The Not So Secret Agent
by Ed Harley
Author’s note: This story is set in the fictional country of Upper Danubia.Those unfamiliar with Danubia might want to check out EC's excellent novels first, since those are the original works my story is based on. My characters are original but nearly everything else was borrowed from EC's fiction.
Feedback: Have comments or questions? Send'em to me at firstname.lastname@example.org . It should be noted that due to my vain and self-centered nature I greatly enjoy praise. But not unlike a Danubian criminal, I'll never change my bad habits unless I'm forced to, so constructive criticism is also much appreciated.
Chapter 1: Information Bandits
Arthur Liggett had hot sweaty feet; blame the muggy Louisiana air that showed up a month early. He flopped back in his supervisor’s expensive new office chair. It was so soft and comfortable; no wonder Gary didn’t let anyone else sit in it. Arthur yanked off his work boots, threw his wet socks on top of Gary’s desk and then he stretched out, letting the cold dry air from the floor vent blow between his toes. There was simply nothing better than air conditioning.
Arthur fidgeted constantly as he waited for the diagnostic to finish. There was nothing left to do but stare at a computer screen. The software's progress bar seemed stuck at 75%.
He went to the bathroom sink to wash the sweat off his face. His reflection made him smirk; his hardhat had left weird globe-like indentions on his head. Arthur wet his face and leaned toward the mirror. His features were sharp; with a narrow nose, dark blue eyes, and a thin straight mouth. To some people, his resting facial expression seemed aloof or playful. Some suspicious people even claimed that Arthur Liggett looked like he was always up to something.
His co-workers had left work at five-thirty; just Arthur and the crickets stayed late. For some reason there were always black field crickets loose in the lab; chirping in shaded spaces behind desks, printers, and filing cabinets.
The computer beeped. Arthur made sure the install was complete and the network was connected; then he clicked shutdown. The office phone rang.
"Lusty Lady's Escort Service," Arthur's face lit up mischievously: "This is Gary, may I help you?"
There was silence for a couple seconds, and then a man sighed. "Really, Arthur... an escort service?" The man sighed again in a tired way. "I'm at my office, come and see me." He hung up the phone before Arthur could respond.
Arthur grabbed his boots and stepped out the back door at the end of the hall. A skinny reddish brown beagle stood ten paces away. The dog looked at him warily then sat to scratch at its neck. Arthur went back inside and turned left into the employee break room.
He searched the refrigerator. On the top rack there was a white Styrofoam container. It had 'Gary' written on the top and underlined twice in red marker. Arthur peeked inside and found something that resembled meatloaf. He put that one on the table and then he found another container that said: 'Kosher' on top. Uncertain about the dog's religious beliefs, Arthur grabbed it too and headed outside.
He whistled and the stray came close, licking its lips and wetting its nose. Arthur opened the trays on the sidewalk and watched the dog eat his co-worker's food. He smiled; it felt good to be so generous and compassionate. After the dog washed the Styrofoam clean Arthur put the trays back in the refrigerator and headed toward the white Chevy in the gravel parking lot.
He threw his hardhat in the floorboard of the company pickup truck and drove across the dirt parking lot, between a row of trailers and metal sheds. He slowed at the intersection. Flatbed trucks with heavy loads of black drill tubes and service trucks hauling industrial sized generators and gas welding equipment set lined up to either side, mostly blocking the view.
Half a mile down a two lane paved road, he pulled off at the entrance to another fenced complex. Arthur stopped at the gatehouse and waved his ID card. The scrappy new security guard insisted on examining the laminated photo ID up close, she looked at the card; then at him.
"Thank you Mr. Liggett." She said. "Sorry to stop you but we're having to step up security; there've been some theft issues reported recently."
"Is that right?" Arthur took back his ID.
"Mmm hmm... Yes we have," she complained, "and then on top of that we've had animal control up here twice this week... I think somebody's been feeding stray animals."
Arthur shook his head. "Some people are completely irresponsible. I'll keep my eyes open ma'am, and if I see anything suspicious I'll be sure to let you know."
"Thanks hun," she said. "How late you work anyway?"
"Until Mr. Neal says I'm done, I guess. I have some important results to give him, he hasn't left yet has he?"
"No hun, that man works late 'bout every night," She wagged a finger. "Now don't let'em turn you into workaholic too."
She waved as he drove toward the office. Arthur parked outside the three-story brick building. Mr. Neal's office was on the first floor, the door was open and his lights were on. Arthur walked in. Mr. Neal leaned back in the world's most comfortable office chair with his mouth open, snoring.
Arthur cleared his throat. Mr. Neal grunted then straightened up in his chair, blinking rapidly. "Uh... um... oh it's you. You... you um... got that network and... uh... stuff ready."
"Good to go," Arthur said. "By the way did you see yesterday's results?"
"Ugh..." Mr. Neal groaned. "I don't want to see them."
"But these are very interesting... I circled the best parts." Arthur put the folded sports page down on his boss's desk.
"Arthur," Mr. Neal grumbled as he smoothed down his neatly trimmed mustache and beard. "You've got to be the luckiest son of a bitch I ever seen... the Astros!" He sighed with disgust: "Fucking Marlins." Mr. Neal put on his reading glasses and sighed as Arthur enjoyed his grief, then he opened a desk drawer. "Fifty?"
"Hmm... here's uh... twenty, pay the rest next week, okay?"
"Sure." Arthur noticed how tired his boss looked; his bloodshot eyes had dark circles underneath. Mr. Neal’s normally pressed shirt was wrinkled and his office smelled like he'd started smoking again.
"Have a drink?" Mr. Neal reached for a cabinet drawer. He found a half empty bottle of Jack Daniels and slid a shot glass toward Arthur's hand. "I don't have any ice."
"It's a cruel world." Arthur tasted his warm bourbon. Mr. Neal threw his back and poured another.
Mr. Neal glanced down. "You're not wearing shoes."
Arthur shrugged. "My feet got hot."
"Steel-toed boots are required for your job, you know."
"Sure I know," Arthur said. "I've got a pair in the bed of the truck."
Mr. Neal grinned: "You just don't give a shit about what other people say, do you Arthur?"
"Well... I wouldn't put it like that exactly. When I need boots, I wear boots. People don't need to control everything I do, do they?"
Mr. Neal laughed without humor. "Arthur, don't ever get married." Mr. Neal threw back another shot and grimaced. "It's nothing but torture... you give everything to a woman..." He exhaled a short angry breath. "She's living in my house, driving my car, fucking some other guy and I have to pay the bitch alimony... half of everything that I earn goes to child support or her pocket!"
Arthur downed another one and started to feel the warmth in his belly, the comfortable drowsiness of alcohol. Arthur's thoughts drifted as his boss ranted.
"I just need one more shot at it..." His boss said at one point, apparently talking about some big wager he'd lost. Neal was sounding like a gambling addict; Arthur figured that had something to do with his recent divorce.
"But what she doesn't know is that I get money off the books... fuck Liz and her fucking lawyer!"
Arthur wondered if his boss were sober would he still be telling him this.
"Arthur,” Neal leaned forward shaking his head. “I just need some help, I need somebody to... you know, help with a little project of mine."
Arthur shrugged: "If the site work's done just send the files to me or Gary, all the logs and stuff..."
"No... It's not for work. I've got this job on the side."
"You have time for two jobs?"
"Well... it doesn't take much time really. There's a businessman who... pays me for information from time to time. He's big in the futures markets. There's a new play in Eastern Europe they need help with."
"Eastern Europe?" Arthur exclaimed in surprise; his office dwelling boss always seemed to rely on other people's technical skills. "No offense, Mr. Neal but what do you know about oil fields in Europe?"
"Not a thing, but I don't need to. They just want some files accessed." Mr. Neal shook his head. "But it's just been so long since I've done that kind of thing... I've been reading manuals and trying to figure it out but I don't know... computers really aren't my thing."
"CR... uh... what is it?"
Arthur guessed: "The CRS suite?"
"Uh... yeah, I think so."
"4.3 or the new one?"
"Ah, hell I don't know," Mr. Neal sighed in an exhausted way. "I'm not much of a tech guy."
