Pfand X
Chapter 16

Copyright© 2011 by Lazlo Zalezac

The conference table was filled with tired, worried faces. Events were moving at a faster pace than had been anticipated. Two months of releasing videos in which high level government employees were filmed taking bribes, or colluding to destroy the lives of honest citizens, had thrown the government into a frenzy. The alphabet agencies were taking a beating via backdoor channels, mostly via the internet. The press, which was fully under control, was refusing to air the videos.

Carl Plante made the 'America's Most Wanted' list as a terrorist. Twice he had been reported killed resisting arrest, only to have him appear elsewhere, distributing videos of additional crimes. His picture appeared in grocery stores, movie theaters, and public buildings. It appeared on television several times a day. The reward for his arrest and capture was well over a million dollars, and was climbing every week.

Law enforcement agencies were baffled by how he was able to move around so freely. One day he would be in Los Angeles. Two days later, he would be in Miami. He met with community groups, farm organizations, literary circles, and conservative action groups. Each time, he'd tell the story of a government gone mad with power. His story would be backed up with videos of corrupt political appointees, middle level managers, and business leaders conspiring against the American people. He would ask them to post the video to as many places as they could before leaving.

People, horrified by what they saw, responded. The videos showed up on the internet. Videos were distributed by email. After thousands of downloads, websites would get shut down ... sometimes violently, as had been the case of a Nigerian website where the host facility had been bombed.

Attempts to limit distribution via the internet were not very successful. In much the same way that security agencies could not prevent malware from spreading across the internet, they couldn't halt the spread of the videos. NSA was pulling its hair out. Well ... the upper levels of NSA were pulling their hair out. Some of the lower level people weren't all that inclined to prevent the distribution of the videos.

Carl Plante had become a household name. The press was painting him as some kind of anarchist fanatic. Families argued over whether he was a good guy or a villain. Public opinion was slowly swinging to viewing him as being a modern day Robin Hood. In some ways, he was becoming a celebrity. His face was recognized by more people than those who could identify the Speaker of the House from a photograph. He was as well known as the most popular movie star in Hollywood.

Congress was besieged with letters to open investigations into the criminal acts captured on video. Of course, that was like asking the fox to guard the hen house. People began to realize it when the names of their representatives started showing up in videos. People started getting angry.

The public's reaction, at first peaceful, was beginning to get violent. The most publicized of the violent acts occurred during a riot, when a high ranking member of Congress died while in his local office. It burned to the ground, with him inside. That had sent shock waves throughout Washington.

That was nothing compared to what was happening to the heads of the government's alphabet agencies. They were being physically attacked by right-wing and left-wing extremists. Right-wing extremist groups were angered at what was being done to take away their freedoms and national identity. Left-wing extremist groups were furious that their efforts to save the planet were being used by corporations to take over the planet. Moderates were seething, but hadn't unloosed their wrath, yet.

The men gathered around the table knew that this was only the beginning. Worse revelations were soon to be released. Now that the government agencies were in turmoil, the next batch of videos focused entirely on elected officials at state and federal levels. The goal was to defang the government watchdog agencies and the lawmakers, so that they couldn't be brought to the dogfight that was to come.

Tom Farmer said, "I wish we had more time to set this up."

"We're ready, financially," the Banker said.

Large quantities of money, on the order of a trillion dollars, had been moved to where the wealth could do the most damage. It hadn't been easy. They'd had to move it in a manner that wouldn't be noticed. It required making small transactions here and there, spread over one investment or another, in what might be viewed as a random chaotic response to marketplace volatility.

"I'm not worried about the money."

"What are you worried about?"

Tom answered, "I'm worried about our production capabilities. We've always kept our companies in sixth, seventh, and eighth places for our individual industries. To leap up to number one, two, and three ... in a matter of months ... is going to be tough."

"Why such a jump?" the Weaver asked.

"The current top companies are going to go out of business. We can't allow the shelves in grocery stores to become empty. It would cause a mass panic. As a result, we have to raise our production levels to meet consumer needs. I'm worried we won't be able to do that," Tom said.

"It is a valid concern," the Smith said. "I know that we're barely keeping up with the demands for equipment. I'm not even sure if it will all be installed in time."

"We're working twenty-four hours a day. It is going to be tight," the Woodman said, also looking worried.

