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ISBN-10: 1-89484-148-4
Genre: Suspense/Thriller
eBook Length: 214 Pages
Published: May 2002

From inside the flap

Zane Smith gives us a United States after the attacks on The World Trade Center. In this alternate reality, the US swings to an ultra right-wing position in which personal freedoms have been suspended. Interwoven with newspaper excerpts to portray the growing political and social atmosphere, Zane Smith places his characters in a time and place that could frighteningly become reality.

Anglomerika (Excerpt)

Republican Party Splits in Two
The New American Party Formed

Washington, January 15

In a highly anticipated move, the Republican Party officially split into two separate and distinct political parties last week. The more popular conservative wing became the New American Party while moderates remained behind as Republicans.

According to political observers, the move reflects a growing shift to the right in American society. Max Swale, senior analyst of the politically conservative Smithings Institute and author of the popular book Why America Is Failing, said, ?Given the countryís mini-depression, increasing crime rate, and breakdown in family values, itís no wonder ordinary citizens are searching for change. In my opinion, the conservative principles espoused by the New American Party will receive wide support among ordinary Americans and lead to sweeping cultural reforms.?

Stanley Gettlesman, CNBCís conservative anchor for the talk show, Political Prattle, said, ?The World Trade Center and Pentagon attack by Muslim terrorists that killed 3000 people was, in my opinion, the straw that broke the camelís back of liberalism in this country. That single cataclysmic event did more to convert liberals to the conservative viewpoint than a decade full of talk show babble.?

As it now stands, the Congress will be divided into essentially three voting blocks with one additional Representative, voting as an Independent. In the Senate, the New American Party will have 51 seats, Democrats 30, Republicans 18, and Independents 1. In the House of Representatives, the New American Party will have 191 seats, Democrats 180, and Republicans 63.

Between the votes controlled by the New American and Republican parties, both houses of Congress will lean to the right of the political spectrum. In practical terms, that means more freedom to purchase guns, a more vigorous attempt to ban abortion, severe restrictions against violence and sex in books, magazines, TV, music, and feature films, unlimited campaign contributions, more faith-based initiatives, and stricter criminal enforcement.

?No longer will we have to bow to the Left to get meaningful bills passed,? Senator Arthur Walker, New American Party, Texas, told reporters on the Capitol steps. ?The formation of our new party will strengthen the very ideals and goals of the framers of the Constitution, and assure a return to sanity in issues important to the American people. With the support of our Republican colleagues we hope to provide our constituents with legislation pertinent to their lives.?

Senator Walker is the leading New American Party candidate for the presidency. His strong leadership of the conservative wing of the Republican Party over the past fifteen years has guaranteed him a lock on the nomination now that the ultraconservatives have their own party and agenda.

Senator Robert McMann, Republican, New Mexico, said, ?I view the departure of the far right wing from the Republican Party as a positive step. It will allow a more moderate Republican Party platform in the forthcoming presidential election, and hopefully allow us to field candidates more acceptable to mainstream America.?

Not everybody is pleased with the split. According to sources wishing to remain anonymous, some liberal members of Congress view the formation of an ultraconservative party as a danger to the publicís freedoms. As one unidentified member of Congress was heard to say, ?This is the first step leading to fascism in America. I compare the advent of Arthur Walker and his New American Party to the rise of Adolph Hitler and his gang of thugs in the 1930s.?


April, a Year in the Not-Too-Distant Future

I knew immediately that something was wrong. It was really out of character for Freddie to ask his secretary, Malvina, to phone and set up a meeting. Way out of character. In the nine years I had worked for him as a corporate purchasing agent, he had never, repeat never, used Malvina to schedule meetings with his direct reports. He much preferred to drop by our offices and tell us in person, all three of us: Donna, Charley, and me.

"Come on up to my digs at 2:30 p.m.," he'd say. "We'll have a cup of coffee, talk about the Frazier account." That kind of thing. Or, if he was in a rush, he'd telephone himself.

But he never filtered his messages through Malvina. Claimed personal contact was the more democratic way to do things. And Freddie was always mindful of how he treated people. He used a stream of platitudes to instruct Donna, Charley, and me, all of them kind of corny and shopworn but invariably true. Regarding the democratic way to do things, he liked to say, "You never know if the little guy you stepped on while you?re busy clawing your way up the ladder will find some way to strip the rungs and keep you from reaching the top. There's a lesson in that, my friends. Be just as nice to the lady who cleans your desks every night as you are to me." With that he'd tilt back in his soft leather executive chair and chuckle, the muted light from the Stiffel floor lamp behind his left shoulder bouncing off his wrinkled bald dome. The rest of us, clustered around his desk, would sort of smile and laugh in a subdued manner. Then, as if on key, one of us would invariably say, "Who you kidding? You treat us like dog shit." That would break everybody up of course, including Freddie, and we'd all erupt in guffaws of laughter.

