Monday, May 4, 2009

A Young Man's Tribulation, Part II

"Jesus Christ!" I shrieked, "what the hell did you do!?"

My cellmate said nothing; he just seized the pistol and the key from the dead jailer and walked quickly over to the desk. The woman followed him, and I followed her, hoping to keep some distance between myself and the gun-toting maniac. He forced open the drawers, and pulled out another pair of pistols. He handed one to her; she hesitated for a moment, and then accepted it. He turned to offer one to me. I looked at his shoulder. He'd been hit by one of Sgt Copeland's bullets, and blood oozed from his wound.

"No!" I shouted, and stumbled back toward the cell. I couldn't hold back my tears now. "No, we can't go! They'll kill us!"

"They'll kill us if we stay," he said, approaching me, slowly. The woman watched the door warily. "We have to move," she said, almost in a whisper.

"You idiot!" I screamed, "you knew damn well we'd never get out of here alive! This is stupid! This is suicide!"

"Live free or die," he said, pressing the pistol flat against my chest. I took it.

A pair of soldiers then came through the door. No sooner had their faces been visible but our mad liberator had lodged two bullets in their brains. We ran.

It did not take long before my prophecy began to come true. Another pair of soldiers stepped out from behind a corner and fired at us. I ducked, but our man returned fire, killing both of them in no fewer than four shots. Immediately, he fell to the floor himself, shot through the heart. We left him there to bleed.

In my imagination, the entire U.S. army was hot on our heels, but there could not have been many troops in that place. We moved frantically, but we moved unhindered, through the oil-splotched maze, until at last my companion ducked into a closet, marked 1777. I followed her in.

The closet was empty but for ourselves and some cardboard boxes. Tired and breathing heavily, we sat on those boxes, our fingers clutching our ill-gotten guns, our eyes fixed desperately on the door in the insufficient light of a worn-down bulb. We tried to be quiet, but our hearts could have woken the dead.

Over time, who knows how long, the serenity of my inertia came over me. I was hidden, I was armed, I was not alone. Aside from my need for food (and who's to say what those boxes contained?) and some other awkward practicalities, I might have hidden in that closet for a long, long time. And why not, when escape meant death and surrender meant worse? How could I possibly make that choice?

At last she spoke: "what do we do now?"

I placed my left hand on my cheek, letting my gun dangle limply from my right. "I don't know," I said, struggling to keep my composure, afraid that I should look afraid. But why, when she had already seen my fear?

I looked over, to see her face. She was not looking at me, or the door, or the floor; she didn't seem to be looking at anything at all. In the poor light of the little room she looked small, and she trembled, ever so slightly. I forgot myself and did not consider whether it was rude to stare, but I watched as her hair seemed to melt into the shadows. All that remained was the side of her face, and her cheeks, flushed red with danger, were now returning to their natural shade of pale.

I said, "if you want, we could surrender."

"No," she said, as her voice at last betrayed the true extent of her fear. She turned to me, "no, we couldn't." Softly, I agreed.

So we sat, and we thought. "We can't take the stairs," I said at length, "they'll be guarded."

"Yeah," she said, and I could tell that she had already considered it. So I thought some more, and recalled the machines that had drowned out the sound of the crowd as I was led to this place.

"Do you remember if there was a service elevator?"

She looked up suddenly, as if trying to recall. "Yes," she said, "I saw it when they took my blindfold off. I don't think it was guarded." Her eyes took on a look of wildness, vaguely like that of the man who'd led us out of that dismal cell. I wondered to what lengths she might go, but there was no question now that her mind was made up. I told her that I would accompany her.

We rose, cautiously. Before I opened the door, I told her my name. Choking back a tiny lump, I asked for hers, and she told me her name was Elaine.

We worked our way slowly through the labyrinth, holding our pistols nervously and stopping frequently at the sound of boots echoing through the halls. Our own feet, clad only in socks, made a softer sound, but we knew full well that any noise at all might do us in. We didn't know which way to go; we had no spool of thread, no bread crumbs to guide us; but we moved forward.

We came to a small foyer that I recognized as the place where my blindfold had been removed. Aside from the stairs, there were three prominent exits from this room. There were a number of fairly stout pillars, and we moved carefully one to the next. A pair of soldiers came from one hall and left through another; we stood as still behind our hiding spots as we could manage.

We found the elevator at the back of the room, just to the left of the base of the staircase. I stood watch, glancing furtively at each of the room's exits in turn, while Elaine called the lift. I could see that we were on the fifth basement floor; remarkably, there were two floors still below us. Perhaps, I thought, I was not in so deep as it seemed. The elevator rose to meet us, and we climbed aboard, setting course for the ground floor.

The lift rose slowly, far too slowly, and I shook to think how easy it had been. Surely they would discover us, stop us short of our goal. But the elevator rose, and did not stop. Elaine turned to me, and I saw the fatal spark in her eyes. She said to me, "if they're waiting for us, we shoot. If not, we leave the guns here and walk out, slowly." I didn't want to shoot anybody, but I nodded to her. We finally reached the top.

The door slid open, with no one there to greet us. I cast a sidelong glance to Elaine, and she returned it; we quietly placed our guns on the floor and walked out of the elevator.

I could see the public areas of the airport, where the travelers milled about impatiently, at the end of a long hall. Sunlight poured in through the windows at our sides. In the distance, I could see only a frail ribbon of tape to separate us from our freedom. Elaine increased her pace slightly, and I matched it. We could see the beginnings of the security line as it branched from the undifferentiated mass of men and women that now flooded the terminal. The yellow tape warned, "caution."

There were voices behind us, and the heavy sound of running boots. We'd been found out, of course.

"Run!!" she shouted, and we ran, as though our legs were not our own, all previous limits disregarded and discarded in desperate flight. We were guilty, obviously guilty, of all that we were accused and more; that would be clear to anyone who saw us. But the people gave no notice as we ran, jumped, and dove into their midst.

It would be impossible to say how long I remained submerged within the mob. I crawled and creeped among bodies and baggage; rose to my feet for precious air, and sank once more for fear of being spotted. I saw the exit, but only dimly, as my head swam from the stench of sweat and a thousand perfumes. The PA system let out a few squealing, obnoxious blurts from time to time. I tripped over a roller-suitcase. Babies screamed in my face, seeking from me the attention their parents withheld.

I tried to reach the exit, but it's more accurate to say I was washed ashore there. I stumbled hastily out of the clutches of the crowd, to dry my body under the brightly shining sun. Still I went unnoticed; even the cops paid me no mind. I bent over to catch my breath.

As the furious roar of the blood in my head subsided, I heard the bustle of the crowd behind me, and ahead of me, the crashing of the ocean's waves. Above my head, I heard the benign squawking of the gulls, as they circled in search of their food, the waste products of the earthbound creatures beneath. I stood there, shoeless and unnoticed.

Our liberator (would I ever know his name?) was dead. So were five American soldiers. Elaine was nowhere to be seen. I was free. I was alone. Had I been foolish? I stepped out to the curb, and looked for a taxi, but stopped, recalling that the soldiers had taken my wallet.


As I pondered the difficulty of completing my escape without my missing property, I slowly became aware that I was no longer being ignored. Paranoia gripped the edge of my mind, and I cautiously turned myself to find my observer.

To the southwest, the glare of the sunset turned all the forms and shapes to shadows in my eyes. But I shielded my eyes with my hand like a visor, and I saw the one who watched me. A single man, motionless amongst the the teeming masses, stood perhaps twenty yards away from me. I could not see his expression clearly, but his steely, blue eyes were perfectly visible, and through them I understood his purpose clearly.

We stared at each other for a moment's eternity, until at last I turned and fled for my life. The sun's fire was at my back, and ahead of me lay only ambiguous twilight. If I'd trained for this race for my entire life, I could not have run any faster than my legs carried me then. It could not have taken him more than fifteen seconds to catch me.

He seized me by the arms and wrestled me violently to the ground, and at last I began to attract the attention of some onlookers. With my arms subdued I tried to kick him off, but to no avail.

"Easy son," he said, "this is the end of the line."

I kicked and struggled some more, but still I made no progress. The crowd had gathered around us, but by now security had arrived, and the officers were forming a perimeter to keep the innocent people away. I didn't know why they didn't arrest me right away.

"Let me go!" I shouted, staring into my captors eyes, and suddenly I understood. The man who had foiled my plans for freedom was none other than Steve Kilroy, that admirable man and war hero. Why was he there, at a time like that?

Kilroy remained firm. "We've all got to answer for the things we've done. This is your time!"

"I haven't done anything!"

"Then why are you running?"

"I'm scared!"

I shut my eyes and clenched my fists, praying for some small, final escape, but none was forthcoming, and my shallow breaths grew deeper. I felt suddenly that I was no longer constrained, and I opened my eyes. Captain Kilroy now stood over me, offering his hand to help me up. I took it.

The security officers kept their distance; they knew who was in charge. The interested crowd had mostly been dispersed. Cars in the street passed by, looking for a space on the curb to stop. Once again, we were invisible. Kilroy's presence was dominating, and though he was not much taller than me, I felt utterly small and powerless. The sun was setting; time was running out.

I tried to explain things to him, but where to begin, how could I? I'd consorted with terrorists, and I was as good a terrorist myself. My mouth was dry and I had no words, but at last he broke the silence.

"You have nothing to fear from me."

From him? From them? What difference did it make? I looked around, at the men who guarded against my escape, who kept their distance, waiting for the celebrated captain's orders. He was silent now, and for a long time I was too. He was remarkably patient.

"Please," I said, "help me."

The End

1 comment:

  1. The End???????????? Oh come on! That can't be the end! MORE!!!!!!