Arthur shrugged. "I could give you some pointers, I guess."
"I have to be over there Tuesday."
"This upcoming Tuesday?" Arthur cringed. "I don't know, I mean, I do this all the time and it took me over a week to... uh, wait a second. It is... the English version, right?"
Mr. Neal held his head in both hands. "Oh god..." He closed his eyes for a long time.
"So they can just hire someone else, right?" Arthur shrugged. "I mean really, it's pretty ridiculous to hire you to go all the way to Europe just to copy some files."
Mr. Neal exhaled a breath he'd been holding. "No, I said I could do this... I need this payment, I owe a lot of money, Arthur."
"Hmm..." Arthur put his glass down on the desk. "This all sounds like the plot of a bad gangster movie." Arthur stood up, smirking. "Thanks for the drink Mr. Neal, but I think I'm going to get out of here before some wise guys come by to whack you."
"Damn it, Arthur, just sit down... I thought you'd be at least a little sympathetic..."
Arthur took a sharp breath then he nodded slowly. "Oh... I see. You want me to do it..."
Mr. Neal leaned forward in his chair. "What do you say?"
"I don't know what exactly you're trying to get me into but I'm not interested."
Neal glared: "I could fire you."
"About that," Arthur pointed out: "See... you just told me you're selling company secrets." Arthur stepped toward the door. "You're not really going to fire me."
"Listen... I... I'm sorry," Neal looked even more tired and miserable. "I didn't mean it. It's just the stress I'm under. Come on Arthur; help me out. I help you out all the time. Do you know how many complaints Gary's filed about you? I'm the only one that's keeping him from transferring you to some god awful basecamp in Alberta. Do you want to live in Canada?"
"Well, of course not," Arthur said. "No one wants to live in Canada."
"This job will just take two days, that's all."
Arthur grinned. "And how many years in prison?"
"It's not like that... just sit down. Hear me out." Mr. Neal frowned. "Okay... I'll admit it... it's not strictly legal but there's not really much risk either. These businessmen that I'm helping are just trying to do what's right; the world needs energy, Arthur. Between Russia and the Middle East, these state run companies control the market. Private companies, like the one you work for, are being squeezed out. In this case there's a prime target for exploration located in the most backwards country you've ever heard of."
"Oh no..." Arthur feigned horror. "You want to send me to Texas!"
"This is serious! Listen... this little country in Eastern Europe is in completely over their heads but their government won't let any foreign contractors in without agreeing to pay millions up-front. The resources might be worth it or they might not. As you could imagine, those companies don't want to go in blind, they need information real bad."
Arthur shrugged: "So just pay some nerd in Backwardistan to get the files for you. Give'em a goat or a virgin or... how about a virgin goat?"
Neal scoffed: "They won't help; that's the problem! They're completely unreasonable. Arthur, if we could just get a copy of their data it would be better for everyone."
"Everyone, meaning you and your buddies?" Arthur turned to leave.
"Listen, you'd be helping the people in that country too. There's no way they can capitalize on the full potential of their resources without modern technology, and we have that, so everyone wins."
Arthur took a step toward the door, ready to leave. "I think I'll pass."
Mr. Neal stood. "You'll get money for the job and... um... I can get you a twenty percent pay raise next year, and two weeks paid vacation."
Arthur laughed: "Just how desperate do you think I am for a vacation?"
Mr. Neal grimaced: "And twelve thousand dollars."
Arthur stopped. "Up front? Twelve thousand dollars cash? Hmm... wait... I thought the ex had all your money."
"I've got some put away at my house."
Arthur scratched at the back of his head, thought about it and then sat down again. It wouldn't hurt to hear the details. "So where is this mystery oil field anyway?"
Mr. Neal tapped on his glass nervously, pausing a long while, and then he leaned forward and whispered: "Arthur, have you ever heard of a country called Upper Danubia?"
* * *
He felt the nose of the plane dip; heard the pilot talking to the tower. Arthur looked out the window as the plane broke through a thin layer of clouds. It was still two hours before dawn. A large river meandered below: a black rope through a rough gray landscape of treetops. The plane banked steeply and to the south. Arthur could make out the lights of a sizeable city. Danube City, the capital of the Grand Duchy of Upper Danubia.
Arthur tried to steady his nerves, he could hardly believe he was actually doing this, but it was thrilling. And lucrative, he had Mr. Neal's twelve thousand dollars buried in his apartment's freezer now. Arthur also had five thousand dollars in his pocket and would soon get another five. It was an exceptionally exhilarating and terrifying feeling.
But his new employer made his skin crawl; Arthur would be glad to part company with that man at the end of the day. This businessman had been waiting inside a chartered plane in Berlin. When Arthur climbed aboard the man introduced himself as Peter Rumak. Rumak wore a pale gray business suit that matched his eyes. He had some gray mixing into his brown hair but Rumak seemed outwardly strong and fit.
Rumak's manner was imperious and arrogant; he had just thrown the envelope of cash down at Arthur's feet and made him pick his payment up off the floor, perhaps to make the point of who was in charge. Arthur wasn't sure if Mr. Rumak's accent was German or Russian, but the man's English was perfectly understandable, though when Rumak spoke it was only to give orders.
* * *
The train ride east was three times longer than the flight. There was a stop at a town about half an hour from Danube City. At one point Arthur looked out the window and saw something shocking: inside the busy train station there were two naked guys carrying luggage, right in the middle of the station busy with morning commuters.
Arthur turned to his new employer, who had the row seat beside him. "Mr. Rumak... look at that!" Arthur snickered. "There are two naked dudes standing right out there! What the hell?"
Rumak glanced up casually, said something in a foreign language and then focused on Arthur. "I do not pay you for conversation," he said. "Study your documents and be silent. You will not speak unless I tell you to speak."
Arthur was getting tired of his new employer's declarative sentences but considering the money that Rumak offered; Arthur figured he could put up with it for a day.
The train slowed considerably through the rugged mountainous stretch. Rumak insisted that Arthur spend the three-hour journey studying technical reports. Arthur thought it was ridiculous, all he really needed was access to the computers, he didn't need to know the whole natural history of Danubia. Regardless, he had little else to do so he read every document thrice by the time they made it to Rika Chorna.
The Rika Chorna train station was packed, lines of commuters held their tickets waiting to board. Rumak picked up a black briefcase from the luggage cart. It was strange; Arthur couldn't recall him having it when he boarded the train. Rumak spoke at least passable Danubian; he stepped outside and hailed a cab. The cab let them off beside a row of office buildings on the East side of the city. Rumak gave the driver what must have been a large tip; the driver waited as Arthur and Rumak stepped out onto the road.
Rumak looked calm and collected. Standing with his briefcase in hand, he turned: "It is but a short distance." He motioned Arthur to walk down the sidewalk beside him. "Why are you here?" Rumak asked the question casually, without turning his head.
"I'm a systems consultant," Arthur swallowed. "I'm here to troubleshoot some reported malfunctions in their network."
"Who do you work for?"
"I do contract work for Krain Networking Systems."
"Who am I?" Rumak asked.
"Peter Rumak, a company manager and my supervisor."
"Good, but do not speak unless asked, only answer what is asked and remember Mr. Liggett; do stay calm."
Easy for him to say, thought Arthur as he followed the man with the black briefcase into the courtyard of a newly constructed complex.
Chapter 2: The Arrest
Officer Trnava Stashak had gotten ready for her morning patrol before it was even seven o'clock. Her partner, who had a wife and two young kids, never came in so early; no she wouldn't be seeing Officer Detynik Andreis for another thirty minutes. He always walked his five-year-old boy to school every morning before making his way to the police station.
Officer Stashak picked up their assignments from the Chief's office and then decided to step outside to wait for her partner to appear. The sun was just rising over the massive stone courtyard of the Governor's Palace. It was going to be the type of warm bright day that made patrolling Rika Chorna a pleasure. After a few minutes of relaxing she spotted her partner across the boulevard in front of the Ministry of Public Works having a conversation with a criminal grounds keeper.
