Authors: Darrell Maloney
by Darrell Maloney
Please check out Darrell Maloney’s best selling book,
The Secession of
As well as his other fine works, available at
Amazon.com and at Barnes and Noble Booksellers.
This book is dedicated to three very special ladies in my life: Eleanor Barrick, Dawn Brand Hawkins and Qe Terry. Without their encouragement and support, I would not have started writing again. These stories would be trapped in my head forever. Thank you, my friends…
Scott Harter wasn’t special by anybody’s standards. He wasn’t a handsome guy at all. He wasn’t dumb, but he’d never win a Nobel Prize either. He had no hidden talents, although he fancied himself a fairly good karaoke singer.
His friends didn’t necessarily share that opinion, but what did they know?
No, if those friends were tasked to choose one word to describe Scott Harter, that word might well be “average.”
If Scott excelled at one thing, it was that he was a very good businessman. And he was also a lot luckier than most.
And it was that combination – his penchant for making a buck, and being lucky, that led him here on this day to the Guerra Public Library on the west side of San Antonio.
To research what he believed was the pending collapse of mankind.
Twenty three years earlier, in 1990, Scott had done two things that would change his life forever. Even back then, he was just an average Joe. He’d had plans to become a doctor, but his average grades weren’t cutting it. So he dropped out of college halfway through his junior year.
He’d have loved to have married a beauty queen, but his average looks certainly did nothing to attract any. Neither did his average amount of charm. So instead he started dating Linda Amparano, who was a sweet girl but somewhat average herself. They seemed to make a perfect, if slightly vanilla, couple.
The second thing Scott had done that year was buy a dilapidated self-storage unit on the north side of San Antonio. It was one of those places where people rent lockers to store their things when their garages have run out of space. Or their kids go off to college. Or when they just accumulate so many things that they’ve run out of room to put them all.
Pat, the guy who’d sold the property to Scott, was a friendly enough sort, but not a businessman at all. He didn’t understand some of the basic principles of running such an operation.
Not that Scott was an expert. At least back then he wasn’t.
But even back then, Scott knew the value of curb appeal, and that a fresh paint job and a few repairs could attract a few more customers. And a few more customers would help supply money for advertising, and special offers, and long-term lease discounts. No brainers, actually.
So by the end of that year, two things had happened. Scott had turned around the business and turned it into a money-making operation. And he had married Linda.
The pair had said their vows on December 17th of that year. It was bitterly cold that day. The coldest December 17th on record for that part of
If the cold was an omen, though, neither of them saw it. If either of them had, and had gotten cold feet, their lives would be so much different today.
But they just laughed it off, as young couples in love are wont to do. And they went ahead with their nuptials and started their lives together and never looked back at that cold day in December when they ran headlong into a marriage that shouldn’t have happened.
The marriage lasted nine years. It produced two great sons, so there was that. And Scott and Linda remained friends. That was something else. So there was a good legacy, of sorts, left behind by their mistake that cold December day.
Scott adored his boys. There was Jordan, his oldest, who was intelligent and talented and a bit of a goofball. And there was Zachary, who Scott was convinced would someday become a scientist or a highly successful engineer. Zach was always taking things apart and making other things with them. His curious mind never stopped working, and he loved exploring new things and new ideas. Zach was sweeter than a bucket of molasses. He was everybody’s best friend.
Yes, Scott was lucky as a father. No problems with his boys at all.
He was also lucky in that he lived in Texas at the time of the divorce. Texas wasn’t an alimony state. So he wasn’t saddled with monster alimony payments like his brother in Atlanta was. His brother Mike was divorced the same year as Scott, and was ordered by the court to pay forty percent of his before-tax income to a wife who had cheated on him multiple times.
No, Scott had no such problem.
He helped Linda financially occasionally when she fell behind. It was the right thing to do. And he doted on his boys and bought them nice things.
But since he didn’t have to pay alimony, he was able to take that money instead and use it to build his business.
