Vengeance for All - Chapter One (Excerpt)
Counting tonight, Brittany Jacobs had overseen the execution of one hundred and twelve enemies of the state. There was little remorse on her part as she considered the accused as the problem, with her playing the role of solution. She caught herself squinting into the computer screen and thought about the dilemma of crow’s feet. It had been a long day and her eyes were tired. She pushed a strand of her blonde hair behind her right ear and felt good that it stayed there. She was overdue for a trip to the salon, still a guilty and somewhat anxious pleasure in the new existence. The restrictions that everybody hoped would be lifted in few weeks, in a month, in a year were now permanently in place. There was no going back to the way things used to be. Maybe in another five years, but not now. The cause of the extension of death, destruction, upheaval, and her extended hours at work traced back to the list of names on the Word document in front of her face. It would be nice to clear the slate in one fell swoop, but the laws weren’t set up that way. They all had a right to a fair trial or in this case, a military tribunal.
She considered herself as an agent of change even though it meant sending some of her fellow Americans to the gallows. Like her they had been educated in the country’s school systems, maybe belonged to a church went to Boy Scouts meetings, or were members of 4-H. The second and mostly silent civil war had changed all that. The common sense of community was wiped away as the country was divvied into two camps with no road of common sense running in between them.
She liked to joke that she was doing the “lord’s work,” even though she had converted to atheism while still a minor. She was born in Boston into the Jewish faith but quickly decided that Bible stories were poorly written works of fiction designed to frighten the intellectually weak. At age 12, she announced to her stunned parents that she had no intention of attending Hebrew school nor did she want a Bat Mitzvah or the party afterwards. Her parents, he a lawyer and she an educator believed it was a phase that she would grow out of, but she did not.
She was suspicious by nature and had no doubt that her enemy was constantly moving amongst the white hats while harboring the worst intentions. In her mind the concept of mercy in this case was overrated, and she was driven to root them out, and neutralize their confused ways of thinking. But right now the idea of some self-care in a posh salon sounded very appealing.
The ones on the other side had been fertilized by hatred and twisted by fear of the other. They’d turned away from facts and science, creating a lousy mess for her and her type to mop up. Many of the guilty were still out there, roaming the earth using phony credentials. Some were underground, living off the grid in Appalachia, Alaska, the deep south or the mountain west.
When captured they were brought here for the tribunals that served as legal trials for those deemed unworthy of the full judge and jury bit. Tonight’s lucky player was William “Willy” McCoy. He was on the list by virtue of self-admitted dastardly deeds committed against the state. There were two quick knocks on her door as it cracked open. The face of her assistant Taylor appeared. “Are you ready? It’s time.” He was two years younger than her, early 40’s, balding and had the look of a terminally frustrated, stoop-shouldered accountant in a perennially rumpled suit. Like her, he came from a liberal, educated family and helped implement the legislation that brought them all here together at this time and place.
“Yeah, just give me a minute. I’ll be right there.” He gave her a quick nod, and the crack in the doorway quietly closed. She exhaled slowly, the breath coming out as a sigh as she reached into her top desk drawer and pulled out her compact mirror. Her fair skin read as pale in the horrible office lighting. She thought about touching up her makeup and then remembered she wasn’t wearing any. What was the point? She gave her shoulder-length blonde hair a quick comb with her fingers and thought about her husband running his fingers through it. He always loved her hair.
He had been twenty years older than her when they married and a Presbyterian, which caused a stir in the families. Her parents were always accepting of her choices and kept their views mostly to themselves. She was sure they were concerned about the future and disappointed as the possibility of grandchildren quickly faded away. Her parents often said with neutral conviction that, “as long as she was happy, that was most important.”
She was forty now and not happy. She was not happy when the plague took the man that served as husband, lover, teacher, mentor, and guardian. The notion of happy seemed more ambiguous every day. She never felt good about the term. Who was really happy? How long did it last? Wasn’t it a mindless temporary euphoria enjoyed by the drug addled and the naïve?
She closed the desk drawer, stood up and smoothed her navy blue pencil skirt, adjusted the collar of her white cotton blouse, picked up the notebook that would serve as the exit visa for Willie McCoy and left the room. The thick heels of her black pumps made soft thumping noises in the terrazzo hallway as Taylor joined her at the turn towards the exterior doors.
“Did you read the background on this one?” asked Taylor.