They were building factories in the middle of nowhere. None of them were licensed or inspected as being food production facilities. They were just random buildings, Quonset huts and block warehouse type buildings, going up in the desert or in cornfields. Even the men working on the buildings had no clue as to their intended use.

"Can't we delay it for a month or two?" the Weaver asked, worried that they were rushing into making acts that could destroy the Pfand.

"We have to act on the current schedule, or we will have to delay everything for a year."

"Why a year?" the Weaver asked.

"It's harvest time," Tom answered.

"I didn't think about that."

Tom said, "I'd love to delay it a year, but we can't. Our farms won't be in business a year from now."

"The Landowner is right," the Scholar said.

"They are moving faster than we thought," the Banker said.

The Scholar said, "They are reacting to Carl Plante. His tapes have devastated the leadership of several government organizations they were relying upon in their plans. They have to move now, or lose the whole game."

The Innkeeper said, "Can we hurt them enough?"

"Yes," the Banker said. "We've got a trillion dollars tied up in this."

The Drover asked, "You're moving around a lot of money. Is there any chance they might get suspicious?"

"No. They think it is a bunch of small players trying to anticipate their moves," the Whore said.

"How do you know that?" the Drover asked.

"Some of my family were at a party with the leadership of that group. We heard them talking about the lack of market volatility in light of some of the recent scandals. We know their attitudes about people outside their group," the Whore answered.

"I'll accept that," the Drover said.

The Banker said, "Actually, it would appear to be a lot of small investors moving money around. All of our holding companies are actually small investors in their way of thinking. The fact that it is about eight thousand holding companies, just reenforces their opinion."

The Whore said, "The leadership of that group is more concerned about Carl, and what he's doing to them. They are frantically trying to get rid of him. They aren't even being circumspect in how they talk about him, anymore. He's stopped being 'the pickle guy'. He's being named by name."

"That's good, isn't it?" the Woodman asked.

"They've put a ten million dollar contract out on him," the Whore said.

Tom groaned as he said, "What are his chances of survival?"

He knew that Carl was in constant danger of getting caught. If caught by the government, he would disappear. If caught by mercenaries, he'd reappear as a mangled corpse. The odds were not in his favor. Of the ten members of the Bauer family set up to publicly fight the enemy, two had been killed, one had disappeared at the hands of the government, and another three were in hiding overseas.

There were now nearly a hundred members of the Pfand families tucked away in a lot of remote places in the world. After continued harassment by the government, all of Carl's immediate family had been moved out of the country. His parents were touring China. His sister and brother-in-law were taking a tour of Russia searching for antiques that could be shipped back to the states when everything was over. Samantha's immediate family was taking a cruise down the Amazon river. Jennifer's family was stashed away in a nudist resort in Australia. Hammond's family was visiting with close friends who owned a rather old and large gun company in Italy.

The Watchman answered, "Better than you might think."

They had a lot of Wache family members watching over Carl and the others traveling with him. Every public appearance had Wache family members scattered throughout the place to make sure that no one would harm them. They had become a well oiled machine in getting into and out of appearances.

The closest they had come to getting caught was a checkpoint that had been hurriedly setup after one of their public appearances. The car that was stopped had been one of several alternatives, one in which Carl had never even been in. There had been the other time when he had ridden past a roadblock as a passenger in a firetruck with sirens blaring. No one would know that the firetruck had been built by a Schmied firm and was being delivered to another town by a Wagner.

That wasn't to say that all of his exits had been by automobile. Carl was becoming personally acquainted with the sewer systems of several of the larger cities in the country. Considering the number of cameras located throughout large cities, it was amazing that one could still weave a path of several miles without once being caught on camera.

"We haven't had any problems in moving him around the country. Not one of our trucks has been stopped or even questioned," the Drover said.

Long distance trips were taken in the back of shipping trucks. The trips weren't ever comfortable, but they managed to get him from one place to another without being observed. No matter how bad the trip might have been, Carl never complained. When asked, he would reply that he was a stag and was gutting the wolf.

The Innkeeper said, "No one has even suspected that he's staying in our hotels or motels."

