Brad sat comfortably in the high-backed rocker on E’s front porch. It had been a truly nice day – he met her “church family”, had a wonderful Sunday dinner and was letting the apple crisp desert find its own place to settle. The days were getting longer quick and, with that – the hint of early Spring warmth. A light fleece, watch cap and a hot cup of Cathy’s black coffee truly set off the day.
Things were moving awfully quickly – a new job, a new assignment – to build an army for God’s sake, the invitation to bring his mom in as a personnel officer and a full ride “scholarship” for his brother to the U of I. It was a lot to wrap his head around. Still, that said – he could feel his country’s uneasiness. Things had never been the same since last fall’s “swarm” riots in D.C. News reports from virtually every large city did nothing to calm folks. “Wildlings” were attacking people virtually every day – beatings, stabbings, robbery, killings. Random acts of violence with deadly results. It made no sense on the surface. But, dig below the surface just a bit – and you found broken homes, addicted parents, absolutely no work to be found and a government long since out of money. If he were honest with himself – the country might make it through the summer without a major “event”, past that – now that he had had a bit of time to look at things more broadly – “it” was coming. Whatever “it” was. If D.C. provided any insight – something would trigger a large city – his bet was on Chicago or New York or St. Louis. If it could be contained – perhaps the “swarms” wouldn’t spread. If not – the large cities could easily burn themselves – and everyone around them – out.
Brad turned his head as he heard the front screen open and E walked out and joined him in another rocker. She settled in – tea held in her hands and asked – “What time do you want to head out tomorrow?”
“It’s about a seven hour drive – be nice to get there early afternoon . . . how about six?” Brad ran the route through his head making sure they stayed south and then west of the twin cities.
“Sounds good. So what do you think . . . .?” E was curious how Brad was taking all of “this” – new job, little things like building an army, her family’s fears and concerns. Honestly, her dad and gramps were dumping a lot on him in pretty short order.
Brad took a long drink of his cooling coffee, thought a bit . . .”Gramps is pretty persuasive. Honestly, I felt “changes” in the cities when I got back. Everyone was on edge, nervous, wondering where their next check was going to come from. Multiply those fears by what – 100 million plus that are dependent on Uncle Sugar? It makes perfect sense when you step back a bit – there’s going to be a “correction”. I had some friends that went into D.C. during the swarm – scared the hell out of them, more so than Africa ever did. I suppose it’s because it was their home – their nation. So yeah, I see where gramps is coming from. Not sure I see where he’s headed.”
“Short term, I think he’s just interested in protecting family, and he considers everyone in this county as “family”. While “Dr. Jack” focused on biology and chemistry – Gramps has focused on farming . . . . on a scale that’s hard to imagine. Remember, he’s had virtually unlimited funds since his late 20s. His degree is in agronomy, his Masters and Doctorate is in “Plant Breeding” – specifically in increasing the yield and energy content of both corn and soybeans. He’s not quite as famous as his dad, but he has dozens of patents for genetically modified corn and soybeans. Don’t let his “aw shucks” farmer act fool you, he owns over nine sections – mostly around our home section here. That’s nearly 5,800 acres. A lot of that is set aside for his own development – projects that he’s worked on his whole adult life. He’s not going to lose that!”
Brad took all this in – again being forced to reevaluate this family. “So you truly are “richer than God,” He stated with a crooked smile.
“That we are . . . that we are. That’s exactly why I had to get away. I never knew if a friend was friendly because of me – or my money. It’s a shitty thing to say, yet true. The last guy I dated – Tony – went into the Marines right out of high school. Shit was beginning to build in the Med, the EU was going sideways in a big hurry – he wanted to make a difference. He graduated three years ahead of me – we kept in touch. God he was such a Marine – and I really didn’t even know what that meant until I found myself standing in front of the recruiter’s office a week after graduation. I’d been accepted at State – Gramp’s school. No worries about money. I had my 3.9 – my apartment rented, classes picked . . . and I just couldn’t do it. I just couldn’t do it. Next thing I know – I’m in this little strip mall in CR walking into the Marine recruiter’s office. I was 18, of “sound mind and body” – that’s all that mattered. You should have seen the explosion at home – holy shit!! My mom came completely unglued . . . dad was pissed beyond words. Gramps just sat there – solemn faced – sad almost. After things quieted a bit he asked if we could take a walk. Mom and dad definitely needed a breather so we came out that door and took a walk. He listened to what I had to say – shared “losing his virginity” as he calls it, explained what it was like to watch a friend die . . . to zip them in a bag knowing they’d never draw another breath. Finally – as we reached the porch again he just looked at me and asked – “You sure E?” “Yes sir, I am.” And that was pretty much that – two weeks later I was asshole deep in Boot. I was judged by my ability, my strength – and weaknesses – not my bank account.
