Photo by Lasse Møller on Unsplash

There are a few hours left to the trip. Bobbi, Jaime, Michael and I are having a good time. At the moment, we’re having a little fun at Michael’s expense. He’s been wearing the same T shirt for three days, as 13 year old boys are want to do. Bobbi sits next to me, holding my hand, and the children sit across from us. Jaime is making exaggerated faces and acting like she’s trying to escape her seat to get away from the T shirt. The conversation turns to what we’ll do when we get to Mitchell’s. I tell them about Mitchell’s archery hobby and the range he has on his property. They both light up at the idea of being able to have some fun with bows and arrows. It’s been years since I’ve been to his place, but he used to have a dirt bike and a quad. Like me, he’s always enjoyed things that go fast, and just the right amount of risk in his life. It’s part of why we became friends, and certainly part of how we met. Michael’s eyes go wide at the mention of the quad. I tell him we’ll have to see when we get there, and if he still has them, whether it’s alright with Mitchell, as long as his mother has no problem with it. Bobbi just shrugs and laughs, “They’re his limbs,” she says.

I notice a crowd of people coming from one of the other cars, into ours. Some of them are looking for seats as they come down the aisle. All of them look nervous, and a few are trying as quickly as possible to get down the aisle and into the next car, as if they can’t get far enough from the one they’ve just exited. I catch snippets of conversation… “Why do they need a whole car?” “They must be looking for someone.”

My stomach drops. I know what this is, and even as I’m trying to convince myself I have nothing to worry about, between the fact that I’ve actually done nothing in a very long time and that I’m with Bobbi and the kids, there’s no reason for me to worry. I’m not very convinced by myself though, and a knot is developing in my stomach. My heart rate is starting to elevate, and my thoughts are starting to speed up. I take slow deliberate breaths to keep myself as calm as possible.

Bobbi has picked up on my agitation. “What is it?”

“Nothing good,” I answer, “It might be nothing, but it might be something. If they decide to give me a hard time, let me do the talking, and no matter what happens just stay calm and stay with the kids. Do not give them any reason to separate you. If they want to take me with them, and I’m not back by the time the stop comes, get off. Mitchell is waiting for us at the station and he’ll know what to do. Okay?”

She looks perplexed, “What do you mean? Who would want to talk to you?”

“We’ve talked about some of the things I was involved in when I was younger. I’m not sure if it’s that or if it’s something I’ve written since, but the authorities have come to talk to me twice in the last six months. I don’t know if they think I am still in touch with any of the old crew who are still active or if they’re just trying to scare me into shutting up. They’ve come by when you and the kids were at school. I didn’t want to worry you. I know nothing of interest to them, and if they want to shut me up, they’ll just get the site yanked, and I figured we’d worry about that when the time came should it happen.”

I can see both disappointment and resignation in her face. I hate that look, and knowing it’s my actions that have caused it. Some habits die hard, and keeping certain kinds of secrets is the one I’m now realizing is among the last of that old life to die. Protecting people around me from that life is still an imbedded instinct. It’s still just as useless an endeavor as it ever was.

I’m searching for explanations… maybe excuses. “Did you see the news about the Regional Security Directors property being set on fire yesterday?”

“Yes, this morning when we were waiting for the train. Do you think all this is because they want to ask you about that?” She seems to think it an absurd assumption.

“It would be one hell of a coincidence if there were someone else on this train that they want to speak to, and that would probably be even worse. I don’t know I’d be able to convince them I wasn’t with whoever that was if they thought there was some connection. I bet they’re leaning on anyone and everyone who may have ever known anything about something like that gets done. All this is about both scaring me and embarrassing all of us.” Both Jaime and Micheal look terrified. I’m increasingly frightened. I thought I’d done everything possible to make sure Bobbi and her kids would never get dragged into anything like this. I thought I’d been out long enough or I never would’ve gotten involved with her in the first place.

I am now scared and embarrassed and ashamed.

As the last of the passengers from the other car either sit down or pass by, I can seem them through the glass in the door from the newly emptied car. They come through the door, there are six of them. They’re young, uniforms freshly pressed, as if they were headed to a medal ceremony, and the one in the lead is looking right at me. He passes by my seat and stands behind it. The one behind him stops behind the kids seats. The third one, he’s their Captain. He smiles at me, and he has that look about him. He’s young, eager, ambitious and enjoying the power he’s been given.

