A small part of me died as I watched them lead Lucy Tringle out of the front door of her apartment building. I can’t say it was the roughest handling of a suspect I’d ever seen. Actually, the whole scene was quiet and the young 20-something woman moved as requested without incident.
I noticed her hands were cuffed behind her back. A black-jacket on each side held an arm, directing her towards the idling white government van. If she were afraid her face didn’t show it. No, she seemed as dull and boring as she did most days when I watched her leave for work at the Information Repository.
When they turned right on the sidewalk I realized Lucy wasn’t wearing any shoes. All she had on was a pair of khakis and an orange sweater. The neck of her sweater, I believe they called it a cowl-neck, rode almost to her chin. I loved that sweater; I loved that sweater especially whenever Lucy wore it. It showed off her womanly assets that made the otherwise bland library-type woman a real woman, one with adult curves and shape.
Watching from my front porch, they loaded her carefully in the back of the decade old vehicle and closed the door cautiously. I thought the whole scene was odd. Usually, when they drug a peeb out from wherever they found them hiding, the suspect was almost always kicking and screaming. Many times I’d witnessed the black-jackets thrust a suspected peeb into the back of a van, almost hoping a foot or head was in the way when they slammed the rear doors closed.
So, Lucy was a peeb, go figure. Except I knew she wasn’t. They had to have made a mistake, the Truth and Honesty Commission that is. Her arrest, they’d call it an informal interrogation, was the result of some glitch naming her as a malfeasant, which of course wasn’t true. Someone had just simply run short on names and tossed hers out in exchange for food.
Closing my book, I watched them pull away as if they were out for an early morning drive. I rose and stretched, losing sight of the vehicle as it turned left at the next street and disappeared behind an apartment building.
“Ma,” I shouted. “I gotta go out. Be back in a bit.” Yeah, I was almost 30, still unattached, and lived at home with my single mom. That pretty much summed up my entire existence.
“You want me to make you a sandwich, Trent?” she replied in a shrill voice, her normal. “It’s almost lunch time. You might get hungry.”
While a sandwich sounded good, I had other things at the forefront of my mind.
“I’ll grab something a Gareth’s, Ma. I gotta run. They just pinched Lucy.”
I heard her footsteps coming closer, though I didn’t bother to look back.
“Did you squeal?” she asked. I didn’t like her tone; she was trying to make me feel guilty.
“Lucy’s my friend, Ma,” I replied, pulling on my jacket as I reached for the screen door. “I’d never do that to a friend.”
I heard a huff come from the great criticizer. “Friends talk to each other; friends say hello and how are you. Friends don’t sit on the front porch like a stalker, watching her every move like she was a doll on display.”
Her long pause was a weak attempt to extract a response from me. But we were experts at that dance. She and I both knew I wouldn’t reply to such a load of crap.
“Friends,” she continued, almost sounding teary. “Real friends warn one another when they might be being watched. Did you warn Lucy, Trent?”
I pushed out the door and hopped the three steps down in a single bound. The gray day was cooler than I had anticipated. Perhaps a thicker jacket was in order. But that would mean going back and facing Ma again. She’d expect an answer.
Kicking the rusty gate open, I headed left down the weeded-over sidewalk. I needed to produce today. I needed to give those bastards, my keepers, something fresh. We – me and Ma – needed another month’s worth of food.
Even if it meant being a glitch.
Arriving at my friend’s place I noticed the front door slightly ajar. As I eased inside I took in the front room. Papers were strewn everywhere. Plates of half-eaten food sat atop piles of garbage. The floor was as filthy as the pig shed at the government farms.
In other words, everything seemed normal.
“Gar,” I called out, closing the door behind me. “What you doing, buddy?”
A clatter sounded in the kitchen. Either someone was stealing the last of his spoiled food supply, or Gareth was having lunch.
He appeared in the doorway between the rooms. Standing in his open bathrobe, showing off his dirty underwear, he held a bowl of steaming noodles in front of his unshaven face. He looked like hell – again, normal.
