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 email@example.com . 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 4: Meeting the Tourists
Arthur smiled in spite of himself. Even though he was expected to do the chores; there was a sense of accomplishment in fixing up his host's place. His new home was still... rustic but after a couple weeks of work the yard was mostly cleared of junk, the lawn was mowed, and the house would be ready for painting by the weekend.
Arthur decided he had done enough chores for the day. He put his ladder and tools safely on the ground and entered through the back porch of the worn out dingy white house. He washed up in his host's tiny bathroom, and then walked down the hallway to his own bedroom. Almost square, fourteen feet across, with dark wood paneling, one north-facing window with actual shutters on the outside and curling green linoleum on the floor; his room was barely furnished. A very small bed was along the east wall. It was once a child's but now it was Arthur's to use; not too uncomfortable, though his feet did hang off the end at night. A sturdy wooden chair and a small desk covered in crayon and pencil marks faced the window, otherwise his room was unfurnished
He opened the largest desk drawer and removed a notebook and pen. Arthur turned it to a blank page. Slumping in the chair, he set his elbows on the armrests and his forehead in his left palm. He could feel the hated collar under his chin and see his naked lap below. The vulnerable state they kept him in was supposed to be a constant reminder of his low social status and the disgrace of his crimes. He was dishonored... so they often said.
It was a struggle to not despair but he pushed it away. Arthur Liggett wouldn't let himself cry. He was too stubborn, too proud; but sometimes though, just to maintain his sanity he needed to tell someone what he was going through.
Arthur stared apprehensively at the blank page for a while and then wrote his sister’s name at the top.
I’ve spent three weeks in this damned weird place but it sure feels longer. I’m not allowed to wear any clothes except the work-boots and gloves I was issued, and those may only be used at work. This cold metal collar that's been clamped on my neck is something that I don't think I'll ever get used to. Back in college I helped wildlife biologists put tracking collars on bears in the national forest. Sometimes I imagine those bears rolling on the ground laughing their asses off. But I realize that I'm not just an animal to be tracked, I'm also cheap labor. Criminals here are used in the jobs that are too difficult, too dirty, or too dangerous for free citizens. The boots and gloves are issued for the protection of government property. That's right, I'm property now.
I'll tell you a little about what's been going on in my life these past three weeks. The morning after my trial I woke up in a tiny spare bedroom at my spokesman's home. Straight out of a dream right into the nightmare; I jumped up in a panic, stumbled into a wall and screamed out in pain before I realized where I was. Spokesman Ralkliv came running into the room and flipped on the light. He's a decent sort, I guess, for a Danubian; he wasn't even angry with me for waking his family up, just asked me if I was alright. I was anything but alright; it was about four AM, I didn't go back to sleep.
The morning after a switching is brutal. Every movement hurts; it stings and aches. I hobbled into the bathroom and turned my back to the mirror. It was shocking actually... I've never seen such a large bruised area; my skin had turned purple with many raised crimson lines crisscrossing over the top. It was mostly on my butt and the backs of my thighs though there was what looked like eight or nine lines across my upper back. The punished skin was still badly swollen but no longer hot to the touch.
After breakfast, Spokesman Ralkliv made me go outside like that; down the busy sidewalk, on a bus packed with commuters, all over the damned city. It hurt like hell but I tried to act like it didn't bother me. Naked, collared, and beaten; I was horribly embarrassed though most people didn't seem to pay much attention really.
Ralkliv kept me busy that first day. I had to go through a lot of paper signing, and more fingerprinting, medical testing and interviews with various people: a psychiatrist, a detective, even a stupid TV reporter. All that walking around did me some good though, worked out a lot of the soreness. Toward the end of the day Ralkliv took me across town and introduced me to my new boss.
Since I didn't know the language my spokesman decided to set me up with a job doing some manual labor that didn't require a lot of communication. I work for a stonemason who has a contract to build a brick walkway from the Plaza to the War Memorial. I had some experience with this kind of work back in the US so I don't require much instruction, which is good because the boss doesn't speak any English.
I had to stay in my spokesman’s house for most of the first week, maybe so he could keep a close watch on me (to make sure I didn't kill myself or try to escape), or perhaps he was having a hard time finding anyone willing to house me.
After five days my spokesman told me to move to my employer Mr. Jakt’s house, so I picked up my notebook and pen (my only possessions) and walked to my new home. By Danubian standards his place was a mess: the lawn was high with un-mowed grass and weeds, boards were missing from the picket fence, and paint was peeling off the house. Something pleased me about seeing this disorder though, perhaps because the rest of my life is now so structured.
Mr. Jakt is an older man who had apparently lived alone for years. His wife’s long dead and he has no living children. He must be well past retirement age but just doesn’t want to quit working, probably doesn’t want to feel old and useless. Although I don’t understand much that he says, the old man likes to tell me stories. He usually spends some time after supper gesturing wildly, laughing, and describing things I could only guess at; though it is reassuring to hear some laughter for a change in this overly serious country.
Spokesman Ralkliv got me enrolled in an emersion style Danubian language class three days after trial. The class had been going on for over a week already so I had to catch up quickly. There are eleven young foreign students in the class, as well as a couple older businessmen. I was the only English speaker and the only one wearing a collar though. From the way they looked at me I suppose I must be a big novelty.
My first week in class I learned the essential phrases for a Danubian criminal: "Yes officer", "No officer", "I don't understand officer", and those peculiar phrases that spokespersons and criminals exchange about a path. I also know the alphabet, numbers 0-99, and of course my name: # 88588. For work, I learned the Danubian words for the tools and supplies used.
By the second week I was finally able to sit down in a chair without much discomfort, which was good- I was real damned tired of standing in class by that point! I'm learning quickly though, after only eleven lessons I can now have some pretty compelling conversations with other students about the time of day, trolley schedules, and bus stops.
The number one lesson outside of class however, is to fear the police. They're hostile toward criminals in general, but they hate me. They blame me for the shooting. It doesn't matter to them that I didn't take part in that gunfight. I suppose since my 'partner' is dead they have to hold me responsible for their friend's injuries.
Just about every day after work a group of them come to humiliate me. They have all the paths covered and I know that any way I walk the result will be the same. When I get within ten feet the cop calls out my number. When I turn toward them they always do seem to have that same cruel smile.
It begins with that horrible kneeling position. They take sadistic pleasure in leaving me exposed to passing foot traffic. They make me kneel right out on the sidewalk, with my forehead on the ground and my knees apart while they stand around and talk about whatever interests them. Countless people walk past and though my muscles ache I try to remain still because I know they'll beat me if I move out of position. They usually finish up by having me thank them for 'discipline' or some shit like that; and before letting me go these cops always tell me how they’re looking forward to seeing me the next day.
The Friday of my third week started relatively well; at my language class in the morning I could tell that I was pulling ahead of the crowd, probably none of the others were motivated like I was. Then later at work my boss let me off an hour and a half early since we ran out of stain for the mortar. That meant that I could be out of the city center before the cops came looking for me. It felt so good to escape them. I cautiously walked the back streets and alleyways that kept me away from their usual patrols. Eventually, I stopped on a narrow street with a few shops on the left and a diner on the right.
Behind me I heard a girl speaking in English. "You ask him."
Another girl says: “But he's naked!"
“I don't care... we're fucking lost, we have to ask somebody."
“I can't,” the second girl whispers loudly. “I can't pronounce that!"
“Look," said the first. “Here... just read it.”
I turn around to see two college age girls; both wore backpacks and were dressed in shorts and tee shirts. They looked tired; I thought they had probably been wandering lost all day with their crappy tourist maps to guide them. I could tell by their expressions they were not used to seeing criminals yet. Then the taller girl, whose face had turned bright red, tried to translate from her English to Danubian dictionary. Deciding on a Danubian phrase she looked at me anxiously and said: 'Uh... Valugsk Yorun...unk Astik...' (Something that loosely translated to: "my fish is gone, where is the bed?)."
I felt a bit ornery right about then so I shrugged my shoulders and replied in English: "I'm real sorry about the loss of your fish but I honestly don’t know where your bed is."
The girls were so stunned to hear me speak English in an American accent that they just stood there for a couple seconds with their mouths open.
"But... You're an American, what the Fuck!" The blond cackled, as her friend held her hand over her mouth in quiet shock.
“Guilty as charged." I nodded. "Seriously guilty."
“What are you doing here, like that?" She was trying to stop laughing.
“I got arrested." Gesturing to my unclothed state: "This is what they do to people who break their laws. You two look lost, maybe I can help you find your fish."
"You said: 'Valugsk yorun...unk Astik...' which in Danubian means: 'Fish lost, where is bed?"
The taller girl starts laughing again. "Oh shit! What have I been telling people, I should throw this fucking dictionary in the trash!"
"Well, it’s actually our hotel that we have been searching for what seems like forever. It’s called the Vladiserikt or something." The dark haired friend talked to me while averting her eyes.
I glanced at the map. I recognized the place; it was across the City Plaza and to the north east of the University. Not wanting the rare opportunity to talk to other Americans to pass; I told the girls that I had been alone in this foreign country for three weeks, and it would be nice to talk to some normal people again. I offered to treat them to lunch at the nearby diner and escort them to their hotel afterwards. They agreed, so we made our way over to the patio. I had the waiter ready a table overlooking the street and copy down my number to arrange payment.
I put out my hand to greet them. "My name's Arthur. The baked fish is good, by the way."
"I'm Samantha." The slim blond studied the incomprehensible menu. "I'm a vegetarian so... uh... I'll just get a salad."
I glanced at her dark haired friend, who still seemed very nervous. "I'm Laura... uh the baked fish sounds good but we can pay."
"My treat, I insist." I gave the waiter the order, and then turned to my dinner guests. "So, you haven't been here very long?"