Trnava just grinned and shook her head. Officer Andreis was a decorated and experienced policeman who had proven himself on the force for almost eight years but his friendly behavior toward the city's collared criminals was a bit strange. He would only require them to kneel long enough to satisfy protocol, and then afterwards it wasn't unusual for him to talk casually with a criminal right out in the open. If they got to choose who their arresting officer was, there would be a line forming outside his office. The judicial punishments he administered, while harsh enough to satisfy the judge, were nearly always on the lenient side. Yes, Officer Andreis sometimes seemed too kind hearted for this line of work.
The streets were starting to fill with morning commuters. Since serious crime was rare in Rika Chorna; Stashak focused her efforts on punishing lesser offenses such as littering or disturbing the peace. In just two months she had used up a whole book of citations already, bringing in a fair amount of money to the department.
Then Stashak saw a disturbance up ahead. A perpetrator on a bicycle veered off the road and across a pedestrian sidewalk, recklessly jumping off the curb. A couple pedestrians had to leap to the side.
Officer Stashak rushed out onto the street. "You there, Stop!"
The teenage girl skidded to a stop; her skin lost all color.
Officer Stashak ordered the girl to put down the kickstand and get off her bicycle. Stashak rose up to her full height. "What do you have to say for yourself?"
The girl shifted her weight from foot to foot nervously. "I... uh..."
"Marinya, do you know it is against the law to ride a bicycle on the sidewalk or the lawn?"
The girl was starting to cry. "Um... yes... yes Officer Stashak."
Stashak tapped the handle of her police switch with a finger, letting the girl sweat it out for a while before giving the girl a stern warning and sending her on to school. Normally she would give the girl’s parents a ticket but Stashak felt extra generous that day.
Meanwhile, Officer Andreis concluded his conversation with the criminal and crossed the boulevard to meet his junior partner. Stashak saluted Andreis.
He returned the salute. "Whew... you looked very intimidating there, Officer Stashak... almost scared me! I would say that your patrol will have the best behaved children in all of Danubia."
Stashak blushed. "Oh, why do you tease me like this?"
“Maybe you remind me of my little sister." Andreis grinned. "So Officer Stashak, where do the fates throw us today, I would hope it's in the direction of a good coffee shop."
She smiled shyly. Officer Andreis was both handsome and charming; Stashak thought the other women on the force must be jealous of her, if Andreis were only a few years younger and unmarried... No, she told herself, she already had a boyfriend and they were a happy young couple, really they were.
She pushed aside such foolish thoughts and focused on the business at hand. "The Chief wants us to head over to the eastern side of the business district; they’re replacing a water-main this morning, so they need us to re-rout traffic and keep people out of their way. They want us over there before the heavy equipment arrives at about nine o'clock."
“There is a little diner on the way, next to the Farmers Market.” Andreis remarked. “Perhaps you will forgive my impudence if I treat you to a cup of coffee?"
After a good cup of black coffee they continued to the site of the water-main break. It was eight-thirty in the morning already but nothing was happening. The foreman furiously barked into his radio about all the delays, and then he really went off the edge throwing his clipboard to the ground and stomping off toward his work crew.
" See," Officer Andreis observed. "Now that’s what would happen to me if I didn't stop after my second cup." With the significant delay in work on the water main, he decided that it would be best if he and his junior partner patrolled to the east for a while.
This part of the Business District had rows of office buildings to either side but at the very end of the street and the edge of the city was the new Rika Chorna Technology Center; a collection of several brown brick buildings in a campus-like setting. Just a few of the facilities were finished though, standing at the main entrance Officer Andreis could see empty bicycle racks out front. It appeared that no one was working at the Tech-Center yet. Curious by nature, he decided to have a look around.
Stashak really wasn't that interested in exploring a bunch of vacant buildings, so she volunteered to go back to the intersection in case the workers showed up early, and perhaps to enjoy a second cup of coffee. She traveled back alone, greeted the foreman who had calmed down some, and then a noise caught her attention. The industrial park was a kilometer to the west and south so it wasn't that unusual to hear noisy bangs and crashes, but Stashak thought the noise sounded an awful lot like gunfire.
She paused a second, wondering what to do, not wanting to be the rookie cop that over- reacts and makes a fool of herself. It surely wasn't gunfire, not in Danubia. Stashak decided to be cautious; she contacted the dispatcher on the radio and reported a suspicious noise to the east, then she made her way quickly toward the Tech Center, where she would meet up with her partner. At the entrance Stashak paused and checked her revolver, feeling somewhat foolish she walked in.
Stashak called out her partner's name. He didn't answer. She walked into the center of the rectangular courtyard and called out louder and again he didn't answer. Rookie or not she now felt justified in calling for backup. She radioed in, put a reassuring hand on her revolver and walked from building to building. The first three were dark inside with locked doors. At the far end of the courtyard there was a one-story brick building. A sign outside read Computer-Modeling Center. The plate glass in the front door was shattered and scattered on the sidewalk.
Her right hand went to her revolver and her left found her police radio; Stashak’s voice shook as she reported the break in. Gripping the revolver in her right hand, Stashak braced it with her left but the sights on the barrel still trembled constantly as she aimed at the glass door. She called out: "This... this is Officer Stashak of the Rika Chorna Police Force." Her voice seemed high and panicked; she trembled, hoping that backup would arrive soon. Real life wasn't like training at the academy at all. "Who is inside? Identify yourselves!"
A police siren sounded to the east. Her radio went off confirming there were officers in route. Stashak took a half step closer to the door; the lower glass was shattered except for a few jagged shards. Inside it was dark but there was something on the floor, down the hall ten meters. She lowered into a crouch to look through the opening. Every noise seemed amplified; she could hear the beep of a telephone left off the hook. Stashak took a sharp breath, the thing on the floor was a leg. Someone was lying on the floor. A polished shoe reflected light. "Andreis." She whispered louder: "Andreis!"
She felt panic take over. A police car raced into the courtyard behind her. They took action, they cleared the building, they found her partner on the floor. She stood helplessly and watched as others administered first aid. The ambulance came as she watched. Her radio was busy with traffic.
"Officer down," someone said. "Request immediate medical attention!"
“Armed suspect north of the Industrial Canal." Reports the dispatcher’s voice over the radio.
There were a dozen sirens around her and more to the south. Her radio crackled: "Suspect shot... request ambulance." Then seconds later: "Cancel request for ambulance, suspect is dead."
Dispatcher's voice came over the radio: "Second suspect seen traveling on foot, north of the rail line; consider armed and dangerous..."
The medics had her partner on a stretcher. They moved past her toward the ambulance. She gasped. Andreis's eyes were rolled back in their sockets and the hair on the right side of his head was saturated in blood. "Detynik," she cried. They had a clear mask over his mouth and nose, his shirt was cut down the middle and pushed aside, blood stained the blue uniform an appalling purple. One medic walking alongside the stretcher had his fingers inside a wound on Andreis's upper abdomen, trying frantically to clamp an artery that gushed in quick spurts.
After her partner was loaded into the ambulance Officer Stashak stood in silence at the building's entrance. Andreis's blood had dripped all along the sidewalk. A hundred meters to the south several police officers had the gunman's young partner handcuffed and on his knees. She didn't feel anger or terror or anguish, right then, standing there over her partner's drying blood she felt nothing at all.
Her lieutenant approached. "Trinova, I'm having a driver take you back to the station so you can give your statement to the inspector. As soon as you're through with that you'll be dismissed for the day, I'm sure you want to go to be with Officer Andreis at the Hospital."
"Don't concern yourself with this suspect," he urged her along. "I guarantee we can make him talk. This partner of the gunman is going to have a very unpleasant day. We're going to take him over to the old shop and get him ready for the inspector." He put his hand on her shoulder. "Detynik is strong; he's going to make it."
* * *
Arthur had been kneeling on the sidewalk for several minutes when a policewoman got him up and removed his handcuffs. Twenty cops formed a rough circle around him. The woman glared at Arthur and issued a command, and even though he couldn't understand what she meant, his failure to comply angered the woman. She slapped him hard across the face.
"I don't know what you want."
She grabbed a fist-full of his shirt and pointed to the ground. Bewildered, Arthur glanced where she had pointed but there was nothing but concrete. She slapped him again then motioned as if taking off her own shirt.
