Copyright© 2011 by Lazlo Zalezac
Carl Plante had just finished breakfast and was in the process of refilling his coffee cup when there was a knock on his apartment door. Upon answering it, he found an attractive woman standing there, holding a briefcase. She smiled at him expectantly.
"Hello?" Carl said wondering what a woman was doing standing at his door first thing in the morning.
Based on her conservative dress, his first thought was that she was some sort of religious doorknocker trying to save his soul. He looked around to see if there were any others with her. Usually, those types came in packs.
"Yes," Carl answered.
"I'm Julie Witherspoon from Goldberg Realty."
"Goldberg Realty?" he asked recognizing one of the names of the Goldstein family line.
"Are you ready for the closing on your new house?"
It dawned on him that this had something to do with meeting the housing requirements dictated by the Pfand X. Tom Farmer had warned him not to make any plans for the weekend. Of course, that could have meant anything. He had assumed that Tom Farmer had wanted to meet with him sometime over the weekend. This was the first that he had heard of a closing on a house. He decided to go with the flow.
"Sure," Carl said
"Mr. Goldberg gave me some papers for you to read. Could I come in?" Julie asked not wanting to try balancing her briefcase while extracting the envelop from it.
"Sorry, how rude of me. Please, do come in," Carl said while backing away from the door to give her room to enter.
Julie stepped into the apartment. She glanced at his table and noticed the dirty dishes there. The first thought was that he was a sloppy housekeeper, but then she noticed that the margarine hadn't gotten soft, yet.
She said, "I'm sorry. I didn't realize was interrupting your breakfast."
"I just finished. Please come in and have a seat," Carl said gesturing to the chairs in his rather small apartment.
Julie sat down and opened her briefcase. She pulled out a large envelop with his name on it. She handed it to him. It was easy to see that she was extremely curious about the contents of it.
"Mr. Goldberg said that you should read the material inside before the closing."
"When is the closing?" he asked.
"At ten thirty. I'll meet you there."
Carl opened the envelope and glanced at the papers inside. There were several papers inside. The one on the top was just a picture of the house. Just beneath it, was a map showing where the property was located. It made sense. It would be rather awkward not to know what the house looked like or where it was located. He would examine the other papers at a later time.
"Excellent. Is there anything else I need to know?"
"No. May I ask you a personal question?" she asked somewhat hesitantly.
"I normally meet my clients several times before a closing. If it isn't in person, then it is usually by telephone or email. I didn't even know you existed until late last night when Mr. Goldberg called me at home and asked me to handle the closing."
"Mr. Goldberg is a friend of the family," Carl said anticipating her question. He gave her his most charming smile.
"I suppose that explains it," she said feeling less than satisfied by his answer.
Julie stood and said, "No. I guess I'll met you there at ten thirty."
"I'll be there," Carl said.
Carl showed her out of the apartment. He quickly returned to the envelope and pulled out the papers. A quick glance through them, was sufficient to know that he'd have to take his time with them, later.
He looked at the picture of the house. It was a very nice looking middle class place. It wasn't a mansion, just a simple plain ranch. It had a red brick exterior. A small retaining wall ran around the property. There were a few older looking trees surrounding the house. They would one day be very majestic. The lawn looked like it had been re-sodded not too long ago.
"Nice," he said.
He looked at the map and saw that it was located only twenty minutes from his apartment. It was near where he had been considering putting his pickle company. It was also the same neighborhood in which Tom Farmer lived. He looked back at the picture of the house. It looked new, which was odd, since he remembered the majority of the houses in that neighborhood looking more than twenty years old.
There were a few more pages that included the realtor's description of the house, the insurance details, the loan application. Another page had a summary paper breaking out what his monthly payments would be. They included taxes, insurance, and mortgage. It was significantly lower than his apartment rent.
There was a page stuck in the packet that didn't make too much sense. It had a set of characters and numbers along with names. It looked like some kind of coded message, but he couldn't figure it out.
The final paper was an invitation to use Goldberg Realty to handle the purchase of the site for his pickle company. When he was ready to search for a site, he was to contact Julie Witherspoon. Her card was stapled to the top of the page. She would handle all of the details.
Thinking that his day was going to be very busy, he stuffed the papers back into the manila envelope, and set them on the table. He needed to clear the breakfast dishes before leaving for the closing.
He had just finished putting the perishables in his refrigerator when there was a knock on his door. He answered it. A middle-aged man was standing there holding a package.
"Are you Carl Plante?"
"I have a package for you. You'll have to sign for it."
Carl signed the delivery form. The package wasn't that large, but it was heavy. After closing the door, he opened the package. Inside were plastic cards for a hundred different restaurants and hotels along with VIP membership cards to numerous clubs around the world. The majority of the plastic cards identified percentage discounts, as much as eighty percent, that would be applied to the bill without restrictions. He stared at the stack of cards thinking about how much money they represented. He found a couple that were local and put them in his wallet thinking that he might have to eat lunch or dinner out.
