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The Broken Shield

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Broken Shield

 

A short story by J. J. Carlson

Copyright © 2016

ISAAC

 

 

August 14th, 2003 is a date I’ll never forget. I tried to forget it for years, but I’m glad I didn’t. What happened that day helped shape me into the man I am, a man I hope my mother would be proud of.

My name is Isaac Lynch. I am the assistant team leader of a Special Response Team with the Department of Homeland Security. We are the big guns. We handle the dangerous missions that other folks in law enforcement aren’t equipped or trained for. We deal with the worst kind of filth that draws breath on this earth. We do drug busts, hostage rescues, or any other high-risk mission you could think of. When police officers call for backup, they get a SWAT team. When SWAT calls for backup, they get us. The job is almost always dangerous, but I’m glad to do it. I know what it’s like to be in a bad situation, the kind where you don’t know if you’ll make it out alive. I’ve been a cop, I did time on SWAT, I wore a Special Agent badge for years. I have seen combat on American soil for over a decade. From what I’ve seen, this country has become a warzone. But I will proudly carry both shield and sword into battle.

I don’t think anyone can get to where I am without a strong internal drive. You don’t get onto SRT by accident, and everyone draws motivation from different places. For me, that place was a shopping center parking lot in 2003. It was a nice day—warm, sunny, and mild. I was twelve years old, about to go into seventh grade. I was going to run track that year, and my mom wanted to buy me some new shoes.

I still have those shoes. I have never worn them, except to try them on. I had the biggest smile on my face as my mom and I walked out of the store. We were heading back to her car, a rusty old Buick with stickers on the back windows and gum in the seat cushions. As we walked, a crowd of people began to fill the parking lot. Some were carrying signs or waving flags. They were protesting something, but to this day I don’t know what it was. I had seen protests before, but only on television. I didn’t think much of it. Actually, I thought it was kind of cool. My mom knew better, and she seemed worried. Even though I was nearly a foot taller than her, she grabbed my hand, and led me forward. I was looking around at all of the color and all of the commotion. I didn’t feel afraid or out of place one bit. Then, someone nearby started to yell, and people all around us began to chant in response.

My mom gripped my hand tighter. The crowd was getting really dense, and we had to push our way through. The shouting grew louder and louder. The chants broke down into chaotic, angry shrieks. Then we heard gunfire, and the crowd of protesters became an angry mob. People shoved past us, running toward the street.

My mother was so small. She tried to fight her way forward, but she couldn’t stay on her feet. My hand was wrenched out of her grip and she hit the ground. I screamed for people to stop, but my voice was drowned out in the confusion. All they could hear was the sound of their own shouts, of their own fear and anger. I tried to reach her, but people kept knocking me aside. Finally, I just stayed down on my knees and crawled toward her. People were trampling her like she was garbage. Like she was nothing. I reached her and tried to shield her body. People bumped me. Some kicked me as they skirted around our bodies.

When the torrent of people subsided, I sat back to look at my mother. Her eyes were open, but she didn’t seem to hear me. I shook her gently and stroked her face at first. Then I yelled at her and begged her to get up. When she still didn’t respond, I started to yell for help. I screamed louder than I ever had before. I know people heard me. Some of the protesters even made eye contact, but none of them came to help.

One of the officers in riot gear heard me calling. He left the protection of his team and ran over to me. The protesters saw this as an opportunity. They hurled things at him, hit him with whatever they could find. The punched him in the side and kicked him from behind, but he never fought back. He hunched over me, keeping me safe. He grabbed his radio and called for an ambulance. It must have been twenty minutes before it arrived, but he never left my side.

My mother was already gone. She was gone before they could help her, probably before I could even crawl to her. She was a beautiful person. She had never hurt anyone in her life, and they trampled her to death. These people who were probably marching for peace, or calling for an end of some injustice. And they couldn’t spare one second for the woman they had just killed.

Some people say we were just “in the wrong place at the wrong time.” It takes everything I have not to punch those people in their sympathetic faces. Wrong place at the wrong time? We were there because of me. It was a parking lot in broad daylight. Don’t try to tell me this was my fault, or fate, or a sorry coincidence. I know who holds the blame for her death, and I have dedicated my life to fighting back. I stand up for the innocent, like that police officer did for me.

Even more, I kill the scumbags that would take an innocent life.

 

GERALD

 

The pain felt at the loss of a loved one does not subside with time, as some may say. Instead, I believe those left to mourn slowly become numb to it. The sufferer does not heal from such a wound, but forsakes a part of himself in order to continue living. He becomes a mere portion of his former being, like an amputee that surrenders a necrotic limb to avoid succumbing to infection. For them, life will never be the same, and will never be complete.

My name is Gerald Taylor, and I lost my father on August 14th, 2003. Perhaps the term “lost” is too delicate. In truth, my father was murdered that day. He was a kind and peaceful man, and I can only hope to emulate his character in my own life.

