Fiction Friday: TG #2

            I kept training and searching for you. I figured out how to buy things off the grid; mostly stealing from drug dealers and gangs. If I bought anything, I used cash, to avoid a digital paper trail. Fighting criminals provided great experience, but it didn’t aid me finding you.
            The new administration pushed their anti-immigrant and anti-homosexual agenda. Despite all the efforts to prevent it, the government deported people back to their homeland, or at least neighboring countries. After a few months, the administration decided their efforts needed to be more extreme, so they built camps to hold anyone they deemed a criminal. And who thought up this dehumanizing scheme? The politician turned dictator. Ronald Teagun. The Tommy Gun. By this point, the government silenced or eliminated any agencies that challenged them. The government discredited the honest news sources, so only the ones supporting the administration still circulated their version of the news.
            The Arabic citizens got thrown into the internment camps first. Homosexuals soon followed. I worried they sent you to one of these camps and several popped up all over the country.
            Searching for you became a huge task to undertake. I spent months getting in shape and learning at least enough to defend myself without fighting someone. I familiarized myself with restraining people until the police arrived, but with the things I planned, the police wouldn’t help me.
            The team of lawyers continued trying to get any information about you or the other airline passengers. I sent them the information I got from Peterson anonymously, but they hit another wall at the county prison. They claimed to have no records of any airline detainees and they didn’t have enough information to get a judge to sign off on a warrant. I believe the lawyers exhausted their best efforts, but the system kept working against them.
            I thought the county Sheriff would know of any special prisoners at the county prison. I knew I would need to get information the way I did before; the illegal method. For a moment, I considered what you would think of my illegal activities. I decided the ends justified the means. I felt I needed more protection to question the county sheriff; like Kevlar protection. I had to get it without it being traced back; off the grid. I asked around some firing ranges. Many required shooters to wear Kevlar, so I said I wanted to buy my own. They offered to sell me a used Kevlar. I wanted a new vest. This felt easier, but I couldn’t purchase one without using my name, so I took the firing range’s offer. They happily accepted and didn’t keep records. They wanted an excuse to buy new vests.
            I knew it wouldn’t be easy to interrogate the sheriff. I spent a little more time getting information. One can learn a lot about people on the internet. To the public, Joe Kennedy acted like a good man and got re-elected several times. His children had grown and lived out of state, so I only had to worry about his wife.
            Dealing with Sheriff Kennedy proved easier than expected. By the second day of following him learning his habits, I saw an opportunity to gain leverage. He drove to a motel. He knocked on a door and a woman greeted him with a big hug. I took pictures of everything. He stayed there for two hours. When he finally walked out, the woman wore a bathrobe as he buttoned his shirt with a loose tie around his neck. I took more pictures. He drove home and ate dinner with his wife.
            I sent a letter with one photo telling him to meet me at an old warehouse to get the other pictures. I wore my vest and mask.
            “What do you want?” Kennedy said.
            “Information. The airline detainees. Where were they taken?”
            “They stayed at the county jail for a couple days and then some feds picked them up.”
            “Where did they take them?”
            “They only told me they were being taken to a classified holding facility. They didn’t say where and I didn’t ask.”
            “Anything else?”
            “No one said, but I got the impression they weren’t getting due process.”
            “You figure that out all by yourself?” I said.
            “I cooperated so I wouldn’t lose my job. That’s why I’m here.”
            “You should worry about losing your wife, but your secret is safe with me.”
            “How do I know you won’t go public?”
            “I’d lose my leverage if I did. I may have use for you later.”
            Kennedy stormed off. The meeting went easier than I expected.
            The camps were running for a few months by the time the public heard about them. I hoped they hadn’t put you in one of these camps. They had only one camp in our state so that felt like the logical place they would take you. Only one road lead to the camp with several checkpoints along the way.
            I’d have to climb the fence to get in and I didn’t know how to tell the buildings apart. I assumed the worst. I thought they would have cameras, motion sensors, or even an electrified fence. I prepared myself for everything. I planned to set explosives on a timer to use as a distraction. If I couldn’t go in quietly, I’d make twice as much noise to keep the guards away from me. I expected the worst.
