Difficult Choices

by Howard Faxon

Tags: Ma/Fa, Romantic, Fiction,

Desc: : put yourself in the place of a man given the keys for an account worth over a billion dollars. ethics or greed? libertine or responsibility? A surprise finish. Hopefully, edited version to come soon.

I sat just within the sliding glass doors of my apartment watching the lightning as the energy of the day's 95+degrees thrashed itself across the heavens and earth. I slowly sipped my bourbon and water as the evening's entertainment seemed to reach a crescendo. I noticed that the hair on my arms and head was stirring. My hairs stood straight out from my body "Oh, shit. This doesn't look good..." <CRASH> I woke up obviously in the hospital--no place else goes beep-beep-beep with your heart--I hope. Various and sundry parts of my body ached, were numb or were on fire. I expected that the 'on fire' meant first or second degree burns. I 'hoped' that the numb places were not third degree burns. Despite a terminal case of dry-mouth I returned to sleep. I woke up. someone was poking me with a needle. "What's the matter, honey, every hole filled with some damned thing so you've got to make another?" I heard a metallic crash, followed by several bad words. I was in good form. "That won't get you into heaven but it might get you into the Friar's club." Footsteps rapidly left. Haven't I told you? I was blind as hell.

I pawed around, logically searching for a remote that would summon aid. I found a dongle and started pressing buttons. I heard rubber soled shoes coming my way and smelled a bit of perfume. "Hello, whoever you are. I require a brief description as to my wounds and prognosis. Withholding said information will magically change me into an irascable, belligerent son-of-a-bitch." Said rubber shoes performed a strategic retreat. I cleared my throat and began howling out Cruxshadows' "Winterborn" lyrics as I plucked tubes, needles and things out of me. I eased out the goddamned catheter and heaved it across the room. I felt preternaturally aware of everything I did and all of my body.

I heard the rapid approach of footsteps. I sat up in the hospital bed and pointed towards the last place from which I heard the shoes slap the tile floor. "Who the fuck are you and what's going on?"

I believe I floored whomever it was. It was a long moment before I heard a reply. "I'm Doctor Meadows, the physician assigned to your case. I believe that they should have rather assigned an exorcist."

Well, he thought well on his feet. "Nay, Horatio. A chirurgeon may aid my cause but a priest would doubtless blight me. Now, good doctor, I require a precis of my condition and outlook. Out with it, man!"

Blind as I was, I couldn't see the quick grin on the doctor's face. "Other than a near-fatal case of black bile you've got six paths burned across your corpus by lightning. Your eyes are flash-burned and should respond to treatment within several days. You have blisters across your face, belly, back, groin, calves and feet. You are going to be one uncomfortable son-of-a-bitch for a while, and bored out of your skull until your eyes heal. I advocate meditation."

"What, I can't even jerk off?" "Nope, not without gloving your penis." I shuddered. I knew that gloving meant catastrophic skinning... "Would you please have someone from the local library visit me with a list of books on tape?" "Certainly. It would definitely beat a recitation of a black-metal death chant..." "What, have you no appreciation for the wilder things in life?" "Please, some concepts transcend humor and demand psychiatric intervention."

Arr. He got the last line.

Two weeks of Grisham, Clancy and various other masters of drivel later I was evaluated as able to care for myself. My eyes had recovered nicely. I found myself discharged from the hospital and at wit's end. My skin was healing yet drawing tight in huge scars. I could not return to work as climbing stairs would incapacitate me in short order and my office was on the third floor of a walk-up. Ghastly. I retired with medical benefits and claimed my retirement fund in one big chunk. Yes, I knew that Uncle Sugar would be quite insistent on taxing it come April.

As I perused my programming texts in C and Perl I realized that my understanding had grown by orders of magnitude. Getting zapped by god's own cattle prod seemed to have had its benefits.

