Friday, October 19, 2012

The third chapter of my new novel. Thanks for reading, and all comments are welcome. 
Wayne C. Grantham


The conference room would have been big enough to hold eight or nine cars, with plenty of room to walk around each comfortably, were it not for the twenty-five-foot long solid hardwood table in the center. Eighteen deep brown leather-upholstered executive chairs surrounded the table with two dozen or so stackable chairs behind them. There was a well-stocked wet bar in a corner of the room. A bartender was on hand, now cleaning up. The governor insisted that drinking or alcohol stop during the meeting.  Two other corners of the room had fully carpeted raised platforms, each containing a video camera and a full complement of recording equipment.
Governor Fred (Blue) Ballou was presiding over a meeting of his cabinet. Blue Ballou was a tall, slender man, who kept himself in good physical shape. He was balding and had a pencil mustache, looking slick and sharp, but somehow predatory. He was wearing a very expensive, perfectly fitting dark blue suit, with a blood red necktie. He looked like a gangster in a noir suspense film.
After the bartender finished up and left the conference room, only Cabinet members and their secretaries were present, along with a couple of technicians, one on each of the recording platforms, handling the video recording equipment. When they finished their setup, they left the room, as well. There were no members of the news media in attendance. He stood behind the head of the conference table and directed his laser pointer at a graph on which most lines formed a downward slope.
“Good day, gentlemen,” Ballou addressed the group, ending private conversations and bringing elbows to the table. “I called you here to discuss our falling revenues and what we can do to get things back in working order. We have a number of problems. They have to be identified, and we must deal with them.
“As you can see,” he said with increasing anger, “Businessmen and engineers and other professionals continue to leave the state! California! The best place in the world to live! With fewer wage earners and profitable businesses, along with increasing expenditure requirements we’re, to put it colloquially, in a bind. What with the feds having defunded their programs, tomorrow I’m going to have to ask the Assembly to shove another income tax increase through.”
      The Secretary of Commerce, who would look like an aging Apache warrior but for his being well capable of filling a very rotund pin-striped suit, spoke. “Since the World Bank called in its markers, the federal government is struggling just to stay afloat. As long as we cost them nothing, they’ll continue to leave us alone. That’s something positive, anyway.”
      “All well and good,” Blue replied, “But, we need the money. We’re trying to keep their programs alive.”
      The State Comptroller, a slight, meek, balding man in his sixties, tentatively pointed at the graph with his pen. “We could consider cutting those obsolete federal programs.”
      The Governor, flaring suddenly, vigorously pointed at the Comptroller. “Are you crazy? Think of the children!”
      “But, Governor,” the comptroller persisted, “It might be more cost effective if we scrap the old federal program and replace it with a more, ah, streamlined one of our own.”
      “Yes, yes,” Blue snapped. “Perhaps in our leisure, we can do that. But we have the problem now. And it must be dealt!”
      Also showing a measured degree of anger, the Secretary of Commerce leaned forward, elbows sliding toward the middle of the table. He hit the table with one fist. “We should initiate incentives to keep professionals from leaving.”
      “They’re all going to Freestate California,” Blue added. “They’ve been wooed by Thorsen’s outfit with Atlantisco money. Nobody has to pay taxes down there! There are no regulations on business! One can only imagine the dog eat dog savagery they have to deal with in the Freestate business world! They’re sucking entrepreneurs, professionals, engineers, workers and money not only from California, but from the Rocky Mountain states as well.
”So, Mr. Secretary, what kind of incentives can we offer that’ll beat that?”
      The Secretary of Commerce shrunk down in his chair then, just as quickly, leaned forward again. “Freestate California is too rich. We all know what a dump Baja California was before Thorsen got his mitts on it. They’ve done it all at the expense of California! Hell, even some of the undocumented workers from Mexico are going to Freestate!”
The men discussed, talked and argued for some time about what could be done about the financial problems the state was suffering, and the governor, at length, came up with just one solid idea.
      “We have to do something about Freestate California.” Blue said with a note of finality. He scanned the long table, his eyes narrowing. He spoke quietly, as if sharing a closely held secret. “Even now, there are plans in the works that you gentlemen will be briefed on as soon as they are firmed up.
      “So, gentlemen, let’s adjourn to The Cavern, and speak of more pleasant things, like how the Cardinals are doing on their bid for the Rose Bowl.”
