Sunday, January 22, 2012

Sneak Preview

(An excerpt from an upcoming novel.)


"Our big advantage," Rick Romeo told McGunn, "is that we know what they're up to, but they don't know that we know."

Rick walked through the huge stadium complex late evening with Ed McGunn, his top assistant, checking entrances. Also checking on various security personnel positioned about the cavernous place. Any found not alert at their station would be immediately fired. Rick tolerated no slackness. Tychon wanted it no other way.

Some of the guards, the lieutenants, had desks. Others patrolled designated areas. If one of his people wanted to slack off, they'd best be smart enough not to get caught! Stupidity was no excuse for anything.

There were three lieutenants. One of them sat in a control room watching monitors. cameras covered every corner of space outside the stadium. Within six months, they'd cover all interior areas as well, including the guard stations. The control room also. A few inside cameras were already near the main entrance.

Romeo utilized four levels of personnel to ensure security at the stadium.

First was the stadium's private force, individuals like Ed McGunn, most of them ex-military, who made a permanent presence protecting the area around-the-clock, including the off-season. Rick trained and briefed them himself. They were the core of his team. Because he'd selected them, he had great faith in these people. In his mind, they were an elite military unit. All were expected to adapt to any situation.

During games and special events, three other layers were added to the core.

1.) Off-duty cops picking up extra money by working for Rick part-time. They had experience here as part of Rick's team. They knew his expectations.

2.) On-duty police provided by the city. The reality of any municipal police force was that it worked for property. Protecting the largest investments in the city, and the most powerful, most necessary individuals, were its highest priority. It was the very reason for its existence. All else was window dressing. If the squeaky wheel gets the grease; if a mayor is maintained in power by such wheels, then police were assigned accordingly. This was the way of the world.

3.) These layers of professionals were supplemented by an army of rent-a-cops.

During games, Rick used his own force as a floating reserve, keeping them back from entrances and refreshment points, sending them in force to any quick trouble areas. Most often, to subdue and remove drunk fans or group of fans. A lock-up in the bowels of the stadium could hold scores of miscreants. The stadium company pressed charges against those who destroyed stadium property or in any way disrupted the game. Or detracted, through violence-- like fistfights-- from a harmonious fan experience.

The on-duty police at games were a reserve behind the reserve. If there was real trouble, truly strong force required, then those with the greatest authority to use force-- the most leeway at head-busting-- were brought into play.

Rick Romeo feared that one of those occasions might shortly arrive.

The police department's Gang Squad continually surfed the Net looking for word of upcoming activities. Twitter, Facebook, and the like: the Gang Squad knew most of the local players. Lately they'd picked up rumors of an upcoming demonstration at the stadium. They passed this information on to Rick Romeo and his boys.

They'd given Rick no date. He made his own guess about when the protest would take place: Fan Appreciation Day, two days after the big game against the Laser and his champions, when a great deal of media would be present at the stadium, for the usual meaningless kind of filler story loved by TV, radio, and newspapers alike. Hell, put Bobo anywhere publicly and the media would be there, like sharks reacting to a thrown piece of meat.

Protesting on game day would be insanity, unless you wished to provoke 60,000 drunked-up fanatic football fans. Then even Rick's layers of security couldn't save the dissidents. If they wanted to save them.

No, on Fan Appreciation Day, held on a weekday when many people were working, there'd be a more modest number of fans stopping by. Most of those would be families. Kids, retirees-- and media.

Rick had an idea about the instigator of the demonstration, indirectly or directly: Lara Vox. She was trouble. Her voice stirred up people. She liked to say provocative things, to get the tired and distracted masses thinking. She'd gotten Rick thinking! He'd listened to her show a few times, in part because he was able to match a face with that spectacular voice. Her performance at the press conference had provoked his curiosity.

Trouble, trouble, trouble. She could stir up anybody. The body of troublemakers who were already out there in this city, looking for excuses and opportunity, were putty for that voice. Silly putty. If he were still on the force he'd call her in for questioning.

"If this protest is for real," McGunn said, "I say we bust heads if they try anything."

"If it comes to that," Rick said. "We're a step ahead of them, and we'll stay a step ahead."

