Friday, September 28, 2018

Cold as ICE by Lee Conrad

Divorcee detective Derek Steele navigates dystopian near-future USA, trying to solve the mystery of the missing immigrants without upsetting Immigration and Customs Enforcement; by Lee Conrad.

The late morning heat and humidity was already oppressive. It was early May but the climate in the Northeast was so screwed up it felt like July in the old days. I hated this weather. I kept telling myself that as a private investigator I could set up shop anywhere. A cooler climate would be nice. But that was another day. Had to meet my client.

I drove down Floral Ave past trees butchered by the electric company in order to free the wires of damage by tangled limbs. They didn't even look like trees anymore, more like skeletons sliced through the ribs. I dodged deep potholes as I headed to Danny's Diner. Since the economy collapsed road paving had been slipping. Christ, weren't we supposed to have hover cars by now? After all, it was 2022.

I texted the client to say that I'd arrived, he texted back that he was in the last booth on the left.

Danny's wasn't crowded. It was 2pm, the lunch crowd had already left. Luckily the soup specials kept the business going.

I nodded to the cook. "Hey Jaymo, how's things?"

"Can't complain Mr. Steele."

I had busted Jaymo when I was a cop. Small stuff really, some shop lifting and stealing copper pipes from vacant houses, but he cleaned up and Danny gave him a job.

Danny sat at the end of the counter, coffee cup in one hand and scrolling through his Facebook page on his phone with the other. The local newspaper was on the counter. It was the only one left in the city after the others had shut down. It barely had ten pages and the obituaries took up three of them. Since the federal libel laws went into effect and the fake news mantra overwhelmed the public they were scared to print anything political. It was filled with ads of stuff nobody could buy and feel good stories. The front page had a picture of a golden retriever licking a smiling baby's face. We are seriously fucked. One thing you could say for it, when toilet paper was scarce it came in handy.

I greeted Danny, walked to the last booth and sat down.

"Mr. Azid? I'm Derek Steele."

"Thank you for coming here. I didn't want to be seen going to your office. Friends have told me you are an upstanding and fair person. That is why I called you."

I looked at him to size him up. Middle Eastern, about fifty, sad dark eyes, black hair starting to thin and go grey.

"Mr. Steele, I understand you were with the police force at one time. I heard you left when it went political. I also heard you butted heads with ICE when they came around to round up people and you are on the outs with the local politicians."

I scowled at him. "Who's the investigator here Mr. Azid? Yeah, I don't like politicians. A bunch of bought and paid for weasels. We can skip the rest. So what's your point?" I said sharply.

"Mr. Steele, I do not mean to offend. It is just that I come to you because I think you can help me and us."

"Go on," I said.

"Mr. Steele, people have gone missing. One of them is my son Tarik. The local mosque and other groups have collected money to hire you."

"Do you think he is mixed up with terrorists?" I asked.

"No, not my Tarik. He does not like those people. He was born here and loves America. He is what you would call progressive. Not very religious either, to my regret."

"Mr. Azid, it wouldn't be the first time a kid fooled his parents and joined a cult or a bunch of radicals. But you said other people are missing and other groups also collected money." I looked at him quizzically. I was getting a bad feeling about this in the pit of my stomach.

He ticked off a bunch of names of organizations and groups. All wanted their names kept confidential. It was a who's who of local immigrant rights and progressive groups. Now I was getting concerned.

"Mr. Azid, this is kind of out of my league. Runaways and cheating spouses are one thing. This has the smell of politics all over it. And as things are now in this country this can be a career ending case or worse for me."

"You are our last hope Mr. Steele. We have no one else."

Now I am a bit of a mercenary. Everyone has to eat right? So I told him my going rate.

"And I want half of it in cash the other half crypto."

He handed me a list of names with their pictures. He also gave me the name of a person to contact. It was old school but he and they wanted it that way. You never know who is searching your data anymore and you can bet they were. We shook hands and I left.

Sullivan's Pub is where I needed to go to think this case through.

I ordered a whiskey on the rocks and went to a booth for privacy. President Pence was on the wall mounted TV spouting off about something. Probably more keep the faith and pray bullshit. Thankfully Sully had the sound muted.

