Copyright© 2011 by Lazlo Zalezac
"Welcome to Wilowra, Australia."
"Where is it?" Tom asked.
He had looked out the window of the plane on the way there. He hadn't seen anything that looked like a town anywhere below.
"About twenty miles south of here."
"We're in the middle of nowhere," Tom said.
"That's the whole idea. We're having a meeting in the middle of nowhere."
"There's got to be two hundred people here," Tom said.
The view out the window of the plane when they had been landing had shown him a lot of people milling around. It looked like a three-ringed circus. There were three helicopters parked on the ground, two jets, fifteen SUVs parked everywhere, a couple dozen trailers, and a few tents.
"They're our crew."
"It looks like a zoo out there. That's not exactly keeping a low profile."
"We're on the set of a movie. That crew out there is making a film. There are cameras and props. We've got actors, directors, makeup people, and grips. Every one of them is a Wache."
"That's right. Unless I get the money situation fixed, it may never be released."
"That's a shame," Tom said understanding that his host was avoiding any mention of why they were there while explaining that this was cover for their meeting.
"Locals keep coming out to take a gander, but we keep herding them away so that nothing walks off the set unless we let it walk away."
"What did the locals say when they heard you were making a movie here?"
"They laughed and told us we were out of our f$%king minds. They said it was too bloody hot."
Tom and the other gentleman climbed down a covered stairway to the ground. The man lifted up a section of the ground to reveal the entrance to a tunnel. The man handed him a card. 'Go through the tunnel until you hit the first door. There are stairs up to the meeting room.'
The man said, "We've got to get in the SUV and go over to the set. The little folks need to know that the producer is on top of things."
Tom entered the tunnel. He could hear the pilot and co-pilot coming down the covered stairway. Three men would get off the plane and drive to the set. No one would know about the fourth man who got of the plane. At the end of the tunnel, the Watchman, head of the Wache family, was waiting for him.
After shuttling around for almost half a day to get to an airport, taking three flights with changes of plane taking place inside hangers, and now sneaking into a trailer through a tunnel, Tom asked, "Isn't this a little excessive?"
"Hey, you called for a kind of meeting that hasn't been held in over sixty years. If someone knows about us, then I have to assume they are watching us. There are folks that can shine lasers on our windows from sixteen miles away and hear every word we say. There are satellites that can estimate the size of your cock through your pants."
Tom felt a little uneasy about the problems his message may have caused. He hoped that the others would agree with his assessment of the situation. At the same time, he really wished someone would have an alternate explanation for what was happening. His belief might be based on hearsay and circumstantial evidence, but there was just so much of it, that he couldn't ignore the simple conclusion that the Pfand was under attack.
They climbed a set of stairs that led into a double-wide trailer that was set up like a conference room. Tom was the last to arrive and went to his assigned seat.
Eighteen generations can come up with some traditions that become ingrained. It was tradition for the heads of the families to use titles rather than names when addressing each other about Pfand business. In 1643 there weren't secure meeting rooms, but there was darkness. Anyone overhearing a muffled conservation on a dark night and from a distance would hear only titles exchanged and not names. Names could identify someone while a title didn't.
There was a large round table with ten places equally spaced around it. Each place setting had a name plate identifying the family line, using only the title of the head of the family. Although there was a fixed order of seating, it was tradition for the individual who called a meeting of this kind to sit to the right of the head of the Wache family, the heads of the Damenstern and Grun families to sit next to each other, and the heads of the Goldstein and Curador families to sit next to each other. Outside of that, it was basically sit where ever.
Consistent with tradition, the Watchman was seated to Tom's left. He was a solid looking man, with short hair, blue eyes, and a thin tight mouth. He exuded confidence in how he held himself and moved with the grace of a panther.
The Woodman, head of the Wald family, was next to the Watchman. Her hair was short, there were wrinkles from the sun around her eyes, and her skin had a generally leather-like appearance. In build, she was a hefty woman who looked like she would be very comfortable out on a construction site.
The Smith, head of the Schmied family, was the next person at the table. Unlike his namesake, he was a small man with delicate looking hands. He looked like the stereotype of an engineer complete with black framed glasses. His shirt suggested it was a rare occasion when his pocket was without a pocket protector.
The Innkeeper, head of the Grun family, sat beside The Smith. He was perhaps the most unremarkable looking person at the table. He was the kind of man who could go unnoticed, in an empty room.
The Whore, head of the Damenstern family, sat beside the Grun. She was an elegant looking woman. If one didn't know her occupation, one would think she was royalty. She just had that kind of majestic presence. Her eyes could turn from warm and pleasant to cold and hard in an instant.
The Drover, head of the Wagner family, sat next to the Whore. He looked like a cowboy. He had a slim build with rough facial features. His brown eyes seemed to stare off into the distance. His movements were stiff as if he had back problems.
The Weaver, head of the Weber family, was next at the table. Although her business was clothing, she dressed like a frump. It was almost as if clothes weren't important to her. Her hair was a mess that would give nightmares to a beautician.
