After the fall book 2 ca.., p.1
After the Fall (Book 2): Catherine's Tale (Part 1), page 1
After the Fall
Catherine’s Tale, Part 1
Copyright © 2016 David E. Nees
All rights reserved
This book may not be reproduced in whole or in part, by electronic, mechanical or any other means, without the express permission of the author.
After the Fall: Catherine’s Tale; Part 1 is a work of fiction and should be construed as nothing but. All characters, locales, and incidents portrayed in the novel are products of the author’s imagination or have been used fictitiously. Any resemblance to any person, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Please visit my website at www.davidnees.com
As always, without your constant support and encouragement,
these books would never happen.
A very special “thank you” goes to my editor, Alex Russell. He is a master at his craft and taught me so much about the nuances of writing a good story. I’m a better writer for his extraordinary work on the manuscript. I highly recommend him to any author, beginner or experienced. My thanks also go to Lynnette Nees who designs my great covers along with the rest of my family for putting up with my endless soliloquies about the story. And thank you, Ed for your steady encouragement and insightful beta reads.
Writing is a solitary endeavor and the encouragement of family and friends is vital (for me, at least) to maintain a healthy balance in life.
Table of Contents
AFTER THE FALL
After the Fall
Catherine’s Tale, Part 1
“Shall I tell you what the real evil is? To cringe to the things that are called evils, to surrender to them our freedom, in defiance of which we ought to face any suffering.”
—Seneca, Roman stoic philosopher, 4 BC - 65 AD
“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
—Edmond Burke, Irish statesman and Member of Parliament, 1729 - 1797
The man made his way hurriedly through the shadowy streets. There were no lights to relieve the darkness; the soft glow of oil lamps illuminated only a few windows. The crescent moon and stars gave little light. Even so, he worked to keep to the shadows as he hurried along. The town was quiet, as it was most nights. He could hear an occasional pedestrian hurrying along. The man moved close to the buildings seeking more darkness when he heard footsteps. He didn’t want to be seen; no one did. It was after curfew and, if caught out, he would be arrested, with an uncertain fate in store for him. Others had been so detained and had reported aggressive interrogation, often accompanied by beatings with fists and clubs.
The questions were always the same: “What are you doing out? Where are you coming from? Who did you meet with?” The authorities had suspicions that there was a subversive element in Hillsboro. A group of people who, although law-abiding, did not approve of the dictatorial power of those in charge, who objected to the restrictive rules and were getting themselves organized.
Hillsboro, like the rest of the country, was still suffering from the after-effects of the electromagnetic pulse attack. It had destroyed electrical power, communications, and transportation throughout the U.S., leaving the country in a state of anarchy. The possibility of any rapid restoration was near zero. Many people had died that first year, mostly the old and sick. More waves of deaths had followed as antibiotics had run out in communities and sickness had spread from lack of clean water and proper sanitation. Now, two years later, stability had still not been restored, and Hillsboro had not returned to normal. The town was not completely under control. In spite of the best efforts of the civil authorities and their militia to impose martial law, there were still small numbers of outlaws operating within the city. They snuck in from outside or were residents who did not want to conform to the strict martial law imposed.
There had been a massive exodus from the large cities as disease and starvation reigned. Many smaller towns, like Hillsboro, had tried to resist the influx of refugees. Those that couldn’t had soon been overwhelmed, and the anarchy that engulfed the big cities erupted, making life nearly intolerable. Towns that had been fortunate enough to be able to build some barriers and resist the flow of people looking for any help they could find had avoided such a fate.
There were tense and often ugly standoffs between those lucky to be inside of a defended town and those outside. The refugees were all desperate. Some were heartbreaking: families with starving children, struggling to find scraps to eat and shelter from the weather. Some had become outlaws, desperados embracing violence or driven to it in order to gather the resources needed to survive. No relief agencies were coming to the rescue. FEMA was not functioning. There was no group that would arrive to bring some level of order and distribute food and shelter. People were on their own. They would get no help from the federal government. And, having grown up in modern society, they were not prepared to survive without its structures of support.
Hillsboro had walled itself in. During the first year, the city’s government had directed citizens to work on dismantling houses and buildings in a perimeter around the central core of the city. Kids had been put to work extracting and saving the nails, scavenging the wiring from the buildings, and collecting anything that could be useful. The main rubble had then been used to construct a wall of sorts. It rose in a jagged fashion, six to ten feet high. It was primitive, ugly and porous, reminiscent of the barricades of the French Revolution. A cleared space grew outside of the walls, marked with concrete slabs that had been foundations and open basements now flooded with stagnant water.
