“Men ought either to be well treated or crushed, because they can avenge themselves of lighter injuries, of more serious ones they cannot; therefore, the injury that is to be done to a man ought to be of such a kind that one does not stand in fear of revenge.”
Nicollo Machiavelli, The Prince.
Ibrahim walked down the street, cursing Ellen for making him clean out the frier again before he left to attend mosque with his uncle. He hated the job, but Mohammed insisted he finish out the summer before he got him an internship at the firm.
He didn’t want to be late. Mohammed was fastidious without being vain and he had known nothing but his faith but he did business without it being a problem.
Ibrahim drew comments and stares. No one wanted to feel alien in their own skin and he would slip out of the way, finding something to do in the back until their attention went elsewhere or he pretended not to have heard anything. He simpered and it hurt to do it but once he was working with his uncle, he would earn respect without being made to suffer for it.
He was running late.
It was the only thing which saved him.
He saw the mosque and quickened his pace before a massive hand slapped him backwards. He smelled his hair burning and his eardrops popped like balloons as he fell backwards, breaking his coccyx against the sidewalk.
Ibrahim lay there, mute with pain as his hair burned and his body turned inside out with pain. He had bitten his tongue and each swallow tasted of burnt copper as he struggled to breathe.
Jessica drew on the cigarette, trying not to stare at the small throng of protesters who came every day. Wizened and pale, tan and hardy, they would take turns, behaving like fundamentalist ants, blazing with a narcissistic zeal which irritated her. David’s work took him all over the world, and since she had emigrated and married Blake, she kept up the correspondence, never getting a reply from him despite the anguish it created for her. She still loved David, but life demanded a compromise. Letting go had taken the desperation of an animal chewing off a limb to escape a trap but the pain stayed with her.
The women who came fueled her passion when she debated Blake about her work. He presented her with rational arguments, numbers on paper to show they didn’t need her to work, she could stay home with Brian, but Jessica saw it as a comfortable path to death. She loved her husband, but she couldn’t live as an appendage to him. Marriage was difficult enough, let alone one which served as a gilded cage for her.
The cigarette burned the back of her throat and she tossed it to the ground before she went back inside.
The door slammed into her, fractured her skull and the door handle punched through her left hip, propelled by the force of the explosion. She died before she hit the ground, the door stuck to her as a final, cruel insult from the universe.
Terry took off the balaclava and wiped his face. He had put on a show for the video, speaking in a bombastic tone which he had borrowed from professional wrestling promotions and Alex Jones and it had tested his reserves of stamina to keep up the indignant righteousness necessary to put his point across.
The motel room smelled of powdered soup and stale cum, but he could use it for meetings and videos so he never gave Pete too much shit about it. He wanted to protect his family, and if it meant going out of his way a little, it was a small price to pay. Their enemies were everywhere, and he loved his family too much to put them in harm’s way.
He waited for the video to upload, sent messages to the others through an app which sent photo messages and deleted them after being watched. Terry knew the risks, but the technology was there to protect them, despite what people believed.
Terry looked at himself in the smeared full length mirror, the stubble on his cheeks and his lean, intense build gave him a renewed pride in his work. He ran on righteousness, and all the energy made him restless, had him capable of working eight hours on his construction job and then organising the rest of the guys until he collapsed into bed next to his sleeping wife. He got up, tucked the balaclava under the pillow, and left the room.
He watched the news when he got home, drank a beer as he watched the footage of the emergency services and struggled to hide his delight at the success of their first major operation. Once the video went live, people would know their group’s name but not his.
Terry had tried to make people see what was happening. The capitulation to progressive forces had castrated his country and it made him fear for his children’s future enough to act as he did. Other people had come into his world, convinced of his fears enough to help and once he had found his tribe, it became a thing of logistics over rhetoric.
Jenny called him upstairs and he drained the last swallow of beer before he switched the tv off and went to bed.
It had been a good day.
David slipped out of the hotel room. He had broken up and flushed the syringe down the toilet, wiped everything down to remove any trace of his presence with a practiced care as the body cooled on the unmade bed.