After the first storage facility was turning a healthy profit, he was able to buy a second. Then a third. And with each one he followed the same business model. He’d do some cosmetic improvements to attract a few more customers. Then he’d turn that additional income into air time on the local radio station, or ads in the local paper. Getting the word out drew more customers, which in turn would supply more money for special deals and discounts. Which would provide more money for another new facility.
It was a business model that had served him well.
And now, twenty three years later, Scott Harter owned a chain of thirty one storage facilities spread throughout San Antonio and nearby Houston.
So even though he wasn’t as handsome as a movie star, and would never be a candidate to join Mensa, he was doing all right. And that was good enough for him.
Linda had remarried within a year. The marriage only lasted two years and was full of problems. She waited a bit longer to marry her third husband, and the third time seemed to be the charm for her. The third husband, Tony, was a good man, who treated Linda and the boys well. At least it appeared that way to Tony. He didn’t know that since their divorce, Linda had gotten very good at putting on airs and keeping secrets. Keeping the ugly truth from Scott made it easier for Scott and Tony to be casual friends. Scott eventually found out that Tony was a con man and a user, who’d taken Linda for pretty much everything she had.
It was Scott who helped her get back on her feet. She banished Tony from her life, and swore off marriage forever.
From that point on, Linda chose a life less complicated. A life with an endless stream of boyfriends who didn’t provide a sense of stability. But they were a lot easier to get rid of when they didn’t work out.
Their boys had been brought up in a stable environment, which meant they were well behaved and relatively problem free. Neither of them ever got into drugs, or ran away from home. Neither of them had gone to jail, or left a string of broken hearts. Both of them were good kids, who had bright futures ahead of them. Or so they thought. Actually, there were problems ahead, which none of them knew about, but which their father would soon discover.
Yes, all in all, Scott was a lucky man, despite his being just an average guy. And he was living a pretty comfortable life.
That was about to change.
“How about the ten by ten, number 32?” Scott asked his office manager Stacy. “Are they six months delinquent yet?”
Stacy answered “No, not quite yet. They will be on Wednesday. I’ve been trying to get hold of the guy, but his home phone’s been disconnected, and he never provided us a cell phone number.”
“Did you try his work number?”
“Yes, and all they’ll tell me is that he no longer works there.”
Another thing Scott had in common with the average Joes of the world was his penchant for doing things a little bit shady sometimes. As a businessman, he should hate it when one of his clients failed to make their rental payments for six months and thereby defaulted on their contracts. Scott was happy, though. Each time it happened, he saw it as an opportunity.
The law was very specific. If anyone got six months or more behind, and could not be contacted to make arrangements to pick up their things and pay their back rent, then their things became the property of the storage company.
The typical disposition, of course, would be to sell the contents of such lockers at auction, just like all the shows on the cable channels.
And Scott did that. In most cases, that is. But the shady side of his character, the side that few people saw, was the side that would compel him to come late at night, unbeknownst to his employees or anyone else, to check out each such locker to see what was in it.
Scott had a habit of waiting until Stacy or one of his other managers would go home, then going to each newly defaulted locker. He’d cut the padlock and crack the locker open, and dig through everything to see what he could find that would be of any value to him.
Then he’d make a decision to either keep the contents of the locker himself, or to put another lock on it and sell it at auction for what typically may only be a few hundred dollars.
Over the years he’d amassed a considerable amount of treasures through this particular bad habit. He hadn’t bought a watch in twenty years, having found enough Rolexes and Cartiers to keep him supplied. The same was true of his Oakley sunglasses and Callaway golf clubs.
And a side business. He had a very successful antique and collectibles store in the heart of San Antonio, just blocks from the Alamo. Completely stocked by the old furniture items, autographed baseballs and fine china he’d recovered from defaulted lockers.
In his own mind, he was doing nothing wrong. After all, it wasn’t like he was taking all the good stuff out of the lockers and then auctioning off the leftover junk to an unwitting bidder. No, indeed, if he found things of value, he just declined to offer that particular locker in the auction. He himself kept it, purged it of its valuables, and then carted the rest of the stuff to the landfill.