That day was like many others for him, but it was new and exciting to me. We were attending a peace march to protest “imperialism,” as my father called it. He was a member of several activist groups, and had been on dozens of marches throughout his life. Sometimes he would find himself in the midst of lawless pandemonium, but violence was not an option for my father. He had never harmed another person, not even to defend himself.

My father understood that such rallies had the potential to become dangerous, and this was the first time I was allowed to accompany him. I had just turned fifteen, and I thought his concern was completely unwarranted. Everyone at the protest was so friendly.

We were among the first people there. My father sipped coffee and chatted with one of his friends. They discussed the difficulty of maintaining a well-groomed lawn with the abundance of recent rainfall. Their conversation shifted to a heated debate about the local professional football team’s chances of making the playoffs in the upcoming season. As other members of their activist group showed up, they welcomed them warmly with firm handshakes and bear hugs. I busied myself with creating brightly colored signs. They were far from artistic or clever, but it felt good to be helping. My father and I were a part of something. We were not just sitting around complaining about everything that was wrong with the world. We were doing something about it.

The crowd continued to swell and I joined my father’s side. He put an arm around me and gave me a squeeze. “What do you think?” He asked.

“It’s nice,” I said. “It is a lot less serious than I expected. Everyone seems to be having so much fun.”

He look offended. “Who ever said you can’t stand up for what’s right and have fun at the same time?”

I just shrugged my shoulders. He laughed and ruffled my hair. “The world is a dark enough place, son. It is our job to be a light, and when you are the only light in a dark place, you can’t afford to hide under a basket. That’s why we are here, where everyone can see us.”

I thought it was corny. It pains me to this day, but I know I rolled my eyes at him.

I turned my attention to the growing throng of people. Several people were holding bright poster board signs like mine. A few held flags, and almost everyone was smiling. I saw at a cute girl from my school. She was wearing a white tank top and a short denim skirt. I must have stared at her a little too long, because she looked over at me with an annoyed look on her face. I quickly shifted my gaze up at the sky, over to the trees along the street, then down at my feet. My face burned with embarrassment.

“C’mon, son,” my father said. “Looks like we are moving.”

The cops had arrived, and formed a menacing line next to a nearby shopping center. We began marching toward them, ready to express our discontent. With everyone moving in one direction, the street became even more crowded. My father and I cut through a parking lot in order to get closer to the front. A man nearby started shouting. Another started jumping up and down and swinging his arms. He reminded me of a boxer getting ready for a title fight. The energy was contagious, and I started to walk faster, pushing against the person in front of me.

I felt a strong hand gripping my arm. It was my father, and he looked very unhappy. “Settle down. This is not how we do things. We do not follow others if they are walking down a path that leads to violence. You are my son, so you will help me set the example for them to follow.”

I should have felt ashamed and rightfully chastised. Instead, I felt angry and annoyed. I wore a disgruntled expression as I slowly walked with my father to the front of the crowd. He was polite the entire time, gently pushing past people and excusing himself the whole way. Finally, we joined the wall of protestors that was facing off with the orderly line of riot police. Except for my father and I, the entire line of protestors was in motion. They shouted, waved obscene gestures, and spit toward the police. I wanted to join in with the jeering, but my father would not let me. He had to raise his voice to nearly a shout for me to hear. “We are here to protest, not to fight. We are peacemakers, not warriors.”

I sighed heavily. I was starting to think that my father was a coward. Everyone around me was ready to fight for what was right, and all he cared about was peace. I felt disdain toward his words.

The cops remained alarmingly stoic. They were motionless, even when people started hurling garbage at them. Then everything changed.

A brick was thrown from somewhere behind us. It hit one of the cops in the shoulder, and the response was immediate. The cops in the front row swung their guns up and opened fire. My father was the first person shot, and he dropped to the ground. Something hit me in the chest and I fell backwards. The pain was incredible. I looked down, expecting to see blood pouring from a gaping wound, but there was none. I was later told that the cops had fired “non-lethal,” wooden bullets at us.

I rolled over to check on my father. Blood covered his face and pooled on the ground behind his head. “Dad!” I cried out. “Dad, are you okay?”

He didn’t respond. I supported his head in my hands, trying to stop the bleeding. “Dad, get up! You’re hurt—we have to get you to the hospital. Wake up, Dad!”

Tears steamed down my face and landed on his forehead. He was too heavy for me to lift and I had no one to help me. I could do nothing but cry out as my father died in my arms.

 

********************

 

I transitioned into adulthood without a father, but I never used his absence as an excuse for apathy or mediocrity. I studied hard and worked harder. By the time I was twenty-three, I had a Master’s degree in Sociology from Columbia University. A few years after that, I was sitting on the board of more social justice organizations than my father ever had. I taught sociology at a small university for a few years before taking a full-time, salaried position with a large, non-profit organization. My reputation as an outspoken defender of the downtrodden spread quickly. It was clear that I wanted equality for every man and woman at any cost.

