by J. Frederick
Gavin tried his best to contain his anxiety. Before him stood a pair of federal police, and they looked him up in down, judging him before Gavin had a chance to make his statement (or so it seemed to him). “Maybe I'm just being paranoid,” Gavin thought to himself, hoping to calm the very real sense of dread and fear that gripped him like an immense, crushing hand. They greeted him with a cold and intimidating stare. One was tall and muscular with angular features. The other was physically unexceptional, but had the unsettling demeanor of an obedient goon. Gavin thought it looked like that they were anxious for an excuse to bind him, capture him, and throw him in a holding cell where they would torture him to death. Again, Gavin tried to calm himself and counter his negative thoughts, though he knew deep down that this sort of thing happened all the time. He lost a good friend and coworker early on in his career as an information architect that way.
When Gavin began his work in information architecture in his mid 20's at the Trans-Atlantic Department of Media headquarters in Washington, he quickly made friends with a man named Fabio, who was born and raised in Spain, went to university at Cambridge, and like all information architects, began his career at the Washington headquarters. They shared interests in playing tennis, watching rugby, 20th century rock music, and drinking German lager. One day while waiting on the subway platform, a security squad rushed the two friends. Gavin was pinned and handcuffed, and while he lay face down on the ground with the wind still knocked out of him, he saw about a half dozen police, outfitted just like the security squad who had just killed the disruptive woman on the train he was currently on, viciously beat Fabio. Blood poured from his nose, his shattered arm flopped uselessly about as it was torn behind his back. He was thrown to the ground like a rag doll, and then a few of the officers kicked him in the ribs and groin. He was pulled up to his feet by his hair, and then tossed into the back of a motorized cart like a sack of potatoes. Gavin was released and never given an explanation for the incident, and it troubled him deeply. About a week later, he saw Fabio's face on the news, where he was described as a terrorist and had apparently been executed. Gavin never suspected Fabio to be one of those savages, bent on destroying western civilization in the name of their god, but as everyone was taught, one never knows. The terrorists “walk among us, undetected”, and citizens should remain forever vigilant. There was no need to fear, however, as the Federal government had the investigative resources to weed out the terrorist savages and would always find and kill them without hesitation, for the good of society. That was the first time Gavin questioned the judgment of the government, and no matter how mush he tried to put such a ridiculous notion out of his mind, it always remained, like a deep scar on his conscience. Fabio would have been the last person in the world to be connected with terrorism, Gavin thought.
“Mr. Huntsman,” began the lower ranking officer, “Please state your point of origin.”
“Chicago” Gavin answered.
The higher ranking officer nudged his comrade aside. “Pardon my interruption Lieutenant Steinberg.”
“Not a problem, Sgt. Colby.” replied Lt. Steinberg.
“Mr. Huntsman,” continued Colby, “I see here in your file that you were an associate of a Fabio Rodriguez. Do you remember him?”
Gavin's anxiety tighted it's grip, nearly stopping his heart. He kept the straightest face possible and answered: “Hmmm, I'm not sure. I don't think so.”
“It says here that you worked with him at the Department of Media in Washington.” remarked Colby.
“Oh, oh yeah! That guy. Yeah, I remember now. He just stopped coming to work, and next thing I know I see on the news that he was a terrorist. Well, it's a good thing they got him, huh?”
“Right. So you didn't associate with him outside of work?”
“No, not really. He met up with the rest of us guys from the office for a beer after work once in a while, but that was about it.”
“And he never discussed his political or religious beliefs with you?”
“No, never. Besides, if he ever brought it up, I would have told him that I wasn't interested. I could care less about those things, I'm more interested in football and going to the movies.” Gavin forced the most sincere chuckle he could muster.
“Right. So you're a football fan? What's you're team?”
Gavin sighed inwardly. His ruse had worked. “I'm a Steelers man” Gavin answered.
“Ah, you're old school!” Colby's mood had considerably brightened. “I'm a big fan of the London Knights myself.”
“Probably the best of the expansion teams.” added Gavin.
“You bet!” replied Colby. “Alright Mr. Huntsman, back to business. Lieutenant, please continue.” Lt. Steinberg continued with a relatively routine line of questions, including of course the highly personal matters of how many people Gavin was having sex with and what drugs he has ingested. Everything was routine until the final question.
“Alright, Mr. Huntsman, before I release you, I have one final question.”
“Go ahead,” replied Gavin.
“What was your relationship with Ms. Wheeler?”
“Excuse me?” Gavin was confused. The name seemed familiar, but he could not remember where he had heard it before, though he was sure he had heard it recently.
“Ms. Wheeler?” repeated Steinberg. “You know, the woman who had just been neutralized by the security squad for disruption?”
“Her? The screaming woman?” Gavin was dumbfounded.
“Yes sir. Your name was tagged in her file.”
“I... I... I don't know.” Gavin's stomach began churning. Terror began to slither its icy tendrils up his spine, right through his torso and into his heart. Wild thoughts of what was coming next began to flood his mind. Did they think he was a terrorist? Were they going to arrest him? Make him disappear?
“It says here that she consulted you on a project at the D.o.M. Office in Chicago where you currently work.” Steinberg stared at Gavin, with a single eyebrow raised, awaiting his explanation.
“Hmmm, the last time I worked with a consultant was last September. It was a project dealing with a Patriot Day commemoration” Gavin raised his eyes to meet Lt. Steinberg, at this point unable to hide the worry from his face. Steinberg nodded, as if to imply that Gavin should continue. “Uh, I remember working with a woman from the Freedom Project Foundation. She insisted that I call her by her first name, so I don't remember her last.”
“What was her first name?”
“Ms. Wheeler's first name was Deborah, Mr. Huntsman.”
“But Deborah was younger” countered Gavin. They could not have been the same woman, he thought.
“Was she brunette, with green eyes, about five feet, six inches in height, approximately 130 pounds?”
“Yeah, I guess she was. But that woman looked old, she was... just not right. And the way she screamed... Deborah didn't sound like that.”
“A lot can change in nine months, Mr. Huntsman. Drug abuse, exposure to chemical agents, injuries, they can all change someone's appearance. But you are sure you did not speak with her the whole time you were on the train?”
“Did she approach you?”
Lt. Steinberg stared skeptically at Gavin for what seemed like an eternity. Gavin's heart pounded in his chest, as he expected the security squad to swoop in and arrest him at any moment. Steinberg finally reached into his breast pocket and extracted a plastic card with a hologram and a dot matrix code bar upon it. “My card, Mr. Huntsman. You can use it to contact me instantly, should you remember anything.”
Gavin slowly took the card, bewildered.
“You are free to go” said the lieutenant. He motioned towards the exit door on the bullet train. Gavin walked out in a fog of confusion.