Res Publica: The Standing Cell
Copyright 2021 Lorenzo Marks
All rights reserved.
Civic Police Captain Thomas Mosley stood in the center of the basement and slowly turned full circle. The room was sparsely furnished with just an iron frame bed, a table and chair, a refrigerator, a tripod and camcorder, and set back in the concrete wall, the focal point of the
basement—the standing cell.
He stepped forward, turned around, and then backed into the narrow recess and closed the wooden door. At first he was enveloped by a suffocating darkness, but then his eyes adjusted and picked up the ambient light coming through the air filter above the door. It would never be bright in here, but on the other hand total darkness would surely lead to insanity for its occupant. He didn’t want that. He still wanted her to be Charlotte when it was over.
The builders had constructed the standing cell to his exact specifications—seven feet high, two feet deep, three feet wide. Thomas moved his arms back and immediately bumped his elbows. He raised his right leg but it was impossible to properly stretch the muscles before his knee hit the door. He managed to tilt his head back far enough to make out the overhead shower and the feeding mechanism. The sliding hatch, which could only be opened from the outside, was exactly at eye level, and the feeding tube a few inches lower. With the hatch closed, there was nothing to see in here. Nothing to see and nothing to do. Just stand and drink. Perfect!
After a minute, he began to feel a little claustrophobic and he pushed at the door, but it didn’t budge. With a little flutter of panic, he shoved with both hands but with so little room to move he couldn’t get any leverage. For a horrible moment he thought he was stuck, but then one more effort saw the door crack open and then he gratefully stepped out into the comparatively brighter basement. He dabbed at his forehead with a handkerchief and chided himself for being so cowardly.
How would it have looked if he had managed to lock himself inside his own standing cell and needed rescuing? He would have been the laughingstock of his department at Civic Headquarters! That would have been far worse than being trapped inside the standing cell. Public embarrassment had to be avoided at all costs. Never again.
There was a mirror on one wall and Thomas studied his reflection. He was in uniform and he looked good in it. To this day he could never understand why Charlotte had rejected him. He had attracted the interest of several good-looking women since he had acquired his position of power—but none of them could hold a candle to Charlotte.
“Peter has been arrested.”
It was the chief editor at City-State magazine.
Charlotte’s entire body went cold. This was the call that she had always dreaded even though Peter had assured her that the most dangerous times were behind them. Immediately after the takeover, the Corporate Government had begun a systematic purge of its enemies and critics, and some of the reporters at the magazine were initially arrested and taken to Civic Headquarters for political correctness education.
But despite his outspoken political views prior to the takeover, Peter had somehow managed to slip through the cracks, and by keeping his head down he seemed to have escaped the government’s attention—until now.
“When?” Charlotte said.
“First thing this morning. The Civic Police raided the office, confiscated some laptops, and arrested five journalists—Peter was among them.”
“But why now?” Charlotte said, trying to keep her voice even.
“They wouldn’t say,” the chief editor said. “They are the Civic Police—they can do whatever they want.”
Charlotte could picture the scene, everybody trying to be invisible as Peter was led away in handcuffs. Her husband. And now he was being held somewhere in the enormous white labyrinth of the Civic Headquarters. Like everybody else in the city, Charlotte had heard the rumors about what happened inside that forbidding place.
“It could just be routine questioning,” the chief editor said. “We’ve had journalists released before. Have faith, Charlotte.”
Faith? There hadn’t been much of that in this city since the takeover.
“I’ll let you know as soon as I hear anything,” he said.
Charlotte hung up and stared at the phone in her hand.
What the hell do I do now?
She gazed out of the apartment window at the city skyline. Away in the distance, she could see the gleaming white towers of the Civic Headquarters buildings. Right now, Peter was somewhere inside there. Why now? He had long since deleted any social media comments that could be used against him. Even Charlotte was beginning to think that he was in the clear. But somebody within this evil new government had obviously dug something up. The question was—who?
Thomas watched her from across the crowded Students’ Union bar. She was surrounded by friends of course—the beautiful crowd. Thomas hated the conceited pricks. He wouldn’t even have paid them any interest if she hadn’t been a part of that clique. He wished she wasn’t. If she had been shy and studious like him, it would have been far easier to approach her. Thomas had no idea how to socialize with people like that. He was afraid they would laugh at him.
He drank his beer and continued to study her face from afar. She wasn’t even the prettiest of the girls over there if he was honest about it—but there was something about her. A magnetism that attracted admirers of both sexes. People just noticed her whenever she came into a room. Every male student wanted to fuck her—and probably most of the lecturers too.
