Elder, p.1Patrick Mehfoud
Copyright 2012 by John Mehfoud
From the third floor window of the tiny one bedroom flat the city looked much as it always had. The gray feeling of this place was highlighted by the slow dampening drizzle that fell upon the worn tin roofs, patched too many times with tar and rusted nails. Row upon row of small houses slowly melting into the larger warehouse district and then into the port, and beyond that the ocean and clouds that swept the waters of the gray-green sea. The old man sat by the window in the small alcove eating toast and sipping weak coffee.
The chair he sat in creaked on the old yellow pine plank floor. A tiny crack ran down the pain of glass as the rain pattered against it. It was not the fierce rain of spring or late winter, rather the soothing rain of mid autumn, come in from the ocean. A few bits of bacon and seeds from an orange were all that was left to tell the tale of his meal. The small porcelain cup sat upon its plate, empty now of its contents. The old man stood, stooped from years of hard work, and harder living. Walking over the sink he carefully placed the dirty dishes into the water. "I'll deal with them later," he muttered into the air, but there was no one to hear him anymore. His home had been an empty place for years, and only the yellow tabby looked up from the worn sofa back, yawned and went back to sleeping.
His whole life he felt like he had been waiting for something, and tonight staring out the window of his room the weight of the moment seemed to press him from all sides. Time was running out. The world was changing faster than anyone ever thought it would, and yet for him, every day seemed the same. The TV screen across the room flashed images from around the country onto the wall behind him. It seemed nothing on the news was good.
Every day had brought massive social change for far too long. Can you explain why things are the way they are? He pondered. We can never understand the changes that society must undergo. Has this been the collapse or the evolution of my world? Nothing seemed the same as when he was a child. Everything was different now. The people were colder—fear seemed to permeate everything. And the men on television promised hope and shared prosperity, but the people felt only fear. How can you live in a world ruled by those that promise hope but deliver fear? It was the swiftness of the change that had taken the world by surprise. He never thought it could happen so fast: the pendulum swings but it should never have made such wild movements. Like a drunk driver trying to make it back onto the road politics went from right to left in such massive swings that no one could regain control. The foot of the people had been taken off the pedal of political power, replaced by the boot of the omnipotent state. What had once been the most powerful nation on earth had been brought low by what amounted to cheap advertising. Even the wars could not have done as much as the damned advertising. It had taken a hundred years to bring the strongest people on earth to their knees but it had been done.
The leaders had become antichrist, and who could wage war against them?
Every indignation had been piled on the people and they had taken each fresh offense, born them all like beasts of burden. That vilest and most impregnable of motivations, the common good, had taken every semblance of dignity from the people. It turned citizens into beggars at the altar of government—forced to plead with bureaucracy to give them breadcrumbs.
What a pathetic people we have become, he thought. Brought low by our greed. Why had it come to this? Remembering back to the days of his youth Levin recalled that it had not always been so. When he was a young man the world had been full of light, and there was nothing that he had lacked. Now it seemed that a cold had settled in on the thoughts of men. A chill that perplexed the mind and coarsened the thoughts. These ruminations are too much for an old man, Levin told himself. I’ve seen too many things, and grown gray with years.
Levin arrived at his shop at 9 a.m. as was his custom. It was only a short walk from his home, and no matter the weather he made the trek by foot. It was a tiny building that felt almost as if it had been squeezed into an alleyway. Worn red brick fronted the building and a large glass window let in the afternoon light. The light always made the place look gloomier; it seemed as if it magnified the dust upon the shelves.
His shop was a world of books, old and unused. They sat, silent mementos to the past that had now drifted imperceptibly out of reach. The history of the world was at your fingertips if you but took the time to stop and read it. But no one cared. People wanted to read smut, they cared nothing for the classics, or what remained of them. The tabloids dripped of scandal and propaganda, they contained little in the way of news, and less still anything even mildly edifying. If anyone stopped in his store that was all they asked for, and when Levin informed them he didn’t have, they simply left.
From time to groups of wandering youths drifted past Levin’s shop. The free public education had rendered them practically illiterate, but even if they could none of them would have cared to read. They were almost all happily unemployed though a combination of weak economy and their own sense of entitlement. Levin feared them. They were arrogant and prone to violence in defense of what they called "their privileges". They spent most of their time casually using drugs, attending New National Party rallies promising hope, and rioting.
Many times Levin had thought of closing this place, but it was his sanctuary, the only place left that felt like home anymore. His wife had been an avid reader and collector of books, the shop had been hers when they met, and after her death it kept him connected to her, if in memory only. Old age was starting to take its toll, and he knew that it was only an issue of time now before he would have to close this place for good.
A dark hardwood desk served as the shop’s counter, and behind it sat a leather backed chair. Levin set to work mending the cover of an old bound book. What a shame it was that no one took the time to make books in such a manner any more, he thought. Then again, what had been written that anyone would take the trouble to bind it like this? All rubbish, not a damn thing worth the paper it took to print.
