Copyright© 2011 by Lazlo Zalezac
Carl looked out over the audience that was staring back at him. Usually, at these kinds of engagements, there were people who recognized him and were extremely excited about meeting him. This evening, he was getting a much colder reception. It was as if they knew who he was, and resented that he was there.
He was at a support group meeting of service men who were suffering from Gulf War Syndrome. It was an appropriate group, considering the video that he was going to show and hand out.
A high official in the State Department, several members of congressional armed services committees, and a member of England's Parliament were having a discussion. These leaders were debating how to continue culling the population of nationalistic patriots, and religious fundamentalists.
The leaders were looking for ways to assure that more extremists and soldiers would die. The current approach wasn't working. The economic support (and weapons) they were providing to the Muslim extremists, weren't having the bang for the buck that had been anticipated. The death tolls were small, compared to the tens of thousands they wanted. They had been hoping for something more along the lines of Vietnam, which had effectively destroyed nationalistic patriotism in the United States, for almost two generations.
It was pointed out that the difference between the two conflicts was essentially a difference in morals. In Vietnam, the North Vietnamese used prostitutes, bars, and drugs to gather intelligence about American plans. They knew everything that was going to happen, before it happened.
Outside of drugs, the Muslims weren't doing that. Their prohibitions against women having any kind of contact with men, made the use of prostitutes unacceptable.
The leaders had attempted several tried and true methods of increasing the death count. One was to put more soldiers into areas where they were easily targeted. Unfortunately (from the leaders' perspective), that hadn't worked. The surge of troops in the current conflicts, had actually suppressed resistance, rather than increasing the death toll as had happened in Vietnam. The men in the meeting were trying to find some way to change that trend.
The last strategy that they had tried, had also failed. Wiki-leaks had not produced the backlash expected. Instead, it had allowed radical religious groups to gain control of countries that had been supportive of the group's efforts. They had more religious fundamentalists than before, and their supporters were dying off.
It was pointed out that nationalism was on the rise all over Europe. It was possible that a larger conflict could be introduced that would be on the order of another world war. They viewed that as a positive potential outcome, since it would clearly raise the body count. The one fear was that someone, somewhere, would unleash the weapons of mass destruction. That would solve some of their problems, but at the expense of the assets they wanted to gain out of the conflict.
Carl was about to introduce himself, although it was not really necessary, when a foghorn sounded. Without thinking, he dropped to the floor. He was just in time. A bullet hole appeared in the wall behind where he had been standing.
Hammond had sounded the foghorn the instant he had spotted the red dot that had appeared on Carl's forehead. The effect of the foghorn and the sudden appearance of the bullet hole was like hitting a hornet's nest with a stick. Even while drawing his pistol, he realized that every person in the room was drawing a weapon, as well.
"Oh shit! We f$%ked up," he muttered, convinced that all those guns would soon be directed at Carl.
Much to his surprise, there was a rush of people to the doors and windows. The doors were barricaded and windows cleared of glass. A large box was opened and rifles were being distributed out of it. Shots were fired. Shots were returned. A full out gunfight was suddenly in progress.
One of the men was standing by a door gesturing to them. When they approached, he asked, "What in the f$%k are you doing here? Don't you know that we're under surveillance as a radical organization?"
"We didn't know that," Hammond answered furious that they hadn't known that important fact.
"Follow me. I'll get you out of here," the man said.
Without waiting to see what was happening in the street, Carl and the Waches in the room made their escape. They fled, leaving the stacks of CDs with the videos on them, on the table at the front of the room.
Hammond knew they were headed for the tunnels under the facility. They had already mapped out the escape routes.
While rushing through the boiler room, Carl asked, "Why are you suspected of being a radical organization?"
"We know too f$%king much. You were going to hand out a video of the government assholes talking about how to kill patriots, right?"
"We know all about that," the man said. "We were about to release a bunch of videos next week. Now those plans are all f$%ked up."
"We didn't know," Carl said rushing down one of the tunnels.
The man said, "Once you get clear of here, get the hell out of town. We can hold them off for a couple of hours."
"They've probably got you surrounded," Hammond said.
"Bullshit. We got folks all around here. We're f$%king warriors despite the shit they did to us over in the big sandy. They may have infected us with some nasty shit, but they didn't take away our ability to fight," the man answered.
At the exit of the tunnel, Carl held out a hand and said, "Good luck."
"Same to you," the man said. He winked and said, "I might not ever see you again, until we're both knocking on the gates of hell, but I guarantee you that a bunch assholes will be there before us."
"Right," Carl said.
Hammond whisked Carl out of the tunnel, through a door, and into a waiting truck. A minute later, they were ten blocks from the gunfight. The radio station was reporting that a major gunfight between right-wing radicals and government forces was taking place in the downtown area.
Slamming a fist against the wall of the truck, Hammond said, "That was a disaster."
Half of the members of the Wache family who had been present inside the building had stayed behind to deter anyone from following them. He wasn't looking forward to hearing about what would happen to them. Most likely, they would hear about ten men committing suicide on the news the next day.
"In more than one way," Carl said.
"We should have known that they were under surveillance," Hammond said angrily.
This had been a major intelligence failure in a lot of ways. He should have guessed that an audience of military veterans would be carrying. All it would have taken, was for one of them to decide to kill Carl for the reward. It would have been hard to stop.
The man driving the truck said, "We've got a report that a helicopter is in the air. I don't know if they're following us."
"Shit. This is a f$%king mess."
Carl said, "Calm down. We screwed up. So what? We go on."
Hammond said, "This was a disaster. We just left ten men behind who are going to have to kill themselves if they get captured."
One of the others who had left with them said, "I'm pretty sure that most of them will get away. Those vets expected something like this and I don't think they're the type to give up."