There would always be local police stopping by with questions after a public appearance in their town, but that was of a general nature with hotels all across the area getting the same treatment. After a few cursory questions the police would leave to hit the next hotel in the area. The low-end 'rent by the hour' kinds of places were questioned more than any of the Grun family owned places.

Tom said, "That's good to know."

"I know you're worried about him," the Scholar said.

The Weaver asked, "How are the Bauer family members holding up?"

Tom answered, "That's kind of hard to say. The current chaos in the government agencies has reduced some of the pressure on us. That has helped morale more than you can imagine, but not enough. The automated systems are still churning out threatening letters."

"Are people worried?" the Watchman asked.

"You bet. A couple of the government agencies have a generic form letter denying the appeal of any past decisions. One of our farmers will appeal a decision, but they are immediately sent a letter back saying that it was denied. It's obvious that no one even looked at the appeal. The legal process is still relentlessly moving forward with the intention of shutting them down.

"The recent chaos means that they don't have inspectors dropping in on them everyday. Of course, they can handle inspectors. That just starts a legal process that they know they'll lose, but that's survivable. They fear the appearance of Federal agents on their doorstep.

"Every time some farm house gets raided on the suspicion that the farmer and his family are right-wing extremists, there are deaths. Every farmer knows that. It doesn't matter what they say or do; the odds are good that they and their family will die.

"In some cases, farmers are resisting and they are doing it in the most nasty way possible. The Federal agents have no idea how many dangerous compounds are on a farm. In one raid, thirty agents were sprayed with pesticide mixed with liquid fertilizer that was pumped through the irrigation system. It was a lethal combination and the agents had no idea of the danger they were in.

"We know that it is just a matter of time before our families are facing federal agents. With the exception of the farmers we asked to stand up against the enemy, we've stayed below the radar. The Pfand prohibition against being too demonstrative of religious beliefs and political action has protected us for the most part. Too many of the so-called right-wing extremists were active in their churches."

"Our ancestors were very wise," the Scholar said getting nods of agreement from the others.

The Weaver turned to the Watchman. "How are members of the Wache family doing?"

The Watchman sighed. "We're spread thin. There just aren't enough of us to provide the level of protection and investigation that's required of us. We've got members of the Bauer and Damenstern family to protect. Carl alone requires incredible resources. The problem is that we can't trust anyone with the appropriate security skills who is not a member of the Wache family.

"I know that our greatest fear is that we're going to fail. Each death in the Bauer family really hits us hard. Each time we find a Damenstern dead, it's like ... I don't know ... it just hurts. It doesn't matter that we've lost members of the Wache family in protecting our charges, we still feel like we aren't trying hard enough.

"I will say that the Landowner did well in selecting Carl Plante. He is a wonderful young man. He follows commands without question. He listens in on planning sessions and asks good questions. He walks into confusing and disorienting situations without losing his cool. You couldn't ask for a better person for the job he's doing."

Tom said, "Watchman, we appreciate everything members of the Wache family have done on our behalf. You have lost many more people that we have and we feel each loss. Tell your people, that..." he swallowed, "we would have already lost if it wasn't for them. All of us in the Pfand, owe you and yours a great debt."

"I second that," the Whore said.

The Weaver asked, "How are the members of the Damensterns doing?"

The Whore was silent. "They are afraid. The worse things go for the enemy, the worse things get for us. In public, these people are suave, controlled, and charismatic. In private, these people have no restraint. Our young men and women have been beaten. A few have been killed."

Tom said, "Perhaps it is time to pull back."

"No. I've issued rings."

The Watchman swore, "Shit! That's bad."

"Rings?" the Drover asked.

Having helped create rings in the past, the Smith answered, "Poisoned rings. The ring can be used to kill an enemy, or to commit suicide when there exists no alternative. The stone setting can be removed by unscrewing it. That reveals a thin needle containing a poison."

"All of us wear our rings at all times."

"No! I object!" Tom shouted.

"I agree with the Landowner," the Woodman shouted. "That ... is asking too much of them."

The Weaver said, "You're going too far. Pull back."

Several discussions broke out around the table. The Whore raised a hand to quiet everyone. It took a moment for everyone to quiet down.

She said, "All of you know the motto of the Damensterns – 'We are all whore, part diplomat and part spy.' That is what we are, and what we do. I am proud of what I am, and of the contributions I have made to the Pfand.

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