The walk to school the next morning was silent. I tried to stay a step ahead of Eve so I wouldn’t have to talk.
We got to the school and hurried into the line to go through “the checker.” As usual I had to fight the urge to choke the “cashier” who scanned my arm and pompously declared, “Garbage boy.”
Eve pushed me through the line. “Be good Micah.” She put on her best fake smile and headed for her section of the building. She really was beautiful, and I watched the other guys ogle at her as she gently made her way down the hall. What I wouldn’t give to get her a nice dress or a new pair of jeans.
Just as I was about to head for class, I noticed the headmistress making a bee-line for Eve. It wasn’t abnormal for Mrs. Mason to greet Eve in the morning. After all she was one of Mrs. Mason’s favorites, but the headmistress looked particularly distressed, so I immediately tailed them as they headed for the headmistress’ office.
It wasn’t hard to follow them unnoticed. They were both preoccupied and moving at quick pace. No one gave the garbage boy a sideways glance. I was already dressed in my school issued dark blue garbage coveralls so for all they knew I was collecting garbage. Mrs. Mason ushered Eve into her office. Before the door closed, I caught a glimpse of 4 or 5 men dressed in black suits and ties. Their slicked back, jet-black hair matched with overly shiny ties gave them away. They were definitely government officials.
I hurried into the boiler room down the hall from Mrs. Mason’s office where I knew I could access the heating vent that ran the length of the hallway. I quickly climbed up a ladder next to the heating duct. I scurried down the metal box until I was almost over Mrs. Mason’s office. I could see most of the office through the vent at the edge of the room, but couldn’t quite make out the face of the official visitor. I inched closer to get a better look. The duct made a loud creaking noise. I froze and waited in silence to for someone to discover me. Nobody acknowledged the noise. They were too busy in their own business to notice anything going on around.
Mrs. Mason introduced Eve to one of the visitors, and they all sat down in her office. After some brief chit chat about the weather and the school conditions, the visitor turned to Eve and smiled. Eve blushed and the man spoke to Mrs. Mason, gawking disgustingly at Eve.
“I want her in my house. My head maid is getting old, and I’ll soon need a new one. This girl will need a year or so to be trained.”
Eve gasped, Mrs. Mason shook her head and placed her small hand on Eve’s knee. “No, she’s too young. She still has at least 3 years before she’s eligible.”
Mrs. Mason sounded firm, but the visitor clearly wasn’t the type to take no for an answer.
He chuckled, waving his hand. “Oh, surely you can make an exception for me, can’t you, Headmistress?” He spoke in an unassuming tone, almost like he was a regular man asking for an unimportant favor, but his clothes and demeanor said otherwise. Even if his voice didn’t threaten, his simple presence did.
Mrs. Mason smiled sweetly back, but tight lines of fear ran up her throat. She laughed quietly. “Mr. Vice President, my reputation is on the line here. I’d like to make Eve the very best before I send her off to a prestigious household like your own. You understand, don’t you?”
The visitor ran his hand along his chin, visibly annoyed by Mrs. Mason’s still negative answer. His voice betrayed his threatening presence. “Very well.” He smiled grimly. “I’ll have to choose from some of your older students then. Thank you for your time, Headmistress Mason.”
Disdain and haughtiness now oozed from his voice. He would be back for Eve. I knew it. He stood up to leave and turned to get his over-priced coat.
“Are you ready for your tour, sir?” Mrs. Mason jumped out of her chair.
He kept his back turned. “I think we’ll be leaving now. Thank you.”
Eve and Mrs. Mason exchanged a look. I felt the tension too. Not many people told government officials “no.” At least they didn’t tell them twice. This one didn’t seem like a forgiving person to say the least, and leaving before taking the tour meant Mrs. Mason just made a monumental mistake.
