Continued from last week …
Synopsis: After crushing almost all of a large international counterfeiting ring, Special Agent Weidemeyer is now cleaning up the details. One by one, he chases down the last few members who managed to avoid having their real names or addresses in the ring's captured computers.
Another Gets Caught
"I want a lawyer."
The speaker wore an orange prison suit and a three-day beard. He sat hunched over, arms folded, fighting the chill of a room that was intentionally kept too cold. Since his arrest, he had slept without a mattress, blanket, or pillow on the bare steel bed frame on which he now sat. Overhead, recessed behind a grill in the ceiling, the light never went out. Since his cell had no windows, a stainless steel toilet and sink were his only comforts.
Joshua Weidemeyer sat on the other side of the bars in a folding metal chair. Smiling at the request, he took an envelope out of his jacket pocket and handed it through the bars to the prisoner, who opened it to read:
Sven Olsen finished the letter and started to set it on the bed frame.
"I need it back," said Weidemeyer.
Without hesitation, Sven handed the folded paper back through the bars. Then, after a moment of silence, he asked, "What have you told my family?"
"They got letters, just like yours."
"You haven't let them go yet? They haven't done anything. Are they here?"
"Yes, though in better accommodations than you have. And, yes, we don't think they've done anything, but we need proof before we can release them."
"What about my farm? Cows need tending."
"A nice young couple is taking care of them. Your neighbors think they're your cousins from Michigan, helping while your family sits by your hospital bed. You've had a bad stroke, you know."
"What do you want from me?"
"And if I don't give them to you?"
"Until we're sure who's passing these bad bills, no one leaves here. No one. I'm sure your family would like to get back to the farm."
Sven sat in silence for a moment, head in hands, tired and cold. Then, with a short shake of his head, he gave up the passwords.
"Thank you. If your computers show your family is innocent, they'll be released."
"What about me?"
"The Constitution provides for death for counterfeiters. Article 1, Section 8." The lie came easily to his lips.
"You gonna kill me?"
"We should. But, no, we're not. You could disappear for a very long time, though."
The big man considered the statement. Weidemeyer let it sink in a bit, then asked, "Do you understand what you did?"
"I don't care," came the tired response.
Sudden anger surged through the policeman. In his mind, civilization existed only because money existed. Science, technology, art, government, industry. You name it, without stable money, it would all disappear. Instead of working on space flight or a cure for cancer, we would all have to grub in the dirt just to stay alive. By weakening that tool for his own vile personal gains, this animal, this walking piece of dog excrement, had brought us all closer to chaos. And he didn't even care. The urge to reach through the bars and strangle this monster was almost overwhelming.
But it lasted only seconds, retreating as quickly as it had come, suppressed by a cold iron will. After a second more to vanquish the last of it, he tried to speak. "You should be shot," was all he could get out.
"OK, so I'm a piece of shit," answered the big Swede. "So what?"
"So you could be here a long time," came the answer.
Followed by silence. Both men stared at each other for several seconds. Then, finally, back in full control of himself, Weidemeyer asked, "Who runs the badlands?"
"How should I know?"
"Right now, you shouldn't. But it would be in your best interests to find out."
"And how would I do that?"
"We'll walk you through it, from the comfort of your own little cell."
"And if I say no?"
"Your family gets used to this place."
Sven Olsen looked hard at his visitor. Weidemeyer stared right back, unblinking. After briefly considering his limited options, Sven said, "OK."
"Good. I'll get you a mattress and blanket for tonight."
With that, Joshua Weidemeyer stood, picked up his chair, and left.
* * *
Arnold Wilson Parker sat by a mountain stream with his teenage son, enjoying a fine summer day. Next to them, still unused, lay two fishing poles.
"Father, do you remember explaining money to me?" asked the boy.
"Sure, Junior." His son preferred not to be called Junior any more, but the habit was hard to break. Arnold would have to keep working on it. Still, the boy took his occasional lapse with good grace.
