A Few Things Ill Considered

The Bottleneck Years

by H.E. Taylor

Chapter 40 Table of Contents Chapter 42

Chapter 41

Theft and Meditation, June 27, 2056

I was between classes in mid-afternoon when Edie phoned.

 
“Luc. There are men in the shed stealing things.”

 
“Call the police.”

 
“I did. There’s no answer.”

 
“What?”

 
“I tried to stop them, but…”

 
“Where are the police?”

 
“I don’t know.”

 
“Okay. Lock the door and stay in the house. I’ll be right there.” I knew she would probably be safe, because of the heavy metal door and frame.

 
“Good.”

 
I hung up and called the police while I checked my schedule. I was supposed to have a Question and Answer session in Genetics 101. My call to the police was shunted into voicemail. I hung up in disgust.

 
I put a note on the blackboard that G101 was cancelled due to a sudden family emergency and headed for home.

 
Edie met me at the door, somewhat calmer than she had been, but still upset. Her right cheek was red and swollen.

 
“What happened to you?”

 
“One of them hit me when I tried to stop them. He hit me hard. He knocked me down and yelled, ‘Piss off bitch!’ I told them the house was under surveillance by ConSec and they just laughed.”

 
“How many of them were there?”

 
“Five.”

 
“You stay here. I’m going to take a look.” I stopped and turned back to her. “You should put a cold compress on that cheek.” Anna was wailing down the hall.

 
The door to the shed was open. The hasp and lock had been pried off and were lying on the ground. Most of the garden tools and some of dad’s carpentry tools — saws, hand drill and bits, plane, an axe — were gone. I picked up the hasp and opened the lock.

 
While I stood there with the parts in my hand, planning how to reinforce and solidify the door, Edie came out with Anna in her arms.
“I just feel better being near you, if you don’t mind.”

 
“No, that’s alright.” I gave her a hug. Anna was dozing off to sleep.

 
“What are you doing?”

 
“I was planning how to repair the door.”

 
“Oh.”

 
She was looking more composed. Maybe in needing to be calm for Anna, she had inadvertently helped herself, I thought.

 
I had a 1 by 6 board that I decided I would use to build up both the door and the wall. Instead of using screws I would bolt through the boards, doing the same with the hasp. It would be marginally more secure, but would, in a way, just raise the ante.

 
“Well, some tools are in the basement and there’s no rush anyway seeing as everything is gone, so let’s go inside.”

 
“Okay.” Edie gave me a tentative smile. “We could have an early supper.”

 
I set the parts down on the workbench and put the door to. Edie took my hand as we walked the short distance to the back door.

 
“Just sit and talk to me. I feel like cooking,” Edie said. I took Anna and sat by the window while Edie bopped around the kitchen. Bouncing Anna on my knee and tickling her tummy with my nose, she was soon giggling and gurgling in delight. At one point, I looked up and caught Edie watching us play together. She had an odd look of fond resignation on her face.

 
Supper was noodles with cut vegetables, all under a mushroom sauce. It was delicious. I tried to distract Edie with a story about the students in my genetics lab, but she remained tense.

 
When we were just finishing, a black truck pulled into the lane right under the window. I could see some of the stolen tools in the back. I went outside.

 
“Are you Luc Fontaine?” demanded the driver.

 
“Yeah.”

 
“We have some property of yours.” At a signal from the him, two guys climbed out of the back seat and proceeded to unload the tools at my feet.

 
Edie came out of the house and stood on the back stairs.

 
“I just need your signature here,” the ConSec guy held a clipboard out to me. “And here.” He flipped a page.

 
“What happened to the men?” asked Edie.

 
“They resisted arrest,” said the ConSec guy.

 
“You mean they’re dead,” I said. Edie put her hand to her mouth.

 
“Yes, sir.” He nodded and got back into the truck.

 
When they were gone, I started moving the tools into the shed.

 
“I’ll help you,” said Edie.

 
We worked in silence, neither one of us knowing just what to say.

 
I nailed a board across the door to keep the kids out and went back to the house.
Edie was sitting on the back step. I could hear Anna wailing inside.
With a distraught look on her face, Edie whispered, “They killed those men.”

 
I nodded.

 
“No trial, no jury. They just killed them.”

 
She wrapped her arms around me shivering. I held her, then kissed her forehead. “I’d better see what’s the matter with Anna,” I said.

 
“Yes. Oh yes,” said Edie, letting go like it was the last thing on her mind.

 
As I lay in bed that night the incidents of the day replayed in my mind. I thought about the men ConSec had killed. Edie had been upset. That was a healthy emotional reaction. I had wanted to be strong for her, to take care of the practicalities — carry the tools, fix the door, protect my own.

 
I could just hear my father’s voice asking, “What kind of a society have we become that countenances such vigilante justice?” What kind of society indeed?

 
We are just hanging on. The planet is in triage and I am one of the voices deciding: save this; let that go. I have to choose the path forward. How many will die because of my decisions? Would you kill a million to save a billion?

 
What were five more bodies? Well, they were immediate. They were personal. Those poor bastards were probably refugees from down south somewhere just trying to scrape together the means of survival.

 
There was nothing I could have done about it. I could demand an inquiry, but ConSec would just say they were terrorists. And I had to think about the vulnerability of Anna and Edie alone in the house. If I raised a stink, they would never get emergency services here. Carman might know, might be able to help, but Matt was his primary interest, not me. I was just a means to Matt’s end.

 
I had never felt so completely alone and vulnerable before. If they could kill petty thieves with impunity, what was to stop them from turning on ordinary citizens?

 
The ancient Greeks used to differentiate between robbery by force and theft by stealth. This was robbery. It felt like an assault, a violation. And why? The shed and those tools do not constitute my body. What do you own? Do you possess it or does it possess you? Sometimes it seems hard to tell. We come into the world with nothing, and we leave with nothing, but in the interim, the thousand and one vagaries of circumstance apply.

 
I barely slept that night, drifting into a light dreamless state. I woke up feeling unrefreshed. All night long I was churning the ethics, the power relationships, the legalities in my mind.

 
Dawn was not a friend.


Excerpted from _The Bottleneck Years_ by H.E. Taylor

 
For further information see:
A Gentle Introduction.

 
Last modified May 21, 2013

Comments