He got into the waiting car and sat back, closing his eyes as it drove away. The arrogance of his targets never surprised him, and this one had been boasting about his company’s work for the intelligence community. David did not inform him such behaviour had signed his death warrant
Bastard of the British Empire he told himself. He loathed the arrogance of San Francisco and was eager to get back to London. David denied his feelings unless it was three a.m and he thought of her.
Doing the right thing hurt him but it kept her safe and him a secret.
The safe house was across town, and he took a long hot shower, ordered take out and sat down to relax with a few hours of inane American television. He made the mistake of watching the news, and when he saw the photo of her, he convulsed with feelings he thought buried in the graveyard of his soul.
Three years ago, David had bare flames held to his feet, threatening to perform the same function on his genitals before the SAS team burst in. He had not wept then, but as he looked at Jessica’s face, he put his face in his hands and wept for what might have been.
His grief galvanised into something familiar to him.
When it abated, he took out his phone and made a phone call.
Two hours later, David was on a plane to Illinois.
Mike struggled to contain his excitement as Terry passed him a beer.
‘What’s next?’ he said.
Terry scratched his chin and smiled.
‘We can expect a push back from the authorities, so the answer is nothing for now.’ he said.
Mike grimaced as he shook his head.
‘It’s not enough, Terry. We need to get our message out.’ he said.
Terry grimaced at Mike’s immature enthusiasm. He could never take the long view of things. It was a warm evening and they sat on the porch, keeping the conversation neutral until Jenny put Rachel to bed and they were free to discuss things.
‘Do you remember Waco, Mike?’ he said.
Mike swallowed and nodded. He had been in awe of Terry’s pilgrimage and his righteous anger at government intrusion into people’s lives. They condoned the tide of Muslim immigration and paid lip service to the sanctity of the unborn to such a degree it had prompted a response from the men of the White Rabbit Militia to stop talking and act. Mike resented the slow pace of their work, but Terry was so certain it killed his doubts.
‘We’ve shown our hand. It’s now up to others whether they heed the call to action.’
Mike had built the bombs for both targets, being a savant with things which made him useful, if not indispensable to the others. Pete had been in the Marines until he got kicked out, Chris ran the website and social media feeds, but it was Terry who was the cool, calm centre of the group. Mike wondered if Terry’s aloofness was a test of his character, but washed his anxious, frightened thoughts down with a deep pull on the bottle of beer before he wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.
‘OK, I get it.’ he said.
Terry smiled and clapped Michael on the shoulder.
‘We can’t go into this thinking we’ll get away with it, Mike. We’ve got to accept the price of liberty and the consequences.’ Terry said.
Mike felt blessed by Terry’s touch but kept his face still. Instead he gave a terse nod and made a face he hoped looked like the right mix of determination and gravity.
‘Right on, Terry. Right on.’
Terry lit a cigarette and sat back in his chair.
‘We’ve just got started, Mike.’ he said.
If Terry had asked him to cut one of his testicles off, Mike would have asked him which one before doubting him. He wondered who would play him in the movie, he hoped for the guy from Stranger Things, the sheriff with the guy from CSI New York as Terry.
Mike had big dreams, but he was glad Terry was there to keep things calm and even. The work was getting started, but he wanted it to start there and then.
David watched the video on repeat. He looked past the man on the screen, focused on the details behind him.
He made a note of the furniture, and the colour of the paint on the walls. David wrote the details in the blank pages of the ledger he carried everywhere. He contacted his handler, Larry, through a My Little Pony message board, where he left a message and waited for his phone to ring.
David answered on the first ring.
‘Why aren’t you on a plane, right now?’
‘Personal matter. There’s nothing in the pipeline so I’m taking time off.’ he said.
Larry grunted with disbelief.
‘You pulled one of my analysts to look up everything on a pair of bombings in Illinois, David.’
David said nothing.
‘There was a woman killed. British, according to the news. Look, the FBI are all over this. Just come home and I’ll light a fire under their arses to get it dealt with.’ Larry said.
David swallowed, his throat tight with regret and a cold, hard anger. Watching the videos fed something terrible in him, kept the wound open and bleeding without the mercy of unconsciousness to ease it.
‘I know, Larry. I’m taking leave. I’ll behave myself.’ he said.
