posted on Jul, 8 2020 @ 01:53 AM
A cigar-sized finger dragged more than tabbed through the white pages of the yellowed binder. Even in the long shadows of the interrogation room, the
text on the top of the document read plain enough.
Case Number 254.
“Mister Joseph Carmack,” the other man said.
“That’s my name.”
“Yeah, yeah, address is still at two-one-six Kettle Street?”
“Shouldn’t it be?”
The agent’s eyebrows flexed and channeled a bead of sweat. “You’ve gotta answer that way? Nevermind. Just plead your fifth and make
“I don’t even know what I’m here for.”
“That’s not what I think.” The end of the file came up right away. “Look, I’ll make it so easy, even you can’t complain.
There’s the exit. You can leave, but you can’t go.” The other man rocked his thumb over his shoulder at the iron door. His silhouette seemed to
The binder disappeared under the table with a fwop.
“What about my daughter?” Joe said. “She needs to get picked up in—”
“We took care of that.”
A wave of nausea swept through Joe’s stomach, but he held his peace. Beady eyes afore threatened to drill a hole through his forehead,
while the bare metal chair worked to chafe him from below. He had to get out. His daughter needed him. Were they going to transfer custody to…?
“Which brings me to why we’re here,” the agent said. “You’re facing a lot of bad stuff. Child endangerment, public endangerment,
three counts of disobeying a lawful order, a weapons charge—you know people like you can’t own a gun, right?—and what’s this about your car
This was outrageous. I haven’t done anything like that. “I want my lawyer.”
“He called. Too bad he’s got the creeping crud. You know the rules.”
“What rules? I have rights.”
The agent smacked his lips. “We got to promote the ‘general welfare.’ If that means you got to sit in here for a year, waiting for
Mister Helms to start eating right, you do it.”
Maybe your diet could use some work, big guy. “Then I plead the fifth until my lawyer can get here.”
“Have it your way.”
The binder emerged yet again from the darkness. With what appeared to be extreme difficulty, the interrogator fished out a stack of
papers. He spread them across the table in an array, along with a well-worn Bic pen.
“Sign here, here, here, anywhere you see a big box,” the man said.
Joe’s jaw might’ve ended up between his feet. There were ten, fifteen different forms, all of them waivers. There was one for asthma
lawsuits, an arbitration clause, a non-disclosure agreement. At least three in succession offered tick-box fields demanding whether he was a fugitive
from justice, what his ethnicity was, and his immigration status. As if they would even bother with him if he’d flashed a green card.
Each paper offered him specific protections for his “fifth” rights, if only he would sign.
Joe didn’t sign.
“This is ridiculous,” he said. “There’s so many terms, I can’t even use my rights.”
“Well, I tried. Imagine if we let just any criminal be protected. You understand.” Kielbasa fingers shoved the papers back into the
binder, and again the whole of them were spirited away to oblivion. “I’m going to ask some questions.”
“You won’t get any answers.”
“Ouch, that’s a nasty felony right there.” The agent produced a notepad from his breast pocket and scribbled.
Joe tried to stand, only to find his legs had locked up. “A felony? And you didn’t say anything?”
“We don’t have to disclose that to you,” the Agent said. Once he finished scrawling, he added, “Your file says your wife told us
you’re a woman-beater.”
“Those charges were dropped. I’ve never been convicted of a crime in my life.”
“So? You still can’t own a gun, Mister Law-Abiding. You’re high risk.”
Joe tumbled more than rose from his seat. He quivered and shook. “How can I be a risk when I haven’t done anything?”
“Sit down. I’ve got more questions. Unless you want to face a second felony.”
Joe sat. The steel table rattled under his elbows.
“So, Joseph. According to this report filed by your ex-wife, you’re still endangering the public by refusing to follow the terms
prescribed by your Neighborhood Accountability Specialist. That’s Miss Watson, it says here. Anything you want to tell us?”
“I did nothing wrong.”
“But you broke the law. We have footage of it.”
“Footage?” Joe said.
“Have a look.”
A bleak CRT monitor sparked to life in the corner. At first, only a blue screen with “AUX” in the corner showed itself, and a strange
green line marred the picture on one side. From nowhere, the agent produced a remote and toggled the display to a recording of his choice.
Joe walked his daughter up the street, down to the park, and then returned a sparse few moments later.
“I’d left my cell phone in the house,” he said.
“Mmm, you left more than a phone, Joseph. You left your good sense—your safety.”
The other man leaned closer across the table. His eyes pulsed in the cold light of the ancient TV set. “Ignorance of the law ain’t an
excuse, Joseph. The rest of us are doing our part. So why—aren’t—you?”
A run for it. He could make it past this guy. Maybe even take his badge and get the doors open. No, only a guilty man would do that.
Besides, there were too many on the other side...
“What do you want from me?” Joe finally said. He groaned. “I go to work eight-to-four every day. I work hard. I pay my taxes. I
don’t cause problems. What else do you want?”
A phone screen washed out what little of the interrogator Joe could see. It faced him like a second accuser. “Anyone who can’t follow
our law is a sicko. We make ‘em so other people don’t catch what you got, because good citizens don’t do what you do.” Text scrolled and
arrived at the exact passage—the one Joe knew would seal his fate. “If you can’t follow the rules, you can’t be one of us. The law is a good
thing, and if you can’t keep up, there’s something wrong with you.”
Thumb ink and another paper crossed the table. This one didn’t have dozens of questions.
It was an indictment. Of course it was. They’d already known what he would do.
“Put your thumb right there,” the agent said, “And, ah...ah...”
One tremendous sneeze blew the surgical mask right off the other man’s face. It wafted to the floor like a feather.
Wide, black eyes stared back at Joe.