I looked through the names and pictures. I opened my laptop. A friend, a real tech guy, assured me it would be safe from prying eyes with all the bells and whistles he installed. I started some searching. Friends of the missing were sending out messages and postings on Facebook asking "have you seen so and so." It seems to have started a week ago.

I left Sully's and went to my friend Jeremy who owned a car repair place. Business was good. People were holding on to their old cars. Prices for new ones were out of reach for most except the fat cats in their guarded communities. And those people never came to the neighborhood Jeremy worked in and lived.

I went to the back door. Jeremy kept the bay doors closed and the front door locked. You had to ring a bell to gain access. I had special privileges and knew the key code for the back.

The bays had five cars in them. I would place a bet that at least two of them were hot and ready to be stripped.

One of the mechanics looked up. His head was shaved, tats all around and a nose ring. It was Jeremy Nazarian. His Bluetooth was playing a song by System of a Down. He liked them not just because it was retro metal but because they were Armenian, like his family.

"Officer Steele," he called out, a big grin on his face.

Yeah, I knew him when I was a cop.

"Hey, Jeremy. How are they hanging?"

"As always, down to my ankles," he laughed. "What brings you here? That fancy car of yours breaking down?"

It was a nice car, just a little too connected for this job.

"No, but for the job I'm on now I need something off the grid."

He looked at me with concern on his face.

"I have one I can fix up for you. Kind of a boring car. Something an old man would drive. It will be wiped clean of any tracking software. I can also add some blocking devices. You could drive right in front of the police station and they wouldn't even pick you up on their scans. And I can fix the license plate too."

"Thanks Jeremy. I will have some cash so that won't be a problem."

"Hey Steele, I don't want to even know what this is about but if you need any help you know you can count on me right?"

I knew I could. And I might.

A few days later I went back to pick up the car. It was a beater.

"Jesus Jeremy, you could have at least got me an old Audi."

"Sorry, Mr. Steele but you want to fly under the radar this is what you get. And trust me, this is what you need."

He ran down all the blocking devices and other tech shit I knew nothing about. But I trusted him to do me right.

"I'm renting this car not buying it Jeremy, so don't hurt me."

He smiled.

"You've always been good to me and my family. You get the family rate."

I peeled off some large bills and handed them to him, got in my "new" car and pulled away from his shop.

I headed to the East side to The Daily Grind, a coffee house known as a hangout for local immigrants and students from the university. I walked in. It wasn't very crowded this time of day but every last one of them turned and looked at me. Can't blame them. I looked like a cop. Hard to shake that after so many years on the force. If I was ICE I wouldn't have been alone. Did I tell you I hated ICE?

A young woman came to my table. She was dressed in all black. Pale skin with just a hint of freckles. Her green hair stood out but it was the tattoo of the letter A with a circle around it on her arm that told me more. Anarchist and proud of it. I smiled and ordered a plain coffee, light on the cream and no sugar. Her name was Desi and she was the name Azid had given me.

She brought my coffee over and I popped the question.

"Do you know Tarik Azid?"

Her smile disintegrated.

"You a fucking cop?"

"Private investigator. Name's Steele, Derek Steele."

"Why do you want to know," she said quietly as she looked around to a table with two guys at it.

"His father has reported him missing. Tell me what you know."

It was then that I noticed the two young Hispanic men get up from their table and walk over. I placed my hand on the small of my back where I kept my Glock. You can never be too careful in this business.

They pulled out two chairs from my table and sat down.

"Who is this guy, Desi?"

"Says his name is Derek Steele and he's a narc looking for Tarik Azid," said the girl.

"I'm not a narc and you need to trust me."

I wondered if they did or would.

"Listen, Tarik's dad hired me. He wants to know where he is, that's all." I didn't let on that I knew others were missing as well.

"I heard about this guy," said one of the two as he looked me over. "He stopped some ICE agents from rounding up some people a few years ago."

"That was you, huh?" said the other one. "I remember that because it was in our neighborhood. Hondurans, like us."

"Was a career limiting move," I said.

