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Table of Contents

Detainee 717

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Chapter 8

The next day K13 checks into a room in a downtown Comfort Inn, the walls gray as exhaled nicotine, the drab furniture flaunting a slender allegiance to comfort. He has reserved the room for seven days and during the course of the week to come he suspects he will miss, as he always does, the scent of the house that wears the lake’s ambient cologne. On the eighth day he will kidnap Salah Bhattie, who will be watching his son Jhanda as he plays the flute and marches with other elementary school band members in the annual Main Street Parade. The life Salah has lived and known up to that point will come to an abrupt end. His future like the flat world of Medieval conjecture will extend to a barbarous edge, reach toward a terminal horizon, and he and his family will be swept over it. As though united by some tacit agreement, all of them – Lamborghini, Audi and K13 – have elected not to live permanently in the house, though they have received no orders to that effect from the Diplomat or any of the generic-eyed functionaries who from time to time act as his envoys or errand runners. Without being told they know that at any moment the house could be closed down, boarded up, sold or demolished – looming possibilities that render the consideration of permanent residency problematic. K13 surmises that just because they have not so far been prohibited from living uninterruptedly in the house does not mean that they would not be prohibited the moment any of them showed an interest in actually staying there continuously. When he asks himself why the Diplomat and his people would do such a thing, he can only conclude it would be for no reason other than to illustrate the mysterious vagaries of hierarchy and power, the flexing of imperial muscle, the free exercise of bureaucratic perversity.

Lamborghini and Audi live in the house for the length it takes to peel her detainee – her word, peel, meaning to psychologically break – but when they are off-assignment, the brother and sister team disappear, though one or both may show up briefly when K13 and his designated detainee are sequestered in the house. For the most part K13 has adopted this approach as well, living elsewhere until he is on assignment, occasionally dropping in on Lamborghini and Audi when they are working. His time is parceled between the apartment he maintains as a convincing domestic backdrop for his daughter’s infrequent visits, and occupancy in motels or hotels. Checking into a Motel 6 or Mariott or Comfort Inn for days at a time allows him to draw a clear boundary between his professional and private life, to compartmentalize with no bleed over, no confusion. It works, as long as he avoids asking himself how he would go about defining his so-called “private life” or whether, in fact, he possesses a private life at all.

The first thing K13 had done after checking in was to undress and stand with his head tilted far back while the cold amphetamine of the shower surged over him. For a time he was invigorated, his energy flamed and danced on its wick, and he paced aimlessly to and fro through a shatter of evening light that the west-facing window broke over the beige stain-resistant carpet. But with nothing to illuminate, nothing to burn, the energy very quickly sputtered and dimmed, and he found himself sitting on the edge of the bed, watching C-SPAN images of shirtless American soldiers in sunglasses tanning on top of bomb shelters beneath Iraq’s torrid midday sun. The same First Infantry Division soldiers were then shown in Humvees patrolling Baghdad International Airport Highway. His energy rapidly fed on itself, flickered out; he fell into a light sleep with the TV prompter in his hand.

When the mist of his sleep thins, he finds that the sunlight on the carpet has disappeared and the room is a darkening charcoal sketch. He sees, sitting in the chair next to the window, the shadowy figure of a man whose motionlessness seems to be so absolute that it is sphinx-like and menacing. He tries to make out the man’s features but everything about him is smudged, indistinct, though his voice is defined by something hard, solid, gemlike. Listening keenly, he slowly understands that the voice belongs to the Diplomat, and that he has been speaking in oblivious monologue for some time.

“ … and whatever else can be said the larger questions coalesce around a single significant issue, which is who are we as a people, where are we going as a people, is there an unspoken consensus driving us, or are we millions of individuals clinging together without an underlying cohesiveness, clinging together out of fear and desperation, and does our strength as a people derive from this fear, because make no mistake, power, strength, assumes many guises and derives from manifold sources. The issue ultimately becomes one of identity, how a people chooses to be perceived by others, other countries, other nations, and there is nothing more important than this, but it is crucial to understand that beyond this … “

As the voice drones on K13 struggles to make sense of what the Diplomat is saying. He understands the words but there is a subtext that diverges from the comprehension he is seeking. Realizing that the Diplomat could very well be here to kill him – not likely, but anything is possible – he at first feels a rush of relief at the prospect of no longer having to manage and maintain his life. It would be nothing short of liberating not to have to look down through an eyepiece lens at the myriad absurdities that skim the minutes of the day like microscopic organisms in a drop of pond water, analyzing and pretending to make sense of it. At the same time he tastes the insipid negation of death in his mouth and imagines, with a nostalgia rooted in childhood’s jubilant spurning of mortality, that he will never be forced to swallow it, though everyone will and does.

“… who will step forward and be willing to be accountable, who will realize that there is no one to save us, no power that will magically spill from the sky to set us right, who among us will realize that we must be accountable, which is tantamount to asserting that we be willing to do the rights things, the hard things, the things that contribute substance to an identity that would otherwise lack form and reality …”

And then K13 wakes up for what feels like the second time, inferring that it is actually the first time, the shatter of sunlight gone, the room dark but not as murky as the charcoal sketch, the television still on C-SPAN and a man’s face filling the screen, the Diplomat’s face. He is apparently a member of a panel of some kind and has just concluded a speech at what appears to be a legislative forum or summit meeting somewhere, the camera all the while pulling back to reveal an assembly made up of heads of state or government. The television moderator in a solemn gubernatorial whisper comments, says something that K13 cannot quite make out, the audience breaking into applause.

Next Chapter

Chapter 9


Article By: dglenn


Arts | Fiction | Novels


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