The Oasis is Burning

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4.3 - Touro

The northern part of campus was the eye of the shitstorm. I could make out the OSIS perimeter to the south, still keeping the armed radicals in check (though with fewer grunts than I’d seen a few days before). To the north, another regiment was locking down Memorial Stadium in preparation for Joshua Jameson’s arrival - no other venue having the capacity or the acoustical magnificence to contain whatever the hell piece of news he planned on announcing. Beyond that, yet more goons were still picking through the rubble on Iowa Street and harassing the locals. But on the sunny side of the Kansas Union, it wasn’t just peaceful, it was empty. There was, on one hand, an ominous edge to it, like hearing an echo at the break of dawn and wondering if the whole goddamn world had jumped ship. Then again, there are few pleasures in life quite as tranquilizing as sitting in a grove in the early evening with a fat blunt and a dossier on a pack of criminal scumbags.

So maybe the file wasn’t the most pleasant part, but it was interesting. The armed radicals OSIS had pinched didn’t seem to consist of the same group of idealistic college students and oppressed youth that made up the UFJ. Some of them had ties to extremist organizations that I didn’t know still existed, but just as many were straight-up headcases with well-cataloged histories of violence. It was enough to make me wonder if my new pal Darius from the museum was right about false flags, or if Sara was on to something with her insane theories on provocation. But none of that accounted for whatever the hell was going on in the center of campus. If this was some sort of power struggle between Prof. Jagunjagun and Brinkley then there were a few steps missing. I could only hope that the Prof. would be lucid enough to explain it to me.

At some point, when the sun was low in the sky and the buzz was reaching its peak, a group of college kids showed up. There were three of them, all softly built and featured, wearing clothes with political slogans that were further covered in buttons with more political slogans.

The one I took for the leader - a young man sporting artfully ripped black jeans and two or three days’ dusting of blonde facial hair - shoved a tablet and stylus at me. “Excuse me, we’re running a petition to stop a grave injustice.”

“I’m not attached to the university at all,” I said. “And shouldn’t you be off the street? Curfew’s soon.”

“We’re on our way home, but this is really important. We have to keep this monster off campus.”

I glanced over their petition, but only so far as to catch the name of the “monster” - a guy named McCray. I knew him, mostly by reputation, but also because he’d defended Saul after the feds decided we’d broken some arcane law by investigating a pack of violent drug cops.

“This is your monster?”

“Yes! Do you know he...” The kid took a deep breath and then started whispering. “...he defends people who say racially insensitive things.”

“No, he’s defended racists,” I said. “Among other scumbags. He works with the ACLU, that’s kind of his thing.”

“I can’t believe you’d say that so casually!” The kid gritted his teeth and rubbed his gut. “He’s going to be here, just ten blocks away from our safe space, encouraging people to say hurtful things by promising to defend them! Oh, it makes my stomach act up just thinking about it.”

“Sorry to hear it,” I said. “But I’m a journalist, and I really can’t do that without the First Amendment, so I’ll have to pass.”

“But you can do so much without being hurtful! This pro-bigotry philosophy is a direct assault on the psychology of the student body! Oh, it was bad enough when the dean wouldn’t do anything about those devils chalking things we didn’t like on the sidewalk, but...” The kid groaned.

“I see you’re worked up. Maybe go home, shut yourself in a dark room, smoke something fun and masturbate a few times. Always worked for me.”

I left the kids and walked back to Spencer where I’d seen that sterling act of civil disobedience just a few days earlier. Someone had been tasked with scrubbing the graffiti off the wall but didn’t have much of a drive to do it - the words “where Silence prevails” were still clearly visible. There was another man admiring the ruined masterpiece - bald, dark-skinned, with a good dwarven build and a well-traveled messenger bag slung over one shoulder.

The man greeted me with a broad smile as I drew near. “Shame you couldn’t have seen this when it was a complete. It was a magnificent message.”

“I have,” I said. “Matter of fact, I walked in when they were painting it.”

“So you’ve met the artist?” The man rubbed his chin. “Nice, isn’t she? I don’t normally go for those skinny little types, but she’s got the fire in her. Gotta be a freak in the making.”

“Well, I wouldn’t know.”

“That’s a shame.” He extended his hand. “Sorry, I can get a little crude at times. Name’s Russell Brown.”

I shook his hand. “Atticus Gainsborough.”

“As in the journalist?” Russell laughed. “Can’t say that I’m a huge fan, but it’s still an honor to see someone of your caliber around here.”

“I only show up at the chicest crisis zones.”