            I walked almost a mile in the dark to avoid the road to the camp. A sign said they monitor the area with aircraft, but I saw nothing in the sky. They didn’t have electrified fences or motion sensors. They had pivoting cameras attached to the fences. These were easy to avoid. Bolt cutters helped me get through the fence. I had to observe the place for a couple days to learn what the buildings might be and the guard schedule. I got the information I needed, but I had to lie on the ground and not move for several hours. When I tried to leave, I could barely move. I returned the next night to observe the camp from another angle and to confirm information.
            They split the prisoners into two groups and put them into two different buildings. I couldn’t see any reason for the separation other than lack of space. The buildings sat next to each other, but I needed time to get into each one. I couldn’t see what kind of locks the buildings had because of the distance, but I planned to have small explosives and bolt cutters anyway, so I didn’t think I would have trouble. I didn’t know how to distract the guards, so I could get all the people out. 
            A simple plan; sneak in, take out the couple roaming guards, take out the guards by the prisoner buildings, get the prisoners out, and then run like Hell. Too easy. I expected everything to go wrong.
            I arrived later than planned. Not really an issue, but it put me in a bad mood. I hid underneath one of the rotating cameras giving me time to cut the fence. If something went wrong, I planned to leave this way too. The camp had many lights. This made it difficult to stay in the shadows. I took down one guard, but I had few options to hide the body. If I could get to the other roaming guard before he noticed the body, I’d be okay. The other guard turned the corner and never saw me coming. I had two guards down and only two more to go. 
            I waited to take down the two guards at the prison buildings when I saw another roaming guard. They didn’t have three guards before. I ran to take him out before he noticed the unconscious guards. Before I could, the alarm sounded.
            Stealth didn’t matter anymore. I ran back to the prisoners and knocked out the guards. The doors on the building had a keypad on the handle. I had no time to play with numbers. I knocked the door knob loose with my bolt cutters. This took longer than I expected. The prisoners looked surprised someone broke open the door. They didn’t think to leave.
            “RUN!”
            The guards came towards us as I lead everyone to the nearest fence. The explosives made a nice hole for everyone to run through, but there were too many people. The guards would catch some of them. I took a chance and set my last explosive on one building. When the guards got close, pieces of building fell on them. I hoped it would give everyone enough time to escape, but I’d never know if I killed anyone. The prisoners scattered and ran to the nearest road. I never saw you among them. Where are you, Sasha?
            If you were there and escaped, I would have heard from you after a couple days. Word never came, and I learned the camp reopened after only a week. This disappointed me, but they never caught the escaped prisoners. I did something good, but I never found you. I knew I’d have to break into another camp, but not the same one. Not soon at least. I planned to always destroy the entire camp, so they couldn’t reopen. That required more money and more information; definitely more explosives.
            I had to travel out of state to get to the next internment camp. This alone made the task more difficult. Despite the dictatorship regulating information, everyone knew the location of the camps. The government wanted people to turn in their friends and relatives. I had no trouble finding the camp but getting there undetected wouldn’t be easy. Any kind of travel got regulated and monitored. The government had checkpoints on state border lines of every major interstate and most highways. This required a lot of armed guards and there were too many roads. They installed cameras on some roads, but the process took several months. Several of the highways were still unmonitored. I knew this would change within six months, so I used the opportunity. I drove where I needed to go, but I had to make sure I didn’t leave a paper trail. I made cash purchases, stayed on the poorer side of town, and no vigilantism before getting to the camp.
            The second camp rested near the city. I could stand on top of buildings and survey the camp with binoculars. I knew no one in the city and didn’t know where I could hide if I needed to. Everyone in the city acted paranoid. They suspected anyone and everyone. The clerk at the hotel I checked into never stopped asking questions. I planned for this and had a fake ID prepared.
            “What are you in town for?” The clerk said.
            “Business.”
            “What kind of business?”
            “Circuit board manufacturing.”
            “Circuit boards?”
            “For computers.”
            “Oh, yeah, yeah. You travel a lot? I bet your wife hates that.”
            “Not too often. Just once a month. I make sure I’m never home long enough for her to get sick of me.”