"We just got here with my family, yesterday." Samantha's kept staring at my neck. "We're on a tour through Europe, and we thought we could ditch the folks for a day and see the city by ourselves. I've never seen anything like it."
"It’s real damn weird to see people walking around naked in the middle of a city, isn't it? It was a big shock for me too at first," I shrugged. "After a while you get used to it. Danubians are so strange like that; being seen naked doesn't bother them a bit." I pointed to my collar. "I don't suppose you know what this is all about?" They shook their heads.
"Well... um... before the food arrives let’s just get it out of the way. The short version is that I took a high-paying job from a shady character. Three weeks ago I was arrested, convicted and sentenced. In this country you won't find any jails but you're going to see criminals walking around out in the open, working, going to school or whatever." I tapped the collar. "Criminals wear these tracking collars though, so they can't leave the city, and just like any other criminal I'm not allowed to wear any clothes at all."
"You’re a criminal?" Laura's eyes got real big. "We're not going to get in trouble talking to you are we, you're not escaped or anything?"
Not getting through to them the first time I try again. "I am a convicted criminal, but I'm allowed to go anywhere within the city during my free time. I can talk to people, make small purchases, or do whatever else I want within reason."
"Uh..." Samantha stammered. "You... you're not a… a murderer?"
I smiled sheepishly. "No... they caught me stealing computer files. I was convicted of... uh... spying." It sounded so stupid to say that out loud.
Samantha's eyes lit up with interest: "You're a spy? No way!”
"No kidding... but it's really not what you think... I just did something I shouldn't have." I tried to smile. "These days I'm more of a bricklayer."
Laura fidgeted nervously. "This place... is so... fucking... weird! I can't believe it... I would Die if they made me walk around naked."
"God, me too!" Samantha exclaimed. "And that collar, how do you stand it?"
"Uh... well..." I stammered.
Samantha took an urgent breath. "Wait!" She whispered entirely too loud to her friend: "My dad said that they beat prisoners here." Samantha blushed. She must have seen that I didn't particularly want to talk about that.
I'm still pretty embarrassed about the whole situation but I reluctantly decided to just tell the truth and move on. "Yeah." I said. "Danubians are big believers in corporal punishment. Criminals are beaten by the police. You're strapped down to a platform and whipped fifty times with a switch. Let me tell you, it's one hell of a deterrent."
"Shit!" Samantha exclaimed.
"My thoughts exactly!" I grinned at their shocked expressions. "It's no big surprise that the crime rate's so low here; I bet you could leave that purse of yours on the side of the street all day and no one would steal it. They don't lie here either; it's some kind of religious thing that’s been taken to the extreme. Lying to a public official would get you a uniform like mine, and an invitation to stay here for a year. Another thing, they don't have much of a drug problem either, I hear that the sentences are pretty harsh for even simple possession."
Samantha's face lost all color. "Oh shit, did you have any of those Skittles left Laura?"
Laura looked up thinking. "Fuck…I think so…but they're safe back in the hotel room in my bag. We can get rid…"
Samantha interrupted: "But you had some last night, in your jeans!"
"No, that was Friday night." Laura insisted. "Remember, you had a bag stuffed down in your smokes last night and you saw that cop and you almost threw it away by..."
I said quietly: "Skittles?" Then it dawned on me what they meant. Not Skittles the candy, Skittles meaning ecstasy! For a few seconds I just sat there in disbelief as Samantha and Laura had a loud argument about their highly illegal drugs right the middle of the damned city!
"Stop talking!" I interrupted, and then I lowered my voice to an urgent whisper: "Don't tell me about your 'Skittles', I'm a fucking criminal! If the police find out I know about another crime..." I shook my head. "I'm in enough trouble already."
I leaned back and took a deep breath to try to calm down. Of all the people in this city I had to meet these two drug users. They didn't seem presently high but if they got picked up by the police, or their drugs were found at the hotel I knew that my name could come up. It wouldn't take Sherlock Holmes to find a criminal named 'Arthur' in Rika Chorna. I decided my best option was to remain calm, finish lunch, and then escort the girls quickly to their hotel.
"Sorry for yelling but you've got to understand that you can't even talk about stuff like that here. If someone overheard." I glanced around at the people seated at the other tables. "You could be in some serious shit."
Samantha was startled by my outburst. "Okay, I think this country scares me now."
“As it should; so," I asked in an obvious attempt to change the subject. "Where are you two from anyway?"
"San Diego," Samantha shrugged, "well a suburb really, me and Laura went to the same high school together. And when Dad said he was making me go Europe with him and mom I made sure Laura came too. I mean I'm 18 and I don't want to hang out with sucky old people all the time. So I just said to dad: 'if you’re making me go on this stupid trip then I'm bringing a friend.' He argued a while but he finally gave in just like I knew he would." With an exasperated sigh she exclaimed. "My life really sucks."
It was shocking to hear the plight of these San Diego teens, being forced to go on European vacations against their will. Where's Amnesty International when you need them?
During lunch, I mostly sat and listened. Apparently all I had to do was get them started. They complained about their parents, inadequate allowances, their clothes, how little luggage they could bring, and how stupid this trip was, as well as a lot of other things that they hated about various subjects.
After hearing their long list of grievances against the world, I was impressed. Most people, I thought, wouldn't have had the confidence to air their complaints to a stranger who obviously had so little.
We finished lunch and I lead them off toward their hotel. As much as I now wanted to abandon these two brats, I couldn't do that. Besides, I thought if the police caught them with their drugs, there was a small chance that they would appreciate my assistance enough to keep my name out of it. So I decided to use the same back streets as long as I could to avoid the police.
Once these girls started talking they just didn’t stop. I lead them down an old cobblestone street that divided two residential neighborhoods and then through a city park. We walked between the ancient oaks in the quiet city park and then across an arched stone bridge before returning to the cobblestone road. Meanwhile the girls seemed to have snide remarks about the hair or clothing of every local they saw. Men, women, and children; no one was safe. It was good that the Danubians on the street couldn't understand English.
I was eventually forced to take a right turn onto the crowded street that lead to their hotel. There were a variety of venders and open-air shops catering to tourists along this stretch. When we passed a shop selling handmade shoes Samantha had to have a look. Shoes were a common topic of conversation. After walking all day Samantha thought her shoes were chaffing her ankle a bit and apparently Laura's were not as fashionable as she wanted either. Neither of them seemed bothered by taking a person who wasn't allowed to wear shoes at all, to a shoe store. So while I found some shaded concrete to stand on, they took their good sweet time trying on shoes. It must have been half an hour later when they finished shopping and we could once again continue walking toward their hotel.
After walking up the street a bit, Samantha complained about how hard it was to carry all the shopping bags they had. Then she asked: "Arthur would you carry our bags?" Being a criminal I had to comply. The hotel was at least within sight about half a kilometer ahead. With bags in each hand I marched on, eager to be rid of those two.
As we got closer, I could see a disturbance up ahead, near the hotel. A bus had stalled across the trolley line and a crowd of tourists was watching a wrecker hook up to their stranded bus. They waited for another bus to pick them up outside the hotel. What was most worrying was that a group of Danubian police had taken charge of the scene. With the girls' hotel straight ahead I couldn't avoid walking right through the crowd. Moving quickly, I hoped to get into the hotel unnoticed.
Before I could get even to the sidewalk, I heard a policewoman order me to stop. The two girls walked right on by as I stopped and turned toward the officer. My heart sank when I recognized her as one of the cops who likes to harass me after work. In what has become a conditioned response I quickly placed the shopping bags on the sidewalk and kneeled down as the officer approached.
I could see out of the corner of my eye the crowd of tourists had all turned in my direction. There was a flash; someone in the crowd was taking pictures. This seemed to amuse the officer, who had her switch out and posed by me for several photographs. "This is what happens to spies here," she kept saying in English. This cop's English has improved significantly in the last three weeks; I think the bitch is probably taking English classes just to insult me better.
After what seemed like an eternity the wretched tourists loaded up onto a new bus and left. About this time the policewoman noticed my two companions who were staring wide-eyed at the scene before them. In English she says "This your girlfriends?" she gestures toward the two. "Now they see you dishonored."
In Danubian she said what I believed to be: "Criminal # 88588 tell your girlfriends what disgraceful trash you are!" And then something about crimes and trial. Though I didn't understand every word I knew from previous encounters that she wanted me to tell these "girlfriends" not only of the crimes I was convicted of but also about the shooting. I could see a couple pairs of feet to my left, assuming those belonged to the girls I translated.
"The officer ordered me to tell you two the circumstances of my arrest. My employer and I broke into an office to steal data and he shot a Danubian police officer while trying to escape. The officer survived but he has not recovered."
"Tell girlfriends you sentence." The officer smugly ordered.
"I'm sentenced to thirty years of wearing the criminal's collar"... knowing that the officer would demand it I continue: "and a switching every 90 days."
She wasn't through yet, calling to some of her fellow officers in Danubian, she says what I think meant: "Officers, It seems that I have caught criminal # 88588 corrupting these two young women. He should know that dishonored scum like him don't deserve their attention."
Several more officers were near me then. My tormenter was pleased. "Officer Stashak, I believe you know this criminal."
I heard another female voice then. This policewoman quickly let loose a long series of insults in Danubian which I couldn't keep up with. Officer Stashak was a woman I knew all too well.
In English my tormenter asks: "You miss Officer Stashak? Tell girlfriends who Officer Stashak is."
Utterly humiliated I reply. "Officer Stashak is the partner of the policeman that my employer shot... and she administers my judicial punishments."
"She make Criminal # 88588 scream at trial and much cry yes?"
I remained silent, and apparently moved a bit too much. I felt the burn of the switch twice across my shoulders.