A lot of that humor had been missing the last few months in the tense atmosphere of takeover rumors. In January, the Wall Street Journal reported that Starkley International, our chief competitor and industry leader in the field of sporting goods, had initiated talks to buy our company, Bolden Industries. A terrifying notion for middle managers like myself, the most vulnerable of all company employees in a takeover. Thatís because in a merger the acquiring company decides what functions stay and what functions go. To put it in plain words: Many Bolden employees soon would be out on the street, out of work, and shit out of luck, while Starkley International employees would remain eating high off the hog.

To aggravate matters, this was the worst possible time to be job hunting. The country's unemployment rate had steadily increased the past several years under the harsh national leadership of the archconservative New American Party, and now stood nationally at 19.4%, its highest level since the Great Depression of the thirties. Americans fought with Mexican workers for low-paying jobs at WalMart and Burger King. That kind of bad.

Not that the streets were crowded with newly arrived immigrants. Not anymore. Other than white Europeans, the influx of foreigners, particularly those with brown or yellow skins, had dried up. The National Guard policed the border between The U.S and Mexico and shot on sight anybody crossing illegally. A brutal but effective way to choke-off what once was a free-flowing immigration stream from the south.

Same thing in Miami. Cubans or Haitians finding their way to our shores were no longer granted political asylum. Instead they were escorted back to sea by the U.S. Coast Guard in the rafts and small motorboats they arrived in, and set adrift. Many perished on the trips back or were incarcerated immediately upon returning to home shores.

Middle Easterners and others from countries with odd-sounding names? Forget it. The New American Party managed to push a bill through Congress that cut off immigration from the Third-World, which effectively ended the influx of refugees from Arab, Indian, African, and Central Asian countries. The day this legislation was passed, the party leadership stood in the wells of Congress and railed against bands of terrorists from such countries as Iraq, India, Afghanistan, and Syria. Not to mention the hordes of immigrants from desperately poor countries like Haiti, who once landing in America, immediately applied for welfare. "No more ragheads, no more deadheads" became the frenzied war cry of an isolationist Congress.

Anyway, I was understandably fidgety that Friday afternoon at 4:00 p.m. when I rode the elevator to the twelfth floor of the Bolden Industries building. On the ride up I listened to soft, bland music designed to maintain one's calm while on the way to a beheading. It didn't work. My stomach was as twisted as a snake coiled for attack.

I walked into Freddie's outer office and was surprised to see Donna and Charley, pacing the anteroom in front of Malvina's desk. When I asked them what was up, they shrugged their shoulders. Charley looked at me with anger in his eyes, while Donna just appeared frightened. She was a forty-five-year-old single mother with two teenagers to support, a big mortgage on her Buckhead condo, and a jerk-off boyfriend who was out of work most of the time and sponging off her.

"Hey," I said with a fake smile plastered across my face, "it can't be that bad. Right, Malvina? Your good buddy Sam O?Hara says so."

"Yeah, right, Sam," she answered, but studiously avoided my eyes. Not a good sign. Malvina had started working for Freddie shortly after I did, and I knew her well enough to interpret her signals. She leaned over her desk and frowned at a report she was making pencil notes on, behaving as if Charley, Donna, and I weren't in the room. Normally, she'd banter back and forth with us. The lady was like her boss that way. She enjoyed teasing us and could handle it when we teased her right back. Yeah, one great big happy family.

Not today. With the strained look on her face, Malvina showed all of her fifty-five years, every damn one of them, as if each weighed a ton and was grinding her into the carpeted floor of the office.

The intercom on her desk buzzed and startled us. Charley and Donna whirled around and my head snapped up. We were all on edge.

Malvina flipped the switch. "Yes sir?"

"They out there?" I heard Freddie's disembodied voice float through the speaker. It sounded dispirited, gloomy.

"Yes sir."

"Send 'em in."

Malvina flipped the switch and nodded at us. We opened the door to Freddie's office and marched inside single file, like mourners at a funeral procession.

