Saturday, April 26, 2014

The New Paradigm

[Up for a little more Freedom Fiction, Gentle Reader? This one is mine. -- FWP.]


    Less than half a second after the alarm light flashed on his intercom panel, Integral Security Services commander and CEO Kevin Conway surged out from behind his desk, plucked his life vest from his coat tree, and sprinted down the stairs toward the monitoring room.

    He donned the vest as he ran. People were scurrying and red lights flashing throughout the building. As he passed through the ready room, he distributed quick shoulder pats and murmurs of encouragement to the officers garbing for battle, then moved as swiftly as was politic to the large, dark chamber that housed Integral’s twenty-four-hour audio / video monitoring operation.

    The officers on duty at the monitoring stations were unusually quiet even for them. The overhead screen tuned to the feed from Integral’s drone aircraft displayed the reason: a SWAT team of considerable size assembling in the staging area behind Onteora County's First Precinct.

    This one could get ugly.

    He stooped to whisper to the young woman attending to that data stream.

    “Do we have a target yet, Phyllis?”

    She shook her head, eliciting a faint rattle from her headgear. “Still quiet, Boss. Orders should be coming down...wait one.”

    Conway held his breath. On the screen, a police lieutenant was unfolding a stapled sheaf of papers.

    “2317 Kettle Knoll in Foxwood, Boss,” the young woman murmured.

    That’s Art Giordano’s place. Shit.

    “Scream it out, Phyl. All hands. We’re going to need the whole standby force for this one.”

    He clapped her on the shoulder and headed toward Integral’s own staging area as she called out the all hands alert on the PA and the company’s breakthrough frequency.

#

    Integral’s four heavily modified H1-Alphas roared down the streets of Foxwood hamlet at top speed. Conway was determined to get his forces to the target address before the SWAT team could get there. Though they’d executed such a lightning mobilization and deployment several times before, an all hands alert never failed to raise blood pressures throughout the force. There’d been no live fire or other violence on any of the previous sorties, but no one could be sure that it would always be thus.

    At the targeted address Conway leaped out of the lead vehicle, trotted for the house’s porch, and took up station immediately before its front door. The commotion brought Art Giordano to the door, coffee mug in hand, wearing a bathrobe and a puzzled frown. Conway waved him back authoritatively and bade him close the inside door. Giordano complied at once.

    As Integral’s troopers debarked from the other Humvees, Conway directed them into their various positions with quick, crisp hand gestures. Sixty seconds after his arrival, he stood at his ease, the Humvees had roared off to concealment, and his men were locked, loaded, poised and ready for whatever might come next.

    They were quick enough by less than two minutes.

    Onteora SWAT’s armored car, a legacy of the infantry drawdown of the decade before, pulled to a stop before the residence of Arthur Giordano, retired engineer and shooting sports enthusiast. The lieutenant Conway had seen via the drone feed debarked from the shotgun seat, papers in hand, and strode toward the porch. When his gaze landed on Conway’s face, his lips contorted into a snarl.

    Conway smiled. “Good morning, Lieutenant Reynolds. Lovely day for a SWAT raid. May I ask the purpose of your visit?”

     SWAT team commander Lieutenant Ellis Reynolds kept his voice under tight control. “We’re here in pursuit of some illegal firearms.” He glanced down at his papers. “Our investigators reported an unregistered AK-47 and AR-15 in the possession of the owner of this residence.”

    “There is no such thing,” Conway said, “as an illegal firearm.”

    “New York state law—”

    “Does not trump the Second Amendment to the Constitution, Lieutenant.”

    “That’s a matter for the courts,” Reynolds growled. The rest of the SWAT team had debarked from their vehicle and gathered close behind him, weapons in a variety of postures.

    Tactically unwise, but I’d rather not teach them the hard way.

    Conway shook his head. “I disagree.” He raised his voice. “And I brought a few friends who feel the same.”

