Desperate Men In Desperate Times by Clive Hamilton

2 Foreword This novella was written out of a personal interest to imagine a realistic future economic collapse and political unrest. I modeled this scenario after several economic and societal collapses in modern history. To model urban decay, I researched cities such as Baltimore, Detroit, and Johannesburg. To model government responses to economic crises, I used Argentina, the currently developing Eurozone crisis, and the United States in WWII and the OPEC embargo. The response of individuals and societies to economic change was harder to create. I assembled stories from Hurricane Katrina, from the Bosnian War, the Iraq War, and Northern Ireland during “The Troubles”. This novella borrows heavily from the literary style of Michael Crichton. The limited third-person narrative, and the use of a detective as a vehicle to explore a constructed universe was directly inspired from his novel Rising Sun. Other influences include Frank Herbert’s Dune, particularly in the political intrigue and verbal duels, and the TV show The Wire, for its penetrating look into the logic of institutional dysfunction. Any realistic scenario of economic or social upheaval must involve political action. Although the plot involves politics, I hope you will not find the plot overly political. It is not meant as a political diatribe. In writing this, I found it difficult to construct a realistic total collapse scenario. The common decency of ordinary Americans prevents most apocalypse scenarios. While there has been a recent boom in post-apocalyptic, civilizational collapse, natural disaster, and zombie fiction, I believe this novella occupies a unique niche in this space. I hope you will find it worthy of your time and attention.

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Disclaimer Some of the places, organizations, and events referenced are real, for the purposes of immersive realism and believability. Some of the plot is modeled after real events. However characters and the actions described are purely fictional, and any resemblance to real-life people is completely coincidental.

Copyright This document is released under the CC BY-NC-ND Creative Commons 3.0 License. All rights not explicitly specified in the License are reserved to the Author. Look, I’m not an expert. Basically, you’re free to distribute, copy, or display this work for any non-commercial purpose as long as you don’t change it (verbatim copies only), and I am given full credit for this work. Put it another way, the work must be attributed to me, there can be no commercial distribution, and no derivative works. If you want to do anything else, contact me. I haven’t figured out the best way to do this just yet. A future draft will have contact info.

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An insurgency is neither a strategy nor a war. It is a condition based on the perception(s) of a part of the populace that poor governance exists, that government only governs for its own benefit and that they – the populace - are being marginalized or politically suppressed. In reality, an insurgency is an internal emergency that, left unchecked, can develop into a civil war. The insurgency itself is a means to an end and it is an approach aimed at either weakening or collapsing a government’s control and forcing a negotiation in the favour of the insurgents. Lt. Col. Eeben Barlow, SADF, Ret. Founder and ex-Chairman of Executive Outcomes

5 Monday, 28th of August, 2023 Something about this mission did not set well with Evgeny. Shoot only on positive target identification from the client? Establish ambush position at coordinates indicated? Normally clients were all too eager to dump their messes on them to clean up, and they didn’t really care how it was done. The company chose the when, where, and how. But this client wanted nothing more than a hired gun. They provided the intel, the surveillance, the ambush point. All he had to do was shoot. Why hire us at all? If I were a paranoid man, I would think this was a trap. He was sitting in an almost fetal position, hugging his knees, doing his best to stay warm. The rain fell silently in a thick mist, while the trees around him stood motionless, nothing more that dark shadows against a dark night. Zero wind. The poncho draped over him and the tarp spread underneath him kept him fairly dry, but there was nothing to be done about the cold. There was little chance of being spotted. The low thick clouds blocked out the moon and the stars, and there was no lighting anywhere, save for the porch lights of a few distant farmhouses. His spotter was five meters away and Evgeny could barely make out his silhouette. Today the diminutive Gurkha wasn’t hunched over a spotting scope, but a massive Barrett that was almost bigger than he was. Evgeny cupped his left ear and tilted it towards the sky. He thought he heard the distinctive murmuring hum of a turboprop engine, just below the clouds. Drones? Here? His earpiece whispered. “Vehicle approaching.” He heard his spotter reply. “This is Yuko. We have eyes on.” Two headlights flashed in the distance, as a car briefly crested an imperceptible ridge in the road. Evgeny smoothly assumed a prone position, his hands and right cheek finding their familiar

6 homes on the stock of his Dragunov, his right eye looking through the thermal scope. He centered the reticule on the car, then silently counted the seconds as the car passed a road sign, then a road crossing. Six seconds to cover one-hundred fifty meters. That would be about.... “Ninety kays.” Yuko called out the speed. He raised the stock of his rifle slightly, placing the thermal bloom of the engine on the third hash mark above the crosshairs. He leaned into the buttstock, increasing the pressure and stability on his shoulder. The scope was sighted for five hundred meters, precisely the distance to the next road sign, which the car was fast approaching. He waited for permission to fire. “Check your fire. Check your fire. Negative on target ID.” He exhaled slowly, lowering his rifle and swearing silently. This was the seventh false alarm. The client didn’t seem to appreciate how difficult this was. Marksmanship was a mental discipline, and all mental disciplines require concentration. And concentration requires preparation. “We cannot shoot like this. ID must be faster.” “Just do the mission, Alex.” Evgeny suppressed his frustration. He had always hated officers during his time in the 104th Guards Airborne. A particularly inept captain had cost him three of his friends and part of his hearing in his right ear. But he wasn’t in Chechnya, he wasn’t getting overrun by rebel forces in the Argun River valley, and his commanding officer wasn’t the drunk idiot son of a general, but a highly competent Korps Mariniers major.

7 He heard a slight rustle as Yuko shifted his weight behind his rifle. Alex and Yuko. They made for a strange team, he had to admit, a tall Russian and a short Nepali. The other Russians had named them after Alexander Smirnov and Yuko Kavaguti, the legendary duo that won gold at Sochi, and it stuck. Normally, a fighting man would take offense at being named after a petite female ice skater, but not Yuko. Evgeny gave a silent chuckle. Any questions about Yuko’s ability were rather dramatically answered when he silently killed two Aceh sentries with nothing but a long curved knife. But those days were long gone. The world had changed, and now the pay was poor, and the work was dirty. Evgeny sat back up. There was no pleasure in this, no professional pride. It took nerve to shoot Colombian pirates bobbing and skipping on the ocean from the deck of a Chinese oil rig, with RPG-7s exploding around him and people yelling at him in Cantonese. It took skill to kill Chechen truck drivers on rocky roads with poor suspensions, their bodies lurching unpredictably behind mud-spattered windshields, while counter-snipers hunted for him. There were no pirates here, no enemy snipers, just a boy driving a blue Corolla who someone badly wanted dead. I am not a soldier anymore, just a killer. But I will be whatever my family needs me to be. Sadly for this young man, Toyotas have smooth suspensions, and American roads were generally excellent. Route 16 was no exception. ----“Uh huh. Yeah.” Charles Blumer was slouched in the living room chair, one hand holding the phone, the other holding the remote. He was trying to listen to the phone and ESPN at the same time. It was a losing battle. Scott was launching into some sob story about how he

8 needed to save his gas for her daughter’s next hospital visit, which is why he needed a lift tomorrow, just a small detour to… “Scott, I can’t use the department car for personal business. Look, I’m sorry. But with things the way they are now, I just can’t. You’ll just have to find another way.” More pleading from Scott. Something about their kids sharing the same school carpool, about helping each other out. Meanwhile, the Twins had finally picked up their first run. “Hey, hey…I pay my fair share of the car pool gas just like everyone else. I’d give you or offer to sell you my personal gas ration, but that’s technically illegal. I’m sorry.” More protest from the phone. Kate was calling for dinner down the hall. Chuck climbed out of his chair. “If by Thursday morning, you haven’t found the gas to drive Lisette to Rapid City Regional, I’ll take her myself. I’ll talk to you some other time, I have to go.” Chuck lowered the phone from his ear and pressed the “call” button to hang up. The LCD display flashed momentarily. Call duration: 5 minutes 38 seconds. Caller ID. Next time, use it before you pick up the phone. He turned off the television and walked towards the living room. Kate was bent over the crock pot, ladling beef stew into bowls with one hand, while keeping her long hair from falling into the stew with the other. Wordlessly, he moved into the kitchen to fetch four sets of spoons and forks. “What did Scott want this time?” “He wanted a ride to Newcastle. Didn’t really ask why.”

9 Kate stopped and did a half-twist to face him. With a downward head-tilt usually reserved for scolding their children, she gave a dramatic pause. “You said no, right?” “Of course, hon.” She sighed and turned her slight frame back towards the table. “You could lose your job for that. Last week Ryan borrowed Todd’s calculator and ‘lost it.’ Before that Todd was giving his granola bars to Ryan because Ryan said he was hungry. You need to put a stop to this. You are a cop aren’t you?” Chuck smiled as he approached the table. “Detective, actually.” She smiled and turned to cradle his face in her hands. “I forgot about that. Well, see to it that you don't get fired. Detective.” He heard the kids coming down the stairs. He loved them to pieces, but sometimes they had the worst timing. He turned his head towards the table. “Where’d you find beef?” Kate lowered her hands. “I gave a box of Todd’s baby clothes to the Andersons this morning. They gave me a nice chunk of shoulder as a thank you.” She turned to face the kids coming down the hallway. “Go wash your hands.” “And where’d they get beef?” “I didn’t ask.” Chuck sat down. “The OPR guys are really cracking-down on the ranchers and farmers. Anyone caught selling on the side might lose their farm, and anyone caught buying from them will be fined or jailed. Especially now, around harvest.”

10 “It was a gift, it would be rude to refuse or imply that…” “I know. I know. But I just don’t want you mixed up in that. You don’t want to poke at that hornet’s nest. I could lose my job too.” He tilted his head down to inhale the rising steam from the bowl. Meat. Big chunks of honest-to-God fresh meat, the kind that’s juicy and chewy and gets stuck in your teeth. “I like my red meat as much as anyone, but it’s not worth it. We’ll get by on rations.” The kids had taken their seats. Their eyes were hungry, expectant. Chuck looked at his family and grinned. “We’d better eat the evidence before anyone finds out.”

