Vaughn spent three days waiting for the kidnappers to call. He barely ate or slept. He waited on his sofa, checking his phone for missed calls every ten minutes. Half the time his phone’s display read “no service.”
While Vaughn brooded, Marzan paced through the house and peered out the windows at the occasional cars that roared up the road.
“Don’t worry. That’s just the mailman.”
“Oh, I’m not worried,” Jimmy answered.
“Then why are you always going to the window every time a car comes by?”
“Just curious who it is. If they knew I was here and they were coming, we wouldn’t hear anything at all.” But Jimmy still went to the window every time he heard a car.
The kidnappers did not call. With each passing hour, Vaughn’s face became more ashen. His body melted deeper into his sofa. He did not yield to his temptation to call the detective assigned to his case. He had little faith in the police. Besides, if they had new information, they’d let me know, he thought. Jimmy’s probably relieved I don’t call them anyway.
“You hear that?” Jimmy called.
“I don’t hear anything,” Vaughn mumbled.
“It’s a buzzing. Real faint. Hear it?”
“You know what that is?”
“I’ve no idea. I don’t hear anything.”
“Shhh. Listen. It’s a drone. You can’t hear it unless the wind blows just right. There…”
“I don’t hear anything,” Vaughn bristled, finally succumbing to his temptation and dialing the detective. The voice on the other end sounded disinterested, as if it had more important things to do. Vaughn hung up. He knew that would happen.
“No answer?” Jimmy asked.
“They’re busy. They’re probably on a more high profile case. Got to secure those brownie points with the feds, I guess.”
“Maybe,” Jimmy said. “Or maybe they’re busy trying to get their families out or something.”
Whatever the excuse, it ruined what little confidence Vaughn had that his detective was making progress. There was almost no law enforcement anymore, unless it was martial law enforcement which meant the manning of checkpoints and curfew patrols by police with frayed nerves and itchy trigger fingers. Vaughn returned to his brooding.
Marzan escaped Vaughn’s tension by checking his email accounts and forum posts. Almost everything was encoded.
“Lucifer Rising, 1201.”
“In through the out door.”
“Papa say, ‘The bell tolls for thee.’ Lock and load.”
“Elvis has left the building.”
There were hundreds of similar, seemingly meaningless, disconnected emails and tweets sent from proxy servers. They might be specific orders or coordinates or maybe coded events with dates and times. Marzan had only a vague idea of what they meant, but something was in the works. It was comforting to see it. It meant that, in the least, an insurgent disinformation campaign was underway.
Marzan had seen it before from the occupier’s perspective. The most effective way for a guerrilla force to cloak its operations is by filling the airwaves and the internet and the mail and the phone lines and the ear drums with a tsunami of phony assassination lists and fake military targets and phantom weapons caches and vague gibberish and every conceivable lie on top of lie. Its purpose was to confuse and to spook the occupier and to create cover for the underground’s real communications. The occupier’s intelligentsia couldn’t possibly sift through it all and get to the current of truth.
Something made Jimmy take another look at “Elvis has left the building.” It jumped out at him. Captain Rick was the biggest fan of The King that he knew, and that was well known. The coded message made sense to him, now. Jimmy’s realization that his captain was out there somewhere gave a much needed jolt to his flagging morale.
Despite the propaganda and the government filters and the snooping by the government’s agents, the internet was just too vast and too complex to lock down. Blatantly shutting it off entirely would be such a vulgar display of tyranny that to do so would cause more trouble than it was worth. Even the Chinese wouldn’t go that far. An operational internet actually served the government as both an anger-venting mechanism for the proles—talking about it usually replaces doing it—and also for monitoring anti-patriots who unintentionally out themselves. The feds intended to leave the internet partially on until the costs began to exceed the benefits.
Marzan went back through the forum posts. ‘Lucifer Rising…’ What does that mean? Lucifer is the morning star—Venus. What is Venus? Is it something evil? Something bright? Fast moving?
Marzan knew he couldn’t stay with Vaughn much longer. He was waiting for leadership and it now appeared that it was out there waiting for him. He hoped to stick around long enough to at least help get Vaughn back to sanity, but he wasn’t hopeful. Vaughn was deteriorating by the hour. He was becoming the undead. Marzan had seen the undead before.
Marzan heard a truck slowing to make the turn onto Vaughn’s driveway.
“Shit! Someone’s coming!” he shouted as he grabbed his rifle and made his way to the back room. He had assembled a darkened perch in there which provided a decent vantage over the driveway and down into the woods. The window was fully open, even in the bitter cold. A fully open window is half as obvious as a half open one.
An old Sierra pickup rolled down Vaughn’s driveway. It bore no resemblance to any kind of cop car, undercover or otherwise. It lacked the giveaway antennae. “It’s the kidnappers or a messenger I bet,” Vaughn shouted.
The truck parked at the driveway’s end, its engine left running. The driver door opened.
“If they’re cops, they are really stupid,” Marzan remarked. “I could smoke ‘em all in three seconds.”
A small Latino man stepped out of the rusted truck. He was wearing a puffy winter coat that bloused out as he raised his tattooed hands in the air. He stood next to the truck with his bare hands raised.
“Who are you?” Vaughn shouted out the door.
“I’m unarmed,” he shouted back. He did a slow pirouette, then walked carefully down the driveway towards Vaughn’s front door, hands still raised.
“You got my wife?” Vaughn shouted back.
“I need to talk. You come outside. Okay? There’s not much time.”
“Where’s my wife?” Vaughn shouted again.
Marzan snapped his fingers at Vaughn from down the hall to get his attention. “I’ve got you covered,” Marzan whispered. He gave Vaughn a thumbs-up and clicked the safety off his M4. He aimed. “Just like Shariastan,” he mumbled.