I didn't say it to them but I felt the whole ICE thing was wrong. Not content with fucking up our own country we just kept exporting our fucked up attitude to other countries and fucking them up as well. We seem to be good at it. Those Hondurans were just looking for a safe haven. They thought the Statue of Liberty meant something. They got here and found out it was a scam. When we got the call from frantic people in that neighborhood I faced down the ICE agents and told them to get lost. We were still a sanctuary city then. It was pretty tense for a while but with people videoing it on their phones the agents decided to retreat. It went viral of course. I was enemy number one to them from then on. It didn't go down well with my captain either. I was told to either get with the program or find another line of work. I left the force soon after.

"So what can you tell me, Desi?"

"He used to come in every day. Then all of a sudden he didn't. His dad was here a week ago asking about him. I don't know where he is."

"You do know he isn't the only one," said the Honduran.

And there it was. Word was out that something was going on.

"Like I said, you have to trust me."

The Honduran laughed. "Sorry jefe, we've heard that line before."

I decided to come clean. I told them what Mr. Azid had told me and that I knew others were missing.

"So, you want to help or not?" I said, a little rougher than I intended. "How about we start with you telling me who you are."

Desi walked away to help other customers.

They were both in their mid-twenties and both Honduran. They were shorter than me by a lot - I was six foot - but they were rugged. They introduced themselves as Enrique and Gilberto and said they came up through Mexico one step ahead of the death squads.

Enrique spoke first. "There is an abandoned warehouse where many so-called illegals live. So far ICE hasn't raided it. They are mostly young men. They work all over the city doing jobs no one else will do. They might know what's going on. We can take you to it and see if they will talk to you. But remember jefe, if you betray us or them you are a dead man."

The look in his eyes told me he wasn't bluffing.

Enrique told me to meet them later that night at the Grind.

I went to my apartment. Before I headed back to the coffee house I put on a black T shirt and black jeans. I pulled up in back of the Grind, unlocked the doors of my car and let them in.

Gilberto got in the back and let out a laugh. "You must not make much money if you have a car like this."

I glared at him in the rearview mirror. "Temporary car and just what we need," I growled.

We drove down Chambers Street towards the river. It was a side street rarely used anymore. An old brick warehouse, partially gutted by a fire years ago, hung along the river bank near other abandoned buildings.

I backed deep into an alleyway and turned the car off.

"OK, we go on foot to the place. No need to panic anyone."

It was pitch black. The streetlights long dead and the city felt no need to replace the bulbs.

We circled around to a half hidden opening the two Hondurans told me would be the way in to the immigrant camp.

We went in quietly but it wasn't quiet inside.

Further into the building and near the original delivery entrance there was a group of young men lit up by bright halogen lights mounted on top of a black SUV. The immigrants were surrounded by seven men dressed in black with Kevlar vests. They were heavily armed and had some of the young men already handcuffed with tie wraps. One was lying very still on the dirty concrete floor. Blood pooled around his body.

We were far enough away and in the dark so they didn't see us.

The leader of the armed men gave an order to two of them to drag the body over to the river and toss it in.

I motioned my two new friends back out of the hole.

As we were leaving, something scurried through the hole behind us.

I pulled out the Glock from the small of my back not knowing what to expect.

It was a young boy. I looked into his eyes and saw fear.

Gilberto spoke rapidly to him in Spanish and then pulled him along with us.

We hurried to my car and got inside. I told them all to lay down low. I settled down just barely seeing above the steering wheel.

It took about twenty minutes, but from around the other side of the building two vans and a black SUV drove by.

I was glad Jeremy gave me this car. It looked like it would fit in well at a dump and tonight we blended in with our surroundings. Probably saved our lives.

I gave the convoy a few minutes before I turned on my headlights and drove out of the alley. What I saw in the warehouse told me something wasn't right. ICE agents have their logo prominently on their uniforms. These guys had nothing. And as far as I knew ICE agents didn't kill people and dump their bodies in the river. But the guy that seemed to be in charge was familiar. He was with ICE when I faced them down in the Honduran neighborhood.

I drove back to the city. It used to be like a carnival, good times, with people getting along and having fun. Now it was like an old run-down haunted house and the demons under the stairs were loose.

I dropped off my passengers at the coffee shop. The Hondurans said they would take care of the boy. I knew they would. Somewhere a Honduran mother will be filling his stomach with baleadas and pastelitos with chicken. I could go for some myself.

