Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Good For the Gander

Mark Lawson set his keys into the ceramic catch all dish near his entryway and shuffled to the kitchen wine rack for a final glass of chardonnay. It had been a fruitful evening, though exhausting. His plans had been executed flawlessly, the participants were all home and likely asleep even before the conflagration they’d initiated had announced itself through its first wisps of smoke. To his knowledge, no one had been caught unawares in the Burlingame Research center; he’d watched the blaze from beginning to end and there was not one rescue vehicle present save that which tended to the firefighters themselves. And it had seen no business either. The animals were free, the project and its edifice had been eliminated and not one human being suffered for it. Perfect.

He should have been nervous. An ordinary man might have stayed awake most of the night fretting the possibilities of discovery and capture. Yet Mark knew he was in the right, that a good thing had been accomplished by the light of tonight’s harvest moon. Sixty five tiny creatures had been released from the grasp of man’s inhumanity, and it was his leadership, his strategy and his organization that would be credited with this act of heroism.

Deciding on the word heroism was a step long in process for Mark. It wasn’t until he’d written the Animal Warrior Society Manifesto that he’d found the truth in what he believed; That human beings were simply animals and as such, shared the planet with their brethren. All creatures were created equal, and none have the right to torture, dismember, murder or experiment with another. That he had so quickly decided to demand non violent tactics from his membership was in his favor, according to those who spoke well of his quest. He was firm on the point that no human being should ever be harmed, not even the most heinous offenders; not for punishment, not for example nor for retribution. Mark Lawson believed himself to be absolutely consistent, without a shred of hypocrisy.

That of course would force him to write in great detail explaining his theory that property destruction was perfectly justifiable, an aggressive but measured form of protest. That portion of the manifesto took nearly a half ream of paper, but once completed Mark was confident that no one would be able to argue his facts. To the nearsighted and weak kneed perhaps, it might seem arrogant. To the rich it would surely be seen as heresy. “Inequity is rampant” he wrote, headlining his chapter on the cause of animal cruelty and the means with which to combat it, “and the perverse inequality between human beings is most forcefully demonstrated in the flaunting of their material possessions. Therefore we concur that to cause the destruction of the tools of oppression is not only a reasonable protestation, but a praiseworthy one as well.”

The wine was perfectly room temperature, if only he’d had a crumb of Stilton left he’d have been sated. But then there would be less to look forward to at tomorrow’s sunrise, he thought, and with a final sip he set down the goblet and was off to bed.

Mark Lawson was a sound sleeper, so it’s not at all odd that it took him quite a while to awaken, even to the sound of a voice telling him “move slowly sir or risk a bullet to the brain.” Once aware that he was not dreaming his first instinct was to bolt upright, but a cold metal spike situated between his nose and eyebrows was pushing him backward into his pillow.

“My wife,” he whispered through the cotton coating on his teeth; “my kids. Tell me my wife and children are fine and you can have anything you like.” It was logical to assume his household was about to be robbed. There was nothing he owned that couldn’t be replaced beyond his precious Jennifer and their daughters; he determined he’d cooperate fully so long as there was no harm dealt to his own.

“Your family is just fine” came the reply. “But I’m afraid we don’t want anything at all. We would though appreciate it if you were to slowly sit up, step from your bed, slip on this housecoat and come along outside.”

The pistol’s barrel never left its post, so secure it seemed glued to his skin. Mark glanced about the room as best he could for a friendly face to begin with, and then a sign of struggle once the former had proved pointless. The room was as it had been when he’d come to bed; spotless, as always.

As he rose a robe was draped across his shoulder. The man he faced was large, but not so large that Mark was intimidated by his size alone. Given the chance, if necessary of course, he could probably tackle the perpetrator and hold him still until the authorities came. His military training was still an asset, even though his use of it in combat had been the agent of change to his moral code. But until he knew exactly where and in what condition his family was, there would be no action taken.

The two marched from the bedroom, down the long hallway and to the top of the wide stair that had served for years as the Christmas photography platform; each family in turn seated on the wide planks in stadium style, each photo framed and hung just above the mahogany railing. In fact of late the photos were dotted with strangers as well as relations, the season inducing the Lawson family to invite their share of Washington state’s homeless to their celebration.

Mark was physically yanked from his reminiscence as the burglar snatched a fistful of his black, unkempt hair. “Just in case you slip” the man said as he pressed the gun to Mark’s shoulders; “I wouldn’t want to lose your head.”

There was no pain involved, the man’s grip was firm but not vicious, yet it was obvious that losing one’s footing could result in a pain one might never recover from, so Mark stepped lightly, gripping the banister for support. Once moving downward he noted there were more people moving about, all dressed in camouflage and ski masks. What they were doing he couldn’t tell, but they seemed to be inspecting every inch of his cabinetry and flooring, crawling around obstructions, reaching underneath furniture. It was as if they were searching for something; as if they thought he had hidden secret information or gold bullion perhaps. It occurred to him that this could be an arrest, but for only a moment. The police don’t wake criminals by pushing a gun into the bridge of their noses.

