them.  Every field grade officer in the division has been replaced.”

“Replaced by whom, exactly?”

“Other officers, mostly guys who spent their whole careers in the Pentagon.  The new Division Commanding General wasn’t even an infantry officer.  The guy spent most of the last war assigned to some legislative affairs post in D.C.”

As the only non –military man in the room, Jim felt a little lost. “For those of us who didn’t go to West Point, what does it all mean?”

“It means the people at the top are trying to reorganize the military in a way more suitable to their agenda. Who knows where loyalties lie in the other services,”   Chris said.

Sean added his thoughts. “When a government makes radical changes and dramatically expands its power, one of the steps is aligning the military to their ideals.  When Stalin consolidated his power, he purged the Soviet Army of almost all of its high ranking officers.  This government has plans.  It wants to ensure the military is complicit.”  He then asked Ski a question.  “Are there any elements of the federal government not in step with progress?”

“Maybe the Department of Veterans Affiairs is. It’s hard to say.  Most of the heads of the various branches are politically appointed shills.  The only strong dissenting voices are coming from some states. Everybody else is either is angling for a piece of the action or doesn’t care. Complicit or complacent.”

“Great, you got any good news this morning Ski, or did you just come to ruin my runner’s high?”  

“Maybe, but just for my guys. Our workload has gone down.  We aren’t guarding the old aircraft plant anymore.  That responsibility now belongs to the P.A.”

“Is that really good news?”

Major Ski shrugged out an ‘I don’t know,’ signal.  

“What’s going on at that plant anyway?  I heard there were a bunch of foreigners there.”

“That’s right.  A European Union consortium took it over.  The plant is going to be converted to build small armored vehicles.  Scout cars and things like that.  Anyway, this EU corporation will run it, they are going to move in people from some of these Transient Centers to work there, and then the vehicles they make are going to go to outfit the PA.  They bulldozed a section of town so they could build a WWII style barracks to house the workers. There is even got an EU flag flying over it.  Its standing right next to one of those ‘Progress’white star flags.”

Sean rubbed the back of his neck.  “Ski, you really ruined my morning.”  He meant it as a joke, but the more they thought about it, the less funny it became.

After the meeting ended, they all walked out together to Major’s Ski’s convoy.  The vehicles were a mix of Hummvees and MRAPs.  Some still had the fresh look that comes with even a new military vehicle. Some still bore the scars of service overseas.  On the way down the driveway to the street, Sean reminded Ski about an earlier promise.  “Don’t forget Ski, you promised to loan us some of your communications guys to help us out with our radios.”

“Yeah yeah, I remember.  I’ve just been busy with the turnover. I’ll see what I can do later this week.”  They walked down to the row of vehicles.  A young Marine opened the door to a big, mean looking 6x6 MRAP.  Before climbing into the back of his command vehicles, the Marine Major turned to say one last thing.

“General Matts had a message for you Sean.  He said if you ever want to stop screwing around and put a uniform back on he’s got a spot for you.”

Sean looked around and his friends and family.  He looked up the street at the houses full of people who depended on him.  

“Tell the General I appreciate the offer, but no thanks. I left the military for a reason.”

Ski nodded.  “Well, if you change your mind, you know where we are.”  With that, the Major disappeared into the back of an MRAP. The convoy roared to life and made its way out of the compound.

As the Marines left, Davis walked up to Sean and Chris.  A smile stretched across his face, connecting one ear to the other.

“What’s up Davis,” Sean asked.

“I come with a message from the Honorable Mr. James Pritchard.  He wants to meet with you.  tonight.”

Sean face drew into a broad grin.  “I’m sure I can pencil him in.”
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They left for the office of James Pritchard well after the sun went down.  It rained.  The rain fell in a cold, dreary drizzle that lasted for hours at a time.  Everything outside was wet now.  It would stay that way all through the winter, because the sun would never be out in enough force to dry things off.  The flu might be a hoax, but the possibility of flooding was reality.  

Sean and Jim rode alone.  They listened to the news for a little bit.  The commentator discussed the Sons of Liberty bombing campaign, but the Sons of Liberty were referred to by a new name.  “Anti-American Terrorists,” replaced Sons of Liberty. A talking head from some corner of academia discussed how obedience and conformity were all American principles, while resistance to the government stood as a fundamentally un-American trait.  “You can’t say that dissent is patriotic,” the voice on the radio spoke enthusiastically.  “What if American’s put up resistance to the call to arms in WWII!  Why we’d all be wearing Swastikas!  Setting aside you're own opinion and accepting submission to the wisdom of the elites of government is highest form of patriotism.   To argue otherwise is to display levels of un-enlightenment that has plagued elements of our society for far too long!”

Sean turned the radio off.  He could only take so many assaults on his intellect.

He turned to Jim.  “I heard Hooker has you on a training program.”

Jim reached behind his seat and pulled out a military manual.  Sean took it from him and read the title aloud.  “Machine Guns and Machine Gunnery.”
“He’s teaching me how to use the RPD and the RPK.”

“He’d be the one to do it.  He was a small arms instructor in the Marines. He even taught new infantry lieutenants for awhile.  Not much about machine guns he doesn’t know.”

Jim nodded at the statement.

When they pulled up to the hotel, they both saw the new construction despite the darkness.  Heavy steel screens covered some of the buildings windows.  They were offset on heavy metal spars to stand about a foot away from the actual building.  In some places cranes, shut down for the night, held more screens ready to be installed on the higher levels the next day.

“RPG screens,” Sean said before Jim could ask.  “Those screens are designed to detonate a Rocket Propelled Grenade before it hits the building.  It lessens the effectiveness of the weapon.  Keeps hand grenades and Molotov cocktails out too.”

“I’m glad you know all this stuff,” Jim said.  “I’d have been a babe lost in the wilderness if you hadn’t taken me in.”

“I think it worked out for the best,” Sean said in a tone so casual it annoyed Jim a little.  Sean pointed to a mast pointing off the top of the former hotel.  “That big pole is a camera system.  From the top of the building, they’ll be able to see most of the city.”

“Sean?”  Jim spoke in a heartfelt tone.  He had something serious to say.  “Why do you bring me along to all these meetings?  I have no military experience.  I never studied politics or history, at least not before now.  I’m learning, but the more I learn the more I learn I’m over my head in a lot of ways.”

“It’s because you aren’t like everybody else I bring you around.  I want to have a fresh perspective on things.  I’ve got plenty of ex-military guys.  You’re my only ex-environmental activist hippie type.”

“I worked in environmental compliance. I was not activist, Boss.”

“What’s the difference?”

“I made more money than the activists.”

“Fair enough,” Sean answered.

The vehicles parked in their customary fashion.  Jim and Sean looked across the parking lot to the hotel turned headquarters.  Police stood outside the doors. Malik Jackson stood outside as well, waiting for the convoy to arrive.  He smoked a cigarette under the overhang of the entrance to the building.  It gave him just enough protection from the rain.

“Alright Jim, it’s time to get into character.”



When Jim and Sean entered the county executive’s office with Malik, they found James waiting for them.  The county’s two top law enforcement officers were there as well.  The Maysville Police Chief sat on a leather sofa near James’s desk.  Sheriff Maltby sat in a chair off to one side of the room.  He didn’t look up when Sean and the others came in.  

Sean sized up the personalities in the room quickly.  Chief Kim never demonstrated anything of substance to Sean.  She served as a place holder for whoever was in office.  Sean dismissed her outright.  The Sheriff and Sean had always been friends, but now the Sheriff displayed the body language of a broken man.  Sean focused on James and his hatchet man Malik.  Of the two Malik seemed more savy when it came down to the dirty aspects of politics.  Malik may have been James Pritchard’s employee, but that didn’t mean Sean could take Malik for granted.  A sharpness lurked behind Malik’s eyes.  

In no mood for pleasantries or chitchat, Sean got down to it.  “What do you need,” he asked.

James didn’t waste time either.  “We want to talk to you about this biker gang that’s been running wild.  The Mutants.”

Sean didn’t say anything.  He knew the dangers of the game he was about to play.  The last thing he wanted to do was let some slip give away the plan he had put together.  James continued.

“As you know, these bikers stole and killed a lot of people around here.  Lately their attacks have gotten much bolder.  They have attacked some government storage lots.  They’ve even made some attacks into the city.”

Sean nodded.  He didn’t say anything.  His eyes strayed back to the Sheriff.  The old law man hadn’t moved at all.  James Pritchard continued.  

“The other day, the Mutants passed us a message.  They are willing to stop the attacks. No more murders or home invasions.  No more attacks on our storage lots. No more crime and violence.  There will be a chance for peace.”

Sean smiled slightly.  “I’m guessing they want something in return.”

“It’s a shakedown,” Malik chimed in.  He sat across the room from James Pritchard, leaning back and smoking a cigarette.  “They are extorting us.  They want some concessions.  If they get whatever it is they want, they’ll stop the violence.  That is what they say anyways.”

“Okay,” Sean said, nodding as he did so.  “So what do they want?”

“I’m a little surprised you’d entertain the idea,” James Pritchard said.  He pulled a bottle out of a desk drawer and poured himself a drink.  “You don’t seem like the negotiating type.”

“The Mutants are not your run of the mill gang of thugs.  They are an organized criminal enterprise.  They are mostly former military or cops.  They are structured, proficient and smart.  Fighting these guys won’t be so easy.  If you don’t go to the bargaining table, they may turn up the heat.  That won’t be good.  It won’t be good for the people of this county, and it won’t be good for you, politically.  If you get into a street war with these guys, it will be bloody.  Think Mexican drug cartels or the Russian mafia.  That’s what you may have on your hands.”

James and Malik looked at each other. Malik snubbed out a cigarette and lit another.  “I’m surprised you are open to the idea,” James said.  “But I’m glad.  Part of the message was that the Mutants would only deal through you.”

“Me,” Sean said, sounding surprised. “Why me?”

James shrugged.  “They probably wanted to deal with somebody who is not involved in the government in …” he paused, searching his mind for the right word. “… An official, capacity.  Often, that is how these matters work.  They also recognize that you yourself have not always operated in the confines of the law.  For example, your execution of those gang members so long ago.”

