Pfand X
Chapter 22

Copyright© 2011 by Lazlo Zalezac

Carl stopped at the vat, opened the lid, and peered in at the pickles. The aroma of vinegar and spices tickled his nose. Some people didn't like the smell, but to him it conveyed a lot of information. He could tell just how far along in the pickling process a batch was, just by the smell. He could tell if it was a good batch or had gone bad. This batch smelled good.

Using a pair of sampling tongs, he pulled out a medium sized pickle. The texture was firm and there wasn't a hint of sliminess. He cut it in half, length-wise, and examined the interior. It had a good even color and was nearly ready to be put into jars. He flexed one of the halves satisfied with how it felt in his hand. He took a bite and smiled.

"Perfect."

Every afternoon, after finishing his work at the corporate headquarters, he stopped at the pickle plant to check on the progress of the current batches of pickles. He had a line of common pickles that were mass produced and comprised the majority of his sales. They were the typical pickles one purchased at the grocery store and were nothing special.

He also had a line of his gourmet pickles produced in the traditional method. He was very proud of his gourmet pickles. They were the best available on the open market. The demand exceeded his ability to produce them. He was thinking of opening another factory.

Feeling a deep sense of satisfaction, he closed the lid of the vat and headed towards the exit. After tossing the rest of the pickle into a nearby trashcan, he left the building. Stepping outside, he paused to appreciate the evening sky.

The guard at the door nodded at him in greeting. He always expected Carl to just walk past, but Carl made it a point to stop and chat for a bit, before leaving. He knew he wasn't being given special treatment. Carl stopped to talk with every employee.

"Hello, Mark. How's it going?" Carl asked stopping by the little guard house at the gate to the facilities.

The security measures that had been put in place during the initial construction of the plant were probably not necessary any more. The New World Order folks had been destroyed. Still, Carl deemed it proper to continue with it. There were still a lot of wolves in this world. One never knew when the wolf would show up at the doorstep.

"I'm doing fine, thank you," Marcus Sinclair answered.

Seeing that the man had gained a little weight, Carl said, "I take it the new treatment is working?"

"Yes, it is. Ever since they found the records showing its cause, the treatments have improved. Before, it was mostly guesswork."

"I'm glad to hear that," Carl said. "You are looking a lot healthier."

"I feel a lot better," Marcus said.

It was also nice to have a real job. His days as a fugitive had come to an end. He had been caught and released on bond awaiting trial. For too long, he had been living hand to mouth, getting by on his disability payments, which weren't enough to pay the rent and buy food. It had been the blackest time of his life.

No one had been more surprised than he, when Hammond had shown up at this dingy studio apartment one morning. Hammond had given him a slip of paper with two addresses on it, and told him that he had a job and an apartment waiting for him. He could move into the furnished apartment, anytime he wanted. He was to show up to work, Monday morning.

For the past year and a half, Marcus' situation had improved. The new treatment he had been receiving was working, and he felt good. He had saved some money for a house, started dating again, and basically looked forward to waking up in the morning. He was rebuilding a real life.

There were still some legal problems over the gunfight, but he had a good lawyer that Carl had found for him. There was a lot of legal wrangling about his situation being a result of a government overstepping its legal authority. The tape showing orders being given to kill everyone at the meeting, had changed the battle from being an attack, to being an act of self-defense.

There was more to it than just the legal aspects of defending themselves. There were a lot of family members of slain policemen who were angry, but it wasn't clear who was the subject of their anger: the government, or the veterans involved in the gunfight. Mark understood their anger.

Mark felt lucky to be alive. It was almost impossible to get around without being found, if people were truly interested in finding you. A lot of the men involved in the gunfight were dead or missing. It was a shame because all of them had been good men, who had cared about their country. It was wrong that they had been hunted down like rabid dogs.

Carl said, "Good. I guess I better head home. The Missus is waiting for me. I imagine that she has a 'honey do' list that's a mile long."

Marcus laughed. "Give my regards to the Missus."

"Will do. Have a nice evening, Mark," Carl said.

"You too, Carl."

He watched Carl walk to the parking lot thinking that there weren't many people like him left in the world. Despite being relatively wealthy, Carl was an honest man who treated everyone with respect. He was a true humanitarian. He gave people a hand up rather than a hand out. There were a lot of people who worked in the pickle plant who had lives that had been broken by situations outside their control.