Snapping back into form, I managed to reply in a tone of barely suppressed hatred: "Yes, officer."
"Get up", the officer said. "Carry for girlfriends."
I tried to ignore the stares of all the people who had been watching this curious scene and picked up the bags. I walked inside the lobby eager to finish and go home. The girl's were ahead of me, and the officer who stopped me followed behind. With my mood lower than ever I follow the girls into the elevator. The officer still has a look of pure delight on her face, as we got off at the third floor and find the suite where the girls were staying.
Samantha knocked on the door. An older man that I suspected was her father answered the door. He obviously wasn’t thrilled to have his daughter and her friend escorted by a naked criminal and a cop. "Sammie, is there a problem? Who are these people?"
Samantha looked back nervously. "Uh... this is Arthur, he's a criminal that helped us carry our bags, and this... this is Officer... I don't know her name but she's just escorting us to the room."
The man paused to look us over. "I... I see, thank you officer, and... and Arthur. Please excuse us." He took the bags and hurried the girls inside.
I turned to the officer.
Pleased with herself, she smiled. "That will be all Criminal # 88588; I look forward to seeing you tomorrow."
So Tee, that's how my day went...
Arthur grew tired of writing. He put down the pen and carefully removed the three pages that the letter was written on. He wadded them up in his hands and threw them in the trash with all the other letters he never mailed.
Chapter 5: Old Friends and Silver Mines
On an unusually cool morning in June Arthur stood on the patterned brick walkway that he helped build. It was the 8th, exactly one month since his arrest. In that time the brown and yellow path had advanced a hundred meters closer to the war memorial. Though there was a slight glow in the east all the brighter stars were still visible in the predawn sky; at least the sky was familiar.
The fog that rose off the river always made it feel colder than it actually was, so to warm up Arthur started setting up some of the equipment that he and a few other workers would use. After another thirty minutes Jakt's old pickup truck rumbled down the road. By that time the sky had lightened just enough to see his newest worker walking toward the truck.
The old man laughed: "Arthur, I don't know what I'm going to do with you. Standing around out here in the damp air while it’s still dark, you're going to get sick. The others have the good sense to stay in bed for another hour; sometimes I think they put that collar of yours on too tight."
Arthur appreciated the old man’s tact; not mentioning the real reason Arthur went to work so early: to avoid the morning police patrols. Arthur smiled and tried to respond using the couple hundred Danubian words he knew. "Good morning Mr. Jakt." He gestured to the tall pile of bags in the truck bed. "You get big load on small truck."
By the time Arthur had the truck unloaded the sun was rising and the three other young men that Jakt employed had arrived. They were recent high school graduates and seemed to be close friends. Arthur hadn't bothered to learn their names since they avoided any contact with him anyway; free people, he figured, probably didn't want to be seen with a criminal.
Just as he dumped the first bag of cement into the mixer there was a tap on his shoulder. Behind him was one of the bicycle couriers who deliver packages around the city. This young woman said something after he turned around but the mixer was too loud to make out the words. Arthur threw the sack down and walked over to where the courier had parked her bike. She repeated a phrase twice before Arthur realized that she was trying to pronounce his name.
"I'm Arthur Liggett." The courier handed him a clipboard so he could sign for the package.
Inside the large brown envelope was a form printed in English on Ministry of Justice Letterhead.
"Criminal # 88588, Arthur Liggett: You are to report immediately to the office of Spokesman Ralkliv. By order of the Ministry of Justice you are released from all previous responsibilities to give priority to this directive. Failure to respond in a timely manner will result in further reprimands."
Nothing good can come from this, Arthur thought. After informing Jakt, Arthur went directly to his spokesman's office.
The secretary at the front desk said Ralkliv was expecting him, so Arthur went down the hall, opened the door to his spokesman's office and walked in. Inside was a surprise, a very bad surprise. Before he thought Arthur blurted out: "Son of a Bitch!"
Kneeling on the floor in front of Ralkliv's desk were the two girls that he met the previous week. They were completely naked and totally terrified. Samantha and Laura looked back at Arthur and cried uncontrollably.
Spokesman Ralkliv glared at Arthur. "Criminal # 88588 you will address me in the proper manner and kneel while doing so!"
Arthur came back to his senses. He dropped down to his elbows and knees, touched his forehead to the tile floor, and then greeted his spokesman in the manner that protocol demanded. During this time Arthur understood why Ralkliv had been so severe. Three police officers were seated to the left of his desk.
"Criminal # 88588 you may kneel upright but remain on the floor." Ralkliv looked even more agitated when he turned to the two naked girls weeping by Arthur's side. "Young ladies you must stop this crying immediately, I'm trying to help you!"
When they quieted down somewhat Ralkliv turned to Arthur. "These two Americans were arrested last night for the possession of a controlled substance. During interrogation they mentioned spending some time with you. Is this true?"
Arthur looked past Ralkliv; he swallowed and paused for as long as he thought he could get by with. Though he tried to think of a way out of this mess, nothing came to mind. Arthur sadly realized that he had little choice but to tell the truth: "Yes spokesman. I met them about a week ago on the west side of the city. I bought them lunch and then escorted them back to their hotel."
Ralkliv translated to the police investigators then they posed another question.
"Arthur, I want you to think very carefully before answering my next question. Did you know that these suspects had ecstasy tablets with them?"
Arthur knew the idiot girls must have already spilled their guts or he wouldn't be in this situation and no one would ask him that question. He was cautious though, not wanting to admit anything: "Spokesman, do I have to answer questions that would... implicate me in a crime?"
Ralkliv's mouth fell open for a second. "Criminal # 88588, when you are asked a question by your spokesperson you are expected to answer the question truthfully and without hesitation!" Ralkliv pointed an index finger at his client. "To this point I have been very lenient with you, since you were a foreigner I didn't hold you to the same standards as my other clients. I thought I would overlook your behavior and give you time to adapt but perhaps that was a mistake." Ralkliv picked up the fancy engraved ink pen he always kept at his desk and twisted it nervously in his right hand. A frustrated Ralkliv glanced down at the whimpering girls and then back to his client.
"Now, Criminal # 88588, you must tell me... and realize that any resistance or deception on your part will be considered proof of your guilt and grounds for further charges. Did these young women tell you about their ecstasy tablets?"
“Yes spokesman." Arthur felt the misery of a condemned man. "While we were at the diner they mentioned having something they called 'Skittles', from the way they acted I assumed they were talking about illegal drugs."
Spokesman Ralkliv and a police investigator talked at length, then he posed another question. "How did you respond after these suspects told you of the ‘Skittles’… as you say… that they brought into this country?"
Arthur's shoulders slumped; he knew he was trapped, there was no way out. "I told them to stop talking about it, so they wouldn't get in trouble."
Ralkliv spoke to the police then he turned to Arthur with a disappointed look. "Arthur, by not reporting criminal activity to the police and encouraging the suspects to avoid capture you have violated one of the conditions of your sentence."
Arthur could hardly breathe but he needed to know: "Spokesman, are they... are they going to execute me?"
"Execute you?" Ralkliv made an exasperated expression. "Of course not..." He leaned forward, tapped an index finger dramatically on his desktop. "But you are still in some very serious trouble, Criminal # 88588." Ralkliv spoke quickly, his voice full of irritation. "You have displayed little regard for the law or for the trust I placed in you! You have dishonored yourself. One month, you cannot stay out of trouble for one month! One month!"
Ralkliv stopped then, closed his eyes for a couple seconds, took a deep breath, settled back in his chair, and regained his calm professional demeanor. "Arthur, the prosecutor is offering you a deal. He is willing to request leniency in exchange for your testimony at the trial of these young women. I suggest you take it."
* * *
For the second time in thirty days Arthur was back in the Rika Chorna Courthouse. This time he was a reluctant witness for the prosecution. As Spokesman Ralkliv had explained; the two suspects already admitted their own guilt but the prosecutor wanted all the evidence on record regardless.
The court decided to try both suspects at the same time, which Arthur thought might not have been such a good idea. Every time one of the girls broke down crying the other would start in as well. Arthur just tried to ignore the theatrics and focused on the floor until it was his time to testify.
Arthur knelt next to the prosecutor’s desk, which was to the right of the judge’s seat and faced the elevated platform. His two "girlfriends" stood a few meters in front of him in their usual hysterical state. With multiple spotlights focused on them their naked bodies seemed nearly to glow. They were quite attractive, Arthur thought. Samantha was tall and willowy with a light complexion and shoulder length blond hair that not surprisingly was natural. There was nothing subtle about Laura's form though, the generous curve of her hips, the slender waist, and full breasts that moved in a most fascinating manner as she sobbed...
Arthur came to his senses just in time and averted his eyes away from the bodies of the two naked suspects. In just a few minutes he would have to stand and speak in front of a courtroom full of people and several television cameras. Arthur really missed wearing pants.
The prosecutor had Arthur describe the events from a week earlier and confirm that the girls told him of the pills they had at the hotel. The prosecutor was finished with him after just a couple minutes of testimony but the judge was not. She turned to Arthur and a court official translated.
“Criminal # 88588, you have admitted to violating the terms of your sentence by not reporting criminal activity to the police. I will see you and Spokesman Ralkliv in my chambers at break to discuss the penalty for this violation. Is this clear?"
Arthur knew this was coming. "Yes, Your Honor."
Arthur was dismissed. The prosecutor ordered him to kneel at that back of the courtroom, safely out of public view, at last. He quietly withdrew and resumed kneeling with at least some dignity as the prosecutor called his next witness. A security guard rose to testify. The prosecutor showed him photographs that were also projected up on the big screens for the audience to view. The first photograph was taken inside a hotel hallway. The next photo was a close up of a tall ashtray canister along the wall. The metal tray had two cigarette butts and a couple of gum wrappers, and something else. Fourteen pink pills, each with a smiley face stamped onto it, were half buried under the sand and the wrappers. The prosecutor held up a clear plastic bag containing the fourteen pills.