“I didn’t exactly execute them.”

“Well, they didn’t get a trial either,” Malik said.  

“They got the best justice the community could afford at the time.  I’m not here to talk about that, so let’s talk about the bikers.  What do they want?”

“They didn’t say what they wanted, only that they’d be willing to deal.  But they would only speak with you.  So I guess the question is; do you think this is real?  Do you think this will work?”

Sean though about it, or at least appeared to think about it for a few moments.  When he was ready, he finally spoke.  “It will work, at least for awhile.  If the Mutants brought this up, they must want to deal.  These home invasions have cost them too.  They’ve had a few members killed recently.  Besides that, it’s getting colder and wetter too.  They might lose some of the fight in them if the rain doesn’t stop and winter really sets in.  That’s good. It will put them in the mood to bargain.  If nothing else, it will keep them under control for awhile.”

“But,” Sean continued, “I can’t help but observe, that when the Mutants were attacking single family homes out in the valley, this wasn’t an issue.  Now that they are attacking the interests of the county elite, it is a priority.”

“You say you don’t want a war,” Malik said.  “If you want to stop it, here is your chance.  Unless, you want to murder them like the last set.”

“That happened a long time ago, and I don’t remember you being here when it happened either.  Regardless, that has nothing to do with the matter at hand. You want me to negotiate a peace, I will.”

“The citizens of this county appreciate your service…” James lifted his glass in a toast.

“But I’m not doing it for free.”

“What,” James set his glass back down.

“You heard me,” Sean said.  “I’m not going into a peace negotiation with a gang of outlaw bikers unless I get something out of it.”

James spoke enthusiastically.  He felt overjoyed that this might happen.  “Of course we’ll reward you for your service.  We’d be happy to.  What would you like?

It took Sean a few moments of thinking before he finally answered.  “The latest environmental mandate that got past?  The one that requires carbon certificates and stamps? I want some certificates.”

“Simple,” James exclaimed.  “I’ll have Connor issue you some personally…”

“No,” Sean said.  His voice sounded firm.  “I want more than just a few for me. A lot more.  I want… two thousand.”

The old politician coughed.  Malik hurriedly stubbed out his cigarette and focused on Sean.  Even the Sheriff was taken back.  He looked up, his face aghast, and then looked back down at the floor.

“Two thousand?  Why that many certificates would be worth…”

“Nothing.  At least that’s what they cost you, minus the money to print them.  I’ve read the President’s mandate.  As a county executive, you can issue as many as you see fit, gratis.  

“But…” James started to protest.  Sean’s request shocked him.

“But nothing.  They are pieces of paper with ink on them.  They aren’t worth anything, not really anyways.  You give me two thousand and you won’t lose anything.”

“Lost revenue,” Malik said.  “We give you two thousand that is a lot of lost revenue.”

“Lost revenue nothing,” Sean replied. “The people I’d sell them to would not pay the fees anyways, so you lose nothing.  Maybe I only make 10% of the face value on these, but I get something, and you lose nothing, except the ink and paper.”

“And what do the Mutants get,” Malik asked.

“What do they want?  I don’t know since I haven’t talked to them.  If they ask for guns, I’ll tell them no.  They’ll use them against innocent people and I won’t be a party to that.  But if giving them some food or cash or whatever will keep them under wraps for awhile, I think we need to do it.”

“Do you want a street war?  I’ve got my place locked down, so I’m safe.  Plus I don’t have any political concerns.  You all do.  If you didn’t want a peace negotiation you wouldn’t have called me here.  I think you made up your mind when you sent for me.  If you want me to do this, that’s the price.”

James looked at Malik for advice.  For Malik, the answer couldn’t be any clearer.  The certificates were nothing.  A peace with the Mutants, even if temporary, meant everything.  Malik solemnly nodded once signifying his approval.

“Sean, I think we have a deal,” the old politician said.  He pulled out another bottle from his desk.  “How about a toast to our success, and to the progress of the United States of America?”

After the toast and a few more details, Jim and Sean left.  Sean couldn’t help but notice that during the entire time, Sheriff Maltby didn’t speak a word.”

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“So,” Jim started when they were driving back to the compound.  “We just engineered a fake ‘Peace Process’ to defraud James Pritchard and pay off the bikers so they’ll stop killing innocent people.”

“That’s about right,” Sean answered.

“Are you happy about paying off the Mutants?”

“Not really Jim, but I’ll be happy that they stop killing people.”

“Do you think they will, Boss?”

“I hope so.  If they don’t, that means it’ll be a fight between me and them.  Unfortunately, right now I’m more worried about my elected officials than criminal elements.”

Jim nodded. “I agree with that Boss, but you comfortable with defrauding the government?”

“No more than the government is comfortable with defrauding me.  This isn’t the first time people have been defrauded on the pretext of peace.  Let me ask you this Jim: How many of your tax dollars went to North Korea or to Palestine, or to some tin pot dictator?  We pay money to low rent tyrants all the time on the pre-text that once we give them a little bit of aid, a little bit of cash they’ll stop fighting and start growing corn or whatever.  But these guys don’t stop fighting.  They take the money and use it to buy more weapons of build palaces and after a year or two they go back to rattling their sabers to see what else they can get.  

“How many times have we had Middle East peace processes and summits?  Every time we get a new President, right? Every time an ex-president needs some publicity.  How often have we had Israel and Palestine together at the negotiating table?  And what always happens?  We give away concessions, everybody shakes hands, some politicians get nice photo ops and book deals, and then a year later rockets are flying and buses are exploding.  Those rockets and bombs are usually paid for with the concessions we gave away in the name of peace.

“All I did in there was use the same tactics that have been used against politicians like James Pritchard for years.  The Mutants will get paid off, James Pritchard will get some political capital, and I’ll get what I want too.  The Mutants will stop their crime spree and we’ll get a nice reward in the process.”

“I don’t know boss,” Jim said.  His eyes held the road.  His voice contained no malice.  His intent was to play devil’s advocate, not to judge.  “Seems like a lot of ethical questions come up in this particular situation.”

“If we now live in an America where up is down and down is up and two plus two equals three, then like I said before Jim, I’m not going to hesitate to resort to some underhanded things.”

Jim smiled when he spoke.  “You know something, you are full of it.”

Sean looked at Jim.  He smiled, but the smile could have meant he was about to kick Jim’s ass.  

Jim continued.  “You make all this noise about how the rules are off, and you can do whatever you want, but you don’t do whatever you want.  People have offered to reward you for killing Hugh Bowden.  I know you would like to do that, but you haven’t.  When this deal came down with the Mutants, your first requirement for them was to stop killing people.  Up there in the office, you could have asked for anything from James Pritchard.  You could have asked for money or fuel or land or a political appointment.  Instead you scammed him out of those carbon limitation certifications, which is ironic because that is the very tool he is using to scam people out of their money.

“And I’m sure that after you sell all those on the black market, instead of keeping all the rewards for yourself you’ll use the proceeds to buy more food and other things for the community.  It’s just like when you got those people the jobs at the Marine base.  You didn’t ask for kickbacks or anything like that.  You just got them jobs and called it good.  

“So I’m not believing this, ‘anything goes’ routine.  Sorry Boss.”

“Fair enough Jim.  So what do you believe?”

“I believe you’re like most people.  You are just trying to make the best of a bad situation.  It’s like that essay about Sheepdogs and Wolves and Sheep.  You’re one of the Sheepdogs; unafraid to unleash horrors upon the wolves to protect the sheep.”

“That’s very philosophical of you Jim.”

“I read it on the internet.”  Jim and Sean both grinned at that statement.  The rode in the dark silence for a few miles before Jim spoke again.  

“O, it is excellent to have a giant’s strength! But it is tyrannous to use it like a giant.”

“You read that on the internet too Jim?”

Jim shook his head.  “No Boss, that’s from Shakespeare.”







[/span]

Link Posted: 8/11/2009 5:57:05 PM EDT
[#33]
Great new additions.  Thanks for your efforts.  The situation is starting to really heat up.  Look forward to the next chapter.
Link Posted: 8/11/2009 9:22:18 PM EDT
[#34]
Great job.... good storyline
Link Posted: 8/19/2009 4:18:02 PM EDT
[#35]
Enjoyed the last part of Chapter 10.  Very good writing in this story.  Your plot is much more in depth than most of the TEOTHWAWKI type stories.  I am enoying this very much.  Now, we wait for Chapter 11 !!!!!!  Thanks.

Link Posted: 8/20/2009 10:16:02 AM EDT
[#36]
Excellent story, really outstanding.  It is refreshing to see a TEOTWAWKI story that isn't just guns and mutant zombies.  This one paints a very plausible scenario, which is were we can learn something as well as be entertained.  Please keep it up, and thank you for sharing it with us so far!
Link Posted: 8/23/2009 1:14:54 AM EDT
[Last Edit: sharkman6] [#37]

CHAPTER 11


Political language — and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists — is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.
George Orwell, Politics and the English Language[/span]



Hugh Bowden’s speech and gestures demonstrated just how furious he felt.  “They nearly destroyed my business.  I’ve lost millions in government contracts, and you are just going to pay them off!  Do you know how much the union has done for this government?”

“If it wasn’t for this government, there wouldn’t be a Progressive Union,” James Pritchard fired back.  “So don’t bark at me!  Your union serves at the pleasure of this administration.  Don’t forget that.”

James continued.  “Peace is still a more powerful word than union.  I don’t think you want me to paint you as anti-peace, Hugh.  You still haven’t lived down the strong arm tactics from your port of Long Beach days.”

“You threw me under the bus,” Hugh returned.  His temper ran hot and he would not give up.  “And not only did you let those bikers off scott free, but you let Sean Bastle get involved.  That man is no friend of progress.  We should have fed him to those bikers, not let him deal with them.”

“We needed him to make the deal.  I wasn’t going to send anybody who can be tied back officially to me.  What if something goes bad?  What if they don’t hold up their end of the bargain?  Do you want your name on it?”

