We won in the end because of coffee?
Yes. Perhaps the greatest indignity suffered by Americans during the Jovian War was the sudden and infuriating absence of coffee from the average kitchen. We are a nation of coffee lovers. We will kill for caffeine. Kill off our drug dealers and we will grow our own marijuana. Close down the liquor stores and we will build our own stills. Shut down the coffee supply line, however, and you are in trouble. The Twiggies never understood that it was their messing with the ability of the average American to enjoy his morning coffee that enraged the common man (and woman) beyond all else.____Thompson Getty, The Psychology of the Jovian War.
Things could get tight.
“Not yet. Not yet.” He chivvied himself softly, attempting to keep doubt and worry from getting toeholds in the all too fertile soil of his mental landscape. As long as they had money enough for coffee, they weren’t dead yet. Coffee lovers all, although admittedly no two of them liked the same brand. One cabinet was stocked with can after can of coffee, in fact, a leftover from the time not that many years back when good coffee was almost impossible to find in North America.
Still, he did have to think about money. Rationally, but it had to be considered. They’d fled EC after cleaning out only the largest of his many savings accounts. Even then, demanding nearly one hundred thousand in cold hard cash had raised eyebrows. Having them handed over in heavy metal nuds, not paper, had required a bit of a war.
Any transaction involving more than ten thousand in cash required the bank to notify the Feds. When he’d presented his demand to the Central Bank President, the man had spilled his coffee all over a pile of no doubt important papers.
They’d tried to stall him, of course, but he’d been ready for that, gently dropping two enlarged photocopies on the President’s desk after a scurrying secretary had cleaned up the coffee spill. Two pertinent items were highlighted: Bank regulation 2867-47Z, which expressly forbade such delaying tactics, and a news clipping about a recent lawsuit by an irritated customer who’d been refused cash from his account. The jury composed of fed-up bank customers had awarded the plaintiff seven million nuds and change…to be paid in cash.
The President, an aging redhead running to fat, had capitulated. There were times an expensive gray suit and a bit of preparation paid off. Especially if you had attitude to go with it.
With nuds in hand, he and his girls had immediately hit the road west, pausing only long enough to ditch the suit in a dumpster. He’d likely never wear one again.
It was a mental and fiscal balancing act, the money thing. He had to act before he and his fellow coffee lovers, his two slave girls, ran out of coffee. That was a given. He might be their Master, but he’d seen those two in caffeine withdrawal. It wasn’t a pretty sight. Strange to think that the razor’s edge he walked was sharpened by a coffee addiction, that he could measure his need for significant income in that way, but it was true.
Not that he had any intention of looking for work in the traditional sense. For one thing, he detested the idea. Kowtow to a knuckle dragging Joe Sixpack type of employer with a sandbag for a brain? Not likely!
A second red light against plain old hourly employment was the number of paper trail markers the Feds had tied to any mainstream employer. Rory’s work was amazing, but if anything could crack their new identities, taking a regular job would be the thing.
Thirdly, there weren’t any available jobs that paid more than minimum wage in the entire town, anyway.
No, it would have to be an investment of some kind, preferably a business that didn’t require appearing in public and quite frankly didn’t work him too hard. He’d done enough of that.
Kate (not Cammie; must remember) said her cousin still needed a little more time to finish bullet proofing things. It took a while, she explained, to build their past histories into the system. Tax filings dating back to age eighteen. Driving records including a speeding ticket or two over the past ten years so as to avoid making anyone look too perfect. Employment histories that matched the tax filings and could withstand background checks. Medical histories that were at least believable on the surface. Yada yada yada.
“When my main man is done,” Kate had stated with pride, “We can count on coming out absolutely clean except for a DNA test.”
“I thought I was your main man.”
“You are–you know what I mean!”
“No I don’t,” he’d replied, keeping a straight face. “What do you mean?”
She’d shot him an exasperated look. He grinned back at her. It was the only way he ever teased her, and lightly at that. Simply take something she said literally. Worked every time.
There would always be that one danger. If ever arrested, they were subject to mandatory DNA testing. Kate and Nina had both done time in the past and were unquestionably on file. Sven hadn’t, but most likely the Guild had stored his DNA sample long ago without bothering to inform him of the fact.
The new scanners could maybe catch them through an eyeball check, but those had to get right on you to work at all.
