Exclusion zone. The authorities might have used Spielberg’s plotline from Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” in which the government panicked ranchers and small town folk away from Devil’s Tower, making them believe a nerve agent was some apocalyptically deadly disease. The goal was to make sure only a chosen few ever really knew about the aliens arrival at the mountain.
Downtown Chicago was Devil’s Tower, and the aliens here were the NATO leaders come to make war decisions without questioning to the mounting monumental funds being allotted, primarily to the benefit of big business. One only had to look at the veterans benefits already being slashed by this government, while cuts to the defense industry were never once or ever seriously in question.
But a city of eight million can’t be emptied, and so fear must become the ultimate tool of the exclusion. A message can’t be extinguished in a free society, and so dissent must be statuted to death in favor of public safety. A no-fly zone was declared over the city-no doubt because protesters had learned to fly as well, or that waves of terrorist Kamikazes were waiting in the wings. Military and police helicopters filled the skies and Air Force F-16s buzzed the city and would be on patrol through the weekend. The Chicago Tribune advertised their online constant updates to navigating NATO protests. Cordons of police, some in riot gear were ubiquitous everywhere. Scowling private security was suddenly prominent in front of near every building. Companies circulated security and commuting alerts, and many closed early Friday and closed completely for Monday. The Boeing plaza and building were entirely sealed off, all of this supposedly over the specter of the violence by protesters. The papers called downtown the Red Zone, but it was truly an Exclusion Zone.
Jack’s mind was spinning, those thoughts complicated by the excitement he felt at seeing Eva, if only for a few precious moments. He was thinking of the Bridgeport Nine, and how simple it was to plant the notion in the public’s perception that the protesters had a terrorist side. But that they had very obviously been set up as a means to discredit Occupy and add a new level of fear to the public oddly gave Jack a bit of hope, though it was likewise wrapped in a single heartbreaking realization.
This intimidation was nothing short of a direct attack, the de facto criminalization against a legal political ideology, and that was Liberalism and progressivism, both entirely at odds with the power and influence aspirations of corporate and banking power. The police, who belonged to unions attacked by that power, who relied on affordable healthcare under attack by that power, and who would retire to a social security pension lusted after by that power became the blunt-force dupes for that power. No one was detaining militant gun rights advocates, or storming into the apartments of rabid anti-abortionists. This was a new, insidious and violent America. It was the institutionalization of oppression against points of view and the assumption of promised constitutional rights now under direct revocation by a militaristic security state.
Jack took advantage of the construction chaos in the south loop to skirt the authorities. For a time that beautifully warm afternoon those tall downtown canyons of shadow and light were as hectic as ever. The rally in Daley Plaza by National Nurses United challenged the security forces, if not in numbers then certainly in passion, demanding a penny, a penny, A PENNY tax from financial transaction trades to pay for healthcare in America. The cheers of almost 3000 gathered challenged the security helicopters hovering overhead.
He slipped into an alley off Van Buren Street, pausing behind a garbage dumpster as a line of bicycle police passed on Jackson Street. It was just past the lunch hour, and the sidewalk crowds were already thinning. Jack stepped from the Alley and turned east, as if he was stepping into a rushing river.
A few years back he and Eva had stumbled upon a lunch-rush spot called “Lukes” between Wells and Adams. The place served decent fast-food fair for the price, which is what made the place so popular. From noon to one-ish weekdays seating in red plastic chairs and faux-wood Formica tables was at premium. Eva always loved the French fries here, a silly thing, but any city-slicker worth their salt (no pun intended) could rattle off a list of their top ten places from fries in the city. The tables were emptying quickly now. Jack found one facing the door and waited.
A few away, Angelo hovered over a laptop in a Starbucks. He’d been tracking Eva through much of the day. He’d tracked her to the Loop, where she’d hovered at the fringes of the Nurses rally before slowly moving south. He’d picked the Starbucks as a sort of base of operations to lead him to Jack. When she turned off her phone at Adams and Dearborn it made little difference. The program that allowed him to track her by the cellphone was simple. He could switch it on when he chose without her knowledge to hear everything she was saying. It was a tactic coalition forces had uses successfully against the Taliban in Afghanistan.
Eva failed to notice but she passed right by him on the way to meet Jack. She was anxious, and could almost feel the throngs of police she passed on each corner watching her, as if they all knew the secret she kept, as if they were all waiting for her to lead them directly to Jack. He packed up and followed at a distance. Everything was falling right into place, thought Angelo.
She was almost trembling when she reached Lukes, more so when she spotted a lost and forlorn looking Jack sitting at a table alone. He looked a sight, exhausted, in need of a shave, and almost silly in the Cubs hat and Jersey. A wave of intense emotion, far too complex to describe in mere words swept her. She pulled open the door and went in. Jack noticed her immediately, as if there was some ethereal bond connecting them. He didn’t stand, but his eyes widened and his mouth fell open as if he might suddenly cry out. Eva noted a light come to his face that was absent there a moment before.
Eva slid into the chair opposite Jack and couldn’t help take his cold hand in hers. It was as much excitement as they dared. Not thirty yards away Angelo had found a new vantage point from which to monitor them both. He opened the laptop and activated Eva’s phone. Luke’s was loud, and the sounds were muffled in Eva’s pocket, but he could make out their voices through the earphones plugged into the laptop well enough.
“Jack you look terrible,” Eva said. She wanted to fly out of the seat and hold him, kiss him and take him home.
“Yeah, well,” he said, swept in his own tidal wave of emotion. “… anyway, you look, I am so sorry for all this.”
“Jack,” she lowered her voice a bit. The place was emptying out more quickly now. “Jack, I know you are innocent.”
“I hope so.”
“No, and I can…”
Jack cut her off; suddenly worried they could be monitored. “Wait, I need a pen.”
Eva pulled a pen from her purse and gave it to Jack. He took a napkin from a nearby table and scribbled quickly these words. “Take the SIM card from your phone.”
She looked at him confused. Jack scribbled again.
“We can be monitored even if the phone is off.”
Quickly she pulled off the back of the phone and removed the battery, which has better than half the weight of the palm-sized phone. The SIM card came out easily with a slight press of the thumb. Angelo’s signal went dead. He swore under his breath. Eva leaned close to Jack.
“Remember Blasé and Rebel Rose?”
“Of course, they…”
“They did a little snooping. Your friend Angelo is not who he pretends. He’s a mercenary named Carrera, Jack, and somehow he’s connected to the Koffer brothers and Koffer Industries, and all that ALEC bullshit. And then yesterday I see that Republican Congressman Rand calling Occupy terrorists.”
“Nothing new with him.”
“Jack, he was coming out of Koffer Industries.”
Pieces suddenly came together. Jack sat back, staring away into space. His eyes flashed to Eva’s. She knew as well.
“So he framed me for some…to discredit the protests…But how does one person figure in that. The police were able to do that easy enough with those arrests down in Bridgeport. Why go through all of this…?”
“I don’t know, unless this is bigger than what the police were doing.”
“It has to…” Jack stopped, the blood running from his face, as if he’d seen a ghost. His gaze was to the door. Eva turned to find Angelo standing there.