She took a deep breath – look a Brad . . . “It was a good choice.”
“I get it – sometimes “away” is the best place to be.” Brad took a breath . . . “My dad died shortly after my brother was born. Nothing dramatic – wrong place at the wrong time. A semi with a sleepy driver simply ran a red light. Hit the driver’s side – he was killed instantly. It was tough for mom – she’d finished Junior College – a two year degree in accounting. But she truly does have a knack for numbers and people. She finished her BS at night school and worked during the day for a small manufacturing company. In fact – you know them – DT – Defense Technologies. Hell, I carried one of their ARs during my Africa tour. Anyway – let’s just say she had quite a “footprint” there, had no problem speaking her mind. The owner liked that . . . the rest, as they say – is history. Today she heads their HR department. They’re still small, around 120 employees. But damn – do they turn out a solid weapon! It’s going to be a bitch to get her to leave!’
“Anyway, I did the jock thing – football, track, baseball – hit the books? Well, not so much. I graduated, was accepted to the same Junior College mom went to – tried if for the first semester and just couldn’t do it. From there, our stories seem to be pretty much the same – recruiter, teary mom and off to boot. And, I agree – it was a good choice. “ He looked a E – a fellow marine and a woman who was starting to interest him as something more than a fellow deputy. “Funny how it all seems to work out.” He said.
The rest of the afternoon was spent is quiet conversation – really the beginnings of feeling each other out. Everything from music to foods, carbines to handguns – it would have seems an odd conversation to a passer-by. But, for these two – it was the very beginnings of what would be a lifelong bond – one that would be tested beyond what either could begin to imagine.
Supper was quiet and simple. Pot roast sandwiches made with homemade bread, an assortment of raw vegetables and frozen blue berries from last year covered with heavy cream and sugar for desert. The conversation was quiet yet still probing. A broader family was being formed, Brad – whether he realized it or not – was being brought into their fold.
Brad was the first to push back from the table. “Folks, it gotta get going. E is one of those “hard charger” type marines, wants to be on the road by 6AM. I really need to pack it in.” With that, he cleared his dishes – E following suit. He said his goodnights as E walked him to his SUV. “You ready for a road trip tomorrow?” he asked. “It didn’t sound like we were given much choice” E replied – smiling as she remembered the “orders” from Gramps and her dad. “But, the trip should be fine – weather sounds like we’ll catch a break. As long as we stop and stretch everyone once in a while, I stiffen up pretty damn quick if I just sit.”
“No problem – the amount of coffee I drink, hitting the head is just like breathing!” Brad smiled, climbed into his SUV and headed back to his motel room. It was going to be a quick night.
The night did, indeed go quick. E picked him up at about six and they headed to the sheriffs’ office. Linda buzzed them in as they headed back to the armory. “Again??” E asked as Linda walked into the lobby to walk them back to the armory. “No rest for the wicked.” She said. “I’m trying to bank some time with your dad for an extended vacation this summer – we’ll see how that works out.” She reached out, swiped her access card and they walked into the armory.
Both took off their fleece and put on a Level III soft vest then covered them with their fleece. I’d stop virtually any handgun round – past that, well – not so much. Each still had their Glock 21 carry weapons – and each picked up another three magazines. E walked over to the wall and removed a couple of M4s from the rack, handing one to Brad. “Expecting trouble?” he asked? “Yep, always!” E replied and each picked up three full mags. Each weapon was checked for clear, magazines inserted, rounds chambered and weapons placed on “safe”. Brad and E were on the same page – an unloaded weapon was only so much iron – and neither would ever think of traveling with unloaded weapons.