"You want my shirt?" Arthur unbuttoned the shirt and looked at the policewoman. She nodded.
Arthur removed the shirt and placed it on the ground. Then the policewoman pointed to his shoes. As Arthur removed his shoes he had a frightening thought. This woman surely wouldn't demand that I take off all my clothes. As if in reply she pointed to his pants.
Arthur stood at the center of a ring of angry cops wearing only a thin pair of boxers now. As he expected the policewoman demanded he strip off the last of his clothes. In front of twenty police officers, half of them women, Arthur reluctantly pushed the waistband of his shorts down over his hips and let them fall around his ankles. The expression in the face of the policewoman changed to a malicious smile when she noticed him trying to cover himself with his hands.
There was nothing she enjoyed more than humiliating a young man, especially a foreigner who was not used to public nudity. She would enjoy herself today, it was even better since the suspect tried to cover his nakedness, by forcing him to expose his naked body in front of a crowd she could embarrass him twice.
While another policeman gathered up his clothes she pulled out her baton and stepped behind him. Arthur felt her hand grasp his wrist; she issued another order then forced both hands behind his head. He felt the tap of her baton on the inside of his right calf; she was ordering him to spread his legs. The policewoman wasn't satisfied until his feet were set almost a meter apart.
Arthur felt the cold metal baton drag over his right thigh and up across his buttocks as she circled back in front of him. The woman seemed to feed on his humiliation, while the other cops looked angry she had an almost hungry look in her eyes. Arthur trembled a bit as she examined his face then her eyes went lower. He felt the baton move slowly up his right thigh until it touched his testicles. She applied just enough upward force to be painful while she made what must have been a series of crude comments about his manhood. Arthur stood completely exposed and under the merciless policewoman's control as her audience enjoyed his embarrassment.
After several minutes of this degrading treatment Arthur was forced to his knees. She cuffed his hands behind his back and put another pair of shackles on his ankles, then pulled him to his feet. The policewoman smiled as she prodded Arthur forward with her baton, toward the entrance and the busy street beyond.
Arthur was mortified as dozens of people on both sides of the road stopped to examine the naked young man in chains that the police escorted down the street. Men and women stared, teenagers laughed, and children pointed as he shuffled awkwardly in his shackles. Five minutes later the police reached their destination: an old masonry structure that had a garage door at the front. After seeing the cruel looks on the cop's faces Arthur feared the worst.
* * *
After spewing what must have been a series of insults the policewoman left Arthur alone. Then the lights were turned out. Arthur found that with his arms hoisted behind his back so high in the air he was unable to rest in any way. He couldn’t stand up straight without wrenching his shoulders out of socket but his hands were pulled too far off the ground to even allow him to rest on his knees.
Every muscle in his back and shoulders was burning, and the soreness in his arms and legs intensified with the slightest movement. The cool damp air in the room was also taking its effect. While the temperature wasn’t exactly cold, being naked and standing on the concrete floor certainly made the cool air feel frigid. As hours passed he shivered uncontrollably, shaking from both the pain and the cold.
After an excruciating wait the door banged open and the lights came on. Startled by the noise, Arthur flinched and twisted sideways but somehow managed to keep his balance. Some of the same cops were back, but along with them there was an older policeman dressed in a more elaborate uniform. As this man walked in front of him, Arthur struggled to rotate his head upwards enough to look him in the face.
"You are Arthur Liggett, from America. Is this so?" The man spoke in strangely accented but understandable English.
"I... I want a lawyer."
The inspector nodded and a policeman pulled the chain, wrenching the suspect's arms up higher. Arthur yelped out in pain. The inspector roughly grabbed Arthur by the chin, tilting his face up. "Do you believe you are in the United States now?"
Arthur managed to say: "No."
"You will refer to me as sir or inspector."
"Perhaps we should start again: what is your name?"
Arthur’s voice shook from the pain: "Arthur Liggett, my name's Arthur Liggett!"
"Mr. Liggett... I am Inspector Marchik. As the head investigator for this crime you were involved in, it is my duty to understand exactly what occurred today and," the inspector stared directly into the suspect's eyes. "Have no doubt I will find out everything you know."
"I'll tell you anything you want to know." Arthur pleaded. "Please... just let me down."
“First you answer all my questions to my satisfaction. Look at me when I ask you a question." Arthur struggled to raise his head with his arms hoisted high behind him.
The inspector pointed a finger in Arthur's face. "You are in a great deal of trouble Mr. Liggett, but if you cooperate I might help lessen your suffering. You have a decision to make. Will you answer my questions or do you want to spend the night here?"
“Let me down sir... please… I'll tell you anything."
"We have been over this before; first, you answer my questions. This dead partner of yours, who shot one of our officers who is he?"
"Rumak... Peter Rumak but I didn't know...."
The Inspector cut him off: "What is his real name?"
"I... I don't know. I just met him, he hired me last night."
"Hired you to do what?"
"He needed me to get computer files."
“What was he going to do with these files?”
"It was for... um... some kind of business deal for his clients."
"And how much did he pay for your services?"
"Five thousand dollars before... five thousand after."
"So for ten thousand dollars you will break our laws, steal from us, and try to kill a police officer. Is this right?"
"No…" Arthur pleaded. "I... I didn’t know… I didn’t mean to break your laws; I didn't know what he was going to do... I didn't try to kill anyone!"
The inspector grabbed a handful of hair and pulled up so he could look Arthur in the eyes. "You had better be able to prove what you say." Then the Inspector turned to his subordinates and gave an order.
That order, Arthur discovered, was to clean the suspect up by spraying him with a water hose. They let him hang there shivering till he dried.
A half hour later Arthur was thrown into the back of a van and taken inside an imposing five story steel and glass building that was the Police Headquarters. The officers forcefully brought their weak and shaking suspect and forced his to his knees in front of the Inspector’s desk. A subordinate began filming with a camera on a tripod.
The Inspector asked Arthur questions having to do with the timeline of events, and many concerning the transfer of the data. He asked if Arthur knew that Rumak was armed, or if he knew of Rumak's criminal past. Sometimes Inspector Marchik would ask the same questions more than once, trying to catch his suspect in a lie.
Arthur struggled to focus as the inspector kept probing with his questions, trying to unravel any lies. "You ran Mr. Liggett. If you are innocent, then why did you run?"
"I don't know..." Arthur shook his head in desperation. "I was scared. There was a noise outside, someone at the front door. Mr. Rumak told me to finish what I was doing. He left then I heard him and another man talking, it sounded casual, not angry at all so I finished copying the files." Arthur's pulse pounded as he remembered the moment. "Then there was gunfire; two or three shots. I didn't move or anything. I just stood and listened. Then Rumak came back; he took the discs and left me alone. I... I thought maybe I could get back to the train station and get out of the country."
Then the Inspector took off his glasses and stared skeptically at the suspect. "You say you didn’t know Rumak was hiring you for criminal activity, is there any evidence to back up your story? Ten thousand American dollars for one day's work doesn't sound so legitimate to me,"
Arthur thought desperately. "Mr. Neal, my boss helped me get this job and he didn’t expect anything either." Arthur figured it was a longshot, but maybe Neal would help him out. "My wallet had the phone number in it."
"Perhaps I will speak with this Mr. Neal." He gave an order to a subordinate who quickly came back with a copy of his contacts.
The Inspector dialed the phone number but then had to wait for about a minute before someone answered.
"This is Inspector Marchik of the National Police Force of Upper Danubia. I need to speak to one of your managers; a Mr. Neal, concerning a criminal investigation."
He looked offended. "I do not understand miss... no I do not need to speak to a lawyer. I need to speak with Mr. Neal. This is concerning a former employee of his that is now in our custody."
"Very well let me speak to him then." There was a pause. "Yes, Mr. Murphy I am an Inspector for the Danubian Police and... " He was interrupted.
"Yes, but I need to interview Mr. Neal since he is the only one who can verify the suspect's claims. I don't think that I…" Again the Inspector was interrupted.
"I see, then we have nothing further to discuss." The Inspector angrily hung up the phone.
