Pfand X
Chapter 19

Copyright© 2011 by Lazlo Zalezac

Tom stopped by the side-table and grabbed a plate. He moved down the table examining the array of food available and then grabbed an apple Danish. He glanced at the clock and then poured a cup of coffee. It was a thirty-one ounce cup and he filled it to the brim. After one more glance at the clock, he grabbed a second Danish, before carrying his late morning 'second breakfast' to the table.

Following behind Tom at the table, the Innkeeper filled a large bowl with fresh fruit. After looking up at the clock, he poured himself an extra-large coffee as well. He carried it to the table and took his seat. He looked up at the clock and made the sign of a cross. He took a sip of coffee, grimaced, and then set the cup down. His stomach was sour enough already.

The Woodman asked, "Does anyone have an antacid?"

The Smith said, "I could use one, too."

No one offered an antacid.

The Weaver looked up at the clock waiting for the minute hand to reach the top. It seemed to her that the closer it got, the slower it moved. Her stomach churned at the idea of what was going to happen next. She looked around the room at the other heads of the ten families. They looked just as nervous as she felt.

"It's time," she said softly.

The Drover asked, "Are you sure that we want to do this?"

Heads around the room nodded in the affirmative. The Drover picked up the telephone. He reached down to punch in the number, and then stopped.

"Last chance to stop it."

The Weaver said, "Make the call."

He entered a number. After two rings, the phone was answered. He spoke one word.

"Strike."

Hanging up the phone, he said, "It has begun."

A minute later, four thousand two hundred and eighteen truckers began to receive telephone calls and text messages. A strike had been called. They were instructed to pull into the nearest truck stop, rent a room, and wait until they were told to return to work. All costs and expenses would be covered for at least two weeks.

One of the drivers, Steve Dickerson, swore on getting the message. He had worked for Mike Porter for over twenty years. He respected the man and the idea of leaving him in the lurch like this made him sick to his stomach. He owed the man. During his divorce, it was Mike Porter who had kept him from driving his semi off the lot and into a bridge. He had stood there in front of that truck and wouldn't budge until Steve came out to talk to him. After a little booze and hours of talk, Mike had taken him to his house and watched over him. Now some asshole was telling him that he was supposed to repay that kindness by crippling the man's company with a strike. That wasn't going to happen.

Steve called Mike on the private number Mike had given him, years ago. He explained that he was more than willing to cross the picket line, or do whatever Mike needed. He was shocked when Mike told him to pull of the road, check into a hotel, and wait until the strike was over. Steve tried to talk some sense into Mike, but the man insisted that he not make waves. Feeling lower than a worm, Steve did as Mike had asked.

Steve wasn't the only employee of a Wagner firm to make a call like that.

Within thirty minutes, trucks loaded with produce freshly picked from the farms started pulling into truck stops. After parking their trucks, the drivers walked away leaving the food to rot under the hot sun. No deliveries of fruits or vegetables would make it to the food production facilities who had contracts with the firms that employed the striking truck drivers, until the strike ended. Not only would there no deliveries, there would be no trucks to pick up any of their products, either.

That didn't mean that all trucks working for Wagner owned companies were on strike. There were a lot of Wagner trucking companies still on the road. After all, each trucking firm was independent of the others. Furthermore, the companies the Wagners had given subcontracts to were still on the road. They were shuttling products from Bauer farms to Bauer food production facilities. Preexisting facilities were running at half capacity, and were prepared for when non-Bauer sources were ready to sell their crops.

The new food processing facilities, not yet inspected or approved for food production, began to start up operation. There were surprisingly few start-up problems and those that arose were dealt with quickly. Schmeids and Walds were on site, to assure sure that everything went smoothly.

The plan for the new food processing facilities was rather subtle. It is completely legal to build a building and stock it full of equipment so long as it passes any and all local building codes. These buildings had been built outside of any municipalities, in counties with populations of four digits or less. A few dollars here and there along with a contribution to local charities had assured the buildings were approved. It didn't take much. More often than not, just the prospect of jobs opened doors.

Operating the equipment required meeting all safety regulations and permits, but since no one had used the machines other than to test them, even that wasn't a problem. Until the previous night, the empty facilities were just large buildings filled with equipment, and guarded by a lonely security guard.

Using the building to create consumer products is when the problems would begin to arise. It is legal to process food without any government permits or oversight of any kind, so long as it isn't for sale or distribution, and that they properly disposed of all waste. Essentially, a person can bake as many pies as they want, stack them up in a refrigerated building, and have no troubles with the law.

Of course, selling or even giving away their products would put them on the wrong side of the law. They weren't going to sell their products until there was sufficient consumer pressure on the government to allow the food to be sold. With the largest food processing companies unable to produce anything, there would be shortages at the grocery store. It wasn't possible to make up for losing a whole harvest. The government would write short-term exemptions if it was necessary to keep people fed.

The sudden absence of trucks to pick up their crops would place a lot of pressure on the independent farmers. Since the big corporate farms weren't going to be able to get the crops to their food production facilities, the farmers would be in trouble. Farmers don't get paid until the crops are shipped. Without trucks showing up to haul away the produce, the farmers were going to make nothing.