Larry sighed with a longstanding weariness.
‘If this turns out to be another Rotherham situation, we’re both fucked.’ he said.
The police still found bodies, members of a child grooming gang. David accepted the damage within himself, but he used it, like a wolf uses its howl to communicate.
‘No, it won’t be like Rotherham.’ he said.
David saw an email had come through and opened it. Forensics reports, eyewitness testimony, drafts of warrants to investigate militia activity all scanned and converted to digital files. David told Larry he would be in touch and switched off the phone.
A viscous tension pooled in his eye sockets but he read through everything. He made notes of the names before he opened his briefcase and found the FBI badge, slipped it into the pocket of his suit jacket and stood up.
He called a cab to the hospital.
Ibrahim drifted in and out of a cotton soft haze of narcotics. He would emerge to see daylight then drift off, returning to find it was dark as time passed on, indifferent to his grief and trauma.
He awoke to see the man sat at the end of his bed.
‘Hello, Ibrahim.’ he said.
Through his one good eye, Ibrahim saw him stand up and walk over to the side of the bed. He spoke to Ibrahim in perfect Arabic, introduced himself as Special Agent Garrett and wondered if he could ask him a few questions.
Ibrahim’s one good eye sparkled with tears as he nodded.
‘I understand there will be complications from your injuries and your recollections might be unclear but anything you can give me will help me catch these people.’
Ibrahim noted the use of the singular and tried to focus on the man. His use of Arabic was comforting but also unnerving to him.
He nodded and answered the man’s questions. They confused him, details about the routines of the mosque and its proximity to other places in town, before he asked after Ibrahim’s uncle.
Ibrahim cleared his throat.
‘You’re not from the FBI, are you?’ he said.
The man put his hand over Ibrahim’s and put his mouth to his ear to whisper.
‘The Prophet never avenged for his own self, Ibrahim. Neither will you.’ he said.
Ibrahim wept as much as the drugs allowed him, and the man left without speaking further. Ibrahim prayed for him.
Rick gave the man a pamphlet as he walked past the clinic. He stopped and looked at it like someone had spat into his hand, but he folded it before tucking it into the pocket of his suit.
‘I understand you were at the clinic.’ the man said.
Rick had been on a coffee run, but the second hand glory was too powerful to resist and his assumption of divine providence made him something of a martyr to the rest of the congregation. There was no one alive from the small group to contradict him, aside from Betty and she was in an unresponsive coma from where a brick had glanced off her temple, propelled by the force of the explosion.
Rick could not meet the implacable gaze and he gulped, struggling to contain himself.
‘Yes, sir, God’s wrath is a terrible and beautiful thing to see.’
The man’s face tightened and his lips drew back over his teeth. His brown eyes burned with something cold and vicious which made Rick step backwards.
‘What did you see?’ the man said.
He had heard the explosion, and as he drew closer, smelled the smoke and blood. He had stumbled over someone’s dismembered arm and saw how the clinic door had impaled the British nurse.
The man grimaced and stepped towards Rick.
‘Did she say anything?’
Rick tried to back away but the man’s fingers clamped around his elbow, pinching into the soft meat of his triceps and found a set of nerves which shot agony through his arm, pinned him to the spot as he looked around for someone to help.
Rick told him. The man walked away.
There were fifty pamphlets left but Rick went home, locked the door and drew the curtains, watched the 700 Club and struggled not to cry with humiliation. If God were watching, he would understand, he told himself.
Mike soldered the wires with care, humming to himself as he worked on the last electronic components of the device, the guts of an old cell phone re-purposed to allow them to activate the explosion via bluetooth. The rest of the device was plastic and ceramic around a core of C4 explosive, studded with nails and razor blades. It fit inside a Blue’s Clues lunchbox, and there were six boxes of similar dimensions in the packing crate below his feet.
His workshop was in the garage. It had been a labour of love, built to indulge his hobby of amateur electronics before he met Terry and figured out a new use for the space and equipment. For a bomb maker, Mike was proud he had all his fingers and limbs, but the information was available, even from the jihadists who posted details and schematics amongst upper case rants on the depravity of the American people. There was an irony to it which escaped Mike, but ideology left so little room for nuance.