My lectures, opinion papers, and interviews eventually caught the attention of people who were not afraid to use draconian methods to accomplish their goals. One day, a man introduced himself as a representative of an organization called Relentless Autonomy, and asked if I could provide a series of introductory lessons on Neo-Marxism to his organization.

I was hesitant at first, but I eventually agreed to help. Over the next several weekends I provided lectures in the seediest, filthiest, and most unprofessional venues I had ever seen. Far removed from the demur audiences of academia, those in attendance appeared to be criminals of the worst sort. Yet, to my surprise, many of them were very articulate and well-educated. They were, without exception, incredibly enthusiastic and engaging. I began to have lively discussions with them that would last well into the night and sometimes until the sun came up.

I slowly began to distance myself from less radical groups so that I could spend more time with Relentless Autonomy. I was gaining their trust, and they indisputably had mine. Late one evening I was asked if I wanted to join the fight against tyranny in a more literal sense. I immediately agreed. It was my first taste of criminal activity, and something my father never would have approved of. Still, it was nothing drastic. We merely vandalized a State Senator’s car, sending a message that we would not tolerate his authoritarian rhetoric.

It wasn’t long after that when I was approached with another “mission.” I accepted it as well, and many more to follow. The nature of the crimes I was involved in became more and more insidious. But were they really crimes? After all, the laws that we were breaking were simply methods of the bourgeois to dominate the common man. Rebellious activities against the State were to be commended, not regretted. Eventually, my conscience became increasingly quiet and compliant to my new lifestyle.

When I was asked to plan a violent ambush, I was initially hesitant. Orchestrating a gunfight, kidnapping, and execution was beyond what I thought I could stomach. I blamed my reluctance on cognitive dissonance. Long held beliefs from my childhood were simply interfering with my ability to make the right decision. The others reminded me of how important our work was. They argued that real change could never occur without true dedication and purposeful action. Everything leading up to this point was just a partial treatment to the sickness we sought to cure, and would mean nothing if we could not gain national attention.

I knew they were right. We could never hope to unite the proletariat without decisive communication. We needed to send a message that would reach every like-minded person in the country, and many more around the world. True liberation would never be won without sacrifice.

Many of us were involved in creating the plan, and many more would be responsible for carrying it out. A few of our most loyal members would take hostages in an easily defensible part of town. The hostages would actually be our own people, also ready to take up arms as needed. We would place an anonymous call to law enforcement about the situation. Ideally, the crisis would escalate without bloodshed, leading the police to call for help from their most brutish associates. As their backup approached, we would detonate an explosive device and attack their vehicle. This assault itself would send a rallying shout to those sympathetic to our cause. The next step could only be carried out if we could secure a living hostage. We would execute this representative of the tyrannical state in a live broadcast. The world would witness the veracity of our determination and the rectitude of our cause. We would show the common man that he does not have to fear the praetorian guard. The elitist heads of state would realize that the days of their oppressive dynasty were numbered.

 

ISAAC

 

 

No one on the team was surprised when the call came in. The initial response to a hostage situation had gone out hours ago, and things weren’t going well. The perps were well armed and well organized. I was standing by in the break room when we got word from dispatch that it was our turn to roll out. Everyone was dressed in full battle rattle—body armor, elbow and knee pads, modular Kevlar helmets, night optical devices, the works. The diesel engine on our mine-resistant vehicle was already running outside.

This was what I lived for.

We hurried out to the truck, weapons in hand. I slapped the spare magazines on the front of my plate-carrier, touched the breaching axe that was slung over my shoulder, tapped my eye-protection, and ran my thumb down the cross necklace my wife had given me. I never really bought into religion, but it reminded me of her, and I thought of it as a kind of good-luck charm. I hopped into the truck and sat down behind the team leader. He was riding shotgun for better visibility, and my seat was close enough to his for me to hear him over the roar of the engine. I discussed our route with him one more time. Getting down to Ninth Street would take about ten minutes at full speed with our lights on.

The whole situation was pretty routine. Bad guys take hostages, local law enforcement can’t handle it, we come in and kill the bad guys. There was just one aspect of the mission that worried me. Road construction on Eighth Street and Tenth Street was severely limiting our route selection. Basically, we only had one way to get to where we were going. We would be driving in a funnel for nearly twelve blocks. That is never a good thing. I preferred to have options if something were to go wrong. In the end, we decided it was an acceptable risk. Our truck was built with a v-shape hull to deflect the blast of mines or improvised explosive devices. The windows were thick and bullet-proof. The body surrounding the cab and troop transport area was solid steel. Even rocket-propelled-grenades wouldn’t scratch this thing.

Maybe overconfidence was our undoing. Shortly after we passed onto Ninth Street, the hair started to stand up on the back of my neck. A man on the corner was watching the area. When he saw us, he turned away and put his cell phone up to his ear. Our vehicle was outfitted with radio and cell phone jammers that would screw up the signal of anyone nearby. This would hinder enemies that were trying to communicate or remotely detonate a bomb. The man looked at his phone for a moment, and then waved at someone farther down the block. I started scanning the buildings surrounding us, expecting the see signs of an ambush. I tried to see into windows, and checked the rooftops looming over our heads. But the attack didn’t come from above.

