Chapter 14 Countdown
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Countdown

In which tensions rise as the day of transition nears.

--------- Wednesday, November 7, 2012 --------

“Congratulations, Mr. President. You have won a resounding victory. I think it shows the good sense of the American people in this time of crisis.”

“Thanks. I really don’t think the nation could have survived if we’d lost. I know I owe a lot of the credit to you and your efforts behind the scenes.”

“We just did what was necessary, sir. You might have won even without our pressure on the media. I mean, there were a lot of the news guys and editorialists who would have supported you anyway. And remember that we didn’t even have to use the fake vote counts we had ready. I really think you would have had a good chance. The American people understand that you’re doing what’s best for them. They want a strong leader in this time of crisis.”

“Well I certainly hope that next time there won’t be a need for such steps but it was very reassuring to know that one way or another we were going to win this election.”

----------- December 27, 2012 near the Mexican border ---------

“I tell you they’re coming across the border as soon as we switch over to the new money.”

“And you have this on the authority of your maid?”

“It’s all over the neighborhood. Everybody knows about it. It’s just that lots of people are closing their eyes to it.”

“Look ma’am, we expect some trouble at the transition. We’d be fools not to. This new money isn’t going to be understood by lots of people, especially people who haven’t been reading the newspapers on this side of the border. But that doesn’t mean they’ll come over with guns to steal everything they can get their hands on.”

“Don’t you understand? All those predictions of chaos and lawlessness by the opponents convinced a lot of people. Maybe its just wishful thinking on their part but they believe it nonetheless. When the chaos starts, they want to get theirs and if there’s a rush across the border and if some stores get looted, they’ll just think they have to get in on it before all the good stuff is gone.”

“Ma’am, you’re just hearing rumors about kid’s gangs. We’ll be right on top of it. You just stay home if you’re worried about things and keep your doors locked and you’ll be fine. Believe me.”

“Oh I’ll stay home all right with my guns loaded. If they try to get into my place they’ll wish they hadn’t.”

“Ma’am please be very sure before you shoot. You could kill or wound some innocent person who just happens to be walking by.”

“I’ll be sure and I’ll video tape everything so you’ll be sure, too.”

---------- December 30, 2005, Deming, New Mexico ---------

“Daddy, how long will we be in the mountains?”

“Well we’ll be there for a while, sweetheart. Several weeks at least.”

“Will we have Christmas there?”

“Yes next year we’ll have Santa and a tree and everything. We’ll even have snow. You’ll like that won’t you.”

“Can we build a snowman, Daddy?”

“I think we’ll have time for that. Now, you get together all the toys you want to be sure and bring and line them up on the couch here in the living room.”

“Fred, are you sure it’s safe to travel with all that kerosene?”

“It’ll be in the trailer, so even if we have a wreck it’ll be quite a ways away from us. Besides, those are plastic containers so they probably won’t break. And anyway I spent too much money on that stuff to leave it here for the looters.”

“Don’t we have enough wood at the cabin to get by?”

“We don’t know how long we’ll have to be there. You know what the Mayor says. It’ll be at least months and maybe years before it’s safe to come back here. And when we do come back everything is likely to be destroyed. I’m afraid this is God’s judgment on America for its sinful ways.”

“Praise the Lord. At least we have a place of refuge to go to. I feel really guilty sometimes about not being able to take the others.”

“Doreen, I’ve gone over this with you time and again. There isn’t going to be enough food in the valley to support everybody in the Church. If we have to stay there for more than six months or so we’ll have to be getting by on what we can grow and hunt. If it takes more that a couple of years, we’ll have to be making our own clothes from skins and fibers we’ve grown ourselves. There just isn’t enough good farm land in the valley to support three-hundred or more people. We’d be forced to expel some people or starve.”

“I know but I still feel terrible about leaving the others behind. Some of them are our friends, like the Olsens.”

“He’d never come with us, Doreen. You know he thinks this new money is great. He thinks it’s actually going to bring about heaven on earth. Idiot.”

“But I still feel sorry for Rose and the kids. They don’t deserve to be caught up in the chaos and rioting and looting. They don’t deserve that.”

“Darling, that is one of the millions of reasons I’m so glad you’re Mrs. Bascome.. You have such a tender heart. Here, let me kiss those tears away. You’ll see. The Lord will protect the righteous. Somehow He’ll take care of them.”

“Daddy, can we take Poochy this time?”

“Sure darling, a dog like Poochy is just what we’ll need in the mountains.”

“I’ll go get him.” And she scampered from the room.