There was a letter inside with instructions on how to get replacement cards should it be necessary. Cards that expired would be automatically renewed. There was also a hotline for travel services that could arrange a trip within two hours.
He glanced down at his watch. It was time for him to change his clothes into something that would be a little more suitable for a closing. He was about to head into the bedroom when there was another knock on the door.
"Jeeze, is this Grand Central Station or something," Carl muttered while walking towards the door.
There was a man standing at the door. The man wasn't big or muscular, but he looked intimating regardless of that. It wasn't really that he had a military bearing, just an aura of confidence that let you know that he could handle anything that came his way.
"I'm David Thornton from Strong Executive Protective Services."
"I'm Carl Plante. What can I do for you?"
"I'm here at Mr. Strong's request. I'm to take you over to your new house, and explain the security features to you."
"I was planning on driving my own car," Carl said.
"We'll take your car, but I'll do the driving."
"I can drive my own car."
"Will you be getting lessons on defensive driving?"
"I don't think so."
"You will if I'm driving."
"Oh, I didn't know about that," Carl said.
"Are you ready to go?"
"Let me change my clothes," Carl said.
After changing his clothes, Carl went with David to his little car. It was a small Japanese commuter car. David studied the car for a second and then shook his head.
"What's the matter?" Carl asked.
"What's the matter with my car?"
"Your little egg-beater is a nice low key car; which is a positive. However, it's going to need a bit of work to bring it up to an acceptable standard security-wise. We'll have to put in a slightly larger engine, tighten up the steering, upgrade the suspension, and change out the transmission."
"It's a great car. You wouldn't believe the gas mileage it gets."
"Thirty-five highway and twenty-eight city?"
"By the time we're done with it, you'll be getting about twenty-five highway and eighteen city."
"I'm not sure that I want you to change it," Carl said.
"Get in. We're going for a drive," David said with a wicked grin.
For the next thirty minutes, Carl had the ride of his life. A short detour through an empty parking lot had demonstrated that his little car could do donuts on dry pavement. The sliding u-turn had Carl grabbing on for dear life and praising God for the invention of the seat belt. By the time they arrived at the house, Carl was covered with a light sheen of sweat.
"By the time I'm done training you, you'll be able to do everything I did today and more."
"This car wasn't built for that kind of treatment," Carl said.
"It will be."
"If you say so," Carl said.
David said, "Your realtor hasn't arrived yet. I'll take you around the outside of the property and show you some of the external security measures."
Carl followed David who walked around the outside of the house pointing to various features.
"First, there are security cameras mounted under the gutter every five feet. Every other one is aimed to show everything from the neighbor's house across the street up to about ten feet from the house. The other cameras show everything from the house out to about thirty feet. It gives you complete coverage all of the way around the house.
"Second, the windows are reinforced to withstand small arms fire. They won't stand up to a round fired from a high-powered .50 caliber rifle, but they will take just about everything else.
"Third, the doors have steel deadbolts that slide through the entire door. No one is breaking that door down once you activate the deadbolt. The windows are steel framed with deadbolts to prevent them from being opened by an intruder.
"Fourth, the exterior is brick and won't burn. They can set fire to the outside and you'll remain safe inside. However, the roof is a weak point. We'd have liked to have gone with ceramic shingles, but that made the house stand out from the neighboring houses. The material under the shingles has been treated with flame retardant chemicals, but that will just slow down the spread of fire.
"Fifth, there is wire mesh under the roof. It won't stop someone from cutting into the house through the roof, but it will give you enough time to react."
"You make it sound like an army is going to attack me," Carl said.
Almost as soon as the words were out of his mouth, he thought about what Tom Farmer had said about how some very wealthy men would react if they were to learn of the existence of the Pfand X. If the reaction was as bad as Tom Farmer had suggested, he wondered if the security provisions were adequate.
"I don't know the details of the threats against you. We just followed Mr. Strong's instructions when designing the security measures."
"I appreciate Mr. Strong's attention to detail."
"I'll tell him that," David said. "You'll also notice that your lawn on this side of the sidewalk is two feet above the level of the sidewalk with a stone retaining wall to limit erosion. Its real purpose is to prevent anyone from driving a car into the house."
"Nice," Carl said.
"You will be living alone?"
"I suggest you get a dog."
"What kind? A German Shepard? Doberman?"
"No. I'd suggest something right-sized for living in a house. I'd recommend a Miniature Schnauzer. You want a dog that will make a lot noise when a stranger stops by," David said.
"I'd never figure a Schnauzer to be a good attack dog," Carl said.
"It's not. If things get to a point where you're relying on a dog to protect you from harm, then you've waited way too long to get the hell out of here. You don't want to confront bad guys. You want to avoid them.
"A Schnauzer is not a good guard dog, but it is a good watch dog. They react quickly to strange things happening around them. They are more bark than bite. It is a perfectly fine animal to give you the kind of warning that will let you leave before the bad guys get to you. Besides, you'll feel a whole lot better hearing that Schnauzer greet you when you're walking up to the house. It lets you know that all is good inside."