The visitor finally turned towards the vent and I saw his face. It was Vice President Isoli. My heart immediately thumped faster, and I felt my blood getting hotter. Isoli combed back his greasy black hair with his overly tanned, brown hand and put on his black bowler cap. As he started out of the room, he turned and nodded to one of his henchmen. The balding man reached across Mrs. Mason’s desk and shook her hand politely as a crooked smile spread over his face. Isoli simply stood in the doorway waiting for his servant to do the deed. I could feel his icy cold gaze as he stared back at Mrs. Mason. This wasn’t good. Something was going down. I had to do something. I needed to tell Eve.All of the men left the room single file, all dressed alike in their black suits and fancy overcoats. Only Isoli wore the bowler cap, but they all stank of arrogance. Eve was in tears as they closed the door behind them.
Mrs. Mason ushered Eve out the door after a few seconds of consoling her. “It’s okay, Eve. I won’t let them take you. You don’t have to worry.”
Won’t have to worry? What could Mrs. Mason do? She was just as naive as Eve if she thought she could stop them from taking Eve. These men didn’t stop until they got what they wanted. Mrs. Mason had to know that, so why was she acting so cavalier?
For a moment after the room cleared, I felt a sense of relief. Maybe I was just being overly paranoid like Eve sometimes told me. The men left the office without violence. Maybe we were in the clear.
Mrs. Mason sank back into her chair and let out a sigh. She mumbled something under her breath and reached for the glass of water at the edge of her desk. She took a long drink then set the glass back on her brown mahogany desk. Loose papers, pencils, and photographs cluttered it, giving it the look of a very busy woman. Unexpectedly she dropped her pen, and her mouth stiffened. Her eyes widened like a woman burning at the stake. She looked like she was trying to scream out but no sound left her mouth. Then as quickly as it started, her eyes rolled back in her head. She slumped in her chair. Dead.I hurried down the ladder and ran for the door. I had to warn Eve. We needed to get out of the school, out of Phoenix. Far away from Isoli’s reach. I opened the door of the boiler room, thoughts racing through my head. I ran out into the hall, instantly slamming into a dark-clad man and crashing to the floor. I looked up expecting to see another slimy cockroach of a man with frosty gray eyes. Instead a gruff man with a beard and vibrant green eyes looked down at me. He was dressed in a dark blue set of overalls, identical to mine.
He reached out his hand and pulled me up by the elbow. “I’ve been looking for you.”
It was Mr. Jarvis, my favorite teacher. Of course that wasn’t saying much. Out of all the butt-kissers and government apologists in this school, he was the only one I could stand being within a half mile of.
“How did you know where I was?”Jarvis grabbed my collar bone and directed me back into the boiler room. “I saw you following your sister. We need to talk. You’re in trouble.”
“Thanks, Einstein. I’m not blind.” I probably didn’t need to say that, but I didn’t want him thinking I couldn’t figure that out on my own.
Jarvis glared back at me.
“Sorry”, I squeaked, letting a little respect back in my tone. I knew I crossed a line, after all, Jarvis wasn’t a garbage man like me, he was actually a mechanic, the supervising mechanic. I took a few of his classes learning how to do emergency repairs on the garbage truck.
“A man has been watching your sister for the past few weeks. He comes here every Wednesday looking for the best students to send to the capital. He’s a talent scout for the Vice President. I think they’re after your sister.”
“A little late.” I shook my head and told him what I saw a few minutes earlier. “Isoli just left in a huff. He told Mrs. Mason he wanted Eve, and the headmistress told them no way. Thirty seconds after they stalked out, Mason keeled over in her chair.”
Jarvis’ eyes got bigger. “Mason’s dead? How long ago were they here?”
“They left 2 minutes ago. If we hurry we can catch them and take care of it.” I reached into my coat pocket and felt the cold steel of the glock-.45 I hid for the last 2 years. Dad left it in a safe under his bed before they took him.
