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A Novella

Richard J. O'Brien

Green Merryl Press

"RED SEVEN: A Novella" © 2018 by Richard J. O’Brien

Copyright © 2018 by Green Merryl Press

All characters and events within this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in whole or in part without the publisher’s written consent, except for the purposes of review.

Man needs only independent wanting, whatever this independence may cost and wherever it may lead.

~Fyodor Dostoevsky,

Notes from Underground

Liberty once lost, is lost forever.

~John Adams,

Letter to Abigail Adams, July 17, 1775

Chapter 1: Arrest

At 3:22 AM, they broke down my front door.

Before I could reach the bedroom door six black-clad members of the new national police force had already raced up the stairs to the second floor. They entered my bedroom with their automatic weapons at the ready. Red lights from their laser sights cut open the darkness.

The policeman nearest me struck me hard in the stomach with the butt of his weapon. Another one kicked me to the floor. Two more policemen took hold of my arms and handcuffed me. As the policemen lifted me to my feet my wife reached for the phone on the nightstand next to her.

"Maya," I said, "don't."

"I'm calling our lawyer," she protested.

"Don't bother," one of the officers said. "We cut the line outside."

His face was hidden by a black mask. When Maya picked up her cell phone the officer wrenched it from her grip. Next, he unholstered his pistol as he placed the cell phone atop the nightstand. He held the pistol by the barrel and lifted it over his head. Maya crossed her arms in front of her face. The police officer brought his pistol down like a hammer once, twice, three times, smashing the cell phone to pieces.

"Let my husband go!" Maya screamed.

She climbed out of bed, dressed in her favorite pajamas, colored white with images of Snoopy and Woodstock on them, and made as if to strike the officer who had destroyed her phone.

Just before they dragged me out of the room, the masked police officer raised his pistol and struck Maya in the face. My wife fell to the floor. The police officer kicked her in the sternum.

"We have the son," another officer announced.

"Where was he?" the masked officer asked.

"Returning to his dormitory," the other one said.

"They have Dylan?" Maya shouted from bedroom doorway. "What's he done? What have any of us done?"

The masked officer pointed at my wife. Four other officers rushed my wife, pushing her back into the room. They worked her over, punching and kicking her until she fell to the floor.

The policemen who held me in the hallway didn't bother to allow me the luxury of walking down the stairs. Instead, they threw me. I bounced down several steps before landing in a heap on the ground floor. Another team of policemen retrieved me. They hauled me to my feet.

"Professor Kevin Burch," the masked officer said as he descended the stairs. "You are under arrest for violating the Patriot Act and stand accused of domestic terrorism and inciting terroristic ideology."

The four officers who had beaten up my wife followed their leader down the stairs. After that they shuffled me outside.

The black-clad officers threw me into the back of a black van. Two more were waiting for me inside the vehicle. One of them slipped a dark hood over my head and cinched it tight around my neck. I couldn't breathe. Once the van started moving the officer loosened his grip on my hood.

That night I didn't know if Maya was still alive or if the officers who remained at the house had beaten her to death. What I did know was that my son had also been arrested. As for the charge of domestic terrorism they had pinned on me, it meant only one thing thanks to the Patriot Act: indefinite detention without a trial.

Chapter 2: Sometimes They Hang Them

This is how it began: the people cast their votes. Then came a reckoning. A despot was elected president. Almost immediately democracy began to decay.

First, the riots came. The police in cities and municipalities everywhere were strained to their limits. That's when private security companies, some were little more than militias who supported the new president, stepped in to restore order. There was no National Guard or other units that could step in and aid the effort to re-establish order. Most of their numbers were absorbed by various militias with the promise of higher pay in new organizations such as the America Initiative, an agency tasked with 'retraining' dissidents and helping them become more 'patriotic,' and the new Patriotism Enforcement Brigades that were established in each state. The majority of the armed forces, including active duty soldiers and reservists, had been deployed overseas. A year after the president's election, America found herself embroiled in another world war that was fought on several fronts: the Middle East, China, South America, and Africa.

Martial law was declared by the president. Curfews were enforced nation-wide. It wasn't long before they came after the media. Some individuals within the media who had criticized the president and the new authoritarian regime disappeared overnight. Those were the early days. As time passed, the systematic takeover of independent media meant many more deaths; most of those executions went largely undocumented.