As far as I could tell, a massive explosion struck our vehicle from below. My head slammed against the back of my seat, and I felt butterflies in my stomach. There was nothing to see out the windows but dust, and I had the sensation that we were flying. A moment later, we impacted the ground and my head jolted toward my knees. Everything went black.

When I woke up, I felt a burning sensation in my lower back. I tried to look around, and pain shot down my neck. I could see the truck about thirty yards away. It was upside-down, bent and twisted nearly beyond recognition. There was ash and debris everywhere. The front side of the building to my right was completely demolished. I could hear gunfire all around me. Farther down the street, one of my teammates was struggling to crawl toward his weapon. As I was watching, a man in a black ski-mask ran up and shot him in the face. That brought me back to my senses.

I was being dragged along by the shoulder straps of my body armor. I managed to lean my head back far enough to see who was pulling me. It was two more men in black masks. They must have thought I was unconscious. My primary weapon, a shotgun, was gone. I grabbed for the sidearm on my belt, and felt a rush of elation when I realized the weapon was still there. I ripped it out of its holster and shot both of the men in the back. One fell straight to the ground and the other landed on his knees. I plugged him in the head. To my left, someone started yelling. I looked over to see him raising a rifle in my direction. My .45 hit him high in the chest, pitching him backwards. Closer to the truck wreckage, two men dived for cover. They shot at me with AK-47’s—which were a lot more accurate than my pistol. A round hit me in the side of my left leg, but I barely felt it. I screamed in pain, playing it up as much as I could. It was enough to get one of those idiots to stand up. I hit him in the pelvis first, then put two more rounds into his torso. He buckled forward and collapsed in a heap.

His buddy was not happy about that. Crouching behind cover, he took more care to put his shots on target. I’m not sure how many times I got hit. The flashlight on my helmet was ripped off, I had at least six rounds hit my chest plate, and four more found red meat.

I squeezed off another shot, and the slide on my Colt 1911 locked back. I swore and tried to grab for another magazine. My left arm had been hit, and I couldn’t move it. I tried to reach around to grab one with my right arm, but the gap in the shooting was enough to bolster someone’s courage. I heard fast footsteps behind me. One of them ran up and kicked me in the head, and everything went black.

 

********************

 

I’m not sure how long I was out, but when I woke up I was in the back of a cockroach-infested trailer. The whistle of the tires and the occasional bump told me it was being towed down a paved road. My head was pounding. I couldn’t feel my legs, but all of my other body parts felt like they were on fire. I tried to sit up, but pain shot up my left side and I felt like I would pass out again. So I just laid there, trying get my bearings. It was an old, hard-sided camper. I could make out the shapes of a kitchenette, a table, a sofa, and a tiny shower. Garbage covered the floor, and it looked like someone had started a fire in the center of the trailer at one point. The mattress I was laying on was worn out, filled with mouse holes, and smelled like cat piss.

A smile crept across my face. I didn’t know what these scumbags wanted, but I figured I would probably die of sepsis before they got it from me. I looked down to see how bad my injuries were. My body looked worse than the trailer. Gunshot wounds in my arm, side, leg, and back had been treated—very poorly. Medical tape was wrapped around every wound in a tangled mess. Bloody gauze pads lay all over the floor. Someone had started an I.V. in my right arm, but the dried blood leading all the way to my fingers told me it had taken more than a few tries to get it right.

We made a right turn, and the road started to get bumpier. I tried to keep track of the turns we were making. Two minutes one way, then a left. Another five minutes, and then a right. Ten more minutes, and we made a right. That road was rough. I don’t know how long we were on it. We hit a pothole so hard I bounced all the way off the mattress. When I slammed back down, the pain was almost unbearable. Darkness started to creep around the corners of my vision, and then I was out.

When I awoke again, the trailer was stopped. There was less light filtering in through the windows, but there was still enough to see a man kneeling in front of me. He was about my age, maybe a little older, but the way he was dressed reminded me of my grandfather. He was wearing a navy-blue sweater over a white, button-up shirt and jeans that were just a little too tight. His shoes were brown loafers, which he wore without socks. “Shaggy” was the best way to describe his hair. His whole appearance was unkempt. I don’t know, he would probably be considered stylish in some circles.

He started peeling back some of the medical tape, and replacing the gauze. “I’m glad to see you awake,” he told me. “I was very worried that you might not make it, and this whole thing would be for nothing.”

Images of the attack flooded my head. Dust and debris, blood and gunfire. The memory of my teammate being executed played across my mind’s eye in perfect detail. My jaw clenched, and I wanted to punch him in crotch. “What exactly is this whole thing?” I asked him.

