Enrique Hernandez flexed the muscles in his forearm. He loved to watch his panther tattoo move when he flexed. The flexing panther gave him a feeling of power and stealth. In reality, Enrique was neither particularly powerful nor stealthy. His walk was more of a shamble. His portly frame moved with the all the grace of a washing machine falling down a set of stairs. A panther he was not.
Nevertheless, Enrique fancied himself as something of a stud. Strangely, very few around him would argue the point. Enrique’s power came not from his physical strength but rather from his family. Purely by the chance of birth, Enrique had been born into a Mexican family prominent in the Midwestern drug trade. Enrique’s father, Fernando, literally ruled the drug trade in his region. He was the king of his domain and those who dared to question his position or authority usually ended up dying horrible deaths.
The crash had changed the drug trade in ways that even Fernando had not imagined. As wise and worldly as Fernando was, he didn’t recognize the signs of the government’s collapse and the devaluation of the dollar until almost too late. Virtually overnight Fernando’s empire of cash turned into an empire of crash. Most of Fernando’s customers still had cash but cash had no value. Fernando was sitting on a vast empire that required electrical power, over-the-road transportation, modern communications and an ability to turn his customers’ cash into more product.
By July of 2014 virtually none of that existed.
Never one to panic, Fernando calmly reevaluated his position. He recognized that the drug trade, previously his primary business, was now merely a sideline, if that. What people needed now – like they needed his crack before the crash – was shelter, water, food, power – if he could supply it – and safety.
Fernando commanded an army. That army communicated via cell phones, however, and the cellular networks were dead. That army frequently took much of their payment in drugs, previously, but now there were things higher on their priority list. The army was still a resource, Fernando reflected, but it needed a new communication network and a new source of compensation.
The answer, Fernando decided, was quite literally sitting in a highly unlikely place. Enrique, Fernando’s oldest son, was sitting in the headquarters of the 189th Truck Company at that very moment. The 189th was Enrique’s National Guard unit. Enrique was the company clerk.
Early in Enrique’s life, Fernando realized that his first-born son was not cut out to be his successor. A firm believer in the principle that life gives no one a free pass, Fernando gave his son a choice. He could go to college and learn to run some back-office aspect of his father’s business or he could join the military. Enrique chose the military with dreams of elite units and clandestine operations. The U.S. Army, in a flash of brilliance, recognized that Enrique didn’t quite have the constitution for active-duty special operations and instead slated him in an administrative MOS in the National Guard.
This frustrated Enrique to no end. He was convinced that his exceptional talents were being squandered. The more he thought about it, the angrier he got. While most people would simply have put in their time and ended their service, Enrique grew bitter and began to look for ways to get back at Uncle Sam. As company clerk he soon discovered that he was in a position to skim supplies sent to his unit. It was an opportunity too good to pass up.
About a year after Enrique assumed his role as company clerk for the 189th, he put his skimming scheme into practice. As supplies were sent to his unit, Enrique scanned the bills of lading into his computer and digitally altered them, reducing item counts.
He had suggested the scanning as a cost-saving method after his third monthly drill. Ironically, he had been awarded an Army Achievement Medal for this cost-saving initiative. Typically, the inventory lists that accompanied the bills of lading were routed to the NCO in charge of each of the different areas receiving supplies. While routing them digitally, rather than making photo copies, in reality saved very little actual expense, it was the thought that counted in Enrique’s company commander’s mind. So, Enrique was rewarded with an AAM for his “creative thinking with an eye toward cost savings”.
As Enrique learned how the supply chain worked, once supplies were delivered to his unit, he devised a plan to skim supplies off of any delivery that contained items useful to his father’s enterprise. Although Enrique’s unit was not an infantry unit, they occasionally received orders of ammunition, small arms repair parts and MRE’s for field exercises, weapons qualification and maintenance purposes.
The 189th was also associated with two National Guard firefighting units that regularly received medical supplies. These were quite beneficial whenever one of Fernando’s men was in need of medical attention but wanted to avoid local medical facilities for one reason or another.
This was Enrique’s way of getting back at Uncle Sam. Over the course of his five-year term as the 189th’s company clerk, Enrique estimated that he had re-routed in excess of a quarter million dollars in supplies.
Now, as Fernando considered his post-crash options, his less-than-stellar son suddenly became a linchpin in his strategy. With the resources of the three National Guard units under his control, Fernando was certain that he could re-establish his empire – not based on drugs, but rather based on daily essentials such as shelter, water, food and security.
As rioting and looting escalated and fewer Guard troops reported for duty each day, Fernando shared his plan with his son. Enrique grinned from ear-to-ear as he listened. Never before had he felt so needed by his father – so useful. As this plan developed, Enrique realized that he might truly have the opportunity to succeed his father as the heir to the Hernandez Empire.