"I saw the ammo those guys were using. They were loaded with cop killers."
"I got a glance out one of the windows when we were leaving. There were a dozen cops down. I'd bet no one is left in that building by now," one of them men said.
"There were three dead cops in the alley. The vets had that escape covered."
"This is going to be all over the television."
"I know that. That's not the only problem. We just gave the government a reason to declare open season on veterans everywhere," Carl said.
"Shit, I didn't even think about that," Hammond said.
"Well, there are going a bunch of dead cops and feds tonight. I've got a feeling that there are going to be a bunch of dead elected officials by the end of the week."
"When I went to pull out my pistol, the guy sitting next to me already had his gun pointed at me. He wanted to know what I was doing there and then he grinned when I said that I was there to protect Carl. He told me I was doing a shitty job. He ran off after telling me that the feds had no f$%king idea of what they had done," one of the men said.
"I got the same treatment."
"The hounds of hell have just been released."
Hammond rested his forehead on his arms. He kept swearing in a low continuous mutter. Worried, Carl watched Hammond wondering if the man was about to have a nervous breakdown.
He asked, "Are you okay?"
"I'm tired," Hammond said. "We have started making mistakes, and we can't afford to do that."
"Then let's take a break," Carl said.
It had been a grueling schedule. He had put in twenty-five appearances in twenty-five cities over thirty days. He would spend the whole night cooped up in the back of trucks and sleep days in cheap hotels. They were living on a diet of soup and sandwiches. Everyone was tired. Jennifer and Samantha were already on their way to the next stop.
"How?" Hammond said.
Carl answered, "I'm sure someone owns an isolated hunting lodge where we can hide out for a week and recharge our batteries."
Coming to a decision, Hammond said, "Tell the driver we need to head to a safe spot for thirty minutes. I've got some calls to make."
Forty-five minutes later, the truck pulled up to the loading bay of an old red brick building. The men got out of the truck and looked around. The area where they were standing had a concrete floor, but the rest of the huge room had wooden floors.
An elderly woman greeted them, "Welcome."
"Hello," Carl said. "I'm..."
"There's no need to introduce yourself, Carl. You're famous," the old woman said with a twinkle in her eye. "I'm Mary Naparstek."
"Nice to meet you, Ma'am," Carl said. Gesturing to his surroundings, he asked, "What is this place?"
"This is an old textile mill that my father owned. He passed it to me. Now, I use it for storage, but it was once filled with young woman turning thread into fabric," Mary answered.
"It's an amazing building," Carl said.
In a way, he was envious of the building. It had a nice stately feel to it despite the years that had passed since its original construction. His pickle factory was going to be a thoroughly modern building. It would be plain and architecturally uninteresting. Some of these old factories had features that might have been common in their day, but were totally absent in modern times.
"It was build by Charles Carpenter," Mary said.
Carpenter was one of the family names of the Wald's. He wondered if that meant that it was constructed in a manner consistent with the specifications in the Pfand X. He assumed that he would find out, soon enough.
Carl said, "I didn't think that textile mills were this large."
"It wasn't large, for its time. It seemed very small once you put a bunch of looms in here. The high ceilings were necessary since the looms were driven by leather belts powered by a steam engine. It was loud in here when everything was running," Mary said.
"Do you have pictures of it in operation?" Carl asked.
"Yes, I do. I'd love to show them to you, sometime," Mary said.
Hammond interrupted, "I'm Hammond Steward."
"Hammond? That's an odd first name. You don't run into many men named Hammond. In fact, I think you're the first one I've ever met with that first name. I once knew a Don Hammond," Mary said.
"I was named after a man who saved my mother from drowning when she was a young girl. He made quite an impression on her. She thought his first name was Hammond because everyone called him that. It was years after she named me, that she learned it was his last name," Hammond replied.
"That's an interesting story," Mary said.
Carl hadn't given any thought to how unusual Hammond's name was. Even if he had, he never would have thought to comment on it.
Hammond said, "I don't tell it very often."
"I have such a common name. Growing up, it was like every other girl was named Mary or Margaret. I always wanted to be a Mercedes or Minerva."
"Interesting," Hammond said. "I hate to impose upon you, but I need to make some phone calls. Is there a 'private' place I can do that?"
"How rude of me. You're in a hurry and I'm prattling on about names," Mary said. "Follow me."
In a conversational tone of voice, Hammond said, "I don't know if you are aware if it, but there was a bit of trouble in the city."
"I heard all about it on television," Mary said.
"It was on television?" Carl asked.
Mary said, "Oh my lordy, yes. There was a huge gunfight in the city. Twelve police and federal agents were killed and another thirty were wounded by a bunch of right-wing extremists. The man on television said that a bunch of disgruntled veterans had set an ambush for the police. Not a single one of those 'bad guys' was found."
"They all got away?" Hammond asked hoping to find out how his people had fared.
"Yes. The reporter said that that evil man, Carl Plante, was there. He had convinced them to attack the police."
Carl shook his head at the kind of lies that emerged about him. He had convinced the veterans to attack the police? What a laugh. If he hadn't ducked, he would have been dead. He hadn't even opened his mouth before the attack had taken place.
Hammond said, "I feel sorry for the men and women who died tonight. They were poor saps who showed up to work and died because of it. It's a shame. They were being used as pawns in a game they didn't even know was being played."
Mary stopped in a little room off to the side of the main floor.
She said, "Could you push that metal plate towards the back wall?"
Carl and Hammond knelt down and pushed. They expecting it to be heavy. They nearly fell on their backsides when the plate moved with almost no resistance. Mary covered her mouth in a polite attempt to hide her amusement.
"We go down, here."
The trio entered the tunnel that had been revealed by moving the metal plate.