    It was the signal the Integral troopers awaited. They moved out of concealment and converged on the front of the Giordano home, rifles trained on the SWAT personnel.

    The cops behind Ellis Reynolds exchanged uneasy looks and shrugs of a most un-SWAT-like variety. The dark crimson of the lieutenant’s face suggested that he was edging toward a stroke.

    “How did you know—”

    “I have investigators of my own, Lieutenant. Good ones. And Arthur Giordano is a client of Integral Security. I protect my clients—from public as well as private threats.”

    Hope Art’s got his ear to the door.

    It wasn’t a standoff in the usual sense. The Integral personnel outnumbered the SWAT team members, were exquisitely well placed, and toted rifles that overmatched any known body armor. The excellence of Integral’s forces, an order of magnitude beyond the capabilities of the county police, was well known. Should matters come to a head, their standing orders were to gun down the entire SWAT detachment...even if it should cost Conway his life.

    Probably be for the best if it did.

    He did his best to appear utterly unconcerned.

    Reynolds turned to his men, growled “Mount up,” and waited as they complied. Before he departed, he awarded Conway a final scowl.

    “We’ll be back,” he said.

    Conway nodded. “We’ll be here.”

#

    Conway watched the last of his Humvees pull away, turned to Giordano, and shrugged expressively.

    “Hell of a start for your Saturday, eh?”

    Giordano was still visibly adjusting to what had occurred on his front porch.

    “Kevin, what was that—”

    “About you being an Integral client?”

    Giordano nodded, eyes wary.

    “Call it a conversation filler. A moment, please.” Conway pulled out his cell phone and hit a speed-dial button. “Larry? All secure. You’re in command until I get back. Send a car, would you please? Thanks.” He closed and pocketed the phone and glanced at Giordano’s mug. “Might I impose on you for a cuppa? It’s been a difficult morning.”

    Giordano gestured him inside. Presently they were seated at the dinette table in Giordano’s modest kitchen, each with a mug and a doughnut.

    “Look,” the retiree said, “I appreciate what you did, but you know very well I can’t afford—”

    Conway waved it aside. “Very well indeed, Art. But you know just as well that my sort of operation costs serious money. I have to keep a sizable standby force, a drone in the air around the clock and people to monitor the feed from it, and a police informant on the payroll. The county could bankrupt me simply by staging these raids continuously, two or three at a time, such that all my forces had to go to stopping them.” He grimaced and sipped from his mug. “Integral doesn’t have the taxing power. Not that I want it.”

    Giordano said nothing.

    “Have you given any thought to what I suggested at the civic association meeting?”

    “Kevin,” Giordano said, “there aren’t enough of us willing to buy in just yet. We’re already paying some of the highest property taxes in New York. We can’t afford you. Not if what you charge your condo clients is any indication.”

    “I understand, Art. Believe me, I do. But there are ways to lower the cost quite a bit, if you and your neighbors would be willing to help.”

    “No one,” the retiree ground out, “is ready for the sort of surveillance setup you proposed. Cameras all over the place. Hard lines to your office. Rotating foot patrols with walkie-talkies. For God’s sake, Kevin, we’re a bunch of private citizens who just want to be left alone, and we’re already dealing with a sense of being watched wherever we go!”

    A car pulled audibly into the driveway. Conway nodded, finished his coffee, and gently set the mug down before him.

    “That’s the heart of the problem,” he said. “Not only are you being watched—that raid was because an Onteora cop spotted you at the range in Hamilton you visited a week ago—you’re paying through the nose for it. And here I am, desperate to protect you from those watchers, pleading that you pay me for the privilege.” He grinned humorlessly. “You’d have every right to suspect that the cops and I are in it together.”

    Giordano shook his head. “Never.”

    “Well, that’s a comfort, at least.” Conway rose, and his host did the same. “But please, Art, think about what would have happened if my guys hadn’t been here. The standby forces and support personnel that made that mobilization possible cost me about a million dollars a year. That halves Integral’s annual pre-tax profits. Imagine if the county were to get really aggressive about the firearms laws, and I had to double or triple those forces. How long do you suppose I could stay in business?