Arthur badly wanted to strangle Samantha and Laura. An ash tray. They got rid of their damned 'Skittles' in an ashtray! He had warned them about Danubian drug laws and here they act stupid, get caught and then bring his name into it.
Arthur cringed as he had another thought: What if that plane crashed and I'm really dead... and this is Hell? I'm such a sinner. The drinking, the blasphemy, the gambling, making fun of religious people... Shit! I should have listened to those Mormons!
It took less than an hour for the prosecutor to finish presenting his case and then the judge retired to her chambers. Spokesman Ralkliv left the two girls under the supervision of an apprentice while he and Arthur went to discuss the situation with the judge. The judge, however, wasn't going to negotiate anything; her decision was made already. She just motioned Ralkliv over to her desk, said a few derisive words about his inability to control Criminal number 88588’s behavior, and then she handed him a signed form.
Spokesman Ralkliv read the judge's orders to his client as soon as they were back in the courtroom.
Judicial authorization for the additional punishment of Criminal # 88588 due to a violation of the terms of his criminal sentence; the items are as follows:
Item 1: Criminal # 88588 will receive a formal judicial punishment of twenty-five strokes of the standard police switch to be administered by the arresting officer or other qualified personnel on the 9th of June.
Item 2: Criminal # 88588 will report to the Ministry of Public Works on the 10th of June to be assigned a place on a work crew performing hard manual labor for a period of three months’ time."
As Spokesman Ralkliv tried to comfort and focus his newest clients Arthur stood quietly to the side and contemplated his bad luck. Not only would he have another appointment with Officer Stashak in the morning but then the next day he would be shipped out to some camp; it was just the sort of thing that would happen in Hell.
The trial restarted and Spokesman Ralkliv gave the girl's defense, which considering the length of his talk, wasn't much. He finished in just over ten minutes then the judge focused her attention on the two girls. The Judge spoke and a court official translated.
"Defendant Samantha Sherman do you have anything to say before this court pronounces the verdict?"
Samantha had briefly stopped crying so she could address the court. “Please Your Honor I'm so sorry, I didn't mean to..." Then there was a long series of apologies, crying, and senseless babbling. After a while the Judge cut her off.
She asked the same of defendant Laura Brawne but Laura had started crying during the middle of Samantha's hysterical statement. She just stood there and continued sobbing. Apparently that was good enough for the Judge.
Arthur heard the details of the sentence translated by the court official. Three year sentences each with a switching twice per year. Three year for possession of fourteen smiley faced pills. Arthur wondered what Danubians would do to somebody caught with a kilo.
While Ralkliv was trying to get the girls over to the collar machine the room was readied for the punishment phase of the trial. A second portable table was brought in and set up near the permanent one.
Arthur noticed that Spokesman Ralkliv and the other court officials were having a great deal of trouble with the girls. With all the hysterical crying, begging, and thrashing about, the technician couldn't keep them still enough to put their collars on. Spokesman Ralkliv looked embarrassed and the judge grew furious at the delay.
The judge lost her patience and called four court guards over to take control. They grabbed Samantha first, handcuffed her hands behind her back and then forcibly held her still while the technician measured her neck. Then, with a guard on each side of her and another securing her head the technician clamped the collar on Samantha's neck. The guards let go of Samantha and she just collapsed to the floor weeping while Laura was put through the same ordeal.
Arthur glanced out into the audience; it seemed they were eager to see the girls beaten. From what Spokesman Ralkliv had told him Danubians expect a stoic attitude from their criminals and above all a respect for authority. The out of control behavior of the girls was probably interpreted as a personal insult.
The four guards and two pairs of police officers all but threw the girls on top of the tables and quickly strapped them down. Samantha's face froze in a horrified expression when the policeman pulled the leather wrapped switch from his belt. As he walked closer to her she stopped moving altogether like a frightened rabbit trying to hide from a predator. He took his time though examining her exposed body. His left hand wondered to the small of her back just below the leather strap that held her waist so firmly to the table. Samantha broke her silence when the officer's hand slid further back to explore the curves of her bottom.
Arthur looked to Spokesman Ralkliv who just sat there with a serious expression while the policeman fondled his client in front of the judge, court officials, and hundreds of spectators in the audience. The policeman and his female partner then moved behind their helpless victim. He used his hands to further expose the most intimate parts of her body to the other cops and leering crowd. A close up view of this lurid scene played on one of the large video screens at the front of the courtroom. Arthur could hardly believe that no one was stopping this policeman's conduct. If the police can do that to a criminal, Arthur wondered, what else can they do?
After humiliating Samantha for a minute, the policeman began her punishment. He aimed and then struck hard across the left cheek of her exposed bottom. As she screamed the policeman and his female partner exchanged devious glances. There was a brief conversation with the other pair of officers. Then it was Laura's turn to feel the switch.
Laura's fuller figure afforded the policeman a fine target for his switch. The curves of her bottom drew his eyes and then his hands. Laura made a pitiful sobbing noise as he traced his fingers across the contours of her full cheeks and then lifted and spread her buttocks to further expose his captive. With a wicked glance toward his partner he quickly stepped to the side and delivered a cruel strike of the switch across her bottom. Laura screamed as the pain built and the police admired the strength of the blow.
It seemed to Arthur that these two pairs of police officers were having some kind of competition with the girls. In between strokes of the switch all four cops would examine the unlucky girl's bottom with a great deal of touching by both the men and the women. They alternated back and forth with pauses between strokes of about forty seconds. By the time each girl had felt the tenth stroke their bodies were slick with sweat and their sobbing was only broken by screams each time the switch landed.
During the middle of the punishment Arthur figured out it was a competition of accuracy. As the switch fell on the girl's unfortunate bottoms the red line of a welt would rise then the next would stroke was aimed about two widths of the switch lower and so on until they reached the crease that separated their buttocks and thighs. On the way back up the officers tried to strike the unmarked skin in between the raised welts. Obviously if the first set of strikes weren't parallel there would be no way to strike the undamaged skin in between.
Try as they might one of the officers would eventually miss and overlap one of his strikes. On the thirty-first stroke of the switch the policeman in charge of Samantha grimaced and had to admit defeat as his poorly aimed strike overlapped. Though the officer had apparently lost a wager the agonized scream from Samantha made him smile nonetheless.
Spokesman Ralkliv got up then to check the condition of his clients. For reasons that Arthur didn't understand the police could put a criminal through agony for an unlimited amount of time but if there was a little drop of blood the punishment must end.
The Spokesman directed the last few strokes to the thighs of his clients. Then it was over and the girls were released from their restraints.
* * *
Arthur arrived at the office of Spokesman Ralkliv early the next morning. After going through the formal greeting and getting up off the floor, Arthur thought that he better try and mend fences with Ralkliv right away.
"Spokesman, I didn't mean to disrespect you in front of the police officers yesterday, please excuse my careless words. I was just so surprised to see those girls that I said something I shouldn't have and I failed to show the proper respect."
"Make sure you don't do it again. Maybe in America it's acceptable to use that kind of language but here in Upper Danubia we do not burst into someone's office cursing 'son of a bitch'. Let me tell you if the police had understood your words you would have gotten more than just yelled at."
Ralkliv leaned his elbows on the desk and rubbed his temples. "I woke up this morning with a pounding headache. I know it was that trial. I believe it was the low point of my career. The behavior of those American girls... they dishonored themselves and damaged my credibility as a spokesman."
After a pause he looked at his client in a tired frustrated way. "As for you, the additional punishment that the judge ordered will be carried out this morning. The way this will happen is that Officer Stashak and her partner will come to my office, handcuff you and take you into one of the rooms in the basement. Only the two officers, a judge, and myself will be present for your switching. There will be twenty-five strokes but other than that it will be the same as your first switching." Here he paused and picked up his phone.
"I'm going to have my secretary get me something for my headache. Arthur, would you like some coffee or something to eat? No?"
Ralkliv took his pills and poured a cup of coffee. "Tomorrow you need to come by my office at seven in the morning to pick up the paperwork that transfers your custody to the Ministry of Public Works for the next three months. You're going out of the city with a work crew that's stationed in a town west of here, so I may not see you again until September."
Arthur sighed: "A switching and three months in a hard labor camp… Spokesman that really doesn't sound very lenient."
"No, just average I'm afraid. Even though the prosecutor requested leniency in exchange for your testimony the judge had the final say and I suppose she wasn't impressed."
* * *
Officer Stashak had an unexpected treat on the 9th of June. There was an official memo from the Ministry of Justice waiting on her when she went to pick up her morning assignments. The American Spy had slipped up and earned himself another beating.
She smiled at the thought of punishing the criminal who had wrecked so many lives. Stashak thought criminal # 88588 deserved to be executed for what he and his partner did. While she couldn't take his life, Officer Stashak was determined to exact the most suffering she possibly could from him.
Two hours later she had Criminal #88588 securely strapped down and ready for his punishment. Officer Stashak flexed the switch in her hands just like the last time he was at her mercy. She struck him hard across the buttocks and then waited for the pain to increase. She and her partner admired the strength of the first hit as the white line on his skin turned to red and began to swell. Below the first welt she tapped to get her aim then stuck another fierce blow.
The twenty-fifth stroke nearly made him cry out, nearly. His body trembled with pain but he had remained relatively quiet during the punishment. Next time would be different she promised herself.
