by J.S. Downing
Tess finally reveals what Jory does.
| Chapter 6
No words had been exchanged. My uncle simply flicked his head to get me to open the basement door for them, and I did so without question. The look on his face had a different quality to it that night; his eyes were ice in truth, and it chilled me to my bones. They proceeded to carry the bound man down the stairs with me in tow. I realized I still had the scissors in my hand, and felt suddenly foolish walking around in my robe. At the far side of the basement was a pad-locked door Jory had told me was for storage. He unlocked it. My breath caught in my throat as the door swung open.
There was a single chair in the middle of the room, with straps sagging loosely from the arms and legs. Along the wall was a workbench with shovels, tools, rope, tarps, plastic wrap, bleach and lye. A few hunting knives hung suspended above in fastened sheathes. The floor was concrete and looked spotless, but the acrid smell of cleaner told me that it had not always been so. It all felt so foreign. I was as a spectator watching from a tv; I could watch, but do nothing to affect the outcome.
Jory and Blaine worked the man into a chair and tied him down with nylon rope. Over his head was a black canvas bag. Whoever it was hardly struggled, but I could hear faint whimpering from behind the veil. He smelled of sweat and urine, and his clothes were torn up. Wounds were visible from whatever struggle had taken place. They secured the straps to his wrists and ankles, looking all too familiar with the motions they went through.
"Tess," My uncle started, breaking me from my thoughts, "Go upstairs and put some clothes on."
I tried to speak, but the lump in my throat halted the attempt. Pulling my robes tight, I walked back up to my room robotically without even acknowledging what he had said. My whole world turned upside down. Jory and Blaine had gone against everything I believed them to be. They kidnapped a man, dragged him to our home and strapped him in some dungeon for a reason I couldn't begin to fathom. Some time passed, and there was a knock at my door. I hadn't even remembered changing into my clothes. Blaine entered, his gaze sympathetic.
"This is not the way we wanted to introduce you to what Jory does," he said, his voice hardly a whisper.
"Who is that man?"
He sat down next to me on the bed, taking my hand into his. "He is someone that is responsible for many terrible things. Normally he would have been taken to a more discreet location, but we ran out of time."
Tears ran down my cheeks as I struggled to get words out. "There is a chair down there with straps! This isn't the first time you've done this!"
"No, it's not," Blaine conceded, gripping my hand tightly.
"What are you going to do with him?"
"We're going to kill him, Tess."
My stomach heaved. I ran to the bathroom and vomited, again and again, until I was left on the floor convulsing as I cried. Blaine was standing over me, holding my hair. I wanted to break away from him but didn't have the strength, or the conviction. I wept for the man in the bag, for my uncle, and for myself. My mind fought my body, feeling wholly betrayed.
After a time I was able to sit up and look Blaine in the eye again. "All this talk about shackles and chains has been a lie. You preach freedom, but take a man's life away when it suits you. You are no better than those you claim to fight against."
He nodded, stroking my hair. It was comforting, and infuriating. "I understand what you're going through. My very first encounter was the same, except that it was me heaving over the toilet, and my father standing over me. I punched him in the face."
When I said nothing, he continued. "You once told me that you didn't want to be here. The people here are diseased, you said. And I told you that not all of them are bad, they have simply never understood that there is another option.
"That is the truth, Tess. We are surrounded by good people that don't want anything from anyone, they just want to be left alone. But they aren't able to. It is an unfair system that destroys what people are from the inside. It is a system that makes people do terrible things to other people. Doctors heal their patients, then kill them under a pile of debt. Employers put their employees on the streets to achieve an acceptable bottom line. Banks steal and spend others' money and provide nothing in return.
"If you look at each individual in each situation, none of them want to hurt anyone else. It is the systems that are in place that cause it. We are trying to halt these processes by exposing them for what they really are: fictions. It is the most ambitious undertaking that anyone has ever attempted--and the most necessary. We are the precursors of a time when people will return to reality.
"Most of what we do involves showing people a better way--but that alone is a losing battle. So we involve ourselves in their system, changing their laws and their rules to open people up to the concept of being free.
"There are individuals, however, that truly desire power over others. They are the ones that fully understand what they are doing to people--and have a clear conscience doing it. You have not met anyone like that, but I have. They are the ones that kill people without a second thought, or worse yet, force others to kill themselves through legislature. It is not something that is done blindly; it is something that is done with clear purpose for their own personal gain.
"For these people, we have Jory."
I sat for a long while, staring off as I tried to take it all in. "So what did this man do?"
Blaine went over to the sink and began washing his hands. "His name is Walter Ridley. He has spear-headed an Act that allows police to enter homes without a warrant and detain individuals suspected of involvement in terrorist plots or terrorist organizations. No evidence is required, and no one is held accountable for wrongful or unethical seizures.
"When there is legislation that grants overwhelming power to the Government over people, we find the persons involved in its passing and gather whatever information we can on them. Our politicians attempt to halt its passing, and our lawyers try to find an angle to gain us an advantage in bartering with them directly.
"What we found was appalling. Ridley had been blackmailing Politicians, Judges and members of Congress to get the law pushed through. When that didn't work, a few of the people opposing him began to disappear, including one of our own. The lack of evidence he left behind was impressive, and prevented us from taking legal action against him.
"You see, Mr. Ridley had a lot to gain by the Act being passed. He is at the head of the Department of Homeland Security, and would personally be able to pick and choose who to target and detain to serve his own self-interest. He would have more power than the President."
