“This is a great day for Sol Industries. This is a great day for our nation. This is a great day for our democracy!” Peter DeTayn’s voice warbled out of tinny speakers from the television above the bar.
Ezekiel Jones sat and sipped his thin, bitter beer at the bar, alongside several other solitary patrons. Most wore expressions of weary resignation, even the barman as he drew another Sol Lager. Except for Jude. Seated at the very end of the bar, with the best view of television, the young man looked excited, even fervent.
“He’s done it! He’s got the bill through!”
“Earlier today,” continued DeTayn, “I signed into law, after due consideration of parliament… I signed into law… The Legal Freedom Act!”
Jude whooped and punched the air.
“My Freedom Act paves the way for the abolition of the stronghold of abhorrent socialism. The left-wing extremists have lost a key pillar from their restraint to human freedom; we can now abolish… the Metropolitan Police Department.”
The white noise of rapturous applause leaked from the television, counter-pointed by Jude’s frantic clapping.
“Without this perfidious drain on the public purse, I can lower taxes – ” more applause, “And Sol Industries will create one hundred thousand jobs! Jobs in Sol Security, great jobs, jobs to help you feed your families.”
“For Christ’s sake,” grumbled a patron, “can’t you turn that crap off, Sam?”
“You know I can’t Matty,” Sam replied wearily, “it has to be on in all Sol bars.”
“Yeah, but that’s all the bloody bars. Nobody else gets the excise waiver.”
Sam nodded grimly then leaned forward to take Ezekiel’s glass, “Another Zeke?”
“Actually Sam, it’s my wedding anniversary, I’ll be having something nicer.”
Sam shrugged and reached for the Sol Vodka.
Sam looked up surprised, then reached for the Sol Whisky.
“Nope. I been saving up Sam. I’m having something from the cabinet. And I’ll be having two drams, one for me, one for Jenny.” He unthinkingly rubbed his right thumb across the small, gold locket round his neck.
The whole bar stopped; Matty, sitting next to Zeke, almost dropped his beer, then a pearl-bright smile split his dusky face and he lifted his beer in silent toast. Sam fished a key from his neck-chain, and unlocked the small, sturdy cabinet bolted to the wall.
“What’s it to be? There’s Irish whiskey, rum, an islay malt, and bourbon.”
“Well, Jenny never liked islay malts – said they smelt like nail-polish remover, and I’m no fan of bourbon. Better make it one Irish and a rum.”
“Here, how come you can have two drams while I can’t afford none?”
“Give it a rest Jude, he said he’s been saving up. Go back to your TV crush,” said Matty, and made a shooing gesture with his hands.
“Don’t call it that! Not gonna be called gay by no black man. Anyway, DeTayn’s finished, they’re doing the news, an’ we’re gonna hear all about…” Jude’s phone interrupted him and he turned away to answer.
Looking up, Ezekiel could just read the scrolling news ticker through the grainy image: ‘50 000 illegal lucky charms confiscated under the Humanity Self Determination act’, ‘100 000 new security jobs provided by Sol Industries’, ‘Economy hits all time high under CEO Peter DeTayn’, ‘Peter DeTayn’s new Freedom Act to surpass 18G amendment for enhancing personal liberty’.
He sighed and turned back to watch Sam measure out two exact drams. It was quite the performance; the dram glasses were retrieved and wiped clean, the pourer inserted into neck of the bottles, and a slow trickle of nectar eked into each glass. Finally, with a flourish, Sam recapped the bottles and returned them to the safe. The two tiny glasses rested innocently on the bar. Zeke stared at them.
Sam rang up the bill. Wordlessly, not taking his eyes off the glasses, Ezekiel handed over his Sol cash card.
“You ok Zeke?”
“Umm…yeah. Yeah, thanks Matty. I just need a moment with Jenny.” Again, he reflexively rubbed a thumb over the heart-shaped locket. Matty turned away and sipped his beer, pretending not to see the single tear on Zeke’s cheek, and pointedly made a casual joke to the man on his right.
The bar door crashed open and four burley, black-clad men strode in. Each had a heavy extendable baton on one hip and a sidearm holstered on the other. Peaked caps shadowed their faces ominously, adorned with a bright red S.
“Sol Security! Everyone get your hands where we can see ‘em.” The half dozen patrons placed their hands palm down on the bar and looked across nervously at each other and the security officers. Zeke’s nose was assaulted by the pungent scent of ammonia and the man to Matty’s right squirmed in discomfort and embarrassment.
“Mattiawara Biti! We’re looking for Mattiawara Biti!” Zeke kept his eyes straight, but half sensed several patrons turn to look at Matty. He heard Matty stop breathing for a few beats, then a slight sob.
“You. Get out here!”
Matty slowly edged up from his seat, “What… what do you want?”
The officers didn’t ask a second time, two of them rushed Matty and pinned him to the bar, jamming their shoulders roughly into him, seizing his hands. As they siezed him, the guards barged into Zeke’s back, shoving him forward onto the bar. Throwing out a hand to save himself, Zeke knocked the two drams off the bar. There was a pathetically small crunch as the two, tiny glasses shattered on the tiled floor.