He stood up and looked down at me sympathetically. “The start of a revolution. It has been violent, brutish, and distasteful. However, my comrades and I consider it to be absolutely necessary. I would never have agreed to it otherwise.”

“A war?” I scoffed. “You have no idea what you and your kronies are getting yourselves into. You may have some nice toys and some dedicated thugs who are willing to get themselves killed, but you don’t stand a chance. You think it was tricky taking our truck down? You have no idea what my agency is capable of.”

“Perhaps not,” he sighed. “But I never said anything about a war. A war is a conflict between two or more nations or states. We do not recognize the authority of the State, and therefore could not declare war against your agency or any other government entity.”

My head spun for a minute. I blamed it on the loss of blood. Eventually it came to me. “So you’re one of those communist nut jobs, then?”

I spit the words out, showing no fear of any retaliation my captor might give. To my surprise, he just smiled warmly. “Absolutely,” he said. “And I am very impressed that you recognized me as such. So perhaps you can understand that I do not seek to overthrow anything, or begin a violent conflict. I only seek to end the inequality brought about by a classist society. Our…attack on you and your friends was unfortunate. I hope it is the last bloodshed that is necessary to meet our goals.”

I had been trained what to do in the event that I was taken hostage. I was taught not to engage a captor in debate. Anything I said could incite physical abuse or potentially be used as propaganda.

But I was in a lot of pain, and I was pretty sure I was going to die, and I was really pissed off. This guy was spouting off about how he was going to change the world, and how he hoped he could do it without shedding too much blood. Who was he to decide which victims would be sacrificed for the cause? What did my teammates, my friends do to deserve execution on the street? If I was physically able, I think I would have choked the life out of him right there. I imagined tightening the collar of his stupid sweater around his scrawny neck. The thought made me smile.

After a long moment, I decided the only way I could truly resist was with my words. If there was nothing I could do to fight my way out, I would challenge his sentiment until my heart stopped beating. I took a few deep, painful breaths and tried to calm myself. “Why are you treating my wounds?” I asked. “I’m no doctor, but I’m pretty sure I’m a lost cause at this point.”

He looked away, and I thought I saw tears starting to well up in his eyes. “They—I don’t think it is best to tell you exactly why. You need to be alive in order to be of any use to us.”

I looked him straight in the eye. “I’m not trying to complain about your hospitality, but I get the feeling that you flunked out of medical school. So unless I get treatment by some real professionals, I probably won’t make it another day.”

“Tomorrow,” he responded. “Things will be settled tomorrow.”

“Look, if it’s ransom money you want, you won’t get it. If you try to negotiate with someone for my release, it will not end well for you. In situations like this, they track the perp down and deliver a bullet to his brain. I should know, I’ve done it before.”

My captor started to look even more rattled, but I got the feeling it wasn’t because of my threats. He started pacing the room and wrung his hands. “I’m sorry, but I have to step out for a moment.” With that, he opened the camper door and walked outside.

I definitely didn’t expect to get under his skin so quickly. It was a little unsettling. I think I would have liked it better if he had punched me in the face for being so mouthy. I closed my eyes. Escape was not an option. I was pretty sure I’d been paralyzed, at least partially, and trying to move around would probably tear open some pretty big holes. I was no expert, but I’d had enough medical training to know it was better to keep my blood inside of my body. I figured sleep was my best option.

 

GERALD

I let the camper door fall shut behind me. Several other members of Relentless Autonomy were nearby, standing in a cluster. They twisted open a bottle of vodka and started passing it around, celebrating their hard-won success. A few hours ago, I might have celebrated with them. At the moment I just wanted to be alone.

I was not present during the ambush. The dirty work was done by men with tougher grit and better aim. My role had mostly been in the planning phase. I certainly did not expect to be assigned to the care of our prisoner. Treating his wounds as he lay there helpless, barely clinging to life was almost more than I could take. I tried to tell myself that he was the enemy, that he deserved everything that was coming to him. And yet, how could I know? I had never known this man, or any of his slain teammates. Perhaps he was an oppressive, despotic agent of the state. But then again, maybe he was just doing what he thought was right, brainwashed by the expectations of cultural norms.

What sickened me was the similarity that I saw between this man and my comrades within Relentless Autonomy. He was a warrior, just like them. He was willing to fight and die for a cause that he had been taught to support, just like them. What if this broken, bloodied man had been one of my students? Would he have joined our cause, rather than opposing it?

I shook my head to clear my thoughts. These were metaphysical speculations better suited for an ethics classroom. This man and his teammates could never have reached their positions of authority without oppressing countless innocents along the way. I did not become a staunch defender of freedom and social justice overnight, and this man did not become a violent weapon of the State overnight. This guilty feeling in my stomach was completely unwarranted. It was merely a manufactured response based on previously held, uneducated, childish beliefs.

