My apologies for the lack of a post on Friday. I was traveling and managing the blog completely slipped my mind.
Dante stared at the screen, his face expressionless. It was a coincidence. It had to be. Some oblivious passerby that couldn’t be bothered to set down the paper and see what everyone was screaming about. Or perhaps some school administrator that quickly realized what everyone was screaming about and opted to cover their face so as not to appear in any photographs.
Or maybe it was the same figure, that strange and uncaring individual from his own protest putting in an appearance at this one.
It could be a uniform, Dante supposed. It wasn’t unheard of to have people appear at these things dressed in black suits with their faces obscured by masks. The newspaper was unusual and impractical, but maybe it was someone’s attempt at a unique twist on an old standard. That was probably it. It was probably just the same person from before in a uniform of their own devising, acting oblivious to try to send some sort of message about the apathy and uncaring nature of the wealthy. Or something.
Dante looked at the other pictures from the event and frowned. The newspaper man, as Dante was beginning to think of the figure, appeared in many of the photos, but only those taken from certain angles, and always at the same distance from the action of the police officer pepper spraying the students.
Whoever they were, they were aware of what was going on. They were observing just like everyone else, except their eyes were hidden behind that stupid newspaper.
Dante sat motionless for a moment and then began searching for a video of the incident. It took a bit of persistence to find one from the proper angle, but when he did, the newspaper man was in it, standing as motionless as the photographs had suggested. The actual encounter between the officer and the students was even worse than Dante had imagined.
The camera was shaky, of course, doubtless held by some student who was trying to watch events unfold with their eyes even as they tried to capture them with their phone. The gathered police told the students to vacate their tents. They said no. The cops threatened to remove them with force if need be. The students, led by the man Tweak had identified as Simon, sat down and linked their arms. Some of the officers stepped forward and tried to break up the students, but found no success.
The gathered crowd began to close in, forming a circle around everyone. Some of the police began to look nervous, but one of them, a heavyset man with a mustache, strode forward and held the canister of pepper spray above his head. Fear was writ plain across the faces of the students and the crowd, but they did not move. The officer shrugged his shoulders, walked to the end of the line of students, and began spraying them in the face.
The students screamed. The crowd screamed. The other police looked nervously at each other, the looming crowd forgotten as they wondered whether or not to intervene. The officer grinned, and then his eyes went wide, and then he dropped the pepper spray and backed away from the crowd. In the background, the newspaper man turned and walked away.
“What are you doing, man?”
Dante jumped in his seat. Behind him, Tweak sighed. “I thought you were leaving,” he said.
Dante looked over his shoulder at his friend. “Yeah, sorry. I started looking at some of these photos from the school, and… look, man! It’s that fucker from the protest yesterday!” He pointed at the screen. Tweak frowned.
“What the hell are you talking about?”
“The guy. The guy with the newspaper we saw in the pictures. The weird one. He or she or whatever was at the demonstration. Look!”
Tweak leaned in and looked at the photographs. He watched the video. He chuckled. “What are the fucking odds, huh?”
Dante blinked. “That’s it? ‘What are the fucking odds?’”
“So you’ve got someone who likes to dress up to go to protest. Not like we’ve never seen that before.”
“But he was here yesterday afternoon and now he’s a hundred miles away at a protest only a handful of people knew about the next day?”
“I don’t get your point. So he knew someone at the school and went to their demonstration, too. Big goddamn deal.”
Dante frowned. “Then why isn’t he down there with the rest of them? Why is he watching from a hundred feet back, and why does he turn and walk away once everyone’s been sprayed?”
Tweak said nothing. He rewound the video, watched it again. “So he’s a sick fuck, and if I see him there, I’m going to break his fucking face. That’s not a big deal either.” Tweak turned to look at Dante, his face set like steel. “I’m going to tell you right now that I’m going to try and organize another demonstration on the campus for sometime this week. The sooner, the better. And I’m going to plan on the cops bringing pepper spray and batons. I know a guy, a survivalist type. He’s got gas masks, knows riot control tactics.” Tweak paused, took a deep breath. “What I’m saying is, I’m going to be ready for this. And if you won’t be, or if you can’t be, now’s your out.”
Dante was silent for what seemed like a long time. Tweak looked at him, waiting for an answer. Dante held his gaze. “Yeah,” he finally said, his voice softer than he had intended. “Yeah, alright. I’ve got your back, man.”
Tweak smiled. “Good. Now go home and get some shit for a couple of days together. I’m going to have my buddy meet me here, and he’s not a big fan of talking shop in front of strangers.”
* * *
Dante’s phone rang on the walk back from his apartment. It was Dympna. “Oh, good,” she said. “I figured you weren’t dead, but I just wanted to confirm.”
“Sorry to disappoint.”
“Where’d you run off to, anyway?”
Dante sighed. “I woke up and was heading home when I got a phone call from Tweak. Did he tell you about the friend of his that was organizing another protest?”
“No,” she said, her voice hesitant but curious.
“The guy got a bunch of students and professors at a university to sit in on the quad. The cops came and busted it up, and now Tweak wants blood.”
Dympna was silent for a few moments before she said simply, “I’m in.”
“Like I was telling you last night, Dante. Sometimes you’ve got to put down the sign and pick up a brick.”
“Jesus, Dympna. He wants to stage a protest, not bash in their heads.”
She laughed sharply, a single harsh note. “Are we talking about the same guy here?”
“They put the guy in the hospital, Dympna. You think we’re going to fare any better if we go out of our way to antagonize and attack a bunch of cops?”
“Sometimes,” Dympna said slowly, “the point is sending a message.” Fake cheer filled her voice, and Dante could picture her grinning on the other end of the line, that bright beautiful smile and the cold merciless eyes she wore when she was angry. “I’ll give Tweak a call and see what the deal is. See you soon, babe!”
She hung up. Dante sighed, put his phone in his pocket. A short while later, he opened the door to the lobby of his apartment building. It was poorly lit, with little natural light and sparse, dim bulbs. He could hear the sounds of the other tenants bleeding through the thin walls, and it was like walking through the innards of some slumbering beast.