Jarvis grabbed my elbow and shook his head. “It’s no use.They’ve left the building by now. Besides killing them wouldn’t stop anything. You and your sister need to run. I’ve already made arrangements for a place to stay. I’ve written down directions with everything you need to get out, hurry!” He shoved a crumpled paper into my hand and held out a packed bag.
I was too confused to ask any questions. I barely knew this man except casual conversations in the classroom and now he was giving me directions for an escape? I wasn’t even sure I could trust him, but I didn’t have time to doubt. I took the bag from his hand, shoved the paper inside and raced towards the west annex of the school where I knew my sister would be getting ready for the day. I reached the end of the hall within a few seconds and flung open the door to the girl’s locker room.
Eve gasped when I entered the room. “Micah, what are you doing?”
In another circumstance it might have been a dream come true to have to burst into the girls locker room unannounced, but Eve was the only girl left and I barely had enough breath the spit the short message I needed to tell her. “We have…. to go. They… they’re going to take you…Follow me!”
I turned to go, but Eve grabbed my hand and turned me around. “What are you talking about Micah? Mrs. Mason told them no. They already left to find an older girl.”
“MASON’S DEAD! They poisoned her after you left! Go see for yourself if you like. She’s slumped over in her chair like a stuffed animal!”
Eve’s face whitened. I shouldn’t have added the last part, but I needed her to understand. Eve looked up at me, stunned. No tears, no crying. She was just shocked, a good thing because now she wouldn’t argue. She would just follow me home without questions. I grabbed her arm and pulled her frozen body out the door.
I marched past the stuck up cashier when we reached the door.
“Hey, garbage boy, where’re you going?”
I didn’t turn to acknowledge him. “Sister’s sick,” I snapped. He didn’t stop us. Probably because he didn’t care about a garbage boy and a maid.
Afraid of running into the Seazan, I half-dragged, half-carried Eve through back alleyways of the dirty neighborhoods like our own. The odd path took a little extra time but we still made it home in 20 minutes.
When we got in the house, I barked instructions at my lifeless sister. “Get your stuff. We have 10 minutes and we’re leaving.”
I planned on heading east. I didn’t look in the bag Mr. Jarvis gave me at the school. I’d already decided I didn’t know if I could trust him so I wouldn’t.
When I came back into the kitchen, Eve still sat motionless on the floor. Her face was pale and unresponsive. I’d have to get her things for her, which meant we’d be there for 20 minutes instead of 10. I gathered her stuff up first. It took longer than I expected because I didn’t know where she kept everything. I’d finally started stuffing my things into a bag when I heard the front door slam open.
I froze. Not again, I thought.
My mind flashed back to the night my parents were taken.
I was young--too young--but I remembered all the details like it happened yesterday. Mom screaming. Dad’s footsteps pounding down the hallway. Eve grabbing my hand and dragging me to the closet in her room. Shattering glass, then more fighting. Dad wouldn’t go down without a fight.
Then came the silence. Worse than the fighting. Empty. We creep downstairs and find the living room in shambles. Once they know the coast is clear, the neighbors come. All of them telling us they’ll keep us safe. They won’t let anyone take us. The lady I give stolen bread to makes us sleep with her for a few days. But Eve and I know we can’t stay.
It’s just us now. We’re alone. We’ve only got each other.
Screaming ripped through my flashback and reminded me I still had someone to protect.
“There she is, get her.”
I ran out my door and crossed the kitchen in two steps, just in time to see them shove a needle in Eve’s arm. She immediately went limp. The larger man threw her over his shoulder and turned towards the door without seeing me. My glock was still in my coat, draped across the seat in the kitchen. I dove for the pocket. Before I reached the gun, a bang echoed in the tiny room. Pain seared across my shoulder. My body stiffened. I crashed to the ground, unable to move my arms or legs. Electric jolts from the bullet left me motionless. The government’s trademark paralyzer would leave me that way for hours.
My eyes froze open. I watched them take her just like they took my parents. She needed me. I couldn’t protect her.
They were gone. She was gone.
I was alone, paralyzed on the floor.