The bidders at his auctions, of course, didn’t know anything about Scott’s habit. So they’d come to the auctions, hoping to hit it big, to buy a locker that had a forgotten Picasso inside, or a hidden stash of hundred dollar bills. And when it never happened, they just assumed it wasn’t their lucky day. It never occurred to them that Scott had already claimed the good lockers, and that their dream payday had no chance of happening.
Scott made a note to himself to come back on Thursday night after Stacy had gone home and check out locker 32.
He knew it had belonged to a professor at nearly St. Mary’s University. Professors sometimes had valuable artifacts or rare books that they showed their students at some point during a course. Then they typically got put away for the next group of young minds. Scott was hoping to find such items in the old professor’s locker.
On Thursday, just before 11 p.m., Scott cracked open number 32 and flipped on the light. The mess and disarray he saw didn’t surprise him. College professors could be quite disorganized, and even a little eccentric. So the fact that everything wasn’t all neatly boxed and organized was certainly no shock. What was curious, though, was the nature of the contents.
There were stacks and stacks of reference books and novels, all having to do with the Mayan culture. Posters of the Mayan calendar. Boxes of printed paper that appeared to be research material. Three telescopes of various sizes. A huge chart of the universe, rolled up and leaning against the wall.
Scott was a bit upset with himself for wasting his time. There was nothing in this locker of any real value. He’d be lucky to get fifty bucks for it at the next auction.
Then something caught his eye.
It rested atop a stack of boxes, but looked a bit out of place. It was a hardcover book, an ugly green in color. But it had no title on either its face or spine. No words at all to indicate what might be inside.
He opened it up and found that it was a ledger, of the type used by accountants and bookkeepers to keep track of numbers. The pages were each divided into columns, meant to keep track of funds, or debits or credits or whatever figures people keep track of.
But this ledger contained no numbers.
Rather, it appeared to be a diary.
Scott started to read.
“I’ve come to the conclusion that Professor Maribel was right. The Mayans somehow figured out how to predict solar flare activity. I mean, is it so far fetched to believe that such a thing is possible, with all the other things this mysterious society was able to accomplish?
“People of science go on and on about the Egyptians and their achievements. People of history point to the Romans and the Greeks and talk of their contributions to the modern world.
“In my opinion, the Greeks, Romans and Egyptians had nothing on the Mayans.
“While the world was freaking out about the whole Mayan calendar thing, they missed the whole point. The Mayans never said that the world was going to end on Dec 21st, 2012. They merely marked that date as the start of a new period in human existence. The final period of progress, they called it.
“So the world isn’t going to end, in the big ball of flames that people believe.
“Rather, mankind will continue to survive, but in a vastly different world. A world without machines or technology.”
Scott walked into the cavernous Guerra Library not quite knowing where to start.
The professor had hinted at a monumental disaster about to overcome mankind. But he only left a few vague clues. Sunspot activities… solar storms… large scale destruction of anything electronic.
Professor Mason had also left a few clues that, if used properly, could minimize the effects of the catastrophe. Something called a Faraday cage… stockpiling of essentials… learning not to rely on mechanical things or processes.
Scott was fascinated, while at the same time a little bit unnerved. Whoever this professor was, he must be pretty smart, or he wouldn’t be a professor, right?
Scott’s world was sometimes broken down into simple components. But he was a successful businessman, after all. And he got where he was by trusting his instincts and his gut.
And his gut told him that Professor Mason went through a lot of time and trouble writing about this coming catastrophe. And that Scott had better pay damn close attention if he wanted to have a leg up on everyone else when the catastrophe came about.
So every day for the better part of three weeks Scott found the articles and theses quoted in Professor Mason’s notes. And he made notes of his own.
And in the end, he believed what the old Professor had believed. That the Mayans weren’t saying the end of the world was going to happen on December 21, 2012. They were saying that’s when the earth entered the cycle of solar activity that would make it most vulnerable to being bombarded with a huge storm of electronic magnetic pulses, which would short out anything electric or electronic. And would essentially send earth back to the stone age.