"Chaos versus order," McGunn said, putting a couple sticks of chewing gum into his mouth. "That's the tension throughout the society. Now more than ever. The stadium is an island, a bulwark in an ocean of disorder, one of a couple that keep the city operating. Patches of Bondo and new paint on a rusted-out car body. We're surrounded by hordes of poor and homeless people. We see them every day, some of them anyway, Sheila and company. Beggars. Pigeons we chase away. Add to the mix the armies of anarchists on the west side. We're here to keep the barbarians away from the gates."

McGunn saw the world strictly in black and white. His version of good guys and bad guys.

Rick considered the homeless. If not exactly homeless, many living in rundown dwellings without heat, though enough of them on the street. The Sheilas of the city they encountered here were only the more ambitious of them. One thought a severe winter or two wiped out their number, but every year there were always more of them, ever more.

"The capabilities of anarchists increase swiftly, no doubt," Rick responded. "But capabilities increase on both sides. Social media allows rebels to organize and act at fast speed. But when they do, they stick their necks out. Social media enables us to monitor their locations and their behavior. Intelligence agencies monitor key targets thoroughly. In totality. Every corner, every fact of this planet is covered by satellite surveillance. Yes, the other side has their hacking activities. The larger agencies like the FBI, DIA, NSA, are flush with money. They're buying up right now all the hacker talent around, to bring the best computer people to our side.

"Insurgents plot holes in the curtain of security. Those goofs on the west side are doing that to us, Mac, right now. Photographing this area. While our cameras are photographing their photographers. It's crazy."

They walked along, Rick caught up in his vision of nets and networks. McGunn continued gum chewing. They paused near the main entrance. A video screen above showed the two men talking.

"The universe is multi-dimensional, sure. Very complex. It's not as material as scientists used to think. There are holes in it."

Rick smiled before continuing.

"Jesus jumped through one of the holes," he said.

Mac grinned and shook his head. "Here we go. The altar boy!" McGunn exclaimed.

He sometimes referred to Rick that way because of Rick's clean looks more than for any other reason. McGunn by contrast was a more rough-hewn sort, "a ploughhorse, not a thoroughbred," Mac always said. Rick saw his friend more as a big, friendly-but-tough dog, like a Golden Lab.

What would McGunn think if he knew that Rick Romeo had once studied to be a priest?

"Your contacts and cameras have information on them, sure," Mac said. "But not enough of it. What good are close-ups and face-scanning if they never come to the games? We couldn't even catch that radio chick before she showed up. The anarchists aren't dummies. Bums, but not dummies. They're insurgents. Like insurgents anyplace, they won't play our game. They've gone to ground. Ever see any of them? Squatters in squalor. Most of them live completely disconnected from the system to start with. They're as likely to go on-line as pick up a bar of soap!"

"Completely disconnected," Rick said sarcastically.

Unwillingly, the image of a hippie-looking meek and mild Jesus from his Roman Catholic upbringing popped into Rick's head.

"You're a cocky guy," McGunn said, pointing his finger at his youthful boss. "It's how you climbed so quickly to become Tychon's chief boy. He loves cockiness. You're so confident that you believe you can do anything. I know you. Give you enough software, computers and cameras, and you'll herd the revolutionaries into one playpen and it'll all be easy. But it won't be easy, Rick,"

If Rick was an altar boy, McGunn was full-blown apocalyptic.

"Flash mobs, London riots, Occupiers, Tea Parties-- the masses are rumbling. Any great civilization is one step removed from barbarism, which is where we stand right now. The breakdown of order. Civilization on the verge of collapse. Power is an illusion."

McGunn snapped his fingers.

"When it happens, it happens quickly. Nobody expected the Soviet Union to collapse. You were still a kid. I remember it clearly. The Evil Empire. Bang. Gone. Down the drain. Yin-yang. Strength is weakness. Just like sports-- extend yourself too far in one direction and you create vulnerabilities. Interception. Touchdown. Boom. Bang. There are more holes in your universe, Rick, than you realize."

McGunn took a shooter's stance and sighted an imaginary pistol on imaginary bad guys outside the doors.

"Still," Rick said. "We have more brains, and way more resources. I'd bet on our side."

The city had a fast-moving police force, well-trained. This wasn't Cairo Egypt. If dissent wasn't backed by a segment of the political establishment it'd never get to that point.

But Rick admitted there was thought on the other side. McGunn was a necessary pessimist, a test of Rick's thinking. Rick thought of Lara Vox. She'd beaten him once. McGunn wasn't 100% wrong.

"Bet on us, Rick, only if we put them down quickly. You've been overseas. You know. Order or chaos. That's the choice. There's no halfway."