Enduring on the Lake

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Chapter 32


“So what happened?”  I asked. 

“I found out the hard way something that I should have already known.  Panicked people are crazy people.  And crazy people can get stupid real quick.  I was thinking of all thing things that I wish we had been doing – stuff like your dad had done for your family – and Annie got wise and took a long look in the pantry and started making a list of things that were missing or on low supply.  I was pretty shocked.  Used to be that Gran and Mom always had stuff stacked three deep or more in the pantry but Mom said they’d been letting it slide, trying to wait out food prices going up so much.” 

“Never count on the cost of anything going down.  It might stay the same but usually food prices are like helium filled balloons … they just don’t seem capable of coming down on their own.” 

“That there should be writ on stone.  So, I didn’t panic but I thought I’d be able to get out ahead of the crowds.  What I didn’t count on was everyone else having the same idea.  Lord, God Almighty.  It was worse than that year we had all those ice storms.  The stores were already picked over by the time I got there and everyone was complaining that the shelves weren’t getting restocked.” 

I nodded remembering something Daddy and Mom had discussed on a regular basis.  “It was probably done by people getting out of the cities.  Daddy used to talk about this phase of things.  You gonna let me clean that face up?” 

“I can do it.” 

“I know but it’ll be easier for you if you let me do it and you keep talking.” 

Zane consented to let me doctor on him and he continued his story.  “I managed to grab a few things on Annie’s list and made it up to the check out and that’s when I ran into problems.  Some men were up there claiming to be with the NSA – they were definitely feds of some flavor – and they were enforcing rationing.  People had started to really make a stink.  They were solving that by asking people who complained to ‘register their complaints’ in the office.  Wasn’t until I got outside that I heard those that went to complain were being detained, finger printed, and run through civil and criminal databases.  They were catching everybody for something … unpaid traffic tickets, violations of probation, suspected welfare fraud, unpaid judgments, and more.  That started a mini riot as people tried to run.  I was almost out of there when some guy tried to jack my truck.” 

I shuddered.  “Holy golden horde Batman.” 

“Huh?” 

“It is a term that was used for the Mongols as they descended on their enemy.  Something to do with their tent colors.  Daddy used to talk about the potential for a modern version as people left the cities and spread out into the suburbs and beyond and sucked up all of the resources like locusts.” 

“Not quite the same Sydney.” 

“I know, just what you described reminded me of what I’d heard discussed.” 

“Technically I suppose John and his family could be considered part of the … ok, call them hordes … of people leaving the most affected cities but they aren’t a conquering horde, more like a fleeing one.” 

“Yeah, we aren’t talking warlords just yet.” 

My statement raised his eyebrows.  “Yet?  Your parents really were deep into the wooly boogers weren’t they.” 

“And what is that supposed to mean?” I snapped. 

“Uh, that … that wasn’t appropriate.  I’m sorry.  Syd …” 

I shrugged.  “Just forget it.  Look things are the way they are.  Maybe I’m right, maybe I’m not.  Maybe I’m exaggerating and maybe the world is going to come to an end faster than anyone imagines.” 

“Syd it wasn’t that bad.  I mean it was bad but not … well I said mini riot not burn the town down all out combat zone.  If Atlanta blows it will get bad fast but … mostly right now I think the bomb going off has freaked everyone out.” 

“Calm before the storm,” I muttered, somewhat in defiance of what I saw as his not taking me seriously. 

I must have looked worried.  Zane reached up and pulled me to sit down across from him.  “Syd, don’t bottle it up.  Don’t use old sayings to cover it up.  Talk to me.  I’m sorry if … if I’m not reacting the way you maybe expect me to but it doesn’t mean I ain’t listening to you.” 

Finally I said what was on my mind.  “I wasn’t supposed to be alone.” 

Understanding I was referring to my family he said, “Don’t give up hope.” 

“I … I haven’t.  But I’m not foolish either,” I said with a sigh.  “There is no news coming out of Savannah.  Now there isn’t anything coming out of Brunswick or Yulee going south and going north Charleston’s news shut down late yesterday.  I haven’t heard anything out of Jacksonville since about 2 AM and that was from a UGA blogger that said his little sister called crying about their parents being sick and that there were men in the street wearing what sounded like hazmat suits.  That blog is now gone like it never existed except I have a screen shot of it.  I took it off my computer and stored it on a portable drive that isn’t connected.” 

Zane looked at me suspiciously and said, “Syd, whatever you are doing be careful.” 

“Huh?” 

