“You don’t believe me, do you?” Phil said with frustration.
“I don’t know, Phil,” Larry doubted, “that all sounds pretty off the wall. And how do you know anyway?”
“The information is out there,” Phil emphasized, then he leaned forward across the table, “and anyone can find out if they’re willing to look beyond the establishment mass media.”
“Oh, here we go again!” Larry replied sarcastically. “We’re all just a bunch of brainwashed idiots because we don’t listen to the radicals and whack jobs on the far end of the radio dial.”
Jason sat at another table in the break room and listened to the conversation while looking at the sports page.
“Laugh all you want, but I’m telling you,” Phil lowered his voice, “this place was helped started by ex-Third Reich scientists.” He looked around the table expectantly.
“Well big, fuckin’ surprise,” Kevin finally said. “Our entire space and missile program was chock full of scientists that we whisked out of Germany at the end of the World War II. Everybody knows that.”
“That’s what I’m saying!” Phil reiterated. “Doesn’t it seem suspicious that our government hired people who used to work for the enemy?”
“But they weren’t politicians, or generals, or even soldiers,” Kevin explained. “they were scientists, and very brilliant ones, who just happened to be working for the wrong side, that’s all. So we fixed it.”
“And their knowledge and expertise was extremely valuable to us,” Larry added, “and still is.”
“Yes, I know, I saw Dr. Strangelove,” Phil said glibly. “But you have to wonder if they still have the same beliefs, or any loyalties to their old regime.”
“Hey, as long as they’re loyal to us, who cares what they believe in,” Kevin asserted. “And if we didn’t get them, the Soviets would have got them. Now imagine how that would have worked out.”
“The Soviets got the bomb anyway,” Phil pointed out.
“We got it first, and used it,” Kevin reminded. “That sent them a message.”
“It sent a message to the whole world,” Phil added. “You know, a lot of those scientists ended up at IBM. Big Blue is riddled with fascists.”
“Now you’re talking like a crackpot!” Kevin said irritably.
“Am I?” Phil argued. “Didn’t you see those visitors who came this morning? Wouldn’t you say they were a little shady?”
“So that’s what’s got you on this rant,” Larry said with a laugh.
“You think everybody in a suit is shady,” Kevin accused.
“No, not everybody,” Phil said. “But most of them are.”
“Aw, c’mon, Phil! You’re out of your mind.” everyone responded in disbelief.
“Can’t you all see what’s happening right now?” Phil went on.
“See what?” Kevin asked skeptically.
“It’s all around us.” Phil leaned in again. “You remember those two activists whose car blew up in Oakland? The ones trying to save the redwoods?”
“Yeah, I remember those tree huggers,” Larry said. “What the hell were they doing with a bomb anyway?”
“The cops and the FBI were at the scene in no time,” Phil informed, “as if they were expecting it.”
“Are you really saying that bomb was planted?” Kevin said incredulously.
“That or a hell of a coincidence,” Phil replied.
Kevin shook his head. “I just can’t believe the police or the FBI would do any of that.”
Phil laughed. “And you call me crazy?”
Jason finished his coffee and left the break room. He crossed through the warehouse to his work area, then looked up at the window of the second story office and saw it was occupied by more people than usual. The men in suits who had arrived earlier did most of the talking while the supervisors listened.
Jason watched the meeting for a moment, then looked around and saw Stan nearby writing on a clipboard. “Hey, Stan.”
Stan looked up from his clipboard.
Jason walked up to him and nodded toward the office. “Who are those guys?”
Stan glanced up at the office. “The corporate shock troops, I assume.”
“So who are they?”
“People way above our pay grade,” Stan said and went back to his clipboard.
“They do look kind of important,” Jason said as he looked up at the office again.
“Why, because they’re wearing suits?”
“I suppose,” Jason said as he was reminded of what Phil had said earlier, “plus the expensive looking cars they arrived in.”
“Yes, with tinted windows,” Stan remarked as he looked up again from his clipboard. “And then they breezed right through without even saying hi, just went straight to the head office like they own the joint.” Stan moved along and Jason followed him.
“Yeah, that did seem rude,” Jason agreed.
“You know why, right?”
“Because we’re below their pay grade?” Jason repeated.
“It’s because they don’t want to get too close to anybody,” Stan said as he took the papers from his clipboard, pulled open a drawer of a steel filing cabinet, and stuck the papers inside, “just in case they need to terminate any of us.”
Jason was taken aback. “Seriously?”
Stan slid the cabinet shut. “Don’t tell me you’re surprised.”
“Sure, I heard some rumors,” Jason said, “but I thought that was all talk. Didn’t think any of it was true.”
“Well nothing is a done deal yet, and I sure as hell don’t know what their plans are,” Stan said as he started toward another area of the warehouse, “but I wouldn’t wait too long to get your resumé together.”