The next day I went to Jeremy's garage.

He saw me come in the back door and smiled.

I wasn't in a smiling mood and he caught that.

"What? You don't like the car?"

"The car is fine, a life saver I might add. I need a favor. I need you to deliver a message for me."

I told him how to contact Azid and that I wanted Azid to meet me tonight at 8pm in front of the Crounse building at the university. Seemed as safe a place as any.

I arrived at the university and saw Azid in front of the building. We went inside and into one of the empty lecture rooms.

I told him what I saw at the warehouse.

He went from a concerned look on his face to shock when I told him they dumped a body in the river.

"This is disturbing news Mr. Steele." His hands were shaking. "What do you think it means?"

"It means, Mr. Azid, that there is a rogue group around that is grabbing immigrants. What I don't know is why they are doing it instead of ICE and what is happening to the people. I gotta say it doesn't look good. I also don't know if what is happening involves your son missing or the others."

I didn't tell him I recognized one of the guys in black as an ICE agent and that the others looked pretty shady. An 'off the books' operation I suspected, and using contractors back from one of our illegal war zones.

"From now on Mr. Azid, no phones. I will have someone contact you when we need to talk. The reverse is true also. If you need to contact me you go through Jeremy."

It had been a long day. I headed back to my apartment. Not much and not as nice as the house I had. Divorce will put you in those circumstances. At least I had visitation rights with the boys. The life of a cop can be rough. I was hoping my new job would get me back in good graces with the ex. Have to stay alive for that to happen.

I turned on the TV to CNN. Riots over food shortages in Kansas City. My small city wasn't immune either. There were people saying we had too many mouths to feed and something had to be done. I think I saw some of the "remedy" tonight.

It was a sleepless night. Sirens and a howling hot wind that brought in another of our freak thunderstorms had me tossing and turning. Visions of a body being thrown into the river added to my misery. I got up at 6 am, the world still dark. I went out to the kitchen and turned on the coffee maker. I brewed it for extra strong. I had to figure out where this case was going. I smelled a connection between Tarik's disappearance and the warehouse roundup.

That afternoon I went to The Daily Grind but in through the kitchen not the front. Desi was getting an order. She saw me and smiled. I asked her to have Enrique and Gilberto meet me in the parking lot.

"OK, I guess you aren't a narc. You at least saved one kid." She picked up her order and headed out to her customer's table. She looked back. "I still hate cops though."

I was sitting in my car with the air conditioning on high. It was struggling. They got in.

"How's the kid," I asked.

"He is fine jefe. He is being taken care of. His parents were deported last month. He wasn't home when ICE grabbed them and has been hiding in the warehouse."

"I'm glad the kid is ok, but don't call me jefe anymore. It's wearing on my nerves. So here is what I want you to do. You can go underground but I can't. My Anglo face says cop all over it. I need to find the connections here. You saw what I saw. Something smells and it looks bad. You work your end and I'll work mine. I still have friends that can clue me into what those people are and where the immigrants went."

I peel off some cash and send them on their way as instructed. I drove to the house of a friend, a former judge that still had his connections.

I knocked on his door.

"Derek Steele." His ruddy face broke into a smile. "Come on in son."

Judge Townsend was in his late 70s and retired. Was considered a liberal when he plied his trade in our legal circus. Caught a lot of flak for sticking up for the wrong people. One of the few black judges in this city. He thought the constitution meant something. We had a lot in common. My dad was a strong union man and considered a troublemaker. Some of it stuck on me.

I followed him into his study. A rambunctious beagle bounded over to me.

"We have a guest Zeus, be good." He turned back to me. "Have a seat. Jack Daniels?"

"Sure Judge. Won't see me turning one down."

He went to the sidebar and poured two.

"What brings you out at night? Has to be important."

I took a sip of my bourbon and told him about my case, the roundup at the warehouse and the body being thrown into the river.

He put his glass on the end table and paced around the room. I had disturbed him with my report.

"I'll tell you what I think, and I am sure you reached the same conclusion. Rogue unit unhappy with the legal roadblocks we threw in front of ICE to block their Gestapo style actions. They've recruited not just ICE agents but mercenaries as well. What we don't know is who's giving them their orders, how many of them there are and what was done with the people they rounded up the other night. We also don't know if Mr. Azid's son and the other missing people are connected to this."

