The Belly of the Beast: Chapter 3
[EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is the third chapter in the increasingly outlandish chronicles of [REDACTED]’s most recent work. I’d like to think it’s fiction, but with this guy you can never really know. The first chapter may be found here, and the second here.]
The man reentered the tent with a friend. The friend was chubby, pug-faced, and wore an American flag shirt, the pits of which were soaked. His stench hit me like a toothless, patriotic bull. Christ, I thought, they’re going to use this smell to torture me into giving them the information they want.
The men grabbed folding chairs and set them down in front of me. They sat saddle-style, looking me up and down. The man who trapped me spoke first. “What are you doing here?” he asked.
“I was just curious,” I responded, figuring it was my best bet.
“Bullshit,” spat the friend.
“What are you doing, huh? What are you trying to get?” the man asked. “Why were you asking Steve those questions?”
“He’s a fed!” the friend shouted.
“Are you a fed?” the man demanded.
“What? No, of course not,” I answered.
“Then why were you asking those questions?” the man shouted.
I could feel the blood drain from my face. I was sweating all over. I felt cold. My vision was blurry and my hearing seemed distant. I was about to die. I knew it. My body would turn up in the Everglades, half-eaten by an alligator.
“I needed to find out,” I gasped.
There was no response. My vision snapped back and I could see them looking at me quizzically. I had an opening, a chance to save my own life…
“I needed to find out. I needed to do research for—” You idiot, you can’t admit what you’re doing it for! “for a book.” You stupid motherfucker. “Ah-hem. On the books. For a lawsuit on the books.”
“A lawsuit? You say that you’re a lawyer?” the first man asked, confused.
“Well, I’m training,” I said.
“Don’t you have to go to school to be a lawyer?” the friend asked.
The man kept staring at me. “Fine,” he declared, “I’ve got this figured out. He’s coming down here to get evidence against us. To prosecute us.” He leaned back, meeting my eyes with defiant confidence. “We haven’t done nothing wrong.”
“I’m not working for the gover—the feds!” I shouted. “I’m not a prosecutor! I hate prosecutors! Fed prosecutors!”
“Yeah?” the man jeered. “Then what are you doing?”
“I’m getting evidence,” I answered slowly, “to sue.” They won’t kill you over a lawsuit, I told myself.
The two men sat back, sizing me up.
“You’re gonna sue?” the friend asked.
“You’re just gonna sue us, huh?” the man said. “We have the Second Amendment on our side, so you can’t stop us, so you’re trying to stop us by suing us.”
“No,” I replied. “You guys are in the right. You’re on the right…the right side of the Constitution. I’m not going to sue you.”
“You just said you were going to sue us,” the man said slowly.
“No, not you,” I responded. “The government.”
I felt the dynamics of the space change. I was on the offensive now. With confidence, I continued: “I’m going to sue the government.”
The men looked at each other. “You can’t sue the government,” the first man said.
“Shore can,” I said, taking on a Southern accent. “That’s why I’m training to be a lawyer.”
“What can you sue the government on?” the man asked.
“Well, breach of contract, for one.”
“I don’t believe you,” the friend said.
“Well, it’s true,” I giddily replied, adding: “It’s in the Constitution.” I was too ecstatic to be relieved. I had stared down Death and I had given him a kick in the balls. I leaned back in the chair with a smug smile. The first man stared at the ground, thinking, while his friend stared at him—envious, it appeared, of the first man’s ability to think.
“Get Tom,” the man told the friend, and the friend got up and left. The man stood up and began to pace around. He turned and pointed at me.
“Is that true what you’ve said?” he asked me.
“Every word,” I told him.
“You’re going to college?” he asked.
“You’re going to sue the government?” he asked.
“You aren’t working for the feds?” he asked.
“Yep—nope—I mean, I’m not working for the feds,” I answered. I smiled sheepishly and he smiled back.
“I’m John,” he told me, and he stuck out his hand.