“Sean Bastle,” Hugh shouted.  “Sean Bastle is not one of us.  He has an agenda.  I don’t know what it is, but he has one.  And the deal with those bikers was part of that agenda.”  

“That deal with the bikers,” James said in a cold steady tone, “was a necessary evil.  There are forces at work here much larger than some pitiful little union organizer and the shell company he runs.”

“We’ll see what happens at your re-election,” Hugh steamed.

Malik, sitting calmly on the couch and smoking a cigarette asked Hugh in an ominous tone, “Hugh, what makes you think there are going to be any more elections?”

Hugh stared at Malik.  Rage lurked behind his eyes but he didn’t speak.

Malik continued his train of thought. “And if there are no more elections, I guess that makes unions much less important than perhaps they were in the past.”  Malik spoke calmly, but in his jacket pocket, he slipped his hands around a small revolver he just started carrying.  He always understood the need for violence, but never carried it out personally.  He carried the pistol to defend himself.  Though he would never admit it, things had him a little worried.  He was no stranger to the dirty dealings of politics, but things now seemed much more heated.  Bombings and assassination were never commonplace in American politics, now they seemed to be weekly events.  The Anti-American terrorists had not stopped their bombings.  They had slowed down, but they hadn’t abated.

Across the room, Hugh’s chest heaved with his temper.  “Don’t count me or the union out just yet,” he said.  “I’m still a powerful man around here.  I won’t just be brushed aside.”  With that he stormed out of the office.  On the way out he tried to slam the door, but somebody caught it just before it hit the jam.  The door was pulled back all the way open and a uniform man walked in.

“He doesn’t look happy,” the new man said.  He wore the distinct camouflage uniform of a U.S. Marine.  On one pocket he wore the badge signifying service at Camp David.  On his squat nose perched a set of thick military issue glasses.  The man was short, but lean.  

James Pritchard smiled.  “Good morning Colonel.  Malik, this is Lieutenant Colonel Kwon of the United States Marines.  He’ll be serving as our military counsel.  Colonel, this is Malik Jackson, my informal Chief of Staff.

Malik didn’t get up from the couch or speak.   He raised the hand with cigarette in a welcoming motion and nodded.  The marine nodded back.  

“Are you and you staff getting all settled in Colonel?”

The marine nodded.  “The rest of my staff is still on their way, but those of us that are here are all moved in.”

“Good,” James Pritchard said. “I’m glad to see some things are moving along as planned.”
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Gerry Sheely left Sheriff Maltby’s office without speaking, nearly shattering the glass in the door when he slammed it behind him.  “I guess we agreed to disagree,” the Sheriff said to himself.  He pulled open one of the lower drawers of his oak desk and pulled out a bottle.  The bottle was half full of brown bourbon and had a plain label.  Simple black print stretched across a brown gray label made of recycled paper.  “Patriot Bourbon,” the label read.  Patriot Bourbon just hit the shelves not too long ago.  It came from a new government supported company made up of several distilleries all seized in the readjustment.  One day the Sheriff showed up to work and found a case sitting on his desk.  The benefits of being a sheriff.  The benefits of progress.

The Sheriff poured himself a drink and turned on the radio.  The news poured out of the speakers.  The program covered a recent trend of violence in the Pacific Northwest.  This wasn’t the only county to have folks transplanted into the farming communities.  Eastern Washington, Oregon and parts of Idaho had also received new immigrants.  The new immigrants were transplants, relocated from the Grass Roots urban transient centers to the farms.  Apparently the transplants and the locals had not been getting along.  Locals were accusing the transplants of intimidation, committing home invasions, robbery and murders.  In some cases, locals had caught these transplants in the act and captured or killed the perpetrators.

The general consensus among the locals was that transplants had been moved into the country to run the locals out.  Ironic, the Sheriff thought, since that is the very reason Gerry Sheely came to see him this morning.  Three new families were transplanted into the valley with the farmers, if you considered a group of a half dozen young males a family.  So far, they had not gotten along well with Gerry’s people.

On the radio, the host presented the locals’ argument, and then went about dismissing it entirely through the help of a panel of talking heads.  Sheriff Maltby took a long pull out of the bottle as he listened.

“Michelle, we’ll start with you” The moderator said, addressing a Hollywood actress who made up his panel of experts. “What do you think about all this violence in the rural areas of our country?”

“Well, I haven’t seen any evidence that the transplants are attacking farmers, but I have seen tremendous amount of evidence that these transplants are being systematically murdered by local farmers and hill billy rednecks.”  

Before she got farther, a college professor of dubious credentials jumped in. “This idea that a citizen has the right to defend themselves is preposterous.  There is no right of self defense listed anywhere in the Bill of Rights or the Constitution.  That is the responsibility of the government, not of the individual.  It is not for the citizen to assume government responsibilities that are beyond not only their abilities, but their comprehension.”

“Well let’s call this what it really is.”  This new voice came from the third member of the panel. “This is a bunch of right-wing racists, pure and simple.  Transplanting those people out of the cities and into the farmland was the right thing to do and the progressive thing to do.  That is a fact.  The Government is right.  So the only reason these redneck farmers could have a problem with this program is because they are blinded by their racism.  These farmers are so blinded by their racism and hate that they can’t see the inherent progressiveness of this program.  There is no difference between shooting a man for being in your home and lynching somebody because they look different. Either way it is murder.”

“Can’t these people just pickup the phone and call the police?”  The actress asked in an incredulous tone.

“Well in many of these places there is no more phone service,” the moderator said, trying to give at least some semblance of impartiality.

“Well no wonder they act like barbarians,” the actress exclaimed.  “If you aren’t progressive, you’re regressive.  If you aren’t moving forward, you are going backwards.” Her last statement was quickly becoming a mantra.

“What I find so ironic about this,” the professor continued, “Is that for years these people have been holding the Constitution and the Bill of Rights on high, which is pretty backwards in itself. I don’t know why you’d want to live your life based on a piece of paper.  It is almost as bad as the bible people.  But anyways, they talk all the time about the Constitution, but where is the right of self defense in that document?  It isn’t there!  The founding fathers never intended for citizens to have the right of self-defense. Like Michelle said, that is a government responsibility.  Self defense is just another word for vigilantism and murder!”

Funny, the Sheriff thought, how things where never what they really were anymore.  When things were never officially what they were in reality, it made enforcing the laws tough.  The ‘seizure’ wasn’t a seizure; it was the ‘readjustment.’  The government didn’t steal private property and wealth; they ‘redistributed it for the common good.’  These farmers who were battling the government transplants weren’t defending their homes; they were ‘racists, exercising their hate.’  The government had always been good at calling things something other than what they really were, but now it all bordered on the absurd.  How could people believe such things, the Sheriff asked himself. But he knew the answer already.  People believed because believing is easier than thinking.  Thinking generally involves a choice, and choosing is hard, that’s why people prefer not to make their own choices.  It is easier to let the government choose for them. It is easier to let the government think for them.  It is easier to surrender their well being to the mercy of the government, than to take care of themselves.

The Sheriff thought back to a theme from a book he’d read in school long ago.  War is Peace, Freedom is slavery, Ignorance is Strength.  He took another pull from the bottle, and held it in his throat.  As the brown liquor burned, he held the bottle up and turned it in his hands, reading the label.

“Patriot Bourbon is Victory Gin,” he said aloud after gulping down the booze.

The fact that James Pritchard had made a deal with the Mutants, and gang of outlaws who stole and murdered did not sit well with the Sherriff.  That his friend, Sean Bastle, participated in the deal made it even worse.  As a Sheriff, it was his responsibility to enforce the law.  But what if the government, the government that made the laws and gave him his authority to enforce the law, had no regard for the law itself?  What was he to do?  The idea of being complicit didn’t sit well with the Sherriff.  Too many of his fellow public servants saw what was going on as an opportunity for personal gain.  Of course going against the flow had disadvantages as well.  Somebody murdered Doctor Meadows and his wife.  Although he had no proof, The Sheriff did not believe that the Sons of Liberty, or Anti-American terrorists, killed them.  

The walls of the office were decorated with various photographs, trophies, and plaques.  Altogether, they represented the sum total of a life dedicated to law enforcement.  He always believed in the law.  It had not always been at the forefront of his mind, and often in his life he would have dismissed such an idea as over idealistic and corny.  But here and now, where hypothetical arguments were manifesting as steely hard realities, the idea of dedicating oneself to the law seemed a lot nobler.  Now is when it counted.  The Sheriff took one last pull, then capped the bottle and set it back in the drawer.  At some point, you had to stand up for what you believed in.  The Sheriff knew that.  If he turned his back on what he believed in now, what would that make of his life thus far?  No, he said to himself.  I have to do what I know is the right thing, as bad as the consequences might be.

But how he would do it, he had no idea.

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The sun had not come up when the car pulled to the side of the road and parked.  No rain fell from the sky, although it certainly would before the day ended.  The silence of the former suburban neighborhood made the scene almost unrecognizable.  The ambient noise one would once hear even in the quietest of suburban neighborhoods was gone.  No rushing cars, no sounds of TVs or radios or other media.  The wonderful sound of nothing filled the air.  The three men in the car enjoyed the silence for a few moments. Then they broke out their weapons.

The two in the front each had a Tech-9 machine pistol with magazines tapped end to end with shiny grey duct tape.  Their names were Lawrence and Jay. The man in the back seat had a berretta pistol.  His name was Nate and he led the trio. He chambered a round, ensured the weapon was on safe, and then stuffed two extra magazines into the pocket of his coat.

“It’s wet out there,” Jay said.  “I’ll bet its muddy too.”

The man in the back had killed for money many times before.  He wore the tattoos to prove it.  Prison ink decorated his body.  It might be cold and wet, and early, but this was business, just as killing this guy and his wife was business.  When it came to business, best to just do it and get it done.  Getting emotional about it never helped.

“We go through these woods, and on the other side is a road they run along when they jog.  Along the road is a bunch of vehicles.  Trucks, things like that.  We hid behind the trucks, and when they run by we blast them.  Then we get back here and get out of town.  Easy.”