The judge was sufficiently concerned that he said he would make enquiries with some of his contacts in the legal profession.

A few days later I went back to the coffee house. It was night. I felt safer from prying eyes in the dark, but who knows how many CCTVs there are in this city. That was one thing the budget cuts didn't scale back on.

I walked in from the back. Luckily Desi was working. I wondered if she ever went home. I nodded to her and walked back out to my car. She knew the drill now. Within minutes my sidekicks came out and got into the car.

"Mr. Steele, we think we have a witness to Tarik Azid's disappearance. We can take you to him now," said Enrique.

"Do you have your phones on you?" I asked.

"Of course," said Gilberto. He looked at Enrique quizzically.

"Take them in and give them to Desi for now. We don't need trackers picking up our scent."

I drove over to the west side of the city. More upscale than other parts but sliding down like the others.

We pulled in front of a six story apartment building and Gilberto rang a buzzer. A voice asked who we were. Gilberto told him.

The door unlocked and we went to the third floor.

An Indian kid opened the door. He greeted my sidekicks warmly but looked at me with hostility. He invited us in and I was met with staring faces of four others. They were Indian students from the university.

After Gilberto explained who I was and my "showdown" with ICE in their neighborhood the students relaxed. It seems they were meeting tonight to decide whether to go back to India or apply to colleges in Canada. They were afraid to stay here anymore.

The Indian kid that opened the door said his name was Arjun. He proceeded to tell me about the last night he saw Tarik. He was nervous and afraid. He looked to his friends for back up but he was on his own.

"Tarik left the Grind before me. But I remembered I wanted to tell him something about the last immigrant rights meeting we had. So I went out the door to catch up with him. He was a few blocks away and a black SUV was on the other side of the street. It turned on its lights and cut across to where Tarik was walking. He was texting on his cell and didn't see them coming. They pulled up alongside him. Two men jumped out, slapped his cell to the sidewalk, grabbed him and pushed him into the SUV. Another guy stepped out of the front passenger side and picked up the cell phone. He looked back but I had ducked into a doorway so they wouldn't see me. I wanted to chase them but I was frozen. I couldn't move. That was the last time I saw him."

We left Arjun and his friends and went back to my car.

Gilberto and Enrique started speaking rapid fire Spanish.

"OK guys, slow down. Tell me what you're talking about."

"This sounds like how some of our people in Central America have been picked up by death squads," said Gilberto looking furtively towards Enrique.

"I know it looks like that, but shit, this is America not Honduras or El Salvador. We just don't do that kind of thing here."

They looked at me like I was stupid or naïve. Maybe I was. Truth was I didn't want to admit that it could happen here.

I dropped them off at the Grind and drove to my apartment. I decided to hold off on telling Mr. Azid what Arjun had told me. I had more to look into.

Later that night I went back to see the Judge.

He opened his front door and looked at me with hostility.

"Don't come here anymore Steele," he said in a loud voice. Then he leaned in ever so slightly, winked and whispered, "Come around the back in half an hour."

I got the message. He was being watched. I drove around for half an hour and parked a block away. I walked to his house, went through his garden gate and to the back of the house. He had turned the security lights off so I was unseen. I knocked softly on the back door and he let me in. He had Zeus in his arms keeping him quiet as I walked into his kitchen.

"What's up Judge?"

"Just want to be on the safe side. Some strange cars been driving around the street the past few days... and nights. Let's go into my study."

The heavy drapes in the study were closed. He walked over to his old school turntable and receiver, a nice old Macintosh, and put some music on louder than normal.

He poured us some whiskey and motioned for me to sit in one of the two leather chairs near the stone fireplace. He pulled his towards me so we were almost knee to knee.

"You first," he said. His face was grim.

I told him what Arjun had said about the disappearance of Tarik.

He didn't seem shocked by what I told him.

"Judge?"