That didn't mean that farmers wouldn't be able to sell their products. If farmers chose to sell their goods to other companies, companies who weren't having shipping problems, then trucks would pick up their crops and they would get paid. After a few hours of waiting for trucks to arrive, the farmers would be desperate.

The Pfand would pay fair market value, even though the farmer was basically at their mercy. After all, the farmers were friends and neighbors of members of the Bauer family. One didn't take advantage of friends and neighbors.

Having a good percentage of their trucks out on strike was costing the Wagner families about ten million dollars a day. However, the Bauers were in a position to gain about fifteen million a day in increased product. In essence, the Pfand was making money on the strike!

The liabilities for spoiled freight had been averted as a result of the contracts that had been skillfully negotiated months ago. The contracts freed the Wagner owned companies from direct liability in the event of a driver's strike. Even if they were sued, they had transferred all of their insurance to one of the enemy's companies. The enemy would, effectively, be suing themselves.

While the strike was nominally costing the enemy about thirty million dollars a day, the true effects wouldn't be seen until much later. If the strike lasted ten days, it could end up costing them billions. Nothing in, meant nothing out. If they didn't get the crops when they were harvested, then they would not get any product out, this growing season. Figuratively speaking, cutting the inflow of produce had been a strike directly at their jugular vein.

It would take some time for word to trickle back to the executives of the companies that would be directly affected by the strike. The first anyone would know about it, was when trucks failed to show up with their valuable cargo. Calls would be made to the trucking companies, to find out what was the problem. About the time that word was received that the truckers were on strike, the production lines would start to run out of material, and would have to shut down. Then the calls for guidance would be made to corporate headquarters.

A text message alerted the Drover that inquiries had been made concerning the absence of trucks.

He said, "They're beginning to figure out that something is wrong."

"Give them another forty minutes," the Banker said.

They wanted word to get around that products weren't being delivered. They needed a few calls back and forth between the large corporations and the trucking companies before the executives would feel that they needed to be physically present to make sure that things got handled.

Quiet conversations broke out around the table. Everyone there felt sorry for the small people who were going to get hurt by their companies failing. Most of the employees were just regular people who wanted to make a living. They would never know just how much misery they had been saved from experiencing.

The Drover held up a hand for quiet. He picked up the telephone and punched in a number.

When the party answered, he said, "Gridlock."

Six hundred trucks were about to break down or have accidents on some of the busiest thoroughfares in the downtown areas of the largest cities in the country. They were aiming for maximum confusion. Few people would be able to get to any corporate headquarters located in those areas, since it would soon be impossible to drive anywhere in those areas for at least three hours.

The idea was simple. A large Wagner truck would run swerve so that it was blocking all lanes at a point between two intersections. It would be hit by one or two cars driven by Webers. The drivers would get out of their vehicles and start to argue. All traffic through the intersections to that section of the road would be blocked by inconsiderate drivers, and there are plenty of those, who were unaware that there was an accident just up the street. Consequently, traffic would back up to the adjacent intersection. Cars would soon block that intersection, and the traffic jam would back up to the next intersection.

Within ten minutes, the gridlock would spread five to ten blocks in every direction. It would take the first tow trucks at least two hours to get to the accident so that they could tow away the damaged vehicles. The police would slowly clear the intersections farthest from the scene of the accidents until they could work their way to the accident. Even after the accident was cleared, traffic would still take another hour to flow smoothly.

The ten family heads sat around the table watching the news broadcasts on a wide screen television. Their nervousness had transitioned to tension. Idle chatter had become clenched jaws. They didn't talk much other than common courtesy offers of bringing something back, when one of them visited the snack table.

The news broadcasts were interesting, in how slow they were to catch on that something was happening. It took a while for people to realize that there were wide-spread traffic jams in all of the major metropolitan areas. It took even longer for them to realize that there was a truckers strike that could seriously impact the economy. It was like everything was slowly moving towards a boil.

The telephone rang. The Weaver answered and listened for a few seconds. She nodded her head, thanked the caller, and then hung up the phone.

"They are isolated."

The Banker picked up the telephone and made a call. He said one word into the telephone.

"Sell."

A shiver of fear ran down the backs of everyone in the room.

For the past six months, members of the Pfand had been buying shares in several major companies. It was never a lot of shares all at once, just a million dollars worth here and there. It added up. Their purchases had kept the stock prices high even when minor scandals had been aired.

With that one command from the Banker, all of the families sold off all of their shares in the major corporations. That was sixteen billion dollars worth of stock. It would take a few minutes for all of the orders to be entered, but once the massive number of trades were initiated the stocks of some very large companies would start to plummet. The stock exchange was about to experience a nightmare.

"The stock market will be shut down within ten minutes," the Banker said.

All eyes in the room turned to the television where a business analyst was talking about how stable the market was. It was hard not to laugh at him when the posted prices started falling. Green arrows indicating gains quickly turned into red arrows indicating losses. And the losses were substantial.