“Yeah, Yeah,” exclaimed Lawrence from the front seat.  “Let’s do it.”
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Hooker and Davis arrived at Jim’s house early.  “Time to start training,” Davis said cheerily.  Jim looked at the slate colored sky. “It early enough,” Jim said, rubbing his eyes.  “What’s with the rifle?  You worried about the stagecoach?”

Davis patted the rifle slung over his shoulder.  The old lever action .30-30 had a scope and an old brown leather sling.  “It’s been collecting dust in the closet.” Davis answered.  “I thought I’d get it out into the sunshine.  Besides, it makes me feel good, like I’m in a John Wayne movie.”

Hooker laughed.  “Okay cowboys, we got a training schedule to keep.”

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Sean and his wife were also up early.  They were getting ready for their morning run.  Already dressed, Sean waited by the door.  Next to the front door were her running shoes.  The shoes were old, too old.  The next time he talked to Tien, he’d have to see about getting some new ones.

Also next to the door sat a pile of gear.  He looked over the gear that sat in its neatly arranged pile.  The pile consisted of an old pistol belt with a variety of attachments including a big first aid kit.  Behind the belt sat a pale green set of body armor that showed the signs of its use and age, and a pump shotgun.  Sean hefted the shotgun, checked the safety, then did a chamber check.  The shotgun was a civilian version of the same shotgun he carried in the Marines.  Warm feelings of nostalgia filled him as he looked it over.  The gun’s appeal was its simplicity.  A parkerized 12 gauge with black synthetic furniture, the only accessories on it were the heat shield, sling, and a nylon holder on the stock that contained a few more shells.  Some of the others preferred newer semi-auto shotguns, but Sean liked the simple, reliable pump.  Normally he carried a small pistol when he ran, but looking over the old pump gun he decided today he’d take it instead, just for old time’s sake.

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The trio made it through the green belt that bordered one edge of the Bastle compound.  Now the three gunmen were along the road.  The information the received was correct.  A row of neatly parked vehicles and other equipment lined the road.  Nate placed the other two behind some old trucks, and then picked a spot for himself just off the road, still in the bushes.  From here, he could keep an eye on the other two, and make a quick getaway back through the woods to the car.  They’d do the actual killing.  Their Tech-9 pistols were fully automatic. They were gifts from the man who gave them the job.

He looked back up to the sky.  The sky brightened.  If their information held up, their targets would be running by anytime now.

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Sean and his wife puffed down the suburban streets.  His shotgun felt good in his hand.  The sling looped around his chest bounced with his pace.  One good thing about the seizure, he thought, is that I’m in a lot better shape than I would be otherwise.  His body had gotten lean and hard.  All the excess pounds that accumulated from poor diet and too much time dedicated to couches and TV and internet were gone.  He and his wife ran almost every day now.  Even with all the things that weighed on him mentally and emotionally, physically he had not felt this good in a long time.

He and his wife chit-chatted as they rounded a bend in the street.  They ran along the outer part of the development than ran along an undeveloped greenbelt that separated the homes from one of the county highways.  Parked along it were extra trucks, earth moving equipment, and other odds and ends that had been secured for the good of community.  He and his wife began discussing the possibility of sending their kids to school in Canada, for safety more than for the education.  They were so involved in the conversation that they didn’t see the gunmen until it the jumped out with their guns in the air.

Lawrence and Jay came out from behind their cover at the same time, firing on full auto as they did.  Sean saw them moving, and swung to get his shotgun on the men, but it was too late.  A burst of bullets caught him across the abdomen then spun him around and threw him to the ground.  It was a lucky shot.  The men fired without aiming.  Most of their bullets went wild, but enough hit Sean to send him down as more pistol bullets snapped around him.

Jay felt flush with excitement when the man hit the ground.  He turned to face the woman.  When he did, the feeling of excitement he got from shooting the man instantly gave way to fear.  From under her sweatshirt she drew a slim pistol.  As the pistol came out, she side-stepped, moving in an arc around him.  He swung the Tech-9 over to engage her, but he couldn’t bring it around fast enough.  It was a matter on angles.  As she side-stepped, she reduced the angle she had to bring the pistol to bear, but increased the angle he had to move to get his weapon on target.  He twisted around but too slowly.  He stared down the sights of her pistol from the wrong direction into her dark brown eye just as the pistol barked.  Three rounds tore through his sternum, pierced his heart and severed his vena cava.  The woman fired two more times, hitting him in the chin and forehead before he crumbled to the ground.

From down the road, the second gunman fired his Tech-9.  He fired wildly again, not using the sights and holding his weapon with just one hand.  The fully automatic machine pistol threw rounds out, but none hit their intended target.  The woman emptied her pistol as she moved to the cover of one of the trucks parked along the side of the road.  Her 9mm rounds sparked and pinged of the bulldozer he hid behind, but didn’t hit the gunman.  As soon as she got to cover, she changed her magazine.  Lawrence heard the clicking of metal on metal as the woman slapped a fresh magazine into her pistol.  He reached forward and began switching his magazines that were taped end to end.

He caught movement out of the corner of his eye.  He turned just in time to see Sean roll from his back to his side and bring the shotgun up.  Lawrence focused on the brass bead over the barrel, just as the gun fired.  Buckshot tore into his knees and shins and swept his legs out from underneath him.  He hit the ground so hard the wind was crushed out of his lungs.  Before he could even register the pain from the first blast, Sean racked his shotgun and fired again.  They were so close that the full blast hit Lawrence in his head, destroying it.

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Up the street, Jim, Hooker, Davis, and Doc Hyde all heard the shots.  They saw the gun battle erupting.  Davis brought up his lever action rifle to use the scope to see what was going on.

From the bushes, Nate saw the woman approaching Lawrence’s dead body.  Her pistol was drawn and she moved cautiously.  Nate raised his berretta with one hand, using the other hand to brace himself.  He aimed deliberately, and then fired.

Sean’s wife heard and felt the bullets crack past her head.  She moved to cover.  In the street, Sean lifted himself up.  He put the shotgun in action, firing at Nate.  The buckshot tore through the bushes around him.  Firing as he went, Nate ran for the vehicles.  
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Up the street, Davis could make out what was going on through the scope of his rifle.  Sean and his wife were under fire.  There was one man left.  He moved along the row of vehicles, angling to get a shot.  From the opposite end of the row of vehicles, Sean and his wife also angled for a shot.  The pistols made their snapping bark, while Sean’s shotgun made its deeper boom.  Davis took aim with his scoped .30-30.
 ––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––­–––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––­–––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––

The .30-30 bullet hit Nate in the shoulder.  It shattered his shoulder blade, spun him around and threw him to the ground so that he landed in the street sitting on his ass.  His right arm hung limply at his side.  Nate grabbed the pistol from his right hand with his left hand, then set it down and reached over into his right hand coat pocket with his left hand, fishing again for the second magazine.  It all felt awkward to him, reaching across his body that way.  Before he could get to the new source of ammunition, the man with the shotgun leaned out from behind an old pickup and .fired again.  The buckshot tore into the other shoulder.  Nate collapsed to the ground.  The empty pistol clattered on the pavement when he dropped it.


When the gunfire started, Chris went to the window to see what was going on.  He hadn’t been able to see much, but now he could see Davis and the others running down the street.  Chris threw on a bullet proof vest with ammo pouches and other accessories mounted on it then grabbed his carbine.  “Lock all the doors,” he yelled back to his family as he ran outside.


Sean walked to Nate with a steady mechanical pace.  It spoke of the inevitability of what was to come.  The shotgun empty, Sean unslung it and swung it around, grabbing its barrel like a baseball bat.  Nate tried to raise his shattered arms in protest.  The shotgun swung around and hit his arm at the elbow. The forearm made a sickening crack as it twisted around an obscene angle.  Sean set the shotgun down.  Squatting over Nate, he picked up the empty pistol with one hand, and then grabbed the would-be assassin’s collar with the other.  The empty pistol still had its slide locked back.  It went up, then came down.  It happened again, then again. The pistol kept swinging up and down.  Gore splashed off Nate’s broken head and splattered across Sean’s face and neck.  

The others watched.  Sean’s wife, pistol reloaded, scanned the area for more assassins.  If she had any remorse, she didn’t show it.  Jim just watched the pistol whipping.  When Sean decided he had killed his assailant enough, he tossed the pistol aside and sat down in the street.  Nate’s body lay in a heap.  His head caved in, and his neck twisted at an angle that looked all wrong.

“Sean,” Chris said calmly.  

Sean looked up.  Behind his eyes a fire raged.  He looked like an animal that some one tried to tame, but had turned wild again at the smell of fresh blood.  

Chris didn’t speak.  He made a slight gesture with his hands and shoulders as if to ask, are you alright?  This small act brought Sean back from whatever primal place he went to.  He nodded a few times.  “Call the Sherriff,” he said to nobody in particular.

Doc Hyde arrived on the scene and threw a huge backpack to the ground.  It bulged with medical supplies.  The corpsman grabbed Sean’s sweatshirt and lifted it off, revealing the old body armor underneath.  

While Doc began evaluating Sean, Davis looked to Chris for guidance.  Should I call the Sheriff, Davis asked without speaking.  Chris shook his head no.

“Sean,” Chris spoke slowly.  “I don’t think calling the Sheriff is a good idea.”

Doc Hyde removed Sean’s body armor.  The Velcro straps made their characteristic ripping sound.  Next his shirt came off.  On Sean’s abdomen and side a series of ugly bruises started to form.  The armor stopped the bullets from piercing Sean’s body, but the kinetic energy still had an effect.  As Doc Hyde continued his examination, Jim looked over.  On Sean’s side, underneath the forming bruises was another scar. A burn scar stretched all along his side, snaking down into the waistband of his swears and up into his armpit.  It looked like somebody had poured gas on his side, and then lit it.

“Jesus,” Jim cried out.  “How did you get that?”

“Somebody else tried to kill me,” Sean said.  “He didn’t succeed either.”

