The Oasis is Burning

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8.5 - The Radical

“What do you know about Joshua Jameson?”

Arcadius had an expression that was hard to read. Up until that point, I thought the man had all of two settings - jocular self-righteousness and profane rage. This time he looked almost penitent, like he had something to get off his chest (presumably something other than those people he’d shot). It’s a curious thing when someone’s personality shifts like that, and the journalist in me felt compelled to figure out what was behind it. Hell, it’s not like he was murdering journalists on principle.

“Well Arcadius, I doubt I know any more about the man than you do.”

“But you’ve met him? You were sitting with his group when he was killed. You must have some sort of connection into...I don’t know, into his circle?”

“Not so much. You see, I didn’t meet him so much as his men abducted me and I think they still suspect that I had something to do with him being killed.”

Arcadius laughed dryly. “Ain’t no benefit in working with the Man, is there?”

“No there isn’t.” I fished around in my bag for one of my flasks, hoping that there were a few drops that had escaped me before. “Saddest thing on earth, an empty flask.”

“Goddamn, why don’t you stop drinking?”

“Why don’t you stop killing people?”

Arcadius rubbed his head. “All right Atticus, I got a confession.”

“You’re not really Arcadius Brinkley.”

“No. There is no Arcadius Brinkley.”

I think that statement was supposed to surprise me, but after the week the came before it I wasn’t surprising all that easily. The most I can say is that I never questioned it too much - when he said he was Arcadius, I accepted that he was Arcadius.

“Then who are you really?”

“You really fucking care?” said the radical formerly known as Arcadius. “Look, it doesn’t matter what my real name is, or was. This is who I am now. I turned myself into the myth.”

“How are you so sure that Arcadius is a myth?”

“Because my daddy made him up. He was a revolutionary leader in his own right, him and his friends carrying out some righteous direct action. But the world was changing, everyone was becoming domesticated, all anyone cared about was money. No one gave a shit about a half-dozen guys at war with the system, they all wanted to be the system. So my daddy got an idea. He knew that people were into conspiracies and thriller shit. So he used the media as a weapon and gave the sheep something that they would care about.”

“He invented a terrorist.”

“Every time one of his group set a fire or jacked up an armored car or broke into some federal facility, Arcadius Brinkley was right along with them. Nobody could prove that he existed and no one ever saw him, but they all knew he was real. After a couple years of news coverage, you had people coming out claiming they’d actually seen him or heard him speak. It was incredible. Arcadius Brinkley, this guy who never existed, became as real as the people who used his name. A fictional character who came to life - quite a trick dad pulled on everyone, huh?”

“Probably never thought so many people would use that character in their own stories.”

“No shit. Arcadius got ten times bigger than anyone dreamed.”

“That’s a good story. How does Joshua Jameson factor in?”

“That came later.” The radical rose to feet, the better to pace the length of the hall in front of me. “I did time a couple years back - some shit related to the cause, doesn’t really matter what. Did wonders for my rep, because in my circles going to jail for your beliefs is one hell of an honor. So I’m out about a week, I’m at some bar, friends are buying me drinks, some of the girls are putting out signals they like what they see. Good times. Then this white guy comes up, he’s...mid-twenties, brown hair. I don’t know. He definitely came from money, though, I’m sure of that. The rich kids always have that look.”

“White guy with brown hair. Couldn’t be that many of those.”

“Enough with the cracks, Atticus. Anyway, guy says he has the plot of a lifetime, that he can give me the chance to be a serious revolutionary. He says he has inside information on something Jameson Enterprises is working on, something they were calling Electoral Integrity. Now this was before they built the center, no one knew about this. He asks if I believe anything I see on the news, I say fuck no. He says that’s good, because no matter what you see in the press about Integrity, it’s a lie. He says that Jameson is setting the foundation for a nationwide voter suppression effort and Integrity is the cornerstone of the whole thing.”

“White guy, brown hair, close to Joshua Jameson. You know, you shot the one person who might have known who that was.”