Each morning, just before I awoke, I dreamed that I was the judge in a court-room. The dream became more distinct as time went on. Within two weeks I believe I had the gist of it--I had a decision to make. I could either continue as I had done before, in debt-slavery to my Visa card, working day-to-day, never exceeding a nominal sense of well-being, or I could claim a treasure. There was a huge sum--a nearly unimaginable sum--over 1,800,000,000 dollars -- sitting in limbo in a forgotten government account that some now-forgotten project had abandoned along with its buildings, personnel and reason to exit. I could see the access codes plain as day. I even wrote them down.

How would it affect my health? My lifestyle? My interaction with other people? I had few acquainances and fewer friends. My relatives either despised me or ignored me. I felt like a rat in a cage within a vast array of other cages holding other rats. My self-destructive habits had taken their toll, much as a confined rat would bite itself or pull out its hair. My quality of life could go nowhere but down since my forced retirement. I decided that I'd had long enough experiece being scraping-by-poor and the alternative seemed worth living with the disadvantages. Because of the way the funds were set aside I would only pay approximately 15% in federal taxes. I resoved to move to a tax free state before claiming it.

I wanted to live among the mountains. I'd visited the Canadian Rockies as a youth and my impression of their impersonal dignity had never left me.

With a bit of judicious dart throwing I came upon Jackson, Wyoming. The town itself was too kitchy with the ski and vacation crowds, and in general had too damned many people so I delved into the possibility of buying into local ranch or ex-military properties.

I lucked into a property that had just come on the market. It was asub-surface cold-war data relay/repository site in the middle of forty acres.

After changing my residence to the state I bought and moved into a one-story house on the outskirts of town. After waiting a month to let the paperwork settle I claimed the funds. I would need them to pay off the house, fund the purchase of the building site and pay for its renovation.

It was inevitable that within a short period of time I would be found to be a 'person of interest', thus under scrutiny many people and agencies with their hands out, some more belligerent than others. I contacted a large banking institution and signed agreements to employ a money management and investment team to limit my exposure. I was to receive a seven-figure living expense check each year excluding specifically enumerated large expenses to keep me from being terminally fleeced. The accounting was to be audited by a third-party company on a yearly basis to keep my fund managers honest. There seemed to be a standard package which they maintained to prepare a newly 'disgustingly rich' party for living with the lifestyle changes involved without being battered by many problems that could have been foreseen by the initiated. I was told that I was a fool if I ever drove a vehicle again as it would put me at risk of being sued into insolvency. I was informed that it would be truly wise to hire a reputable security consultant that could plan and implement a security system in depth, contact well-known and bonded contractors to make modifications in my residence and vehicles, manage the hiring of security personnel through reputable agencies that performed deep background checks and would manage the security clearances of all staff.

I swallowed that bitter pill, understanding that my responsibilities demanded that many liberties were no longer under my direct control. I kept my head down and acted like Joe Normal. I took out my angst on the firing range. I bought a few firearms and practiced until I was proficient, then practiced some more. A certain amount of supressed anger never left me which showed in my short manner with 'enquiring minds'.

I'd had certain firearms when I was younger that fit me well and I strove to re-purchase the models that I was comfortable with. I started out with a Smith and Wesson 686 L-frame revolver in .357 with a six-inch barrel. I had tritium inserts set into the sights and the barrel tip buttoned (recessed). Uncle Mike makes a break-away shoulder holster for the thing. If you attempt to draw a pistol with a six-inch barrel or longer from a traditional sleeve-type shoulder harness your wrist will be somewhere around your ear by the time thebarrel is freed from the holster. A clip-type speed harness works much better. Next came a Marlin Cowboy 2 lever action rifle in .38/ .357 with a tube magazine. Wrapping the cocking lever in a couple layers of leather keeps the user from getting barked fingers. For a shotgun I stepped away from a break-action weapon like my old coach gun. I went for a Remington 870 express slug shotgun. I had a red-dot aiming laser added. The salesman tried to convince me that a .40 calibre Glock was the way to go for a pistol but I wasn't convinced. I guess that I'm a traditionialist at heart. I'd once fired an H&K 91 in .308 and was impressed by its firing characteristics, but with its other architecture, not so much. I settled on a F.N.-FAL semi-automatic rifle in 7.62 NATO which I could feed from replaceable magazines. A good Redfield low-light scope and a bipod fitted it out nicely. It wasn't a real long range weapon but it would give me all that I could ask of it, given my skill set. I considered purchasing a West German HK21E, a squad automatic weapon (light machine gun) in 7.62 NATO but didn't want my ass to stick up that far, even in gun-happy Wyoming. I cultivated a beard, baseball cap, jeans, boots and a camo jacket.