“Yeah, real piece of work, huh?”
“I’m thinking it might make it easier.”
“You mean, the actual procedure?”
“I mean, I don’t like it when there’s a sense of doubt about their guilt. It bugs me.”
She gave him a sideways look. “This is what you signed up for, soldier.”
He winced a bit and shifted the files in his hand. “I know. I’m fine. It just feels better when they admit to it.”
They hit the handles on the exterior doors with a bang and they were outside coming to the metal enclosure that had been built around the gallows. They were constructed along the northern wall of the army base. The twelve-foot high brick wall that circled the military reservation base had been in place since before the first Civil War, when Washington D.C. was still a derelict backwater. Cutthroats, thieves, runaway slaves and prostitutes populated the southwest quadrant back then. The idea of locating a military base was sold to the locals as a stabilizing force for the neighborhood.
It was early fall and she was grateful for cool night air. They opened the doors to the metal building as two Marines standing guard snapped to attention. Technically, Brittany Jacobs, and her assistant Taylor Mumford were civilians and were not required or expected to salute in return. Their standing as attorneys in the civil service afforded them to be treated as officers by the muscle that guarded their movements on base.
The accused was already in position on the gallows, hands tied behind his back and ankles bound with zip ties. He was wearing standard issue, prisoner of war garb – the black jumpsuit issued to all of the ones brought to Fort McNair. The site wasn’t chosen by accident. She knew from a dive down a historical rabbit hole that four of the convicted conspirators of the Lincoln assassination, including the first woman to be executed by the federal government were brought here in July of 1865, and were disposed of in the same way.
Two more Marines held the accused in place over the trap door. A Catholic priest stood on the platform softly reading the last rites from an open bible in his hand. Three more men in suits off in the far corner stood silently bearing witness, their hands stuffed into trouser pockets. Brittany didn’t know their faces but assumed they were representing for federal-level law enforcement and the White House. In the other corner, dressed in black, complete with facemask stood the executioner with a black hood in his hand. He stood near the control panel that sat on a small wooden table built for the job.
McCoy was a large man and stood in a defiant posture, chest thrust forward even now, in the theater of death. His unruly red hair and full beard looked almost orange in the harsh lighting. Brittany and Taylor climbed the thirteen steps as she nodded to the ghosts in suits standing in the corner. They nodded back as she stood in front of McCoy, opened her notebook and started to read the prepared statement.
“William Arnold McCoy, AKA Willy McCoy you have been found guilty of sedition, attempting to overthrow the government of the United States, and treason under the auspices of the Booth Act. Your case has been heard in legal tribunal in accordance with that act and you have been found guilty. The punishment is death. Do you have any final words before the sentence is carried out?”
McCoy looked around seeming to take his time viewing his surroundings, “So is there where we do the fake execution and I’m supposed to shit my pants or beg for mercy or offer to turn state’s evidence?”
“We’re way past that point,” said Brittany. “Anything else you want to add?”
He tilted his head and said, “Oh yeah, there’s a whole lot I’d like to add, lady. Like we all know what this is about, don’t we? The government is in complete control, taking away our rights to own guns or assemble or speak freely when we feel like it.”
The words tumbled out, the same wild-eyed, half-baked notions she’d been hearing for years. She was sick of imbeciles like this who refused to look at facts, accept the truth and blend in. Even though the executions were common knowledge to anybody paying attention, some chose not to believe. She nodded at the executioner who silently stepped behind the condemned man and pulled the hood over his head with one smooth movement and then yanked the drawstring at the bottom tightening it around the condemned man’s neck. McCoy blathered on, talking faster now, maybe less convinced about his convictions as Brittany and Taylor stood back. The Marines released McCoy’s arms, and each took a step back.
The executioner positioned himself behind the control panel, his finger poised above the button. Brittany gave him a nod. The hesitation lasted only a second as the executioner pushed the button that controlled a motor that pushed a set of metal rods that held the trap door in place. McCoy plummeted towards earth, his body propelled by its own weight, his fall stopped by perfectly smooth nylon rope that caught at just the right height to snap his neck with an audible crack. Urine hit the dirt floor as the body twitched away the final moments of life.
Brittany watched it as she had the other one hundred and twelve before this one. She could have shut her eyes but she didn’t want to. She wanted to see it, to witness it, because in those few seconds when it happened, the weight of the world melted away and for a fleeting moment she felt truly happy.