“Mr. Evans?”

“Yeah, that’s me.”

“I would like to have a few words with you. If you and your family might join me in the next car, it would be greatly appreciated.”

“Well, first, they’re not going anywhere. I might join you, depending on what it is you would like have these few words about?”

“It’s a matter of National Security sir, so I’d much rather we have some privacy while we speak. It’s in everyone’s best interests.”

National security. Those magic words. He’s telling me I can go with him and answer these questions or I can go into a hole and disappear until they’re ready to let me go.

“Fine. Let’s go have a few words then.” I look to Bobbi and the kids, “They’re staying here though.”

He smiles. “Well, Mr. Evans, if you leave with us and they don’t, some of your fellow passengers might get the wrong idea. Passions are running so high these days. How can we protect them if we leave them here?”

Fuck. He’s telling me there are goons in this car. They probably came in with the passengers from the other car. Modern day brownshirts. These jackboot assholes at least take pride in their sense of professionalism. Harassing a woman and two kids on a commuter train would be bad for the image. Those fucking knuckle dragging brownshirts have no such compunction.

If I leave them here, I’m basically serving them up to a couple of thugs with half a brain cell between them and a thirst to make these jackboots respect them. If Bobbi and the kids come with us, whether or not they disappear into a hole right next to mine becomes another question. He’s got me and Bobbi and Jaime and Micheal, no matter what I do. He planned this before he got on the train. Fucking scumbag. All of them, just small men who amount to no more than a bunch of racist, violent scumbags.

He’s just standing there, smiling. “Right,” I say as I stand and motion to Bobbi and the kids to follow. We’re right in the middle of them as we walk to the now empty adjacent car.

Bobbi and the kids settle into some seats in the middle of the car. I sit on the armrest of the row facing the captain. I know it doesn’t matter, but I still feel like I should to be able to put myself between them and these glorified thugs if need be. What a fucking mess.

“Captain, right?” I ask.

“Yes, that’s right.”

“Captain…?” I motion suggesting there is more.

“Ah, yes, Captain Singal, Mr. Evans. I apologize for missing the formal introduction earlier.”

“What kind of questions do you have Captain Singal?” I want to get this over with. I’m focusing on my breathing because my heart feels like it’s going to shatter my ribs at any second, and I can hear it in my ears. My mind keeps racing back to pictures of Bobbi and the kids being manhandled by these shit eaters and each of us ending up in some windowless concrete cell.

“Well, I’m sure you’ve heard the news of the bombings and the fires these past few months.” He just keeps smiling and there are flashes of pictures in my mind of my fist crashing through his jaw or crushing his nose, spraying blood all over his face. As badly as I’d like to find out how good they train these shit eaters, I also know they’ll shoot me dead. I don’t want Jaime and Michael seeing anything like that. I’ve seen enough of it. It’s why I don’t have the answers to their questions. I just can’t take anymore of it. If I could, I wouldn’t be on this train, I wouldn’t ever have gotten involved with Bobbi and I’d probably be holed up somewhere, laying very, very low.

“It’s hard not to have heard about them. It’s been almost all the news is talking about, all day, everyday.”

“Right. Mr. Evans, I know that you have no loyalty to or love for the new way of things or the general state of the nation. Your writing makes that quite clear, even if your previous political activities didn’t. That being true, I think it’s also true you would much rather see this violence come to an end. You don’t want to see anymore people hurt. Truth be told, neither do I. I want to go back to taking care of the trash in the streets. I want to be doing what the people in my precinct need me to do. I don’t want to be here, talking to you, about this, trying to ferret out radicals and bothering you on your vacation. I was asked to come talk to you and find out if there might be any of your old associates who might be able to point us in the right direction at least. Of course, your name would never be mentioned. You’d also be secure in knowing talks like this wouldn’t be necessary anymore. If there’s anything you can tell me, you’ll be able to go about your business, and we’ll have no more reason to visit you like this.” Of course, he kept smiling.