"Why are there different kinds?" Junior (make that 'Will') asked, continuing their discussion. He was a sophomore at Exeter and cutting his teeth on his first economics class.
"Of money?" his father answered.
The boy nodded.
"You mean different currencies?"
"No. That 'M' stuff," came the answer.
"Ah. Velocity. Taught you about that yet?"
"Inflation. What causes it? They tell you that?"
"Too much money chasing too few goods?"
"True. They say what 'chasing' meant?"
"No, sir. Not really."
"OK. Cabbages. Suppose you sell cabbages." As he had hoped, that got a smile from his son. "Lots of money around. But everyone saves it. Don't buy cabbages with it. How do you sell yours? When no one spends money, I mean?"
"Talking economics here, son. Not marketing."
"Lower the price?"
"Right. See that? People have money, but cabbage prices still go down. Is that inflation? When prices drop?"
"Right. What's it called?"
"Good. Now imagine everyone gets extra money. Doubles what they have. But they save it all. Don't buy more cabbages. Would the price change?"
"If they don't spend more?"
"No. I guess not."
"Price stay the same?"
"Good. Money doubled but prices didn't change. See that?"
The boy nodded.
"If no one spends anything, it doesn't make prices go up."
"Right. Willingness to spend is called 'velocity.' For inflation to happen, there has to be both. Money and velocity*."
"So why are there different kinds of money?"
"Different velocities. Cash in someone's pocket gets spent faster than in a six-month CD. So their velocities are different. Money supply's a mix, not just a single number. M0, M1, M2**are all attempts to describe that mix."
"And the Fed controls them all?"
"Probably not. Not easily, anyway. Interest rates let them do it for short-term money. But not bonds. Control's a lot harder there."
"But they do control it?"
"With difficulty. Great difficulty."
"They lie, Will." Good, got his name right. "If they want people to spend money faster, they make everyone think inflation's just around the corner. Want it socked away? Make everyone think deflation's about to hit. It's a game. A confidence game."
"Like a con game?"
"Sort of. Make people confident their money will be worth more tomorrow and they'll save it. Convince them it'll be worth less and they'll spend it. Control confidence and you control velocity."
"And the Fed lies to do this?"
"Misleads. Misleads is a better word."
"They don't lie?"
"Sometimes. When they have to. But deception is better. Honest deception."
"They trick people?"
"It's the only way, son. The only way."
* * *
The young woman, who would someday be known as Dancing Fawn, let herself into her dark apartment. It was past midnight, so she moved like a mouse to avoid disturbing her husband.
She need not have bothered. He was already awake, dressed to go, sitting on their mattress with his back against the wall. In his lap, laying on his chest, slept the two girls, one small head on each shoulder.
After she closed the front door, she watched them in the darkness. He knew she was there, of course, but didn't look up. Instead, his face moved back and forth, first to one fuzzy scalp, then to the other, breathing in their scent. He loved their sleep smell, the warmth that filled his nostrils when he nuzzled their small ears.
Not wanting to disturb them by turning on the light, the young woman slowly picked her way through the darkness for a fresh towel. Going to the bathroom, she stopped by the door to look at them once more. This time, he looked back, lifting his eyes but not his face, which still touched the twins.
How could he leave them like this? she asked herself for the thousandth time as she closed the bathroom door. There was so little time left now.
Quickly, trying to keep her world under control, she stripped off her McDonald's uniform and turned on the shower. If she didn't wash the fryer smell out of her hair right away, it would follow her, like a miasma in a bad dream, for the rest of the night.
The hot water felt good, a pleasant distraction. She needed that right now, needed anything that helped her fight back the tears. She had promised not to cry.
Coming out of the bathroom, wrapped in a towel, her light hair fell loose and wet against her neck. He had moved, now sitting at the far end of the sofa where the springs were still good, his bare feet supported by a corner of the mattress. He had put the twins down and they now slept next to him in a plastic laundry basket.