E looked at Linda, “What’s the comm scheme?”
“The Encode Key is BENTONIA, you key code is 62” E would enter this into the Jeep’s comm gear. It would automatically link their radio back to the sheriffs’ office, regardless of where they traveled in their state – or any state for that matter. 62 was her “squelch” – she would only hear traffic directed at them – or any other vehicle using the same code – namely her dad.
“Got a call sign you want to use E?” These were typically used to designate a specific officer on the net. E smiled – “How about Demon 62?” she said, watching for Brad’s reaction. “Really? That’s what you want?” Linda sighed and shook her head. “Alrighty then, Demon 62 it is! Here, slap these decals on your front door panels – should help you with the locals. She handed E and Brad door-sized magnetic decals with a sheriffs’ star – the “Protect and Serve” logo round the outside with an outline of their state in the middle. “And here are your weapon permits, ID cards and badges. The clip will hold them to your belt. That should cover you with the state and local forces up north.”
Brad and E walked out to the Jeep, slapped the decals on the front door panels, locked their M4s in the carriers mounted above and behind each of their heads and headed off to the “north country”.
A couple hours later found them one pit-stop down and just leaving Iowa and entering Minnesota. “You talked to your mom yet – does she even know we’re coming?” E had her eyes forward but she was wondering what kind of reception they were going to get.
“No, not yet – but she’s at work by now, I suppose there’s no time like the present.” Brad reached for his “phone” which was more a cross between a phone and small tablet than just a phone. “Call Mom” he said . . . “Calling Mom” came the reply. “Really??” said E – shaking her head and smiling.
“Hey ma – how’s your day goin’?” She sounded just a bit . . . antsy to him.
“Yep, I’m headed your way – even as we speak. I have another deputy with me.”
“Yeah ma, the job seems fine – I spent most of the weekend with the sheriff’s family – nice folks, you’d like them!”
“Yes – that’s the sheriff’s name – Franks . . . . yes ma’am, THAT Franks.” Brad shook his head, kneaded his forehead with his hand as he listened . . .
“Actually, I’m coming to talk to you about a job offer . . . from the sheriff and his father.”
“Yes ma’m, that’s what I said – a job offer . . .”
“A new job?? Really? Ah – a new position . . . . within DT? Doing what exactly? Aren’t you already in HR? What kind of dedicated position? Company management – OK. No? You’re managing a company . . . for DT? Sounds confusing ma. I’m coming to offer you a new job – for Sheriff Franks. “
“Yes ma’am – his name is Earl . . . Earl Franks. That’s Sheriff Frank’s dad.”
“Excuse me . . . what did you say? New owner . . . DT has a new owner. That was quick – any idea how that is going to work out for everyone. What do you mean – ask him – him who?”
“Earl Franks is the new owner . . . Sheriff Frank’s father is the new owner of DT. When the hell did that happen?? That’s a hell of a way to start a Monday mom. When do you get these “new instructions” you’re talking about. This is all just a little weird ma . . . yes, we’re in Minnesota – I’d say about 5 hours out, be there around 13:30 or so . . . 1:30 in the afternoon ma . . . it’s not hard to figure out.”
“OK, we will . . . love you too.” And Brad punched off and just sat there. Finally, he took a deep breath and looked at E. “Well, Gramps made this a much easier trip that I’d though it would be . . . he bought DT this morning . . . . fifty three million – cash. You weren’t kidding – more money than God!”
E was every bit as shocked as Brad – there had been no heads-up from anyone. Hell, it may well be that only Gramps knew of this little transaction. But, thinking about it, it made sense. If Gramps wanted an army, he’d had to dicker with a shitload of companies to arm up. DT was the perfect solution – he’d have his own weapon’s company. They made everything from M4s through bolt action sniper rifles. They had a solid reputation in the field, and they were small enough that the whole acquisition was “doable”. “It’s signature Gramps . . . it makes sense to gain control of a weapons manufacturer, especially since he’s looking at outfitting an entire Rifle Company. It gives him complete control and that sounds exactly like Gramps!”
It wouldn’t have occurred to just anyone to simply build an army or to purchase a weapons manufacturer for that matter . . . but then Earl Franks – Gramps – didn’t think like “just anyone”.