He flicked on the tiny television, and pondered how strange it was for a man who made his living of selling books that he watched television. Even more strange that he continued to watch it and it was just so bad. A talking head was droning on about the uptick in production on non-durable goods. It was all well and good, Levin thought, but it made no practical difference to him. Things where always scarce and in short supply. No matter how much was promised, nothing was delivered but vapid words and empty statistics.
In truth the news was never good, and had been so for a long time. Ever since the Great War the nation had known nothing but trouble. Things had gone from bad to worse from those days on. Levin had been a young man at the time, conscripted into the service of the People’s Liberation Army. It had been a glorious thing, total war. But glory is not for the small men of history, only the great, the leaders of men and nations. For the generation that fought and died, there was no glory, only fading memories of a life where things mattered. So few of the older generation remained now, the story of what had happened was disappearing into the haze of political expediency and tin pot patriotism. So much of Levin's life had been defined by the events that had taken place some fifty years before. It had not even truly been the war that had changed things; rather it was the catalyst for the change that was to come.
The world had gone silent now. The great struggles over and done. It was safer now than it had been during the period after the Great War. The nation had been in ruins! Never had such things happened on our soil before. The country had been broken by a titanic struggle, and the people revolted. Like oxen forced to carry a burden to great, they rose up briefly, and then stopped fighting, spent of will to resist. Those that took power from the
Poverty was a thing of the past, they said, and after all everyone had a home. Everyone worked. Schools had plenty of funding to educate their bastard children. Who was a common man to argue with such a preponderance of evident truth? Wasn’t it all around him? The greatness of the state. Sadly that was the torment. For, being an old man, he knew what the world had once been. He kept silent. There was no one to hear such things. Besides, it was dangerous to disparage the prosperity of this new people’s government. Levin had known many from the old world that had gone against the New Nationalism; none had survived. Now such things where in the past, those that knew did not speak, and those who did not hear forgot. So in time there was an eclipse of the mind, and old things went down into memory, then into dust, as one by one those who knew passed from this life, taking with them the wisdom of the world before.
Those who had spoken out were the first ones to be put against the wall and shot. There had been a time when death squads roamed the streets looking for subversives. Bands of hastily deputized thugs drunk with their new power looked to enforce the edicts of the New Nationalism. Many of them had been little more than street gangs before, given nothing other than an armband and the promise of money, homes, women, boys or worse. They were cruel and petty. They were called Black Sleeves, and if you saw them you did not hide, you ran. They had been merely a tool to spread the fear. Once they had done this they too had been stomped out. The ones that people feared the most had been the Enforcers. These true police of the state acted with impunity. They had been the ones to destroy the Black Sleeves when their usefulness was done, and they did it with brutal efficacy. Against them there was no resistance. No one could be left who might stand against the state, even if they had been allies in its rise.
The great purges had dealt a cruel blow to the older generation. In a nation of some tens of millions the remnants of the older generation might now number only a hundred thousand or so. The few who remained lived mostly in the shadows, in a vast ruin of memory and time.
The old clock on the wall struck noon. It was time to close the shop for an hour or so and head to the local pub for lunch. It was two blocks from his shop to Bailey’s. The food was bad and the beer was cheap. Alcohol seemed to be the only commodity not in short supply anymore.
Jasper was sitting in his normal booth by the window. Levin came in and sat down across from him. "How are you doing my friend?" A terse look upon his sun weathered face. "Fine as can be these days I suppose." Both men paused as a waitress brought Levin a glass of tea in an old tin mug. There was no sugar. That was in short supply currently, so instead Levin squeezed in a lemon. "I just don’t understand these commodities. No sugar this week but we have lemons, makes no sense." "Few things do anymore, Jasper, and I’ve found that it’s better not to try and make them so. The world lost its head a long time ago, and I guess me with it."
A while later they got up to leave. Levin reached into his pocket and pulled out a few small well worn copper coins to pay the waitress. On the face of the coin, just above the Great Seal of the New Republic, that noble symbol of the people, it read in tiny lettering, Liberty, Equality, Fraternity.
In truth he had expected them to come for years. That was the problem with having a past: you never knew when it would catch up to you. The men came into the shop clad in black. They made little noise and moved swiftly to take Levin in hand. They did not introduce themselves by name or occupation. No introduction was needed; they were Enforcers. "Are you Jacob Levin?"
To this he replied only, "Yes." Nothing more need to have been spoken. His fate was sealed as he knew it had always been. What surprised him most was that it had taken them so long to finally arrest him. It was as though they had been saving him for a time when political expediency required a diversion. He knew what would happen now.
The ride to the State Enforcement Complex was fast as little traffic moved through the streets this time of day, at any time of day, in fact, and if there had been any, they would have made sure to keep clear of the armored cars that sped down the winding streets.