Hooker picked the pistol off the ground.  Wiping off the gore, he examined it.  “Looks like he busted the slide lock,” He said matter of factly.  Then he looked up and gave Jim a week.  Obviously Hooker approved.  Jim watched Hooker pocket the broken pistol then go about searching the other bodies.

“Good thing you wore your PPE boss,” Doc Hyde said.  A few more men were out on the street now, scanning for more enemies.  Cody had a few men with him and was trying to get a security patrol organized.

Hooker spoke from up the street, “No identification, unless you count these.”  He pointed to one of the bodies.  He’d removed the man’s coat and shirt to reveal a series of gang tattoos that stretched across his chest and stomach.  In a pile next to the body were the two Tech-9 machine pistols and other odds and ends.

“Obviously hired guns.  “I’ll bet this wasn’t their first.” Chris turned to Sean.  “We need to keep this quiet.  We have no idea who hired these guys.”

“They’re criminals,” Sean said.  “Call the Sheriff.  It’s self defense.”

Chris pointed to the man Sean pistol whipped to death.  Blood and gore spilled out of the crushed skull.  “You beat that one to death with his own gun, while he was wounded. Nobody is going to see that as self defense, especially not if the wrong people spin this the wrong way.  Anybody could have sent these guys, but somebody sent them. What if Grass Roots sent them?  Or Pritchard?  They’ll call this murder on your part.  And even if they don’t, we can’t take the risk of you sitting in the county jail cell until this gets resolved.  Especially if they put you in general population.  Calling the Sheriff isn’t an option Sean.”

“They tried to kill me and my wife,” Sean said.

“They did.  But do you really want to trust your future, your family future to a court right now?  Are you going to trust a court to be honest and free of manipulation?  The people who sent these gunmen could just as easily fix a trial, probably even easier.”

As Doc Hyde worked, Sean pondered it over.  He though about the last time he saw the Sheriff.  The man didn’t even speak to him.  Sean nodded, acquiescing to Chris’s argument.  “You’re right,” he told his second in command.  “No Sheriff.  We keep this to ourselves.”

“So what do we do,” Jim asked.

Hooker smiled.  “We find some shovels.”
Link Posted: 8/23/2009 1:30:36 AM EDT
[#38]
Originally Posted By Taxed2Death:
Excellent story, really outstanding.  It is refreshing to see a TEOTWAWKI story that isn't just guns and mutant zombies.  This one paints a very plausible scenario, which is were we can learn something as well as be entertained.  Please keep it up, and thank you for sharing it with us so far!


Thanks to everybody for the kind words and encouragement.  This is my first attempt to write anything on such a scale, so I'm glad people out there enjoy it.  This has not been easy.  Although they ideas come pretty quick, finding the time to get this out into the public is no easy task.  Especially since I've already begun out lining a book II.

I know a lot of readers are waiting for this to come to a head.  It will happen.  For me, this is like stacking up dominoes. The fun part is when you get to knock them all over.  

Of course, the Grass Roots, the Progressive Union and Progressive Auxiliary, and James Pritchard might have a few more moves to make between now and then.

THANKS FOR READING!
Link Posted: 8/23/2009 11:32:33 AM EDT
[#39]
I am really enjoying it!

Thank you!

.............Mounger
Link Posted: 8/24/2009 12:26:16 AM EDT
[#40]
Its a good read but Ive gotta complain about the formatting.
––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––­–––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––­–––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––­–––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––­–––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––­––––––
 
When Ive got my browser in fullscreen, zoomed as far out as is still readable, and still need to scroll laterally to read a sentence it starts getting to be bothersome.


or am I the only one with this issue?

Link Posted: 8/24/2009 12:39:40 AM EDT
[#41]
Originally Posted By VaultDweller:
Its a good read but Ive gotta complain about the formatting.
––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––­–––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––­–––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––­–––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––­–––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––­––––––
 
When Ive got my browser in fullscreen, zoomed as far out as is still readable, and still need to scroll laterally to read a sentence it starts getting to be bothersome.


or am I the only one with this issue?



I am enjoying this one too, but it's aggravating enough that I cut and paste into Wordpad to read the chapter that are too wide to fit on the screen.
Link Posted: 8/24/2009 1:02:44 AM EDT
[Last Edit: kaiserworks] [#42]
Sharkman,
I love the story but the large print is killing me. Can you do a slightly smaller font that will allow reading without having to scroll side to side?

EDIT: someone beat me to it.
Link Posted: 8/24/2009 1:27:41 AM EDT
[#43]
Started reading, good so far!!
Link Posted: 8/24/2009 2:34:53 PM EDT
[#44]
Going to be hell to pay for this attack?  Was it the union, the political hack or his evil assistant or someone else?  Lots of potential assasins?  Great chapter.
Link Posted: 8/24/2009 11:01:50 PM EDT
[#45]
Thanks for explaining why Sean gave Jim such a critical role. I was scratching my head at that for a while.

Great story, great use of future fiction to show where current events are eroding our freedom.
Maybe the most disturbing story I have read here.

Thanks again, please finish this.
Link Posted: 8/28/2009 3:39:21 PM EDT
[#46]
Love the story man haven't read it all yet but thought i would throw some good praises your way
Link Posted: 8/29/2009 1:54:55 AM EDT
[Last Edit: sharkman6] [#47]
“The welfare of the people in particular has always been the alibi of tyrants.”
Albert Camus

“So let there be no doubt: health care reform cannot wait, it must not wait, and it will not wait another year."
President Barack Obama


Chapter 12

The flu pandemic that caused so much concern had officially been defeated.  The President announced at a press concert that the flu pandemic had been avoided by the hard work of the government, especially the Grass Roots and the Progressive Auxiliary.  To show his appreciation for those agencies, the President awarded the Presidential Freedom Medal to each serving member.  On the television, viewers could see the President personally giving the medal to the highest ranking members of the PA.  Malik could not help but notice that the Grass Roots got no such distinction. The President also decided that one medal was not enough, so he awarded the PA the military’s Humanitarian Service Medal.  Ironically, members of the military who worked on preventing the potential flu pandemic were not awarded the Humanitarian Service medal.

Malik Jackson enjoyed the news broadcasts, and then he left the executive headquarters building and jumped into his vehicle.  He drove a high-end SUV.  The silver vehicle had been reallocated during the readjustment.  Malik saw it on a government lot and took it for his personal use.  

From the headquarters, Malik drove into the small downtown area in the center of Maysville.  On the way, he passed a few recruiting billboards for the PA.  Each billboard featured the same thing.  Three illustrated characters stood proudly against the backdrop of the blue flag with a single white star. It was reminiscent of Stalinist artwork.  On the left, stood a man holding a long pipe wrench.  A woman holding a pitchfork stood on the right.  In the center stood another man, this one held an AK-47.  Each figure wore a dark blue version of older military BDU’s.  Each figure held their implement aloft in a triumphant pose.  Banners above and below the figures asked the following question:

They Volunteered for the Progressive Auxiliary
Why Haven’t You?


The message is getting out, Malik thought.  Hopefully it would have its desired effect.  The desired effect was not to bring more people into the fold of progress.  That was mostly a done deal.  With the exception of a few people still on the fence, most people had chosen what side of the party line they were going to stand on.  Instead, the point of the message was to radicalize those who were on the side of Progress and intimidate those who were not into silence and submission.  More posters and artwork would be presented in the near future with the same themes; present Progress as larger than life, and make accusations that the viewer wasn’t doing enough for Progress.

Malik pulled into an angled parking stall in front of a downtown bar.  The marquis presented the establishment’s name in bold red letters.  The “Workers of the World United,” served as the local hangout for the Progressive Union.  Membership in it, or one of its sister unions was a requirement for entry.  Malik came to the bar at the request of Hugh Bowden.  Stepping out of the vehicle, Malik checked the small revolver in his pocket, and then he went inside.

The inside of the bar was beautiful.  The bar had been built over 100 years ago.  It was one of the first buildings established in Maysville.  Inside, it still had the trappings of its age: fine wood work and wood paneling, pressed tin ceilings, and a custom hand-built bar that stretched almost forty feet from end to end.  The union took over the bar during the readjustment.  From out of a back room closed off by red velvet curtains, Hugh Bowden walked confidently up to the bar and Malik.

“Welcome to our modest little hangout.  Please, order whatever you’d like.  It’s on me.”

Malik looked over the collection of bottles behind the bar with its huge mirror.  These bottles were the real deal: Pre-readjustment liquor.  Not a Patriot brand label in sight.  Nothing but the best would do for the union men.  One bottle caught Malik’s eye.

“Gimme that Hangar 1 Vodka.  The whole bottle.”  The bar tender looked to Hugh, who gave him a nod of approval.

Malik snatched the bottle and a glass off the bar.  Together, he and Hugh went into the back room.  There were two other union flunkies already there. After they sat down, Hugh asked, “How have you been?”

Malik didn’t like Hugh, so he cut through the BS.  “Why am I here?”

“Sean Bastle.”  An uncomfortable space of time passed while Malik waited for more and Hugh searched for words.  “Sean Bastle is a murderer.”

Malik waited long enough to keep Hugh uncomfortable.  He finally answered with a single word.  “So?”

“I sent three people to go to Sean’s place.  That happened four days ago.  I haven’t heard from them since.  I’m sure he killed them.”

“Why were they there in the first place?”

“Well,” Hugh said sheepishly.  “I sent them there to kill him.  But that’s not important.”

Malik slammed his glass down on the table.  “What?”

“I hired those guys to kill him.  Granted, it didn’t work out they way I intended, but we can still win out of this.  We can make it all work for us.”

“You tried to kill Bastle? Are you stupid?”

“I did try to have him killed.  But he killed my guys.  But that is okay, because now we can charge him with murder for killing them.  We can get him.”

“You hired some goons to kill him.  They got their asses killed, and now we are going to jail him?”  Malik shook his head.  “I’m not getting your plan here.  We should jail him but not you?  I don’t see how you can think we should do anything other than keep our mouths shut about this.”