            The clerk laughed. He relaxed. He noticed the ring on my finger. I wore it as part of my cover. I had no trouble with the clerk for the rest of my time there.
            I saw the camp from the hotel roof. I had a thousand-millimeter camera lens. I set this up to look like I took pictures of the moon. Before the country lost its mind, you might remember my early photography and since art remained legal, and I thought it would become illegal, I used this to my advantage. 
            I heard someone open the door to the roof. I hid my notebook and binoculars in my bag.
            “You can’t be up here.”
            The hotel security guard said. He wore a red shirt and his keys jingled.
            “Sorry about that. I’ll pack my stuff up. The door was open, so I thought it was okay.” I said.
            “Yeah, the A/C guy probably left it open. Is that a camera?”
            “Yeah, I got some nice shots of the moon. There’s a few of the sunset too.”
            I showed him the pictures which put him at ease. He appreciated them.
            “My sister has that same camera, but she mostly does portraits.” He said.
            “That’s how I started but then I got other lenses and tried different things.”
            “Well, look, I gotta have you go down tonight but if you want to come up here tomorrow, just let me know. I’m Robert.”
            “I appreciate that. Let me see how these pictures turned out and I’ll let you know if I need more.”
            Sometimes just being friendly gets you more than you ever hoped. After reviewing my notes, I felt I had enough to get started. I needed to look at the camp up close. I had to differentiate the buildings. I thought I could drive over, but there wouldn’t be much for me to do. With it being close to the city, someone would see me.
            I wanted to keep a solid relationship with the security guard, so I got two photos printed for him. And then lady luck blessed me with the best news. I phished for information and got so much more.
            “Hey Robert, what’s that big place with the lights outside the city? It looks like an airport or something.”
            “Oh, that’s the criminal internment camp. The city’s very proud because the crime rate dropped after it opened. They give tours every Thursday.”
            “Really? Have you gone on the tour?”
            “No, but I heard it’s a whole new way to rehabilitate people. It’s really organized.”
            “That sounds interesting. I should check that out. Today’s Tuesday, right?”
            “Yep. Next tour is in two days.”
            “Thanks Robert. I’ll bring you another photo tomorrow.”
            Who knew they gave tours? I could get all the information I needed in just one visit. I felt confident this would be a more successful operation than the first one. I wondered if you were there; if I’d see you.
            The tour went better than expected. I saw all the things I needed to and all the other people asked questions I wanted to ask. We didn’t go near the prisoner buildings, but the guards told us where they were. I spent a couple more days planning and gaining any gear I needed. I checked out of the hotel, so I could go straight home after I completed the mission. I’d be across the state line before they blocked off the roads.
            The guard shift changes started at ten in the evening. There were fewer cameras and the shift change had fewer roaming guards by the fences. I got in quickly and I put explosive charges on some buildings as I moved quietly to the prisoner buildings. I didn’t have enough explosives for every building, so I had to choose carefully. I easily picked the door locks, and I saw people in individual cells. Most of them slept. I heard a voice to my right.
            “You finally get my coffee, Mick? I’m falling asleep over here.” The guard said.
            He watched a small television with his feet propped on the table. He faced away from me. I knocked him out and took his keys. I opened each cell one at a time and they each required a different key. Thankfully, they labeled the keys. I went back to the door after I had one prisoner open the rest when another guard entered the building.
            “Mick said you needed coffee, Steve, so I brought… What the hell!?”
            I hit him before he could get his firearm then I threw his head against the wall and knocked him out. Once all the prisoners were ready to run, I hit the alarm and told them which part of the fence to run towards. The alarm got everyone out of the buildings, even the guards. I blew the charges on the buildings when the prisoners got to the fence. This disoriented the guards and gave us more time to escape.
            I ran back to my car as the prisoners’ scattered. I heard the news on the radio say terrorists infiltrated the camp.
            “The terrorists damaged the facility so heavily, it will be several months before they can reopen the prison.”
            I never understood why they needed such a huge place for a few prisoners. Sadly, you weren’t among them. It took several hours to get to the next camp. That one didn’t have a tour, but I planned things without too much trouble. I hoped the mission would go smoothly. Long story short… I got caught. Someone knocked me out after I snuck into the prisoner building. I never saw who hit me and everything went black.