I found a dog at the local kennel. Fred was an un-cut male, basset-hound/husky mix that apparently got his brains from a third party because neither breed is known for being smarter than the trees they piss on. I fed him, watered him, took him outside when he wanted it and bought him a braided rug to sleep on. He seemed happy enough and I had someone to pet occasionally. He didn't bother the woman from the cleaning service that came in once a week and wouldn't crap in the house. Fred was a winner in my books. He sure was an ugly fucker though.

My telephone service consisted of a dead-simple cell phone with caller ID. If I didn't know the calling party then I refused the call. I used a middle-of-the-road roadrunner service for internet. Dish network kept me in weather channel, PBS, cooking shows and TNT black-and-white movies. When I saw a movie I liked I purchased a DVD copy from Amazon. I bought a lot of cook books that first year.

My furniture was mid-west beat-up used crap. I didn't spend a dime that I didn't have to on furnishings. Anything nice that I bought went into an environmentally-controlled storage unit under an assumed name.

That first year was hard, dammit. The biggest expenses I had were a good set of pots and pans (about 1400 bucks), a good mixer (700 bucks) and a replacement for my beat-to-death jeep with a torn rag-top. I bought a used Ford F250 supercab that had been sideswiped, wiping out all the body panels on the passenger side and damned near tearing off the rear bumper. I bought it for 12,000 and had it fixed up for a total of less than half a new truck would cost. I had it painted an muddy dark brown that offended the hell out of the guy at the paint shop. I guess he thought that he was some sort of artist. Nope, sorry. My bucks, my call. It would go most anywhere an ATV would go.

I took an elk that fall with my FAL. It performed beautifully. It took three guys to gut it, strip it and haul it out of the woods to the butcher.

I ate out a lot, learned to bake some, got a lot of massages to regain skin elasticity and bought things like books, middle-eastern carpets and little stuff. I ate a lot of braised elk, too.

Occasionally I'd take a trip out to the job site. It wasn't much to see during the winter. All I saw was piles of material under the snow and a big insulated garage. Just looking around at the mountains cooled me down. Since things weren't too far along I felt it safe to talk to the architect about my expectations. He thought the idea was kind of cool and was itching for spring to arrive. When I brought up the subject of grilling or even having a campfire in the enclosed garden area he began to hyperventilate. I just told him to scale up his HVAC. He scowled, twiddled his twiddler and set about making it happen. I showed him pictures of a kitchen, a library, a games room and a personal movie theater. He nodded and made notations. I figure that he had one hell of a staff and he just handed the procurement issues off to them to distribute the headaches.

Once spring decided to show up I packed up my weapons, a suitcase and the dog. I headed for Bellvue Washington for Insights where I spent a few months taking courses in defensive pistol, shotgun and rifle, as well as some self defense and knife skills. I may be an old fart but I figured that I owed it to myself to be a mean old fart. That fall I travelled to Pahrump Nevada to do it all over again with Front Sight, to get a different viewpoint on things. I also took a concealed carry prep course.