"It seems this Mr. Neal is not taking our phone calls, just his cursed lawyers. This does not help your case at all. The prosecutor will no doubt charge you as an accessory in the attempted homicide, theft, and perhaps more. If you can think of some information that will help us catch any associates you have or alert us to any other crimes you know about he might be more lenient."
“Inspector,” a distressed Arthur said. “I told you all I know; I don't have any criminal associates."
The Inspector stood up. "Then it seems we are through here, are we not? At least until trial." Here Arthur was put into a jail cell to spend another sleepless night.
* * *
Early the next morning two police officers came to retrieve him. He was handcuffed, pulled out of his cell completely naked, and marched down a long hallway on the fourth floor that had offices on either side. There were people all around, but after going two days without sleep or food and with his whole body sore from the previous day’s abuse, Arthur staggered along and didn't think much about modesty.
Arthur was taken into a spacious office at the end of the hall and was forced to his knees in front of a young secretary at her desk. She glanced at him as though nothing unusual was happening, then spoke with one of the guards. In a perfectly ordinary manner the secretary picked up the telephone and made a brief call. Arthur thought she mentioned his name.
A tall man in a business suit walked into the room. He briefly spoke to the secretary and then made some gesture to dismiss the two policemen standing guard. The man, who looked about thirty-five years old, turned his attention to the detainee on the floor in front of him. With his friendly expression Arthur was sure he wasn’t a cop.
"Arthur Liggett, I am Spokesman Ralkliv, I have your custody."
His accent was so odd that it took a few seconds for Arthur to realize that the man was speaking English.
When he took the handcuffs off Arthur remained on the floor almost too sore and tired to move.
The man motioned to Arthur: "Get up now, come inside, have coffee, have food." Arthur managed to get off the floor and follow him into a smaller office with a large wooden desk, a cabinet, rows of shelves packed with books and framed certificates on the wall.
The man poured a large glass of water, then his secretary entered the office set down a tray in front of him. The breakfast consisted of black coffee, biscuits and a hot bowl of something that looked similar to oatmeal. Then he left the room to allow his client time to eat. Arthur now realized how hungry and thirsty he had been. When Spokesman Ralkliv returned Arthur was feeling a bit more lucid.
"You feel better now I see." Ralkliv pulled out a folder. "I am being… I mean I am your spokesman for the criminal." He shrugged. "My English is not good as it used to be, but I think we can get by. As I said, I am Spokesman Ralkliv." He paused, searching for words. "I will represent you in court."
"Spokesman?" Arthur asked. "Does that mean you’re my lawyer?"
The Spokesman leaned back in his chair and smiled pleasantly. "More like... advocate. Arthur, you don't need lawyer. You admit entering illegally, you admit to taking data, and you were working with a known criminal. You will be sentenced. I will try making sentence better. Less suffering."
Arthur was alarmed by the implications of what this spokesman had said. "You're... not going to say that in court? I... I mean, you would be admitting my guilt."
"I try get you less suffering for crimes," Ralkliv calmly asserted, "less punishment."
Arthur was horrified that this was his defense attorney. He would have given anything for a crooked American lawyer right then, this guy wasn’t going to contest the facts for god's sake!
Ralkliv opened a file and examined a few pages. "Arthur, before we go to the arraignment, I need to know what you know about this partner of yours and the break in. Maybe... I argue for better sentence if you tell... circumstances."
Arthur repeated all the information he had told the Inspector and made the point that he had been unaware that his employer hired him for a crime.
The spokesman calmly explained: "In Danubia ignorance is no excuse to break laws. Know, or not know… no matter. Sentence same. We try getting less punishment though."
"Uh... Mr... uh... Spokesman Ralkliv", Arthur was almost afraid to ask. "What sort of a sentence will I be facing?"
Ralkliv sat up straight and gestured with his left hand. "Arthur, our system of criminal justice is divided in two parts. First part is for capital crimes such as murder, armed robbery, and other serious offenses. If a criminal is convicted of a capital offense he is executed by firing squad."
Ralkliv flipped over his right hand. "The second branch of our system is for less serious crimes such as theft or vandalism. Criminals found guilty in this system serve sentences. First task is to convince the prosecutor to try you in criminal court."
Arthur hoped he didn't hear the spokesman correctly. "Spokesman…I…uh…do you mean…that I might be executed?"
"Yes," Ralkliv said casually. "The charge of espionage is usually a capital crime, you may also be charged as... accessory in the shooting which may also be a capital offense."
Ralkliv pointed an index finger upward. "However, I will argue that there is no evidence to show that you had prior knowledge of your employer's criminal activities and that there is no evidence to prove intent on your part to commit either of these crimes."
"There are three other factors in your favor. You had no serious criminal record and you had no weapons at the time of arrest. Prosecutors may also be wary of executing an American for the damage it might do to international relations." Ralkliv shrugged. "We will just have to wait and see."
"If I can convince the arraignment panel to try you in criminal court you get maybe three or four years for break in, maybe five or ten years for theft of… data. Espionage might be fifteen or twenty years. Other charges maybe more."
Arthur hoped he didn't hear that right. "Are you saying that I'm either going to be executed or put in prison for over twenty years?"
"No, no prison. You stay as criminal, wear collar."
"Wear a what?"
He motioned to his neck. "Criminal wear collar to track position."
Arthur started to ask more questions but he was cut off. "Arthur we… not want to be late, go in bathroom, clean up." He pointed to a door in the back.
After cleaning up he found Spokesman Ralkliv at his desk putting files into his briefcase. "Arthur, the guards will come and then we take you to arraignment panel."
When he asked what clothes he's supposed to wear, the Spokesman glanced at him. "Criminals no... um... do not wear clothes," then Ralkliv went back to organizing his papers.
Incredulous, Arthur asked: "You let people walk around naked in public?"
"Yes. Criminals naked, always."
Before all of that had a chance to sink in two officers arrived. True to his word Arthur was soon marched through a busy lobby wearing nothing but handcuffs.
* * *
Arthur faced a three-person arraignment panel that included two middle-aged women in robes and one older man. All three sat behind a tall desk and looked down at him.
While a guard took off his handcuffs Spokesman Ralkliv told Arthur that the three officials would determine what charges he would face at trial. Once the panel was ready he turned to Arthur.
"Stand in criminal stance, face panel, hands behind head, feet apart." Impatient with Arthur's hesitation he warned, "You do not want panel angry, hurry!"
Arthur quickly moved in front of the panel. He folded his hands behind his head. The man on the panel issued an angry order and a big guard stepped forward with a hand on his police baton. Arthur looked to Ralkliv for help. Ralkliv motioned to his feet with a spreading gesture. Arthur remembered what Ralkliv had said and adjusted his stance with his feet set wide part. Arthur felt exposed and humiliated but the guard did back off.
The official in the dark suit spoke first. He read a series of statements from a document in his hand before turning his attention to Spokesman Ralkliv. He would serve as both spokesman for his client and translator during the hearing.
While standing in that humiliating posture Arthur had to answer a series of questions; most of which were identical to the ones he had been asked by the Inspector the day before. The panel only asked two unique questions: 1) Are you currently or have you ever been a covert agent for the US or other government? 2) Are you a member of an organized crime syndicate?
The first question was ridiculous, Arthur thought. A spy who admits to being a spy every time he's asked, wouldn't be a very secret agent now would he? The second question had more merit. Arthur already admitted to working for Mr. Rumak, and it was clear from the panel's question that they considered Rumak to be a card-carrying member of the Russian mob. The amount of cash that Rumak paid for the one-day job also seemed far in excess for any legitimate business. Arthur could but hope that the prosecutor would require more than this circumstantial evidence to press charges.
"No sir." Arthur answered to these final two questions.
Then his spokesman and the three officials on the panel had a lengthy discussion. Even though Arthur didn't understand a word of this dialogue it was clear that Ralkliv was a gifted speaker in his native tongue. Spokesman Ralkliv and the woman on the right side of the panel talked for several minutes while the other two officials were mostly silent. Eventually the conversation ended and the woman on the right turned to Arthur and gave the decision of the arraignment panel.
Spokesman Ralkliv, who was obviously pleased with himself, translated. "Arthur Liggett, the panel recommends you face charges of espionage, theft of property, and unlawful entry in criminal court." With their task complete the panel stood and made a gesture across their chests before leaving the room.