Carl didn't believe in reserved spaces and his car was parked in the middle of the parking lot. He went over to it and got inside. Looking through the stack of CDs, he picked out a nice country western collection of songs by different artists. He started the car and listened to the CD.

Singing along, he drove out of the parking lot. Carl had a lot of reasons to be happy. His life, as well as the lives of millions of others, had improved dramatically. It was amazing just how much misery had been created by so few people.

Two years of political turmoil had followed the revelations that had brought down so many public figures. Were the new leaders any more honest than the previous set? It was hard to tell, but they weren't nearly as well organized. People were watching them closely so opportunities for corruption were limited. Lobby laws and election laws had been changed. The crime of accepting bribes was now treated as treason rather than a slap on the wrist by a congressional ethics committee.

Unrolling the legislation and regulations that had so damaged the country hadn't taken all that long. A simple bill that repealed all legislation and regulations passed in the last twenty years had taken care of that. It was now just a matter of going through what had once been law and re-instating what had actually served a real need. It was a shame that so few laws and regulations had actually been needed.

With a new crop of legislators in office and new heads of government agencies in place, there were sweeping changes in how the government was run. The progressive income tax was repealed and replaced by a national sales tax. It was a fair law. Food, clothing, and shelter were exempt from taxation. There were a lot of IRS folks, tax attorneys, and tax preparation people out of work. It was amazing how much money had been spent to collect taxes.

Social security was revamped. For too long, social security had been treated as just another revenue stream for the government to spend. That had changed. It was now protected by a constitutional amendment that prevented any expenditures from any protected fund, as which social security now qualified, to be paid out for any reason other than as intended in the establishment of that fund. Even the costs of managing the programs couldn't come out of the fund.

Carl drove to the highway appreciating the view outside his window. He passed one of the gardeners who was busy trimming a hedge that ran in the berm between the two sides of the highway. It was spring-time and the flowers were in bloom. There were a lot of flowers along the highway as a result of a national beautification program.

The money for the beautification program was acquired using a flat ten percent tax on the net gains in investments. Every stock sold had ten percent of the difference between the purchase price and the sale price taken out as a tax. It didn't matter if it was an individual, a charity, a holding company, a fund, or a corporation, the tax was taken. The days of big investors playing games with taxes were over. Billionaires could not avoid taxes. Unlike the past, where money for a project like this came out of the general fund, this money went into a protected fund that could only be spent on beautification.

Individuals employed under the beautification program were limited in how much they could earn. Wages were limited to no less than three times, and no more than four times, the minimum wage. The person in charge of the program was bound by the same limitations on wage.

It was a day labor job that only required one to show up to get hired. There was no paperwork. Anyone who wanted to work could work, any day of the week. Even teenagers could work a full day on the weekend and have spending money for the week. There was always work that had to be done.

In a way, it was a different kind of welfare program. The goal was to pay as many people as possible a living wage, and to improve the quality of life for everyone. While others had talked about redistribution of wealth in gross general terms that allowed for a lot of the money to disappear, this program took money directly from those making it, and gave it to the poor. However, it was disbursed in the form of wages, rather than handouts.

In the inner cities, people were paid to keep neighborhoods clean. The days of low income areas having streets littered with broken glass and buildings covered with graffiti were over. As a result of this program, unemployment had plummeted. With more people working, more goods were purchased. The more goods purchased, the more people were employed. It was a 'vicious cycle', that worked to everyone's benefit.

Carl suspected that the Landowner had had a hand in designing the program. A lot of folks who tended the gardens along the highway were beginning to take up farming. The large agro-corporations were falling apart. Their destruction wasn't a result of the revelations of the acts of collusion in which they had been engaged. Despite the economies of scale, it was the bloated management structures that were killing them.

Almost all of the regulations that had been strangling family farms had been repealed. Years of laboring under unfair costs had made the family farms much more efficient producers of goods than the giant conglomerates. For the first time since the Great Depression, the number of family farms was increasing. It was a slow trickle at the moment, but Carl was sure that it would gain in momentum.

Only three government organizations now had a say in how he ran his company. There was the EAO, FQA, and the EPA. The Employment Affairs Office dealt solely with matters of employment, including worker safety, equal opportunity, and fair treatment. The Food Quality Administration performed food inspections, to assure that only quality products were sold on the market. The Environmental Protection Agency had survived to assure that individuals and corporations did not negatively impact the environment. All regulations had to be posted on the internet for at least one year before taking effect. Any regulation could be challenged in court, and there was no fee for filing such a challenge.

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