The man sensed he was being followed. He quickened his pace. He was taking a circuitous route to his assigned apartment. If he was not certain that he was alone, he would not return home but would instead keep moving on the streets, even if he had to walk all night, in order to protect his family. He was endangering them, but he rationalized his nocturnal behavior by telling himself that he was working to create a better social order for his family. If someone were caught and was thought to be doing anything subversive, not only did they disappear, but their family might vanish as well. The disappearances did not have to be publicized. Everyone who interacted with a targeted family would know its fate. The word always got out. Don’t stand out; don’t oppose the existing rules and authorities.
A sense of panic began to grow, creating a tight knot in his stomach. His body tingled with fear, the hair on his neck bristled. He began to run. When he had gone a half block, he stopped abruptly. Did he hear footsteps suddenly stopping? Or was his mind playing tricks on him? Summoning his courage, he spun around. There were only shadows behind him. Nothing moved. He turned back, taking a deep breath and started walking again. He decided the clandestine meetings were beginning to unnerve him.
After turning a corner t
Joe Stansky waited for the two men in his new office suite. His days of operating out of the back of his strip club were a thing of the past. He had taken over the bank building in the first year after the attack. He housed his gang on the same downtown block, along with much of the resources he had gathered.
Joe stood about five feet, ten inches tall and had a thick, powerful body. The good life had put extra pounds on him but they didn’t hide his strength. He was still an imposing figure. He had eyes that looked out from under heavy lids; piercing and penetrating. They were eyes that stared hard at you, measuring and evaluating. They sharpened what was otherwise a puffy, big boned face. A life of crime and graft had honed his perceptions well and he could quickly spot phonies. He had a ruthless desire to succeed aided by a willingness to do whatever was necessary to accomplish his goals. As the top gangster in Hillsboro, he was not a man to be trifled with.
Joe had not understood what the electromagnetic pulse was when it occurred. But he was not stupid and he was used to functioning in chaotic environments. After the EMP attack, Joe’s first action had been to contact people he knew and find out what the hell had happened, and then he had sat down to figure out his next moves. Joe did not have a victim’s mentality. He would work this event to his advantage, and would spend no time lamenting the change. This was a chance to redefine himself. If society was going to be altered, Joe decided he would alter his status in the new order. He would run the town. Action was needed.
Tonight he was angry. The town was still not fully under control in spite of his efforts. Refugees presented a constant unwelcome pressure, along with the danger of the outlaws among them who infiltrated and stole weapons and food. They were desperate. Joe didn’t like dealing with desperate people; they were unpredictable. Now he faced a different problem, one he didn’t need…and wouldn’t tolerate.
Frank Mason arrived first. He was the political leader of the town, head of the Safety Committee and de facto mayor. It was night, but the entrance was lit by a single floodlight. Precious fuel was used to keep the entrance lit, allowing Joe’s armed guards to carefully check anyone entering the building. No weapons were allowed except for the ones Joe’s guards carried. After being frisked, Frank made his way up four flights of stairs into a private suite. The room was dimly lit by oil lamps that still struck Frank as starkly out of place in such a modern office. There was not enough electricity to light the offices of even someone as important as Joe. The rich aroma of a Diamond Crown cigar permeated the air. Joe sat behind an imposing desk and motioned for Frank to take a chair on the other side.
“What’s up, Joe?” Frank asked as he sat down.
“Something to drink?” Joe responded.
“If you’re pouring some good stuff, not the crap they’re making here.”
Joe got up and went to the cabinet on the side wall, took out a bottle of Maker’s Mark, and poured Frank a couple of fingers. “No ice, but it’s supposed to be better this way.” Ironically, ice was only available in the winter months. He handed the glass to Frank. “Let’s wait for Charlie.”
Just then Charlie came through the door. “Sorry I’m late, the car I’m using…had trouble getting it running. These old cars work but they’re a pain to keep running sometimes…bad gas, I think.”
Charlie Cook, the chief of police, was the other public face of leadership and authority in Hillsboro. He was older than Frank and Joe. He had white hair and a soft, friendly face that gave him a grandfatherly look. The look seemed to work in Frank’s estimation. He was once a tough cop, but now had grown relaxed and easygoing; taking on more the role of a PR person than a serious law enforcement officer.
“You want a drink?” Joe asked.