“You people have come to see me twice in the last six months, and I’ve told them the same thing. I’m out. I’ve been out for quite a few years now. Even if I’d have wanted to get back in, at this point, they’d be suspicious of me returning. They’d be worried you sent me to be a mole. They know I don’t want to know anything about anything and they don’t want anyone talking to anyone who might have enough to lose to be turned. You know all of this. You all know this. I’m out, and I have been out for a long time. I know nothing about what’s going on now.

You know that me and my crew all got out. We turned ourselves in. We did what we had to do to get out, because people were getting hurt and we didn’t want anything to do with it anymore. The only people I still talk to from back then are the other people who also got out. I write now. That’s it.”

He nods… “Yes, you’re going to see Mr. Harring aren’t you? That’s what has you on this trip, yes? He’s waiting for you at your stop, isn’t he?”

They’ve been keeping tabs on me or Mitchell. Maybe both. I figured they’d just found the train tickets through my purchase history and that’s how they knew which seats we were in. Fuck, this is more than that. “Yes. We are going to see Mitchell.”

“There are some of my superiors who find it quite the coincidence that you’re going to meet Mr. Harring the day after the Regional Directors property was firebombed. Understand, I’m not of that opinion. I quite respect that you decided to do the right thing and stop your involvement with all this foolishness. It’s an admirable thing for a man to admit he was wrong and stand up to be accountable. I don’t believe a man who did what you have would put himself at that kind of risk again. Still, it is a concern to some.”

I’ve never said I thought it was wrong or that it was a mistake to be involved with those early days of the movement. I’ve never said it in court. I’ve never written it. I’ve never said it to friends, family or loved ones. It’s not what I believe and it’s quite separate from believing the harm being done to bystanders can’t be just ignored as collateral damage. That is very literally what got us here, people being treated as collateral damage. He’s baiting me, and he’s doing a relatively good job, because I do very genuinely want to break his nose. “I get the feeling you all know that neither Mitchell or I have any involvement in any of what’s been going on. I’m sure Mitchell doesn’t know anything either. We’ve been friends a long time. He’s really the only other part of that old crew I’m still close with. If Mitchell were involved in any of this, he never would have agreed to have us up to his place and we planned this six months ago. Both of us have too much to lose at this point. I have no clue who was involved with the fire at the Regional Directors, and I’m sure Mitchell doesn’t either.”

“Yes, I’m sure.” He now sits in the seat across the aisle. “As I said, I don’t believe you’re involved with any of this. I do believe it would make my superiors feel much more confident in your belief that this is all foolish if you could just give us one name though, just somewhere to begin. I don’t think all of your former associates decided to do the right thing, as both you and Mr. Harring did. I’m sure that even your former associates have nothing to do with the fire at the Regional Directors, but they might have some idea who we might begin to talk to if they are still ‘in the know,’ as they say. Surely there’s someone you can suggest.”

I see what this is about now. It’s not the fires or the bombings, directly. It’s an excuse to sweep up everyone they’ve been wanting to get rid of. They know all the names I could possibly give them. Jesus. This is the next step.

“You all know every name I could possibly give you already. Either they were part of our trials or you had them all under surveillance before we turned ourselves in. There’s nothing new I could possibly tell you.” I put my hands in my pockets because I don’t want him to see them shaking, though I’m sure he hasn’t missed that detail.

“Maybe. Given your experience and your close association with them though, you would be well suited to tell us who might be able to lead us in the right direction. You’d know who might be sympathetic to this barbarity and disorder.

Just give us a name and we can leave you alone. If not, I’m sure my superiors would want to not hear a name from you in person.”

I can give them some random name, essentially just lie about any person I knew and shared hard, trying, formative experiences with, people I loved and trusted and then go about my business or I can disappear into the labyrinth of their detention system. I can give them a name and walk today, but it’s only a matter of time before I’m on the list of troublemakers they’d rather be rid of, and I’ll end up in one of those detention centers anyway… I can feel a panic attack rising. Not now. Not now. Not here…

I wake up gasping for air, shot bolt upright in bed. I’m drenched in sweat. I’m breathing like I’ve been running from a pack of ravenous wolves. I feel like I might throw up and I’m shaking. I get up as quietly as I can, so as to not wake Bobbi and make my way to the living room.

These fucking nightmares. I’m losing my mind.

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