Stepping over the mattress, she sat down next to him, leaning against his side without looking into his face. The towel printed a damp spot on his shirt while her wet hair soaked his collar.
They sat like that, silently, for several minutes. And she did all right. Until he kissed her forehead. Then, softly, she began to cry.
"Hey, what's this?" he asked.
"Please. Please don't do this."
"Do we have a choice?"
"I can't take care of them without you."
"We have a sitter, remember?"
"It's not that," she answered without elaboration. Try as she might, she couldn't explain. It wasn't anything specific. It was everything. The overwhelming everything. Leaving her to deal with it all. By herself. Alone. They had been over it many times. There was no longer any need to enunciate the words. They had agreed he would leave this night after she came home, but now it seemed so wrong.
"What about your girls?" she asked.
The ultimate weapon. They need you. Don't leave your girls. Not 'our girls,' but 'your girls.' What he once viewed as a burden, forcing them to marry, was now the great joy of his life. Yes, they were his girls.
"They have to eat."
The telling argument. He had not worked for over a year. Construction in Cleveland had stopped. Try as he might, he found nothing else to take its place. Unemployment ran out long ago. What she earned wasn't enough.
Then this job came up. The Prometheus project, out west some place. Contract work, expenses included. Also twelve-hour days, bad food, and nights spent bunking in small plastic trailers. But the pay was good. It would arrive automatically in her account. And every three months, a flight back home to see his girls. And his wife.
Time passed slowly for the condemned awaiting execution. Small talk helped, but still his departure trod heavily on her thoughts.
"We need to go," he said, finally, breaking their last quiet moment. His flight was less than three hours away. She had to drive him to the airport.
Reluctantly, like a child getting ready for a doctor's visit, she got up to dress.
* * *
"Congratulations, Joshua. How'd you find him?" Weidemeyer's boss asked.
"He sent a doorbell request from his home. Didn't try to hide it with a proxy. NSA was watching the Mitsubishi server, traced it back and put a watch on all his traffic. We knew he was passing when he got a VPN from outside the country."
"You have something hard on him?"
"Had the post office watch his mail. Got a pack of bad bills."
"Anyone outside know you got him?"
"Don't think so. Grabbed the whole family on an empty stretch of road. We had a jammer going, so they couldn't have gotten any calls out."
"Rest of the family still in custody?"
Weidemeyer shook his head. "Couldn't keep them any longer without causing questions from the neighbors."
"Think they'll tip anyone off?"
"They know Sven doesn't get out unless we catch more bad guys, so I think they'll cooperate. Besides, their 'cousins' are staying there to keep an eye on things."
"Think you can turn him?"
"Easy. He's no hero, just in it for what he can get."
"Like the rest."
"You been leaning on him hard?"
Weidemeyer gave a snort of disgust as he shook his head. "A few cold nights on bare bed springs. Badlanders aren't hard-core. No higher virtues. Nothing matters beyond their own petty existence."
"How long before he decides to help us?"
"Already has. He just doesn't know it yet."
After a pause to reflect on the matter, the older man asked, "Why do you think he did it? Solid citizen, lived on the same farm all his life. Family business, four generations. Why'd he risk it all?"
"Wasn't risking much, he was about to lose it all to foreclosure."
"Why not a loan?"
"He tried, but couldn't get anyone to approve one. They didn't turn him down, just kept asking for more information. No answer means no money, so he had to act."
"How was he paying for the bogus?"
"Used some of each delivery to buy coins in Madison, Milwaukee, and Chicago. Sent them back by mail."
"Any luck finding out who received them?"
"We're still working on that."
*See the Appendix for a detailed glossary.
**See Appendix 9 for a continuation of this discussion. See other appendices for a listing of characters.
Thieves Emporium is available from Amazon in both paperback and Kindle and in epub format from Smashwords or Nook. Max Hernandez welcomes comments and feedback and can be reached at MaxHernandez@protonmail.ch.
© 2012-2015 Max Hernandez. Reprinted with permission.