An excerpt from the novella The Tommy Gun.

Free eBook Fridays: April

On our next installment of Free eBook Fridays, we feature my most recent collection of poetry “Men Are Garbage”. This book has several personal stories and a few fun poems. Today only, until midnight, the eBook is available for a free download. Once a month I offer one of my eBooks for free in the hopes that those who download it will read it and write a review on either Amazon or Goodreads. Reviews are not mandatory, but an honest review will help promote my works and are greatly appreciated. Get your free copy before the promotion ends. Download Here.

Most of the poetry in this book I wrote within about a week. I would call it extreme inspiration or an emotional rage, but perhaps it was a little of both. I hope, in some small way, this collection will help the world. I never thought I would write poetry this much again, but I felt more passion behind this project than many of my other projects. I feel I finally found my voice when writing these poems and that voice has continued into more poetry which I hope to publish later this year. 

I also sent this collection to the Pulitzer Prize committee for their award in Verse. I did/did not win. My main thought at the time, “I’m doing it to say that I did it.” Winning never crossed my mind. After sending copies of the book to the Pulitzer, I discovered a typographical error in one of the poem titles and my heart sank. I have since fixed the error and changed the cover, but my pride is still hurt.

James Pack examines masculinity and anxiety in “Men Are Garbage,” a book of poetry in which he reflects on childhood trauma and his time as a nightclub bouncer.

Fiction Friday: Ceres

Ceres, a fast, little schooner with an exciting history, received her first commission in 1807 as a merchant ship. With a compliment of forty, including the Captain, Mates, and seamen she made several trips across the Atlantic. The official manifests always listed her cargo as different types of food and drink but on occasion she had humans restrained within her to be sold into slavery. During the War of 1812, she transformed into a war ship but only encountered two battles with British vessels. After considerable damage, she returned to the sea, rebuilt, as a merchant vessel.

Ten years since her first commission, Ceres fell under the command of the privateer Captain Edward Pike. His own country called him a privateer while others named him a pirate. The truth, he took any job that would pay whether legitimate or other. He experienced more horrors of the sea than most other captains, but his skills would be tested after finding an abandoned ship in the middle of the Caribbean Sea.

Captain Pike acted unusual compared to most captains. He chose a woman as his first officer, Ms. Maria Copeland. Years ago, some men fell prey to their primal urges with her on their ship. 

“Step back or I’ll remove your little tool you’re so eager to use.” She said.

“And I’ll help her.” The first mate said.

That first mate became Captain Pike. Several crewman and sailors received the same threats. Even after her commission, many men would not take orders from a woman. Those defiant sailors learned Ms. Copeland always followed through with her promised threats. The current crew respected her as much as the Captain. She gave her respect in return.

Captain Pike called Ms. Copeland to his chambers as they approached the motionless vessel.

“Arrange a boarding party with two men from our crew and a couple of our passengers. Have them look for supplies.” Captain Pike said.

“Aye, Sir. Mr. Burn and Mr. Gibbs have a good rapport with the passengers.” She said.

“Thank you, Ms. Copeland. And if the passengers complain, remind them we allowed them on board at lower than standard pay.” He said.

“Aye, Sir.”

Maria Copeland, nearly as tall as any man on the ship and twice as mean, spent many years earning her place on every ship she sailed. Captain Pike remained the only man to show her kindness. He saved her life on many sea voyages and she repaid the favor a few times. Mystery and secrecy surrounded the story of how Ms. Copeland and Captain Pike met.

“He pulled me out of the ocean many years ago.”

Ms. Copeland never said more. She would never turn down an opportunity to tell anyone about a past adventure, but she never spoke about her life before meeting Captain Pike. Many would ask but the Captain would always give the same answer.

“Her life is her business and none of yours.”

Most of their current crew sailed with them long enough to know not to pry into the past. They had heard many others try.

“Won’t you tell us of the first adventure you and Ms. Copeland embarked on?”

“You’re not to be fraternizing with the officers, boy.”

“Mr. Burn. Mr. Gibbs. The Captain wants you to take a couple passengers and search the ship. See if anything can be salvaged.” Ms. Copeland said.

“Aye, Ma’am.” Mr. Gibbs said.

“I know two passengers who will help. They’re good men.” Mr. Burn said.

Jimmy Gibbs sailed since he could climb onto a boat. As the ship’s Boatswain and Quartermaster, and as the oldest crew member, he knew every inch of the boat and how best to operate it.

“Beggin’ your pardon Captain but a bowline knot is best to tie this off.”

“Very good, Mr. Gibbs. See that it’s done.”

“Aye, Sir.”

Joseph Burn found freedom on the sea as a runaway slave. He always found work on ships as a skilled carpenter. Ship’s carpenters often became surgeons since they had the necessary tools, but Mr. Burn worked for a surgeon in his youth and knew more than the average seaman. His race prevented him for ever going to medical school, but the surgeon taught him well.

“You may never be free Joseph, but you will be valuable to any man with these skills I’ve taught you. Do not waste them.”

