The Newspaper Man, Pt. 3

Well, updating on time is consistently proving an impossibility. I might take a breather after I finish up this story and reconsider the schedule. We’ll see.

Tweak was more agitated than Dante had ever seen before. He opened the door to his apartment without saying a word, looked down the hallway after letting Dante, locked it when he shut it.

“What’s going on, man?”

Tweak motioned Dante to follow him to his computer. “Alright, so, my fucking buddy Simon, right? Professor at the university. He hears how well the march here went and he knows they’re going to jack up tuition at his school, so he thinks that the thing to do is get a big crowd going and camp out in front of the administration building. He starts talking to, he spreads the word online. Tells folks to get there at seven in the morning and bring shit to camp out. And they do it, man. He gets a crowd of people two-hundred strong. Not right away, but they trickle in as the hours go on.”

Tweak sniffed, wiped at his eyes. Dante said nothing, his eyes locked firmly on the computer screen as he waited for whatever Tweak wanted to show him to load on the page. “So they’re there doing their thing, setting up tents and hanging out and whatever, you know? It’s not even… not even a demonstration, really. They’re just there. And after a couple hours, the cops show up.

“Riot cops. Not with shields and tear gas launchers, but cops with helmets and armor all the same. Fucking riot cops. A bunch of students sitting around holding hands, and the university sends riot cops.”

Dante said nothing. Tweak was silent as well. The image loaded. Tweak pointed to it, said, “There. There.”

Dante leaned in and looked at the screen. A single officer in riot gear walked in front of a gathering of seated students, a can of pepper spray in one hand, the other swinging freely There was a sense of motion to the picture, and Dante imagined the officer whistling as he walked down the line. He could see him pulling out the pepper spray canister, holding it over his head so the gathered crowd could see it. There was nothing on the officer’s face but complacent indifference. A crowd had gathered around them, shock and disgust and horror on their faces. They were documenting the scene with cameras and phones.

No one’s helping, Dante thought. If they made a move, but still. No one was helping.

“Jesus,” Dante said.

“Yeah.” Tweak clicked through to the next photo. The officer stood over the students that lay writhing on the ground, clawing at their throats and their eyes. Dante couldn’t quite put a name to the expression on the officer’s face, but if he had to, he might have said smug satisfaction. “Jesus,” Dante said again, his voice low.

“That’s my buddy there in the red sweatshirt,” Tweak said. The man he indicated was among those in agony from the effects of the spray. “He’s in the fucking hospital now. He has asthma. That shit put him in a coma. His parents called me right before I called you.”

Dante blinked. His eyes went wide as the timeline . “Jesus, all of this just happened and it’s already online?”

“Welcome to the Digital Age.”

“Why’d they call you?”

“Me and him used to date.”

“Oh.” Dante blinked. He opened his mouth to speak, closed it, opened it again. “{You and him were that close?”

“Once.”

“What are you going to do?”

“I’m going to go see him. Whatever happens next, I want to be at that university.” Tweak turned to face Dante, his eyes narrowed. “And something’s going to happen. Something big. I can feel it in my bones.”

Dante nodded. “I understand.”

“And I want you to come with me.”

“Whoa, what?”

Tweak’s face softened in a way Dante had never seen before. Tweak had always worn his emotions for all to see, but Dante had never seen the simple animal pain there before. He looked overwhelmed. “Please, man. I need someone to be there. What happens if I go and he’s already gone, or he dies, or–”

“Okay. Okay, man. When do you want to leave?”

“As soon as we can. When you can be ready to go?”

“Where’s the school?”

“Three hours away. Figure we’ll be there a couple of days.”

Dante frowned. “Fuck. Okay, give me a few hours to get some things together. Do you know where we can stay?”

“I still have some friends in the area.”

“Alright.” Dante pointed at the computer. “Anything else I should see or know before we do this?”

“I don’t think so.” Tweak took a deep breath. His face went through a mixture of emotions. Anger, thoughtfulness, and finally a toothy, narrow-eyed grin. “I need to make some phone calls. Private phone calls. You can see yourself out, yeah?”

“Yeah.”

Tweak stepped forward, hesitated, threw his arms around Dante. “Thanks for this, man. Really. Thank you.”

Dante smiled and patted his friend on the back. “Don’t mention it. Now go call your sketchy-ass friends, alright? I’ll let myself out.”

Tweak nodded and turned to step into his room. Dante watched as he shut the door behind him and chuckled when he heard Tweak lock it. He turned his attention back to the computer and looked at the photo once more. Simon, Tweak had said the man’s name was. It seemed strange to Dante. Formal. He knew so many people who had chosen strange and unusual names for themselves, or else had nicknames given to them that stuck permanently.

He looked through the other pictures. The same shot from different angles. A few that focused on different things. The indifference of the police. The horror of the crowd. The pain of the victims. One of them was odd, though, and Dante dwelt on it.

It seemed to be taken immediately after the one of the officer looking down with pride upon his work. The canister of pepper spray was falling from his hand, and where before they had been smug satisfaction, the photograph seemed to capture his face as his expression shifted to one of horror. Dante couldn’t tell where his eyes were looking due to the visor and to the angle of the picture, but he was recoiling from the bodies on the ground. He was recoiling where once he had stood looming over them, taunting them with his very presence.

Something about the sudden shift was unsettling. What could bring such a drastic change about in the man?

Dante’s blood ran cold. He saw it out of the corner of his eye. A blur against the background that could barely be said to be anything at all, and yet there it was.

Standing in the distance, fare behind the crowd, was a tall figure in a black suit, the grey pages of a newspaper obscuring its face.

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