I glanced at the back of the trailer. I had nothing to fear from this man, or his death. He was a puppet of the nobility, nothing more. Then an idea sprung into my mind. My companions had warned me not to converse with our prisoner, just to keep him alive until the execution. However, I saw an opportunity that I was uniquely suited for. I would expose our prisoner as a totalitarian, using his words to prove his guilt. I could sneak in a small camera to record our conversations. The footage would allay any of my doubts that this man deserves his execution, and bolster the efforts of Relentless Autonomy along the way.

 

ISAAC

 

 

Sleep was nice, but trying to stay asleep while riddled with bullet holes was not. Whenever I woke up, I could never tell if I’d been asleep for five seconds or five days. I had a feeling it was the former. Laying in pain, powerless to do anything, was the worst part of my captivity. I just wanted to make the time pass faster. Sleeping seemed like a good way to do it, but chasing the sandman over and over again was infuriating.

I was actually relieved when my nerdy-looking captor opened the door and came back into the trailer. Maybe I’d get lucky and he would slit my throat. He bustled around with a worried, maybe even fearful demeanor. I sighed; probably not.

He had his back turned toward me for a long moment. When he finally turned to face me he looked a little more confident. He brought a folding chair from the front end of the trailer and sat down. “I know you are in pain right now, beyond that which most men have ever experienced, I’m sure. But do you mind if I asked you a few, pointed questions?”

I actually chuckled at how polite this guy was. “Go ahead, I’ve got nothing better to do.”

He clapped his hands and crossed one leg over the other. “Excellent,” he beamed. “Do you mind telling me your name?”

“Isaac.”

“Very good, Isaac. My name is Gerald, and I’m a member of an organization known as Relentless Autonomy.”

“Cute,” I told him.

He fidgeted in his seat. “Err, yes. We try. Isaac, how long have you been a police officer?”

“I joined the academy when I was eighteen, so about eleven years.”

“And why did you join the academy in the first place?”

An image of my mother’s trampled body flashed before my eyes. “For kicks and grins.”

Gerald leaned back in his chair and watched me for a moment before speaking up. “It’s alright, we’ll come back to it. Let’s just bypass the pleasantries and move on. Isaac, there are many people in this country who view law enforcement officials as violent, discriminatory bullies. How would you characterize the majority of individuals you have worked with?”

I paused for a few seconds before responding. “Protectors. Most of the people I have worked with just want to keep their cities, their streets, and their families safe.”

“That is an excellent description. It certainly paints a noble picture. As a protector, do you think it is necessary for you to enact violence against criminals, in some situations?”

“Absolutely.”

“That sounds dangerous. Your duty places you in direct contact with some of the most savage members of society, is that right?”

I eyed him up and down. “That’s right.”

“I don’t know how anyone would view people like you as anything but heroic, given that characterization. So how many criminals have you killed in the line of duty, in order to save other people?”

“Enough.”

“I see. And how many lives do you think you have saved, by taking the lives of violent offenders?”

“I couldn’t tell you. That’s total speculation.”

“Of course it is. But I would guess it is a great many. How about something a little more concrete? Could you give an estimate of the number of speeding tickets you have written?”

“I dunno. Maybe seventy five or a hundred.”

“Have you ever written tickets to people for having overly tinted windows?”

I was starting to see where he was leading me. “Yes, several.”

“I believe it. I’ve seen some very dark windows in my time. But tell me, Isaac, how many lives do you think you saved by writing those citations?”

“Probably none.”

“If you are a protector, what is the rationale for burdening non-violent citizens with fines and oppressive regulation?”

“It’s called law enforcement. It’s not my job to write the laws, just to make sure they are obeyed. If you have a problem with the laws, take it up with your congressman.”

“I completely agree, and no one is blaming you. Perhaps our points of view are not as widely disparate as you might believe. Was there ever a moment when you witnessed a crime, perhaps something minor, and you did not write a ticket?”

“Of course. You can’t write a ticket for everything, and a lot of people will do the right thing if they are just reminded of what it is.”

“We find ourselves in agreement again. I hope you realize what you have told me. You have repeatedly disobeyed the laws created by our ruling class. You, in open rebellion, decided not to enforce the statutes they placed over the proletariat.”

“It’s not that serious. I’m a human being just like you, just like everyone in the legislative and judicial branches of government. All anyone wants is for people to get along. Sometimes they don’t.”

“It is a simple concept, isn’t it? But I would be remiss if I did not tell you that it is completely unnecessary. In fact, the approach our country has taken in governing its citizens has led to the violence and lawlessness we observe today. Partiality, coercion, selfishness, subjugation—we are taught to tolerate such things from the day we are born. However, our minds and wills can only endure a finite allotment of injustice. We reach a tipping point and we rebel. But it does not have to be so. What if I told you that crime is just a symptom of the environment our society has created?”

“I’d tell you that you are full of crap. People get in fights over the kind of clothes they wear. I have seen mothers murder their children. I’ve collared wealthy rapists and homeless rapists alike. The thing that these scum bags have in common is that they have done something wrong, and deserve punishment.”