“Dear if we can’t feed ourselves very well, how are we going to feed a dog?”

“We can’t. But I don’t want to leave him here in a kennel to starve to death with no chance at all. I love that little guy. We’ll let him loose out in the country somewhere near a river or a creek anyway so he’ll have a chance to find food. He’ll take care of himself. It’s not like he was some lapdog who’s completely dependent on people. He’s a mutt. They’re good at survival.”

“Here’s Poochy and I have all my toys in the living room.”

“Oh and Fred, I found some more survival books and how to do it books at the bookstore yesterday. They were a little expensive but I didn’t think that would matter with what’s coming.”

“Right you are. That’s my little frontier wife. You’re both tough and smart. Give me a kiss and let’s get finished with the packing.”

---------- December 30, 2012, Ft. Hood, Texas -----------

“Sir we have reports coming in from all along the border about plans to invade.”

“You’re not talking about the Mexican Army are you?”

“On no sir, but people and police departments from Brownsville to Tijuana are reporting rumors of gangs and even just ordinary people expecting to come over the border after the transition to loot and steal and who knows what else.”

“Yes, but we’ve had a week or so to get ready for them. And it’s not as if the Homeland Security folks haven’t given us tools to use. As I see it we should be able to patrol most of the desert border with the drone planes. So long as the threat is out in the desert, we don’t need to do much about it right away. It’s the towns that are on both sides of the border like Tijuana and Juarez and Nuevo-Laredo, especially where the town on the Mexican side is quite a bit larger than the town on the U.S. side. If something gets started in one of those places, we could have some serious problems.”

“We’ve scheduled a mobilization of the Guard for all the major crossing points. But if enough people just start swimming the river in Texas or California or just crossing in the desert they can still just overwhelm us.”

“We can’t move the regular army units to the border without causing an international incident. It wouldn’t look friendly. Especially since Mexico is threatening to stop sending us oil if we go through with the transition.”

“Are we really going to use the Minutemen? That sounds risky to me. Those guys are likely to start shooting at anything that moves.”

“You don’t think they would stay home like good little citizens with the rumors that have been going round, do you? We have a lot better chance of controlling them if we include them and have men with them to keep an eye on them. Besides, they do give us a lot more bodies to use and if we have them in some kind of uniform we won’t be so likely to shoot them by mistake.”

“Yes, General, but I’m still nervous about it.”

“Son, we’ll be here at headquarters ready to take all the blame if something goes wrong. It’s just my reputation on the line, not yours. You just relax and do your job as well as you can and we’ll do fine.”

“Yes, sir.”

--------- December 30, 2012 near a border crossing in Laredo, Texas ----------

“We’ve had cameras at these border crossings for years. Why are we putting up more now?”

“I don’t know for sure but it looks to me like these we are putting up are pretty obvious. They’re even on poles, for goodness sake. The regular ones are hidden or at least not right out in the open. You’ll notice that these are the older, bulky kind rather than the fingertip size cameras.”

“Yeah. Now that you mention it. I guess these are for the mobs to see and destroy and think they’re not being filmed any more while the hidden ones keep on recording. Okay, I feel better about this job now.”

“Weren’t you feeling okay about it before?”

“I just figured this was another of those make-work details to keep us busy. I hate wasting my time when trouble’s coming and you can almost smell it in the air.”

“Oh, that’s just lunch being cooked at the cantina across the border.”

“Idiot.”

--------- December 30, 2012, El Paso, Texas---------

“Okay, your honor, here is how we have things set up. The National Guard and the Border Patrol will concentrate their efforts along the border itself to minimize the number of people who cross in the event there are crowds. That way we can concentrate our efforts at what we expect to be the flash points.”

“And what do you expect to be the flash points?”

“For general crowds we expect the Malls and shopping centers. But more specifically, food stores and places like Wal-Mart where there are lots of cheap merchandise that people expect to be free. We figure that the local citizens are likely to be a problem at some of those places even without any border crossers.”

“I take it you have some other places in mind as well.”

“Yes, sir. We think places like jewelry stores and the oil storage depot and the banks. If the crowds are bad at the consumer goods places, we figure the hardened criminal types are likely to try for a big score in all the chaos. Therefore, we have some swat teams ready to go. We also have asked the State Police for help with covering some of these places. And we have asked the National Guard to cover the oil depot and the warehouse district in the industrial park.”

“So what’s left that could be a problem?”

“That depends on the terrorists, your honor.”

“The terrorists?”