"Sit down," he said, waving us to seats obviously prearranged in front of his desk.

Freddie Walsh, behind his oversize desk, looked like a puppy trapped in a lion's cage. He was in his middle fifties, stood 5'4" and weighed, as he liked to tell us, "as much as a bantam rooster soaked in bourbon." The desk and chair just about swallowed him. When he was in a joking mood, which was most of the time, he'd often stand side by side with me, my 6'3" frame towering over his 5'4", making him look dwarf-like by comparison. He'd tug my sleeve and say in a falsetto voice, "Take me to the movies, Daddy." A real kidder and a mighty fine boss. The sweetest guy I had worked for in my entire career, all thirty-two years of it, including four years in the Marine Corps. Donna, Charley and I loved him.

Not that everybody in the company agreed with us about Freddie. Some of the new gang of top executives laughed behind his back, the big joke being that he wasn't the brightest bulb in the marquee. They speculated how the former executive team had put up with a guy who ?looked like a cue ball.? Well, screw them. I'd take Freddie anytime, particularly compared to some of those newly-recruited yuppie cutthroats I'd seen populating Bolden's executive suite. Their nasty criticisms obscured the fact that Freddie was street smart and wise to the ways of corporate politics. Otherwise he never could have survived thirty years with Bolden and made it to the top of his profession at corporate.

Now he was leaning back in his executive chair, his head sunk on his chest, hands gripping the arm rests so hard the leather creaked. Not the tiniest hint of a smile cracking his features. He looked less like my old friend and the corporate purchasing director for Bolden Industries than a despairing papa about to tell his adoring children their mother had died in a plane crash.

He really cared for us, Donna and Charley and me. Unlike most bosses who didn't give a hot damn about their subordinates but try to hide it behind phony smiles and pats on the back, Freddie genuinely wanted us to succeed and have happy lives. For example, on one occasion he loaned Donna $5,000 so she could make the down payment on her new Buick. In another instance, Freddie made sure I received full pay for the six weeks I missed from work, that God-awful time when Cindy and Keith were killed, when I tried to drown myself in a truckload of bourbon. He stood by me through that terrible period, a boss and a friend who cared.

Donna, Charley and I were a family to Freddie, for many years his only family. Freddie didn't have children and had been a widower for twelve years. His entire existence was work, work, work. Fifteen hours a day, six days a week, leaving Sunday for tending to his ailing mother in a nursing home high in the North Georgia Mountains.

Freddieís only departure from routine was his occasional attendance at Christian Conservative meetings. When it came to politics, he was typically Southern Baptist. Which means leaning right, far right, on moral and values issues. Not that he let it interfere with his job. And to his credit, he never once tried to impose his highly conservative viewpoints on any of us.

Freddie sighed and glanced at each of us in turn. His eyes radiated sorrow, compassion. "I'm afraid I'm the bearer of bad news."

Crushing words. At that moment it hit home with a numbing finality. I was being canned. I clasped my hands together and leaned forward in my chair, in silent prayer. The last time I had kneeled before the good Lord and asked him for anything was after the worst catastrophe of my life. Six years ago and still as bone-chilling fresh in my mind as if it happened yesterday. When my grandson Keith and his mother Cindy , my daughter, were killed, after her Ford SUV spun-off a tire and crashed on I-85 just north of downtown Atlanta.

"What's up, boss?" Charley asked in his usual booming bass voice. Acting as if he didn't know. Of the three of us, Charley was in the best position to weather a storm. He was single and lived frugally in an apartment complex south of Atlanta, close to Hartsfield Airport, since he traveled about seven months out of the year. Donna, Charley, and I flew regularly, qualifying vendors or discussing contracts or problems with them at their manufacturing plants and offices. We also made periodic visits to Bolden's fifteen plants scattered across the USA, Canada and Mexico, to help plant managers implement corporate purchasing policies. Except for the inordinate amount of travel, a good life, without the pressures that plant employees confront daily, and with all the hefty corporate benefits.

Until now.

"I don't have to tell you about the rumors," Freddie said. "You've all heard them. About Starkley International taking over our company. . . . Well, it's true." He leaned forward and clasped his hands. His face went through a dozen contortions. "You're all going to be laid-off."

Despite knowing this was coming, I gasped. So did Donna. Charley sat there, stone-faced, his jaw muscles rippling. It was one thing to know the ax would soon fall. It was another thing to feel it slice through the back of your neck.