The tube light flickered overhead and went out. Mike swore under his breath and set the iron down on the bench, switched it off with a brush of his thumb. He pushed his stool back, thinking about where the spares were.
He did not have time to scream before the cloth clamped around his nose and mouth, the high chemical stink insinuating into his head as he passed out from the force. Someone caught him as he fell into a deep, implacable blackness.
Mike awoke with the worst headache and strapped to the recliner in the living room with bungee cords. Someone had turned his Xbox and tv on, so the introduction music on Battlefield One shook the air. Mrs Foster was his only neighbour and she had gone to her grandson in Columbus for a long weekend.
‘Good evening Mike.’
He could not place the accent through the impenetrable barrier of the headache. He narrowed his eyes and looked around his living room.
‘What is this?’ he said.
A low chuckle caressed the back of his neck and he shuddered.
‘You will tell me the names of the other militia members and where they meet.’ he said.
Mike grunted and struggled against the cords.
The man walked around to face him. He was tan, with short dark hair and spectacles, wearing a black t-shirt and jeans. He held a stained white towel in one hand and a litre bottle of water in the other.
‘Fuck you.’ Mike said.
His anger was genuine, but the fear grew more intense with each second.
The man laughed and Mike recognised the accent. British.
‘Now, Mike, I admire your bravado but I had a look in your garage and you’re better off telling me what I want to know.’ he said.
Mike’s laughter died in his throat as the man walked towards him.
‘I won’t tell you anything.’ Mike said.
It was the most courageous he had been, and no one was around to witness it. The thought weakened him but not as much as what the towel and bottle were for. The man lifted the towel up and raised his eyebrows.
‘This isn’t for refreshment, Mike. No, this is your sad little group’s biggest fear come to life.’ he said.
Mike squeezed out tears and grimaced as he shook his head over and over. The swelling strings of the soundtrack sounded mocking and grated his ears.
The man sat on the couch and put the towel and bottle on the coffee table where Mike could see it.
‘I only make the stuff. We’re fighting a war, man. We’re dying out.’ Mike said.
They were Terry’s words, not his and the man smiled as he sat back on the couch.
‘Who’s dying out? White men? Now there, you and I have common ground. I’m doing the work you and your friends dream of, but it’s more complicated than that.’ he said.
His tone was generous, without the coiled sense of threat Mike had absorbed from movies and television. He looked around him.
‘Do you read comics, Mike?’ he said.
Mike nodded in furious agreement. The man smirked and looked at Mike.
‘I’ve always been a nerd for them. Not so much the superheroes, but I grew up with 2000 A.D. We never went into superheroes so much, but comics, shit I’ve got tons of them in storage. Have you ever read Preacher?’ he said.
Mike hadn’t. He wished he had. He lowered his chin and shook his head.
‘There’s one of my favourite lines where Jesse, he’s got the Word of God, and he ends up a sheriff of this place called Salvation after getting chucked out a plane, and there are these Klan types and he walks up to one and tears his hood off.’
The man was smiling as he mimicked the action. Mike’s stomach clenched with fear and confusion.
‘He says something which struck me as profound for a comic book. Why are the biggest champions of the race the worst examples of it?’ he said.
Mike recoiled at the insult and struggled against the bonds without hope.
The man chuckled and sat back against the couch.
‘You’re buying into a narrative. The same one used to keep everyone down. Being a victim means you avoid having to take responsibility. If you’re black or disabled, gay or white, then it’s not your fault if you fail at anything, is it?’
Mike had no answer for him. The righteousness of his cause was real to him, and the man’s mockery stung more than the chemicals used to knock him out.
‘You’re weak, all of you. Bombing mosques and a women’s health clinic, that’s weak shit.’ he said.
Mike wept, but it garnered no reaction from the man at all. He sighed and waited for him to stop crying.
‘You’re a talented boy, Mike. You should be proud of your craft, despite being a massive cunt.’ he said.
‘It didn’t throw me. I’ve got a nose for these things, and when I found the groups you were into on Facebook, one phone call to Cambridge Analytica and I had your name and address.’ he said.