Arthur was handcuffed and marched back up to his spokesman’s office. After the police left Ralkliv explained the charges and upcoming trial. "Arthur you are very, very lucky; you just face three charges: espionage, theft, and unlawful entry in criminal court. You get no more than thirty-five years, could be much worse."
Arthur felt like throwing up but he managed to smile.
"Ah, you feel better now I see. Good," Ralkliv smiled. "Trial in two hours."
Arthur panicked. "T... Two Hours! How can you prepare a defense in two hours?"
"We are very efficient here," Ralkliv casually assured him. "I do it all the time; I have another trial this afternoon." Ralkliv smiled and put up an index finger. "Arthur, you need to know what to do at trial. First we go to court, you stay by me, next judge enters and defendant kneels. Place forehead to floor and you stay until I say get up. Then you stand on the platform in front Judge. You stand, like before, with legs apart, hands behind head. Always stand like that; always look at Judge. When Judge stands you kneel again."
Arthur just sat there trying to keep up with all these heavily accented instructions. "Kneel?"
"Yes kneel," Ralkliv casually explained. "Head to floor, on knees."
Arthur's eyes went wide. "You can't be serious."
Ralkliv frowned. "Why can I not be serious? This is no time for joking Arthur; you are in major trouble."
Arthur shook his head and gestured frantically. "I mean... uh... you said the defendant has to kneel. I can't kneel... I mean, Americans don't do that and... and when can I put on some clothes?"
"Oh... oh now I understand. Arthur, I recognize you are going through a difficult time but you have a very simple choice to make." Ralkliv put up one finger. "You can do as I say, cooperate and live as a collared criminal," Ralkliv put up a second finger. "Or you will be executed by firing squad."
Arthur sat with his mouth open, trying to form a coherent response.
"Better to live than die, yes?" Ralkliv smiled. "I thought so. Where was I? Oh yes... the judge returns for ruling. When Judge returns you kneel on platform, when Judge says you stand in criminal stance. You hear sentence. Then you get collar put on neck."
Spokesman Ralkliv had gotten up and was gathering some documents in his briefcase when his phone rang. After a short conversation he turned to Arthur and continued.
"Oh… Where was I? The collar, after you have collar, you kneel before police officer… Then they switch you, then police give you back to my custody." He looked at the clock and picked up his briefcase.
"Switch me with what?"
"These police switch me with someone else?"
On his way out the door Spokesman Ralkliv shook his head. "You find out later, I'll be back to take you to trial soon. Here," Ralkliv threw a paper on the desk. "Why not read newspaper?"
Chapter 3: Calling Home
Arthur really couldn’t read the Danubian newspaper, but to pass the time before trial he started looking through the pictures. There were photographs of floods and fires as well as weather forecast graphics and comics like any other newspaper. But when Arthur found the front page it made him cringe, below the bold headline was a crime scene photo of the Tech-Center along with photographs of a policeman and the two suspects. The picture of Arthur had been taken after arrest, and Mr. Rumak's photo was obviously from before the gunfight. Arthur remembered the ambulance that left the crime scene; the policeman featured was probably the one that Rumak shot. There was nothing else he could understand from the article.
Arthur picked up a different section of the newspaper. In this one he found several pictures having to do with the courts. There were some photographs of police officers and judges as well as several of naked people wearing collars on their necks. In one group picture, fifteen people dressed in white were cheerfully holding some kind of metal objects above their heads.
Then Arthur turned to the last few pages of the section. There were capsules with what looked like names and descriptions of various criminals. Each item had a name at the top followed by age and a paragraph. Below each paragraph there were two photos. The picture on the left was a mug shot from the shoulders up. What Arthur found most peculiar about the mug shots were the anguished and distorted expressions of the subjects; in fact most of the pictured criminals even had tears running down their faces. The picture on the right, however, made clear why the criminal’s faces were so torn up. It was a full-body view from behind, showing a mass of red and purple lines on the bottoms, thighs, and shoulders of the captives.
"The switch!" Arthur suddenly felt sick. "Ralkliv didn't mean switch, he meant Switch! Those police are going to use a switch on me! It’s going to be my picture in the paper next week!"
No longer interested in the newspaper, Arthur stood up and started pacing. He briefly considered escape but the fourth floor of a police station isn’t a great place to start. Arthur sat down and waited.
Spokesman Ralkliv returned about forty minutes later.
"Arthur, we have few minutes before you go to trial," Ralkliv spoke with an enthusiasm that made Arthur uneasy. "Is there something you want to know?"
Arthur picked up the newspaper and pointed to the pictures of the beaten criminals. "Is this what’s going to happen to me?"
He nodded. "Yes definitely… right after you are sentenced at trial."
Arthur excused himself to run into Ralkliv's bathroom and vomit. When Arthur returned he wanted to know one last thing. Picking up the front page he pointed to the large photo of the police officer. "Who is this?”
The spokesman‘s demeanor got more somber. "His name is Officer Detynik Andreis. He was shot three times, still in hospital. Not improving. Two kids, wife. Good man."
Before Arthur could respond two court guards arrived to escort him to trial.
The courthouse itself was more modern looking than the Roman style buildings that were common in the US. There were no columns or ornate friezes at the front; instead the exterior was covered in steel and glass. The interior of the courthouse was just as sleek and modern, with a polished black ceramic floor and an abstract metal sculpture of some fierce winged creature hanging above the entrance. The media had set up on both sides of the lobby. Cameras flashed and TV cameras focused on Arthur as he passed through the open courtroom doors.
This was the largest courtroom Arthur had ever seen. If it weren’t for the large wooden judge’s bench and witness stands he would have mistaken the room for a theater or lecture hall. The seating was theater style with the floor sloping toward the front of the room. Five meters in front of the judge’s bench was a raised platform that was about three meters wide and thirty centimeters high.
Arthur was lead down to the right side of the witness stand to an area reserved for court officials. As the guard unlocked Arthur’s handcuffs Spokesman Ralkliv pointed to the square platform. "That is the platform where you stand during trial. Kneel when judge enters and when judge leaves, all other time keep stand with legs apart and hands behind head. Always look at judge. Listen to me; I will tell you when to go to platform. Remember: defendants do not salute judge. You kneel, head to floor."
Arthur could see that the courtroom was going to be filled to capacity; hundreds of spectators were already seated and the court’s camera crews were getting ready for filming. After several minutes a court official opened the large wooden door at the back of the courtroom and a middle-aged woman in dark robes made her way to the bench. Danubians stood and saluted the judge. Arthur kneeled beside his spokesman. A few statements were read and then Arthur heard the judge speak his name.
Spokesman Ralkliv tapped him on the back. “Arthur get on the platform and stand in prisoner stance unless judge stands. Kneel if judge stands up. Always look at the judge!"
The judge ordered Arthur to take his position at the center of the platform. He felt icy cold even with the spotlights focused on him. The camera crew was filming, and the video was playing live on a large screen above the judge. Standing naked in a crowded courtroom seemed too strange and to be real; just in case it was all a horrible dream, Arthur bit his tongue and urged himself to wake up soon.
Then the trial began. The prosecution called a long series of witnesses, including some of the police who had been at the crime scene, and Inspector Marchik. There were surveillance videos, documents, and photographs submitted as evidence. The prosecutor asked Arthur to identify the disc that he had transferred the data to, and to confirm that he had been hired by Mr. Rumak to acquire the data. After about sixty minutes the prosecutor rested and the judge retired to chambers.
During break Spokesman Ralkliv enthusiastically told Arthur that he would present the defense’s case next. It seemed that his spokesman loved to be in front of the cameras and this high profile case gave him the attention he craved. Although Spokesman Ralkliv would not be contesting any of the prosecutor’s evidence he would try to reduce the length and severity of the sentence.
Spokesman Ralkliv presented Arthur’s defense with great energy. With equal time spent presenting his arguments to the judge and giving dramatic oration for the television cameras, Ralkliv used his charisma to maximum effect. By the time it was over, Arthur wondered if this was a defense or a sermon. Spokesman Ralkliv had only mentioned Arthur’s name once in the whole speech, and hadn’t presented any evidence at all. But the time to worry about that was over. The judge looked to Arthur and a court official translated.