The place that Levin was to be taken sat on the far southern end of the city. Situated on a peninsula, it consisted of a collection of large imposing buildings, windowless and ringed in fences, surrounded by swamps. It was a place from which few ever came back. No one had ever escaped the Enforcers to tell the tale, yet it was common knowledge what your fate was once you fell into their hands. Death was inevitable but that was not what scared you so much. It was what they would do to you once they had you that horrified. Torture was by no means their only option: entire towns had disappeared behind the walls of this place. It was the thing that nightmares had been made of.
Inside he was led into a small office, not the usual holding cell for prisoners. Across the room sat a small statured man. He stood to greet Levin, "I’ve waited to see you a long time, although now I think, I am in your position." A sly smile cut across his thin lips.
"Rutherford, you smug little piss ant, I should have known it was you they would have sent for me." A look of pity more than anger grew upon his tired face. "It’s been a long time, hasn’t it Levin?" Rutherford said as he looked beyond Levin to the guards in the hall, gesturing them to leave the two men alone. "Not nearly long enough, I should have had you shot when I had the chance." At this Rutherford smiled even more than before. "Why yes you should have, but it seems now the pleasure is going to be all mine, and I assure you I won’t be making the same mistake." Rutherford sat back down, turning once again to his papers, and paged the guards back in. As they took Levin from the room he turned and said, "I hope you don’t." The door shut behind him and the two stern-faced men beside him took him down the hall to the holding cells.
What was coming was going to be standard procedure. A good beating followed by a few more. Then a confession of all crimes was to be signed, followed by another beating. It was not personal, just business as usual. For the most part the guards did not care why you had been arrested. They beat you until you signed the paper that had been sent down with you. Most if time they didn’t even bother to read the confessions they forced you to sign. This place was peopled by men who delighted in cruelty and depravity of every sort. It was a prerequisite. The cell contained a plain metal folding chair, a sheet-metal table and a dim, energy-efficient fluorescent light bulb hanging from the ceiling. They pushed Levin into the chair and handcuffed him to it.
Levin knew there would be none of the fancy torture tools the movies showed the People’s Liberation Army using against their enemies. As he expected, there was a piece of metal pipe, a baseball bat, a length of rubber tubing, bolt cutters, and an old car battery hooked up to a charger by jumper cables. He himself had delivered men to the same fate he now faced.
He looked up at the guards. "A battery, eh?" he said bravely, giving a ghastly grimace that was supposed to be a smile. In this egalitarian modernity electricity was outrageously expensive and every day they were enjoined to conserve it for the good of the environment. "Using valuable, regulated electricity on me? Rutherford is sparing no expense."
An officer entered and the two guards stood back. His uniform was neat and pressed, more fitted for the parade ground than the interrogation room. From a manila folder he produced three pages stapled together, scanned the first one, and looked from Levin to the guards. "Is this Peter Harrison, the accountant accused of sabotaging the financial records of the postal system?" Levin felt a flash of pity. Peter Harrison had probably merely offended a superior or accidentally typed a 1 when he meant to type a 2.
"I don’t know sir," the shorter guard replied. "I was told to bring this
"Peter Harrison is supposed to be in room 2B," the officer said with a shrug, then turned his blank stare at Levin. "You must be Peter Harrison."
"My name is Levin. I’m not Peter. I’m accused of resisting the will of the people during the Great War," Levin managed. "There must be a mistake in room assignments."
"Ah! So you say you’re not Peter?" a glint came into the man’s eyes.
"Yes," Levin knew there was no reason to attempt to prolong his life. If he was going to face the wrath of the people, it may as well be for the real crimes. "Ah! Our first confession is required," the officer leered as reached for the bat.
The mistake in cell assignments was soon sorted out after a series of tortured-induced confessions and torture-induced recantations on both Levin’s and Harrison’s parts. To avoid looking foolish, the interrogating officer had the clerk who had made the room assignments summarily arrested and imprisoned for impeding the righteous justice of the people. Levin did not fail to notice the black comedy inherent in the situation.
Sitting inside his cell that first night it was hard for him not to imagine the fate that awaited him. Levin knew the drill far too well. Over fifty years ago he had been in charge of an agency much like this one. The thoughts of what he had done often haunted the old man. And alone tonight, inside this place, he couldn’t shake the feeling that this was a fitting end for him. How many men had he sent to their deaths?
It had been during the time of the Great Revolution as the old nation was slowly slipping into chaos that Levin had pushed the boundaries of modern ethics. For certain he had ordered bombings and executions. That was widely known then. It was the other things that bothered him tonight. How many families had he torn apart needlessly? It had been a common practice then to imprison or execute an entire family for the crimes of one individual. It had been the only way to punish the suicide bombers that had wreaked havoc on the rail system.
Elder by Patrick Mehfoud / Thrillers & Crime have rating 1.9 out of 5 / Based on31 votes