"How much time do we have left?" Donna asked in an unsteady voice.

Freddie put his elbows on the desk and rested his face in his hands.

"That bad, uh?" Charley said.

Freddie nodded. "That bad."

"C,mon, Freddie," I said. "When?" My hands felt cold and damp.

"Effective immediately," he replied, and jumped up from his chair. "God, how I hate doing this."

It was a calculated move to ease our moment of pain. Freddie, ever the considerate manager, was trying to divert attention from our own problems and focus on his outburst. I remembered him telling me once that even the most shocking news subsides to dry, objective facts over time. So, if you're getting bad news, do or think of something else, until the emotion has drained from the problem. Then return to it, but only then. Good advice.

Advice I couldn't follow right now, no matter how much I tried. Not many companies were going to hire a forty-nine year old has-been, particularly one without a college degree. I felt as if the entire corporate building had collapsed, brick by brick, on my head.

"Oh, my God," Donna said and started weeping silently. Tears rolled down her cheeks in tiny parallel streams.

"How about severance?" Charley asked.

Freddie Adam's apple bobbed up and down. "You and Donna get two months. Sam, cause he's been here longer, gets three months."

"Jesus, that's all?" I said.

"Sorry," Freddie muttered.

"But I been here nine years," I said. "Three months is . . . hell, nothing." I spread my hands, pleading for Freddie's support.

He didn?t answer. Probably couldn?t.

"Insurance?" Charley asked through gritted teeth.

"One month for each of you, then you're on your own."

"That sucks," Charley spat out.

Freddie cringed. "Look, I went to bat for you, for all three of you. The executives upstairs told me you're lucky to get anything at all. The law passed last year by Congress gives emergency powers to companies, says they don't have to provide any severance pay or insurance at all for laid-off employees in bad times. That's their right. So be thankful for what you got."

"Fucking politicians," Charley said. "They'll do about anything for campaign contributions. Assholes don't give a ratís ass about common everyday people, just their cocksuckin? country club buddies."

"Look, we're all taking a beating," Freddie pleaded.

"Yeah," Charley said, "We know. Just ask our bank accounts."

"Believe me, I did what I could, but the guys on the top floor wouldn't budge. At least you'll be able to file for unemployment."

"Big fucking deal," Charley grumbled. "Hundred a week for six months. Won't even pay the rent."

Freddie winced and slinked down in his chair.

"The executives upstairs," I said, "could have given us a better severance package if they wanted to."

"Yeah," Freddie said, "They could have, but they didn't. Not when they're laying off three thousand employees today. They can't play favorites."

"Oh, my God, my God," Donna mumbled to herself, her head cast down.

"Listen," Freddie said, "I'm not making excuses for them. They're only doing what every other company across the country is doing now that it's belt-tightening time. Handing out as little as possible because profit margins have hit the floor. I don't like it any more than you do. But that's the way of corporate life today. As unpleasant as it is."

"Oh no," I said, the implication of Freddie's words just sinking in. I was diabetic, had been for thirteen years. My average cost of insulin, surgical needles, glucose testing supplies, doctorís visits, and related medications ran about a grand every month. Another expense I?d now be forced to absorb.

The last New-American-Party-controlled Congress had repealed COBRA, the law that guarantees insurance eligibility for discharged employees. Meaning I'd have to buy my own insurance on the open market. As a diabetic, I'd never be able to purchase an insurance policy. Nothing decent I could afford, anyway. Health insurance costs had skyrocketed in recent years, and the outrageous cost of protection left unemployed Americans sucking hind tit, their only option being to pray for good health.

"How about you, Freddie?" Charley asked. "What happens to you?"

A shadow of guilt slid across Freddie's face. "I'm okay. I may have to go back to the local plant as purchasing manager, but I'll still be on the payroll. . . . I think."

Donna gained control of herself. She wiped her eyes with a handkerchief. "Do we work our notice?"

"Sorry," Freddie replied, his voice subdued. "Today is it."

"Today?" I asked, stunned.

"Today." Freddie stared at the pencils and pens on his desk as if they were the most fascinating objects in the world. "By 6:00 p.m."

And that was it. Oh yeah, we sat around for a while in Freddie's office and commiserated with one another until the shock wore off. All the time Freddie sweating and squirming, embarrassed by having to let us go. I felt bad for him and worse for myself. Then we headed back to our offices and packed our belongings and left.

I never saw Donna or Charley again. Such is the way of corporate life.