11 Tuesday, 29th of August, 2023 Two cups of coffee into the weekly brief, and the newly-minted Detective Blumer badly needed to urinate. Ever since the riots of ’19 each police department now was part of a interagency integrated operations plan. On the bright side, that meant that the Sheriff’s department finally got decent radios and a couple new computers so they could actually talk to the Feds. If there one part of the state budget that hadn’t been touched, it was anything with the words counter-terrorism in it. Unfortunately, that also meant DHS special liaison Joseph H. Gasparino, and that meant long, boring meetings with no apparent purpose. Blumer didn’t know much about Gasparino, but he didn’t need to. He was company man who convinced somebody that he was right for this job by pushing papers rather than solving cases. He looked police – well-dressed, clean-shaven, medium build – but he just had no appetite for hard work. In the summer, he’d complain about the mosquitoes. In the winter, about the wind and cold. And he couldn’t run a hundred yards to save his life. Still, Blumer admitted, given the amount of leverage he had over the department, he was a surprisingly nice guy. It was just too bad he thought his job was reading DHS briefings rather than fighting crime. The slides were endless. Carjackings were up twenty-two percent in the state, year-to-year. Kidnappings up forty-five percent, but from a low starting base. Crime was up everywhere, in every category. Blumer didn’t need an FBI crime analysis team in Denver to tell him that. Just give me a shovel. I don’t need to know how fast the snow is falling to clear my driveway. The next slide showed home invasions. Down nine percent, actually. Huh. The conference room door cracked open. “Detective Blumer?” It was Officer Cutter. Thank God. Blumer quickly excused himself and entered the hallway.

12 “What is it, Dustin?” “Uh, we have a reported homicide, Route 16 West. Sheriff Johnson specifically ordered me to bring you along if I answered any major calls.” “He told me. Just give me a second, I’ll meet you in the parking lot in two minutes.” “Okay, no problem.” Good kid, that Dustin. After concluding his business, Blumer stepped out into the parking lot. It was a gloomy, overcast morning, and the pavement was still wet with the rain that had been drizzling through much of the night and into the morning. Rumbling thunder threatened from the north. “I guess it stopped raining, for now.” Blumer looked at Dustin. “What’s your tank level? At least half?” Dustin shook his head. “Let’s take my car then.” After they had pulled out of the parking lot, Blumer asked, “So tell me about this homicide.” Dustin flipped through his notes. “Well, it’s definitely a murder. At 9:46 AM a farmhouse on Route 16 reported multiple gunshots. A few minutes later, at 9:55 AM, a passing trucker saw a stopped vehicle and a dead man along the road. The trucker has been instructed to maintain his distance from the crime scene and await our arrival. Highway patrol is also responding.” Probably another highway robbery or kidnapping gone awry. These had become depressingly familiar in recent months. With the summer seasonal traffic, it was just too easy to setup an ambush or a roadblock on a remote stretch of highway. Anyone

13 who was well-off or well-connected enough to be traveling long distances these days would invariably be worth robbing or kidnapping. Route 16 was a two-lane paved road that wound its way through Black Hills National Forest. For the most part, the road was flanked by grassy clearings on both sides, and gently rolling hills dotted with a patchwork of forests. Various unmarked dirt paths branched off from the road, disappearing into the darkness of the trees. Occasional farmhouses broke-up the loneliness of this state highway. As they cleared a slight bend in the road, the piercing blue flashing lights of Highway Patrol came into view. Blumer slowed to a stop next to the patrol car, and got out. “Detective Blumer, Custer County.” He flashed his badge. He motioned at Dustin. “Officer Cutter, also Custer County.” “Officer Randall, State Highway Patrol. Pleased to meet ya.” They shook hands. “Nobody’s touched anything right?” “Not since we got here. The scene is all yours.” The car was a late-model Corolla. The car looked completely fine from afar, except for an open trunk, an open driver’s side door. The bumpers were intact, the lights were intact, and the car was sitting comfortably on four well-inflated tires. It wasn’t until walked closer that he saw something had gone horribly wrong for this little Corolla and its driver. The front windshield had two spiderwebs of cracked glass, each centered around a bullet hole. There was a bullet hole in the front bonnet of the car, just a few inches above and to the left of the Toyota badge. There was a last bullet hole he almost missed, obscured in the plastic and metal

14 mesh of the front grille. A large slick of oil and water was pooling beneath the car. The trunk floorboard was lying ten feet away from the car. The spare tire had been slashed open, and much of the felt lining in the trunk ripped away. The car interior had been similarly ravaged. The seats had been slashed, and the upholstery foam padding pulled out and strewn about. The glove compartment had been smashed open, as had much of the dash and center console. There were blood stains on the driver seat, and, after close inspection, a hole in the upper right corner of the driver’s seat, where a bullet had gone clear through the seat, and into the rear seats. There was a second, more obvious, messier and bloodier hole just a few inches down and to the left of the first. Blumer put on a pair of gloves, then reached in to pull the front hood release, then went back to the front. One bullet had gone straight through the radiator. The other had damaged the continuous variable transmission. Definitely a rifle. A powerful one. The dead victim was about fifteen yards behind the car. He had a clean through-and-through wound channel in his right shoulder, and another one through his lower back. He had been stripped down to his underwear and socks, although his blood-soaked clothes lay nearby. His blood had pooled around him, and then followed the curve of the road to flow into the rain puddles on the shoulders. He had no wallet, money, or phone. Only car keys. Young, early twenties. Lean but muscular. 5’10”, Caucasian, brown eyes, brown hair. “Well, it doesn’t take a genius to figure this one out.” Blumer muttered quietly to no one in particular. He turned to Dustin. “What do you think?” “Uh, well, it’s hard to know for sure before the lab techs get here, but I think the victim was driving east when his vehicle was shot four times from the front, disabling the car, and wounding the

15 victim in right shoulder. He stopped the car and got out to run, away from the incoming fire. He was shot in the back. Then they tore apart his car looking for goods to steal.” They found a faint trail of oil leading back up the road from the rear of the car. They followed the iridescent drops two hundred yards up the road, where they found a small divot in the ground. That was where the transmission was hit. Blumer marked off a section of road starting five hundred yards behind the car, and got the troopers to comb the road for any signs of bullet impacts or fragments. Normally, state troopers would be reluctant to do anything for local PD, but they saw the large bullet holes and knew what they meant. If this guy could be killed in his car, then so could they. After some searching they found the same hole at two hundred yards, and another about fifty yards behind the car. Where did the shots come from? A man hidden on the side of the road? A shooter in a parked car on the side of the road? The most obvious location would be the forested hill directly in front of the road. The road bends gently to the south to avoid this hill, but this section of road heads directly towards the hill. The victim would have been slowing down to take the turn, and the shooter would have had a full view into the windscreen. With the car driving directly at them, the victim would have presented an almost stationary target for a shooter on the hill. They got back in the car, turned around, drove back to the bend in the road, got out and started searching. To be honest, he wasn’t sure he’d find anything. He wasn’t even sure what he’d be looking for. A shell casing? A cigarette butt? That worked fine in the movies, but real criminals were rarely that careless. Whatever evidence there might have been would be muddy or soaking wet. After walking thirty yards up the hill, he turned back towards the crime scene. The Corolla and the victim were obscured by large conifers. He found a clearing that offered a good view of the victim, but found nothing there. He searched further up the hill, in

16 a zigzag Z pattern, finding two more clearings but still nothing. He sat in the wet grass, exhausted and defeated, feeling moisture creeping up his trousers. Maybe the shooters were in a parked vehicle at the side of the road. But we didn’t see any tracks. Then Blumer heard an excited shout from treeline above him, at the far edge of the clearing, and saw Dustin gesturing furiously at the ground. He’d found something. Blumer walked towards him. “Look here. Feel the grass.” The ground was a patchwork of grass, underbrush, and fallen needles and leaves. Blumer kneeled, looked down, and touched the grass, combing it, letting it slide through his fingers. Blumer looked back up at him in wonderment. “The grass is dry.” He stood up and tried to work out how big the dry patch was. “The dry patch is about eight feet by three feet. There’s another one right there, a couple yards behind you.” Dustin pointed out the spot. “Both are lined up to face victim’s car.” Blumer turned to look. He was right. Two shooters, each on shooting mats, lined up to face the car. The grass was bone-dry. This explains why the shot groupings on the car were so tight. Two shots fired simultaneously at the engine. One hits the CVT, the other the radiator. The car loses power and swerves as the victim struggles to regain control. The car slows and steadies. They fire simultaneously again, this time for the driver. The two bullets land within six inches of each other. One misses, one hits the victim’s right shoulder. The victim gets out of the car, and is finished off. A car moving at 75 miles an hour covers 150 yards in four seconds. Four well-aimed shots in four seconds? It had to be two shooters. “Dustin, the time of the shooting was after the rain stopped, right?”

17 “Yes, 9:46 AM is the reported time when shots were fired. The rain stopped nearly two hours before that.” “And the time the trucker called it in was just a couple minute later.” “Yeah, 9:55, nine minutes later.” Blumer shook his head in amazement. “It was raining all last night, starting around 11 PM. These shooters were waiting here, in the dark, in the rain, for at least ten hours. They probably watched dozens of cars pass by in the early morning. They didn’t shoot at any of those. Then they watched our victim pass by, and put four bullets in his car in four seconds.” He gestured at the road below. “A second team rips through the car, searching for whatever they’re looking for, and then leaves within nine minutes.” Blumer paused. “Or they’re alerted by the shooters up here about an incoming truck, and are forced to leave without what they’re looking for.” “Could they still be here, looking at us?” “Possibly. But if they wanted to kill us, we would have been dead the moment you waved your arms and pointed at the dead grass. If they weren’t willing to kill the trucker, they’re certainly not going to kill two cops.” Willing to bet your life on that? Blumer pushed back the thought. They both fell nervously silent, staring out at the pulsating blue lights of the patrol car in the distance, trying their best not to glance at the treelines around then. The lab tech van was arriving on the scene.

18 “Get on your radio and tell them to send that lab team to our position. We want to get some pictures and more witnesses of all this before the next rain wipes it away. And tell them we have at least two armed and dangerous shooters at large.” ----The interview with the trucker yielded nothing. He saw the car and the body, stopped, dialed 911, and did as he was told. He stayed in the truck, kept the engine idling, and kept a watch on things. Then the highway patrol arrived. He was a brave citizen, no doubt, scared out of his mind that the criminals killed this young man would kill him too. In the end, it might have been his truck that saved him. With the back of his cab and the trailer behind it providing complete concealment, the shooters on the hill didn’t know where to aim. A phone call from the sheriff’s office yielded more but made less sense. The plate check came back, registered to a Nicholas Hartley, born June 1st 2001, with a Minnesota driver’s license. Height and description match the victim. Currently taking classes at Boise State University to be a physical therapist. Why would two skilled shooters wait all night, in the rain, to shoot a college kid? Was he a drug mule? The lab team had found bits of copper jacket on the road. The lack of corrosion suggested they were pretty fresh. The fragments were small and twisted, but the size and depth of the channellure, the little ridges found in bullets to secure them in the brass case, suggested a large-caliber rifle bullet. Thirty-caliber or larger. Possibly fifty-cal. Besides the fragments, they found a few indistinct footprints here and there. Some kind of boot tread. One more lead to track down, the farmhouse who had called-in the gunshot. Blumer pulled up to the house, the wheels crunching

19 on the gravel. Even before he opened his car door, an elderly man appeared on the porch. “Good afternoon, sir. I’m with the Sheriff’s office. This here is Officer Cutter, and my name is Charles Blumer. But please call my Chuck.” The old man said nothing. “Sir? May we come in? We have a few questions regarding your call this morning.” An elderly woman opened the front door and leaned out. “Officers, you’ll have to excuse him. He doesn’t like to talk to strangers.” “That’s quite alright ma’am.” Dustin replied. “May we come in?” “Of course,” she made a sweeping motion with her arm. “Just sit right over there.” She motioned towards the couch. As they sat down, she took a seat in the rocking chair facing them. The old man ambled about behind her. “We just have a few questions to ask. Could you describe what you heard this morning, and roughly what time you heard it?” “We were watching Price is Right when we both heard gunshots. He told me to call the police while he went to the window. It was about quarter-to-ten.” “And how do you know the time of the gunshots?” “It happened in the commercial break right before the second showcase showdown.” “Did you make the call immediately after hearing the gunshots?”