“But who decides what is wrong and what is right? If we consider our brothers to be our equals in every sense, the need for labels of right and wrong disappear. There is no need for the oligarchy to tell us how to behave. In truth, they merely wish for us to submit.”

“And in what universe is this possible? If a government is selfish, it’s because people are selfish. Man can’t be trusted to do the right thing. When given the chance, people will just…” I wasn’t sure if I should say it, but I did anyway. “They’ll stomp on you without a second thought. And you can bet they won’t stop to help someone in need, not for a second.”

His brow furrowed, and I knew he had noticed the emotion creeping into my voice. “I’d like to go back to one of our first questions, if that’s okay. Why did you join the force, Isaac?”

Screw it. I was probably gonna die here anyway. “Alright Gerald, I’ll tell you. I joined because of my mother.”

He gave a small nod. “Parents can be very influential when it comes to career choices. She was also in law enforcement, I assume.”

I shook my head. “No, she wasn’t. She had never touched a gun in her life, and would never have let me go to the academy. But she wasn’t around to stop me. And you know why, Gerry? It’s because so-called peaceful protestors decided her life had no value. They pushed her to the ground and trampled her to death right in front of me. They walked all over her like she was garbage. They didn’t care about me, or her, or each other. What did these noble citizens do when I cried out for help? Nothing. The only person who had the common decency to protect a twelve year-old boy was a man in uniform. So don’t try to lecture me about right and wrong, or who’s fault it is. There are people who do terrible things in this world, and someone needs to be there to stop them. That is why I joined the force.”

 

GERALD

 

 

Isaac’s words hit me like a hammer. I tried to speak, but no words came. I stood up and turned away from him. My stomach was writhing, and I had to know more.

“When did this happen? When did your mother die?”

He didn’t make eye contact. He was staring off into space. “It was August 14th, 2003.”

My head started to spin, and I thought I would pass out. No, it was impossible. He was manipulating me. There had to be some way that he knew about my father. There had to be an explanation. I took a step toward him. “You’re lying!” The accusation came out louder than I expected.

He looked up at me with pitiful, red eyes. “Why would I lie about that? What could I possibly have to gain from lying at this point? I don’t know what you or your friends have planned for me, and it doesn’t matter. There’s no way I’m gonna live to see next week.”

The anger boiling within me slowly began to fade. It transitioned into a crippling shock. I slumped down into the chair and put my face in my hands.

“I lost someone that very same day. You probably will never believe me, but I was there. My father was killed that day.”

He looked at me with so much hostility that, for a moment, I actually feared he would stand up and throttle me. “You’re right, I don’t believe you. And I can think of a dozen reasons why you would lie to me right now. If you were there, where did it happen?”

I sighed. “It was a war protest on Eighteenth Street, down by a little outlet mall.” I sat quietly and let the scene from that day play out in my mind. A detail jumped out at me.

“I remember another ambulance. The paramedics had arrived, but my father was already gone. They put his body into an ambulance, and I recall seeing the same thing happening nearby. Someone else had been hurt. Was your mother struck down in a parking lot?”

Isaac bit his lip. “Yes.”

I was at a loss for words again. We both sat quietly for several minutes. It was Isaac that finally broke the silence.

“How did your father die.”

I took a deep breath. “He was a protestor. But he was nothing like the people that killed your mother. He was kind, and truly peaceful. When the rest of the crowd started to get excited, he remained calm. He told me violence was not an option. Then someone threw something at the line of police, and they started shooting at us. I was hit in the chest, and my father was hit in the face. He died where he lay, and I was right there with him when it happened.”

Isaac nodded in understanding. “Those riot control rounds can be deadly if they strike anywhere above the shoulders. They never should have done that. I’m sorry.”

“Thank you,” I responded. Then the weight of his words sank in. This man just apologized to me. I was among the protestors when his mother died. I helped orchestrate the ambush where his teammates were killed just hours before. I took a deep breath. “I’m sorry, too. I am sorry that your mother was killed. I’m sorry that I ever became involved in the plan to capture you and kill your friends.”

I buried my face in my hands again. There had been so much hatred in my heart for all these years, and I had never counted the cost. A quote popped into my head, though I couldn’t remember its source. The words quietly escaped my lips. “Good begets good; evil begets evil.”

Isaac closed his eyes, and his ragged breathing became more steady. I let him rest, but stayed at his side. I could no longer bear the thought of his execution, and began planning a way to help him escape. Deep down, I felt at peace. The thought of helping this battered man that I once called my enemy gave me a feeling of connection with my father. I knew he would have done the same.

I crept over to the door and peaked out through the blinds. The sun was going down, and the other members of Relentless Autonomy were still laughing and drinking nearby. It would be impossible for me to sneak Isaac out of the camper. I would have to steal the truck that it was attached to. Fleeing on a bumpy road could prove fatal to Isaac, but it was my only option. I started looking for pillows, sheets, or anything soft that I could use to stabilize and cushion Isaac.