“Don’t you see?  If we control the courts and the media, we can spin this anyway we want!  We can say those guys were just there to talk to Sean and he killed him.  We can say anything we want.  And when we’re done, we can throw him in jail, if not the chair.  We can finally get rid of him.”

“Are you serious Hugh?”

“I'm dead serious.  Think about it.  It will work.  We just got to get the sheriff onboard.  Or we could use the police chief.  It would work.”

Malik filled his glass, downed the clear liquid, then though it over.  Hugh sat across the table, anxiously awaiting Malik’s response.  When Malik finally decided how to answer, he spoke slowly with a deadly serious tone. “Just one thing we’d have to do first…”

Hugh’s eyes brightened with anticipation.

“First, we’d have build a spaceship made out of candy canes and gumdrops and fly it to fantasy land.”  Hugh face went blank.  He obviously didn’t understand.  Malik continued.   “Are you insane?  You cannot possibly be serious, unless you are a total idiot.”

“But,” Hugh started to protest.

“No!”  Malik didn’t let Hugh talk.  “Do you not grasp the total hypocrisy of what you are proposing?  You sent guys to kill Bastle; they failed and got killed, so you want me to get him charged with murder.  Are you for real?”

“What’s the point of all of this if we can’t just do whatever we want?”

“No Hugh.”

      “You are choosing Bastle over me?”

      “No, I’m just not choosing you, or this stupid idea.”

Hugh changed tactics.  “You don’t get to tell me no.  You’re not the executive.  Pritchard is.  You’re nothing but an assistant!”

“I’m his chief of staff, which means he’s the one that says yes, and I’m the one that says no.  I’m telling you no.  James Pritchard will never know this, do you understand me.  My job is to insulate him from stupid crap like that, and I will.  He will never know about the murder attempt, or your stupid plan.  Do you know how this could reflect on him if it ever came to light?  He needs to be able to say he never knew about it, and he won’t ever know about it.  Hugh, do you understand what is at stake here?”

       Hugh tried to answer.  Before he could, Malik answered for him.  “No.  No you don’t.”

“Men like James Pritchard won’t last without the union.”

“But the union will last without you,” Malik countered.  “You’re a glorified shop steward in nowhere USA.  If you were that important you would still be in Long Beach.  You aren’t.  You’re here.  That means you are expendable.  Don’t push your limits.  Stay in line.”

“I don’t work for you. I’ll do what I choose.”

“No,” Malik replied.  His voice so icy it chilled everybody at the table.  “Yes will do as your told, because if you don’t I’m going to drive down to the Bastle compound, and I’m going to tell him you tried to kill him.”

      That statement got Hugh’s full attention.  

      “That’s right Hugh.  And what do you think he’ll do then?  I bet he won’t hire some guys to come after you.  I’ll bet he’s the type of guy to do something like that himself.  Imagine that.”

Malik grabbed the bottle off the table, stood up and walked out.  As he left he shouted over his shoulder, “Shut up and do what you’re told.  That’s your job.”

Climbing back into his car, another poster across the street caught his eye.  In this one, a young woman read a book to three eager faced young children. Everybody in the poster was of a different race, a subtle celebration of diversity.  Two foot high block letters above the scene shouted the theme at the viewer:

Your Time Does Not Belong To You Alone!
Volunteer Now!

“Fucking simpletons,” Malik muttered under his breath.  He put the bottle in the back seat and then sped away back to the office.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX­XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

“Did you hear that crap about the flu pandemic?  I can’t believe they expect us to believe this,” Hooker said.

He stood in Sean’s study with Sean and most of the other members of the staff.  Everybody now monitored the news religiously, as dubious as it was.  A hunger for information ran through everybody in the compound.  While the media engineered and spun the bulk of news, you could still get information out of it, if you knew what to look for.

“No news there,” Sean said.  “I’m more concerned about some other news. Today the Secretary of Defense just announced the next Commandant of the Marine Corps and the new Chief of Naval Operations.”

“What’s the big deal about that,” Jim asked.

“The ones in office now aren’t even half way through their terms.  It’s a little premature to be announcing their successors.  It’s a subtle but big political move.  This isn’t the first time something like this has happened either.”

“Be that as it may,” Chris said.  “I’m more concerned about what is going on here than what’s going on in Washington D.C.  Namely, the attempt on your life Boss.”

Everybody around the room nodded in agreement. Somebody asked, “Who do you think it was?”

Sean shrugged.  “It could have been any number of people.  But aside from the Mutants and maybe that old gang we took care of, most of candidates are either government or quasi government forces.  That’s what worries me.”

“Whoever it was, they knew you and your wife would be running down that road at that time.”  Chris’s statement silenced the room.  Everybody had pondered that same idea at some point.

“Yes,” Sean said, speaking slowly.  “I’ve thought about that.”

“I’m amazed how easily they got in here,” Jim said.  “They just walked on it.”

“Well,” Chris said. “We’ve only got a guard on the one gate.  We blocked the other roads off.  But we don’t have a real secure perimeter.”

“We need to beef up the security there,” Davis said.  “We’ve got that earthmoving equipment from FEMA.  We can start building up berms around the compound.  Start putting together a solid defense plan.”  

Sean shook his head.  “No, we aren’t building any firm bases here.  We don’t have the manpower to invest in a security plan, and we don’t have the time our resources to invest in building a fortress.  Even if we did, what would that get us?  Our own little Alamo?  We’ve got maybe 30 veterans.  If we armed everybody we could, we’d have maybe 200 armed people.  Not much in the grand scheme of things. I’m not worried about assassins so much as the government, and if the federal goons want in here, they are going to get in here.

“Firming this place up was good for the last two years, but now the dynamic has changed.  I’m not worried about hungry mobs or gangs, I’m worried about our government.  In times like that, we need maximum mobility, not static defenses.  Anything we need to defend in that situation is something that can be used against us.  It will be a way to pin us down.”

“So if it comes down to it we abandon the compound,” Jim asked.

“More than that,” Sean answered.  “I’m not just talking about physical ground.  I’m talking about other things.  Our families for instance.”

“You mean abandon our families,” Jim gasped.

“Not abandon them.  Get them somewhere safe.  We need get light and mobile quick once this all comes to a head.  If it all goes down, the government is going to try and pin us down.  If they can’t do that directly, they’ll exploit our families to get to us.  We can’t physically defend our families here, not for any length of time.”

“We’ve got over a hundred families here,” Chris said.  “Not everybody is going to want to leave, even if things go bad. Sure we have our little band of veterans here, but most of the other families are just trying to live their lives. They aren’t going to want to get involved in some new revolution.”

“If it came down to that,” Sean’s wife said in a crystal clear voice, “and they came in here, they will not distinguish between the families of the veterans, and the other families.  They will punish all for the crimes of the few.  At best, they’ll just manipulate some families to turn on the others.  At the very worse, they imprison everybody.”

“You sound pretty convinced of that argument,” Jim said.

“My family came over here just a few generations ago,” She answered.  “This isn’t the first time something like this has happened.  Anybody who subscribes to the ‘it can’t happen here theory,’ is a fool.”

She continued.  “That won’t just go for us.  They’ll go for the farmers in the valley, and Tien’s people.  If they can tie anybody to us when this happens, they are fair game.”

“So how do we convince the other families,” Chris asked.

“I’ll get the word out to the wives,” Sean’s wife said.

“What about the husbands,” Hooker asked, naively.

She laughed.  “I forgot you aren’t married.   Once the wives make up their minds, the husbands won’t have a choice.”  They all laughed a little.  Sean continued.

      “I’m thinking we need a solid plan to abandon ship here and at least get our families up north.  Maybe to Alaska or maybe to Canada.  Mobility is going to be the name of the game, and so are liquid assets.  Wherever we go, we’ll need money to get there and money once we are there.  Money or at least liquid assets give us choices and mobility.”

Davis asked, “What about the certificates we got from the peace process?”

“Gone,” Chris answered.  “We’ve already funneled those through Tien.  They’re gone.”

“We’ll figure something else out.  It may take some time, but we’ll figure it out.”

Somebody asked, “How much time do we have?”

“I don’t think we have that much.”  Sean stood up as he answered.  “I need to get going and meet with Gerry.  He’s got trouble in the valley.”

Jim, Hooker, and Davis also stood up.  They would be riding with him.  

“We’ll take care of him,” Hooker said to Sean’s wife as they left.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX­XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

The convoy left the Bastle compound in a light drizzle.  The rain increased in fury as the convoy wound its way down into the valley to meet up with Gerry.  Jim and Sean rode together, with Hooker stretched out on the back bench seat.  The RPD rested casually on Hooker’s lap.  

The news on the radio didn’t include much besides celebrations of the halt put to the flu pandemic.  A senator spoke about how the Presidential freedom medal didn’t quite fit the heroic nature of the members of the Grass Roots and PA.  He proposed a new way needed to be created to honor such Heros.  “This is just another example,”  he said, “about how our old traditions and policies just aren’t keeping up with progress.  We need to tear down the old and build up the new.”

Sean scoffed and turned off the radio.  He turned to Jim.  

“You look tired,” Sean said.  “Hooker is keeping you up with the training?”

Jim only nodded.  From the back seat Hooker spoke.  “He’s coming along.  We’ve gone through the machinegun manual almost cover to cover.”

“Oh yeah,” Sean replied.  “How is he doing?”  As Sean and Hooker spoke, each one focused their eyes outwards; to the sides of the roads, the treelines and empty houses.

“He’s got the RPD and RPK down, but it is hard to train without a real machine gun.  Still, he’s getting the tactical aspects down.  Machinegun employment in the offense and defense, things like that.”

The rain picked up.

“Think Tien might be able to get us some real machineguns, Boss?”

“Maybe Hooker,” Sean answered.  “They’d look good on some pedestal mounts on the back of our trucks.”

“Yeah,” Hooker laughed.  “Somali style.”

They turned a corner and moved down a country road.  The road was elevated up above the fields on either side of it by maybe ten feet.  The valley made for excellent farm land, but the valley was also a flood plain. The fields were muddy from the constant rain, but not flooded.  At least they were not flooded yet.  As the convoy continued, they moved up to a cattle yard.  Gerry Sheely and a few farmers worked inside the cow pens amongst the mud and cow waste.  The rain came down heavier just as Sean and the other left their trucks.