20 “Yes, I got to the telephone as fast as I could.” “And how many gunshots did you hear?” “I heard two.” “Two gunshots. Are you sure?” The old man turned and cleared his throat. “Three shots. A boom and a boom and a bang. It was three shots.” Blumer leaned forward on the couch. “Sir, could you say that again? What did the shots sound like?” “Like this: Boom.” Pause. “Boom.” Pause. “Bang.” Blumer looked at Dustin. “About four seconds between shots.” Dustin asked, “Did either of you see or hear anything else?” The woman looked at her husband, and shook her head “Just the gunshots.” The husband nodded his agreement. “Well thank you so much for calling us. If you remember anything else, be sure to let us know.” Dustin handed them his card. “Thank you again.” Back in the car, they prepared to head back to the office. Dustin leaned his head back and closed his eyes. “The old man’s story makes sense. They’re almost a mile from the shooting. He heard the two simultaneous shots, followed by another two, followed by the killing shot. He would have heard it as three shots.”

21 “And the old gal?” “Well, we know there were at least five shots, so at least his story makes sense. I don’t know, maybe she’s…” “Woah, woah.” There was a house on the far side of a large field, connected to Route 16 by a dirt road which circumscribed the field. “This house is a least five hundred yards closer, and they didn’t call it in. Let’s go take a visit.” ----Before they had even come to a stop, a man had stepped out to the driveway to greet them. Greet or confront? Blumer asked himself. He shot Dustin a look. Let me handle this one. They got out of the car. “How may I help you gentlemen?” “Hi.” Blumer extended his hand. “I’m Detective Blumer and this is Officer Cutter.” The man shook his hand. “Tom Grossinger.” “If you don’t mind, we just have a couple questions to ask.” “Depends on the question. Does this have to do with the sirens I heard this morning?” “Yes sir. Could we sit down somewhere? This shouldn’t take long.” “Sure. How about over on the porch?” Not letting us in the house, eh? “That’ll do fine.”

22 Sitting down, the man smiled widely. “So, fire away.” “Where were you this morning?” “I was here.” “Did you see or hear anything unusual this morning?” “Other than the sirens?” “Before the sirens.” “Not much. I was mowing the lawn.” “Mowing the lawn, in the morning?” “Before it gets hot.” “If you don’t mind me asking, what is your occupation?” “Self-employed farmer and licensed plumber.” He pointed to his shirt. It read, “American Dakota Plumbing” Dustin spoke up. “Sir, has anyone visited you in the past few days?” “Besides you two? Nobody.” “How many vehicles do you own?” “I’ve got the two trucks, the F-150 and the Tacoma, plus a Ford Explorer. Can’t really afford to drive any of them these days, but I drive the Tacoma when I have business. Why?”

23 “There are fresh tire tracks in on your driveway that don’t belong to any of your vehicles. They show someone leaving your property sometime after the rain stopped this morning.” Blumer snapped his head to look at Dustin with mild surprise. Grossinger was momentarily stunned. “Uh…I…I don’t know anything about that. Maybe the postman?” “Any new mail today?” Dustin smiled. Grossinger was silent. “Ok. A young man drove up this morning and looked like he was in a hurry. He asked for directions and the quickest way to Rapid City. I told him to keep going. Not five minutes later I heard gunshots, then sirens. I didn’t call it in because if he was some kind of criminal, I didn’t want people to think I was helping him.” He was staring at his feet. “And that man would be this man, Nicholas Hartley.” Dustin showed him a photo, pulled from his driver’s license. “Well, he didn’t tell me his name, but that might be him.” Blumer stood up. “Do you mind if we take a look inside the house?” Grossinger looked at him. “Do you have a warrant?” “No, but we could get one. And we’d be back with friends from the FBI, State Police, and DHS. A man was killed on a highway by a marksman with a high-powered rifle. This case is serious. If you let us in now, it will just be us.” “It’s…it’s just…well, I read about Nathan Grover, and what they did to him, and I got afraid, I didn’t want to get involved.”

24 Nathan Grover was man in a Denver suburb who was charged with price manipulation of OPR-controlled items. He had over five thousand pounds of dry and canned foods in his basement, including three hundred pounds of canned butter. His house was raided by the FBI, his stash confiscated, and he was now serving a five-year sentence. Blumer remembered the press conference on the evening news. They displayed his sacks of dried beans like they were bricks of cocaine. “Mr. Grossinger, we’re not the OPR, FBI, or DHS. We’re just Custer County Police. We’re investigating a homicide. I don’t care if you’ve got some food, gas, or guns stashed away. If you had been straight with us from the beginning, you wouldn’t be in this mess, the best you can do is to cooperate starting right now.” “Alright, go ahead…take a look. I had nothing to do with that boy getting killed.” Grossinger got up and ambled inside, visibly shaken. Blumer and Cutter followed him into the house. Some faded floral prints on the wall, old but sturdy hardwood furniture, and a floral-print couch, with the fabric worn thin. “Do you live alone, Mr. Grossinger?” “Yeah.” Grossinger shrugged, eyes downcast. “After the kids moved out, there wasn’t much keeping my wife and I together. She wanted to move closer to her parents, near St. Louis. I didn’t want to, and that was that.” “I was in St. Louis last November,” Dustin offered. “My sister lives there.” “How was it?”

25 “St. Louis is still nice if you’re rich. Private police, gated communities. It’s a mess if you’re not. Crime is out of control, and the police are slowly giving up and going native. My brotherin-law is rich.” “Well, she sure isn’t rich. Maybe she’ll have had it and come running back.” “May-be.” They had worked their way to the staircase. “You mind if we go upstairs?” “Do I really have a choice?” “There’s always a choice.” Blumer headed up the stairs. Three bedrooms. Master bedroom was clearly Grossinger’s. Clothes strewn on the floor leading into the master bathroom, a half-eaten can of chili on the nightstand. “Is this your bedroom?” Grossinger nodded yes. “And you slept there last night?” Affirmative nod. They moved to the other two bedrooms. Grossinger lingered near the doorway to his bedroom as he watched the policemen move down the hall. Subconsciously, people always try to stand between the threat and what they want to protect. Blumer entered what was clearly a girl’s room. A fine layer of dust covered everything. Faded posters lined the wall, and the bed was neatly made, filled the husky scent of long-undisturbed linens and thick comforters. The boy’s room across the hall was much the same. The meager afternoon sun was peeking through the windows, bits of dust catching the light in the still air. He moved to the bathroom, and passed his finger along the inner rim of the sink drain. Still damp. Interesting. Newly alert, he checked the

26 vanity, and trash cans. Nothing unusual. The bath towel was dry or slightly damp, he couldn’t tell. Hmm. He went back to boy’s room, and pulled back the comforter, just slightly, and smelled the sheets beneath, then the pillow. There was the subtle but unmistakable smell of a human. Who knows what it was - skin oils, sweat, dead skin cells, or worse – but it was the smell of a human, a smell intimately familiar to any parent or lover. He walked back towards Grossinger, who had taken a position in the middle of the hall. “Let’s head towards the cellar.” The cellar was filled with shelves and boxes, with various goods stacked from floor to ceiling, like a cramped convenience store. Dustin let out a whistle of admiration. “Man, how much do you got in here?” “Over one thousand pounds of canned meats and vegetables, seventeen hundred pounds of wheats, oats and dried beans, and a couple cases of freeze-dried food and MREs. And that’s just the food. I’ve got four-hundred gallons of drinking water, medical supplies, generators, gas, and plenty of spare tools.” Grossinger’s voice was filled with both loathing and pride. “I saw this coming. Why should I be punished for being right? I’m the ant, you’re the grasshoppers.” Blumer nodded at the reloading bench. “What about guns and ammo?” Grossinger shifted his weight. “Pistols, rifles, shotguns, and plenty of ammo for each. I’ve got a right to defend myself and my property.”

27 “No argument there.” Blumer gave his pistol holster a light pat. “Can we see your rifles?” “To see if they match the shooting this morning?” Grossinger gave a thin smile. “Sure, go ahead.” He gestured to the gun safe. Already unlocked, interesting. Dustin opened it, and pulled out three rifles, a Ruger 10/22, an AR-15 copy, and a Remington boltaction of some kind. Dustin asked, “Are these all the rifles you own, Mister Grossinger?” Grossinger, arms folded, grunted affirmatively. Blumer picked up the Remington, and pulled open the action. The chamber was clean and oiled. It didn’t really mean anything either way. In the hours since the shooting, he would have had more than enough time to clean and oil his guns. He closed the action, and set the gun back in the safe. In the recesses of the gun safe, he saw pistols of various kinds, and boxes of ammo labeled with various calibers: .38 Special, 9mm Luger, .223 Remington, 7.62x39 Russian. “Well, you’ve been very helpful, Mister Grossinger.” Blumer leaned forward to shake his hand. Behind him, Dustin was putting the other two guns back in the safe. Blumer made deliberate eye-contact with Grossinger. “Is there anything else you want to tell us?” “No, I don’t believe so.” “We’re not the bad guys here. The people who killed that boy are, and what’s more, they’re very good at it. The sooner we catch these guys, the better it is for everyone. You can trust us.”

28 Then Grossinger surprised Blumer. With an almost piteous, sorrowful expression, he shook his head at him. “You can’t trust anyone, detective. Not in these times. You take care out there.” They climbed back up the stairs, then walked out to the porch. Grossinger’s mood improved once they had stepped outside. “You guys want anything? A can of chili? Some tomato soup? Something for the road?” “Thank you for you kind offer, but we can’t accept gifts.” Grossinger deflated slightly. “So, you boys aren’t going to tell anyone about…my stuff?” “If you mean your mountain of food, no. It’s not my problem. But for the next few days, no funny stuff, alright? Don’t go running off, don’t try to pull anything. You’ve got enough supplies to last a lifetime. Just stay put for awhile.” Grossinger nodded. “It’s what I’d be doing anyways.” Blumer stepped into the car. “And store that gas outside. It’s a fire hazard.” ----Dustin looked up from his plate of corned beef hash. “He’s lying, obviously.” His second plate of hash. They hadn’t eaten since this morning. “Well, sure. I’m glad you had the good sense not to say anything the second time around.” Blumer stared at his plate. Too much potato, not enough eggs or bacon. “How did you know he had a visitor?”

