On our first day in Miami, Harold taught me a new term: protection racket.
A protection racket is when a criminal group offers to protect you from other criminals. You pay them some money, or give them something else they want, and they keep you safe. It’s also sometimes a euphemism for an extortion racket. That’s when they threaten to harm you unless you give them the protection money.
Bastion is running a protection racket in Miami, especially in and around Brickell. Unknown individuals or groups with a lot of money have hired a large number of Bastion troops to protect the banks and key financial offices in this neighborhood. This protection basically involves Bastion having a strong presence in the entire neighborhood — boat and foot patrols at all hours, armed guards stationed at certain buildings, surveillance on criminals to prevent any large coordinated assaults on Brickell, and so on. Because of this, they apparently feel entitled to squeeze protection money out of everyone who lives or works around here, including the dirt-poor greens who happen to have access to a luxurious residential skyscraper in Brickell.
It started with a sales pitch that almost seemed polite and professional. A day or two after we got here, they sent a thirty-something white woman in an expensive suit to come and speak with us. She pulled up to our door in a big white boat with half a dozen bodyguards in tow, talking to me and Harold at length about the protection services that Bastion offers. There are a few different tiers, each with its own benefits. She strongly recommended that we at least get the first tier, Basic Protection. As she told us about the benefits, she had this way of sounding very warm and caring while she was basically saying that we would all be abducted and killed by wild-eyed criminals if we didn’t buy Bastion protection. I don’t know if she believed her own sales pitch or she was just that good at sales. Either way, it was surreal.
As soon as she and her guards were out of earshot, I turned to Harold. I must have had an exasperated look on my face because he just laughed when he saw it. I laughed a little too, but then I had to say out loud what we were both thinking.
“Not a chance in hell, right?”
“You’ve got that right.”
He burst out laughing again, and I found myself laughing with him. On some level, it really wasn’t funny. This could be a life and death situation, after all. But that’s why we had to laugh.
So far, life without Bastion protection has been okay. We had a few break-ins on the ground floor, so that was a little scary. But each time, it was just a couple of people trying to break in and rob the place. We had guards posted while the rest of us slept, so the robbers were chased off pretty easily. Harold and his Green Guard friends are very friendly, but they can also be very intimidating when they’re decked out in camo body armor and carrying assault rifles. I know them well now and even I wouldn’t want to sneak up on them while they were on duty.
At one point, the captain we met on our first day — who we now call Captain Hassle because he’s always hassling us and that’s how brilliant we are with nicknames — stopped our boat again and insisted that we needed to pay some protection money. It was just me, Ten, Lou, and Mel coming back from a trip to the park where some volunteers are busy dealing with all the dead trees and plants and discussing what to replace them with. It was still daylight out, so we were very relaxed until Captain Hassle came along, like a troll under a bridge demanding his toll.
I picked up the bullhorn and replied to him that we weren’t going to pay. He said that we must be criminals if we didn’t want to pay. Maybe our boat was stolen, or our guns, or our solar panels. I insisted that we would not pay and that we would report him to the police if he kept harassing us. That made everybody on his boat laugh. Then he said something that took me by surprise.
“Who do you think protects the police?”
That made my heart race a bit. I didn’t even realize why until I thought it through. I knew that the police were struggling to fight all of the crime in the city and not having much luck with it. But it hadn’t occurred to me that the police might need protection services from Bastion. The National Guard was protecting the city government itself, and that probably included the Chief of Police. But they weren’t protecting all of the individual police oficers out on the streets trying to do their jobs. So maybe that fell on Bastion.
Were the police paying protection money to Bastion? ¡Dios mío! What a mess.
I spent a while just thinking about that. Everything got quiet. Eventually, Captain Hassle spoke again.
“Now you under the situation. If you don’t have the cash, get the cash. Or get something else we need. Guns, ammo, gold, silver, good food. Burgers and brats and beer, not this [blanking] Miami [blank]. And the pizza place doesn’t count! We made a deal with them before you [blanks] showed up. Don’t make me ask you again, green.”
After that little speech, he sped off to continue his patrol. Harold says that they probably won’t bother attacking us because we have enough guns and not enough goods to steal. But ever since that conversation with Hassle, we’ve increased our security just to be sure.
That’s about all I have time for tonight. Jess, Ermete, and I are all out on that tennis court again, as we often are on clear nights. There are some lights in the city, especially in Brickell, but it’s not as bright as it used to be. If you look up at the night sky, you can see the stars. At the end of a long day, we often come out here to talk awhile and eat some cheap food that we bought or scavenged or traded for. But we tend to wake up at the crack of dawn nowadays, so we also go to bed much earlier than we used to. Ermete is already asleep in a chair and Jess just finished working on that Adventures in Global Warming game for the night. So it’s time for me to get going too. Next time, though, I’ll talk more about the projects we’ve been working on. I’ve been emailing a few of our supporters in Southern Illinois about these projects, but now I’m excited to talk about them on the blog. In the meantime, let me say again that if you’re in Miami and you’re working on anything remotely green-related, let me know. Maybe we can work together.