"Things are getting dicey Derek. I think we're at a tipping point. We're ready to go over the edge. I talked with some of my old contacts. Remember when they set up those detention camps for illegal immigrant kids a few years back after their parents were deported? Well it seems more camps have been set up and more people are being put in them. And not just immigrants but people born right here that don't like what's going on. Your client's son and those others on your list probably have been picked up in one of their sweeps. And you were right. It is ICE and contractors doing it. It's illegal but certain politicians are either supporting it or ignoring it."

"Jesus Judge, what have we become?"

"Well, it shouldn't surprise anyone that we're at this point. You've seen the videos. White people threatening to call ICE because people were talking Spanish in a Manhattan deli for Christ's sake! Mosques being torched. Immigrant kids being separated from their parents and then disappearing down some black hole. I could go on but you get the picture."

By now I need another drink. I thought I was tough but my hands were shaking. It was all catching up.

"Steady now Derek. We have work to do. I found out where the local detention camp is."

The judge and I planned all night. In the morning, as the sun was coming up, I stretched out on his couch and fell asleep.

In the afternoon I started to stir and thought my ex-wife was kissing me. I opened one eye and looked into the face of Zeus.

I smelled coffee and the judge came into the room with two cups.

"Rise and shine Derek." The judge handed me a cup.

"We all set?" he said.

"I think so. I need today and tonight to work it all out. You too, right?"

"Yep. See you there Derek."

I went to Jeremy first. I told him what had been going on. He suspected some things but was angry when I gave him the details. I told him what needed to be done and where we were going.

"I told you before Mr. Steele, you can count on me."

"Go see Azid. Tell him what's going on and to get his people together."

Next I went to The Daily Grind. Of course Desi was there. Did she ever leave this place?

I told her the plan. She smiled and said yes and that she would get some of her anarchist friends. Enrique and Gilberto weren't there but I told her to give them the plan and to tell Arjun and his friends.

"Time is critical Desi," I warned.

I went to religious folks I knew and some media people that were out of work that I could trust. I even contacted some of my dad's union friends. I didn't know if our plan would even work. My faith in people had downgraded the past few years.

It was another sleepless night. I got up, made some phone calls and downed strong coffee. I drove to the park that was our assembly point. To prying eyes it would look like a company picnic. The judge and I scheduled the gathering for 12:30 PM. I was getting nervous wondering if people would show up or if we would be stopped by the police.

At 12:15 the first line of cars showed up. By 12:30 there were at least 100 cars, a couple of city buses packed with people and even some tractor trailers.

The detention center was near the park in an old abandoned Kmart. The judge had found out that it wasn't just immigrants but US citizens being rounded up, especially activists and leaders of political groups on the left. We clearly had gone down the rabbit hole.

The judge had a bull horn and called out to the gathered crowd.

"My name is Judge Townsend. You all know why you are here. We are going to spring a little surprise on that detention center. Make sure your phones are charged. We are going to send the videos of this action out live. I don't need to tell you this will be dangerous. I expect you know that." He looked around at the crowd. His voice dropped and choked up a bit. "I am glad so many of you came. Young and old, from different ethnic groups, political beliefs, even religious beliefs. Some of you have been fighting this for years. We are at a crossroad in this country. If we can do our small part here maybe we can make a difference. Are you ready?"

The crowd yell back that they were and held up their cell phones.

I walked over to my client Mr. Azid and looked him in the eye. "Let's go get your son and his friends."

Our caravan headed to the old Kmart. I figured the CCTVs had already picked up on us so we didn't have much time. Luckily it was only a five minute drive.

Some of the cars and buses pulled right up to the entrance of the detention center while the tractor trailers pulled around the back and blocked the bay doors.

People poured out of the cars and buses. The chant "the whole world is watching" erupted from the crowd. I looked back and saw more cars coming into the parking lot. Cell phones were on and showing the world our action.

I stood next to the judge. Enrique and Gilberto walked up to me. Behind them some of their friends from the Honduran neighborhood. Jeremy Nazarian was there with his friends. And of course Desi, with her contingent of anarchists dressed in black and ready for a fight.

The judge walked to the front of the Kmart doors. He tried to look in but the glass was covered over. He pounded on them hoping to get someone's attention inside.

Silence. The only thing moving was a remote camera over the door scanning him and the crowd.

Frustrated he backed away from the doors.

"Hey judge! Duck!