29 “Like I said, tire tracks. They were in a patch of fine gravel. I saw them as I got out of the car.” “Seriously? I thought you were bluffing, we should call the lab techs.” Blumer reached for his phone. “Naw. The tracks were very indistinct, more like tire-width lines pressed into the gravel. I took a shot.” Dustin took another bite of his hash. Dustin’s meal also had too much potato, not enough meat, if that even was meat, and not some half-half blended mix of meat and textured vegetable protein. Dustin asked, “So what else was he hiding?” “Well, for one, he’s hiding guns. I saw some 7.62x39. AK-47 ammo. He had at least a dozen boxes that I could see. So he’s got an AK or SKS stashed somewhere. Not that I really care. He’s also hiding something in his bedroom.” He paused to swallow. “The bigger problem is that he might have been lying about an overnight guest. Male. I think someone was sleeping in that boy’s bedroom.” “You think it might have been our victim? Gave him a place to stay, found out he had some valuables, then killed and robbed him on the road?” “Maybe. Doesn’t make sense though. Robbing people within a mile of your actual home? Two shooters on the hill, plus him at the ambush site. That’s a lot of work to kill and rob a college kid. Why camp-out all night? Why kill him on the road? Why not kill him in his sleep? Why let him in the house at all? This guy is sitting on enough food to last a decade. I wouldn’t be letting people sleep there.” “Maybe we’re looking at this the wrong way. Maybe the kid was robbing Grossinger. He finds out about the stash, threatens

30 Grossinger. Maybe holds him hostage in his own house. Grossinger somehow sends out a distress call to his fellow survivalist buddies. They set up camp on the hill. When our victim rolls out with his stolen goods in the morning, they kill him and take it all back.” “Sound better than anything I can up with. They slashed up the seats and the trunk. They were looking for something. We still need an answer for that.” Blumer’s phone rang. “Detective Blumer, speaking.” Pharmacy robbery. Another one. He jotted down a couple notes. “Alright, we’ll head over.” He hung up. “Let’s finish up, we gotta go.” “I thought you were homicide.” “If you haven’t noticed, we’re a small department. Everyone does everything.” Blumer quickly shoveled the remainder of his potatoes and eggs into his mouth. Without enough butter, the potatoes were miserably bland and dry. He stuck his fork into his last bit of bacon that he had saved for last. He regarded it for a bit, turning the fork to admire its glistening greasy goodness before savoring the rush of salt and smokiness. He tucked thirty-five dollars and two blue ration tickets under the salt shaker. Each ticket read “Office of Price Rationalization, Schedule B Ration Coupon, Class L/LE.” Dustin did the same. “Let’s go.” -----

31 As Dustin and Blumer entered the store, they saw that Jonathan Wilson, proprietor of Wilson Pharmacy, was in a heated argument with a customer. Blumer heard him shout, “I can’t give you insulin. I don’t have any more!” The customer was in hysterics. His desperate eyes turned to the approaching policemen. “Officers, you’ve got to help me. My wife will be out of insulin by tomorrow. I’ve been to three pharmacies, and I don’t have enough gas to go to a fourth.” Blumer raised his hand, palms outward. “Sir, I understand. We will help you the best we can. But we’re here because someone reported a robbery.” “I need insulin, officers. You’ve got to help me.” “Sir, Officer Cutter here will take you outside to ask you a couple questions.” He nodded at Dustin. Dustin led the distraught man to the parking lot. Blumer looked towards Wilson. “We had a new supply of insulin come in today. It’s first-comefirst-serve. Ten people, but only enough insulin for seven. My fault. I usually fill the prescriptions in the back, but I got lazy, so I was doing it from the counter. The last guy in line saw the box, did the math and snatched his prescription instead.” He pointed at the customer outside. “It’s all on camera.” Blumer looked up for the camera. It was mounted on the wall, looking directly at the pharmacy counter. “Do you have a camera on the parking lot?”

32 “Yeah.” “Let’s see it.” Wilson pulled up the footage on the computer. Full-color, HD. “These are some nice cameras.” “Yeah, the security company installed them. After the last robbery, I figured I could invest in some better protection. No offense, but you guys haven’t exactly been on-the-ball recently.” “None taken. There’s a lot of crime, and we’re stretched thin.” “Here it is.” Blumer leaned closer. The parking lot camera captured a medium-build Caucasian man with graying hair snatch an insulin package from the customer as he stopped to get his car keys. They tousled for a bit, than the gray-hair man pulled out a pistol, immediately causing the other man to back off. The robber entered his car – a Volvo, interesting - and drove away. The license plate was clearly visible. “Well, that’s easy enough.” Blumer jotted down the license plate number. “Shame to have to send someone to jail for this, but he should have known better. Armed robbery is no joke.” He closed his notepad. “Now about the insulin. I know you have your emergency reserve supply. All pharmacies do.” Wilson looked directly at him. “Well, if you know that, then you know I can’t touch it. Technically, that supply doesn’t even belong to me. It’s the property of the Federal government, to be used only in the event of a declared Federal emergency. I could lose my license.”

33 “That man’s wife will be in serious trouble. There’s no way to work around it? No papers or numbers you can mess with?” Wilson gave him a bitter laugh. “You don’t understand. We track everything. Exactly 24 vials of insulin came in this morning. I was able to fill six adult and one child prescription, and partially fill another one. Who I sold those units to is also logged into the database, so he can’t buy more somewhere else. I have to fill out paperwork if someone steals a bottle of Robitussin.” “So that’s it then? You can’t do anything?” “No. The local pharma distribution office in Sioux Falls is watching me like a hawk. They have a nice racket going. The office director is the cousin of the SDPHA president, the South Dakota Pharmacists Association. If you don’t pay the new membership dues, they’ll find any excuse to shut you down.” “And you didn’t pay your dues?” “Of course I pay. Fighting city hall? I’m not stupid. But I wasn’t sufficiently enthusiastic about the arrangement, and I might have said some unflattering things that somehow got back to them.” Wilson looked at him for a moment. “And by the way, if I get shut down, you’ll have to burn a lot of gas going to Rapid City just to get a Tylenol.” Blumer sighed inwardly. “Alright. We’ll send a car to pick this guy up, and give you a call.” He stepped into the parking lot, where the Dustin and the customer were just sitting on the curb. The man had calmed down and was just staring into space, his face blank and drained of energy. Dustin got up and walked towards Blumer. “So?”

34 “Good news and bad news. The good news is we have the entire robbery on camera. Face, license plate of his car. Crystal-clear video. It’s a slam dunk. The bad news, no insulin.” “Oh.” Dustin looked down at his feet. “Shit.” “You want me to tell him?” “Naw, I’ll do it. Better that way.” ----Chuck kicked off his shoes, sank into the couch, emptying his pockets and belt. Phone, keys, wallet, radio, holster, badge. He turned on the TV. Some reality TV show called “Back to the Farm”, where city kids learned to do farm work. American Idol, season who-cares. Twins were playing their second game against the Royals. He sighed. You hypocrite. The station had its own emergency supply, supplied by FEMA, only to be opened only when authorized or in a declared national emergency. He could have broken into that and gave it to the man. But he didn’t, because like the pharmacist, he had a job, and he wanted to keep it. Chuck flipped over to the news. New study that shoes owning a dog may improve your mental health. A new water park was opening in Denver. What about the news that a man is going to jail for a decade over some insulin? What about the news that a woman will soon be in the emergency room, burning a hundred times more resources and manpower than if she had gotten her insulin in time? And you know that the next time that man goes to a pharmacy, he will bring a gun. So the next time it won’t be armed robbery, it will be a homicide, one way or another. Desperate men, fighting in desperate times.

35 “Hungry?” Chuck looked up and realized Kate was standing over him with a plate of spaghetti. “Yeah, thanks.” Chuck pushed himself into a more upright posture with his arms. She set down the plate and sat next to him. “Long day?” “Yeah.” Chuck bent over the coffee table and picked up a big forkful of noodles. The sauce was just sauce, but at least it was rich and thick. Kate placed a hand on his back, gently rubbing it. Her hand was cold. Her hands and feet were always cold. “What happened?” Chuck stared at the TV, at the anchorman talking about the latest congressional sex scandal. He felt a twinge of empathy. “Nothing unusual. Sheriff Johnson is expecting a baby granddaughter.” He turned and smiled widely. “His daughter mailed him a sonogram.”

36 Wednesday, 30th of August, 2023 It’s going to be a bad day. “Detective Blumer! I’d like to see you for a moment!” Special Liaison Gasparino waved at him from across the office, his smile as bright and as fake as Las Vegas pyramid. Assuming all that Vegas stuff was still standing. Blumer walked up to him. “What can I do for you, Special Agent?” He wasn’t actually a field agent, but it made him happy to be mistaken for one. “I’d like you to meet Deputy Assistant Director Thomas.” Blumer blinked. More suits? Gasparino continued, “He’s forming a task force on the Hartley murder. The FBI is taking over this one.” Deputy Assistant Director Thomas was a stocky man with the build of a former wrestler. He extended his hand. “Detective, nice to met you. I’d like to know everything you know.” Blumer fumbled for words. “Well, sir, I, uh…haven’t had a chance to write up anything yet, but I’ll let you know as soon as I do, and give you a copy.” Thomas waved his hand, as if swatting away a fly. “No need for all that paperwork. Just tell me what you’ve got so far and we’ll take it from there.” Blumer blinked again in disbelief. No need for paperwork? Is this real life? Thomas smiled and clapped him on the shoulder. “I know we just switched gears on you, I’ll give you until noon to prepare a briefing. Let’s meet in this office at noon.” “Yes, sir.” Blumer moved away, still not quite believing what had just happened. Blumer wandered over to the Sheriff’s office. “Sheriff, a word?”