“Mattiawara Biti,” the fourth officer intoned, “you are hereby under arrest for breaching section 18G of the Racial Discrimination Act, to wit: no-one may use any section of the act to curtail free speech. It is alleged that on or about the 15th of May, you vehemently forbade Jude Ascott from referring to you by an accurate description of your colour, and in doing so, prevented Mister Ascott from exercising his right to free speech.”
Matty just looked up at the other patrons imploring, “Maria,” he croaked. Zeke turned ever so slightly, so his eyes could just meet Matty’s. “Maria,” it came out as barely more than a whisper. Almost imperceptibly, Zeke nodded, and Matty let his head drop, all tension draining from him in defeat. The officers started dragging Matty away, while the commander took his stool. The three officers were intercepted by Jude at the door.
“Uh, guys. Can you get me in for a job?”
The men looked at Jude in surprise, then burst out laughing, “Chubby little squid like you? You’re kidding.”
“Shut it!” the commander called from the bar. “Boy, go and apply at the Security Office, like everyone else.”
“I already applied twice, and they said you can’t try three times,” whined Jude, “and they said on the news they’re looking for a hundred thousand officers.”
The commander sighed and fished in an inside pocket, “You three, get the scum in the paddy wagon. You boy, come here. This is a Green Card, it’ll get you in to see the regional commander,” eyes wide, Jude took the proffered card, almost reverentially, “tell the adjutant that Commander Collins said you’re priority access. Now bugger off.” He turned and glared to his right, “You bugger off too, you stink of piss. And take your stool with you,” he looked left at Zeke, dismissed him with a grunt, then motioned Sam over.
“A shot of Sol Whisky – no wait, I smell rum.”
“You spilled it,” Sam replied.
“Well get some more dammit!”
“Can’t. It’s cabinet. I need a chit from you, or you pay for it.”
“Don’t you like your job?”
“I like it fine. And if you try and scrounge some cabinet you know well enough it’s your job.”
“Bah! A shot of Sol Whisky.”
“Right. But before I pour it, you need to give a chit over for the spilled drams so Zeke can claim.”
“Like hell I do.”
“Your boys spilled it, he gets a chit for reparation.”
The commander stood up tall and leaned forward menacingly, “You know falsifying a claim against Sol is theft, and stealing as a servant? Ten years that gets you.”
“Sam,” Zeke reached out a calming hand, “it’s ok. It’s just two drams. What’s that when all’s done?”
The commander stared icily at Zeke for an uncomfortable minute, “Least you’ve got some sense. Now, bar bitch, get me that whisky and four beers.”
The three security officers swaggered back into the bar, loud, boastful, “See where I dropped the elbow into ‘im, did ya hear ‘im squeal?”
“Right boys, beers are on, then back to the post.”
Casually the men brushed past Zeke and shoved him aside to reach the bar and the promised beers. Zeke reflexively thumbed the locket, just as one of the men glanced across at him.
“Hey, what’s that round ya neck.”
“It’s nothing,” Zeke turned to go. The young officer grabbed his shoulder and dragged him around.
“That’s a lucky charm! Give it here.”
“It’s not a charm, it’s a keepsake.”
The officer slapped Zeke's hand aside, grabbed the locket, and yanked the it off, snapping the chain and jerking Zeke’s head forward. Zeke shoved the officer hard. Stools clattered and fell as the other officers surged forward and overwhelmed Zeke in a flurry of fists and baton strikes, beating him to the floor.
“Right you lot, in the van. You two carry Kominski – and make sure that trinket goes in the beer kitty, I won’t have one of you pricks pocketing it. And as for you… the van’s full, but I’ll be back after I drop off the current load of scum.”
As they clattered out the door, Zeke rolled over and recovered his breath. Jude sauntered up and sniggered, he leaned down to Zeke’s face and smirked. Instantly Zeke grabbed Jude’s shirt, yanking him down. Jude’s chin hit the bar, he staggered a moment, then slumped to the floor unconscious. Moving gingerly, Zeke pulled himself upright and searched through Jude’s pockets until he found the green card and put it on the bar while he steadied himself.
“Jesus Christ Zeke,” Sam recoiled, “the hell you doin’ with that?”
“I’m getting cleaned up, then I’m going to get Jenny back.”
“You’re going to breach Sol Security? That’s practically war.”
“Got a cloth I can use?”
Sam pulled out a clean cloth and ran hot water over it, slowly, thinking, “Hey Joey! Can you check on Maria?” then glancing back at Zeke, “I’m gonna call my brothers, they can help us.”
“What do you mean ‘us’? I’m the only one in trouble here.”
Sam laughed mirthlessly, “We saw you take down a Sol officer with three punches. They won’t let that go, it’s only a matter of time before they come for us, all of us.”
“Damn. Sorry Sam.”
“Don’t be. I was dying here anyway. Least now I can make a difference.”
“Make a difference?! Sam this isn’t a revolution. I’m probably going to get shot. You will too, if you come.”
“Right, I should wait ‘til they come and torture me to death instead.”
“Gah! What do you want from me!?”
“I’m tired Zeke, so damned tired. They take everything and call it free speech. I just want the chance to do what you just did.”
“Then you’ll get yourself shot!”
“You an’ me both, dead man. Here, you get cleaned up. I need to pour those drams for you again, we can toast Jenny together. Then we can go.”