"But, why? Why would he want that?"
He dried his hands and regarded me. "The Government is a system of controlling people. There are those out there that want to harness that system to their own ends. The amount of lives that could be lost as a result are innumerable. It is for this reason that we intervene.
"There will come a time very soon when you will be released from your Patronage. At that point, what you do with your life is your decision. I only ask that you examine carefully why we do what we do. You can then decide if you want to be a part of it."
Blaine made for the door, but I grabbed his wrist, stopping him short. "I'm coming with you." He began to object but I stood up, resolute. "I need to see this."
* * *
The tone of my life changed after that night. Any shred of childhood left in me had vanished. I expected being an adult made you certain of everything, as though some sudden metamorphosis took place within you like a butterfly emerging from its cocoon. The reality was far less romantic. Every choice I made from that point on had a consequence behind it, and there was no way to know if it was right or wrong. If I had to pick a point where the life I live started, it would have been the first night I saw a man die.
The days that followed were quiet, leaving me far too much time to my thoughts. I finished wiring the house I had been working on, and spent more time than I needed to making minor renovations that hardly made a difference on the final product. Blaine did not leave again after that, though he mostly left me alone. I suspect he knew I would need some space for a time. Jory had been the same as always; to him, nothing had changed. It was a trait I didn't understand at first, but came to appreciate over time. He was a lodestone, absolute and unerring.
My thoughts took purchase over my every moment, whether awake or asleep. It was my consciousness' natural defense against what I had witnessed. Piece by piece, I was forced to draw conclusions about every aspect of what had happened, and why. The factors were innumerable. Was killing someone, for any reason, just? Could one be so certain of their own beliefs that they would kill those that threaten it? What if they were wrong? What could vindicate what they had done?
Projects had never gone quicker. I replaced the transmission of a pickup truck; shingled a roof; tore out a rotting staircase, then rebuilt it all in the course of a week. Having my hands busy helped my mind work through the problems. Blaine knew that all too well, and doubled my workload. He sent me along in an ambulance in the months that followed, having me tag along with our neighbor Sarah who was a licensed EMT.
She was a nice woman who enjoyed explaining every detail of what she did. I learned quickly, however, that when there was a patient present, she was short and to the point. Her demeanor would switch in an instant, and I found the sobriety of her every action that followed inspiring. It reminded me of Jory; purely focused, no bullshit. Fail at your job and a man would die.
I was very good at first aid, but the skills required for an EMT took much longer to pick up, and in the end I was only partially proficient. Sarah was always patient, taking extra time to review what we had done and why, but in truth it was not something I excelled at. Fixing cars was far easier than fixing bodies.
In the evenings when my uncle was home, he began teaching me self-defense. I was apprehensive at first; there had never been a need for me to know how to defend myself. He then told me that it was going to be time for me to leave soon, and I would have nobody to protect me but myself. Hesitantly I gave in.
Jory was ex-military, but just where he was from was never revealed to me. We began with basic hand-to-hand combat, but soon moved on to melee weapons and firearms. I was surprised to find how natural it felt to me. My uncle told me I had an acute situational awareness, and more importantly, I made decisions calmly and quickly in the moment. Strength, he said, could be trained; but a sharp mind could not.
He never went easy on me. The cold, calculating eyes that were made of ice would follow my movements with a practiced certainty, and in the months that followed I went to bed with bruises, cuts, sprains and, one time, a broken arm. My own stubbornness willed me on, and with each failure I would come back harder, every time with a new strategy to take Jory down. To this day I could never match him, but there were days when I could, at the very least, give him pause.
Things began to feel right again. What I had witnessed would never go away, but it did become a more distant memory with each day that passed. I went from trying to get it off my mind to hardly thinking about it as the reality of the day to day carried me on.
It took a little more than a year, but finally one night Blaine asked that I go for a walk with him alone. We didn't speak and he took the lead, guiding us through the gate, and out into the wilderness that was the rest of the world. Before long we were immersed in houses, cars, streetlights and fire hydrants. That late at night there was not soul in sight, and the rhythmic song of crickets beckoned us on. It had rained for a while in the afternoon and the night air was brisk. I inhaled the familiar scent of damp soil that always followed a downpour.
We took a path through the park that ran parallel to a pond. I could hear the faint sound of geese squawking in the distance. There was a cool breeze that sailed through, and I pulled my coat tight around me. It was just like my first day with him. I smiled at the familiarity.
It was nearly a mile before he spoke. "Your Patronage is finished, Tess. It is time for you to leave."
He turned, gauging me. "In the next week we want you to decide on a place you would like to live. You will be given enough money to last you a month; after that, you will be on your own."
I laughed. "You sure are in a hurry to get rid of me."
Blaine stopped, facing me directly. He smiled, and for the first time ever, gave me a hug. I admit, I had no idea how to react. "I am proud of you, Tess. Every bit of me knows that you are ready, but I can't help feeling it's too soon," he pulled back, looking me in the eye, "I'm going to miss you."
My heart warmed at that. "I'll miss you too."
"Now is the time for you to go out on your own and live in their world. Immerse yourself in it. Get a feel for what it really means. Make friends. Do stupid things," his words became choked, "and decide what is best for you. If you want, you have all the skills you need to make it in their world. If not, return to us and we can move forward with you. From now on, you will be making all the decisions for your own life."
I simply nodded, not trusting my own voice at that moment. We continued walking for the better part of the night. Neither of us spoke again. I think, upon reflection, we were content just to be in each other's company.