A unnamed short story…at least not yet.
As I stood in my office and looked over the city, I had no idea what was about to walk through the door or that my life would be forever changed. When I heard the door- frame split open from the battering ram, I jumped so high that my coffee flew from my mug and on to the windowpane. The next thing I knew, I was on my face with a knee in my back.
The country had indeed gone mad. After the terrorists had taken out a large portion of the Pentagon the day before the national election with a large truck bomb, the same portion that had been rebuilt after September 11th, the Presidential election was declared void. South Carolina, a long-time hotbed of conservative patriotism and already upset about the failure of the federal marriage amendment, decided that they had had enough and succeeded from the United States. That started a chain reaction of states leaving the U.S. in an effort to retain their own state sovereignty. The President, a lame duck one because of the election, was helpless to solve the problem. Rioting began in Washington D.C. and the Capitol building burned.
That morning, I stood in my Virginia office and watched CNN show the horrible pictures. I called my wife and made sure she was safe. She was on her way back to our Alexandria home after being turned away by the Virginia National Guard who had been called out last night when the rioting started and after Virginia had announced it’s decision to abandon the the United States through succession. That’s when it happened. There was an explosion across the street. It shook the five-story office building I kept my office in. I rushed to the window to a shocking sight. Soldiers rushed into the building. I overheard CNN saying something about citizens in Virginia being kidnapped when the door to my office came crashing in.
I was rushed away with a hood over my head. I overheard men talking of “dirty lawyers” and “mouthpieces.” The radio in the vehicle was on and it was squawking about a break-in at the Department of Justice where some important paperwork had been stolen including the names and addresses of some of the attorneys that worked for the government. I knew that I was on that list.
When I graduated from the University of North Carolina with a degree in English, I had considered entering seminary. I had returned to my faith as a Christian during my freshman year in college and had been devout since that time. I had became a Christian as a child, but had some issues in high school that caused me to rethink some things and go another route, but I shortly returned. As I considered Seminary, I decided that my skills would be of better use in the legal field. I entered law school an idealistic person who soon discovered why many lawyers are alcoholics. When I graduated from law school and passed the bar, it seemed I had all but abandoned my religious ideals in favor of some form of existentialism. I became a tough government lawyer who was far more beaurocratic than democratic and had grown so tired of the system that I had learned how to abuse it and did it with pleasure. You would have thought that my disdain for the govermental justice system would have made me happy that the Capitol burned and my world and the culture around me were falling apart. It did not. I was scared and now, as I was in the back of a van headed somewhere that I believed could not be pleasant, I was questioning decision upon decision that I had made in the past ten years.
I was taken to a warehouse that appeared to be vacant. I was shoved in a room and hit a few times. Finally, I was sat in a hard chair and a voice said to me, “Have you been doing work regarding the Patriots?” I knew from my job that the Patriots were a group of right-wing Southern men who were instrumental in securing the South Carolina succession vote. They started shortly after September 11th and began very conservatively, but quickly grew violent. The ringleader was a local Carolina mayor named Peter Henderson who at one time in the 90’s had threatened to have his town succeed from the state. He was a quick separatist, but a dynamic speaker. He was like Hitler’s Bizarro. It was suspected that they had ties to overseas terrorist organizations and may have been responsible for the Pentagon bombing.
In a quick moment, I registered that if the country were to pull through this and if I had cooperated with the Patriots, I could be tried for treason. But I also realized, just in that split moment, that I seemed to have lost faith in the system anyway. Did it really matter if I betrayed a country that I was growing to hate?
Did I really hate my country? If I did, when did I become so comfortable with that word? I grew up in the Southern Baptist Church and I was taught the basics of Christianity: to love God, to love your neighbor, and to love your country. After high school, I had thought seriously about joining the Army and thought about it again seriously before I entered law school. After September 11th, it was out of the question. I had lost my idealism of how wonderful it would be to fight for my country. I didn’t want to argue cases for the government, let alone fight, and maybe die, for my country.
However, the patriotism was clinging to me as I fought for an answer to my dilemma, the answer that would determine whether or not I would answer them in regards as to the nature of my work. “Yes, I have done work regarding the Patriots,” I finally said.
“What do you know about Peter Henderson?” a second voice asked me.
“I know he’s the leader of the Patriots and I know about his political background,” I replied.
“Why was Peter Henderson placed on the list?” the first voice asked me.
By “the list” he was referring to a watch list that the Department of Homeland Security unofficially had. The people on this list were watched very closely and, thanks to the Patriot Act of 2001, could be bugged and listened to.
“He was placed on the list because of the speech at Bob Jones.” Bob Jones University had invited Henderson to speak when they learned of his fervent patriotism. However, the university was very embarrassed when Henderson suggested in his speech that the best way to change the direction of the country was revolution. After they were nice to his face and got him off campus as quickly as possible, they did their spin thing and tried to distance themselves from him. In the end, the university became extremely embarrassed because of the situation and retreated further into their fundamentalist solitude in order to stay away from the bad press.
After Henderson was placed on the list, the Patriots were on there too. Henderson could not travel without being under heavy surveillance. Not long after this, there was an assassination attempt on the South Carolina Governor’s life. The attempt was a failure and one of Henderson’s henchmen was seen nearby. Colombia police had arrested him and released him when they could not get enough evidence to arrest him. However, the sensed, and rightly so, that Henderson and the Patriots were behind the assassination attempt and they employed the help of the U.S. Government to help in the investigation. Henderson’s name came across my desk when I was asked to prepare a report on him and the Patriots. From my understanding of the case, the Colombia police almost had enough information to re-arrest Henderson’s henchmen and even Henderson himself and possibly other high-ranking members of the Patriots when the Pentagon bombing occurred.
