Thought I’d post this. It’s set in a dystopian future in which the US Constitution is overridden during a period of populace apathy by the Religious Right. And I think this bit is one of my favourite pieces of writing I’ve ever done.
The day of the vote was the quietest yet. Every now and then a truck passed the bar, but not one soul entered. I stood behind the wooden, polished bar for the entire day, watching the door anxiously, with an ear turned to the news. The danger of internal terrorism, it had been claimed, was why the roads to Washington DC were cordoned off. However, the government had promised the result of this vote would be revealed as soon as possible.
Some people surely had turned to CSPAN only to find the political channel had been deactivated. There was to be no live coverage of this debate, of this vote. It was a day of waiting for most. Some likely mourned, mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters of those whom the violence had already claimed.
But it was not television that broke the news to me. Rather, it was the noise of something in the back room breaking. I had already sent home my staff for the day – it was apparent that nobody was going to come in and need the kitchen working beyond what I could do myself – and so I was alone. I paused and turned, gazing towards the kitchen door. The things my brother had said to me resonated in my mind. Could he have voted no, and just maybe was a threat against me about to be carried out?
But then the door opened, and the man stepping into my bar wasn’t a soldier. He was disheveled, a finely cut suit torn to shreds, and blood soaking the shirt through in several places. His hair was askew and a little flap of skin was drooping sadly over his left eye. Blood from that cut, and possibly others, obscured his face, but even so, I knew Jonathan when I saw him.
“What?” I said. He looked at me and then laughed, just a little.
“Oh, I voted no,” he said. I moved over to him and slid an arm around his body, taking him quickly to sit.
“Jesus Christ, Jonathan,” I started, but he cut me off.
“That’s pretty much the half of it,” he replied. He was reaching into his coat for something as I pressed a wadded bar towel to his head. “Here,” he said, groaned, really. He pressed a blood-covered flash drive into my hand.
I raised an eyebrow and gazed down to it. “What’s this?”
“I recorded the proceedings today. Remember how we talked about proof? This is it.”
“Is this why they beat you?”
“Nobody beat me, Jake. I got this getting through the wire they put around the Capitol. We slipped out the back after the vote, and gave the Marines the slip for a minute. We cut the wire with some tin snips, but didn’t do a good enough job. I caught a strand of it in the face,” he said, indicating the tear along his forehead. “We were running down the street when they saw us. Sandy got shot. I don’t know if she’s alive or dead.” Sandy was a Congresswoman from California Jonathan had been seeing in the backrooms of the Capitol for a few months then. He hadn’t been sure if he loved her or not, but he was certainly fond of her.
I sighed softly, pressing the bit of skin into its proper place on my brother’s forehead. “Hold this. I’ll get the first aid kit.”
“First thing you do is hide that drive.”
“Do it!” he said. His voice was firm in a way I’d rarely ever heard. I raised an eyebrow, but I moved over to the bar with the flash drive. One of the taps was loose, and I tugged it free and slid the drive into a hollow there. Then I closed the tap back down, and found the first aid kid.
He was my little brother, a year and a half younger than me. Mom and dad never had much money, but Jonathan always managed. He had made his first dimes selling lemonade on the street corner, or something else equally clichéd, I’m sure. Regardless, he worked hard to get enough money to go to school. Only the best – Jonathan put himself through Harvard. I joined the Army.
I went to Iraq two days after he graduated from Harvard. I was 25, he was 23, and our lives were about to take two very separate turns. He moved to New York and made a killing on Wall Street. I went to Baghdad and killed people. His investments were getting bigger and bigger, and after my first tour I started giving half my pay to Jonathan to invest for me. Not much money, but he did more than enough with it to make it blossom.
It was my last tour that I won the Silver Star. As always, our convoy was minding its own business, when we hit an IED. I was ejected from the .50 caliber turret and hit the ground away from the Humvee. Didn’t break anything, but I was black and blue for two solid weeks. Managed to get my M-16 up and around.
It wasn’t a normal attack. This time the terrorists, or Sunni militia, or Shia militia, or Al Qaeda, or whoever they were, had stuck around. We heard the distinctive sound of AK 47s being fired at the column. My Humvee, the lead, was down and out. There were four more in the column. As I was getting my bearings someone smoked the last one with an RPG and blasted it up onto its side. I started shooting at random.
I knew that if I didn’t get back to the convoy, I was dead. Nothing seemed broken, so I got up and started running. I was shot in the back, right in the armour plate, and was back down on my face with a mouth of dust. We were stuck in some small fucking Iraqi town, buildings on either side alive with someone trying to kill us, and burning vehicles blocking our evac.
Next thing I heard was bullets zipping over my head. I looked to the side and there was some Iraqi shooting at me, or shooting in general. But he was sitting in the driver’s side of a big fucking truck, probably belonged to the coalition originally, with the top cut right off. That’s a weird sight, this big ol’ two ton truck with the cab cut right off. Anyway, I shot him. Two rounds, right in the chest. And I got up and ran to the truck.
The truck was running as I jumped in and tossed the dead Iraqi (he looked about sixty) out to the dirt road. I hit the gas. A couple of our boys thought I was going to ram them, but luckily their shots went wide, or snapped off the hood. I used the beat up old truck to smash my burning, shattered Humvee out of the road and off to the side. It got wedged right up against the building.
“Come on, dammit!” I yelled. “Move the fucking Hummers!” Next thing I knew, there were three or four men jumping onto the back of the truck, using it for cover, spraying fire at one of the buildings hemming us in where I guess a few Iraqi fighters must have been. A few bodies were tossed in the back by more soldiers, who were firing in the other direction. Then the living Humvees drove by, .50 cals thundering heavily. Through all the low noise of gun recoil, the revving of engines, screams of the dying and the wounded, I could hear those heavy shells tinkling down to the ground. A strange thing to remember, but it’s there.
Then I threw the truck into reverse and peeled out of the ambush after the Hummers. The guys in the back did a hell of a job putting out covering fire. They must have emptied five or six clips each as we peeled out. No careful shooting, we just wanted to get the fuck out of there.
Then I noticed there was a guy in the truck next to me. I don’t remember him getting in, but he was there. His helmet had been blown in half, probably by one of the first impacts, but later in the fight he had taken a bullet. It had skipped off his skull and left him bleeding and dazed. He died of brain damage later, I heard. But he was shooting too. It was that look in his eyes, that look that said he knew he was done for, that look of utter defiance and the damnable creed to die with his boots on getting his buddies out of a jam, that if he’s gotta go he’s going to make sure others get out, that I saw in Jonathan’s eyes as I patched up his wounds as best I could. It was chilling.
They gave me the Silver Star and they gave that man’s wife a folded flag, and we both did the same thing – the best we could. Fucking Army.