The Oasis is Burning

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4.2 - New Order

I never had any particular desire to visit the part of town controlled by the Briggs. I imagined a razed neighborhood half-buried in the remnants of those diabolic scientific instruments, inhabited only by cringing lost souls struggling to conceal themselves from the watchful eyes of the oppressor. As it turns out, I was wrong only in degree. The neighborhoods felt dead - no one on the sidewalks, local shops kept open purely out of habit because there was no one patronizing them. A number of the buildings had been defaced by graffiti, and where there wasn’t room people had erected large wooden boards and painted on those. There were crude ethnic caricatures and slurs, anti-UFJ slogans and long lists of names, the enemies of the cause as interpreted by the artist. Some of the houses were marked to indicate that some of those undesirables were dwelling there.

What really made the experience for me was the large vengeful psychopath who was serving as my guide through this textbook example of criminal despotism. Cain would occasionally point something out for me but there was no emotion behind any of his words, not satisfaction nor regret. “These are the safest neighborhoods in the city,” he told me. “They’re orderly and free from the Union and the radicals.”

A scrawl caught my eye, an ugly African-American stereotype being riddled with gunfire. “It’s certainly a classy neighborhood.”

Cain knit his eyebrows, the first time I’d seen him react to much of anything that day. “Some of our men are undisciplined. They are driven more by a hatred of the Union than by a love for order and stability. We started this operation so quickly that we didn’t have time to bring them in line.” I could hear him grind his teeth. “Their unit leader isn’t doing his job. One of these days I’ll deal with them myself, but we have greater concerns now.”

Cain slowed the vehicle to a crawl, slow enough to give me time to really savor the graffiti. A number of the street signs had been modified to read “Stop elitests.” “It must be tough on you guys, having to protect all these high-falutin’ elitists,” I said, carefully holding my tongue about the spelling. “I have to figure there are a bunch of professors and other academic types living around here.”

“Professors. Scientists.” Cain spoke as though he had a vendetta against the very words. “Mr. Brigg told me that colleges used to be different. They used to teach useful skills, but now all they do is fill your head with self-hatred and defeatism. You ask me, they’re all a bunch of Commies who are pissed off that they lost, so now they’re trying to drag the whole system down into hell with them. The only things they should teach at these places are skills to keep the country strong. Engineering. Agriculture. A little bit of military history so they know how to fight for what they believe. And a lot of good morals and self-discipline. Not this ‘feel-good about yourself’ crap.”

“Of course. So does Leroy Brigg live in this very orderly neighborhood?”

“No, he’s in a safer place.” Cain must have spotted something because he threw on the brakes and hopped out of the car, leaving it in the middle of the road. “I’ll be one minute,” he muttered as he left.

There was a group of four people on the sidewalk, engaged in some kind of argument. One of them looked to be with the Briggs while the others were dusky enough that they probably weren’t allies. The rabid boar who had driven me to this encounter stomped over with predictable subtlety. I couldn’t quite hear what any of them were saying but it wasn’t hard to figure out from the spectacle.

Before the shitstorm could start proper, my Pardner started squawking. I slipped in my earpiece and answered the device. “Atticus Gainsborough, world’s greatest investigative journalist.”

“Atticus? Saul. Got your message. Sounds like this is turning into some story-of-the-year shit.”

“Of the decade, Saul.”

“Welp, I’ve had half our people doing research, and we’ve picked up on some interesting shit on that blast yesterday that you really ought to know.”

“Uh-huh.”

Cain had reached the group by that point. One of the dusky men was shouting. A narrative was forming in my head: This terrifyingly dark-skinned group had been catching hell from a local jackboot and they’d finally decided that enough was enough. I could guess where this was headed.

“You sound distracted, A.G. You dope-sick? Hung over?”

“Nah, there’s a hate crime about to go down a few yards away. I won’t let it distract me.” I slipped one of my flasks out of the bag. It was low - I needed to restock.

“Okay, so we’ve figured out some details about those guys that splattered themselves a few days back.”

“A.J. heard any of them?”

“No, and none of them have any known political affiliations, radical or otherwise. But the two of them they’d positively ID’d have criminal records. Nasty ones, too.”

The locals were arguing with Cain by this point, a few stray gnats trying to bring down a mountain. Cain wasn’t speaking, just staring at them with a cool fury that I’ve seen more than a few times.

“All right, Saul. Hit me.”

“Kay. One of them is a guy by the name of Phil Griffin. Real asshole. Numerous charges for attempted residential arson.”

“Burning down places for insurance?”

“No, just because he hates the people who live there. Someone gives him shit, he lights a fire at their place. Not exactly a pro, though, and not too bright either. Out on probation and they catch him walking around the neighborhood with an electric match and a whole shitload of kerosene.”

“The other guy have the same charisma?”

“Tyrone Grendel. This one has a real problem with authority.”

“So do we, Saul.”

“Not like this. Has a string of real jack-shit minor offenses, then all of a sudden he’s busted for strongarm robbery, resisting arrest and escape. Tried to take on four cops by himself. Real crazy SOB.”

“Sounds like a nice pair of...holy shit!”

Cain had one of the men in a headlock, the luckless bastard dangling clear of the ground due to the size difference. The giant only let go when he noticed the other man running for his life, something no sociopathic thug worth his salt could allow to happen. He dropped his first victim - barely clinging to consciousness - and lumbered off in search of victim #2.

“What’s wrong, Atticus? The hordes bearing down on you?”

“No, something just caught me off guard. You got anything else?”

“Yeah, and I saved the best for last. They found I.D. on the third victim belonging to one Marion Wallace, but my source says it’s phony. The Social’s invalid and the name and DOB don’t track with anyone who’s ever drawn breath.”

“They thinking it was Arcadius?”

“Hard to say. The guy matches the general description, but A.J. ain’t buying it. Says the description is probably bullshit because no one’s ever seen the real Arcadius.”

“If he even exists.” I could spot Cain returning to the vehicle, his shaved gorilla face looking somewhat disappointed. His prey had eluded him and he couldn’t be pleased. “I gotta go. Package the info up and send it to my special account, I’ll review it when I get the time. Oh, there a new pool open?”

“Ten bucks to buy in.”

“All right, put me down for Egypt tomorrow if it’s open. Gotta go.”

Cain crammed himself back into the car. “Business always has to take priority.”

“Don’t I know it,” I said. “That looked like quite a rumble.”

“Hmm.” Cain glanced at my flask. “Don’t drink that shit in my vehicle.”

I crammed the flask back into my bag with more dexterity than I thought my hands could manage. “Sorry to offend, didn’t know you were into the clean life.”

“I don’t mind a drink...in its proper place.”

That was the last time I tried to address Cain. Any time I considered sparking up another conversation, I just listened to the rhythmic sound of his teeth grinding until that urge passed. The tension in my spine wasn’t so bad - it only lasted until he dropped me off just outside of the western perimeter and was completely out of my vision. Downing the contents of both flasks helped.

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