When I returned to Wyoming the place was nearly ready to turn over to me. Granted, to begin with it was a wasteland above and a dismal cave below with few obvious positive selling points, yet two years under the care of a talented designer (slave driver) brought wonders to light. The surface still looked like it was used for a combat tank exercise but below? It was transformed from a cavernous single-story warehouse to a multi-story gently-lit water-park/arboretum. The old diesel generators had been replaced by propane-fuelled units and the data communications were impeccable--both the 50-line underground trunks and twin satellite uplink/downlink installations had been refurbished. The roof had been removed, lifted and replaced by a high-strength dome which was high enough to accomodate a nicely diffuse light from mixed sources of illumination, featuring halide, flourescent and incandescent devices. My new home featured plantings and small waterfalls dotting the stepped walls which hid the living spaces. Trees and bushes were scattered about the floor amidst pools, streams, a japanese bath, a full-sized swimming pool and a few bathing pools with isolated water supplies and drainage so as not to kill the fish with soap residue. A running track that would accomodate a motorized cart circled the floor and connected all the entrance doors. Master access was through a card-key system that activated the two elevators--one people hauler, one furniture or hospital size. The library--well, I had always lusted after a renaissance library with displays of books, music, sculpture and paintings. Deeply figured geometric carved panels covered the walls and ceilings. Persian, Iranian and Paki rugs covered the floor in riotous profusion. Seductively comfortable chairs and couches stood here and there while atlases, folios and bound volumes sang their seductive songs. Upon first viewing the final product I felt vindicated in spending the funds that I had invested in the conversion. Fred liked the place, too. He had his own personal trees to water.

Besides the master residence, over thirty apartments had been built into the periphery of the place. There was room for gardening staff to keep the grounds maintained, housekeeping staff to keep the living quarters under control, cooks, security staff and a maintenance crew for the vehicles and general fix-up tasks. The adjoining land had yet to be purchased, but I planned to clean up the surface of the property and install a small airfield capable of handling a medium-sized twin-engine jet such as a Citation. The plans for a small town was also within the works to provide ancilliary services such as nearby medical support and fresh vegetables through a sub-surface truck garden capable of operating year-round in the conditions that the mountains were known for. Drilling for water and water treatment, as well as planning for waste and sewage disposal were problematic yet others had coped with these issues so answers had been found. I left this to the experts and focused on more personal issues.

Now that the place was mine I had to staff it.

The next morning I relaxed in the garden after breakfast and considered the many models of security employed about the world.

Foremost was the military model with constant oversight, defenses in depth, roving security, checkpoints and ID badges. Excercises were employed to test installations and systems yet overviews and design evaluations were few and far between. It was designed to be visible, draconian, demoralizing, decentralized and pyrrhic if taken to the extreme. Pretty anal retentive. If you can't defend, deny.

Next that came to mind was the data center model. Again, security badges were employed with machine-readable encoding and embedded photographs. Roving security was rarely employed and once access was established there were very few further blocks in place. Perhaps it employed four levels, front door with photo check and name check, a secure area controlled by a secure door, machine room access and finally console password. High level systems take advantage of portable devices that implement a changing challenge-password scheme. This model loses levels of control and security with a mobile target. Again, decentralization seemed key to this model.

Corporate security seemed to boil down to a light-weight version of military security with a few telling changes. Some corporate security techniques relied on obfuscation, secrecy and 'frequent' password changes with occasional or even regularly scheduled 'penetration tests' by reputable agencies. I would have this in place for my/our data irregardless of other security implementation decisions.

Next under the spotlight came the family model. Know your faces. Know your reputations. The concept of honor no longer has the impact that it did in colonial times. In the here and now intrigue and politicking have laid waste to the concept of personal integrity outside of small group dynamics. Can a a military squad exhibit this? If successful, it does. A company? One would hope so--Marine indoctrination is fierce. Above that it's highly doubtful that each and every man could or would exhibit true loyalty to every other man. Without constant outside pressure I fear that this form of security would be useless.

Caesars had the praetorian guard whose loyalty laid with the state (arguably, with the generals whose loyalties were tied to the state). It exhibited power with limited, failed or non-existent oversight--a dangerous thing.

The wealthy English victorians seemingly employed a three-level system of butler/marjordomo/housemisstress, upstairs mistress and downstairs mistress, then finally the common help. The position of downstairs mistress was at times left unimplemented, depending on the size of the household. This model seemingly had good oversight, good control through loyalty by a limited, well-compensated top-level staff, division of control into what can be argued to have been departments and accountability. This model, however, was reportedly not used for security purposes per se. Horsemen, grooms and others specifically employed for the purpose seemed to take on this function. A crooked butler or house manager could steal them blind as reviews and overviews were not mandated and probably not implemented.

