Harlan sat in custody. The inside of his head was a time machine. That day had been glorious. He relived it like it were an analgesic.
As the sun set, the campus writhed with activity. The lecture theatre had been expecting a polite amount of interest. This was done in unconscious defiance of the Streisand Effect.
The lecture was titled Men At War. It had been organised by a group of students and activists who regularly met off campus in a local coffee shop. These were conducted with the measure of anguish and defiance of any activists who find themselves in a minority position.
Ted, whose hands would be clutched together anxiously as his eyes glazed from the exhaustion that came with working three jobs to manage the child support payments.
Paul who still spoke with the elongated vowels of his home state after a one night stand ended up in a three month trial. It had got him sober but he missed his friends back home. He rang home once a month and he’d wept with relief when his mother told him that they’d gone a week without their windows being smashed in.
Mark had lost two friends within a month of each other. A shotgun and a moments reflection at the bridge respectively. No notes and he’d not found any answers worth considering until he’d found the group. It had been his idea to arrange the lecture.
The protesters had made a day of it. The shining eyes and hard grins of the righteous. North Face jackets and hand painted signs that bobbed like birds walking. They chanted in bright sing song voices when they weren’t engaged in excited conversations and looking out for organisers or attendees.
Mark stood with his hands in his pockets, stomach burning with anxiety as he waited for the car service to bring the guest. He had taken a call from the literary agent who spoke with a tone of weary reassurance, assured that they would be there and were entirely used to protests. Mark was unsure about whether this weariness was all that reassuring for him.
Ted came over, scratching at the salt and pepper stubble on his chin as he cocked his thumb over his shoulder. He flashed an uneasy grin.
‘Did you hear the shit they’re chanting? ‘
Mark swallowed and nodded as Ted gave him a hearty slap on the shoulder.
‘It’s going to be great, man.’
Mark had gained the attention of a young woman. Her black hair hung around her rounded, pleasant features. Her eyes had narrowed to paper cuts as she checked her phone then looked back up to confirm her intuition. She turned away from him and whispered to the woman stood to her left. She craned her head and grimaced, turning as scarlet as her hair.
‘Motherfuckers’ she said.
Ted guffawed and put his arm around Mark.
‘No we’re just friends with ours. How about you?’
Mark bit the inside of his cheek to keep from laughing. His phone rang and he answered it.
‘So what does a faggot have to do to get through the cloud of people here?’
Mark nudged Terry who hustled over to the main gate.
Harlan stepped out of the car. His hair flopped over his eyes as he adjusted his silk cravat and offered a slim, manicured hand to Terry.
Terry grinned and shook his head before he corrected him. Harlan apologised and Terry felt a burst of warmth travel up his spine at the acknowledgment.
The crowd were otherwise distracted by the small group of campus security who had gathered outside the door. They were chanting a combination of phrases, some derogatory towards the security whilst other groups remained on message. Harlan rolled his eyes as they made a beeline towards Mark. Mark went to hug him but when his gesture was noted by the pair of women, he stopped himself and started to walk alongside Harlan and Terry. They went inside by a side entrance that Paul had arranged to be left open.
The audience was small about the same amount as had been there for a presentation on the reproductive cycle of the fluke worm. Harlan had stepped up to the podium when the fire alarm rang out. People got up to leave and he shook his head. He leaned forward and spoke from the soles of his feet.
‘Why walk? You’re already considered expendable, aren’t you? ‘
They stopped and Paul looked away, trying to hide the shimmer of tears. Terry and Mark looked at one another with disbelief. People sat down as the alarm rang off. At the back, the two women who had seen Harlan take the side entrance sat down. Mark swore to himself and pointed them out to Terry. Harlan cast a sideways glance and followed their line of sight.
They looked at one another and the redhead stood up.
‘You’re not the advertised speaker.’
Harlan grinned and gestured to Mark and Terry.
‘No, isn’t it delicious? I mean-‘ he leaned forward.
‘If I were a woman, you could claim I’ve internalised misogyny. If I were black, you might claim that I’ve internalised racism.’
Mark looked down to hide the roaring sensation of triumph. Terry and Paul conducted a stealthy fist bump whilst a silvery wave of laughter washed across the crowd.
‘but darling. I’ve got white privilege and an appreciation for cock much the same as you.’
The redhead started to rant, pointing her index finger at him, jabbing the air with a vicious intensity. Harlan smirked and raked his fringe away from his face. He did not speak until the rant trailed off with her need to breathe.
‘The acoustics spared me most of that. Also I have an aural reaction to unfounded bullshit so most of that -‘ he made quotation fingers. ‘Information didn’t register.’
What didn’t occur to Harlan was that this defiance had consequences. The women would be on television much later, eyes bright with opportunity as they recalled the implied violence against them. The next meeting of the men was supposed to have been a celebration but they decided against it. Even as he’d been right, Harlan would become water from a poisoned well.
Murderers with a degree of celebrity are rorschach tests for people. They fade into jokes or answers on pop culture quizzes. If it’s a politically active or aware murderer, they become judas goats for their cause. Harlan was the perfect blend of both.
Innocence is almost incidental.
A policeman was dead. The details were salacious and delicious as they were corrosive like a powdered doughnut with a strychnine filling.
No one was asking about the details. Too many people queuing up to take a bite.
Harlan had time to think about things. He was terrified and grieving but what scared him more was not what he would do.
Avery though, was a different matter.