“Indeed.”

“Excuse me.” It was the group from earlier, but this time their ringleader was jabbing the tablet at Russell. “We’re collecting signatures to stop an injustice.”

“You assholes again?” Russell’s smile was gone in a second as he stared down the kids. “I’ve been dealing with you fools all day. I’m not putting my name on this crazy, wimpy bullshit.”

“Crazy?” The kid’s face pinched up. “How dare you? Do you know how many people in this country grapple with mental illness? When you say that something you don’t like is ‘crazy,’ do you have any clue what that does to people in crisis? You have just slapped millions of people across the face with your linguistic violence!” He looked like he was about to cry.

Russell closed his eyes and flashed a broad gap-toothed smile. “You’re right. Actually, maybe I will sign that petition, but I have to consult something first. One second.”

Russell turned to dig into his bag, presumably to retrieve a device or notebook or some such thing. I wasn’t at first sure what he had, but it left one hell of an impact as Russell spun and smashed it into the kid’s face. The little bastard left a few drops of blood in the air as he hit the ground. Russell, still clutching the object to one side, reached out with his free hand and grabbed the kid by the hair, yanking him to his knees.

“I don’t appreciate it when some sheltered little asshole gets in my face and gets all self-righteous,” muttered Russell.

“Buh...I, ah...” The kid was dumbstruck, more focused on the blood leaking out of his nose and the object in in Russell’s hand than anything that was said.

“You know why I did this? To give you an actual problem.” Russell twisted the kid’s hair and pulled his head up. “You’re not thinking about bad words now, are you?”

“N...no.”

“Of course not.” Russell turned the man loose. “Go get your nose fixed.”

The kids scrambled off in all directions, a pack of terrified rabbits anticipating the hunter’s arrival. It wasn’t hard to figure out why. I could see that Russell was holding an enormous revolver by the barrel, traces of the kid’s blood on the handle.

Russell shot me a grin. “That’s the problem with white liberals these days. They’re all such pussies.”

“The hand cannon might have had something to do with that,” I said. “Jesus, you expecting to run into a herd of buffalo?”

“You like the four-fifty-four? The Raging Bull ain’t the most practical firearm, but the psychological effect is a motherfucker. Every one you scare off is one less time you have to pull the trigger.” Russell shoved the revolver back into his bag. “So, hanging out around here so close to curfew, any chance you’re headed to Theo’s party?”

“That’s right. Not 100% on the location, though.”

“Oh, it’s close. I’d take you, but I wouldn’t be too welcome. The professor’s a great guy, but we had a falling out over tactics, so I don’t think he wants to see me.”

“Running with Brinkley’s fun-time show, then?”

Russell grimaced. “Little too much heat, standing next to a brotha like Arcadius. Interesting dude, but dangerous.”

“You met Arcadius?”

“You one of those types who thinks he’s a myth?”

“You one of those types who believes anyone who says he’s Arcadius Brinkley?”

“You raise a good point. No one in his right mind would admit to being Arcadius Brinkley except to claim his rep.” Russell leaned in closer. “So how’d you like to meet him and decide for yourself if he’s the real deal?”

It was an invitation to walk right into an ambush - by Brinkley or OSIS or just your everyday psychopathic thugs - but damned if I wasn’t interested. “So I say yes. How do you reach out and where do we go?”

“Atticus Gainsborough ain’t that hard to find. And you might well run into Arcadius on your own. He’s got some things planned that you aren’t going to miss.”

“You’re really making me feel secure.”

“Don’t believe the hype. An outlaw journalist oughta have an open mind.” Russell glanced up the street. “Looks like someone’s looking for you. I’d better jump, don’t want to cause a scene. See you later, Atticus.”

Someone was coming up the street - Darius, the UFJ activist I’d run into at that very spot just a few days prior, wearing the same fatigues and that Glock on his hip. It’s amazing how much your perspective can change in 48 excruciating hours. Back then this might have seemed intimidating, but this slender young man who really didn’t seem to know how to handle his firearm was perhaps the least frightening person I’d encountered in immediate history.

“The hell are you doing wandering around?” said Darius. “You want to get picked up by the jackboots?”

“Sorry, time got away from me. You put a tracker up my ass when I wasn’t looking?”

“Just dumb luck is all. A good evening walk clears the head, and I ain’t letting those OSIS pigs stop my routine.” Darius nodded back towards a cluster of houses. “Come on, get moving. You want a beatdown when they find you?”

“No, I think I’ve had my fill of officially approved violence. Lead the way.”

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