37 “Chuck! You’d better sit down.” “What the hell was that?” “Don’t ask me. This hit me like a bag of bricks twenty minutes before it hit you. I’d hardly got out of my car when two Suburbans with federal plates drive in. And Gasparino comes out of office to greet him. That little bastard hardly shows up before nine, and today he’s here at seven forty-five, coming out of the office as if he’d been there all day. They’re taking over your case, and that’s all there is to it. Less work for you and the department.” “Something about this doesn’t smell right.” “I know. I’ve never seen the Feds jump this fast, this high, for this little. But Chuck, play nice with them. If we make a good impression here, we might be designated as a Ready Response Unit. Which what putting up with all this DHS bullshit has been about, right?” Blumer just shook his head. “We’re police. We do police work and we work the case. These FBI guys, they weren’t sent here to work anything. They’re here to do damage control. Who knows of what? I’ve never seen Gasparino this scared. And sending a Deputy Assistant Director? That’s like killing a cockroach with a bazooka.” The sheriff tilted his head quizzically. “Okay, bad analogy. But sir, it doesn’t add up. They’re sending a very high-ranking officer, less then twenty-four hours after the murder occurred. Gasparino had to learn that this happened, relay that information through whatever chain-of-command they have, and then they had to form this task force, and fly that task force

38 here from DC. And it’s not exactly easy to get here. All for what is so far just a highway shooting. They must know something that we don’t. It doesn’t add up.” The sheriff smiled slightly and sighed. “Just do what they want, okay? What does it matter what else they’re after, as long as the case is solved?” “Sir, I request permission to continue working on this case in an independent capacity.” “Request denied. I can’t waste manpower double-checking other people’s homework.” “I request permission to use department resources to work this case on my own time. Off the clock.” “Fine. But you’ll have to use your own car and gas. And you can’t drag anyone else into it. And you can’t talk to anyone but me about it. And this is all contingent on you briefing this task force to their satisfaction.” Blumer grinned. “Yes sir.” “Save it. Now go do the job I pay you to do.” ----The briefing could be best described as verbal sparring. Every polite inquiry Blumer made - who they were, what they were after, who they reported to, how long they’d be here, how they got here so quickly – was equally politely rebuffed. He tried to work the junior members of the task force, but there were no weak links. They were competent, confident and coolly professional. It was intimidating. In retaliation, Blumer was equally cagey, dealing strictly in the facts of the case, and not

39 offering any speculation or advice. Good thing Dustin isn’t here. Five minutes with these guys and he’d be squealing like a stuck pig. He had set his phone to ring about an hour into the briefing. When it rang, he got up. “Gentlemen, that’s about all I have. Some of the lab work, crime photos, and copies of my field notes are found in this folder. Please excuse me.” It was only a matter of time before they found his field notes about the Grossinger farm. He hoped that by burying it among the exceptionally boring college transcripts of the late Nicholas Hartley, he could beat them to the farm. He toyed with the idea of warning Grossinger that his case had gone federal. No, if they arrest him, they’ll break him, and when they break him, he’ll reveal that I tipped him off. Besides, I don’t know who the good guys are yet. Blumer left the room and headed to the armory. He checked out a telephoto camera with tripod. Then he headed home in his own car and retrieved a spotting scope, camouflage net, a woodlandpatterned poncho, and a hiking pack that he used in deer season. Then he turned off his phone and radios, and headed for Grossinger’s farm. As he approached the farm, he turned onto one of the dirt roads, parking his car a few meters into the treeline, half a mile off of Route 16. He hiked the rest of the way, eventually making it to a small hill only a few hundred yards away from the Grossinger farm, with a commanding view of the farmhouse. He chose a spot at the edge of a small stand of trees, nestled between two shrubs. He pitched his camo net, weaved it a few bits of greenery into the netting, and setup his spotting scope and camera. Then he waited. He did not have to wait long.

40 Less than an hour after he started his stake-out, he saw two black Suburbans approaching at high speed. He noted the time. 3:34 PM. He saw hurried movement in the house, Grossinger had noticed the vehicles too. Grossinger rushed to the porch, fiddling with something by his porch window. He was stuffing a message in-between the slats of his house. A dead drop. But for whom? The SUV pulled up to his ranch barely slowing down, braking hard as they approached the farmhouse and sliding on the gravel. Grossinger turned around and walked down the steps of his porch, hands in his pockets. The doors swung open, and six men came out, armed. They had their weapons at low ready, and Grossinger slowly raised his hands. Blumer suddenly realized he should be taking pictures. The lead man, who he recognized as Thomas, gave a visibly stunned Grossinger what appeared to be a warrant. Without as much as breaking stride, four men entered the house while two men kept watch over Grossinger outside. They gave him a pat down. Every time he made a movement to enter his house, the guards boxed him out. He tried to push past them. One swift knee to the groin dropped him to the ground. They seemed to be yelling at him. Grossinger, clearly in substantial pain, slowly stretched out his arms and legs to lay spread-eagled, face-down, on his gravel driveway. A few minutes later, he saw Thomas come out with the AR-15 and a Gadsden Flag, visibly angry. The two men guarding Grossinger hauled him upright on their shoulders, while Thomas shouted at him. Grossinger was not visibly responding in any way. He was thrown to the ground, while the two men were called forward by Thomas. They were having some conversation that they clearly didn’t want Grossinger to hear. He was on his side, clutching his groin in pain. Then he was cuffed and lead to the SUV. The other three men came out, and the two vehicles sped away.

41 Blumer’s mind buzzed with nervous energy. Get the message. How? There were four-hundred yards of open ground between his spot on the hills and the farmhouse. He could be spotted at any time, either by the Feds, or by the mysterious shooters of yesterday morning. He scanned the nearby hills and treelines for any observers. He didn’t see any, but any properly camouflaged hide would be nearly impossible to spot. He took down the spotting scope and camera. He gingerly took down his camo tent, doing his best not to disturb the two shrubs on either side of him. Draping the tent over himself, he slowly moved backwards into the tree stand, until he was safely in the shadows of the trees. He moved over the crest of the hill, so that he was obscured by the hill from observation from the road. Then he unbuttoned and took off his shirt, leaving only his undershirt, put on a fisherman’s hat and sunglasses from his hiking pack, and tucked a few random items under his arm. He walked around the base of the hill, directly at the house. While keeping his head down, he glanced upward at the road to look for incoming traffic. There was none. Reaching the house, he knocked on the door. Then waited, and knocked again. The he put down his packages and reached for his phone, pretending to dial. Using his right hand to hold the phone against his ear, he leaned against the wall with his left. His left hand came to rest near the slats where Grossinger had deposited the message. While looking away, his finger slid against the seams. He felt a corner. Using his fingernails, he pulled out the folded sheet of paper into his hands. He kept his ear to the phone another minute, pacing up-and-down the porch for theatrical effect. Then he gathered up his packages and left the way he came. An immense wave of relief washed over him as he rounded the base of the hill, safely out of sight from the road and the house. He looked at the slip of paper. In obviously hurried handwriting, several words had been written on top. TAKEN BY POLICE. PACKAGE IN TANK. Underneath it were neatly printed letters in ballpoint pen. NH611CSXRT.

42 He stuffed the message back in his pocket. He gathered up his gear and worked his way around the hills back to his car. He had to make sure that somebody knew what had just happened here. ----Back in the car, he reached for his phone to call the station. His hand hesitated. Too close to the farm, get off Route 16 before turning on the phone. Was he being paranoid? Even local police routinely tracked phones. Who knows what the FBI could do. They certainly could get warrants fast enough. He pulled off Route 16 onto the main commercial strip in town, looking for a convenient parking lot to pull into to. Wilson Pharmacy. Why not? He pulled in, stopped the car, and made the call. “Hi John, this is Chuck. Could you take a quick look around to see if those Feds are still around? Just thought of a couple more things to fill them in on.” A pause, then a murmur in the negative. “No? Yeah, I guess I'll just file an addendum with Gasparino. But if you see them, could you let me know? Just call me, thanks.” Blumer leaned back in his driver's seat. It had taken him about thirty minutes to retrieve the note, another thirty to get back to his vehicle, and another twenty minutes to get into town. Wherever those two Suburbans were headed with Grossinger, it wasn't back to the police station. He had a sinking feeling that Grossinger would not be seen from again for a very long time. Might as well do some work while I'm here. He entered the store.

43 “Hello detective.” Wilson's greeting was notably subdued. “More questions? I thought I told your boy everything.” Blumer stopped mid-stride. “My boy? You mean Cutter? He was here?” “You didn't put him up to it?” “No, why, what did that do?” Wilson shook his head. “Ah, I get it now. He came in this morning asking all these questions, about Lantus, Levemir, Humalog...and then I realized, he had broken into the police medical supply, and didn't know what to do with all the different bottles! I guess he expected insulin to come in nice little pills labeled insulin.” That fool. Blumer sighed, leaned against the wall, and closed his eyes. “Kids these days.” “You were holding out on me detective. Turns out you guys have a forbidden stash as well.” Blumer weakly defended himself. “Well, our emergency supply is locked in a wire-mesh cage, next to the evidence locker. It's under guard when the station is open, with three security cameras covering the room and entrance. A little harder than asking a pharmacist to rob his own store.” He looked across the counter at Wilson. “So what did you do?” “I told him to put that insulin back in whichever fridge he found it, and that I'd take care of it.” Wilson explained, “Among my emergency supply inventory were two small vials of Humalog that were due to expire in four months. If no one from the DHS comes to inspect my stocks in the next four months, then I'll be okay. It's not much, and it’s not the easiest form of insulin to use,

44 but it will buy them about two weeks to get their prescription properly filled.” “Will it raise suspicion if they fill their prescription two weeks late?” “No, not at all. People are stretching out all sorts of prescriptions just to make ends meet. One guy who comes in here is only taking half of the beta-blockers he's prescribed for. He's playing Russian roulette with his heart, but I guess his money is needed elsewhere. ” “And you told them not to tell anyone, right?” “Of course.” But who knows if what they'll say when they're desperate enough. No good deed goes unpunished. Both Blumer and Wilson paused for a moment, savoring this little conspiracy in which they were both involved. “What an idiot. I wonder how he managed to get in there without anyone noticing. That's a big risk you're taking on behalf of Officer Cutter.” “Couldn't help it. I wasn't about to let someone that young and stupid take a bullet for me.” “You're a better man than me. Bullet wasn't meant for you anyhow.” Wilson was looking down at the counter, staring at some imaginary spot. “He reminds me of my son. They would have been about the same age.” “Would?” “Died a few years ago, in the riots of '19, out west in Seattle. He was killed trying to keep the rioters from burning down a Wells

45 Fargo. He was trying to save a cute bank teller he'd met. Wasn't even his girlfriend. Just a girl that he liked.” Wilson forced a slight smile in bittersweet remembrance, the lines tight on his face. “Young and stupid.” “I'm sorry,” Blumer said softly. Died saving a girl, died saving a child. We use those stories whenever we can. Makes grieving easier for the families. “I try not to think about it. The last time I visited him, right before the riots, Seattle was already a complete mess. Third world country. Packs of dogs eating garbage in the street. Should have saw that coming. Should have dragged him home.” “You can't think that way.” “This girl just shows up one day at my door, crying while holding a box of his things. I didn’t even know he was dead.” Oh, never mind then. The air hung heavily for a few heartbeats. Blumer changed the subject. “Listen, could we get a copy of your security tapes? I've got a couple memory cards, but I'll need your help to match the formatting and such.” Wilson appreciated the kindness, and he blinked away moist eyes. His voice firmed up again. “Yeah, of course.” “Oh, and also...” Blumer pulled out a small sheet of paper from his pocket. “Here are some medicines and things my wife would like to buy.” Wilson looked at the paper. “Is your wife looking to start her own pharmacy?”