“What is all this” he asked; “what are you looking for? I’ll be happy to give you anything you want if you’ll just leave my fam…” His voice trailed off. No one was listening; not one movement slowed, not one head turned. Another prod in his spine let him know to move ahead and apparently, out the front door.

It was still quite dark outdoors, though the full moon was doing its utmost to burn its way through the forest canopy and light the Lawson home grounds. Mark guessed it to be three a.m. or so, making it damned unlikely a random driver might pass by and spot his attackers. There was an enormous benefit to living in the woods. Even though he’d needed to clear a considerable plot of land so as to erect his wind tower and solar panel array, the damage had been paid back to mother earth ten fold by his actions as a protector of the planet. Besides, the meadow created had served as a feeding area for local fauna, and the home was all but self sufficient.

Mark was led through his hilly front yard and down his considerable driveway before being forced to sit on a bench he’d built so as to have a spot at which to clearly see the wonder he and Jennifer considered their home. The house itself was built within a small vale that continued downward for miles on end. The county road was well above their roofline and so the drive needed to make a few switchbacks before reaching the proper altitude. It was from this vantage point that Mark first proposed, and so built this bench to commemorate “the best idea he’d ever had.”

“Nice night” said a voice from behind him. “Don’t worry about your family. They’ll be just fine.”

The stranger’s voice was rich, pleasant, neither passionate nor taught. It was as if the man was a neighbor starting up a conversation. Mark felt a little lightheaded.

“Can I offer you a beer?” he asked angrily, though he didn’t wait for an answer. He did try to rise as he spoke but was thrust to his seat by two pair of hands he’d not known were there. “What the hell is it you want if I might be so bold? What the hell is this? You take my family somewhere, you have goons crawling around in my house! What the hell could I possibly have that would require a dozen men and a kidnapping?”

Once the light echo of Mark Lawson’s shouts had vaporized, the silence of the moment nearly suffocated all involved. Finally the stranger spoke.

“To cause the destruction of the tools of oppression is not only a reasonable protestation, but a praiseworthy one as well” he said, reading the words from a parchment he’d fetched from inside his jacket. “You recognize those words Mark?”

Mark’s response was immediate. “I have no idea what the hell you’re talking about! And how in hell do you know my name?”

“Well” he heard in the same calm tone, “the latter is easy. If we hadn’t had your name before we got here it’s plastered on your mailbox. You should be more careful Mark, identity theft is rampant. As for the former”, he paused, “of course you know, and we know everything we need to know about you. Never use college students Mark; they don’t have the courage of their convictions.”

Mark was furious, and more than a little worried. “What about college students? Use them for what? And where is my family for the last ti…”

“Your family is being released into the wild, Mark” the man said as his companions giggled. “Don’t panic, they’re safe. They’ll just need to walk a bit once we’ve gotten them to a nice place where they might escape your oppression. We figured a thousand miles should do it. They should be there by this time tomorrow. Then it will be their choice; enjoy the benefit of their freedom, or return to suffer under the torture of your thumb. All animals should be treated with the same respect, don’t you agree?”

He wanted to scream. He wanted to leap to his feet and show these monsters what it meant to be frightened. He might have killed them right there if he’d had the opportunity. But he could do none of that. Again, he couldn’t risk the lives of his beautiful wife and children. Obviously these men knew his secret, and by that he’d already put his family in jeopardy. This was not supposed to happen of course. Yet he’d thought about the possible consequences before he’d embarked on his zealous journey, and had deemed them worth taking. Little did he know what he’d feel once the situation actually arose.

“And what of me then” he asked. “What is it you’re going to do with me.”

“Oh nothing really” the man said as he waved his arm toward a compatriot near the house. “I just want you to live by the words you preach.”

Before Mark could question the riddle, a loud whoosh turned his head toward the vale. It wasn’t a boom really; there was no explosion of any magnitude. It was more the sound of all the air within a five hundred foot cube being sucked into a black hole. The fire was immense, all consuming, immediate.

“We took special care Mark. We made sure your pets were released, your family was well removed and your house was turned into a matchstick before we lit the fuse. We wanted to watch you witness your life in flames, as so many have witnessed their own lives char by your hand. Of course the fire and police will be here as soon as they’re notified. That’s why we took great pains to cover every nook and cranny with acetone. You know Mark, acetone; your inflammable of choice if I’m not mistaken. Like you, we wanted nothing to rise from these ashes.”

Mark could only stare. Within minutes he was alone, the heat of the blaze even at this distance, steaming the fabric in his robe.  On his lap was a business card that had been dropped over his shoulder. Away from the light of his home’s demise, he turned the paper so that he could read its print.

“The Animal Warrior Reduction Society” it read. “Do unto others as they do unto you” said a second line.

A hundred emotions coursed through Mark Lawson’s body. But only one took root. He would need to file for divorce first.

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