“Yeah, thanks,” Charlie replied. He inhaled the aroma from Joe’s cigar, grimaced and took out one of his precious cigarettes. Joe motioned for him to sit next to Frank.
After some silence as the men savored the bourbon, Frank asked again, “So what’s up? Why the meeting?”
Joe leaned back in his chair and looked hard at the two men. “I allowed you two to run things here in town. But you let me down—”
“What do you mean?” Charlie asked.
“Don’t interrupt me. I’m not happy with what’s going on. You understand what that means?” Joe leaned forward, giving both men a long, dangerous look.
“What’s the problem?” Frank asked. “The city isn’t completely under control, but we’re better off than most of the others. These are hard times. You know that.”
“I know I don’t like what I see developing.”
“What are you talking about?” Frank asked.
“Two nights ago my men picked up someone for a curfew violation—”
“I didn’t see anyone brought into the jail,” Charlie said.
“I told you, don’t interrupt me.” Joe locked his gaze on Charlie and stared at him until Charlie finally lowered his eyes. “The guy was an engineer. He told an interesting tale about a group of people, some of the technical people, who are not happy with things in Hillsboro.”
“A lot of people aren’t happy with things. It changes day to day,” Frank said. “But you’re not suggesting there’s anything more going on, are you?”
“Something more than just small groups causing trouble is going on and I’m not gonna let it become a revolt,” Joe said.
“You said he was an engineer. What’s happened to him?” Charlie asked.
“That’s not a question you want to ask, Charlie,” Joe said, again staring the hapless chief of police down.
He jammed his cigar out in the ashtray and stood up. “I let you two pretend to run the town. I collected the resources. I stole the goods from the other towns. I made sure everyone was fed. And both of you enjoyed the benefits.” He began to pace back and forth. “And now you don’t even know something is going on behind our backs.” He stopped and leaned over the desk. He stared at the two men. “What the hell good are you?”
Frank swallowed hard. “Charlie and I present the face of civic authority to the public. You operate in the background, that’s how we work it. The people are taken care of and everyone’s happy.”
Frank had been a politician since well before the attack. He was a natural. He was adroit at maneuvering with power brokers and finding the winning side on any issue. He had consolidated his power after the attack by working with Joe and Charlie, and now he was the single public persona of power and authority in Hillsboro.
Joe turned on him, his voice low and threatening. “Then why is there a revolt being planned? One neither of you dumb fucks know about?”
Frank didn’t answer. Charlie had nothing to say. It seemed best to wait out Joe’s anger.
“I provide what this city needs—uses. I’m the one.” Joe thumped his chest. “Do I get any thanks? No, I get some smart-ass technicians plotting to replace me.” He was shouting now. “Me. I’m the reason they’re fed, I’m the reason no gangs have overrun the town. Now they’re objecting to me running things? I’ll show ‘em what happens if they step out of line—they disappear. I’m not putting up with it.” He sat down and, for the moment, seemed to Frank to be over his rant.
Frank tentatively ventured back to the subject. “Will letting them know the local gangster is the real power in our town help? No insult intended.”
Joe gave him a nasty look but didn’t say a
Joe raised an eyebrow. “You think things are gonna return to normal any time soon?” Frank didn’t respond. “And if everyone’s so happy, again, why the fuck am I uncovering a revolt? I’m not going to let this go on. You know what happens to disloyal people? They get whacked.” He looked from Frank to Charlie. “Don’t forget it.
“It’s time to take the gloves off,” he continued. “I’m going to root out this revolt and bury it. If anyone gets out of line, they get taken down. Everyone’s got to know who’s boss and who’s in charge…and that ain’t you two.”
“So what do you want to do? You want to be mayor? I don’t think that’s a good idea,” Frank said.
“Worried about your role? Maybe about your cut? Or do you just want to protect your title? We got people thinking they can change things. They get comfortable and start thinking they know better how to run things.” He thumped his chest again. “I run things in this town.”
“Joe, don’t go overboard,” Charlie pleaded. “Let me dig into this and find out how deep it goes. I can talk with people; find out more of what’s happening. We don’t need to get everyone all riled up.”
“You won’t get to the bottom of it. You didn’t even know this was going on, and you still wouldn’t have if your men had picked up this guy. He’d give you some bullshit excuse for being out and you’d slap his wrist, maybe make him dig a few shitholes and send him home, and I’d still be in the dark. I’m keeping everyone safe and fed and this is what happens? I’ll make them sorry they ever thought to cross me.”
by David E. Nees have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes