Copyright© 2011 by Lazlo Zalezac
Tom Farmer looked around the living room. He was impressed with the look and feel of the room. It was the kind of room that made a person want to settle in a chair and read a book while listening to classical music. There were high backed leather chairs scattered around the room, with solid wooden tables beside them, and standing lamps to provide over the shoulder illumination. The walls were decorated with antique maps held within substantial wooden frames. Ceiling lights illuminated the items on the wall. The bar, on one side of the room, was filled with crystal decanters and crystal glasses. An entertainment system with a small stereo was on the other side.
This wasn't exactly the kind of room that he expected someone of Carl's age to enjoy. It was a very masculine looking room. An old movie would have placed a retired British Major puttering around and telling stories of his campaign in India.
Carl, wearing dress slacks and a button down blue shirt, sat back in his chair with his legs crossed. He looked comfortable seated there with a drink on the table next to his chair. It would have been more fitting for the environment if the drink had been a Scotch rather than a soda.
On the other hand, the two women looked a little out of place. It wasn't that they appeared uncomfortable. It was just that having a casually dressed woman in the room, didn't fit the atmosphere that had been created. Jennifer could have fit in with a minor change in outfit and hairstyle. He wondered how long it would take her to adjust her appearance to fit the room. Samantha, with her short hair style and manner, would never fit the room.
Looking at Carl, Tom asked, "Do you know what a lightning rod is?"
"Sure," Carl answered with a sinking feeling in his stomach.
Samantha groaned upon hearing the question. She knew what was coming next. If he was the lightning rod, then her job was to intercept the lighting bolt. That was never pleasant.
Carl asked, "I get it. You need a lightning rod and I'm it."
Carl glanced over at Samantha. He wondered if she would be given orders to kill him if he refused. He couldn't imagine that happening, but the initial discussions about joining the Pfand hadn't mentioned anything about being in immediate danger.
"What am I supposed to do?" Carl asked.
"Try to open a pickle company," Tom answered.
"I don't get it," Carl said.
Samantha said, "I hate to say this, but neither do I."
Jennifer sat back in her chair with her lips slightly parted. With an elbow resting on the arm of the chair, she ran a fingernail over her teeth. It was a nervous tick, of which she wasn't even aware that she had. She did get it.
Tom said, "Someone is trying to take over the entire food industry. They want total control over farming, food production, food distribution, and possibly retail sales. There have been concerted efforts to shut down farms.
"There have been efforts to prevent food production facilities from opening. That's where you fit in. We need someone to pursue opening a business with almost fanatical intensity."
"Fanatical intensity?" Carl asked.
"I have no idea what that means."
"It's simple. You aren't going to take 'no' for an answer. When an application is rejected, you are going to show up with a dozen lawyers, challenging whatever board or bureau is preventing you from going forward with your plans. You are going to be very vocal, and very visible," Tom answered.
"That goes against the Pfand X," Jennifer pointed out.
Tom said, "All heads of the ten families agree that it has to be done."
"Shit," Samantha said.
She could just imagine what kind of reaction Carl was going to provoke. She'd have to deal with crowds and nutcases. Even worse ... She'd have to deal with the press.
Tom said, "You're going to have to point fingers, and name names. You have to become their worst nightmare. If Inspector Gadgit says that your building is out of compliance with some regulation, you're going to have a news conference, specifically naming Inspector Gadgit as an enemy of the pickling industry."
"You're going to have to be ruthless in your pursuit of anyone and everyone who stands in your way. You'll be filing lawsuits against any and every government agency that even voices so much as a concern about your company. I'm not talking about trying to get individual rulings overturned. I'm talking about suing the entire agency, for anything and everything.
"You won't be alone. We have two Curador law firms who are volunteering their full staffs. You'll have a public relations firm who will help you prepare your statements."
"Hey! Isn't that my job?" Jennifer asked.
"You're going to be reminding him to stay 'on message', at all times. I've got a feeling that he's going to need a lot of that," Tom answered.
"I can do that," Jennifer said confidently.
Tom said, "It would have been better, in a lot of ways, for Samantha to be the girlfriend and for you to be the personal assistant."
"That ain't going to happen," Jennifer said.
Much sharper than he intended, Tom said, "You're a Damenstern. Act like one."
"Why should Samantha be the girlfriend?"
Tom answered, "Her job is to protect him. How can she do that if she isn't near him?"
"Aren't bodyguards supposed to be in the background?" Jennifer asked.
Tom asked, "Do you think she's going to be the only Wache around when he has a public appearance?"
"She won't be?" Carl asked.
"Nope. You're going to be surrounded by Waches when you go out in public. We aren't even trusting any employees of Wache owned companies. Your security entourage will actually be members of the Wache family."
"Jesus," Samantha said turning pale. "How many are we talking about?"
"As many as it takes to make sure that Carl isn't abducted or killed."
"This is insane," Carl said.
Tom said, "I know the three of you don't appreciate the seriousness of the situation"
"Just how serious is it?" Samantha asked.
"We've already had a member of the Bauer family die in this war. He committed suicide rather than submit to advanced interrogation methods from Homeland Security. I doubt he'll be the last of the Bauer family to die in this war."
"They were going to torture him?" Carl asked.
Samantha said, "I take it that we won't be dealing with just crowds and nutcases. We'll be dealing with law enforcement as the enemy, also."
"Yes, and possible assassins."
"Get real," Carl said.
Tom said, "I can't predict exactly what is going to happen. There are some things that I can say with almost absolute certainty will happen. At some point in time, you'll be announcing that some petty bureaucrat has taken a bribe. You'll present evidence showing who did what, and I'm sure that it will point to some very important people. When you start shining a light on their criminal activities ... and believe me, they are criminal ... you'll be drawing a giant bull's eye on your back.