There were a few wrinkles in the plan.
First, while it had been relatively easy for Enrique to reroute supplies before they had been secured by each of the NCO’s in charge of the individual units of the company, once those supplies were secured they were very difficult to access … at least under normal circumstances. As fewer and fewer troops showed up for duty each day, Enrique realized that he could make himself more and more valuable to the company commander simply by showing up for duty.
As the weeks following the crash wore on, Enrique essentially became the company’s XO – Executive Officer. The lieutenant who had previously been the XO had gone AWOL in early July. The First Sergeant didn’t show up after the first of August. The company commander was so busy filing reports that he turned all of the dwindling day-to-day operations over to Enrique even though he was only an E4.
Enrique now had access to all of the various secure areas and all of the vehicles in his own unit as well as the 181st and 317th Engineer Fire Fighting Teams’. The heavy trucks were his. The HMMWV’s were his. The armory was his. The medical supplies were his as were all of the food rations. Enrique had access to fire trucks, ambulances, deuce-and-a-half’s and a handful of armored HMMWV’s, two of which were outfitted with .50 caliber machine guns.
The plan was in motion!
A second roadblock to the plan’s completion was the remaining troops who continued to report for duty. Most of them reported simply to receive the MRE’s that were rationed out in lieu of pay. For many, this was the only food keeping them and their families alive. Their duties were primarily related to firefighting. The city’s firefighters had been overmatched by the number of burning houses and buildings and were unable to keep up. The National Guard troops assisted as much as possible.
Fernando saw two possible ways around the roadblock. The first was to simply take control of the National Guard units by force. While this was his natural inclination, he realized that the second option had some definite benefits. If he could enlist the remaining National Guard troops in his plan, their skills could prove invaluable. While his current “army” was good at distributing crack and meth and roughing up or killing people who didn’t pay, they lacked many other skills that would be necessary to rebuilding his empire. The National Guard troops would have many of those skills but they would need convincing.
Fernando called in his top people the old-fashioned way – word of mouth. Thirty-five of his most trusted people were invited to his ranch. Although Fernando wasn’t totally prepared for what the crash did to his business, his ranch was still well-supplied. He had surplus food stored. He had an Artesian well. Diesel generators provided necessary power. To most of the individuals who showed up for the summit in early September, Fernando’s ranch was a relative paradise. They ate and drank to their hearts’ content.
After a day of feasting and drinking, Fernando pulled the group together on his patio. His son, Enrique, stood by his side. His two younger sons, Armando and Eduardo sat in chairs nearby.
“Ladies and Gentlemen,” Fernando began ceremoniously, “I have gathered you here to discuss a grand plan – a plan to return our business to prosperity.”
The group of 35 murmured quietly as they looked at one another with curiosity.
“As you know,” Fernando continued, “the drug trade is all but worthless. The economic crash caused by our government’s idiotic policies has ensured this. They did more to damage our trade by their ineptitude than they ever did through law enforcement. Many still desire our drugs but their money is of no use to us.”
A number of the members of the group were unsure what the word “ineptitude” meant but they nodded their heads in agreement.
“With every trial comes an opportunity,” Fernando fancied himself a bit of an orator and enjoyed taking common quotations and making them his own. “We have the opportunity, now, to reinvent ourselves – to rise from the ashes of this crisis even more successful than before.”
“My son, Enrique,” Fernando gestured grandly with pride, “has been quite instrumental in my plan to revitalize our network. His role at the National Guard unit has proven invaluable.”
Fernando continued to lay out his plan for the next twenty minutes – ensuring that Enrique received plenty of credit. After all, Fernando reasoned, the day would come when he would pass on and Enrique would most likely have to run the business. Any credibility that Fernando could provide Enrique today would be more than helpful in the future.
After Fernando completed his speech he paused, “Are there any questions?”
A woman named Marta raised her hand.
“Yes, Marta,” Fernando recognized her, “what is your question?”
“Patron,” Marta began. Fernando preferred that his underlings address him in this manner. “I understand that we can no longer profit from the sale of drugs. How will we profit by providing food, shelter and safety? Money is worth nothing now. Is it not the same problem?”
“Right you are, Marta,” Fernando encouraged her. “Each of you will be compensated for your work by receiving food, water, shelter – if necessary – and supplies for your family. In the short term, we will utilize the resources from the National Guard units to ensure that we remain strong. Our strength will allow us to provide protection from looters and thieves to those who contribute willingly to our cause. We will do what is necessary to those who will not.”
“For the time-being,” Fernando continued, his voice increasing in volume and tempo, “my primary concern is for each of you and your families. I want to ensure that you are cared for. A time will come when, together, we will be able execute the remainder of our plan. That is when we will see the true fruits of our labors.”
Fernando’s group of followers cheered. Visions of wealth and ease in a not-too-distant future filled their minds.