Jason tried to comprehend the new information and was suddenly uncertain about his future. “So now what?” he asked as he followed Stan.
“All I know is that once Alice and I sell our house here we’ll have more than enough for a house on a big lot up in Grass Valley,” Stan said as he kept moving, “and then we’ll say goodbye to the valley.”
“So you’re moving away?” Jason asked as he walked alongside Stan. “That’s sudden.”
“Not really,” Stan said. He stopped and turned to Jason. “We’ve been planning on moving out of here for a while now. Price of living keeps going up, traffic is a nightmare, and it’s getting more crowded every year.”
“Can’t argue with that.”
“And on top all the newcomers, a lot of our old friends from the neighborhood have moved away, and our kids are grown up and out of the house. It’s becoming a city full of strangers,” Stan mourned as he shook his head. “This just isn’t the place it used to be,” he said as he began walking down an aisle of old mainframes and hardware, “and Alice and I don’t have the same attachment here anymore.”
“Yeah, I’ve seen some people move away,” Jason said as he followed Stan. “One of my friends I grew up with moved all the way to Modesto, but he still works here. He commutes two and a half hours each way every day, we never see him anymore. The affordable houses may be far away but the good paying jobs are still here. No way I could handle a commute like that.”
“Well I won’t have to worry about that,” Stan said as he stopped again. “Already got a job lined up when I get there,” he said confidentially.
“Dispatching for a freight company,” Stan revealed. “A buddy of mine from my trucking days helped set me up.” He continued down the aisle.
“Sounds like you got it all worked out,” Jason said as he followed Stan some more. “Guess it pays to have connections.”
“You can’t have too many.”
“But I don’t know if I could up and leave home just like that. My life is here.”
“Yeah, it’s home all right,” Stan said as he continued along, then came to another stop. “But have you seen the price of a house lately? A couple hundred thousand for a two bedroom hovel? Alice and I bought our first house for a tenth of that price, and it had three bedrooms and a big backyard. What are you going to do when it’s time to buy a house?”
“You mean I have to worry about that too?” Jason said with new apprehension. “I thought I had to get a new job first.”
“Well you can worry now or you can worry later when it’s too late to do anything about it,” Stan advised then continued along. He came to the doorway of a glass walled office. “Even a good job isn’t enough. Now it takes two paychecks, and who knows what the price of a house is going to be by then,” he said as he walked inside. “And I don’t know if you plan on having any kids or not, but if you do that’s going to cost you a whole lot more.”
“Well thanks for all the good news,” Jason said facetiously as he followed Stan into the office. “I sure have a lot to look forward to.”
“Hey, I’m not not trying to bring you down, I’m just giving you the lay of the land.”
“I know things here aren’t what they used to be, but this is my home. My family, my friends, everyone I know that’s important to me, are right here, and I’d seriously miss them, even if I did leave for some more affordable place out in the middle of nowhere.”
“Having an economic future is more important than you think,” Stan pointed out.
“It’d still be tough to leave home.”
“Yeah, that’s understandable, but home is where you make it,” Stan said as he stopped in the middle of his task. “You know, I used to love it here. Everybody knew everybody, plenty of open land, you could do all your shopping in downtown, did you know that? Anything you needed, from clothes to cars to furniture.”
“I know, when my mom was in high school she used to work at the old JC Penney that was in downtown.”
“Yep, I used to shop there. Downtown was just like a mall but better, before it was full of homeless, half way houses, and crazy people. You could also fish in the reservoirs, hunt down by the foothills, and you could always earn some spending money by picking fruit or working at one of the canneries or drying sheds. And did you know that tourists actually used to visit here just to see the orchards when they were in bloom? They even used to put pictures of the valley on postcards. Now look at it, my hometown has turned into an overpriced little LA, all spread out and crowded with people who don’t know how to work with their hands. Time for Alice and I to pull up stakes and go somewhere quiet.”
“You know, downtown isn’t as rundown as it used to be,” Jason said. “It actually has
some cool hangouts these days.”
“But it ain’t like it used to be, and I’m too old to hang out with yuppies and college kids.” Stan typed some keys on a computer. “Last time I was in downtown I went by the jewelry store where I bought my wife’s wedding ring, it’s now a fast food joint.”
Jason pondered Stan’s memories, and other remembrances he had heard over the years about how different the valley used to be. He then thought about the future of his hometown, and how it would affect him. “So what’s this new home in Grass Valley like?”
“Nice and spacious,” Stan said with happy anticipation, “a beautiful ranch house nestled by a lake and a forest.”
“That does sound pleasant.”
“It’s the Eden this place used to be. You know, that area over by Seven Trees used to be called Edenvale.”