Gerry walked up to Sean.  He kept a semi automatic shotgun in the crook of his arm. On his hip he carried one of the pistols Sean took from the union men so long ago.  All the other farmers were armed.  A few who weren’t working stood guard.

“Came here last night and shot a bunch of cows,” Gerry said.  He pointed to a group of men who struggled to get a dead cow out of the muck.  “Drove up, sprayed the cattle with machineguns and drove off.”

Sean surveyed the damage.  “How many did they get?”

“They shot a dozen this time,” Gerry said.  He rubbed his beard. “But they didn’t kill them all outright.  We had to finish the ones they only wounded.”

“Can you save the meat?”

“Maybe some of it.”

Sean turned from the cattle pen and surveyed the farmlands.  He had a good enough vantage point to survey a portion of the valley.  Elevated roads crisscrossed through the fields, which were bordered by barb wire fences.  Some of the fences were overgrown with blackberry bushes.

“I’m guessing the new neighbors did this?”

Gerry nodded.  “We think so.  Since they moved here, we’ve had tractors and a few barns burned.  A couple houses got broken into.  We’ve had a few people beaten. This is the second time they attacked our livestock.  I’ve got farm connections outside the valley here.  It’s the same in Eastern Washington.  Transplants get moved in by the government. Crime goes up.  In other places the locals are getting murdered.”

“And eventually you all get fed up and leave.  Or get killed if things get worse.”  Sean watched Hooker pick something up off the ground and walk over to him.  

“Did you talk to the Sheriff about this,” Sean asked his farmer friend.

Gerry nodded.  “I told him the other day after our first batch of cattle got shot.  He didn’t seem too receptive.”  Gerry took a deep breath and let it out in a noisy sigh before continuing.  “I think he might have been hitting the bottle a little hard.”

Sean though back to the meeting about the bikers.  The Sheriff didn’t speak during the entire meeting.  The old lawman acted much differently now than he had in the past.  

Hooker handed Sean what he picked up off the ground.  Sean held it up.  “7.62x39,” Sean said, turning the empty bullet casing over in his hand.  On the base, it had the same stamping as the ammo he got from Tien.  It could have meant that the casing came off the black market.  It could have also meant that the round came from the government.  Sean pocketed the spent round and looked at Gerry.  

“If it is these transplants doing all this stuff, they more or less have a government mandate to do this shit.”

“I know Sean,” Gerry said.  “What do you do when your own government is out against you?”

Sean didn’t try to answer that question.  Gerry changed the subject.

“What do you think about this flu deal?”

Still surveying the terrain, Sean shrugged.  “There is other news than this flu crap.  It’s meant to be a distraction, and it’s doing that well.”

“Distraction from what?”

“Distraction from what is really going on, Gerry.”  Sean went on to talk about the announcement of successors to the heads of the Navy and Marine Corps.  Gerry took it all in as his friend explained it.

“Great,” Gerry said.  That stood in silence in the falling rain for a few moments.  Then Gerry spoke again.  “Elections in Iraq start next week.  It looks like that Sheik is sure to win.”

“Yup.”  Sean muttered. His eyes drifted out to the horizon. It appeared as if he could see across time and space back to Iraq. “Yup. It looks that way.”

Always a bit aloof, Sean got much more distant at the mention of the Sheik.  Gerry picked up on it, but didn’t know quite what to think.  The awkwardness of the moment broke when one of Sean’s men gave a whistle.  A white van with Grass Roots logos on the side approached the cattle pen.  Sean came back to the present.  He nodded to his men, signaling that the van could approach.

“Well, well, well,” Gerry said.  He stretched out the words as he spoke them.  His tone conveyed his sarcasm.  “He come our saviors.  Just in time to save us from ourselves.”

Gerry reached down and grabbed a handful of cow manure, still moist and steaming.  He pitched it at the white Grass Roots van.  The waste splattered across the windshield just as Raymond Lynn and Paul Lingii climbed out.  Raymond’s face washed over with disbelief.  Paul looked down at the ground.  His body language conveyed the shame he felt for being with Raymond.  Gerry stormed off before either one could speak.

Sean offered no greeting.  He stared at the two coldly as they walked up.  When they got close, Paul asked simply.  “The heavy equipment we gave you for the flooding.  We need it back.”

Sean shrugged nonchalantly.  He didn’t seem to mind at all. “You need it back, you need it back.  Send somebody by and it’s yours.”

Paul nodded.  “Thanks.”  Only a second or two after he answered, Paul cringed at the sound of Raymond opening his mouth and letting words come out.  Paul hoped that Raymond wouldn’t speak.  It was one thing to have to work with the young man, it was another to have to stand next to him while he babbled his utopian fantasies.  It embarrassed the old firefighter.

“We need the equipment to tear down parts of Maysville.”

Sean looked at him dubiously.  “Is that right?”

“Oh yes,” Raymond exclaimed enthusiastically.  He was eager to discuss the many progressive projects underway.  “We’ll tear down some parts of the city, and replace them with new green mini-communities.  We’re building new living areas near the aircraft plant.  That way the workers can live much closer where they work.  It will be good for them, and good for the environment.”

Sean only grunted a response.  Raymond continued.  “It won’t just be the cities either.  We’re going to tear down all sorts of stuff.  Things that are old, things that aren’t efficient, they’ll all be torn down.  We’re going to rebuild everything.  We’re going to make it green and progressive, and better for the people. We even have plans to restructure farmland like this.  We’re going to design it use more green labor techniques.  Make it produce food more efficiently and organically.”

 “It sounds like you’re getting rid of anything that isn’t progressive enough,” Sean said.

“I never thought of it that way,” Raymond answered.  He laughed a little as he spoke. “But that is a good way to put it.  Progress is moving forward as we say.” He overflowed with the excitement he felt about these social programs.

“So,” Sean asked, “What happens to you when somebody decides you aren’t worth keeping around?”

Raymond looked shocked that such a question would even be asked.  So Sean rephrased it.  

“When the powers that be decide you aren’t worth keeping around, that you are too old or too inefficient or not ‘Progressive’ enough what will you do?”

Raymond didn’t answer.  He blinked, either disbelieving the audacity of such a question or possibly thinking about Sean’s statement.  Sean didn’t wait for an answer.  He turned and walked back to the trucks.  As he moved through the cow field, he raised a hand and spun it in the air over his head.  His veterans headed to the trucks. It was time to go.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX­XXXXXXXXXX

Malik found a refuge from the insanity he had to deal with.  The roof of the former hotel turned headquarters provided him with solitude he couldn’t get inside the building.  The rain helped. Nobody really wanted to venture out into the rain.  For Malik, the price of the rain was well worth his ability to think alone.

The only companions he had on the roof were a variety of machines.  There were the standard HVAC units.  But there were also some new pieces of equipment that came with the “remodeling,” of the building from its commercial to its government use.  The mast of a high power camera system stood in the center of the roof.  The PA technicians who ran it called it the “All Seeing Eye.”  Its high power lenses could read license plates from several miles away.  With that camera system, anything in Maysville that was in the line of sight was fair game.  The squat bubble of a radar system also occupied the roof.  Supposedly, if anybody fired on the building, the radar could detect where the fire came from.  This precaution had been added after the recent activities of the Anti-American Terrorists.   In addition to the radar and the camera, a host of antenna for all sorts of electronic mediums covered the roof.  They gave whoever occupied the building the ability to talk all the way back to Washington D.C. in a variety of secured forms of communication.  Of course, it also gave D.C. the same access back to the building.  One of the rumors about the camera was that it could be remotely accessed from Washington D.C.

The events of the morning chewed at Malik for the entire day, and he had to get somewhere to think things over.  Hugh Bowden’s ludicrous plan weighed on his mind.  But it was not just Hugh’s plan.  As stupid as Hugh might be, he was probably right about Sean Bastle.  The ‘Peace Process,’ had been too neat and too tidy.  Things rarely worked out so easily, and the peace program’s success was just too convenient for both the Mutants and Sean.  Maybe Sean’s role in the affair was completely honest.  But if it was not honest, if Sean engineered the peace deal, then that demonstrated a significant political proficiency.  When that political proficiency was compared with Hugh’s ridiculous proposal that morning, it painted a picture Malik didn’t like.  

Hugh amounted to little more than thug with above average intelligence.  He’d been outplayed by Sean several times already.  His Grass Roots team did not impress Malik either.  The local Police Chief served well in the role of figure head, but Malik wouldn’t want to put his life in her hands.  Malik hoped the new military liaison would provide some refreshing competence.    But thinking it over, Malik became less hopeful about that thought.  

       Most of Malik’s allies were idiots.  Useful idiots, as the saying went, but idiots none the less.  Useful idiots certainly had their place, but obedience and passion weren’t always a substitute for competence.  That was one of the flaws of the current system: zeal and loyalty were the primary requirements for appointment to leadership positions, not actual results.  That might be good enough for now, but at some point results would matter.  One the other end of the spectrum, Sean and his allies didn’t seem to be the kind of people who struggled with getting their intended results.   If Sean Bastle was not won over to their side, and Malik didn’t think he would be, then at some point they would be at odds with the warlord.  Malik wondered if the staff was up to such a challenge.  The more he thought about it, the more he wondered if James Pritchard was up to it as well.
Link Posted: 8/29/2009 2:04:45 AM EDT
[#48]
Originally Posted By BroncoMafia:
Thanks for explaining why Sean gave Jim such a critical role. I was scratching my head at that for a while.

Great story, great use of future fiction to show where current events are eroding our freedom.
Maybe the most disturbing story I have read here.

Thanks again, please finish this.


I put Jim in because I didn't want team bastle to be 100% military guys.  I needed some "diversity" in there.  
Jim's role will get more critical as this story goes on.
Link Posted: 8/31/2009 11:34:44 PM EDT
[#49]
“I’ve got this thing and it’s fucking golden…I’m not giving it up for fucking nothing. I’m not gonna do it. And, and I can always use it. I can parachute me there.”