* * *
In the wide grassy courtyard of the Ministry of Public Works hundreds of criminals came and went. Teams of Public Works employees kept the criminals moving along at a brisk pace, not unlike cattle being pushed through a sale barn. Arthur stood in several different lines. He got his paperwork stamped and stamped again, his picture taken, his fingerprints pressed on another document and finally, at the end of the line, an irritable clerk seated at a large metal desk took his paperwork and handed him a ticket bearing his official name and group number.
Arthur was sent out the door to join his group. Criminals lined up alongside a row of buses that were parked in the courtyard; each bus had a number on the side. Arthur's ticket had group 6 stamped on it. He walked along the circular drive past bus 8, bus 3, bus 17, and bus 25. Arthur started to feel a little better; the criminals who were standing in those lines didn't seem all that upset; they carried on conversations in a normal manner. Perhaps the hard labor camp wasn't going to be as bad as he feared after all.
The next group, though, changed his mind. That miserable group of men all had something in common: every one of them had been recently beaten. As he got closer, Arthur cringed; group 6 was painted on the side of the bus. For what seemed like the fiftieth time in the past two days Arthur tried to reassure himself that it couldn't possibly get any worse. He took a deep breath, got in line and like the rest of group 6, he waited in silence.
Bus 6 turned west toward the mountains that divided the Upper Danubia into east-west halves. Thirty minutes later the bus arrived at the city of Novo Sumi Ris. This was the center of the Danubian silver mining industry; every load of ore came by rail through this small but industrious mountain town. The crushing, smelting, and refining went on all day, giving the dusty collection of rail lines, cheap housing, and factories a sulfurous metallic smell.
Steep forested slopes hemmed in the town to the north and a mountain stream cut a narrow gorge into the overgrown tangle of willows, brambles, and bedrock to the south. Rows of buildings crowded onto the only flat ground available: narrow strips of land to either side of the train tracks. Novo Sumi Ris didn't look so much like it built the railroad tracks, but rather the other way around.
A contingent of guards awaited the criminals as they unloaded from bus 6. The collars' electronics were useless outside of the Rika Chorna collar zone so the guards used more crude measures to control the criminals' movements. Ten criminals at a time had to line up and then drop to their knees so the guards could fasten their collars together on a long chain. As a guard locked the chain onto his collar's loop Arthur glanced back at the rest of group six, all hooked together like fish on a stringer. Further down the road he could see a group of about twenty female criminals coming up the street.
Group 6 marched through town to a fenced-in complex of metal buildings adjacent to the railroad tracks. As they stopped by the gate to the men's barracks the group of female criminals that Arthur had noticed earlier walked past. When he heard someone speaking English he couldn't make himself look. It can't be, he told himself, there must be other Americans here.
"Arthur." The voice said: "Oh my god Laura! Look it's Arthur!"
There can be no doubt, Arthur realized. The chains, the sulfurous smell, the futility of trying to escape these two: it all made sense. He had passed through the turnstile of Hell!
* * *
Arthur didn't sleep much that first night. For one reason his canvas cot had an aluminum bar on the end that he kept banging his head on, another was that freight trains rolled past every couple hours.
Once after nodding off Arthur dreamed of the beach in Washington State that his family used to visit when he was a child. Huge ocean waves rolled in and crashed against the rocks throwing a spray of salty mist in the air. His father and a five-year-old Tee were examining a big crab that the surf tossed onto the beach. Arthur climbed up one of the jagged outcrops that protruded into the sea. Then he glimpsed an especially large swell. It grew like a dark mountain rising out of the Pacific and came ashore with such force that the ground shook under foot...
Arthur awoke in a panic and stood up. There was no wave, just another freight train passing through town. After being startled awake for the third time in one night he decided to stay up and get dressed. Getting dressed... looking around he remembered where he was.
The barracks had a line of twenty-five cots along each side, with about three feet in between cots. There was a tin roof overhead and a concrete floor. To the north: a primitive restroom and a water spigot. The most soundly built part of the whole complex was the high perimeter fence topped with razor wire.
Just as the eastern sky brightened guards came to take the criminal work crew to the mess hall. There were several other crews and five shotgun-wielding guards present at this high security breakfast. The food was surprisingly good, Arthur thought, far better than the meals that he or Jakt tried to cook. Mr. Jakt's idea of breakfast was a bowl of plain oatmeal, bread, and water; whoever was cooking back in the kitchen at least knew how to make biscuits and fry eggs.
Then it was off to work. The group put on their issued orange work boots, leather gloves, and hard hats. Fifty men chained together wearing just these three items marched through the middle of town. Arthur was sure this was one of the weirder sights he had ever seen, but residents on the street seemed to take no notice. The guards marched group 6 down the paved street that paralleled the railroad tracks for a kilometer then they turned up a smaller road that squeezed between the smokestacks of the refinery complex and a row of rusty warehouses. The road went upslope to the forested hills northwest of town.
The worksite was a long abandoned mine on the steep slope a hundred feet above the road. There were multiple shafts cut into the cliff near the top of the slope and a thick talus deposit extended down almost to the edge of the road. After Arthur and the rest of group 6 climbed to the flat spot near the mine the guards removed their chains and ordered them to kneel as the work foreman arrived.
Though Arthur couldn't understand all the foreman's words, it was obvious what the problem with this location was. The old shafts had undermined the integrity of the slope resulting in occasional landslides that spilled onto the road below. The hillside would have to be blasted back and terraced to reduce the overall slope. That sort of job produced a lot of debris and that's where criminal work crew 6 came in.
After an exhausting day at work the crew was re-chained and marched back in to town. Arthur ate a huge supper, bathed using the soap and metal bucket he was issued, and then collapsed on his cot to rest. Just as he lowered himself down on his stomach he heard a woman call out his number. Arthur struggled to his feet and lumbered outside. An irate female guard stood by the gate with two kneeling criminals behind her.
Arthur started to get down on the ground too but the woman motioned him to stop. She spoke slowly and clearly so he was able to understand most of her words.
"Criminal # 88588 you are American?"
"These are also Americans, but they do not know Danubian language. You teach girls Danubian after work.”
This was one of those times that Arthur thought Rumak had gotten the better deal.
The stern woman pulled out her switch and waved it about to make a point.
That apparently wasn't a question, Arthur realized. "Yes officer."
"Teach well or girls and Criminal # 88588 get hurt. Tell girls that you teach them every day after work. That will be all."
Samantha and Laura remained kneeling on the ground even after the guard was out of sight. Arthur could see the switch marks from their judicial punishments two days ago had turned dark but there were a few more recent welts across their shoulders now.
"Oh, just get up already,” he said. “She's gone."
The girls cautiously stood up. Arthur could tell they were close to crying again so he attempted to get them focused on the task at hand. "You two have to learn to speak the language, and unfortunately that guard ordered me to teach you. I don't want to hear any excuses; you're going to learn the few words and phrases that I know. We will meet here every day after supper. Now let’s just go somewhere quiet and do the first lesson before I fall asleep."
Samantha broke her silence: "Arthur, the people are so mean here, they hit us and chained us up, and... and..."
Arthur nodded gently. "I'm so sorry that happened to you Samantha, but it's going to be alright, we'll get through this together, I promise." Arthur's eyes narrowed. "See, now that's the sort of thing I would say if I Really Gave A Shit! I don't guess you noticed the switch-marks on my skin? The Judge had me beaten for the second time in a month because of you, and she sent me here for three months hard labor also because of you and your stupid drugs!"
Laura paused from crying. "I'm really sorry we got you in trouble Arthur, It's not right..."
"If I had just one wish right now," Arthur groaned as he rotated his shoulders, stretching aching sore muscles. "It would be for the energy to strangle you both. You hid... your Skittles... in an ashtray, after I warned you!" Arthur put both wrists forward. "Why didn't you just walk up to a cop and say: here's my drugs officer, would you arrest me please?"
Samantha hung on the edge between anger and despair. "You..." She choked back a sob. "You got caught too." Her lip quivered and tears rolled down her cheeks as she trembled and cried silently.
Arthur took a long breath, he was simply too exhausted to stay angry. "Yeah," he admitted. "For a spy I'm not all that elusive."
"Listen," Arthur tried hard to concentrate. "You know, last week, at the restaurant, when I told you about how criminals lead fairly normal lives? I lied. I guess I was embarrassed about it at the time but the truth is that criminals are nothing more than property here and you can't expect to be treated like human beings any more. That's over with."
Arthur looked both traumatized girls in the eyes. "This place scares me too, I understand, but you've got to toughen up and try to help yourselves. These guards have no pity for criminals, especially foreigners like us, and when they give an order they expect it to be carried out. So if you want to help me and help yourselves just try to learn everything I can teach you." Arthur half yawned half laughed. "Of course with that angry guard threatening to beat us all to death, getting motivated shouldn't be a problem."
"Oh god!" Laura cried. "That's what she said?"
"Well... not to death." Arthur laughed. "Said something like: 'teach well or you and the girls will get hurt'. Not a very friendly sort is she?"
"She hit us today, with her switch, I don't even know why." Laura absently tried to cover her naked body with her arms. "They call her something like 'maristrika.'"
"Hmm... a title or rank maybe." Arthur guessed. "I noticed all that brass on her uniform. Could mean captain or major or whatever." Arthur thought of something. "So, I'm just curious. I know I got sent here for not reporting a crime, how did you two end up here?"
Samantha looked down avoiding his eyes; Arthur could tell she was deeply ashamed of herself. "You watched our trial. The judge was angry with us for disrespecting the court; yesterday morning we were brought back into her chambers. She sent us here for three months. She said that the guards here would teach us to respect authority."
"What did your parents do? Are they still in the country?"
Samantha's looked down at the dusty grass and barely more than whispered: "I don't know; we were supposed to leave Monday morning. The police arrested us Sunday night, then there was our trial the next day and after that I was too afraid and messed up to ask questions." She paused for a couple seconds and almost imperceptibly shook her head. "I don't know if I want to see them now; I don't want anyone to see me like this... I don't want anyone to know what the police did to me. I'm too ashamed. I can't face them now."