The Mayans, it turned out, were a lot more advanced than most people gave them credit for. Scientists had known for a hundred years that the Mayans had identified all the planets and constellations in the sky, even though they had no telescopes. They learned how to predict earthquakes although they had none of the fancy equipment that scientists had today. Scientists who despite that fancy equipment still can’t predict earthquakes.
The Mayans could also predict tidal waves, simply by calculating the movements of the planets and their relationship to the tidal pull of the moon at any given time. Modern day scientists knew the Mayans had the capability of doing that, they just didn’t know how.
So it wasn’t a stretch, then, when the Mayans said certain things were going to happen on the surface of the sun sometime in the next few years, not to scoff at their predictions. It made good sense to believe it, and to take some precautions. Not precautions to stop the disaster, for it was unstoppable.
No, Scott would start taking precautions to mitigate the damage done to him and his family when the disaster happened. He’d make sure they were prepared to survive what few others could.
He walked out of the library that last day with a mission. It was a mission he was afraid to tell anyone about, because he knew they’d think him crazy. And perhaps he was. After all, he didn’t know anything at all about this mysterious Professor Mason… who he was, where he came from, or whether he was alive or dead. But by reading the professor’s notes and doing his own research, he was now a believer.
A believer that sometime in the next few years, a huge solar storm would erupt on the surface of the sun. It would create massive sunspots not seen since the introduction of electricity in the late 1800s. And the solar activity would send electromagnetic pulses, or EMPs, to bombard the earth and to short out virtually anything electric.
Unless those things were protected.
Something else Scott learned while in the library was that there are certain ways to protect electrical items from EMPs. It wouldn’t be easy. But he was determined. And when the solar storm happened, and the world went black, Scott and his family would be spared the misery the rest of the world would be enduring. While the rest of the world was learning to live in the stone age, Scott and his family would still be living in relative comfort.
He had a lot of work to do, and not much time to do it. Actually, that part was not necessarily true. According to the Mayans, the window was now open. But they left no clues to show how big that window was. The storms could arrive twelve years from now. Or, they could arrive tomorrow.
Scott, unable to predict exactly when the chaos would occur, knew he had no time to waste.
“I’m calling about a tract of land you posted up in the hill country, south of Junction,” Scott told the realtor over the phone. “Is it still available?”
He could almost hear the hunger in Joyce Allen’s voice as she jumped at the chance to discuss the old Ryan place. It had been on the market for three years, since old man Ryan died, and had come down in price three times, without so much as a nibble.
“Yes, sir. Yes, sir indeed. It is a bit rugged and isolated, but perfect for someone looking to escape the big city. Can I get your name?”
“Scott Harter. I live in
San Antonio, in the King’s Estates.”
Joyce scribbled his name on a scratch pad with a large question mark and slid the pad over to an associate at the next desk. The associate didn’t even have to ask what it meant. She and Joyce had been realtors in the same land office for many years. They could read each other’s minds. So while Joyce chatted up Mr. Harter, the associate would do a quick search on him to determine his financial standing and credit rating. It would tell Joyce whether she was wasting her time speaking to a man who had neither the means nor the desire to purchase a million dollar piece of rural land seventy miles north of
If the associate came back after five minutes and handed the note back to Joyce with a big “X” across it, Joyce would cut the conversation short and let the old Ryan place languish in real estate purgatory for a few more years.
But on the other hand, if the note were modified by the associate to include a large happy face, Joyce would suddenly become Mr. Harter’s new best friend. Would go on and on about the merits of the Ryan place. How it was heaven on earth. Isolated, yes. But at $1.2 million, a steal by anybody’s standards.
It only took four minutes this time. The associate was getting faster. Joyce made a mental note to take her to lunch when the note slid back across the desk to her.
Not only a happy face, but a happy face followed by three very large exclamation marks.