Mike shuddered and wept again. He did not see the blow coming until it turned his face, a stinging rebuke which blasted his self pity away.
‘Please, don’t kill me.’ he said.
The man stood up and ran his tongue over his lips.
‘The nurse at the clinic, the one who got impaled on the door. I knew her.’ he said.
‘I met the boy who will never walk again.’ he said.
His voice had roughened and Mike wondered if it was a trick of the light at the dampness in the man’s eyes before he picked up the towel and bottle.
‘But the nurse, Mike, I fucking loved her to the bone and I let her go because I thought this was more important.’ he said.
He unscrewed the lid on the bottle and tossed it to the carpet as he walked behind the recliner.
‘A man, Mike, has to have a purpose, even if it costs him to follow it.’ he said.
His voice cracked with emotion, which frightened Mike more than when he was glib and relaxed.
Mike twisted as the man put the towel over his face and held it in place with his left hand.
‘You’ll understand it when I’m done.’ he said.
Mike’s lungs heaved as he struggled for air beneath the careful deluge of water through the towel. His panicked breaths drew on every fibre of his being but he broke without too much effort.
It did not take much of the bottle before Mike was shrieking out names and addresses. The man made Mike repeat them without attempting to write them down.
‘I’m sorry I had to do it, Mike. I’ll make this quick.’ he said.
Mike wondered what he meant before the palm came up and hit him square in the centre of his face, driving the nasal bone into his brain.
David took a few things with him after he had wiped down where he had sat and left evidence which would throw things off enough to finish the rest of it.
Chris rang Terry whilst he was on his lunch. Terry said nothing until his babbling had smoothed out into a choked sob.
‘Mike didn’t touch drugs, this has to be something else.’ he said
Terry told him to get the others and meet at the motel tonight. He ended the call and went back to the site, looking at the house he was building and wondering if he would see it completed. A cold sense of resolve washed over him as he slipped his phone back into his pocket.
‘It’s good work.’
Terry turned and looked at the man who stood next to him. He wore a dark pinstripe suit and smiled at Terry with a familiarity which tested his taciturn expression.
‘Thanks, I should get back to it. Can’t get the help these days.’ he said.
‘Beaners or niggers?’ the man said.
Terry scowled as he walked away.
‘I find having the courage of your convictions shows the measure of a man, Terry.’ he said.
Terry froze as his heart thumped. He swallowed and tasted copper as he stood up straight and turned around with care.
‘Do I know you, mister?’ he said.
The man shook his head.
‘No, you don’t. I bumped into Jenny when she dropped Rachel at daycare, beautiful family you’ve got there, Terry.’ he said.
Terry snorted through his nose and stood there, calculating the distance it would take to get close to the man and whether he could take him down. He had left the gun in the car, unloaded as the law demanded, but he itched to have it with him.
‘Mister, you seem like a smart man, if you’ve got something to say, say it.’ he said.
The man shook his head.
‘No, this is me fucking with you for sport. I don’t say things, I act.’ he said.
He turned and walked away without looking back. Terry’s hands shook as he reached for his phone and called Pete.
Pete had set his rifle up from the back of the flatbed truck, hidden underneath a tarp with the scope trained on the window of the room they used. It was a.22 long rifle with a weaver scope and he had parked 150 yards away, just at the point where the round went from supersonic to subsonic. He adjusted for the drop at the distance but after popping sand niggers in the desert, Pete liked to think he was defending his homeland enough to factor in the physics.
Whoever the limey fuck was, he would not fuck with The White Rabbit and live. Pete knew the feds were circling, but they had time to get clear. Running was an option but Terry wanted this guy taken down. A last scalp before they all packed up and went out to Montana where there were people who could hide them until things blew over.
Plus, Pete thought, being white helped.
He chewed on the piece of jerky until it softened to the consistency of gum and sipped the bottle of water as he watched Chris and Terry enter the room.
Nice and smooth, he thought. They would lure the guy in, get him by the window and Pete would shoot him. The suppressor would reduce the sound to little more than a cough and it would be over.
The White Rabbit understood the first rule of guerilla warfare:
Make your weaknesses your strengths. They were a small, tight cell and able to react with speed but Pete had liked Mike, and so laid there, he vowed to avenge his brother. Running sucked, but it meant they could come back, harder and stronger when this fucker was in the ground.