    “The state police aren’t willing to get involved with the firearms laws...for now, at least, and thank God for that. But that could change. I doubt I could deter them with nothing but Integral’s forces and resources. There’d be blood spilled. Likely some of it would be mine. The only way to avert that beforehand is to turn communities like Foxwood into self-protecting bastions, places where only the newest, dumbest rookie would dare to throw his weight around.”

    Conway put out his hand, and Giordano took it.

    “My ride is here. Think about it some more? Please?”

    The retiree nodded.

#

    Conway returned to find Larry Sokoloff waiting at his office door. Integral’s second in command noted the expression on his commander’s face and smirked.

    “No change?”

    Conway chuckled. “Why, as a matter of fact, Larry, I have a security contract for the whole of Onteora County in my back pocket. Two hundred mil a year. Monthly payments in Spanish doubloons. Get on the horn and start hiring now. Anyone who can fog a mirror!”

    “Ah.”

    Conway seated himself at his desk. Sokoloff slipped into a guest chair.

    “Boss—”

    “I know, I know. It’s just money, Larry.”

    “It’s money,” Sokoloff intoned, “that would pay for new guns and armor, a new firing range, improved gym facilities, and raises that would put smiles on quite a few faces.”

    “Including yours.”

    Sokoloff nodded.

    “I’m not going to let the cops trample our neighbors’ rights, Larry. It might break us financially, but as long as we’re capable—”

    “Kevin.” Sokoloff slid forward, new intensity in his eyes. “What about what it’s doing to you? How much sleep did you get last night?”

    Conway tried to shrug it off. “I’m fine. And if it gets to be too much for me, that’s why I have you, Syl, and Ken, right?”

    He tried to make it light and jocular. Sokoloff’s gravity remained unchanged.

    “You know I’ll always back your play, Boss,” the lieutenant said. “Hell, I’d take a bullet for you. But you can’t expect that from everyone on the force. And you can’t expect to run a...a charity operation like this for much longer before the guys start wondering what’s in it for them.”

    Conway’s neck muscles drew tight. “They do get paid, Larry.”

    Sokoloff nodded. “That they do. But is it enough to cover having to face down the county cops over and over? When it’s a lead-pipe cinch that sooner or later bullets will fly and someone will get killed?”

    A charged silence passed between them.

    “I do think about that,” Conway said. “It’s why I go on these sorties unarmed, so it’s as obvious as it can possibly be that my blood will be the first spilled. But I can’t do anything more about it until our neighbors wake up to the threat and take a hand in their own defense.”

    “And you won’t stop providing that defense gratis,” Sokoloff said. “Even though that’s the perfect disincentive to getting them to act for themselves.”

    Conway opened his mouth to reply, closed it without speaking.

    He’s right.

    Sokoloff waited impassively.

    “I’ll give it more thought, Larry. I promise.”

    The second-in-command nodded, rose, and made his exit. Conway dropped his head into his hands.

    The State bleeds you dry for funds it uses to tyrannize you, while your only defender, who risks his life to thwart your official oppressors, has to work for coffee and doughnuts. Organized crime never had it so good.

    Is it a whole new paradigm of governance, or the oldest one of all?

    It doesn't matter. Either way it can’t go on much longer. But I can’t just go limp on them.

    They need a leader figure who’ll rally them to their own colors. A Man on Horseback they’ll follow without having to be shamed or prodded. For damn sure that’s not me. But who, then?

    He had no answer.

==<O>==

5 comments:

  1. Great read, Fran. Thanks.

    ReplyDelete
  2. As usual, your lead characters tend to be saintly, heroic, supermen (yes, and women).

    We need more heroes like them.

    ReplyDelete
  3. The answer lies with the truth.
    The state will never stop unless they are stopped.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Outstanding, Fran--thanks so much.

    ReplyDelete

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