Arthur nodded; he couldn't help feeling some sympathy. "I know what you mean. Listen, there's no point in me being mad at you two for getting me in trouble. And I really can't blame you for bringing up my name during interrogation; I know what those bastards are like. You did something stupid and so did I. What's done is done... let’s just forget about it. We've got enough problems already. So..." Arthur shrugged: "Ready to start class?"
Samantha wiped away tears and nodded.
Laura was still trying to cover herself, folding an arm across her breasts and the other shielding between her legs. "Yeah."
Arthur quickly glanced around for guards. "You better not do that, Laura. Criminals aren't allowed to cover themselves ever... that may be why they hit you today."
Laura sadly nodded and put her hands down to her sides.
Arthur pointed northward. "Right over there, next to the perimeter fence; now that's a near perfect classroom, just needs a little fixing up." Arthur started and then looked back at the girls. "Well, come on; don't want to be late for your first day of class do you?"
The three criminals made their way over to a shaded area beneath an enormous oak. Arthur broke a stick into a sharp point, got down on one knee and scratched a Danubian word into a patch of bare clay. "This," Arthur said, "means 'yes' its pronounced 'doc' just like it looks."
After an hour of Arthur’s Danubian language class Samantha and Laura could say their official names, and three essential phrases: yes officer, no officer, and I don't understand officer. That was good enough for day one, he thought. Arthur was so exhausted that not even the trains woke him up that night.
Chapter 6: Mail Call
Almost two weeks passed before any mail arrived at the work camp. The announcement came after supper when Arthur and his two students were in the middle of a lesson. This was both a pleasant surprise and a cause for apprehension. Even though he had written several letters to friends and family not one of them was mailed. It was somehow easier not to think about his former life and all he had lost.
Arthur collected four letters then walked back to the shady spot under the big oak. Both Samantha and Laura were already reading their mail when Arthur sat down to examine his letters. Three letters were from Tee and the other one was from his mother. He really didn't want to open that one just yet, so he selected the earliest letter from his sister. The letter was postmarked five days after his trial, the thirteenth of May.
I just have a bit of time to write before I have to leave for class this morning, so I'll scribble fast. Just so you know I picked up your truck; you're a pig by the way. Is that peanut butter in the floorboard?
The trip over to meet your landlady was interesting. She said your girlfriend came by yesterday. "Don't tell Arthur I said this," she whispered. "But that girl's a tramp." I guess you always did attract interesting company. After I paid her the five hundred dollars she quit grumbling so much about you and the company you keep. She even invited me inside her place for iced tea.
I picked up the dog although I refuse to call him 'Lucky' since he has ruined three of my rugs already. Did you know he had bladder control issues when you pawned him off on me? Every time I come home he runs toward me both peeing and jumping. I don't have many visitors.
Anyway, I'd like to know how you're doing. It might do me some good to hear that your life sucks worse than mine does, so hit me back. Gotta go; your damned dog's chewing on my lamp again.
Go to Hell,
Samantha and Laura were trying to read their very serious letters while Arthur snickered.
"What are you laughing about?" Samantha put her letter down in the dirt.
"My dog peeing on my sister's stuff... now that's comedy! Listen to this." Arthur read his sister's letter aloud.
"Goddamn, she sounds just like you." Laura smirked.
Samantha was incredulous. "You're a criminal in a hard labor camp in this fucked up foreign country and your sister wrote you... about a stupid dog?"
"Hey, don't talk ill of poor Lucky." Arthur said. "He's a good dog, just got a nervous temperament and an undersized bladder is all. Let’s see… this letter's from May 20th."
You still haven't written me back. I thought criminals had a lot of time on their hands. Mom's been driving me nuts about you; she thinks you're being tortured or something. You two were barely on speaking terms for the last four years now you're all she wants to talk about. The lengths you will go to get attention Arthur; that's really mature.
One of your former coworkers called me yesterday. His name was Bill or Billy or something, and he wanted to know why you weren't at the league baseball game Saturday. He said you were a better shortstop on Saturday mornings before you got into the beer. That's funny, I never saw you play baseball sober before. Anyway to avoid any embarrassment about your situation I gave him a pretty good excuse for your absence. It turns out you moved to California to join an end-days cult in the desert, your family tried to talk you out of it but you had to go where the Prophet said.
I've been taking some summer classes at college; I just sit back in my flip-flops and shorts and relax. There's a lab assistant in my chemistry class who gives me so many hints that I don't really have to pay attention at all. Science nerds always appreciate the opportunity to talk to an actual girl. Sound familiar?
Anyway, I just thought I would waste some more time writing to my criminal brother even though he doesn't bother to write back. I sometimes still think you made all that shit up. I mean where the hell's Danubia anyway? Why couldn't you get arrested in Spain or France?
Write me back you idiot,
"See, now that letter had some real heartfelt emotion in it," Arthur said. "Didn't have any urinating dog content but that was still some pretty deep stuff."
"If you say so..." Samantha smirked.
"Arthur," Laura asked. "Have you not been wearing your hardhat?"
"Well of course I wear it... the guards make sure of it. Those guys are really great at that sort of thing, even though we don't speak the same language they have a way of getting their point across clearly."
Samantha rolled her eyes. "Yeah, we've seen your back, we noticed."
"Oh," Arthur said. "It looks like I have one more letter from Tee, postmarked May 23rd. Sit back and enjoy!"
I just realized for the first time ever that I miss you. If you were here I wouldn't have to put up with so much shit. Mom had me contact the American embassy Monday, then some deputy jerk-off at the State Department, then some of our congress critters.
There was one man at the embassy that actually thought you’re a spy. I said that the government isn’t that desperate; but he kept telling me how he believed you worked in intelligence. "If there are two words that don't belong together," I told him, "it's Arthur and intelligence." As you know I have been your most steadfast defender.
Mom talked to an official at the State Department about you and he thought that perhaps some kind of a deal could be worked out between the US and Danubia to exchange prisoners or something. I expected they would be eager to trade you for just about anything the Danubians so far are unresponsive.
And that dog of yours is enough to drive a mad girl sane. I walked him down to the park yesterday; he ran in a circle, wrapped the leash around my legs and lunged. I hit the dirt then 'Lucky' ran off down the street. After searching for five hours I found him last night in a dumpster behind a restaurant. I guess he jumped in there for the food but couldn't get out. So thanks to you I had to wrestle a dog covered in table scraps out of a dumpster on Saturday night. You've done wonders for my social life Arthur, on a related note "Lucky" found a piece of sausage in my hair last night.
Write me back sometime if you're not too busy making prison hooch or whatever it is you do.
You really suck,
Arthur exclaimed: "See; now that's a letter!"
"Does she always talk to you like that?" Laura asked.
"No, there's usually more cursing. I might ask around tomorrow and see if I can get some writing supplies and send her a letter back."
"Anyway," Arthur said. "I suppose we should finish up this lesson so we can get some rest. I'm just about to run out of useful phrases, most of the words I've learned here just seem to be cussing and insults."
The lesson was finished in another half hour and Arthur went back to his cot in the barracks. He didn't have anywhere else to put Tee's letters so he placed them in the now dry metal bucket that rested under his cot. He opened the remaining letter and with some apprehension he read his mother's words.
"Hmm... let’s see... starts out with the obligatory trite stuff- 'she loves me, misses me, blah, blah, blah."
"Oh here we go, now she's back to her usual self... 'She’s worried, she's suffering, she's disappointed in me, do I know what I'm putting her through?' Ha... next time they're beating the shit out of me I'll be sure to think about how much she's suffering. Let her go back to her other family if I'm too big of an inconvenience now."
One thing stuck in his head, his mother's question: 'Why do you have to be so reckless, do you know what you're putting us through?'
“Well..." Arthur fumed. "Maybe if you hadn't run off with your new husband and his kids I wouldn't be in this mess!"
Arthur thought about what he just said. "Well...that didn't make any sense at all." He tossed the letter in his bucket he lay down and tried to sleep.
* * *
The next day was like any other; Arthur spent twelve hours carrying rocks down the slope and tossing them in the back of a dump truck. As soon as the slope was clean the engineers would blast and create a new pile of debris that had to be removed. The guards made sure the criminals worked hard all day through the liberal use of a leather strap they kept ready.
Arthur had trouble understanding most of the orders but when the work foremen grew angry they always used the same phrase. Form up meant the criminal should stand up straight, turn around, and fold his hands behind his head with fingers interlocked. This position allowed the guards to strike a criminal across the shoulders without risking accidental damage to a criminal's hands. The last thing the Ministry wanted to do was to impair a man's ability to work. They never struck any lower on the body; Arthur figured, to avoid any legal complications when it came time for a criminal's judicial punishments to happen.
Even the most hard working and cooperative men on the crew had marks across their shoulders by the end of the first week. The language barrier and Arthur's general aloof demeanor grated on the supervisors' nerves and cost him more punishment than most. The guards made a big show of it when he got in trouble; beating the American spy in front of the whole work crew. Arthur endured it as best he could; he tried to not show fear when a guard stepped behind him with the strap’s wooden handle held in one hard fist. He could only wait for the guard to draw back his arm; then there was a whispery noise as the strap cut swiftly through the air. The pain that radiated across his shoulders was something Arthur could never ignore. The five-inch wide strip of thick leather hit hard and stung horribly.
Animal was the foremen's' favorite insult, by far the most common term used to describe the criminals on the work crew. Dishonored animal, lazy animal, stupid animal and many adjectives he didn't yet comprehend were yelled at him throughout the day, insults that sometimes came along with an order to form up and endure a few burning strikes of the strap.