The ancient (and one not-so-ancient) cultures that relied on the belief that their ruler was a high priest or living god, such as dynastic Egyptian culture and that of pre-1940's Japanese culture were impossible to implement, hence totally out of the evaluation on the basis of necessary implementation conditions.

I was tending to consider a fusion of techniques--a well-compensated team in control and full monitoring of communications to restrict the risk of a member being suborned seemed to be a creditable core, followed by defenses in depth monitored from a central location capable of dispatching heavy support. With everyone in the command and control center performing oversight the risk of a single intelligence officer poisoning the spirit and character of the group.

The hiring of a gentleman's assistant (think modern butler and Administrative Aid) felt to be a high priority, along with that of a driver/delivery man. Once a certain level of paranoia set in I realized that I should not leave the premisis without security. The weight of my responsibilities were becoming more and more intrusive. I contacted one of the security consultants that was vetted by the bank, Thomas.

The first thing he did (other than signing a non-disclosure agreement and exchange a binder for a contract) was to have me take a fairly sophisticated personality evaluation. I was told that it was to be used as a primary sieve to determine employee compatibility. He had a list of possible employment positions which we went through. The size of the place demanded that a fair-sized staff be put in place as soon as possible to prevent degredation of the landscaping or living quarters. The departments involved were groundskeeping, maintenance, kitchen, housekeeping, security, transportation and administration. We discussed my thoughts on retaining a gentleman's assistant and driver/delivery man soonest, then populating the various departments as staff became available. The reimbursement schedule we agreed upon had him stating that finding people would not be a problem, vetting them would take longer.

Before he started assigning security staff positions I brought up the concept of a command and control center with remote monitoring. He became a very happy man, suggesting that such an installation was to be one of his suggestions for a site of this scale. I had a driver, cook and pair of housekeepers within a few days. Our security even without dedicated staff was adequate in the short term as the elevator had a card-key lock and terminated in a large heated garage with a heavy door opened by an industrial door opener with encoded fobs. The property's security fence had a powered gate as well. I felt confident walking around in the sunlight despite the chill brought on by the altitude and approaching winter.

Our cook, Gerald, was a graduate of the CIA cooking school hence was competent in many techniques and had an introduction to many cuisines. We sat down together to discuss likes and dislikes, his anticipated work-load and what he'd like to see to finish out the kitchen. We agreed that he needed a helper and a butcher once we progressed towards filling our staffing model. Gerald was an accomplished bread and pastry maker as well as having a talent for terrines, stews and various dishes of Germany, Northern France, Italy and Spain. I asked him how his pizza was and he replied "get me a good oven and I'll knock your socks off." Well, I took him up on it. Later we toured various rib places, chop houses and pizza joints to get ideas. I turned him on to the Cincinnatti sandwich steamer for a moist alternative to a paninni press. The architect had already installed walk-in refrigerators and a walk-in freezer. The kitchen was professionally laid out and featured NSF (National Sanitary Foundation(?)) appliances, surfaces, sinks, shelves and fixtures. The gas appliances were fed from the propane farm that fuelled the emergency generators.

Anne and Molly were housekeepers with long experience in the hotel support field. They worked hard, partied hard and loved the 9 foot Brunswick pool table that I'd had installed in the game room. We discussed the demands the place would make on the staff using a map to figure room counts and floor space. We agreed to a staff of eight to twelve with a Hotel/Restaurant administration grad to make schedules, keep everything under control and order supplies. I nodded--it was quite sensible considering we were anticipating a security team of sixteen to twenty and all staff needed days off.