46 Blumer smiled. “No, just looking to have a little more at home, you know, just in case.” Wilson raised an eyebrow. “Just in case I get caught and shut down?” “Well, there's that too.” ----Sheriff Johnson was approaching his desk. He hoped the folders he'd stacked up were sufficiently impressive in thickness. “How's it going, Detective?” “Sir, I've got a copy of my briefing and related materials on the Hartley murder, ready for your review. I've also compiled the witness reports and pulled the security footage on the robbery on 247 Main. Digital copies and paper hardcopies inside. It's ready to be sent to the DA.” “Good.” A heavy slap on the back. Well that was easy. “How are things going with this FBI task force?” “I briefed them as requested around noon. Honestly, since then I haven't heard or seen from them.” The sheriff glanced around the room. “You’re right. Didn't even notice that.” “So you don't know where they are, sir?” “No. Ask Gasparino. Assuming he's still here.” Johnson walked off.

47 Blumer stood up to glance at Gasparino's office. Doors locked, lights off. Perfect. He got a cup of coffee from the break room and sat back down at his desk. Taken by police. Package in tank. NH611CSXRT. He didn't dare take out that sheet of paper in his cubicle, so he had memorized it. NH611CSXRT. Some kind of coded signal to his accomplices? A password? The package was whatever the Hartley murderers were looking for, and probably the Feds as well. In tank. Gas tank? They tore apart that car. Where was that Corolla? Did the Feds take it? Or was it still in vehicle impound? He punched up the database. No vehicle found in records. He smiled. As if. I entered that vehicle in to the database myself this morning. He picked up the phone. “Hi, this is the Custer County Sheriff's Department. I would like to know if you are still holding a vehicle associated with state case number 2371355. Toyota Corolla, four bullet holes in the front, slashed seats. You can't miss it.” Blumer furrowed his brow. “For now? What does that mean? Is the vehicle slated to be moved? When?” “I see. I have some loose ends with regards to this case and would like to take some photos, thank you. Tomorrow then.” The vehicle was to be moved Friday, which left him only the rest of today and tomorrow to figure out where the package was. The vehicle was also impounded in Rapid City. This was a problem. He didn't want to use the department vehicles – they all had GPS trackers – but his own car would be dangerously low on gas if he made the round trip to Rapid City. Then he remembered, and placed a phone call. “Hey Scott, this is Chuck. Just checking in to see if you've found a way to take Lisette to the hospital tomorrow.”

48 Some sorrowful tale poured forth from the earpiece. “Ok. Look. Here's the deal. I don't have the gas to get to Rapid City. I have half the gas that's needed. If you give me the other half I can take you there.” More hesitation, more bargaining. “No, we both have to be in the car. Otherwise it's not a car pool, and this would be illegal. That's the best I can do. Take it or leave it.” Silence, followed by a yes. “Alright, I'll drive to your house, we'll get the gas, and we'll leave at eight 'o clock sharp. Understood?” “Okay, see you tomorrow.” Blumer exhaled slowly. No good deed goes unpunished. Kate is not going to like this. Now for the cover story. He pulled up the database again, looking through recent car thefts, carjackings. There were plenty to choose from. He paged through each. This will do nicely. Blumer walked across a row of cubicles to Detective Millen's desk. “Hey David, do you need some one to do some legwork up in Rapid City?” “Yeah, why?” His eyes narrowed. “You've got gas to burn?” “I'm taking a friend to a hospital in Rapid City tomorrow.” Blumer gave a shrug. “Thought I might save someone a trip, and the department some gas.”

49 “Oh...well, actually, yes. Could you take a look at this case?” He handed Blumer a folder. “The victim's description of the goods stolen doesn't match what we recovered from carjackers.” He gave wry look. “Namely, one-hundred grams of heroin. See if there aren't any other hidden compartments in that car.” “Sure thing.”

50 Thursday, 31st of August, 2023 Blumer leaned out of the driver's side window while Scott helped Lisette climb out of the back seat. “I've got some work to do, so I might not be able to pick you up until noon. I'll give you a call when I'm coming.” “You got it. Thanks again.” Scott was genuinely relieved and grateful. “Bye Lisette! You be a brave little girl, you got that?” Lisette nodded and waved nonchalantly, but her head was already turned towards the hospital. Children, they handle it so well, because they've known nothing else. Blumer drove off. Scott wasn't a bad person. He just couldn't handle this new reality. Rather than meet the new challenges, the new problems, he ignored or ran away from them until they found him. In another life, a different world, he would have been great neighbor. But he was only a liability now, and Blumer had to keep an emotional distance from him. Don't get involved. You have your own family to think about. He pulled away from the sidewalk. The sidewalk was brand-new, still sporting the bleached-white color of fresh concrete. He shook his head. Gasoline rationing, medicine shortages, department budget cuts, and yet somehow there was still money to tear-up perfectly good sidewalks and build them again. Insane. A large sign had been placed at the hospital entrance, and read “Community Redevelopment and Revitalization Project 734 funded by the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act.” He turned north onto Fifth Street. Driving down the streets of Rapid City, one could almost forget that the economic crash even happened. Rapid City had actually grown substantially in the past few years. Refugees from the big

51 cities suddenly remembered their great-aunts and cousins, and decided to pay a friendly visit, permanently. The population nearly doubled, as people packed relatives into their houses. Rapid City had also become the agricultural hub for the western half of South Dakota, and the state and federal government had moved in to enforce price and trade regulations. With Ellsworth AFB nearby, Rapid City had become a favorite jumping-off point for OPR and DHS brass from Washington. The influx of federal money made this city one of the few places in the country where desk jobs were still available. People from all across the state scrounged up what they could to come here. Blumer stayed on 5th Street, driving past Omaha. The familiar scenes of urban activity were suddenly interrupted by a massive concrete wall on the left side of the road. The Rapid City convention center and neighboring hotels had been converted into a giant residential and office complex for various government agencies. Inside, over two thousand people lived and worked there, plus another five hundred locals. Concrete walls formed a box around the convention center, from Omaha Street, to Fifth Street, to North Street, to Eighth Street. The walls were covered in graffiti. Fuck the Feds. Kill the tyrants. Don’t tread on me. With dark, foreboding clouds blocking the sun, the convention center shined like beacon over the otherwise dimly-lit city. He could hear the loud hum of diesel generators feeding power to the floodlamps that ringed the walls. Outside the walls, the local economy had remolded itself to serve this new economic engine. Restaurants and strip clubs lined Omaha and Main Street. The crumbling elderly home had been cleared out and turned into a massage parlor. Those who couldn’t find work as public servants invariably found work serving and servicing those who did. Officially, it was known as the Rapid City Public Community Development Zone, but the locals called it what it actually was. The Green Zone. The two sides despised each other, of course, those inside and outside the wall. The local

52 police were caught in between, considered too native for the Washington bureaucrats inside, and considered paid stooges by the locals outside. As if to make the metaphor complete, after the Kensington shooting, the local PD were also asked to guard the walls, sometimes literally straddling the fence. Thank God I’m not Rapid City Police. He picked up speed as he left the shadows of those walls and made his way east to the vehicle impound. Not that the locals cared much which cop came from where. The last time he had come through in his police vehicle, the giant letters of Custer County Police emblazoned on the side of his cruiser hadn’t prevented him from getting a couple emphatic middle fingers, and a few bricks from a group of teenage punks. Cops were cops. ----He pulled into the vehicle impound, waving his badge at the guardhouse as he approached the gates. The gates didn’t move, and guard came out to greet him. “Hey there, new procedure. You’re going to need to sign in here before you can go in.” The guard handed him a clipboard. “Oh, alright, no problem. This a new thing?” Blumer took the clipboard and started filling it out. “Yeah, my supervisor came by this morning with a whole new set of procedures and rules, thirty pages of them.” “Yeah, same for us. A phone book of new rules. Be glad you’ve only got a couple pages.” Blumer’s pen hovered over one blank. Vehicle number. “Say, you wouldn’t happen to remember the vehicle number from yesterday, would you? I’m drawing a blank.”

53 The guard stared, and then blinked a few times. “Yesterday? What vehicle number?” “The one I called you about…had you look up.” “Sir, I get two dozen calls a day, I can’t remember all of them.” “That’s alright, I think I remember now. It’s 2358494. A carjacking.” Blumer handed back the clipboard with a smile. “Thanks for the help.” The carjacking victim’s car was in very poor shape. Once the carjackers had discovered the heroin crudely concealed in the glove compartment, the tore apart this little Chevy pickup quite thoroughly, looking for more. He shined a light inside the interior of the ruined cab, but found nothing. The carjackers had even broken open the seat-belt buckles. He ran some swabs around inside of the cab, the truck bed, then put them in the handheld tester. A faint reading on the glove compartment, and nothing anywhere else. He took photos of the vehicle exterior and interior as documentary evidence. Well, that’s that. Blumer glanced across the car park. The coast was clear. Retrieving an evidence bag from his toolbox, he pressed the unlock button on the remote key fob to Hartley’s Corolla. He faintly heard the quiet thunk of disengaging bolts. Carefully staying out of the line-of sight of the guardhouse, he worked his way down a row of cars to the destroyed car. Package in tank. NH611CSXRT. Walking at a crouch, he approached the driver side door, opened it slightly and reached down to the floor to release the fuel door. Behind him, the fuel door popped open slightly. He opened the fuel door fully and unscrewed the gas cap. There was nothing there. Huh. He ran his gloved fingers as far as he could inside the gas tank inlet. Nothing felt out of the ordinary. Then he pulled out an endoscope, favored by doctors and narcotics officers alike to look in humans and elsewhere, and

54 lowered it into the fuel tank. The endoscope wasn’t long enough to get a complete look at the fuel tank, but what he could see was clean. Huh. Blumer sat back on his ankles, crouched on the floor. I need to get out of here. He capped the gas tank, closed up the fuel door, and locked the vehicle, manually, to avoid unnecessary sound. He made his way back to Chevy pickup, and sat in the cab, pretending to be searching for something while he thought of his next move. Package in tank. It’s a code for something else. It’s never that easy, is it? His fingers picked through the remnants of a shattered dashboard, buttons, wires, and indicator lights dangling haphazardly. NH611CSXRT. Didn’t airplanes have a code something like this? He pulled out his phone, then decided against it. It wasn’t a part number. Those didn’t have that many letters. He put away his phone, climbed out of the cab, raised the hood and looked for likely hiding places. He was just going to have to search that Corolla, so he mentally catalogued spots to search. Once he had about ten in his head, he moved back to the Corolla. There was no point being stealthy about it. He would have to raise the hood and stand in front of the car, and he’d be directly in the line-of-sight of the guardhouse. He just hoped the guard wouldn’t realize he was searching at the wrong vehicle. Opening the hood, Blumer started with the radiator. Nothing of interest. The next was the windshield cleaner tank. He unscrewed the cap, and there it was…a thin thread of fishing line, looped around the mouth of the tank, and glued against the spiral threads which accepted the tank cap. The fishing line followed a small ridge in the plastic, where the two halves of this injection-molded tank met, over the rim of the mouth and into the tank, where it followed the inside seam down into the murky blue fluid. It was a clever system. Using the tip of a small screwdriver, he worked the first few inches of fishing line free of the glue, then pulled on the