“Yes, sir. We think this would be an ideal time for the terrorists to hit. They’ve been accusing us of going to the new money to avoid paying the Islamic states what we owe them for oil and reparations for war damage. It would be easy for them to come in with a flood of rioters and pick some target that would cause a lot of damage. Worse, they might try to get a fire fight started in a crowd of unarmed civilians and kill scores of them. That would be a major political black eye for the U.S. in the rest of the world and in particular in Latin America.”

“What can we do about it?”

“That’s where the Homeland Security guys come in, sir. We’ve asked for their help and they’re bringing in some resources. I’m not sure what all but they asked for some office space so we got them two floors of the Hotchkiss building. Lord knows they don’t have enough renters anyway and the HS guys don’t need luxury accommodations. Anyway, they say they’ll be on top of the terrorist threat. I’ve warned our boys of what to look out for and have been emphasizing self control. Beyond that we just have to keep our fingers crossed.”

“Is there any threat to the residential neighborhoods?”

“Only the poor ones near downtown. I don’t think any large gangs will get through and they are the only ones with cars who would go after the wealthy houses when there are stores nearer with lots of merchandise a mob would want.”

------------ 8:30 am, Monday, December, 31, 2012, Washington D.C. -----------

“Are you absolutely sure you have everything in place for the transition?”

“Yes, sir, I think we do.”

“I’m not asking what you think; I’m asking what you know. This change is even bigger and more important than that old Y2K thing back at the turn of the century. We have to do it right the first time. Do you have everything in place and are you certain?”

“Yes, sir, we have everything in place and we’re as certain as we can be. We’ve run tests on everything we could think of, but this is programming, sir. There’s no way we can tell if we got everything. It is just too complicated. That’s why we’re going to have to watch things and have emergency code to use to back out the changes and install patches for the bugs we find and so forth.”

“But you’re all set, right?”

“As set as it’s humanly possible to be. We’ll be able to monitor everything from here in this center and we should be undetectable to all the local centers. We can make changes to their code and cover our tracks. We have backdoors into their systems that let us become root in case we need to. In other words, we can control exactly what’s happening on every computer and what is put in every database in the whole system. They can’t even twitch without us knowing. And if we don’t like something we can just change it so we do like it.”

“Excellent. Now, you also have backups of the situation at the moment of transition so we can go back to that quickly?”

“Yes, sir, we do. We’ll be taking a complete database snapshot on every system and making multiple copies at several sites. We should be able to return to the situation as of December 31, 2012 within a day of your giving the word. We have all the bank data and market data and it’ll be copied into backups on New Years Day, when all the markets and banks are closed anyway.”

“I’ll be here Tuesday and I expect things to go smoothly. If it doesn’t, I’ll have your hide and the hide of everybody who works for you. Be sure they know that, understand?”

“Yes, sir we always work under that assumption. I’ll see you in the morning. By the time you get here New Years Day we should know how things are going. Good night, sir.”

---------- 1:30 pm, Monday, December 31, 2012, New York City----------

“Careful there, you’re spilling it.”

“Well, give me a hand. It’s hard to carry three drinks and two plates at once. Oh, Sally, are you sure you don’t want any of that walnut cake.”

“Yes I’m sure. All the weight I put on goes to the wrong places.”

“They look pretty right to me.”

“Ted! You rascal, you. I never heard you say anything like that before. Sally is liable to pop you one if you talk like that.”

“Now that she doesn’t work for me any more I don’t have to watch what I say so much.”

“Hey, the day isn’t over yet. She still works for you for ... let’s see uuh ...”

“Three hours and twenty-two minutes, Johnny. Are you sure you know how to subtract?” Sally laughed at him.

“Well, I’m an accountant, not a secretary. My computer does all my adding and subtracting for me.”

“You were an accountant. What are you going to do next year when there aren’t any jobs for accountants?” Ted asked.

“You know I’ve done a little painting as a hobby? So I thought I’d try doing that for a while, just until this silliness with the 10-points blows over. It probably won’t last more than a couple of months anyway. By then I’ll probably be sick of painting and it’ll feel good to get back to accounting again. I look on this as a paid vacation.”

Sally cocked an eye at John and said, “What does your wife think about having you home all day, every day?”

“She says she can use some help with the kids. What are you going to do with your time? I can’t see the bank needing Ted as a loan officer when there won’t be any loans any more, so he certainly won’t need a secretary.”

“I don’t see secretaries as being useless with this new economy. There still needs to be somebody who understands where everything is and how everything works. If I could keep Ted on the ball, I’m sure I could do the same for almost anyone,” she laughed.