“Don’t do that. Not with me.  You want to hide how smart you are from other people then fine, whatever.  But not with me.  I’ve seen you make that computer boogie.  I’ve seen you fix the store computer just by having Max install some … some kind of program that let you access it from here at the cabin.  That even impressed Junior and he thinks he’s a computer geek.” 

“Junior is just a gamer.  He needs to stop trying to optimize that old clunker so he can game while at work, he keeps fouling up the interface between the registers and the bookkeeping program.” 

“See, that’s what I’m talking about.  You can be honest with me.  I’m not going to sell you out or … or abandon you just because you aren’t as dumb as you sometimes play at being.” 

My phone rang and we both jumped.  I ran over to where I had sat it while I was doctoring his face and nearly tripped over the ottoman.  I juggled the phone and finally was able to answer it.  “Hello?!” 

A calm, nearly mechanical female voice responded, “This is the switchboard at Baldwin State Prison.  Will you accept a call from Kevin Zitterbarth?” 

“Uh … sure.  This … this is his cousin, Sydney Zitterbarth.”  The connection went through with a warning that all conversations were recorded. 

“Sydney?!” 

“Yeah … yeah Kevin.  What gives?  I thought you were restricted to only calling your parents.” 

“Hush up and listen.  I don’t have a lot of time.  You need to pay attention to what I’m saying.  You got that?” 

It was a phrase our fathers would use when they wanted us to not just think about the words they were using but about why they were using the words and what that meant.  “Yeah, I get it.” 

“Ok,” he said in relief.  “Are … are Dad and Mom there?  Patrice?” 

“No,” I told him carefully.  I didn’t want to say anything more so stumbled over trying to reply, “They … they …” 

His voice cracked.  Kevin had always been tough, prison hadn’t done anything at all to change that.  To hear his voice sound close to watery told me I wasn’t the only one thinking.  He said, “OK.  I … I had to … look …” 

I finally admitted to my own feelings.  Something that Kevin would understand as he had the same thing though not as strongly as me.  He generally hated his feelings when he got them. 

“I know Kevin,” I told him with finality. 

“You’re … you’re sure?” 

I shrugged even if he couldn’t see it and answered, “I could always be wrong.” 

“But you’re not are you.”  It was a statement, not a question. 

“Dad called.  It … it sounded … final.  I’m not sure why I read it that way.  It wasn’t the words he used, it was just the vibes he was giving off, even long distance.” 

“He didn’t say what was going on?” 

“No, only that something had happened at Hunter.  He didn’t know what either, just that things were jacked up crazy and the city was already shut off.” 

“Ok,” he said before adding something odd.  “They were asking me.  I figured it was something like that.  You … uh … don’t happen to know any of your dad’s friends that might have more answers?” 

Carefully I answered, “Friends?  You mean like at that plant?  They’re probably still in Savannah too since whatever happened was so fast.  And even if they aren’t you know Daddy didn’t really bring home work with him.  We never socialized with anyone like that.” 

“Nobody?  What about at the lake?” 

“Anybody my parents would have hung out with – and there weren’t really all that many – are all summer people and I don’t know where they live when they aren’t here.  And the few I do remember from when we used to go to the lake parties have sold their places and I don’t know who owns them now.” 

“Oh.  Are you sure because I though with you at the lake cabin …” 

“It was a trick.  Daddy really sent me up here because that stuff with Dan was about to heat back up with the trial and all starting.  I wonder if this will delay things?” I asked in a kind of dopey, unthinking tone. 

“And the money?” 

I felt like Kevin had goosed me.  “What money?” 

“Some big legacy from Sam.  Patrice mentioned it last time we talked just to rub my nose in things.”

 “Huh?  You mean the life insurance policy?  That went to pay bills and do some fix up here at the cabin.  I think they also spent some to make the house more accessible for Patrice … I know they renovated the bathrooms and added that big ramp onto the front of the house.” 

“Is that all?” 

“That’s a weird question.  How am I supposed to know?  You know good and well Daddy didn’t tell me stuff like that.  It was his and Mom’s business, not mine … or yours for that matter.  I suppose if there was anything left over it would have gone into some kind of retirement account.  Why are you asking me this stuff when there are more important things to worry about?  Or … or do you know something I don’t?  About the family?  Have you heard something?  Heard from them?!  What are you not telling me?!  Is this some scheme that you and your prison buddies are cooking up?!!” 

“What?!  No!  It’s those NS …” 

There was a clicking noise and then the female voice came on the line again and asked, “Would you like to pay for three more minutes?” 

