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With dogged obsession, Rota traced a figure eight into the thick glass looking out onto the surface of the planet. Eight weeks, eight months, eight years… he couldn’t remember. The figure eight could be traced infinitely. He picked up speed moving a finger in pattern, his gaunt expression remaining the same.
The room was dirty and grey, with obvious signs of neglect. Rota sang songs in his head to pass the time, today he chose Otis Redding belting out “Respect”. Otis, another brother cut down in his prime. He fell from the sky before realising the fame that would have held him on high. Fame. Infamy. They were interchangeable. Rota could relate to that.
The day had been hot, typical Texan summer dry heat. Sweat dripped down his neck forcing him to pull the chord attached to his earpiece away from the skin. His shades dug into the sides of his head. He cracked his neck. Guys in the Secret Service viewed security detail as the Holy Grail; the pinnacle of their profession. Rota spent most of his days shadowing a balding man with failing eyesight who could never remember his name. He was trained to protect, to disarm, to kill. Most of the time he kept pre-school kids with flowers at arms’ length just in case the bluebonnets they proffered were compromised. He was a finely tuned Ferrari in a demolition derby.
Walkabouts were the worst. Whilst normal people smiled, waved and cheered, he was looking for abnormalities and anomalies, someone looking the other way, a person out of place. He spent all day looking for something that was never there. Each day brought smiling children, nodding suits and a different Starbucks in every town. Oh, and the titles. Always the titles.
“Good morning Sir. May I introduce Kyle Zutant, National Supply Chain Manager for the Realignment of Process.” The longer the title was, the longer Rota’s exhalation of air compounding his apathy. On and on it went, day and night. You have to do your duty though; every man has to do his duty.
It was ecommerce, he remembered that much. Another line of suits looking nervous and sharing knowing glances. Rota wondered if royalty were greeted in a similar manner. People loved royalty, certainly a lot more than an elderly man for whom the majority hadn’t voted. There were several colossal potted plants around the huge meeting room they all congregated in. The air con was faulty so people sweated profusely. He saw the kid dart out from the elevator before anyone else. His enthusiasm had been dulled in the preceding two years but his reactions had stayed as razor sharp as the day he was sent home from Kabul. As detail flanked the would be assailant Rota stood his ground, alert to a typical diversion. The suits waiting in line were dispersing in horror with the exception of one who was moving towards Rota’s client. At the point of contact he raised his hand and Rota gripped the steel shaft of his pistol. Yet there was nothing in the assailant’s hand, and in a split second he was upon the president who shook his hand in shock and surprise before detail pushed him to the floor amid the din encompassing the room. Rota fell on the assailant, but something was wrong. Pressed down on his back he held up his hands in an impassive gesture, motioning to be helped back to his feet. Shouting came from the other side of the room and as Rota turned his head, the would-be assailant grasped his hand and fled. Rota felt a coarse itching on his hand yet there was nothing there, but his eyes didn’t betray what he saw next… the president falling amidst a clutch of Secret Service, holding out his right hand in agony.
They found traces of thallium on Rota’s hand. At least that’s what he learned from the warders. The speed at which he was hooded and pushed into a car had him in no doubt as to what fate would befall him. All will be judged equally under the eyes of God they said, yet the lord had not judged him fairly. Society had judged him: he was guilty before he set foot in the courtroom. The people on the sidewalk didn’t sneer, they threw rocks and spat on the unmarked van as it hurtled through the streets. The officer opposite couldn’t even look at him; he stared intently at his steel toe-capped boots the whole journey. The clatter of stone made Rota jump each time something thumped into the side as visions of his fate flashed in front of his eyes. Justice was swift, especially when meted out to a black man accused of the murder of a public figure he was sworn to protect. He knew they meant to make an example of him. He wasn’t going to San Quentin or Guantanamo: even the chair wouldn’t be judged to be adequate enough. He was about to learn the true meaning of the phrase “rot in hell.”
He pursed his lips, arched his back and let his neck support the full weight of his head as he looked upwards. He recalled the words of an old college professor who was the first to praise his astonishing capacity for information retention and concentration: “The only purpose of being is to make heartfelt contact with others.”
The series of numbers he’d scrawled on the wall told it all: eight years today. Happy Birthday. He would remain here until the end of his days, all for the sake of a handshake: a murderer and enemy of the state, forever a prisoner; serving time in solitary, alone with his thoughts on the moon.