He looked through the sight and waited to make his shot.
Terry and Chris went through the motions of setting up a video, both touching the holstered pistols on their hips for unconscious reassurance as they waited for something to fall upon them.
‘He’s a limey?’ Chris said.
Terry grunted and nodded as he reached for the balaclava from underneath the pillow.
‘Shut up and film me. We need to make this look real.’ he said.
Chris nodded as Terry rolled the balaclava down over his head. He caught a whiff of something acrid and sharp before he tried to pull it off as he bellowed with horror. Chris dropped the camera with shock at the sight of Terry’s face.
Red and pink sizzling blisters covered his face. He held his hands to his face and bolted past Chris to the door as he scratched for the door handle. Chris ran to him, turned him around and caught the stink of corroding flesh before he vomited down himself with shock at his friend’s ruined face.
Pete frowned as he reached for his phone but he stopped when he felt the weight shift in the back of the truck before a hammer blow landed on the base of his skull. He tried to roll onto his side but a foot stamped between his shoulder blades and forced the breath from his lungs, cracking ribs and tearing the tip of his scapulae off as he struggled to improve his position.
The man loomed above him.
‘I’m a man who likes to work with his hands.’ he said.
Pete felt his life slip away in a series of judicious blows as the man beat him to death with his own rifle.
Chris dragged Terry outside, looking around as he watched Pete’s pick up rocking on its wheels as two men struggled in the back. He drew his gun and fired blind as Terry mewled with agony, limp with the insult as the skin melted off his face. Chris felt something wet and gelid fall onto his shoulder and when he turned, Terry’s cheek had fallen off. He screamed and pushed him away as he cried out in horror.
The figure stepped down from the truck and disappeared from view.
Chris looked at the gun and met Terry’s eyes as they melted down his face like defrosted ice cream. Terry clutched at his shoulder and rasped out a single word.
‘Please.’ he said
Chris looked at his friend and raised the gun as he heard the faint cry of sirens in the distance. He squeezed the trigger as he gave his friend the gift of mercy.
Blake stood by the grave, numb and struggling to keep upright as he looked at the headstone. Life had paused at the worst moment, and he veered between bleak disconnection and anger at how the world had gone on without him.
The news featured the arrest of the militia member who had turned on the others and been shot by police at a local motel used as a base of operations. Blake had watched the tearful wife of the leader and felt nothing but a grinding contempt as she denied all knowledge of the enterprise. He came to see Jessica’s grave every day even as the sympathy of others around him depleted by the raw gravitational pull of his pain.
It was a warm afternoon when he saw the man walk over to him.
‘I’m sorry for your loss.’ he said.
A British accent drew Blake from his inward focus as he looked up. The man was unshaven, his eyes hidden behind sunglasses as he looked at the headstone.
‘Did you know her?’ Blake said.
The man nodded without taking his attention from the headstone.
‘Yes, she was a good girl.’ he said.
His voice was slow and rough with fatigue as he took off the sunglasses and offered his hand to him. Blake was taken aback by the pain in the man’s eyes but he took his hand with whatever grace was available to him.
David looked at Blake, forced down the tumultuous blend of emotions, envy and kinship for the mutual loss alongside the need to control his emotions. It was a beautiful day but David felt like he was underneath a long, cold shadow wherever he went. The fact he wasn’t alone offered no comfort and an explanation of his association with Jessica would make things worse. He looked into Blake’s eyes with a cold frankness.
‘I killed them and I made it hurt, Blake. It doesn’t bring her back but you’ve got to start somewhere, haven’t you?’ he said.
Blake furrowed his forehead as David let go of his hand and put his sunglasses on. He smiled at Blake and walked away.
David’s phone rang and he answered it. Larry had a car waiting for him and asked if he was coming back to work. David remembered the late nights with Jessica, back when this life was an idea and he had a choice to make about his future and the warmth of her skin, the overbite when she smiled and the way she rolled her cigarettes.
David sighed and looked at the Lincoln which idled at the kerb. He didn’t have to tell Larry he was back at work.
He had never left.