“What else do you know?” one of the men asked. I prayed a quick prayer of help before I answered. “God,” I said in my prayer, “If you will help me out of this, I will start to pray again.”
“I will give you all the information you want, but I want one thing first,”
“What?” a man said gruffly.
“Please take off my hood so I can talk to you face to face.” There was a long pause and then I felt my hood being ripped off. At first, the light blinded me, but when my eyes adjusted I saw that I was in a room with simply a chair and a table. There were two men in the room with me. Both appeared to be blue-collar working guys.
“Are you guys with the Patriots?” I asked.
“Answer our question first,” they said. I related to them all that I knew. I seemed to have peace with revealing it. As I said it, I knew that no matter what happened, my career as a government lawyer was over. Even if I was never caught, I would never step foot inside a U.S. Government facility as an employee.
“Yes, we are with the Patriots, but we did not bomb the Pentagon.”
“Were you behind the gubernatorial assassination attempt?” I asked. One of the men looked at the other as if to ask if she should say it or not. “Go ahead and tell him, Dan. He’s already committed treason.”
Dan answered, “Yes, and it was the dumbest thing we’ve ever done. Henderson talked us into it. He said that the governor would never support succession and we needed to eliminate him.”
“Look guys, I’m on your side, really,” I said. “I hate the system, but assassination is not the answer. You’re just going to draw undue attention to yourselves.”
“What do you suggest then, lawyer boy?” the unidentified man said to me with sarcasm.
“Honestly, I don’t know, but you can’t murder someone. Maybe ya’ll were on the right path. If you don’t agree, succeed. But you can’t just go around killing people because they’re in your way.” The unidentified man hit me…hard. I fell back out of my chair. “Rex, man, what are you doing?” I heard Dan say.
“Stupid lawyer deserved it,” Rex said.
“Man, he just told us all we wanted to know, and you went and hit him. Now, he probably won’t tell us no more.”
“I will tell you all you want to know,” I said, “As long as you pick me up, put me back on the chair, and promise not to hit me again.”
Dan picked me back up and sat me upright. “Sorry, man,” he said.
“Don’t worry about it,” I responded.
“What do you know about the bombing?” Rex asked.
“Only that the government thinks the Patriots did it,” I said.
“Have they even looked at the possibility of anyone else?” Rex asked.
“I’m not sure they has time. Chaos broke out right after the bombing. And then the succession. They’ve been pretty busy trying to keep the country together.”
“I think we’re done with you, man,” Rex sneered. I did not know what that meant, but I really hoped that it did not mean the end of my life.
“Stay here,” Rex said. “If you try to leave, we will kill you.” Rex and Dan walked out the door.
I sat there and for the first time thought about my wife. What would she think when I didn’t come home? Is she ok? What time is it? I heard a vehicle start and speed away. Was it Rex and Dan leaving? Am I the only one here? I listened intently for what felt like an hour until I was sure there was no one else there. I began to rub the duct tape that my hands had been bound by on a sharp part of the chair that I had found. After just a few minutes, my hands were free. I unbound my feet and walked as silently as I could to the door. “Ok God,” I prayed, “Get me out of here and home to my wife and I will go to church again, I swear it.” I opened the door just a crack and peaked out. It was a warehouse, maybe more like a garage. When I finally made sure there was no one else there, I opened the door and walked out. Remembering my watch I glanced at it. 3:23pm. My cell phone was gone so I could not call her.
I ran down the street until I saw a church. Remembering my promise, I walked in the church. It was empty. I walked to the front of the church and the altar. It was then that the full weight of what had happened to me sank in. I could have died. I fell to my knees and began to pray yet again. “Oh God, I’ve wasted it!” I sobbed. Trying to collect myself, I looked up…and into the face of the very old picture of Christ that had been placed behind the pulpit of the church. “Jesus,” I said. “I remember you.”
I closed my eyes and drifted back to the tiny Baptist church that my family had attended when I was a child. I remembered my wrinkled, old, Sunday School teacher holding a well-used and worn Bible showing me how to receive Jesus as my Savior. “Do you believe?” she asked. “I believe,” I said.
“I believe,” I said again, out loud as I knelt at the altar. I collapsed into myself again, “Please save me, Jesus. I believe in you.”
As I collected myself, I got back on my feet. I was different. It was much different than my realization in the warehouse that I would never be a government lawyer again. I ran up the aisle and back out of the church. I hailed a cab and told him to get me home. I was going to get my wife and we were getting out of Virginia.
I arrived home to very relieved wife. She had heard about the kidnappings and she agreed after I relayed my warehouse story that we had to get out of town. We grabbed the sedan we drove, threw a few days worth of clothes in a bag and tried to leave the city. Apparently, we were not the only ones that had this idea. The expressways were packed. They were blocked going north because the city had been shut down. Everyone seemed to want to go south or west. I counted on south and I got off the expressway because they simply weren’t moving.
According to the one radio station that we could get, the Capitol building continued to burn and the rioting and looting continued in the city. North Carolina had decided to succeed while I was being held in the warehouse. As I drove along the secondary two-lane road, I reached over and grabbed my wife’s hand. “Honey, there’s something else I need to tell you about that happened to me between the warehouse and home…”