“Now look at it,” Jason remarked. “But what’s there to do out there? You might go crazy with boredom.”
“I’ll be living in the great outdoors,” Stan said as he looked up from the computer, “can’t beat that. Plus there’s Lake Tahoe and Reno nearby, and lots of woods and small towns with friendly people. And we’ll only be a three hour drive from the Bay Area, so when our kids or anyone else wants to see us they can come up and visit us. I imagine we’ll get a lot of visitors during the skiing season.”
“And you can always visit when you get too bored with small town living.”
“You know, San Jose used to be a small town, or at least a lot smaller when I was growing up, and we didn’t think it was boring. We had plenty of fun.” Stan smiled from another happy memory. “Back in high school, we’d pile into our Chevies, Fords, and Dodges every Friday night and cruise Monterey Road looking for girls. Gas was only a quarter a gallon back then, those were the days,” he said nostalgically. “Now gas is over a dollar and the cruisers are all gangs.”
“Yeah, I guess I can see why you’d want to leave here,” Jason said, “but why leave the Bay Area? This is where everything is at.”
“That’s the problem. People keep pouring in, and the pressure to get ahead makes everyone neurotic. I’m too old for that rat race nonsense.” Stan pointed toward the main office. “Not to mention big brother always looking over your shoulder.”
Jason glanced up at the office. “So you were able to get that new job because of experience and connections. If I went somewhere else, I’d have to go back to square one.”
“But with less competition you can rise up the ladder faster. Jobs like what you do here come and go, and they tend to have an unknown future. You really ought to look for other opportunities while you’re still young.”
“Once Christine tried to get me to work for her uncle.”
“What does he do?”
“He’s a contractor.”
“You might want to consider that,” Stan suggested. “Never a bad idea to learn a trade. Any skill you learn can only help, and the more skills you have, the more options you have. And contracting is the kind of work that if you do it long enough you can go into business for yourself. Also, it can save you from moving if you’re looking to stay.”
“Those all sound like good ideas and I appreciate the advice,” Jason said, “but I also want to stick with school and try and get a degree.”
“Well now’s the time to decide which path you want to take,” Stan said as he returned to his work and typed some more keys. “Meanwhile, I’ll be far away from this headache.”
Jason began to leave the office, then thought again of the activity he saw in the main office. “So what do you think those guys are talking about up there?” he asked.
“You know what we do here, right?” Stan said.
“Yeah, basically we create images from pictures that are taken by satellites.”
“And what kind of pictures do you think those satellites take?”
“I know they’re used for map making.”
“Studying clouds and weather systems.”
“Anything else?” Stan asked further.
“Well I assume some pictures are of other country’s armies and navies,” Jason guessed, “what they’re doing, their movements, keeping an eye on them. Right?”
“Right,” Stan said. “The Berlin Wall is down, the Soviet Union finally has a decent leader, the Pentagon budget actually went down for the first time since Pearl Harbor, but we’re still busy as ever. Doesn’t that seem a little curious?”
“I don’t know,” Jason said. “Guess I never really thought about that.”
“Most people don’t,” Stan remarked. “All anybody really wants is a paycheck, just as long as they get it from somewhere.”
“Well I like to think of this place as more than just a paycheck,” Jason said. “It’s a good job, the atmosphere is friendly, the people are interesting, and management has been accommodating around my school schedule. Is that all going to end?”
“It will if it interferes with the bottom line, which it probably will.”
“Didn’t know we were such a burden,” Jason sulked.
“Now you’re getting it,” Stan kidded. “You know, they say there are satellites up there so accurate that they can take a photo of a Russian’s newspaper while he’s reading it in Red Square.”
“Yeah, I remember hearing that.”
“So what’s to stop them from taking a picture of you or me or one of our neighbors while we’re having a cookout in our own backyard?”
“I don’t know,” Jason doubted. “That’s sounds like the kind of paranoid thing Phil would say. Why would they want to do that to us anyway? We haven’t done anything wrong.”
“But they could if they wanted,” Stan emphasized, “and we can’t do the same to them. And I’ll bet a year’s pay that they figure out a way to survive this peace craze, probably already have.”
Uncertainty began to haunt Jason. “So now what do I do?”
“I’m not trying to get you down, all I’m saying is take off the blinders and see what’s really going on. And look out for yourself and the people around you, because you sure can’t trust them,” Stan nodded toward the upstairs office. “They’re only looking out for their themselves, and we’ve got to do the same.” He went back to his job.
“Guess I’ll get back to work.” Jason left the glass walled office and headed toward his work area. As he was walking back he looked up again at the office window. He watched the meeting, and saw that the men in suits were still doing all the talking. He wondered for a moment what was being said, then moved along.
©2017 Robert Kirkendall
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