Ian was a big fellow yet had a sure touch at the wheel. He was even-tempered, even phlegmatic. Like me, he was a reader yet unlike me, truly enjoyed his sports. I double-checked to insure that he wasn't a betting man. I wanted four drivers on staff at a minimum and wished to send them all out, in rotation so as not to leave us high and dry, for advanced evasion training and to practice handling an armored vehicle. I needed to determine the radios that we'd standardize on before ordering any armored vehicles. For the mean time I ordered a Volvo xc90 and a Mercedes sprinter van for our day-to-day use. If their use proved unwise in the long term we could simply re-sell them.

I contacted Thomas about portable communications, expressing my concerns about eavesdropping. He proposed a digitally-encrypted trunked system that required a key to operate, hence the theft of a unit would make it harder to use. Serialized systems could be locked out of the net once their theft was recognized. I wholeheartedly agreed on their purchase and asked about the expected arrival of the beginnings of our security staff, and conveyed to him the staffing requirements that I'd discussed with Gerald, Anne and Molly. Our plantings would hold out with their automatic watering systems and I had the sense not to badger the man.

I contacted a distributor for a large collection of CDs, DVDs and Blu-Ray discs to complement our in-house theater.

Our first security challenge occured when our supposedly vetted and bonded security contractor 'lost' a couple of men. I had three security staff in house at that time. Each worker as well as the foreman and contractor were checked in each morning by photograph and name, and checked out each evening in the same fashion. Two men never checked out. The security team notified me and locked down the elevator. I radioed Gerald, Ian, Anne and Molly to meet at the communications room. The main power breakers were there and the door was quite secure. I had those four take up station in the comms room, lock themselves in and cut all the lighting circuits. They were armed with slide-action shotguns. Tony, Paul and Jack each had helmets, infra-red goggles, radios, level 3 bullet proof vests, shock sticks and .40 caliber automatic pistols. I had a radio, infra-red goggles and a shotgun with an aiming laser. I had goose loads in the magazine and one in the chamber. We split up to search the place. If we'd had more staff we'd have stayed in teams. If the security room was complete and staffed we'd have had some coordination. Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda. It was dark, it was quiet, it was scary. The whole place looked foreign and hostile in the dark. I resolved to get coordinates painted at each intersection visible with IR goggles or gunsites. I wanted them visible to the cameras as well so any action could be tracked and not falsified or mistaken on the recordings.

It seemed hours but it no doubt wasn't. I heard "Kitchen, converge!" over my headset. I scampered. As I approached I found one of ours down just outside the doorway. I did a quick peek and recover. The illuminated clocks and gauges barely gave enough light to see shadowy outlines. I saw the images of two people behind the center island, noses high and blindly seeking, firearms waving in the air. I checked our down guy. It was Jack. He was breathing, clutching his lower leg. He must have gotten tagged but I couldn't tell how badly while looking through the IR goggles. I patted his shoulder and pushed him down, letting him know that he was out of the combat. I squatted to remove my shoes. The rubber soles squeak. The socks, not so much. I tried to keep breathing evenly and quietly to blend into the noises of the AC. I slowly walked along the wall until I could see both men in full profile. I quickly but evenly pulled the slack out of the trigger so as not to give them time to register the laser, then fired. I pumped another shell into the chamber and hit them again. Both rounds were centered on their upper thighs. The dropped howling. After a bit the blood slowly stopped pumping out of them.

I keyed my mike and said "Lights up, please." What a fucking mess. There was blood everywhere. The kitchen floor drain was going to get a good work-out. The other two security guys came in through the other entrance. The walls were pock-marked all around the doors. The intruders had been carrying .308 pistols. The guys looked at my feet then looked at each other. "That's why he's the boss. Shit. We need to practice stealth clearance." Live and learn. I called 'stand down' over the radio to let the others know that it was safe. It was too late for the intruders but Jack needed help. We got a cart and hauled him around to the entrance. We needed a gurney and an on-site EMT. I got my shoes on and checked the garage with Tony and Paul. I phoned for a medi-vac chopper. I called Thomas, a lawyer he named and the sherrif, in that order, all within ten minutes to limit any charges of evidence tampering. I got a memo recorder out of my office and started it recording once the chopper touched down. I was right, the sherrif was on board. "Hi, Sherrif. Sorry about the hour. We had two people here under a bonded contractor that got themselves in trouble and shot one of my security team in the process. They're on the kitchen floor. They'll wait." His eyes suddenly focussed on me, then my shotgun after I said 'they'll wait'. Smart man. He watched me run my smart card through the reader to call the elevator. He smiled a bit when the door opened. "Nice place." I replied "Thanks. We're understaffed right now. The contractor was to put in a command and control room for cctv monitoring. I don't think that he's working out. Odds are he won't last a week once I put out the word that he broke contract. He's got the plans for too many secure installations."

We walked around the path to the main residence. I led the way to the kitchen. "Jesus. This was a firefight." "Nope. Only a couple of rounds came from security. Look where the bullet holes are. The lights were out and we were using infrared goggles. They shot at sounds or anything they imagined." I toed one body. "I'd like to see if they had cameras and what they recorded. If this was a setup for a burglary it should show." He looked around the place, then at me. "I don't suppose that my cell would work down here. I need a line out to get the coroner and an evidence team on the way." I handed him my radio. "Hit 888 for an outside line, then dial normally." He nodded, then took care of business. "Am I going to catch any flack over this?" He shook his head. "I can't see how. It's a dead-to-rights home invasion. I'll need your shotgun for a while to keep the D.A. happy. I'd sure like to see tapes of this though." "Sorry. The cameras aren't in yet. Maybe in a month or so. More staff, too." I cleared the shotgun and handed it to him. I guided and carded him out. Later Tony got the coroner and photographers in and out of the place. I let Thomas know that our contractor was not to be trusted. He put the word out for me. We had cold-cuts and bread for dinner.

I was pissed. I woke angry and continued with a deep, down burning anger. I deliberately called Thomas and provoked him. "Tell me again why I hired you." "I'm one of the best in the business." "Thomas, you're only as good as the people you trust and employ. You can't just vet them once and expect things not to change. Get me another contractor Thomas and please, use a critical eye. I need the place swept for rogue electronics as well. The intruders were left alone too long. We don't have enough staff to monitor a contractor and his team properly. Work on that."

Hopefully that would put a bug up his ass. I picked up Ian on the way to the elevator. We needed a pressure washer to clean up the kitchen and I wanted a couple more combat shotguns. That Remington 870 Express did the job when it had to. I was sticking with that model. At the gun dealer's place I bought three shotguns and two cases of double-ought buckshot rounds. I had the shotguns fitted for slings and laser sights. I bowed to utility and purchased a Glock 35 in .40 caliber, as well as a tactical holster much like that I had used in my combat pistol courses. I bought three boxes of ammunition and an extra magazine, then proceeded to fire off two of the boxes at the shop's pistol range. It was missing something. I had the store's gunsmith install tritium sight inserts and drew a bead across the store. That did it. I was happy with it, the store owner was happy to make the sale and anyone holding me up would be very, very unhappy. We stopped at the hardware store for a good pressure washer and a gallon of soap for it, then stopped by the sherrif's office. I confirmed that I didn't need to file any paperwork or sign anything which kept me in the good graces of the sherrif, then applied for a concealed carry permit. My having taken the multi-state concealed carry prep course greased the process a bit.

A visit to an office supply store netted us a mid-sized Canon copier/fax, three desks with good chairs, two filing cabinets, two wall cabinets for binders, a blue-print file cabinet and three desk lamps. We needed an administrative office to prepare and make orders, keep track of certifications and permits, take care of payroll and to take care of bills. I'd buy a decent computer or three on-line as well as a file server. We'd already taken over one bedroom of an apartment for the security room. If we used the apartment's living room as a ready room then the other bedroom could be used for administration. Another apartment would quickly become re-purposed as a small clinic.

I paid for a head-hunting service to find me a combat medic with an EMT certification and a clean DD-214 (military discharge paperwork). With a top-end pay scale they shouldn't mind a deep security check.

Thomas came through with five more security guys and a contractor. That took us up to seven on staff with Jack still out of operation. He'd be back on site in a couple days, once the danger of infection had passed, but he'd be on crutches for a bit. I sat down with the contractor and had a serious discussion about security, then showed him the kitchen. He looked at me, looked at my pistol, looked at the two security guards with me, then looked at their pistols. I believe he understood where I was coming from.

Our original architect had wired damned near every room for ethernet so setting up the office wasn't bad. I ordered four quad-core HP towers and a couple of HP rackmount systems with twelve-bay RAIDs. Our e-mail would be inside-only until I could buy and program a Barracuda spam filter as well as a Netscreen firewall. We had a robust database server, several quickbooks installations (to cover separate departments such as kitchen, housekeeping, payroll and general billing) and finally a Drupal installation to handle general news and file sharing. I documented my data policy and kept it pretty tight. All I wanted to pass was HTML, SHTML and POP3. If we had any gamers I'd want to open up keyholes to specific IP addresses on both sides.

Little cameras started showing up in the hallways and large rooms. Guys were painting small signs high on the walls that dried to invisibility but showed up nicely under infra-red goggles or cameras. To keep us fire code compliant crash-bar doors were installed at the tops and bottoms of the exit stairs.

By the time the control room was finished we had twelve security staff with Jack back in action. Anne and Molly were joined by Tim, Chris, Terri and Lois with Jasper taking the houskeeping and kitchen management role.

George was joined by Pete, another CIA graduate that specialized in butchery and garde-manger, and Joyce, an older lady that had a history as a San Francisco sous-chef and wanted a bit slower environment to work in, but really knew her stuff. Two of the housekeeping staff occasionally got dragooned into helping with daily kitchen cleanup and the monthly walk-in scrub where everyone in the kitchen lended a hand.

I was finally sent a gentleman's assistant, named John. He was a short fellow, about five foot two and slender, but was sharp as a razor. We spent over a week going over paperwork and plans. He endeavored to bring our group into a cohesive whole.

I offered a five thousand dollar bonus to everyone if they could pass a drug test and STD test. I got a few frowns until I explained that ganja was excluded from my expectations. We had to lose one housekeeper due to herpes. It was congenital and she couldn't do a damned thing about it. She left us with a year's salary as a separation bonus. Four more housekeepers came on board with the expectation that two of them would help out in the kitchen.

Cindy was a 6'2" amazon medic. She was tired of catching more than her ration of shit in a civilian environment and was glad to join our tribe. She was another pool player. I saw how the winds were blowing and bought two more full-sized tables and a dozen high-quality sticks. A couple of our guards had made money as bartenders so we had people that could change out a barrel and keep a tap clean. We put in a walk-in cooler in the garage for keg beer. By Thanksgiving we had a four man grounds team and three guys doing maintenance on the complex and the vehicles.

I was getting bugfuck with cabin fever. I drew a four-man security team and a driver. We bummed around Jackson for a few days then headed up to Jackson Hole to hit the Four Seasons resort. I wanted to people watch. You could tell the ski bums from the posers in a new york minute. The ski bums were the olympic hopefuls getting by on the cheap, putting more bucks into lift tickets than lodging or their meals. I'm afraid that I funded more than my fair share that trip. One young athelete took it upon herself to show me her appreciation several times. It certainly made my weekend. I called John to have plans drawn up to build a 30-bed skiiers hostel in Jacksons Hole for the atheletes. I set the entrance requirement to be twenty pushups, figuring that no poser or clothes horse would ever make it. That holiday was the best thing that had happened to me in quite a while. I wanted to make that happen again. I made plans to play Santa the week before Christmas with packs of lift tickets.

Back at the ranch, frequent massages and regular exercise had made my skin more pliable. After some high-end arthroscopic knee and ankle surgeries I began running every morning and swimming whenever the spirit took me. My belly shrank alarmingly and I had to purchase a new wardrobe.

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Ma/Fa / Romantic / Fiction /