“What up, little dude?” Slurping in the last of his lunch, he sat the bowl down on a counter that I knew was as cluttered as the rest of his place. Ah, the joys of outliving your parents.
“They pinched Lucy just now,” I replied, taking a spot on his faded saggy sofa. It was perhaps the only spot to sit in his dump.
“You squealed on your girlfriend?” he exclaimed in a high-pitched voice. “Dude, you’re never going to see her again.”
Folding my fingers together, I rested my hands in front of my lips and let out a long sigh. Gareth was a moron, and perhaps my only true friend.
“I didn’t do anything, you know that.”
He lumbered past me and sat his 6-6 frame in a chair after he whipped dirty laundry from it first. At least I assumed it was dirty. I gawked at him for a brief second, noticing his junk hanging out of the front of his robe.
“Close it up, man. That may work for the skunks you hang out with but I don’t want to see it.”
He laughed and pulled his robe closed. “Need some intel?” I could always count on him to read my mind.
“I just want to know where they took her,” I replied quietly. “That’s all.”
He pulled a keyboard from beneath another pile and the TV came to life. Entering a string of what appeared to me as gibberish, his hands flew around the keys. When I saw the government’s emblem appear on the screen I raised a hand for him to stop.
“You’re sure this is safe?” It wasn’t meant to offend him; the question was meant more to protect myself.
His grin spoke volumes. “Dude, you ask me that every time. Of course it’s safe. Those hacks downtown don’t know squat about data security. They don’t even know I’m in here. Chillax, man. We’ve done this a hundred times. I’m not about to get caught now.”
Just as he finished the screen went black. My stomach fell and I was glad I hadn’t taken Ma up on her sandwich offer. It would have been shooting all over Gareth’s living room…not that anyone would have noticed.
He tossed his keyboard aside and stormed towards the 50-inch screen. Playing with something on the back, the set came back to life.
“I gotta get some new equipment,” he said casually. “I swear that thing shorts out every time I used it.”
“While you’re in there,” I said, watching him pound the keys again, “see if you can grab me a name of someone they’re watching. I need a mark today.”
His smirk made me feel almost human. Gareth got it. There were two ways a glitch could get by. One was to do a bunch of legwork, following people all day, waiting for them to do something suspicious. The other, my preferred method, was to give the government boys and girls what they wanted – someone they already suspected had peeb ties.
“They took her to Station A,” Gareth reported, making his way stealth-like through screen after screen of detail. “She’s just in holding for now. They haven’t even assigned an interrogator yet.”
“Who glitched her?” I asked. I wanted the name of the weasel that snitched on her.
A glitch was nothing more than slang for glorified snitch. I had no idea how the name peeb ever came about. It was just what the government gang had always called people suspected of working against their ideals.
“Margo Hanks,” Gareth replied, pounding out new commands for the computer. “Here’s her picture.”
Before us, in full living color, was a person as dull as Lucy. Perhaps even a little more. At least my friend was somewhat cute and curvy. This gal, Margo, had the appearance of a young teen whose best friends were her cat and a large stack of books.
My eyes floated down the screen as I read her credentials. Twenty-eight, single, no known male attachments, purchased alcohol only on government holidays, wore a size four shoe. Nothing was extraordinary about this one.
Except her employer.
My eyes met Gareth’s. He saw the same thing.
“They work together,” he said. “The bitch turned on a co-worker.”
Her report to the OOD (Office of Decency) – a department of the Truth and Honesty Commission – was straightforward. Two weeks prior Margo had witnessed Lucy answering a question from someone she considered unworthy of information. That was it.
To be honest, that’s all it took to get hauled away by the government. To say they ruled with an iron fist made it sound as if they were a loving grandparent. Once a peeb, suspected or real, was in their dungeon the chances of ever leaving were next to none.
That, I’m afraid, was Lucy’s fate.
“I think I have your mark for you,” Gareth said, rising and leaving the room. “Go see Captain Kumquat and glitch on Margo. I’ll dig something up they already have on her. Not that they ever check their files for former information once they have a name.”
I inched closer to the screen, studying the face of my target. She didn’t know it at the time, but Margo Hanks was about to become public enemy number one.
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