Samantha and Laura had also been through a difficult time the past two weeks. The women's crew didn't do hard labor up in the mountains; instead they did tasks like cleaning the barracks and other public buildings in town. The women were also responsible for preparing meals and when they weren't cooking or cleaning the guards marched them outside the city to tend the city's farms. After work they looked just as exhausted as Arthur felt.
After supper Arthur decided he would try to get the writing supplies. He walked to a small metal building that the warden used as an office. He opened the door, walked inside, knelt and waited for permission to speak.
The warden and a couple of his foremen had been talking before the interruption. "What are you doing in my office?" The Warden demanded. "You better not get my floor dirty."
"Sir," Arthur said. "Could I have some writing supplies; a pen and paper to write a letter?"
The warden was less than cooperative. "You animals don't need to write, just work." After being abused by the two foremen Arthur went to find his students.
"You know," Arthur rubbed at the side of his head. "That was the first time I've literally been thrown out the door. I did pick up a new phrase though, I think it means filthy worthless dog in Danubian but I'm not sure how to spell it."
Samantha sighed, shaking her head. "They're beating the shit out you and you're thinking about grammar; you're pretty fucked up Arthur."
Arthur sat down in the dirt trying his best to look indignant. "Such language; as soon as I get some paper that's going directly on your report card young lady!"
Arthur gestured to the clearing between the tree and perimeter fence. "Sometimes, I don't think you kids appreciate the proud tradition of this fine educational institution. You just take it for granted, like it's always been here but let me tell you a story. Let me take you back, all the way back to the beginning, when I started this school with nothing but the collar on my neck and a pointy stick for scratching words in the dirt; but I did have one thing... I had a dream."
"Arthur," Laura snickered. "That was like thirteen days ago."
"Yes," Arthur reminisced, "how far we've come since then. Why, it seems like only yesterday we were sitting right in this very spot practicing numbers and adjectives."
"That was yesterday." Samantha smirked.
"Arthur," Laura jabbed. "Were you like this before your arrest?"
"Nah... I usually wore pants."
A cute little wrinkle formed on the bridge of Samantha's nose when she smiled big. Laughter transitioned into exhaustion, she stretched out stiff arms above her head. "Oh, I'm so sore... so tired. I could go to sleep right here in the dirt."
"Don't lay down then." Arthur said. "I've still got some educating to do. For today's lesson I want to go over something a little different, I've taught you some things you can say to the guards, other criminals, and staff. Now you need to know what not to say."
"I've learned through many bad experiences," Arthur nodded toward the warden's office, "that Danubians are easily offended; say the wrong thing and you'll get yelled at or worse. And having a conversation with a public official is comparable to defusing a bomb. You gotta be cautious and prepared.
Arthur picked up the pointy stick and scratched a number one in the dirt. Then he wrote the word LYING. "Okay... number one on my top ten list is lying. Never ever accuse a Danubian of lying; even joking about it will offend them."
"Don't admit to lying in the past either," Arthur advised. "They'll look at you like you kicked their dog or something. So the point is: don't get caught lying. Obviously, it's best to just tell the truth unless it's really worth it.
Now, I'm not completely sure I've got this right but I think that if they catch you lying they'll drag you over to their Church and put another collar on your neck!"
"No way! Another one?" Laura's eyes widened and she covered her mouth with a hand.
"Yeah, I think so... see, about a week after my arrest I saw this naked dude with a different sort of collar so I asked Spokesman Ralkliv what kind of criminal he was. Ralkliv told me he wasn't a criminal at all; he was some kind of a captive belonging to the Danubian Church! He couldn't say what the guy did wrong but he did tell me that people who are collared by the Church have often been caught lying. So I decided right then and there I wouldn't be caught, don't want to end up with my neck stretched out like a giraffe." Arthur gripped the edge of his collar. "Just having one of these is bad enough, never figured I'd have calluses on my neck. Uh... okay... on to number two..."
Half an hour later Arthur got to number ten on his list and everyone was tired. Samantha yawned and stretched. "Mmm... so Mr. Liggett, is that all? If you don't have any more lessons for us I really want to get cleaned up and get some sleep."
It amused Arthur how the girls sometimes treated him like an actual teacher, asking for permission to leave and such. He changed from English to Danubian: "Class is dismissed. Goodnight Criminal number 88634 and Criminal number 88635. I will see you tomorrow."
"Goodnight Criminal number 88588." They both stumbled through the words, improving a little every day.
Arthur admired their butts as they strolled back toward the women's barracks. He was tired too, but before he got up something occurred to him: he was really enjoying the daily meetings with Samantha and Laura. He thought about the girls often, especially Samantha. It didn't make sense how a person could be happy at a hard labor camp but at least for a time after work, he was.
* * *
Persistence does sometimes pay off in life. The second and third day that Arthur went to the warden's office he got the same result, but on day four the warden relented.
"Young man," he said. "You're an idiot. You come in here every day even though I tell you not to come back. And even though you get thrown out the door every day you continue to come back." The warden opened a desk drawer. A notebook and a couple pens hit the floor in front of Arthur. "Now are you satisfied?"
"Yes sir." Arthur had his small victory that day.
Laura and Samantha waited beneath the oak. "You got it?" Samantha's eyes opened wide. "I can't believe it. Still, that's a lot to go through for a notebook."
"I've got a couple ink pens too." Arthur waved them about, proudly showing off his prizes. "Now if you will excuse me I'm going to go write some hate mail to send to my idiotic sister."
I just received your first three letters this week. I suppose all my mail is being screened for secret spy language before they let it through. They probably thought the poor grammar and senseless rambling in your letters was some kind of a code. It's good to know that you went at least a week without wrecking the truck, and that's not peanut butter in the floor it was ice cream.
I always suspected my landlady talked about me behind my back, but I suppose she knows a worthless tramp when she sees one, you did say she invited you inside. I'm surprised you're having such a hard time with Lucky. He seems just as well housetrained as your last boyfriend, and at least he shows the initiative to go out and get his own food.
I received mom's letter too. You can tell her that what's happened to me isn't what I would consider torture, and I know torture. I've attended five of her family reunions. Much of her letter was spent lecturing me on how I should have listened to her and stayed out of trouble. I suppose she probably tried to warn me as a child not to get involved in espionage in Eastern Europe but I just wouldn't listen.
Billy's baseball team's really going to miss me; I had the biggest cooler. And I had a strict rule: no beer before noon unless I get thirsty. The end-days cult was a nice touch, but I'm more of UFO cult kind of guy.
Tee, it's baffling how you even got accepted into college, but since you're there I suppose your current technique of acting like a whore to get actual students to do your work for you is your best shot at getting a degree. You might try a little harder than flip-flops though if your plan to negotiate with the professor for an A.
There are several words in the English language that I could use to express my gratitude for the few phone calls you made on my behalf, but I don't feel like using any of them right now. I contacted several of them myself and you should see the fine collection of form letters they sent.
Since this is the first letter I'm actually going to send you, I suppose I should give a bit of an overview of what life is like here. For the first month I lived in the city of Rika Chorna. It's a fairly big city on the eastern side of Upper Danubia. I had a job as a bricklayer and I lived at my boss's house.
Three weeks ago, however, I happened to get off work early and I met these two American girls. They were here as tourists at the time, so I bought them lunch and we talked perhaps a little too much. A week later those two got arrested for possession of some illegal drugs and since I knew about their drugs all three of us got in trouble. The judge sent us to a hard labor camp at a town called Novo Sumi Ris. So it's going to be September by the time I get back to the city. I'm set up pretty good here though; I've got my own canvas cot and a metal bucket. The food is also better than one would expect from a hard labor camp.
I can't make any phone calls but I'll try and send out more letters. Writing supplies are difficult to find here, you wouldn't believe what I went through just to get this notebook.
Remember, I'll always be better than you,
By the third week the Danubian language lessons were getting shorter as Arthur had less and less to teach. There was consequently more time to talk. While Laura wrote a letter to a friend, Arthur and Samantha traded stories about their families.
"Arthur, no offense but your family is so weird; I mean your sister seems just as odd as you are." Samantha smiled, intolerably smug. "I come from a respectable family in Claremont. Dad's been selling real estate there for years, my older brother's the high school basketball coach, and my mom is a guidance counselor at the middle school. We attend church every week; we're active in the community so everybody knows my family. My dad's even on the city council."
Arthur laughed: "Samantha, you cuss like my grandma. You're from a respectable family? What happened, were you raised at a truck-stop and later adopted?"
"Shut up, I'm trying to be dramatic here! Now where was I?"
Arthur stopped laughing, somewhat. "You were telling us about your respectable family, I believe."
Samantha rolled her eyes. "Now they have to tell everyone that Samantha's not coming back for three years. She's a criminal. That's pretty fucked up for the daughter of the guidance counselor to be convicted of drug possession."
"Perhaps," Arthur suggested, "she could turn your situation into one of those motivational posters like: 'Don't do drugs kids or you might end up in a hard labor camp with a dog collar on your neck like Samantha.'" Arthur rolled about laughing.
Samantha leaned forward, slapped his leg hard, and frowned as he spasmed even more with breathless laughter. Her eyes narrowed. "I'm serious Arthur."
It was several seconds before he gathered enough air to respond in a voice high and breathless. "Serious! Well... that... that's half your problem right there. This is the most ridiculous place I've ever been, and I've been to Austin!" After seeing her annoyance at his continued interruptions, and feeling his own need for additional oxygen Arthur decided to shut up for a while.
"Okay, okay." Arthur rose up on one elbow. "Go ahead and give your dramatic speech, but make it dignified as you can," Arthur snickered, "while sitting naked in the dirt." He collapsed back, feeling small rocks against recent welts, not caring.