“Yes, Sir. I’ll help people no matter their color.”

“Good Lad.”

The surgeon died, and his family sold Mr. Burn. He did not see kindness again until he met Captain Pike years later.

Several Freedmen from Florida traveled on the ship and Mr. Burn had befriended them. If he asked he knew they would help search the abandoned ship.

“George. Peter. I’d like to ask a favor.” Mr. Burn said.

“Whatever it is, we’ll do it. You and your Captain helped us escape the war. We’re forever in your debt.” George said.

“We need help searching the abandoned ship. You really don’t mind?”

“Of course not. We owe you. I’d rather be dead than go back to that country.” Peter said.

“They call it the United States but we’re not all united.” George said.

“On this ship we are united.” Mr. Burn said.

They followed simple orders; search for the crew, search for food and water, and search for anything salvageable to be used for the ship. If still intact, they could tow the ship back to port.

“I’ll check the hold for supplies. I’ll know better than you boys of what can be salvaged. Peter, check the Captain’s Cabin. George, check the Forecastle. Mr. Burn, with me.” Mr. Gibbs said.

“Check the what?” George said.

“Crew quarters. Front of the ship. That door.” Mr. Burn said.

“Savvy?” Mr. Gibbs said.

“Yes, Sir.” George and Peter said.

Mr. Gibbs and Mr. Burn climbed down the hatch to the hold. Mr. Burn lit a lantern hanging next to the hatch ladder.

“What’s that smell? Rotting flesh?” Mr. Burn said.

“All the barrels are empty. Another ship may have cleared it out.” Mr. Gibbs said.

They walked towards the stern in the damp darkness. The smell grew stronger.

“There’s your rotting flesh; human remains.” Mr. Gibbs said.

Mostly skeletons lay around the hold, but some still had flesh rotting away.

“See the chains. This was a slave ship. They must’ve starved to death. You think the crew abandoned the ship?” Mr. Burn said.

“Let’s check the Captain’s Log.” Mr. Gibbs said.

“AHH!”

“That sounds like Peter.” Mr. Burn said.

“What’s going on!?” George said.

“Help me!”

Peter stumbled out holding his neck. He struggled to Ceres wet with crimson.

“What’s going on!?” Ms. Copeland said.

“I don’t know.” Mr. Gibbs said.

The rest of the crew huddled around Peter.

“Were you attacked?”

Captain Pike pushed through the crowd to the bleeding man.

“What happened?”

“We don’t know. We were below deck, Sir. He was in the Captain’s Cabin.” Mr. Burn said.

“Tell me who did this.” Captain Pike said.

Peter struggled for words but only gasped for air. He fell, motionless as blood gurgled from his mouth.

“Ms. Copeland.”

“Aye, Sir.”

“Have the body prepared. Allow those who desire to pay their respects then release it to the ocean. No one boards the other ship until I say.”

“Aye, Sir.”

“Mr. Gibbs. Mr. Burn. Was anything found in the hold?”

“Only bodies, Sir.” Mr. Gibbs said.

“Two from our crew and two from the passengers on watch all night. Make the arrangements, Mr. Gibbs.”

“Aye, Sir.”

Peter received a brief and solemn service. They tossed his body overboard as the Sun began to set. 

“I heard a ghost killed him and that’s why the old crew abandoned ship.” One passenger said.

“No, he fell onto a broken board. I saw the gash in his neck.” George said.

“He had bite marks on his neck.”

“Oh, shut up, Sarah, you’re always sayin’ things that ain’t true.”

“It’s true. I saw it. So, did she.”

“I did.”

“You’re both pulling my leg.” George said.

“All rifles and pistols are to be loaded and all swords and knives to be sharpened before supper.” Captain Pike said.

The passengers and crew grew anxious. Only Ms. Copeland and Captain Pike knew what evil lay ahead. 

“How many do you expect to lose, Sir.” Ms. Copeland said.

“Most of the passengers I suspect. We have a solid crew. I think they’ll manage.” Captain Pike said.

“How many do you think there are?”

“One or two. Three if Peter rises tonight.”

“He will.”

“I know. He won’t understand what’s happening. I doubt he’ll remember dying. Wake me when it starts.”

“Aye, Sir. I put your sword by the bedside.”

“Thank you, Maria. Stay alive.”

“I always do. I fought these things long before you found me.”

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