Former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich (Allegedly) in a wiretapped conversation discussing President Obama’s vacant Senate seat.


Chapter 13

In a metal shed in the mountains on the outskirts of the county, three men huddled around a workbench.  A few battery powered lamps lit their work.

“Can you make it work,” one of the men asked.  He was the oldest of the three.   He wasn’t wearing his Mutant’s colors with the Sgt. at Arms patch tonight.  The other two didn’t have their colors on either.  On a workbench in front of them sat a long cone shaped object.  It was painted olive green with yellow lettering on it. Veterans of the War on Terror might have recognized the object as a South African 155mm artillery shell, one of the favored pieces of ordnance used to make roadside bombs.  How it got to a shed in Western Washington State was unknown. What was known was it was now in the hands of the Mutants, given to them by their latest client.

“I can make it work,” the middle one said.  “I’ll rig it up to a phone or something so we can detonate it on command.  Then we put it in place, wait for our target to drive by, and make a phone-call.  Boom.  Easy”

The oldest of the men asked, “Will it take our guy out?”

“Probably not,” the other one said.  “Even with the intel we’ll get.  But for the price we’re getting, we’re being paid to try, not to succeed.  Even if it doesn’t kill our guy it will send the necessary message.”  He thought for a few seconds.  “And we still get paid.”

“You got any problem with this Chief,” the youngest one asked.  “We just made a deal with this guy, now we are trying to kill him.”

The Sgt at Arms shrugged off the question.  “Like he said, it probably won’t even kill him.  Besides, it’s all business.  He’d understand.”  
XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

The news didn’t move in the normal cycle.  After President announced the success of the Grass Roots and the PA against the flu pandemic, the story didn’t go away.  It escalated and manifested into something much different.  

The defeat of the flu signified not only the success of some specific elements of the government, but the success of the ideology of “Progress,” as well. The media presented Progress as much as a character in this drama as any organization or person. “Progress,” stopped the flu.  “Progress,” averted a disaster.  “Progress” prevented the massive loss of life the government predicted.  So often in the past, the United States had to suffer through one tragedy after another.  Not this time.  While old systems and old ideologies had failed in the past, “Progress,” came through for the American people, or so the media said.

So now the media ran all day and night with various talking-heads, and they all asked the same question.  If “Progress,” was so much more successful that old ideologies, why should we cling to outdated beliefs that don’t work?  A Senator from New York argued that “Progress” could have saved American from disasters dating back to the eruption of Mount St. Helens.  “If every American doesn’t stand up and demand Progress,” the Senator shouted to the audience, “how many more 9-11’s are in our future?  How many more Hurricane Katrinas?  How many more people will die from a lack of Progress?”  The Governor of Massachusetts proposed that the two party system needed to be abolished.  “It is time for a one-party political system.  It is time for a political system that works.  It is time for a Progressive system.”

 Progress changed from a vague political ideology to a living breathing American Hero.  It received rock-star treatment from the media.  An advertising and public relations campaign followed that thrust Progress into the face of every American.  Even the president discussed Progress with tones of reverence. “If the American people demand Progress, than Progress is what my administration will provide them.”

Sean never expected this.  He’d always been suspicious that the pandemic had been concocted.  He assumed that the flu would be used for a radical expansion of government powers.  But this wasn’t a justification for an expansion of powers.  It was call to destroy the old systems and replace them with a new one.  One party, one ideology, one word; Progress.
As much as he didn’t like it, Sean had to respect it all. This had been well thought out.  Now that the forces of Progress were making their play, he needed to make some moves of his own.  He got up and turned off the radio.  It was time to rally up his Praetorian guard.  He needed to talk to Tien and Gerry.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX­XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

James Pritchard ensured that his headquarters looked its best when Steven Grant returned to Maysville.  Steven’s motorcade arrived in the early morning.  A thick mist hung in the air.  A security detail escorted Steven through the security checkpoints which were now manned by both Maysville police and armed Progressive Auxiliary men.  James gave Steven a tour of the new facility.  Grass Roots and PA bureaucrats patrolled the halls, going about their business of administering their revolution.  

The tour ended in James Pritchard’s office.  Steven Grant opened a cigar box on James’s desk.  He put one cigar in his mouth, and then pocketed two handfuls into his suit pockets.  After a few puffs on the cigar, Steven expressed his appreciation.

“You’ve done well here James.  Looks like the plant will be ready to go soon.  This headquarters building is coming along.  You’ve had none of this nonsense with these Anti-American terrorists.  The criminal elements are behaving.  I’d say you’ve done quite well.”

“Thank you.”

“How is Malik working out for you?”

“He’s invaluable.  I’m glad you sent him my way.”

“Malik is gold,” Steven answered.  “You’ve really done well here.  So let’s talk about your future.  The good news is that you’ll be given charge of much more than just this county.”
James Pritchard’s eyes lit up with greed.  This was turning out better than he expected.

“You’ll have from the border of Seattle to the south all the way north to the Canadian border.  Your borders on the East and West will be the Cascades and the Sound.  Not a bad piece of real estate, James.”  Steven took a long draw off the cigar, held the smoke in, the let it out slowly.  “No, not bad at all.  For a former Congressman, you’ll really be in the big leagues.”

James smiled.  

“But, we still have to discuss the price.  A territory that large won’t come for free.  We expect some of our needs to be addressed for your endorsement.”  By “We,” Steven Grant meant his own needs.

“Of course,” James answered.  “We’ve liquidated quite a few of the assets that were collected for redistribution, so money is no object.”  

“Oh no,” Steven Grant said.  He held up his hand as he spoke, to stop the idea in its tracks.  “No.  No money.  Please.  Money is too easy to track.  I’ll need something more… tangible.  Besides, by the beginning of the New Year, we expect the dollar to decrease significantly in value.  We may have to replace the dollar altogether.  In fact, I’d suggest any money you have in dollars you convert to something else.”

“Thanks for the advice.  So what do you need,” James asked.  The politicians used the word need as if Steven really had a “need” rather than a “want.”

“Fuel.  Fuel will be very valuable soon.  Our refineries in the Bay Area experienced some,” he paused to search for the right word. “…setbacks.  We were trying to expand down there.  That was good for the union, but our green people at Grass Roots got upset at the idea of more oil industry.  There was a protest and things got a little out of hand between our union people and the environmentalists. The refinery sustained some damage. Between that, and Alaska and some of these other states hoarding all their oil instead of sharing it, I expect fuel prices to get much higher very soon.  Plus, once the President puts his plan in place, the price for black market fuel will go up as well.”

“I never heard about any issues between the greens and the union.  I thought we were all supposed to be working together.”

“We are working together James. We are all working against those who stand in the way of Progress.”

James nodded his understanding.  “So how much fuel do you need?”

The old man gave a number.  James Pritchard choked when he heard it.

“I can’t come up with that!  It would take a dozen tanker trucks to get that much fuel.”

“At least a dozen.  It might take more.  But I’m sure you’ll realize that securing your title would be well worth that.”

James nodded.  The older statesman was correct.  He’d have a vast territory at his fingertips.  “But how will I get it?  We don’t have that much in the county tanks.”

“You’re close to the border.  Go up to Canada.  There is lots of fuel there. They have all that good black market stuff from Alaska and the Bakken shale.  Send a convoy of trucks up there and get it.”

“That much fuel is a lot of money.  How will I pay for it?”

“Oh I’m sure you’ll find a way.  It’s the new fiscal year.  I’m sure you have some funds in the county coffers.  Just take it out of the treasury. Once the new economic plan takes effect, you won’t have to worry about a budget.”

“Our local guy is HB Green Fuels, but he’s had some equipment issues.”  James didn’t want to say that the equipment issues stemmed from the bikers burning Hugh’s stuff.  That would suggest a lack of control on his part.

“You wouldn’t want to use Hugh anyway,” Steven answered.  “His role in the union could be traced back to us.  Don’t use anybody with those kinds of connections.  Fuel from Canada is still illegal.  I don’t want any controversy arising out of this.  Find some local bumpkin with no links to us.”

“There is a local guy with lots of trucks and drivers.  I’m not sure he’d do it though.  He wouldn’t do it for cheap.”

“Then make him do it for free,” Steven said.  He said it in a way that proposed it should be just that simple.  James didn’t like the idea of forcing somebody to do something like this, but he didn’t like the idea of being left behind either.  The system now moved in a specific direction.  The safe choice was to go along and not to protest.   It was also more profitable.

“I’ll put something together.  Give me a couple of weeks to make it happen?”

Steven Grant puffed his cigar.  “One week.  I’ll need delivery in one week.”

That made for a tight timeline, but it had to be done.  “We’ll have it for you in one week.”  James had no idea how to make that happen, but the deadline was the deadline.  “No trouble at all.”

“Very good!  I’m glad we came to this arrangement.”  Steven held out his hand and James shook it.  For a few thousand gallons of fuel, he had just bought himself a political appointment.  

“I’m glad we’ve got that all settled, James.  I know this will work out well for all of us.”  Steven checked his watch, a very expensive gold one with diamonds on the face.  “We’ll, I have much to do.”

“Let me walk you out,” James said as Steven grabbed a third handful of cigars off the desk.

As they walked out the lobby, Steven turned up his nose.

“What is that smell,” Steven asked.  “It is just horrible!”

“Our sewer is wrecked,” James answered timidly.  “Some tree roots busted our sewer lines.   But we’ve got somebody working on it,” James pointed his thumb at a single man struggling with some equipment.

Steven nodded.  “I’m glad to see you are on top of it.  We’ll be in touch James.”  With that, Steven and his security detail left the building for his motorcade and James headed back to his office.  Neither one gave a second thought to Stumpy, working diligently to fix the sewer in the headquarters of the county’s Progressive elements.
Link Posted: 9/1/2009 12:53:16 PM EDT
[#50]
Can't wait to see what happens in the rest of Chapter 13.  That IED could be meant for several different targets???  Interesting.  Another great chapter.  Really enjoying your work.  Thanks.
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