Next at the table was the Banker, head of the Goldstein family. He looked like a banker. He was a little overweight, but not overly noticeable. His hair was grayed at the temples. He sat, ramrod straight, with his hands folded on the table in front of him.
Seated to the right of Tom was the Scholar, head of the Curador family. She was the smallest person at the table, just a hair over five feet tall with small delicate features.
The Watchman said, "Now that the Landowner is here, it is time to start this meeting. Since the Landowner called this meeting, he should start it by explaining why we're here."
Tom took a deep breath. "There is threat to the Pfand that is likely to destroy it."
Although everyone in the room expected to hear those words, having them spoken aloud still caused a reaction. Everyone tried to ask the same question all at the same time.
The Smith's voice overwhelmed the others when he asked, "What kind of threat?"
"I believe that there exists a group that is making a systematic attempt to take over total control of the food industry."
A number of eyebrows rose upon hearing that. It was clear that few of them believed him. The idea of taking total control of the food industry sounded ludicrous.
"A number of food companies are transitioning to their own trucks and away from independent trucking companies."
The Drover fixed Tom with a stare. He hadn't thought about how many food companies were setting up their own trucking fleets. There was still plenty of business, but that might not be true for much longer. What would happen if the burger companies decided to make trucking one of their business areas? He growled.
"At least two chains have created construction companies to build their stores."
The Woodman, head of the Wald family, rubbed his chin with a thoughtful expression on his face. He knew some large chains had prefab buildings that could be moved in and set in a matter of a couple of weeks. It was one of those things that slipped below his radar. Was it possible they might transition into the construction business?
"They are purchasing the companies that manufacture the equipment they use."
The Smith frowned. They were already having problems in the manufacturing area. There were too many regulations. It wasn't labor that was forcing them out, but the cost of complying with so many regulations. Some of the families had moved their operations overseas.
Tom said, "It is only a matter of time before the food industry falls. We've four, maybe five, years."
The Smith said, "You might be a little over optimistic in your estimate. It might be sooner than that. Manufacturing in this country is basically dead. They've outlawed some of the products we make. Even stupid simple things like light bulbs. I can't make incandescent light bulbs because they are illegal and I can't make fluorescent light bulbs because of mercury and the EPA."
The Innkeeper said, "The high price of gasoline and the high unemployment rate are killing the hotel industry. I've got hotels along the highways that are running at five percent occupancy, even when they are only charging forty-five dollars a night. We've got husband and wife teams running places alone and they're working twenty-four hours a day. We're still having a problem covering costs."
The Woodman said, "I'm not going to talk about housing."
The Scholar asked, "How much of this is due to the economy?"
The Whore answered, "I'm positive that it is intentional, particularly the situation concerning farming."
Nearly everyone sat up straighter. When a member of the Damenstern talked about plots, everyone believed that person.
"Why do you say that?" the Scholar asked.
It wasn't that he doubted her, but he wanted to know what she might know that hadn't come to his attention. He had a lot of information that suggested the same thing was happening in the agricultural industry. His desk, at home, was loaded with cases of Pfand owned farms filing bankruptcy, fighting legal actions, and strangling under red tape.
"Four women who worked for us were killed. One of them managed to tell us before she died that an agriculture mega-firm was planning on stealing billions of acres of farm land," the Whore answered.
The Watchman said, "There are some additional details about that particular case that came to light. One of the executives of a rather large breakfast cereal company turned up dead at the same time. The best that we have been able to establish is that he attended the party with the women who were killed. We suspect that he was killed for having talked about their plans with the escorts."
The Whore said, "That's not good."
The Innkeeper asked, "Is there any chance that this party took place in one of our facilities?"
The Watchman answered, "We don't know where it took place. When the arrangements were made, the women were supposed to be picked up in a limousine in Chicago and taken to the party. The women were found in New York."
The Whore said, "The Damenstern who arranged the party tells me that the arrangements were quite clear that the party was supposed to take place in downtown Chicago, in a private home. However, it appears that the women were taken somewhere else. The man whom she dealt with has disappeared as well. She had done a lot of business with him in the past, and is now concerned that he might be dead."
The Watchman said, "We've been unable to locate him."
"This whole thing stinks," the Smith said.
The Weaver had been silent to this point. She had been considering the impact on her industry. She asked, "What about cotton and wool?"
"I don't know of anything that is threatening wool at the moment. Cotton hasn't been a great money maker until recently. There's a shortage of cotton and the price has suddenly shot up. I imagine both will be targeted before long, also."
The Banker, head of the Goldstein family, said, "I see signs that money is starting to move. It will take some time for us to see what is going on. Right now, I can't tell you who has what, nor how much. I really hope the Landowner is wrong."
Tom said, "I'm convinced that the government is involved in this up to its neck."
"Can you identify who in the government is calling the shots?" the Woodman asked.
Tom said, "I can't identify a single person in charge."
The Weaver asked, "Is there any evidence?"
The Scholar said, "I've got plenty of evidence that the Landowner is right."
"Lawrence Plante was arrested by homeland security."
The Woodman shouted, "Homeland Security has got one of our people!"
The Smith asked, "Why on earth would they arrest him?"