“Mr. Liggett, before the court gives its ruling, do you have anything to say?"
Arthur looked at his own image on the video screen: he stood naked on the platform, white as a ghost. It felt so unreal... his pulse thumped in his ears; the spotlights nearly blinded.
"Mr. Liggett!" The judge's eyes flashed anger: "Do you wish to speak before the sentence is read?"
“Um..." Arthur swallowed hard and took a breath. "No Your Honor."
"Very well, Arthur Liggett." The Judge leaned forward, leveling an icy stare. "This court is ready to pronounce the verdict."
"On the first charge of espionage this court finds you guilty."
"On the second charge of unlawful entry this court also finds you guilty."
"On the third charge of theft of property this court finds you guilty."
The judge then laid out the particular nature of the sentence.
"Arthur Liggett you will wear the criminal’s collar for a period of thirty years. During this time unless directed by the Ministry of Justice you will remain within the Rika Chorna Collar Zone at all times."
"For the extent of the sentence you are hereby prohibited from covering any part of your body with clothing not sanctioned by the Ministry of Justice."
“Finally, for the duration of the sentence you will receive four formal judicial punishments per year, with the first to be administered immediately upon the conclusion of this trial. You are ordered to report to the Police Headquarters on the ninth day of August for your second punishment, and every three months thereafter until such time as you have completed your full sentence."
“Mr. Liggett, do you understand the crimes you have been convicted of and the details of the sentence?"
Time seemed to slow and Arthur's mouth went dry. The fast thumping of his own pulse in his ears eclipsed all sound.
“Mr. Liggett, you will answer the court! Do you understand the details of the sentence?"
"Yes... Yes Your Honor."
Spokesman Ralkliv told Arthur to come to the side of the Judge’s bench; then a very scary looking machine was wheeled in.
"This is collar clamping machine," Ralkliv explained. "Stick neck in."
Arthur didn’t like the sound of that at all, but reluctantly he followed the instructions of the technician who was operating the machine. When the jaws of the device clamped around Arthur’s neck he braced himself for pain but all he felt was a quick vibration then the clamp was removed. He now had a cold metal collar around his neck. Arthur felt the collar’s parallel groves and central band; there was also a loop that extended out one side of the collar, but he didn’t want to imagine what its purpose was.
While Arthur was getting his collar put on, the courtroom was readied for the punishment phase of the trial. With the slight buzz of electric motors and the hiss of hydraulic pistons the square platform slid down to floor level. Then the metal panels on top the platform opened and folded to the sides. A sturdy steel framed table rose up from the floor. Finally the platform’s metal floor panels closed tight around the base. Rika Chornans, as they proudly proclaim, are much more modern than their western counterparts in Danube City.
The mechanical elegance of the device was lost on Arthur though. In a few minutes he would be strapped down to that table and beaten. He looked to his Spokesman.
"Arthur," Ralkliv said. "You must kneel in front of police officer and kiss shoes."
Arthur's eyes went wide: “What?"
Ralkliv looked as if begging forgiveness of the judge and then he stepped close to his client and whispered: "Arthur if you don't want to be executed do what I say, you must kneel before the officer and kiss the toe of each shoe."
Arthur closed his eyes briefly and somehow found the strength to approach the policewoman. With the whole courtroom watching he got down on hands and knees, stretched forward and put his lips to the toe of her left shoe and then her right. There was a tap on his left shoulder then. Now she had custody.
The policewoman and her partner looked far too eager for Arthur’s comfort. They rapidly fastened him down securely to the table. Arthur’s feet were firmly fixed to the floor. The wide strap crossing his lower back pulled his stomach tight against the cold metal platform. His arms were stretched forward, pulled tight and strapped down. The more he tried to move the worse it felt; other than his head, feet and hands he could barely move an inch in any direction.
Bright spotlights were focused on him from four different angles. A cameraman adjusted the tripod of the TV camera and then concentrated on getting a close up. A video projection screen showed the scene in real time. Arthur glanced at his image; had he ever looked so pale?
Officer Stashak had Criminal # 88588 strapped down, bent over with his legs apart, completely helpless and vulnerable. Now she would make him pay for what he had done. Her partner was struggling for his life in the hospital. Officer Andreis and his family suffered because of this American spy and his partner. Even though his charismatic spokesman had gotten him out of the death sentence he deserved, she would do her best to punish him. She turned to her supervisor; he was there to make sure she didn't lose control during this emotional situation. He nodded and she drew the leather wrapped switch from a loop on her belt and stepped behind Criminal # 88588.
The room got quiet then, no one even whispered. The angry policewoman stood behind him off to his left side. The front several rows of witnesses wore blue: the police. Then Arthur felt it, a tap against the upper curve on the left side of his bottom; then she drew back, there was a whistle as the switch whipped down, and then the audible impact as the switch snapped against bare skin. Arthur's mouth opened, his fists tightened and he involuntarily took a quick breath and groaned. The pain climbed in intensity for several seconds, a burning line of pain. Then just as the pain started to subside, there was another tap below the first one.
Officer Stashak watched Criminal # 88588 carefully. She didn't want anger to make her lose control... she would focus and be cold and calculating. She swung again and struck just below the first. Flesh bounced from the impact as the supple switch flexed around the contours of his buttock. Criminal # 88588 flinched and closed his eyes tight, trying to deal with mounting pain. Stashak rapidly hit three more times across the criminal's left side. His back stiffened and he pulled hard against the restraints. Officer Stashak smiled and cruelly admired her work. She felt the hot swelling flesh, dragging fingertips across the five parallel ridges.
Arthur tried hard to stay silent; he was desperate to keep at least some dignity. The cruel Danubians that witnessed his torture laughed at him. Arthur hated them. He focused on defying them. He willed himself to remain still and quiet as the officer struck five more times.
Criminal # 88588 was quietly defying her but Stashak knew he had 40 more hard strokes of her switch to endure. It was inevitable that he would break, but she wanted it sooner rather than later. She tapped and then struck full force five more times working her way down the back of his left thigh. Criminal # 88588 shook from the pain, when he finally did breathe it came in a desperate gasp for air. Stashak decided to switch sides, laying down several backhand strikes across the right half of his bottom. She smiled at her partner as Criminal number 88588 cried out. Everyone in the courtroom heard it.
From that point on every time the switch landed he cried out loudly to the amusement of the police in attendance. At one point Spokesman Ralkliv had Officer Stashak redirect the blows of her switch to his client’s thighs and then his shoulders, but he could do nothing about the severity of the policewoman's blows or the agonizingly slow pace of the punishment.
Spokesman Ralkliv raised his hand after he counted the fiftieth stroke. The officers released the straps that held down his client and then they dragged his beaten body to be presented to the Judge. The Judge certified the punishment, and then the spokesman turned to his client. "Arthur kneel and kiss the officer’s shoes."
Sweat and tears dripped onto the floor as Arthur leaned forward to kiss each of the policewoman's polished black shoes.
“Arthur," Ralkliv said. "You must thank her for punishing you."
All resistance was gone from Arthur; he would have agreed to just about anything at that point. On his hands and knees Arthur looked the smug Officer Stashak in the face and thanked her for the beating. She tapped his shoulder, saluted the judge and left with her partner.
After regaining custody Spokesman Ralkliv took his client through the remaining indignities of the post punishment photography and the walk past the media. He stopped in the lobby and made a brief statement to the reporters before he and Criminal #88588 traveled back to his office.
Ralkliv walked slowly matching the pace of his newest client; he felt uneasy about this American. A foreigner would be given some leeway but he needed to adapt quickly and get used to a great many changes. Firstly, a criminal, especially a foreign criminal, must understand what it means to be a collared criminal. Ralkliv thought it was best to get started early.
“Criminal # 88588, there is something we must discuss."
“Criminal # 88588 do you hear me?" Ralkliv raised his voice. "Arthur!"
The criminal flinched, stopped, and blinked his red swollen eyes rapidly, staring confused.
Ralkliv's tone softened. "That is your name now. You are no longer Arthur Liggett; criminals are referred to by serial number. Criminal # 88588, do you understand me?"