By the time he returned from his morning walk, Nina had brunch ready and Kate was busy pretending to break the bank in Loughlin on her GoGambler! system. She paused the game and looked up.
“How’s the health?”
“Pretty good.” He sat down and began eating, carrying on conversation between mouthfuls of fried eggs and hash browns. “My energy isn’t bad at all today.”
“You want to do the checklist, Nina?” She asked. “I’m just about to win this game.”
“Sure.” The stocky girl nodded, pouring their Master a glass of grapefruit juice to alternate with his coffee before taking her own seat. Callie, the older cat, rubbed up against her leg as she took out a clothbound journal and a pen from the on-table office box. “Joints.”
“Better than usual. Not even the left knee ached when I got up. Cool beans, and I don’t mean coffee beans.” Sven felt he was finally getting ahead of the karmic curve. It was almost like the Zarellan had cut a deal with the Lords of Karma, told them not to dish out any more at one time than he could handle, keep him healthy enough to function while he worked things out. He’d removed hundreds of karmic seeds already, plus a number of fully grown nasties, and had high hopes of weathering the worst without permanent damage.
“Still losing, curse the luck. Looks to me like I’m going to be bald on top within a year.” He detested the thought. One thing his vanity couldn’t handle was the loss of his full head of rich brown hair. By next month he’d be wearing hats all the time, indoors and out.
“Okay. A little sting, but that was probably the wind. It’s picking up out there.” It often did, in this high desert country.
They went on through the list, covering every portion of Sven’s body, in a little under four minutes. No surprises today, no mysteries. That was good. Mysteries could be dangerous. He did not like them.
Drastic changes in his appearance definitely helped with the disappearing act. Most of the time he didn’t wear dentures, so he’d gone from having a relatively full set of fangs to being a toothless dude in one move. Add in the incipient baldness, hats to suit any occasion but never anything that looked like a high class Curlew, and whiskers–his Mom could probably look him in the eyes and recognize him, but he’d pass muster with most people even if he’d known them a lifetime.
Unless they heard him speak, of course.
The moustache was both a problem and a compromise. Ever since losing the ivories, he’d been detoxing right out from the mandibles–particularly the upper one, right under the nose–and through the skin. This produced ugly red patches resembling psoriasis. Contemplative exercises had led him to determing that these toxins were mostly heavy metals with a preponderance of aluminum, lead, and mercury. Another person might have had a lab test some of the flakes he flicked from his whiskers daily. Sven didn’t need to so that. He knew. While it was gratifying to see the detoxification continuing, it was also a hassle. Every time he shaved, the red flared brightly for a day or two, and that was bad indeed for a fellow trying to be inconspicuous.
People tended to remember guys with bright red rashes under their noses.
If he didn’t shave, the whiskers tended to mask the red to some degree, making it far less noticeable. Sadly, it also burned and itched and was difficult to keep clean even with the use of antibacterial soap. Still, it was a minor inconvenience. Sven accepted it gladly.
After brunch, he drove the three miles into town and collected their mail from the Post Office. Not that there was much; it wasn’t like they’d left a forwarding address. Plenty of junk mail including ads for coffee, coffee lovers, even a coffee house in Vegas. He got a chuckle out of those.
There was one thing: Their new ID packets had arrived. They were in business. Time to get going before they ran out of funds.
He wouldn’t ever admit it to Kate, but this gave him an excuse to become too busy to study Hoelring with her for a while. A bit of a mixed martial artist himself–well, more than a bit–he’d nonetheless been shocked to the core when she’d told him about the killing art she and her cousin practiced. Whether or not Kate herself had killed, he didn’t ask and she didn’t tell. He was getting used to the concept, but it was taking time. Maybe he’d just been a Seeder too long, constantly healing people. Could even be that it just seemed a waste, getting one person well and offing the next.
He did know he’d kill in a heartbeat to protect the girls, or even the cats. Did that make him a hypocrite?
The question bothered him. A lot. He was able to put it on the back burner, though, ignore it for a while longer. At least he did have an idea what to do next about securing his little family a steady income, but he hadn’t told them what it was. Not yet.
They weren’t too comfortable when he just said trust me and headed off on his errands. Too bad. They were slaves, after all. Handling this was his job, and he worked best alone. Always had.