Through it all private security firms took over the role of the police in communities everywhere. After order was established once more, a new national police force was formed out of the remnants of the failed police departments around the country. Police officers already serving in states, cities, and municipalities around the country were invited to join the national police force. Those who did not were summarily executed, charged with being a threat to the State. Once the national police force became fully operational, the president kept martial law in place to avoid another election. That's when the real trouble began.

Some citizens retaliated, forming loose pockets of armed resistance. For their efforts, whole families disappeared. Some went to labor camps; others were shot in public.

After they came to my home in the middle of the night and arrested me, they took me to a county facility where new prisoners were in-processed. The national police turned me over to three corrections officers. Before they left one of the national policemen belted me in the small of my back with the butt of his rifle. I fell to the concrete floor. None of the corrections officers attempted to lift me up until the national police officers had vacated the building.

I was issued a prison uniform, photographed, fingerprinted, and escorted to a large holding cell. There were six other men in the cell. The seven of us sat on the floor, speaking in hushed tones. We all had backgrounds in academia. We had all been charged with the same crime.

An hour later, a dozen corrections officers escorted the seven of us to what looked like a high school gym. There were single bunks lined up against all four walls. In the center of the gym stood a few tables with chairs connected to them.

"Why are we in the gym?" one of the new prisoners asked.

"Overcrowding," a corrections officer replied. "Now shut the fuck up while I sort out your bunk assignments."

They put us in the far corner of the gym. Four empty bunks along one wall, and three bunks along the other. I was assigned a bunk close to the corner.

"I hear they send people like us to that supermax prison in Colorado," another new prisoner said.

His name was Raul Pehlo. He had been a professor of political science at Rutgers University. Pehlo had come to the United States, I learned that night, from the University of Barcelona. A self-described ardent communist, Pehlo revealed himself that first night to be quite the cynic. He had the unnerving habit of talking down to people as if they were his intellectual inferior. Unfortunately for Pehlo, such confidence did not bode well.

Outside the detention facility, society continued to unravel. Inside, the microcosm had broken down even further. The corrections officers charged with keeping the peace were largely absent. The lack of order in the prison gym did not work in Pehlo's favor.

It took the other inmates less than four hours to turn on the condescending Spaniard. Four men beat him until he nearly lost consciousness. Then they held him down on the floor while a fifth man raped him.

When it was over, Pehlo cursed the lot of them in Spanish, calling them pieces of shit whose mothers were whores. Pehlo's rapist, who also spoke Spanish, ordered his crew to hold his victim down once more. The four men sat on each of Pehlo's limbs as the Spaniard lie on his back.

Pehlo's rapist took a roll of toilet paper from beneath his bunk nearby. He proceeded to beat Pehlo in the face with the flat end of the toilet paper roll until his victim's facial bones shattered. At some point during the beating Pehlo gave up the ghost. His attacker kept on pounding the dead man's face until he became winded several minutes later. Afterward, Pehlo's murderer got up and walked into the latrine.

The six of us sat perfectly still, unable to look at Pehlo's ruined and bloody face, and listened as the Spaniard's murderer disposed of his weapon by flushing a toilet a dozen or more times.

Pehlo's body remained where it lay all weekend. No one bothered to cover the corpse with a bed sheet. On Monday, two prison trustees entered the gym with a laundry bin. They dumped Pehlo's body into it and took him away.

I thought perhaps that there would be an investigation. Several hours after Pehlo's body had been removed; four corrections officers entered the gym. They informed Pehlo's murderer that he was being shipped to another prison.

"Come on, Rodriguez," one of them said. "Get your shit together and let's go."

Rodriguez stuffed some paperback books into a laundry bag and followed the corrections officers out of the gym.

I was lying on my bunk, wondering how long it would be before some group or another singled me out, when I heard a lone rifle shot. It took less than an hour before some of the other inmates started talking in hushed tones about how Rodriguez was shot trying to escape. With the report of the rifle shot still fresh in my mind, I followed the other inmates as they shuffled off to the chow hall and back. Everyone talked long into the night about Rodriguez's death. It was the only way to convince ourselves that the corrections officers hadn't carried out a summary execution. All that changed the following day when several squads of corrections officers entered the gym in full riot gear. They rounded up Rodriguez's four accomplices, shackled their hands and feet, and led them out of the gym.

I waited for the rifle shots from outside, but none came. An elderly man with a long beard came over to my bunk.

"Sometimes they hang them," he said and left me alone after that.

Another colleague from Temple University was picked up at the Philadelphia International Airport. His name was Carlton Reed.