"I never thought of it that way," Carl said.
"A little dog like that is great around the wife and kids when you finally get started raising a family," David said.
"You sound like you like Schnauzers."
"I've got one. I love that dog."
Without even glancing in the direction of the street, David said, "Your realtor is coming."
Carl looked around and spotted a car turning the corner. It looked like the woman who had been by his apartment that morning, although at that distance it was hard to tell for sure. He had no idea how David had spotted her.
It wasn't long before she was slowing down in front of the house as if double-checking the address. They waited for Julie to park her car and walk up to the house. She looked surprised to see David standing there.
"Hello," Julie said.
"Hello," Carl said.
"Are you here representing the Lam Development Company?" Julie asked looking at David.
"No, I'm David Thornton. I'm here from the security company. I'm supposed to show Mr. Plante how to operate the alarm system."
"Sorry, I wasn't expecting you. I was afraid something had happened to Candice Charles. She's their usual representative."
"I'm not a Candice," David said with a chuckle.
"I can see that."
"I guess she's running a little late," Carl said.
Julie said, "While we're waiting for her, let me just say that I think you picked a great neighborhood to move into. It's nice and quiet. There are number of young couples about your age living on this street. When you get around to having children, I'm sure that they'll have a lot of little playmates nearby. I've got to tell you, the school system is great."
"I'm glad to hear that," Carl said.
"Location is everything, and this is a good location for a lot of reasons," Julie said.
David said, "I believe Candice is here."
Carl wondered how David was able to look in one direction and see something in the opposite direction like that. It was kind of unnerving.
"That's her," Julie said.
Based on the name, Carl had been expecting some young sexy looking woman to show up. Candice was in her early sixties. She might have been a beauty at one time, but that had been a long time ago.
"Hello, I'm Candice Charles."
"I'm Carl Plante."
"Hello, Julie. It's nice to see you again."
"It's good to see you. Let's get this show on the road," Julie said.
"I've got the keys here. I'll just open it up.
"Carl, if you would like, you can do a walk-through to make sure everything is ship-shape. However, Mr. Lam told me that he's sending the foreman over later this afternoon to go through the checklist with you. That should take about four hours. Mr. Lam has given his personal word that any problems that may arise will be fixed," Candice said.
"I'm sure that everything will be fine," Carl said.
Carl made a quick walk-through of the house. It was more of a tour to see the layout than an inspection. He was impressed with the place and could barely believe that it was going to be his within a few minutes. It wasn't particularly big or pretentious in any manner, but he could see himself living there for the rest of his life.
It only took a few minutes to sign all of the papers, and for Candice to hand the keys to the house over to Carl. For Julie, this was the easiest commission that she had ever earned. The whole deal seemed a little strange, but she was more than willing to take the money and turn a blind eye. When the deal was finished, everyone sat there looking at her.
Julie asked, "Is there anything else?"
"No," Candice said. "Our business is done. I'm looking forward to a little lunch. What do you say?"
"That sounds good to me," Julie said.
"Thank you very much," Carl said. After quick glance over at David, he added, "However, David and I have to go over the security measures."
"Of course," Candice said.
After the two women had left, David said, "Let's go over the interior security features. These are much more extensive than the exterior features."
"I'm ready," Carl said.
David went over to the security panel next to the front door. He explained that there were three security codes that would control the primary security functions of the house. The first code, a four-digit number, would allow him to turn off the alarm upon entering the house. The second code, an eight-digit number, would lock down the house. The third security code, a ten-digit number, would activate a self-destruct mechanism.
In lock down mode, the house would be nearly impregnable. The deadbolts would extend through the door and the windows would be locked shut. David warned that a highly trained team could blow a hole through the exterior wall within a minute of reaching the house. He suggested that Carl assume that anyone who attacked the house was a member of a well-trained team. The best action in any event was to head for the safe room or take the escape tunnel.
The self-destruct mechanism would blow a fifty-foot section of the escape tunnel five minutes after being activated. It would also incinerate the contents of the safe. Jokingly, David said that it wouldn't be a good idea to be in the safe when that happened. Carl had to agree with that.
David stepped away to allow Carl to set the security codes. After telling Carl to leave the house in lock down mode after setting the codes, he went into the living room to wait.
After Carl was finished with setting the codes, he joined the other man in the living room. David pressed on a section of the wall. There was a click. He stepped back and a door opened.
"This is one of three entrances to the basement. There is a standard stairwell in the kitchen, which you can use for regular access to the basement. This stairwell and one in the master bedroom are for emergency use.
"If you'll follow me."
Carl followed David down the stairs. There was a weak light illuminating the stairwell. At the foot of the stairs, there was another set of stairs leading upwards. He assumed that it went to the bedroom. At the landing was a door. David touched a spot along the frame and the door opened.