      Later in the evening, after a few drinks, the party broke up, the cabinet members off to their evening pursuits and Governor Ballou to his office to await an important phone call. Unbeknownst to his cabinet, staff and members of the State house, Blue never drank alcohol while working. He wanted his mind sharp always, and was often able to seize an advantage simply by being more alert than those with whom he dealt.
He had a deal with the bartender at The Cavern. He always ordered his “favorite drink,” a Cuba Libre. He paid the full price of the drink to the bartender in exchange for a glass of iced Coke and a kept secret. He found other ways to deal with bartenders in other lounges.
Those with whom he went out for drinks were never aware that the governor
remained stone sober and coldly observant while they edged toward inebriation.
He sat at his desk looking at a report, but not really seeing it. Trying to sort out the difficulty he was having funding federal welfare programs without federal money, his thoughts went over recent history.
The United States government, after dozens of little police actions against smaller, weaker, but surprisingly obstinate countries in the Middle East, Africa and South America, and with entitlements increasing by orders of magnitude over the years, had finally managed to spend itself to the point at which it could no longer borrow, while the decades-old Afghan war still dragged on. The welfare state had been expanded to a degree that stifled production and made the growing black market the most profitable trade venue.
      The US dollar had gone to the point of a 10-for-1 devaluation twice in fifty years, and much of small town local trade was being done with black market local currency, issued by stores and unaffiliated local banks.
When several states seceded, the federal government had no will, never mind funds, to militarily stop them from establishing national sovereignty.
Texas was first to declare its sovereignty, taking Oklahoma along with it. A confederation of western states, now calling itself Rocky Mountain America, followed soon after. They included Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Wyoming, Colorado, Nevada, Idaho and Montana. California reverted to its Republic of California roots, and Oregon and Washington combined to form the Republic of the Pacific. Other states were still discussing secession in their state capitals. Of the seceded states, only California stubbornly tried to maintain the welfare state that the federal government had been partly supporting.
Having a strong productive base in farming, electronics, fishing and tourism, California began its sovereignty well. Continuing the welfare policies, along with the increasing brain and money drain from the state was having an increasing negative effect on the new Republic’s economy. California was, for the first time since its Declaration of Sovereignty, facing serious and increasingly devastating financial problems.
      Blue relaxed and admired his office, which was done in walnut paneling, was more luxuriously appointed than the conference room. He had spent over a half million dollars remodeling it to his desires. His desk was one of the sort they used to call an “aircraft carrier” desk. So large it seemed one could land a plane on it. Under electrically activated panels was his computer with a photo-quality monitor, courtesy of Freestate technology. It doubled as a videophone and he was also able to route feeds from several spy cameras located throughout the building.
His phone buzzed. It was the call he was waiting for. At the push of a stud, the monitor rose out of the desk top to show the image of Zeno Horiuchi.  
“Our little problem is solved, Governor,” said the snake-like image on the screen.”
      “If you’d handled it more cleanly, all this would be unnecessary. There shouldn’t have been a bloodbath of the sort that would be reported on news broadcasts all over the state. How on earth did you screw it up so badly? Is it that difficult to cancel a contract with a single, unprotected woman?” The governor said, glowering. “Is it solved permanently, or are the repercussions merely delayed?” Blue eyed the image on the screen with suspicion.
      “Willie should’ve handled this himself. I got drawn into it cold. I barely knew the girl, except for having bought a few items of weaponry from her. And, he saddled me with a pair of overeager, under-experienced punks who had no sense of timing.
“Neither myself, nor apparently Willie, were aware that this woman was well-armed and very proficient in handgun combat techniques. She made a good fight of it. If I hadn’t set it up so carefully, she might have gotten away.
“The matter will be removed from the hands of San Diego PD. We'll clean it up ourselves,” Horiuchi assured him.
      “Your saying ‘will be’ is a little disturbing. Stay on top of it and see that it’s done once and for all. Handle it right into the dustbin. I want no loose ends.
“Did she have any more of those wrist computers with her?”  Blue asked.
“The cops got there too quick,” Zeno shrugged. “I didn't have time to look. They have her car.”
      “Grab that, too. I want a clean sweep.”

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