“So, Ted. You’re the only one who hasn’t told us his plans. What are you going to do?” John said, turning to Ted.

“First I’m going to finish this cake and then I’ll think about it. I really have no idea what I can do. I trained in business and worked hard to get where I am. Now this new money sort of ruins all my plans and ambitions. Everything I learned seems to be worthless now. Maybe I’ll just become a bum on the street living off the dole.”

Sally, her face showing a mixture of concern and surprise, said, “But Ted, you’re a smart guy with a lot on the ball. I’ve seen you arrange deals that I didn’t think were possible. You’ve made millions for this bank and saved more millions for its investors. Why don’t you think you can do as well now?”

“What is there for me to do? Nobody is going to come to me to ask for money because I can’t give them any. There isn’t any bank any more for all practical purposes. Oh there’s the vault where people want to store precious things like papers and jewels and keepsakes. But you don’t need the top 18 floors of this building for that. All these offices will just be empty next year and all the folks who were using them will be sitting on their hands doing nothing. Johnny, you think this new money thing will only last a couple of months and I sure hope you’re right because it’s a disaster for me.”

“How is it a disaster, Ted?”

“Well, there’s my house, for one thing. I have a pretty big mortgage on it and I can’t make the payments with no job, now can I? There’s my daughter’s horse and my son’s basketball camps all needing to be paid for. My job as a loan officer gave us comfort and security. Now all we’ll have is memories and regrets.” Ted’s bitterness was almost palpable, his voice angry, and his complexion becoming mottled.

“Tomorrow,” Ted continued, “we keep the computers running one last day to let the Fed make sure we haven’t been cheating anybody and that’s it. I probably won’t get paid anything for that since I’m not one of the IT guys. I’m sure they don’t mind all this computer money stuff because they can still get paid for keeping their computers running, but for guys like you and me, Johnny, until the new money thing goes away we’ve got nothing.”

“But Ted, what about your wife? Doesn’t she have a job at a hospital? Won’t she be OK?” Sally asked.

“My wife’s job is in the billing department. There won’t be any billing department starting tomorrow. She’s out on the street as far as they’re concerned. The whole thing stinks. I can see that 2013 is going to be real lucky for me.” John threw his dirty plate and cup into the trash and said. “I’m going home. This place makes me sick now,” and walked out.

-------------- 9:00 pm, Monday, December 31, 2012 -------------

“Dear, this is the last night. Tomorrow I go to the drug store to get your prescription filled. You won’t have to put up with the pain any longer.”

“But tomorrow’s a holiday. Will they be open?”

“There’s money to be made if they’re open. I think they will be.”

“Won’t there be a lot of other people there? At your age I don’t think you can wait in line more than half an hour or so.”

“I’ll do what I have to, darling. Don’t you worry.”

----------- 9:45 pm, Monday, December 31, 2012 ----------

“Quiet down now. Please give me your attention. All right, all right, just listen up now. Thank you. Now, tomorrow is the big day. Tomorrow you and millions of others like you begin your first day as the first payers in the world. You’ll be breaking new ground. You will be leaders. You’ll establish traditions that will live after you. Everything depends on you.”

“There,” she chuckled, “I thought that would sober you up. What I just said is true but so long as you take your duty seriously and do what you think is fair, you can’t go far wrong. We will all be learning. You will learn your job and how to make our new money a success.”

“There are a million ways you can go wrong. But there is only one way you can succeed. That way is to be as fair as you can be. Don’t pay less than a person deserves and don’t pay more than a person deserves. As soon as you appear unfair, you will lose any respect you might otherwise have gotten, even the respect of those you pay too much.”

“Not everybody is going to love you for what you do. Some are going to be quite angry with you. Your only defense is to pay fairly.”

“This is also your last chance to change your mind about becoming a payer. You can quit now with no penalty. You can also quit tomorrow so long as you do so before you pay anyone at all. But after that first payment, that’s it.”

“Okay, you each have your assignments. Remember that you aren’t limited to paying just for your assigned area. If you see someone doing something for someone else, you can pay them even if it’s not your area.”

“You have all been checked out on your contact phones. If you lose your phone, please report it right away. No one but you can use that phone but we don’t want to have to replace them. Your phone should be able to identify anyone you meet if you ask it and it has a chance to hear them talk or they touch the fingerprint pad.”

“Now go to your homes and get a good night’s sleep, those of you who don’t go on duty at midnight. Best of luck to you all. Take good care of us.”

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