The voice was from one of the anarchists. He had pulled a large rock from inside his knapsack and threw it, smashing the glass.

"We are supposed to be a legal protest. That isn't going to help," the judge yelled.

"In case you haven't noticed your law doesn't mean anything anymore. The real lawbreakers are the ones running this Detention Center," said Gilberto.

The doors of the Kmart flew open. Five heavily armed men and one guy who seemed in charge came out and walked over to the Judge.

I walked over and stood next to Judge Townsend. Flanking me was Jeremy Nazarian and my Honduran friends.

The man in charge looked at the Judge and then at me. He was the ICE agent I stared down a few years ago.

"Derek Steele. Still don't know what side you're supposed to be on I see. And you, Judge Townsend, always a problem." He glared at us. "What brings you and your motley crew to Kmart. Looking for some bargains?" The armed guards laughed at his joke. We didn't.

The judge spoke first. "What's your name? I notice you don't have a name tag. Neither do your men."

"You can call me Commander. As for my men? None of your business."

The judge continued undeterred. "We believe this is an illegal detention center. We want everyone released."

The commander laughed.

"Come on judge. We've turned away senators from places like this. You think we're going to listen to you?"

Of course all this was being live streamed and sent out to the world. A photographer from one of the shut down newspapers was clicking away with his camera.

It didn't take long for the police to pick up on what was going on after phone calls started flooding into headquarters. They saw the live stream on Facebook too.

We could hear the sirens. It wasn't long now.

Behind us a bus driver who had been listening muttered, "Fuck this. Some of my regulars are probably in there."

I watched him get into his bus drive slowly forward, blasting his horn as a warning for people to clear the way.

The bus gathered speed and headed for the doors of the Kmart.

"Jesus," yelled the leader as he and his men scattered.

"Shoot that son of a bitch," he commanded.

The men opened fire, striking the driver.

But the momentum was too much and he crashed through the doors.

Our crowd was screaming, running, but a few brave souls still videoed the action.

By now the police had arrived with armored vehicles, LRAD sound cannons and facial scanners. Seeing the shooting and the bus they encircled us and the guards with weapons drawn.

I walked slowly over to them with my hands up. I saw some cops I knew from the force. Thankfully they recognized me but that didn't stop them from surrounding me.

A lieutenant I knew came up to me. "Steele what the fuck is going on here?"

As I explained it to him people started coming out of the Kmart. They were disheveled and dirty. They looked like they had been sleeping in their clothes.

"Christ, what the hell is this?" said the lieutenant.

"Don't they tell you anything anymore? It's a fucking concentration camp."

The Detention Center guards tried to force the people back inside. They drew their weapons on them and pointed.

"You there, stand down!" shouted the lieutenant.

The commander came over to the lieutenant. "This is federal property, you have no jurisdiction."

It was then that Mr. Zaid found his son Tarik. They hugged and wept.

"Judge, that's the Azids," I said.

The judge walked over, spoke to them, and brought them to the lieutenant.

"Lieutenant, you know me. This boy and others like him have been kidnapped, held against their will, without charges and without a trial."

As all this was taking place the immigrants that had been held were silently being put into the backs of the tractor trailers and inside of cars to be shepherded away from the detention center and to their freedom.

"Is this true?" said the lieutenant to the commander.

The commander looked at me and the judge.

"I have no comment."

The commander looked at Tarik with loathing. "You are free to go."

"No shit," said Tarik.

The commander turned to walk away from us, thought otherwise and walked back to me and the judge.

"You have this one, but you are up against powers beyond your control. We will see each other again... soon."

Of course there was nothing in the news, but that didn't matter. Social media spread it far and wide. The bus drivers' union held a memorial heralding the driver as a hero who gave his life to free others.

Investigations were promised and the politicians said the Detention Centers were to be closed down.

I'll believe it when I see it. Meanwhile I have my cash, some crypto and my old car back. A vacation is in order. Northern Canada looks good this time of year.

1 comment:

  1. As disquieting as this story is about immigration and divisiveness, I was uplifted to see people come together to expose and bust open the detention center at the end. The story is well written and feels very real. I didn't doubt the world you constructed for a second, except for maybe that Facebook is still so popular in 2022.

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