Gene Trask was eighty-seven years old, lived in a modest but well built home built new in 2135, and had inherited the boarded up shell of the Mizpah Hotel from his father. Neither generation had done anything with it. Despite the apparent solidity of the ancient stone walls, to repair such a massive structure would reuire a great deal of money and effort, neither of which was in long supply in the Trask family. They’d tried selling it a time or two, but only half-heartedly and without much success. Realtors from Vegas and Reno weren’t interested, their counterparts in Hawthorne and Beatty were at best incompetent, and then there was the ghost.
The ghost of the Mizpah Hotel haunted the fifth floor, which must have been a rather interesting haunting ground ever since the Twiggies had bombed the place fiercely enough to blow big holes in the roof. One legend had it she’d been a whore who was murdered in the building, never mind that reclusive billionaire Howard Hughes had once gotten married in the storied structure as well. Before the War, customers had seen her frequently; she’d served as a significant tourist attraction.
Still selling herself, apparently.
There was no question she’d had a negative influence on prospective buyers. Nowadays she was considered a serious jinx. Yet even without that, who wanted to invest in a bombed-out hamlet situated a whole lot of miles from anywhere?
Sven saw it differently. He saw it as a grand old castle waiting to be transformed into something magical by the wave of a wizard’s wand. The old man was expecting him; it was time to rock and roll.
Gene turned out to be hospitable to the max, answering the door at the first knock and offering to put on a fresh pot of coffee. At eighty-seven, living alone, he craved company.
“I’d love that, Gene.” Sven replied in his most neighborly tone. “Matter of fact, my coffee pot’s busted and I didn’t get my morning coffee.” That was a lie, of course, but he firmly believed there was such a thing as too much honesty. “The Teepah Grocery is out of new ones till Friday, they said. So I brought over a can.” He proferred the big five pounder with its distinctive red, blue, and green label.
“Mountain Magic!” The old man’s eyes lit up. “Dang, boy, haven’t seen a can of Mountain Magic Coffee in three years. Where on Earth did you find it?”
“Down in Vegas the other day. The Mood Foods chain is starting to stock it again.” He grinned in pleasure at Trask’s obvious joy. “My lady Kate found it on our last shopping trip.”
“Dang, boy, dang. You do know how to come a-callin’.” Within seconds, he had the top off and two scoops loaded into the coffee maker. “They call this stuff the coffee lover’s coffee, doncha know. Got that right, too. ‘Deed they do.”
“Can’t disagree with that one.” He could, actually. But he wouldn’t. In their household, it was Kate who refused to drink any coffee if it wasn’t Mountain Magic. Sven drank anything that would warm a mug, but his preference was actually New Yuban.
They chatted for a good forty-five minutes of get acquainted small talk, hands wrapped around the comforting warmth of the cups. Discussion ranged over politics, weather, how things had been when Gene was growing up in Tonopah during the Jupie war and fifty years later when Sven was growing up in South Dakota. Finally, with fourth cups poured and no end in sight, Trask hunched forward in his chair, squinting at his guest.
“All right, boy. I don’t reckon you come out here jest to bring million dollar coffe to a worn out ten dollar geezer on his last legs. Want to tell me about it?”
Sven nodded soberly. “More than anything. I have a vision for the Mizpah.”
“Do ya now?” Gene’s face took on a pensive cast. “My Daddy had one. They crossed him at every turn, the bankers did. Got nowhere atall. Me, I didn’t try much. Now might be the time to do it, though. Did you know our almighty smirky-tailed county authorities have reduced the taxes on that magnificent old critter to jest about nuthin’ and put right in the record that they’ll keep ’em right where they are for a guaranteed ten years if a business will equally guarantee to fix up the ol’ girl?”
“I knew part of it. What the taxes are now. Not about the break for fixing it up, but that does sound–well, like a good omen at least.”
“Omen, my left one!” Gene snorted in derision. “It’s a gold plated oppertunity is what it is. Where were these chunks of earwax when my Daddy was still alive, or even thirty-forty years ago when I was still full of vim and vinegar my own self? Now it’s just vim, and half the time I have trouble passing that!” He shook his head in disgust.
“The coffee going to trouble you?”
“Hell no. Old as it is, this body and Mountain Magic have an understanding, we do. I give it what it wants and it lets out the leftovers.”
Sven leaned back in his chair. “That’s good. Want to hear my vision?”
“That’s why we’re settin’ here, boy.”