55 line, and the fishing line peeled off the tank, much like unwrapping a pack of chewing gum. He followed the fishing line into the tank, and with a final gentle tug, he pulled out the package. It was a small vacuum-sealed Mylar bag. Doing his best to keep his movements smooth and deliberate, he put the small Mylar package in his trouser pocket, closed the hood, and walked back to the Chevy. He stole a glance at the guard. He hadn’t moved, and he was still playing with his phone. After some idle tinkering with the Chevy for a good fifteen minutes, he left. Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good. ----He dropped off Lisette and Scott at Custer Elementary, waved goodbye, then drove around the corner, and parked up against the curb, next to a row of small townhouses. He put on some gloves, pulled out the package, and cut it open with a knife. It was double-package, first in some kind of plastic laminating film, then in a vacuum-sealed mylar bag. He peeled back the plastic, and pulled out a smart phone and two memory cards. He stuffed the packaging into an evidence bag. With packaging this careful, he was doubtful there would be any useful prints, but it couldn’t hurt to try. He held the phone in his hands, turning it, looking for any special buttons or hidden compartments. It appeared to be nothing more than an ordinary phone. Phones these days were so intricately designed that any modification would be very difficult. Every cubic millimeter was spoken for. There was nothing left to do but turn it on. But not here. He drove to the local OPR office, and got into line at one of the counters. Of the fifteen people currently in line, twelve were playing on their phones. Should be enough. He pulled out the phone and turned it on. The screen flashed momentarily, than a product registration screen appeared.

56 Name? Nicholas Hartley. Date of Birth? He flipped through his notes. June 1st, 2001. Then he paused. NH611CSXRT. NH611. NH-6-1-01. Timezone? C. Central. He pressed enter. A new screen appeared. He involuntarily cast a glance around the room. His heart was pounding, his hands shaking slightly. This is too good to be true. Please select a 4-6 digit pin. SXRT. On a standard keypad, that would map to…7978. The phone flashed again. It stayed dark, seemingly digesting the information. Then icons slowly appeared. A pop-up box appeared. Turn on radio receiver? Blumer took a quick look around. At least ten people using phones that he could see. Yes. Ten seconds later the phone vibrated in his hands. A text message. 2nd SC GRP compromised. All couriers in extreme danger. Destroy package. GL. LOD. How do I turn off the radio receiver? He fiddled with the icons before finding the right one, a small radio tower in the top right corner. He shut off the radio antenna. He looked up, only three people left in front of him. Time to go. He put the phone in his pocket, then turned it off completely, then got out of line, and headed back to his car. Hartley and Grossinger were working together. Then who killed Hartley? Blumer’s conversation with Grossinger floated into his memory. You can’t trust anyone. -----

57 As he pulled into the police station, he saw two black Suburbans parked outside. They’re back. He parked next to the police van. He put the phone, memory cards and the evidence bag into another evidence bag. As he got out of the car, he let the bag drop to the ground, than used his foot to kick it behind the right front wheel of the van. The high body of the van prevented anyone inside the station from seeing the motion. He walked towards the station. The station hadn’t changed, but the world had changed. The familiar front door now looked hostile, menacing. Time to put on your best poker face. He pushed the door open and stepped through. And there they were, three in a row. Thomas, Gasparino, and Sheriff Johnson. Waiting for him. “Detective Blumer, nice to see you again.” Deputy Assistant Thomas smiled. “Hello, sir.” Let him make the first move. Blumer “What’s this about?” “I was told you have some more information into the Hartley murder.” “Oh, yes, of course.” Blumer made a show of flipping through his notebook. “Although I didn’t realize it at the time, I thought it was quite odd for there to be a damp towel on the second floor main bathroom, despite that bathroom’s obvious lack of use.” He closed it with notebook with a flourish. “In my experience, single men living alone are extreme creatures of habit. We should consider the possibility that he had an overnight guest. Possibly the victim.” “I see.” Thomas paused. “Thank you for bring this to our attention.”

58 “Sir, in my opinion, we should proceed as soon as possible to reinterview Mr. Grossinger, and should obtain a warrant to search his house.” “Thank you for your advice,” Thomas replied dryly. Gasparino spoke up. “Detective Blumer, given your belief in this matter’s importance, why is it only being brought to our attention now?” Now Gasparino is point man? How much of this is planned? Blumer paused. “Should I be calling a lawyer? What is this?” Gasparino laughed nervously. “Calm down, detective. Just a couple questions. I do have supervisory authority, you know.” Blumer let the nervous energy hang in the air for a moment. “Well sir, after I realized this late yesterday afternoon, I did attempt to contact you both by phone and in person. You were unavailable.” Take that, you backstabbing bastard. Gasparino deflated slightly. “And this morning?” “I was investigating a carjacking and drug trafficking case in Rapid City. I found trace residues of heroin in the glove compartment.” Blumer twisted the knife. “Would you like to see the photos and chemical swabs?” He patted the camera bag on his shoulder. Gasparino surrendered. “That won’t be necessary.” Damn right it won’t. Sheriff Johnson patted Blumer on the shoulder. “Now, now, Chuck, play nice.”

59 “Yes sir.” Blumer turned back to Thomas. “Sir, I would be happy to take the lead on investigating Grossinger if you need me.” “Thank you, but I’ve already got some of my people on it.” Blumer waited a heartbeat. “Is there anything else I can help you with?” “Yes. Do you know where the Hartley car is?” Blumer made a show of looking through his notebook again. “2010 Corolla. Blue. The last time I saw it was at the crime scene. I gave the case number to the towing crew. Case number 2371355.” He looked up from his notebook. “It should all be in the database. I could look it up for you.” Thomas was silent. He could see the battle between belief and disbelief. Blumer did his best to stay impassive. He awaited the verdict. “We know how to use the database.” Thomas gave a parting shot. “After all, we built it.” ----Coffee in hand, Blumer watched the two Suburbans drive away from a conference room window. Gasparino went with them, probably to conduct his own damage control campaign. “Say goodbye to our federal funding.” Johnson sighed. “Chuck, if I have to cut payroll, I’m blaming you. What part of playing nice don’t you understand?” Johnson turned to walk away. “I don’t have the energy to care anymore. I’ll hit my thirty in two years, and then someone else will be your boss. And I guarantee he won’t be as nice.” “That’s definitely true, sir.”

60 Blumer sat at his chair and stared at his desk. What was this? Some sort of spy game gone wrong? You can’t trust anyone. He went to go retrieve the phone. He got into his car to grab a jacket that he had purposefully left there. He held the keys and the jacket in the left hand. As he went to lock the door, he dropped the keys near the neighboring van’s tire as he was transferring them to his other hand. He squatted down to pick up the keys. As he did so, his placed his jacket on his left thigh, freeing his left hand to scoop up the bag behind the tire. As he stood up, he draped his left arm, bag included, with the jacket. Blumer was pleased with himself. I should have been a magician. The afternoon was filled with meetings, and Gasparino returned to exact his revenge by making them as long and as boring as possible. Blumer couldn’t care less. His brain was already fried. ----“You’re home early.” Kate was in the front yard, tending to her plants. She’d become quite the vegetable gardener since the crash. “Yeah, wasn’t much to do today.” He closed the door. “Where are the kids?” “Where else? Watching TV.” “Need any help?” “Just finishing.” She looked at him. “You look pretty tired.” “Yeah, I’m gonna take a shower.” He smiled. Her garden was doing very well. He teased, “Be careful. If those tomatoes get any bigger, we’re going to need a commercial farming permit.” He made his way up to their bathroom, started the water. The phone was in his pocket. He turned it back on. After making sure

61 the radio was indeed off, he inserted one of the memory cards. There was an index of videos and documents, organized in folders, some folders named after people, others named after cities. There was one document that stood conspicuously alone. The document was named “A letter for LTG Madrigal.” He opened it. Dear General, We wish to impress upon you the enormous sacrifices that have been made for this letter to reach you. The information compiled here represents the efforts of thousands of our ground intelligence agents, and too many lives lost. In reviewing this evidence, we hope you will come to realize the size and scope of the tyrannical machine which currently employs you. We had hoped that our Constitutional protections could have prevented such an outcome, but they have failed us. Some have survived assassination attempts, others have been branded terrorists and forced into hiding. Others have staged their own deaths to protect their families. We find it again necessary to awaken the words of Thomas Jefferson, words the General surely already finds familiar. When the current government has become destructive to the protection of liberty, it is the right and duty of a free people to dissolve that government and institute new ones. We have contacted you in the hopes that you will join our cause. You will not stand alone. While we cannot reveal the size and scope of our support, we can assure you that our support grows daily at all levels, from state and local police, to National Guard and Reserve units, to active-duty military formations. From navy seamen and army privates, to midlevel officers, to generals and admirals such as yourself. We

62 have penetrated into all civilian and military intelligence agencies, at all levels. We do not wish to convince you by our numerical strength, or our probability of success. We wish to convince you by the moral justice of our cause. Should you seek to join our cause, the instructions contained here will guide you. Should you seek to absolve yourself of all responsibility in the coming conflict, resign and live as a private citizen, or sit at your desk and render no assistance. Should you rise against our cause, we will surely know. The time to decide is approaching quickly. We ask that you consider our cause in earnest. Sincerely, Cody Cranmer, Governor of Colorado in exile Julio Anselmo, Governor of New Mexico in exile Matthew Figg, Governor of Utah in exile Jessica Delcambre, Governor of Washingtion in exile Erik Jeppesen, Acting Governor of Wyoming in exile Lonnie Loughman, Acting Governor of Montana in exile Kurt Rominger, Acting Governor of Idaho in exile Clayton Stedman, Acting Governor of Texas in exile and on behalf of others still in public office. Blumer looked up. The bathroom was filled with steam. He numbly took off his clothes, and stepped into the shower. It couldn’t be. Cody Cranmer was supposed to have died in a skiing accident…the casket was on TV! Clayton Stedman, declared missing after losing a hotly disputed re-election…Lt. Gov. Erik Jeppesen, supposedly killed by a mob in ’19, just hours after Gov. Brown had been killed. So many people died or went missing in the first few years of the crash. I just never noticed just how many state governors conveniently disappeared. Nicholas Hartley, did the government kill you too?