“Yeah? Well, maybe this will interest you. He didn’t only have info, he had money. Said he could set me up with money to buy supplies, weapons, whatever. I supply the manpower, he supplies money and info, together we take down Integrity. Big blow for the little guy. I think he’s full of shit until he shows me some anonymous bank account with three million bucks in it. Says he’s got a dozen more accounts like it, the money’s mine if I prove I can field the troops.”

“Let me guess: That’s when you start calling yourself Arcadius. His reputation brings in the manpower.”

“It should have. I brought a few revolutionaries to the table but after that I had to cast a wider net. Bring in some people I met from the system. But I had my army, I had my money...who would have thought that everything would end up this fucked. So when I’m out of here, I’m finding that guy and getting some answers out of him.”

“Sounds like a plan, but I don’t know shit about Jameson’s command structure. I imagine there are plenty of potential leakers in that company.”

“But how many of them could get their hands on that kind of cheddar? He could have embezzled it - that would have been a laugh, taking the weapons to bring down Jameson right out of his own stocks. But who could have access to both -”

Then an odd sound echoed from somewhere deeper in the building. The radical had the hammer back and was threatening the darkness with gusto. I think my brain may have finally shorted out, as I sat placidly by as a parade of potential monsters floated through my head.

“Goddamn it, where’s the girl?” said the radical, waving his revolver in panicked patterns in front of him.

“You want me to go get her?”

“No, stay here and watch my back. I’m not getting ambushed in here.”

I’m not sure that what happened next was an “ambush” so much as a shock attack so shocking that neither of us had time to react. It came from around the corner, the first blow knocking the revolver out of the radical’s hand. The second blow smashed him in the temple, knocking him prone. That was when my brain caught up with my eyes. The assailant was Cain, covered in bruises and scratches, his armor hanging loose by shredded straps and that short baseball bat in his hand. He was on top of the radical in a second, bringing the end of the bat down on his victim’s face again and again, each blow bringing with it an ever-louder cracking sound. Cain kept pounding and pounding until the blood-slicked bat would no longer stay firmly in his grasp. After that he kept working with his fists, but it over - the radical was dead, and the legend of Arcadius Brinkley had passed with him.

And then Cain turned to me, and I’ll tell you that I’d never seen that kind of unchained irrational fury and would see little to rival it on assignments to come. That was enough to snap me out of my stupor and launch me to my feet. Cain climbed off of the radical’s corpse but stayed hunched over, bestial, close to the ground and ready to pounce. “You!” He pointed at me with gore-drenched hands. “You killed Leroy Brigg, didn’t you, you fucking monster!”

“Well, I was present when he died...”

Cain continued to approach. “You bastard! Do you know what you did? You destroyed the last ray of hope! You doomed us all to chaos! And now you have to pay!”

The giant crouched and prepared to lunge when the door flew open and a blast of shotgun pellets caught him behind the knee, dropping him to his hands. There was another blast, this one hitting him in the square back. Cain let out an anguished wheeze and turned toward the door. I could just make out Joanna standing in the frame, extracting the hulls from Caspar’s shotgun and fumbling with a pair of fresh shells. Cain growled and crawled toward her, limping along on his one good leg. He was reaching up for Joanna when she locked the breach and fired a third blast into his wrist. The fourth blast hit him dead in the eye and he dropped with a thud.

Joanna let out a deep breath. “...Atticus! You’re still alive? I heard the shot and figured Arcadius did you in.”

“Nope, he was up to confess to me and then die,” I said.

“Well, I was planning on killing him, so I guess this big asshole saved me a step.”

“How’s Caspar?”

Joanna opened the breach and dug in one of her pockets for more shells. “We’re on our own, cowboy. I’ve got his Pardner with me, we’re taking off.”

“We’ve still got to deal with the Briggs.”

“Actually, we don’t.”

“And why?”

“The fire scared them off.” Joanna closed the breach. “We really need to get going and now.”

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