I got up to shake his hand. “I’m Andrew,” I told him. Fuck Colin, I thought, I don’t need a fake name.
The friend walked into the tent with a mousy man, about five foot six, wearing a button-down shirt and a tie that he nervously fingered. “Tom,” John said to the new man, “this is Andrew. He’s in college and he’s working to be a lawyer. He says he’s gonna sue the government.”
“Hi,” Tom said in a squeaky voice, and I shook his hand. His eyes were wide open. I feared he might have a heart attack at any moment. I turned to the fat friend.
“I don’t think I got your name,” I said, sticking out my hand to shake. “I’m Andrew.”
“Ahm Nathaniel,” the friend said, taking a second to notice my hand. He reached out and shook it slowly, almost daintily—probably a wise move; my hand would have slipped out of his sweaty grip if he had shaken with more vigor.
“Now, Tom knows a lot about the Constitution,” John said, putting a hand on my shoulder to steer me toward Tom and away from Nathaniel. “He’s a teacher, but he sells a lot of books here. And reads ’em, too.”
“That’s how I know what the good ones are,” Tom said.
“Tom, this boy says he’s gonna sue the government,” John said.
Tom looked at me. I waited for him to say something, but he just kept looking. Finally, I said, “Yep. It’s true.”
“You can do that?” Tom asked.
“Sure can,” I replied.
Tom started to scratch the left side of his neck with his right arm. “I didn’t think you could do that,” he said.
“Well,” I said, “the thing is, nobody’s ever tried it before. They’re too scared. But now, the voice of the people is behind us and we can win this thing.”
“Huh,” said Tom.
“Well, if you’ve convinced Tom, you’ve convinced me,” said John. He looked at Nathaniel. “Hey, go get Curtis,” he said, and after thinking for a second, added, “and Steve.” Nathaniel left, and John walked over the corner of the tent. I stood there awkwardly. Tom was staring at the ground, still scratching his neck.
John brought out a milk crate and set in on the floor in the middle of the tent. He dropped to one knee and took out a bottle of Jack Daniel’s and a number of tumblers, then flipped over the milk crate and set the bottle and glasses on top.
A new man walked in, distinctive as Wonder Bread and almost as white, carrying a paper bag. “Nathaniel said you wanted to see me?” the new man told John. “I didn’t know if you wanted to start yet.”
“Hi, Curtis,” John said. “I’d like you to meet somebody. This is Andrew,” he said, motioning to me. “He’s going to sue the government.”
“You can’t sue the government,” Curtis told John, glancing over his shoulder at me.
“Sure can,” I replied, leaning against one of the tent posts.
“Well, that’s amazing,” Curtis said, setting his bag on the ground and walking over to me. As I shook his hand, I saw John take two more bottles out of the bag and set them next to the crate. He folded up the bag and tossed it aside.
Nathaniel entered the tent, followed closely by the gun dealer whom I had asked about the TEC-9. Nathaniel blubbered something to the dealer, but then John stepped in. “Steve,” John said, “I was wrong about this kid. He wasn’t trying to get information—he wants to sue the government.”
“I’m Andrew,” I said, beaming and extending my hand.
“Steve,” Steve replied, shaking my hand. “Can you really—”
“Sure can,” I interjected. I wiped my hands on my jeans and looked around the tent. Curtis had grabbed more chairs and was setting them up in a circle. Nathaniel was already sitting down. He was red-faced, gasping for air, and even sweatier than before. It took a second to locate Tom. He was standing in a corner of the tent.
John stepped into the center of the circle and rubbed his hands together. He opened one of the bottles and began to fill the glasses. He filled seven glasses, paused, looked around to count the people in the tent, then poured the contents of the seventh glass into the others.
John stood up and the rest of the men moved into the circle. They grabbed the glasses. John handed me a glass and we retreated to the chairs. John raised his glass. “To our friend, Andrew,” John said. “For standing up for what’s right.”
Fortunately, or unfortunately, the tale does not end here. Check back later for Chapter 4.