I was stuffing crumpled newspaper under his legs when he awoke with a start.

“Stacy!” He cried out. “Stacy, help me. Where are you, baby?” I tried settle him down, but he seemed to be completely unaware of his surroundings. He pushed up off the floor with his one good arm and looked around frantically.

“Isaac,” I said softly. “It’s me, Gerald. You need to stop moving, you are going to hurt yourself.”

He looked at me, and comprehension slowly surfaced in his eyes. He winced as he lowered himself back to the floor.

“Isaac, I’m going to try to get you out of here. It could be very bumpy, so I need you to lay still for a moment.”

Isaac shook his head slowly. He licked his lips before speaking. “Don’t bother, Gerald. I’ll be dead before you can get me out of here, and your buddies will kill you for trying.”

I crossed my arms resolutely. “That may be so. But I have to try.”

“No.” He winced again. “Look, it hurts to talk, so will you just sit down and listen for a minute.”

I quickly obliged.

Isaac’s words came slowly, forced out between wheezing breaths. “I’m not a perfect man. I’m not even a good man. I’ve done things I regret, and won’t be able to apologize for.”

“Don’t say that. I’ll get you out of here,” I interrupted.

“Shut up.” He winced. “I can’t apologize to the people I’ve hurt, or misjudged. I can’t tell the desperate widows or the mourning mothers that I’m sorry I killed their husbands and sons, that I wish it could be different. But you are here, so I’m telling you. I’m so sorry.”

I grabbed his hand and held it tight. “Thank you, Isaac. But you can tell them yourself, because I am getting you to a hospital.” I was not sure if he could hear me or not. His gaze began roving around the room. He again seemed completely unaware of my presence.

“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry,” he repeated. “Please forgive me. Please, I’m so sorry.” He pulled his hand from mine and clutched at his chest.

“Isaac,” I spoke loudly. “I forgive you, just hold on.”

His pleas descended into murmuring, and then he was silent.

Isaac had stopped breathing. I touched his neck, feeling for a pulse, but I found none. “No! Isaac, wake up. Stay with me!” I tried CPR. I tried pounding on his chest and shouting at him. All of my efforts were futile. He did not stir; save for a few final gasps that escaped his cold lips.

Another life was extinguished, and this time it was my fault. I knew there would be ripples of hurt from this man’s death. Oh, God, what had I done? I took him away from someone, just like my father was taken from me.

 

********************

 

There is a chill in the air, and my heart is gripped with dread. I turn down the narrow sidewalk and make my way toward the front door. I knock three times and wait. A minute later, the door opens slowly. A beautiful, but tired-looking woman stands in front of me.

“Stacy Lynch?”

She nods her head, and I can see tears welling up in her eyes. “Is this about Isaac? Please tell me he’s okay.”

“I…” The words get caught in my throat. My face falls into a heavy frown and I can’t keep the tears out of my own eyes. I force myself to meet her gaze and I shake my head. At my response she begins to weep openly, and falls against my chest. She grips my arm and bangs a fist against my shoulder. It is more than a minute before I can speak again.

“I am so sorry,” I sputter. “I don’t have time to explain. But I had to see you. I want you to know that your husband saved me.”

With that, I turn and hurry away from her. I feel guilty leaving her to mourn alone. I can still hear her cries as I make the turn at the end of the block. I do not turn back, and continue forward with long strides. I am not finished yet. I am on my way to the police station. I will tell them everything that I did, and everything that I know. I’m not sure what will happen to me, but I know I have to do it. I hope and I pray that my father will be proud of me and that I will see him again.

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The Broken Shield

Isaac Lynch is an elite Law Enforcement Officer. Gerald Taylor is a militant anti-fascist. In a battle of wills a lifetime in the making, both men will lose something they treasure: their self-righteous convictions. As a peaceful protest turns violent, Isaac is forced to watch his mother get trampled to death. Meanwhile, Gerald's father is killed by a stray round from a riot policeman's rifle. In that moment, both men vow to battle injustice. Isaac fights crime from behind a police badge, Gerald opposes injustice through passionate activism. Both men become entrenched in their own views, rising in the ranks of an ideological war. Gerald's outcry against social injustice wins the attention of a radical anti-fascist group, and his expertise in Marxism opens a door into the secretive militant society. Eager to take decisive action against an increasingly oppressive police state, Gerald participates in a violent attack on an elite law enforcement unit. Isaac's skyrocketing and often brutal career lands him in the very unit between Gerald's crosshairs. Following an explosive conflict, Isaac is taken hostage. The two men find themselves face to face, though they are unaware of the pivotal moment they have in common. As radical ideologies battle for dominance, both men will question their treasured convictions. This explosive short story thriller will have you riveted from start to finish. Social Justice Warriors and die-hard supporters of law enforcement alike will be challenged by this thought-provoking story.

  • Author: J. J. Carlson
  • Published: 2017-09-25 19:20:11
  • Words: 8750
The Broken Shield The Broken Shield