It didn't take more than two minutes for the press to realize there was a major problem in the stock market. It was hard to ignore a sudden three thousand point drop in the DOW and it was only beginning. Automatic trades started kicking in and driving the prices down even further. It took three minutes for every alarm in the stock exchange to trigger. People scrambled trying to make sense of what had happened. It took eight minutes before exchange officials were forced to invoke the 'circuit breaker' rule and halt all trading.

The Banker said, "They are cut off from their wealth."

On television, the talking heads on the business channels were speechless. They were searching for any kind of explanation, mostly settling on a computer error. Their frantic grasping for straws was going to turn into horror when the computer records showed that they were all legitimate trades. The stocks most affected were the Fortune 500. In fact, a lot of the smaller companies had their stocks go up.

Only one city was more susceptible to gridlock than Washington DC and that was New York City. In both cities, powerful people were rushing to get control of the situation and they were going nowhere. Helicopter services, often used by important people, were booked solid and couldn't respond in a reasonable time.

In the course of one morning, a number of billionaires had just become millionaires. It was only the beginning of what was going to turn out to be a very bad day for a lot of powerful men. With the market closed there was no way for these men to grab their money. They couldn't even get to their offices to find out what was happening.

The Scholar picked up the telephone. He dialed out and once the phone was answered, he said, "Connect."

With that one word, a dozen hackers in China let loose the toys they had been working on for six months. Each had just earned ten million dollars, paid in gold, silver, and diamonds.

Around the world, five thousand servers came online. Machines started churning out low level networking commands, malware that dropped copies of videos and websites on infected machines, and email with links to websites hosting videos of famous people breaking the law. It was an electronic blitzkrieg that was designed to take no prisoners.

As a result of the low level networking commands, Domain Name Servers started rerouting traffic away from the most popular internet destinations to infected websites. Anyone who tried to perform a search, view porn, or book a vacation found they were watching a video of a powerful individual engaging in a criminal act. Each page included a list of a hundred of the most powerful men in the world with a link to a criminal biography complete with videos documenting their crimes.

The NSA, the security guardian of electronic communications, was specifically targeted in this attack. They were blasted with hundreds of videos showing upper levels of government alphabet agencies, politicians, and business leaders conspiring to use the NSA in a plot to enslave everyone in the world. It was clear that it wasn't just about arresting or detaining people who were threatening the security of the country. The videos caught a lot of very important people talking about how they were planning on making slaves of every human on the planet.

It quickly became personal when those in power were recorded making rude comments about influential people within the organization. One well respected manager had been described as a typical patriotic country bumpkin with an IQ that was easily surpassed by the pile of excrement under which he had been born. They even said that he'd be one of the first people they'd lock up. His reply was to schedule a meeting for the next day, in the most sarcastic language possible, to discuss what to do about this clear threat to national security. Until that meeting, he had recommended that they gather more data before doing something about it.

After waiting fifteen minutes, Webers, Gruns, Schmeids, Walds, Damensterns, Goldsteins, Curadors, Bauers, Waches, and Wagners, from locations spread out all over the world, started contacting acquaintances with messages to check out what was happening on the web. Their messages were simple: check out the web. They were actually slow to start since quite a few of them had already received similar messages from their friends.

There are six billion people on the planet Earth, yet there exists only six degrees of separation between any two people. For the most part, that means nothing except when there is news that is so shocking that people feel obliged to pass it along. This was one of those occasions. Like a wild fire on the Serengeti, the word was being spread that something strange was happening on the internet.

The Halls of Government around the world, like on any normal business day, were initially crowded with people wanting to curry favor or influence others. They quickly emptied when individuals learned that videos of some of their most private meetings were being broadcast all over the world via the web. By the time an hour had passed after the release of the servers, there wasn't a politician or a lobbyist to be found. Court houses had suspended business and few judges could be found, anywhere. Union offices were empty. The upper offices of commercial towers were empty except for a handful of very angry secretaries who had heard some of the very unkind things said about them behind closed doors.

The crisis, which had started in America months earlier, had been slowly spreading around the globe when international connections started getting exposed. Now the crisis was fully global in scope. The videos weren't just of American leaders selling Americans into slavery. These videos captured political and economic leaders from nearly every country in the world, in large meetings of a hundred or more people. These videos showed powerful individuals colluding on how to take ultimate power. Leaders, even rebel leaders, were involved in parceling out various businesses, and claiming parts of the world for their individual use.

The videos, particularly those made in private settings, were very explicit. Rich and powerful men and women had discussed how they would use their control of food to fulfill whatever sick fantasies they harbored. There were casual discussions about how they would grab whatever property took their fancy. They talked about who they would grab and what they would do with them.

Some men, not quite rich enough to be invited to join the plotters, were shocked to learn that their wives, explicitly named in a discussion, would become members of harems and subject to acts of degradation. It was shocking that the suave cultured people with whom they did business were, in fact, despicable people with all of the morals of snakes.

It was almost unbelievable that men who had so much would act like giddy children while talking about what they would make people do. A number of minor business leaders were shocked to learn that they would have been the recipients of sexual attention from other men. It wasn't all sexual. In some cases, the plotters just wanted to watch men they despised kill each other in mortal combat.

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