"Well, it's about fucking time," Samantha tried to gather her thoughts. "I was about to say how I don't want people back home to know what I've went through here." She looked off into the distance. "That letter was from my mom. She said that she knew I was innocent; that I didn't take drugs. She said they would fight for our release. She said not to give up, that we would get through this together."
Arthur caught his breath at last and gave an approving nod. "That story's got more drama than a Mexican soap opera, it has real potential. It would make a good made-for-TV movie maybe." Arthur framed the line out in his hands: "Innocent American girl imprisoned in strange foreign land; now that's a classic, although we might have to take some creative license with the innocent part."
"Arthur," Samantha prodded. "Have you ever considered professional help?"
"I had a coupon once, but I lost it."
"Well I'm glad that you find this situation sooo funny, Arthur. I for one didn't plan on spending my summer in a hard labor camp. I... I just can't believe this." Samantha's shoulders slumped and she absently ran her fingertips along her metal collar. "I don't deserve this. I mean... I'm not a drug dealer... or an addict even... I just wanted to party and have a good time. It was just a few pills..."
"Well," Arthur suggested: "Just look at it as a learning experience."
"Learning experience!" Samantha scoffed: "What the fuck did I learn?"
"Well..." Arthur was ready to burst. "You... um... you learned that sometimes Skittles come with handcuffs instead of rainbows! Ha!"
"God." Samantha groaned. "Maybe they should execute you."
"Oh," Arthur tried to stop laughing. "They'll probably get around to it eventually."
"Enough jokes Arthur." Samantha nervously glanced away. "There's something I want to know. The letter was mailed from Rika Chorna three days after my trial, so my parents stayed in the city to try and help us. Do you think they found out what that policeman did... you know what happened to me at trial?"
Arthur suddenly felt exhausted. Reluctantly, he gave her unwelcome news. "I hate to tell you this Samantha, but trials are widely publicized, there are photographs and articles in the newspapers about all the defendants, and at least some of your trial was probably on television. So if your parents were in Rika Chorna after your trial they surely know what happened."
Samantha turned away. "I think I'm going to go back to the barracks and lay down."
* * *
Wednesday was the first of July, and there was a break in the routine. After breakfast the criminals were marched to a sports field at the city park. There were about two hundred male criminals and around fifty female criminals sentenced to the work camp in Novo Sumi Ris. The warden had all two hundred fifty of them take a seat in the small section of bleachers overlooking the field. Then the warden called forty-two names. Thirty-three men and nine women nervously approached him and knelt.
On the first day of each month judicial switchings were administered. To avoid disruption of work schedules as well and to minimize the travel time required for the judges, spokespersons, and police officers involved all criminals with scheduled punishments in a certain month received their switchings on the first.
Arthur sat in the bleachers with the rest of the work crews and watched as the warden made the forty-two criminals line up on the field. Next he ordered that the punishment tables be set up. The criminals themselves were required to set up the platforms that they would be beaten on. In pairs they carried the portable devices onto the field. The paint-splattered platforms obviously started out their lives as portable scaffolding, though some enterprising worker refitted them with bolted on leather restraints. The criminals raised the flat top, locked in the aluminum cross bars and extended the four legs firmly into the turf. After forty-two tables were assembled each of the criminals stood nervously awaiting the arrival of the officers that would beat them.
The officers who would administer the punishments were a combination of guards from the camp and police with Rika Chorna insignia on their uniforms. Five spokespersons and a judge took seats overlooking the scene. Although it did nothing but remind him of his own punishment due the next month, Arthur and the other criminals were required to watch the entire punishment. August first would be especially bad; Samantha and Laura would see him punished. Though in front of the girls he acted like nothing bothered him, Arthur badly dreaded of his next meeting with Officer Stashak.
The punishment began just after sunrise with the officers striking in unison. The tables were turned toward the audience so that the faces of the criminals were on display. Arthur recognized several faces from group 6 suffering down on the field.
Most of the forty-two criminals remained silent for the first half of the punishment, though after that their cries grew increasingly loud. Arthur reluctantly watched as the beaten criminals tried to deal with the mounting pain. Their breathing increased, their bodies became wet with sweat, and many clenched their teeth or pressed their foreheads hard against the tables. Later, as their resistance eroded, tears rolled down the faces of the abused criminals. They gasped and trembled and tried desperately to remain quiet. Finally they would cry out and lose all self-control right in front of the two hundred criminals they work with. The officers who administered the switching seemed to especially enjoy the cruel satisfaction of breaking a criminal in front of their peers.
Just about an hour later the beaten criminal's lined up facing away from the crowd to kneel and kiss the shoes of their tormenters. After the judge certified the punishments the warden had them assemble for group photographs taken from both the front and the back. With the completion of the judicial punishments the beaten criminals had to walk back to their barracks. Arthur and the remaining criminals were chained and marched off to work.
* * *
The Fourth of July, Arthur's favorite holiday back home was just another miserable day at the work camp. No hotdogs, no black-market fireworks, no beer; nothing but work; loading rocks for twelve hours in the summer heat. The high temperature wasn't doing much for the foreman's personality either. He expected group 6 to work as hard in the midsummer heat as they did in the spring. Like a line of fifty ants they carried loads down the hill, deposited their loads then marched single file back up the slope. After an especially hot and grueling day of work the crew returned to camp.
Arthur cleaned up, ate supper and then went to meet with Samantha and Laura. He waited for several minutes but neither one appeared. That harpy must be making them work late, Arthur thought. He decided to go sit in the shade while he waited. A few steps later there was a loud voice that sounded an awful lot like the before mentioned harpy. Turning around, his suspicions were realized. This guard's bad temper made her notorious for terrorizing the female criminals under her watch. In a scene eerily similar to what happened a month earlier the head female guard approached him with his students following behind.
Arthur knelt down and nervously waited for whatever trouble was headed his way.
Major Drazetka marched a couple paces from where Arthur knelt, the terrified girls dropped to their knees and waited behind her. "Criminal # 88588 what have you been teaching these dishonored animals?"
Arthur chose his words carefully. "Officer, I have taught these... young women to speak and write some simple Danubian phrases and how to count..."
"Is that all that you teach them?"
He felt this woman was laying a trap, so Arthur remained cautious. "I do not understand what you are asking me officer."
"You are the spy aren't you? Your name is Liggett, is it not?"
Arthur paused trying to figure out this angry woman's motives.
"You will answer my question now!"
"Yes, officer. I am Arthur Liggett and I was convicted of espionage."
"You have taught these two deception. I have something for you to read. Sit up."
She handed him a couple photocopies of pages that were removed from the notebook they shared. Each was part a letter written in two different hands; obviously they belonged to Laura and Samantha. Arthur grew apprehensive; surely the girls realized the government was examining their mail. He knew not to write or say anything that could be used against him.
"Officer, I don't think it's right to read a person's mail without their permission."
Arthur knew he would pay for that, but after a hard day this guard was really getting on his nerves.
She pulled her switch out. "Stand up spy; turn around. Get your hands behind your head." She struck hard then made her point. "I do not need permission." She struck again. "You are nothing but a dishonored criminal." She punctuated the last word of her sentence with another vicious swing of the switch. "These girls are nothing but dishonored criminals." She swung her switch. "Criminals are property." Arthur clenched his teeth and tried to deal with the pain of the latest brutal strike that burned across his skin. "This is my camp, you are property of the Duchy, and I am your custodian." She paused, breathing heavy, after the fifth stroke of the switch.
"Criminal # 88588 turn around and face me."
Arthur blinked to try and force the tears from his eyes before turning around to face the guard and his two students.
The Major tapped the end of her switch on his chest and stared as if daring him to refuse. "Read the letters."
He glanced at Samantha and Laura. They nodded subtly, and Arthur gathered up the papers off the ground. There were excerpts taken from a longer letters and photocopied onto the two sheets. Arthur read through the first page.
There was nothing that immediately drew his attention. It had to be one of Laura's letters since Arthur and Samantha were mentioned in the text. Arthur assumed that it was written to a family member from the context. There was a description of the camp and some of the people that she worked with. Then there was an account of some of the abuse they had suffered since arriving. Though she used some ill-advised words it seemed fairly accurate from what he had seen.
The next page was a collection of three excerpts from Samantha's letters. What stood out to Arthur were the vivid descriptions of her mistreatment at the hands of the guards. It confirmed Arthur's suspicions that some of the male guards were sexually abusing the young women.
Arthur was disgusted with the guards, the police, the whole damned country, but most of all with the officer that stood before him. He dropped the papers to the ground.
"Criminal # 88588 what do you have to say yourself; why have you taught these dishonored animals to spread lies?"
Arthur stood and remained silent. His hate filled stare seemed to amuse her.
"Such anger." The Major taunted. "Go ahead, attack me; I would like nothing more than to see you before the firing squad. Perhaps these deceitful girls would be punished as well." She moved close and spoke in a mocking tone. "Is it true that you don't have any opinion on the lies they spread about my guards?"
"As you say officer, I'm government property. Property has no opinions."
"Don't play games with me criminal #88588; I am giving you a rare second chance. Admit that you had these criminals spread lies about my guards."
"It was not my friends who lied, officer."
As soon as the last word was spoken Arthur knew he made a mistake. By provoking this woman he had probably made both the girls' and his own life more difficult. There was always a high price for calling someone a liar in this country, especially for a convicted criminal who had minimal legal standing. The guard in question was also second in command behind the warden, so in this camp her word was as good as law.
Arthur glanced at Samantha, there were tears, but there was also a slight smile on Samantha's face. This act of defiance did feel good for the time being, later would come the consequences.
End of part 2
Copyright© 2012 by Ed Harley. All rights reserved. I welcome your comments. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org