“With what?  My looks?  You just tell my cousin until I hear from the family there isn’t any more money.  My savings is almost gone and …” 

There was a final dial tone and I closed the line on my end.  Looking at the phone in disgust I flipped it over and with a sigh took the battery out.  Zane opened his mouth to say something but I hushed him with a finger across my lips.  I opened the desk drawer and pulled out a small box and put the phone and battery inside.  I took the camera off of my old tower computer I had built myself then unplugged the cable from the monitor and the power plug from the tower.  I also unscrewed the internet cable from the tower as well. 

I grabbed my net book that had been setting by the computer, the phone and battery, and the camera from the computer and walked down to the cellar. Over in the corner with other galvanized trash cans filled with bulk grains and beans was an empty can.  Taking the lid off anyone could see it was different from the others as it was lined inside with sound proofing and cardboard.  I set the electronic pieces down inside the can and closed and secured the lid. 

I turned and found Zane at the top of the flight of stairs.  I told him, “Yes, I’m paranoid.  This is probably all crazy … overkill, nutso, and any other adjective you can come up with.  Go right on ahead and think I’m fit for the straight jacket brigade.” 

Casually Zane shrugged and said, “Better safe than sorry.” 

Surprise nearly stole my breath but after a moment I sighed in relief at his acceptance of what had to look strange as all get out.  Two more seconds and all I could do was flop down on the bottom riser and start crying. 

A little while later, after I managed to regain my self-control, I turned to find that Zane had come down the stairs to sit beside me.  I wiped my eyes and explained the call to Zane.  He listened thoughtfully then asked, “So you think your cousin is a sell out?” 

“I know he is,” I told him matter of factly.  “But probably because he wasn’t given much of a choice.  However he also let me know up front something was hinky … not in so many words but in a way that only him, Patrice, Sam or me would have gotten.  Even though I was the youngest and rarely got included in their games I still absorbed some of them and Kevin used a phrase our fathers used often enough that it automatically clicked.  And I’m pretty sure he got the phone call cut off on purpose.  I hope he doesn’t get into too much trouble over it.  Kevin can be a jerk … but he wasn’t always that way.  He and Sam used to be inseparable.  He …” 

When I faltered Zane put his hand on my shoulder and said, “You don’t have to explain.  All families have their issues.” 

“Good. ‘Cause I’m not sure I could explain it right now anyway.” 

“You really think your family is …”  I could see Zane hesitating to actually use the word. 

“Yeah,” I responded almost ready to break down into tears again.  “They’re … they’re dead.  Something bad happened at Hunter.  I’m guessing something that they haven’t been able to completely contain even though they might be slowing it down as much as possible.  It is spreading out from Savannah along the interstate … so some people might have gotten out before they were completely able to stop traffic.  Whatever it is, it is making people sick.  Our house is only a mile from Hunter.  They would have gotten a heavy dose of … of whatever.  I just … I can’t get into guessing what it might be right now.” 

“I’ll do my own guessing after I make a few calls.  Now for the other.  What money was your cousin making such a big deal about?” 

“Some craziness I don’t even know much about except it has something to do with Sam’s death and that it was one of the things that made me … wonder … about how my parents were treating me and why they really sent me here.  I didn’t know anything about it though it was supposedly released to them two years ago after some long, bureaucratic messiness.  That’s the money that has paid for all the repairs and stuff to the cabin.  Daddy accidentally let slip that for some reason he and Mom personally were being given a hard time over it at one point.  Beyond that I don’t understand.” 

“Just your family or the other families of the GIs that were killed?” 

“Don’t take this the wrong way Zane but what part of I don’t know, Daddy wouldn’t explain it to me, do you not understand?” 

“Syd …” 

“Don’t you know I know how this sounds?  How it looks?  They didn’t trust me.  I don’t know why.  And now I’ll never know!  This … this is a god awful mess!” 

Calmly, like he dealt with borderline personality disorders every day, Zane said, “One, you can’t know for sure about your family.  Yes I know it looks bad but you can’t know one hundred percent for sure.  Two, you admitted it and I witnessed it … your dad is just very protective.  That’s not distrust, that’s being careful of something you value.” 

I shook my head.  “I don’t see it that way.  Protecting someone to the extent my parents did me is basically saying that the person being protected isn’t strong enough in some way to be trusted to handle whatever is going on.  And now?  Now I’m left handicapped.  How am I supposed to do this without them if they held all most important information?!  How am I supposed to … to live without them when they made sure that … that …?!”

2 comments:

  1. "they made sure that..." she didn't have all the information, access to the money...
    "that..." she was dependent on them, she was alone, ..........

    Ahhhhh!!! Cliff what are you doing here?!?!?!?!!!!!

    ReplyDelete
  2. They should have told her, they had to know what kind of person she was, but yeah families sometimes don't.

    ReplyDelete