The criminal barely nodded.
“Do not nod, you will say 'yes sir' or 'yes spokesman'. Do I make myself clear?"
“Yes sir." Arthur's mouth was so dry his words came in a hoarse rasp.
“Very good, now let's move along so we can get you back to my office; there you can rest." As Ralkliv led his new client along toward the trolley stop he thought of something else that was bothering him.
“Criminal number 88588, I understand this is all very painful and terrifying but next time you can't be using that kind of bad language during the punishment; it is not allowed." Ralkliv sighed at his client's blank stare and said more to himself: "I just hope they don't translate it for television."
Ralkliv frowned; his client's mind seemed to have drifted off. “In fact, you shouldn't use such language at all. Is that clear? Criminal number 88588, do you understand me?"
Ralkliv grasped his client's upper arm to hopefully gain his attention. "Criminal number 88588, do you hear me?"
Arthur's eyes swam; nothing seemed real but the pain. "Yes sir." Arthur's voice was just a broken whisper between quick breaths. Completely defeated, Arthur would have agreed to just about anything. Shuffling along, burning agony with every step, he felt everyone on the street staring at his naked body. The collar, cold and heavy against his skin, was the starkest proof that to these people he was no longer a human being but an animal. With his freedom lost and thoroughly humiliated in ways he never imagined Arthur followed the tall and energetic man, the lawyer named Ralkliv.
* * *
Arthur had been on the recovery table for over an hour before the pain receded enough to think clearly. Just over two days ago he had left the US looking to cash in on a terrific opportunity. Arthur thought about the thirty-year sentence. He'd be fifty-three when they let him leave. What would it be like going back home in thirty years, would anyone be waiting?
His father had died six years earlier from cancer, and Arthur had not been very close to his mother since. It had hardly been two months after her husband was placed in the grave that she started dating her boss from work. Now that they were married she didn't call much anymore, and that was fine with Arthur since all she wanted to talk about was her new family. He doubted his mother would want to mention her criminal son to her new friends anyway.
Arthur's kid sister Theresa, or Tee as everyone called her was just entering college. They shared the same weird sense of humor and rarely talked about anything serious. What really used to drive their parents nuts was their practical jokes. He got her in so much trouble but she always wanted in on his plans regardless.
Arthur couldn’t help but grin when he thought of how good their last hoax was. For three nights in a row they had sneaked over to the city park with a spool of fishing line, a strobe light, a weather balloon, and a tank of helium. After getting the balloon inflated and the strobe light inside there floated a strange flashing orb five hundred feet above the town.
It even surprised them how well it worked. It was the coolest thing ever when a TV news reporter came from the New Orleans station to investigate the UFO sightings in the little town. Tee was completely fearless: she told that reporter with a straight face how she thought she had been abducted by space aliens. Afterwards Arthur was glad he could go back to his college dorm room; Tee was sixteen then so she still lived with her mom and stepfather. Their mother had been furious. She wasn’t fooled for a second; this joke was not the first by any means.
Arthur figured his girlfriend Charlotte had already moved on. She was fun to play around with but nothing more, and his friends were mostly acquaintances really. Arthur didn’t want to tell any of them about his current predicament anyway. Would they even miss me? Would anybody miss me? Then an urgent thought occurred. With clenched teeth and raw determination he stood up. The pain from just standing was immense but he forced himself to hobble into his spokesman's office.
Spokesman Ralkliv was filling out some paperwork when he saw Arthur. Criminal # 88588 was obviously in terrible shape and shouldn’t be up for another hour or more. "Arthur, you rest more; don't walk around yet."
Arthur quickly explained: "Spokesman, I… uh… I want to make a phone call to the United States. I need to speak to my sister to make some arrangements. It's urgent, you see I left my dog with a kennel and I just paid for a week. My truck is also parked in a lot at the airport and it’s just permitted for a week. My landlady doesn’t know what happened to me, and I have items inside that I want removed."
He nodded. "You need talk to family, tell of trial, ask forgive, of course."
Close enough, Arthur thought. The spokesman got out his records and looked up her phone number.
The phone rang nine times before she picked up, but it was really early in the morning there.
A sleepy voice answered. "This better be important."
“You sleep too much anyway, Tee. I think you're part cat or something."
“Arthur... Shit! Mom called last night freaking out, saying that some diplomat called her and said you were arrested in Europe."
“She was right, I was arrested in Upper Danubia yesterday; I just got back from trial today."
“But I didn't even know you were in Europe, mom called your landlady. And she hadn't seen you in three days. Arthur why did you go to Europe without telling anyone?"
“I had to leave on business Monday night; I was going to call you from Germany but…I never had the chance."
“Why did they arrest you?”
“The man who hired me for a job was involved in a theft. I didn't know about it until it was too late though. I was arrested in Upper Danubia, that’s in Eastern Europe. They think I'm a spy... charged me with espionage.”
“What?" Tee stammered. "A spy... that's stupid... you're not a spy... holy shit. What are they gonna do to you, are you in jail?"
“No... Um... I'm on a sort of parole or work release type thing, but I haven't got time to explain all of this right now; I’ll write you later on to explain everything. Tee, there’s some things that I need you to do for me. Grab a pencil and paper."
“Go to the airport... um... it's... um lot 12 and get my truck; there's a Hide a Key under the right rear fender. You can have it, it’s paid off."
“Arthur, you’re going to…"
“Tee," Arthur said harsher than he wanted to. "I don't have the time to explain, just please listen."
“Then you need to go to my landlady Mrs. Schmidt, she lives downstairs, and tell her what happened. Have her let you into my apartment. There's a box in the freezer with some cash in it; give the landlady five hundred dollars for her expenses, you keep the rest. I have a new computer and a camera that I also want you to have, but just give the rest of my junk to the landlady."
“You now have a dog by the way; his name... his name is... Lucky. You need to pick him up at the kennel on Catalpa Street within two days, got it? He's got a bed and some food and toys at my place you might want to pick up."
“Arthur, you sound like you may not be back for a long time."
The next sentence was hard to say. "Tee, I was sentenced to thirty years at trial this morning."
“Thirty years..." She took a quick breath. "Oh God Arthur... but you didn't know it was illegal."
“That didn’t matter to the judge. Do those things I asked, Tee. I've got to get off the phone now."
“All... alright Arthur"
He finished up in the odd way they had said their goodbyes since grade school.
“Hate you Tee."
He could tell she was trying not to cry. "Hate you Arthur."
That was more difficult than he thought it would be; the sentence seemed real and final now. Arthur handed the phone back. "Spokesman, I want to write a letter to my sister; can I borrow some writing supplies?"
“Yes you can write later. Now we talk about future." Counting with his fingers: "You have no job, no home, you don't speak Danubian. You will stay with me tonight, tomorrow I will find you a job, and get you in a class."
Arthur thought of something. "Spokesman... um... Ralkliv. I forgot to tell my sister about my bank account but I can arrange payment for your services, for representing me in court."
Ralkliv looked offended. "There will be no such payment. Criminal number 88588 I am your Spokesman! Spokespersons do not work for their clients. I am in charge of you. You do not hire me."
Arthur started to doubt the realness of his current situation all over again. His eyes wandered from Ralkliv to the tile floor, the white textured ceiling and the fourth floor window. He stepped close and touched the glass, it felt smooth and warm and solid, as glass should. Outside a bird flew past and it wasn't an ostrich or a penguin, just an ordinary regular bird. Everything looked real and felt real but...this was just too bizarre. After all, he had walked naked through the middle of a strange city, suffered a televised beating in a courtroom, and currently had a big metal collar fastened around his neck. Now he just witnessed a lawyer turning down money! Arthur lost his balance and staggered into the wall.
Ralkliv got up in a hurry and grabbed his client's arm to steady him. "Arthur, when did you sleep last?"
“I... uh" Arthur spoke at the man who might or might not be imaginary. "I guess I... left for work Monday morning, so…"
“This is Wednesday afternoon," Ralkliv walked his newest client to a back room where it was quiet and dark and a cot was set up. "Go lie down, I think I'm going to call a doctor to come by and look you over. Just try and get some rest."
End of part 1
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