63 But…rebellion? No. The OPR and the DHS are corrupt, incompetent, and a pain-in-the-ass, but they kept the country from starving! What would the cities have done without the food and fuel rationing? What would I have done? My kids are alive. My wife is alive. I am alive. And who should I thank for that? He stared at the water circling the drain. What a world we live in. He got out of the shower, dressed, and went downstairs. Kate and the kids were putting plates on the table. “Hot water isn’t free, you know.” “Yeah, I know. Just got to thinking in the shower, about a case. Lost track of time.” He kissed Todd on top of his head. Todd didn’t like it, and was rubbing his hair, trying to erase it. He picked up Sophie and gave her a spin, then hugged her close. She smelled so good. He put her down in her booster chair, then took a seat. “What are we having?” ----Evgeny’s phone beeped. He read the text. He sighed and closed his eyes. They had to go back to South Dakota, this time to kill some policeman. Same client, same method. This client seemed to have a lot of money, and a lot of targets. He had been doing some asking around. No one could be sure, but it seems that all the companies were getting work from this particular client. That didn’t particularly bother him. What bothered him was the nature of the work this client seemed to be paying for. This client wasn’t targeting drug lords, money launderers, or other assassins. The client was targeting regular people, people who weren’t part of this big dirty game. Bakers,

64 firemen, farmers. The salt of the earth. The client was killing witnesses. And sooner or later, this client would start killing accomplices. It might be time to leave the company. Would the company let me go? Or would they send Yuko and his silent knife after me? His throat tightened, imagining that sharp blade. I just don’t know.

65 Appendix 1 Draft Revision 25 – Approved unanimously on July 8th 2023 by signatories and the provisional Free State Delegate Assembly. The Declaration of Independence of the American Free States In the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature’s God entitle them. We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, that whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security.

66 Such has been the patient sufferance of these States; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former systems of government. The history of the present federal government is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over these States. To prove this, let facts be submitted to a candid world. The Government has forbidden the States to pass laws of immediate and pressing importance, suspending their operation until federal assent is obtained. The Government has made judges depend on their obedient compliance for their tenure and payment of their salaries. The Government has erected a multitude of new offices, and sent swarms of officers to harass our people and eat out their substance. For taking away our Constitutional rights, abolishing our most valuable laws and altering fundamentally the forms of our government. For depriving us, in many cases, of the benefit of trial by jury. For sending large numbers of armed troops among us, and protecting them from punishment for crimes they commit on the inhabitants of these states. For cutting off or heavily restricting trade with all parts of the world, and among our own people. For killing and imprisoning citizens in secret without trial. For restricting free speech and criticism of the Government.

67 For restricting the right of assembly. In every stage of these oppressions we have petitioned for redress in the most humble terms: our repeated petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. The Government, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a tyrant, is unfit to rule a free people. Nor have we been wanting in attentions to our countrymen. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by federal legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the term of our Constitutional union which binds these united States. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, enemies in war, in peace friends. We, therefore, citizens of the free States of America, in general congress, assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the name, and by authority of the good people of these States, solemnly publish and declare, that these States are, and of right ought to be free and independent States; that they are absolved from all allegiance to the Federal Government, and that all political connection between them and the Federal Government, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as free and independent states, they have full power to levy war, conclude peace, contract alliances, establish commerce, and to do all other acts and things which independent states may of right do. And for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.

68 Cody Cranmer, Governor of Colorado in exile Julio Mendoza, Governor of New Mexico in exile Matthew Figg, Governor of Utah in exile Jessica Delcambre, Governor of Washington in exile Erik Jeppesen, Acting Governor of Wyoming in exile Lonnie Loughman, Acting Governor of Montana in exile Kurt Rominger, Acting Governor of Idaho in exile Clayton Stedman, Acting Governor of Texas in exile and on behalf of others still in public office.

69 Appendix 2 Operations Order WY-41-366 252000T Aug 2023 Wyoming Independent Signal Command 2nd Signal Group/Courier Detachment 3-C 1. Situation (a) All contacts not positively identified as friendly should be assumed as potentially hostile. Enemy strength consists primarily of independent inter-agency units that operate without regard to local jurisdictions. Enemy is also known to use elite extra-legal foreign mercenaries to track and kill key personnel. Expect surprise road blocks and inspections. Enemy signal intelligence is highly capable and will intercept and act rapidly upon unencrypted or weakly encrypted messages. (b) 2nd Signal Group has been tasked with establishing direct lines of communications with highly-ranked officials and officers in the civilian and military leadership in the upper Midwest. Courier Detachment 3 is responsible for establishing direct communications with members of the Minnesota National Guard and State Troopers who have been identified as sympathetic. (c) Irregular civilian units of varying quality on your route of advance will be made available, and should only be used in cases of severe need. One saboteur team will be stationed in Minnesota to destroy evidence in case of capture. 2. Mission

70 Courier Detachment 3-C is to establish contact with a liaison to LTG Madrigal, Minnesota National Guard, stationed at the St. Paul National Guard Capitol Complex. Initial contact will be made with our liaison, LT Sokal. The courier package is to be personally delivered to LTG Madrigal. Initial contact should be made before 01 Sept 23. The mission will be presumed to have failed if contact is not made before 08 Sept 23. Should LTG Madrigal request your assistance, stay to assist him until relieved, otherwise return for recovery. 3. Execution (a) Couriers are free to choose their routes and mode of transportation as consistent with their current identities and cover stories. Contact with law enforcement should be minimized as much as possible without arousing suspicion. The highest priority is the security of the package, and it should be destroyed if capture is imminent. (b) Should the operation be compromised, the courier package should be immediately destroyed, and the mission failure signal sent if possible. (c) Should the courier require medical attention, the courier package should be destroyed and the mission failure signal sent before seeking treatment. (d) Upon successful contact, report status and assessment. 4. Service and Support (a) Resupply, basic medical attention, and overnight shelter are available at these locations: a. 46 Mt. Rushmore Rd., Custer, SD b. 7 Sunny Dr S, Mandan, ND c. 21 28th Avenue N, Fargo, MI d. 32 Victory St, Brookings, SD e. 14 Shea St., Belle Plaine, MI

71 These locations should be approached only if necessary. While they have been reliable and secure in the past, they are volunteer irregular units and should be treated as such. (b) Vehicles and 120 gallons of fuel ration coupons will be issued for the trip. Couriers will also be supplied with three days of provisions. The courier package will consist of a customized smartphone and two memory cards sealed in a watertight bag. The courier will also be issued a concealed firearm, three prepaid phones, and a small thermite incendiary device with which to destroy the courier package. Couriers are responsible for their own 72-hour emergency personal sustainment bag and personal first-aid. (c) Vehicles and equipment should be returned to a location designated by the handler. 5. Command and Signal (a) Operational command resides solely with 2nd Signal Group. Should 2nd Signal Group become incapacitated or compromised, the unit should be considered disbanded. Do not attempt contact with other units or to continue the mission. Destroy the courier package and return to safe houses in accordance with FM 4-2. (b) All contact with 2nd Signal Group Command, as well as initial contact with the target liaison, should be conducted by prepaid cellular, in accordance with FM 53A. All contact with civilian groups will be by challenge-response. The challenge will be RED SOX. The response will be RED WINGS. The daytime visual recognition signals will be a dark blue polo shirt, and watch worn upside-down. There are no nighttime signals.

72 (c) Questions about this operations order must be asked directly to your handler no later than 272000T Aug 2023. Attached: FM 4-2 Guerilla Operations FM 5-3 Secure Communications with COTS Equipment.

73 Appendix 3 Field Manual No. 3-28 (FM 3-28) Civil Support Operations 20 August 2010 Headquarters Department of the Army Distribution Restriction: Approved for public release; distribution is unlimited. This publication is available at: http://armypubs.army.mil/doctrine/DR_pubs/DR_a/pdf/fm3_28.p df Chapter 7 – Legal Considerations AUTHORITIES FOR FEDERAL MILITARY SUPPORT 7-3. The U.S. military has provided support to civil authorities in response to civil emergencies and natural disasters throughout its history. The terminology applied to this function has varied over the years: military assistance or military support to civil authorities, military support of civil defense, and employment of military resources in natural disaster emergencies within the United States. The change interminology reflects the evolving changes in authorities granted to Department of Defense (DOD) by the President and the Congress. AUTHORITIES OF THE PRESIDENT 7-4. Although Article II of the Constitution of the United States and laws passed by Congress provide the primary basis for the present-day authorities of the President, the scope of Presidential authority is much broader. The President possesses inherent authority derived not from specific constitutional provisions or statutes, but from the aggregate of presidential responsibilities as

74 the Nation’s Chief Executive, Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces, and the highest law enforcement authority. Supreme Court decisions have held that the President has the inherent authority to preserve order and ensure public health and safety during a national crisis or an emergency, according to the necessities of the situation. This inherent authority empowers the President to act in response to an incident. 7-5. When confronted with a national crisis or emergency where there is no expressed Constitutional or statutory authority, the President can either present the matter to the Congress and wait for legislation that will authorize him or her to act, or take immediate action on the basis of the President's inherent authority when no one other than the President is capable of doing so. The Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act 7-6. The Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act (known as the Stafford Act) is the primary federal statute giving the President the authority to direct federal agencies to provide assistance to state and local authorities during an incident. The purpose of this assistance is to save lives, alleviate human suffering, protect public health and safety, and lessen or avert the threat of a catastrophe. The Stafford Act allows four ways for the President to provide federal—including military support to civil authorities. Within these four categories, military support may include aviation, communications, engineering, logistical, medical, public affairs, and other capabilities. Major Disaster Declaration 7-7. The President may declare a major disaster when an incident is severe enough to necessitate federal assistance to save lives, protect and preserve property, and provide for the public health and safety. The declaration follows a request from the governor of the affected state. The President acts through FEMA to authorize

75 any appropriate federal agency to support state and local authorities. Emergency Declaration 7-8. In cases where the President does not declare a major disaster, he or she may declare an emergency. This declaration is either before (in anticipation of) or following an incident necessitating federal assistance to save lives, protect property, provide for the public health and safety, and lessen or avert the threat of a catastrophe. The amount of damage either anticipated or actual is less severe than for a major disaster. Again, a request from the governor of the affected state is required. The President, through FEMA, may authorize any federal agency to use personnel, equipment, facilities, and technical and advisory services to support state and local authorities. The National Emergencies Act 7-9. The National Emergencies Act of 1976 (Sections 1601-1651, Title 50, USC) gives the President broad authorities to respond to emergencies, subject to Congressional regulation of these emergency powers. Under the powers delegated by this statute, the President may seize property, organize and control the means of production, seize commodities, assign military forces aboard, institute martial law, seize and control all transportation and communication, regulate the operation of private enterprise, restrict travel, and, in a variety of ways, control the lives of United States citizens. Moreover, Congress may modify, rescind, or render dormant such delegated emergency authority.