"People are going to want you to die, and they'll have the money to make that happen."
"Aren't you being a little melodramatic? I mean, we're talking about a pickle factory, here," Carl said trying to put things in their proper perspective.
Tom said, "These people want to control every aspect of food production in the whole world. If they are successful, a handful of people will end up with six billion slaves; slaves who will suck cocks and take it up the ass in order to get food. Don't think, even for a minute, that they won't try to kill you if you threaten their plans.
"You don't want to mess with the kind of people who can envision that kind of scenario, much less pursue it. Yet, that is exactly what I'm asking you to do."
"Is there any chance I'll get out of this alive," Carl asked.
Tom answered, "Yes."
Samantha answered, "Maybe."
"I just left a meeting with the heads of the ten families. Every family has people dedicated to this. We spent a tremendous amount of effort trying to pull together a plan to identify and then destroy this enemy. We are dedicating every resource available to us. I'm talking about trillions of dollars."
"Trillions?" Jennifer asked sitting upright.
"Damn," Jennifer said.
Samantha said, "That improves our odds a little."
"All of this is riding on me alone?"
"No. You won't be the only Bauer who is serving as a lighting rod. There are nine others. They are farmers who are already fighting to keep their farms. For some of them, it is going to be too late to save their farms from being taken without tapping into resources that, officially, don't exist.
"To be honest with you, you aren't even a target at the moment. However, you will have a pivotal role in this, before it comes to a conclusion. You'll be the only one in food processing, who is challenging them. It is going to be important to get people to understand that it isn't just fresh fruits and vegetables at stake, here. It is going to be every can of food on the supermarket shelf."
Carl asked, "Won't people realize that if farmers go out of business that they won't have any food?"
Tom said, "It is interesting that you ask that. You see, people don't think about farmers. Those who do, don't think much of farmers. As far as they're concerned, we're a bunch of ignorant hicks. They think that our world consists of the Bible, beer, and belching. We're lazy. We're gullible.
"They don't realize that some farms generate millions of dollars in crops every year. Every farmer is a small businessman. When a farmer loses his place, everyone just shrugs their shoulders and think, 'he should have gone to college and gotten a real job.' No one ... I repeat, no one ... cares about farmers. They all want to put them down, call them animal abusers, and destroyers of the environment.
"As far as most people are concerned, food appears as if by magic at the grocery store. The fact that someone spent a year making that food a reality, is lost on them. So to answer your question, people don't realize that if farmers go out of business they won't have food. It's sad, but true."
Jennifer, not realizing she was pushing one of Tom's hot buttons, asked, "How can you say that no one cares about farmers? What about farm subsidies?"
Tom snorted. "You mean giving free money to the largest farms? The major corporate farms received two thirds of that money, even though they represent only ten percent of the farms. It is sickening. You should see a map of the people in Manhattan who are receiving farm subsidies. There isn't a single acre of farmland in Manhattan."
Tom felt that corn and soybean subsidies were the biggest joke of them all. Last year there had been almost four billion paid out in corn subsidies and another one and half billion in soy bean subsidies. A little four hundred acre place with corn wasn't getting a cent. There was no money for folks raising fruits, vegetables, or nuts.
Cotton and rice crops constituted less than three percent of California's agricultural output, but received more than forty percent of the subsidies that went to that state. It was obvious that there was something wrong when numbers got that skewed. No one was investigating it.
Tom said, "There are games being played at the expense of the small farmer. A Bauer, officially, is just a small farmer. So what if a Bauer has a farm in his name, another in wife's name, a third in his father's name, and fourth in his mother's name. The one that is in his name makes him just a small farmer. It doesn't matter that we could combine our farms and become the largest farming conglomerate in the country."
"So why don't you combine your farms?" Jennifer asked.
"The Pfand X prohibits it," Tom answered.
Tom said, "We've got over two thousand families running approximately five thousand farms in this country, alone. If we were to combine our farms, most of our families would lose out. We'd have to put into place an overall management team. That would suck money away from the individual families.
"We've managed to optimize for all of us, rather than to allow a few to dominate. Everyone works for themselves, and reaps the rewards of that hard work. They aren't in competition, but work in cooperation. It's the best strategy for long-term growth. The next generation will add to our numbers. Eighteen generations of growth, prove it."
Realizing that they had gotten off topic, Tom said, "The fact that we have remained small farms makes us vulnerable to whoever is trying to take over the world's food supply."
Carl frowned. "I don't get how my trying to start a pickle company is going to save farms."
Tom said, "You aren't going to save the farms. You are going to give people a reason to save the farms. We're looking to expose some of the corruption that's going on in the agricultural world. We're hoping to tie the same people to all of the problems that we've identified. Your pickle company will expand the breadth and depth of the scandal. That's the goal."
"I think it is stretching things a bit."
Tom took a deep breath while trying to organize his thoughts. "Look, a guy trying to steal one farm won't make the national news. It's small time. It might not even make the local news.
"A group of people trying to steal all of the diary farms in a state could be viewed as good business sense. We've seen a lot of cases where the local government goes in and tosses people off their property and gives it to a third party. Everyone complains that the government is overstepping its bounds, but they don't hold the third party responsible. Everyone is impressed when the third party does something with the property that was basically stolen from the original owners.
"You take that to a national level and people will get a little nervous. It starts to sound like a monopoly and people don't trust monopolies. Dairy farms? That's not like a car company, or an airline. Besides, it might be easier to regulate if there's only one group who owns dairy farms. They might insist on some kind of congressional hearing about the matter. A committee will meet and then write a report. At the end of the day, one group of people will own all of the dairy farms.