Marzan was cloaked in the darkness of the room. The visitors, which included three others in the front seat of the Sierra, would not be able to see him. Their heads panned behind the windshield, searching for spotters or snipers. Vaughn took a deep breath and went out the door. He walked cautiously down the steps and approached the visitor standing in the driveway.
“Do I know you?” Vaughn asked.
“You call me Joe Joe,” he answered.
“Do I know you?”
“We met before,” he answered, hands still raised.
“I was the one who broke in your house that night. You stop me with your gun.”
Vaughn lost his words for a moment as he looked Joe Joe over.
“But I come here and help you,” Joe Joe added.
“What did you do to my wife?” he shouted, balling his fists.
“Nothing. I swear. But I help you. You to listen to me.”
“Want me to smoke him, Vaughn?” Marzan shouted from the house. Guns clicked inside the Sierra as the three silhouetted faces inside ducked and raised their guns in the direction of Marzan’s voice.
“Please! Please!” Joe Joe pleaded. “I am un-arm. I help you.” He turned to the truck and shouted, Bajen sus armas!”
“Where’s my wife?” Vaughn asked again.
“Look,” Joe Joe continued, “you a good man. You could have kill me that night but you didn’t. I owe you for that.”
“Why are you here?”
“I tell you something, okay?”
“You tell me where my wife is.”
“I no take her, okay? But I know who.”
“You tell me right now or I’ll tell my friend back there to waste all you motherfuckers.”
“Please listen. We no shoot. You a good man. I no take her but I know who. It’s not me. But I know who.”
Joe Joe kept his hands up. They were turning purple from the cold. “Listen,” his eyes widened with a pleading expression. A white vapor plume escaped through his silvery dental work with each exhale.
Marzan’s crosshair was locked on to Joe Joe’s head. One smooth squeeze, a jolt, and Joe Joe’s skull would burst apart out the back. Then Marzan would swing the rifle into the Sierra’s windshield and empty his magazine. He hoped Vaughn had enough sense to take cover.
“You listen, okay?” Joe Joe continued. “No shoot me. Tell that man in house, ‘no shoot’, okay?” Joe Joe waited for Vaughn to give the order. “You tell him ‘no shoot’ and I tell you who got your wife.”
“All right.” Vaughn turned to the window. “Don’t shoot unless something happens to me.”
Marzan didn’t answer.
“He hear you?” Joe Joe asked.
“He isn’t deaf.”
“Okay. We want no trouble.”
“Tell me where she is.”
Joe Joe slowly lowered his hands. “I reach in my pocket. Okay with you?”
Joe Joe reached his right hand into his pocket and slowly withdrew it. He handed Vaughn a silvery object and Vaughn took it from him to inspect it.
“What is it?” Marzan shouted through the window.
“It’s Jess’s wedding ring,” Vaughn answered. “Where’d you get it?” he asked Joe Joe.
“I know a pawnbroker. He my medio hermano. He there, in the truck.”
“Why would he care?” Vaughn asked, trying to pick him out from the three ducking silhouettes in the cab.
“Because he know it’s your wife.”
“How would he know?”
“We know everything that happen up here in your mountain town. We know everything. The one that clean your house, the one that cook your meal, the one that mow your lawn, they our sister and brother and cousin and uncle and aunt. They see. They hear. They tell. They know everything. I’m in a crew. Knowing is our job. We know everything that happen up here. We know about your wife, Mr. Clayton. We know she was kidnap.”
“But why? Why would he care? Why would you care?”
“Because the man who pawn it. I know—we all know who he is. He an evil man.”
“Who is he?”
“He a cop. But he no normal cop. Most cop are okay. They do their job. They bust you for this, they bust you for that, but they follow the rule. This cop, he no follow the rule. He taser one. He taser another. He shake some down. He torture some for nothing. He torture me. He bust my hand. He try to rape me. He a drunk. He drunk on power. He a fucking pendejo.”
“Who is he?”
“His name is Bob Garrity. He sell this ring to my medio hermano for silver coins. He dumb. He don’t know who my brother is. My brother ask, ‘where you get this ring?’ Garrity lie. He say he stole it but if he stole it, he wouldn’t say that. My brother figure it out. He tell me all about it when I get out. We come here and show you the ring. Now I know he the one. He kidnap your wife.”
“Sounds like he’s trying to get you to do his dirty work,” Marzan shouted.
“I no have anyone do my dirty work, amigo,” said Joe Joe.
“Why are you here, then?” shouted Marzan.
“Because I wrong this man, here,” Joe Joe shouted back, looking directly into Vaughn’s eyes. “It’s my fault your wife is kidnap—my fault. Garrity think I come here for your gold coin. But I was wrong. I was wrong and now your wife is kidnap by that pendejo. Now I come here and make it right. Here, you take this…” Joe Joe reached in his pocket and produced a business card which he handed to Vaughn.
“Whose number is this?”
“That Bob Garrity’s nomber. He give that card to me. That address, he live there. I wrote that there for you.”
Vaughn and Joe Joe stared into each other’s eyes.
“You go see him. You go see Bob Garrity. You find out for yourself. But go soon, before it’s too late. Your wife, she no last long. Bob Garrity—he no last long either,” Joe Joe spat.
“Why? Are you planning on doing something?”
“No, not me. We’re leaving. He have all the enemy he need. Even the cop want him dead. I just want you to get your wife back. She a good mother. I remember she say for you to shoot me. That’s a good mother. I want you to get her back. Jesus, he see everything. I try to make it right. You go see that fat pig Bob Garrity. He have your wife.”
“Where’re you going?”
“I going home, home to El Salvador. We leave this country right now, right from here. Your Amerika is finished.”