By the time the round-ups began, the main campus where Reed and I worked was almost empty. Those young men not yet called into service to fight on foreign soil sought refuge in Mexico and Canada. Young women who refused to enlist or otherwise support the war effort soon found themselves incarcerated as well. Yet, despite abysmal enrollment percentages, Reed and I, along with so many others, showed up a few times a week on campus to discuss the current situation, to plan how we might aid others in need, and to discuss the possibility of establishing safe houses for people on the run.

Reed, I knew, had family in Montreal, and one day he walked out of his office in Anderson Hall, went to the airport with the intent of flying to Montreal never to return, and was subsequently apprehended when his name showed up on a no-fly list. Reed, like the rest of the new prisoners, was charged with domestic terrorism. He had taught philosophy for thirty years at Temple University. I taught writing and literature. His office was one floor below mine.

Even now I can see in vivid detail a small poster on his office door. The poster was a pen and ink drawing of Jean-Paul Sartre, complete with a rather phallic-looking smoking pipe. Man, the caption read beneath Sartre's likeness, is condemned to be free.

Reed was shaken, but otherwise unharmed when they brought him to the county jail gym. He had joined our ranks for only a couple of hours when the guards came and hauled one of the original seven away, a professor of history named Wellington. There were no more rifle shots that night, but the old prisoner who had talked previously about hangings gave me a knowing nod.

Once Reed had heard the story of Pehlo's death, he attempted to ingratiate himself with a dozen other African-American men. He made the made the mistake of attempting to educate his newly adopted group on the socio-political reasons for their incarceration. The other black men knew well enough the circumstances that had led them to their present state. They did not need a lecture from a philosophy professor. One of the other men slugged Reed when he hinted that Malcolm X. had a role in his own assassination. Reed never got a chance to explain himself. The initial blow knocked him to the ground. Before he could get up Reed's chosen disciples stomped him to death.

As each of these men eventually fell victim to their own hubris, I became more frightened. I was convinced that I too would not survive in jail.

On Wednesday night, a middle-aged man with a ponytail appeared next to my bunk. His muscular arms were covered in tattoos. The moment he squatted down to look me in the eye I nearly pissed in my prison uniform.

"You part of the round-up?" he whispered.

"I'm not sure what—" I began.

"Forget it," he said. "You smell like those other eggheads. Here's some advice. Just keep your mouth shut."

I did as I was told. No sooner than the stranger had offered his words of wisdom he stood up and sauntered back across the gym to his bunk. As the other prisoners settled in to sleep for the night, I remained awake; fearful, I was, that some group or another would haul me out of my bunk and do me harm. I was still awake when the corrections officers entered the gym after dawn to rouse everyone from their bunks.

Breakfast that morning consisted of cheese sandwiches and an orange drink that tasted rancid. I ate my share and finished the phony juice without saying a word.

At noon that day a squad of corrections officers entered the gym again. They rounded up the remaining professors and me. We were taken to a windowless room where a man sat at a desk. He told us that his name was Dart and that he was there to help us. After interviewing us, questioning our allegiance to the United States, and berating us for being less than patriotic, he signed a form in each of our files before turning us over once more to the corrections officers. After Dart left the room, the corrections officers corralled us into a hallway and marched us outdoors.

"Where you are taking us?" asked Ted Haskins.

He was a portly forty-something year-old history professor from Saint Joseph's University.

"Camp What-the-fuck-do-you-care," one of the corrections officers replied. "That's where all the domestic terrorists like you end up."

They filed us into a passenger van with blacked-out caged windows. Our hands and feet were shackled. On went the black hoods again. We were driven for what felt like hours, no doubt in a circuitous route, to throw off our sense of direction. None of us spoke a single word; our silence brought on by trepidation over what was to come.

Chapter 3: The Savage System

Never in my life did I think there would come a day when I was jailed for my thoughts, for freedom of expression; never did I once consider that my country would change into what most Americans abhorred: a country ruined by stark differences and subsequently usurped by an autocrat. Yet, there I was, riding in the back of a passenger van, headed for what turned out to be an internment camp.

Since the van had made a roundabout route to the destination, there was no way to know for sure where I was when they removed my hood and took me out of the van along with the others. The camp was outfitted with old army troop tents, portable toilets, and long wood boxes reinforced with bands of steel. Surrounding the camp was an electrified fence that rose nearly forty feet in height. The fence was capped with concertina wire. Tall pines bordered the camp. As far as I could tell on that first day, there was only one road in and out of the facility.

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