Tom answered, "He's a farmer. He had fertilizer for his crops and fuel for his farm equipment. If you are a good guy and put those two together, you get a tractor being used to fertilize a field. If you are a bad guy and put those two together, you get an explosive. DHS decided that he wasn't a farmer, but was a bad guy."
The Weaver said, "We've got to get him out of there. What if they..."
The Watchman interrupted, "Lawrence died yesterday before they could get any hint about the Pfand from him."
Tom said, "Damn!"
Although he had told the Watchman to use his discretion concerning the resolution of this problem, he had hoped that Lawrence wouldn't be killed. Lawrence hadn't done anything wrong except to be a farmer.
"What happened?" the Scholar asked.
The Watchman said, "Assisted suicide. One of our people inside DHS managed to slip him a poisoned piece of paper with the sword of the Wache under the words, 'Eat me, ' written on it. He ate it and died."
"How do you know he's dead?"
"Our person inside DHS helped remove the body," the Watchman said.
He had also checked to make sure that the body was autopsied. Lawrence was definitely dead. It was a shame that the cause of death wouldn't ever officially be determined. Certain lab tests had been contaminated as a result of a water leak in some of the labs plumbing.
The Whore asked, "I'm sorry he died. Was it necessary?"
The Watchman answered, "Yes. According to our man inside, they were going to start using more advanced interrogation techniques. They were convinced that he was a member of some kind of organization. They would have gotten everything Lawrence knew about the Pfand out of him."
The Wache inside DHS had been present during several of the interrogations. These were the informal interrogations where a couple of agents chatted with the suspect about trivial matters in an attempt to build trust. An agent would tell a little story about going fishing with a buddy in an attempt to get Lawrence talking about his buddies.
The Wache did his part in the interrogation making up a story about the last time he had gone hunting. During an appropriate time in the story, he had given Lawrence the sign of the Wache, a sword standing upright, to let the man know that he was of the Pfand. A casual observer would have seen the sign as a poorly made cross, but Lawrence had recognized it for what it was.
Lawrence had then complained intensely and bitterly about his incarceration to the interrogator while giving as many details about his treatment as possible to the Wache. Lawrence had asked the interrogator questions about his family. The interrogator had avoided answering the questions. The Wache had shifted his weight from one leg to another to provide the answers. After not getting any answers from the interrogator, Lawrence had sat back, made an ill-formed cross, and exclaimed, 'You might as well kill me now.' Upon being questioned why they should kill him, he had answered that they weren't going to ever let him go.
"Damn," Tom said.
"He knew he was going to disappear for good. He let us know that he was ready to die," the Watchman said.
The Whore asked, "What about his family?"
The Watchman answered, "They are now living in a tropical paradise with a bodyguard."
Tom was relieved to hear that.
The Watchman said, "In case you're wondering, his home was totally destroyed by a gas leak. His wife set off the self-destruct before leaving the house. There's no evidence of the Pfand remaining."
The Woodman said, "That's how a member of the Pfand is supposed to act. That whole family ... well ... they're heroes."
Tom said, "I'll tell his wife about Lawrence on my way back to the states."
The Watchman said, "It's too dangerous. You can bet that every three letter agency is searching for them."
The Drover asked, "Just how deeply is the government involved in this?"
Tom described some of the actions that the government had been taking against farmers. He spoke about the water situation, the milk spill prevention plan, and the regulations that were in the works. He described how crops had been mysteriously infected and accidentally destroyed. It was a pretty bleak picture that he painted. He started presenting the Curador investigations into unnatural spreading of plant diseases.
He hadn't finished presenting his evidence when the Watchman slammed his hand on the table. Surprised, Tom looked over at the Watchman. The Watchman looked furious.
"Stop it. I'm so mad that I want to kill someone. You've convinced me well beyond a reasonable doubt," the Watchman said. "Is there anyone in this room who isn't convinced?"
No one answered.
The Scholar said, "I'm sure that we're all convinced. There are a few things you need to know."
The Woodman asked, "What?"
The Weaver asked, "What else do we need to know? I mean, you've told us that they are going to control food and clothes. What's left? Shelter?"
"Yes, shelter could be going too. The housing market collapse has put a lot of home construction companies out of business. About the only construction going on is business and high density dwelling. My firm is big enough to build high density dwellings – apartments, townhouses, and condos. I'm getting just enough to keep me in business," the Woodman answered.
The Scholar told them about scientific investigations into the fungus that had been introduced in a few coca plantations in Central America. It was not enough to severely cripple the harvest, but it represented a good test case for the next year or the year after that. He presented a time line, based on weak evidence and a lot speculation, that suggested that while they were seeing the first moves towards grabbing complete control over food, that the real action couldn't happen for at least another three years. They would likely get control over the dairy industry in a year, maybe two, but that would be their first major agricultural sector they'd control. It was their invasion of Poland using a World War II metaphor.
Tom exploded. "That would kill all of our dairy processing companies. We'd lose our plants that make ice cream, cheeses, packaged milk, and..."
"It would also kill our trucking companies that transport your milk and finished products," the Drover said.