He watched her sipping her glass of wine as she listened to the animated conversation going on around her. She didn’t say much. She didn’t have to. The rest of her group were flirting with each other, telling jokes and gossiping, but it was all for her benefit, it was plain to see.
They all wanted to impress her, to be close to her.
All for Charlotte.
Thomas had finally found out her name from his friend, Luke, who had laughed at him and told him to forget about her. Out of your league, Luke had said. Thomas had blushed but he couldn’t forget her and he couldn’t stop watching her. He was bewitched.
He tore his eyes away from her enchanting face and looked at the good-looking young man sitting next to her. According to her social media accounts, Charlotte was still single, but this guy looked like he was preparing to make a move on her. He was playing it cool, not looking at her too much, but his body language spoke volumes. He was laid back about it, looking comfortable in her presence, but his eyes kept flicking in her direction whenever he thought she wasn’t looking. And the guy was sitting too close to her. Way too close. And even though Charlotte didn’t appear to be paying him any attention, she didn’t move away from him. She didn’t even look annoyed. She just kept that enigmatic half-smile on her face as she drank her wine and listened to the conversation.
Thomas felt a tightness in his chest. Was he going to lose her before he had even made his play? He looked at the handsome guy next to her again. Thomas needed to find out his name.
Peter Blanchard sat anxiously in the interrogation room and searched his memory for whatever Tweet or Facebook post that might have triggered his arrest. He thought he had covered his tracks thoroughly. Since the political takeover, he had towed the Corporate Government line impeccably, quickly realizing that right now survival was crucial if he were to fight another day. Because surely these maniacs wouldn’t be in charge forever? Their Civic Police force was made up of dim-witted thugs! Peter was smarter than them, but he had to lay low and wait for the next political wind change. Right now the lunatics were running the asylum—and they were dangerous!
The door opened and Peter looked up, forcing himself to appear calm. It was imperative that he didn’t show any signs of guilt. And why should he? It was the Corporate Government that should be held accountable for its actions, not him!
There was only one of them, dressed in the notorious black uniform of the Civic Police, and in spite of himself, Peter felt his stomach twist in fear. Then he looked up at the police officer’s face and his anxiety gave way to bewilderment and then recognition. Thomas Mosley! For some foolish reason Peter attempted a smile, but Mosley didn’t return it as he pulled up a chair and sat opposite him.
Now Peter could read his silver and black badge—Civic Police Captain Thomas Mosley. Res Publica—and his stomach knotted again.
“Hello, Peter. Do you remember me?”
The stalker. The chocolate milk kid. The locker room loser.
Trying to sound cordial, Peter said, “Yes, I do. Ellis College. It must be eight years. How are you, Thomas?”
“You will address me as Captain Mosley.”
Peter dropped his fake smile. He tried to think back. College seemed like such a long time ago and so much had happened since. This weirdo had developed an unhealthy crush on Charlotte. Peter hadn’t been too concerned. There had been plenty of boys chasing after Charlotte back then. But then Mosley's obsession had gotten out of hand.
Mosley took out his phone and scrolled down the screen.
“You seem to have done well for yourself since college,” he said. “A best-selling book. Two awards for investigative journalism. A highly paid position at the City-State magazine. An expensive apartment overlooking the city. I’m impressed.”
Peter didn’t know if he should be flattered that Mosley had been following him—he had all but forgotten about this freak.
Mosley looked up at him. “And a beautiful wife—Charlotte Blanchard. Or Charlotte Dray, as she was known in college. A quite stunning young lady, as I recall. How is she these days?”
Recalling the ugly final scene in the locker room, Peter cautiously said, “She’s fine, thank you.”
“I was quite smitten by her for a while,” Mosley said.
That’s one way to describe it!
“But she made her choice,” Mosley sighed. “I guess she saw something in you—although I have no idea what.”
Peter bridled and despite his tenuous circumstances, he said, “Captain Mosley, can you please explain to me why I have been arrested?”
Mosley regarded him for a moment.
“You haven’t been charged with anything—yet. But some old subversive posts of yours have come to my attention, and—”
Now Mosley did smile. “That is correct. I requested your detainment while your online activities are being investigated. It might take a while.”
Peter felt his heart thumping.
“How long, exactly?”
“About two weeks.”
Peter stood up.
“Sit down, Mr. Blanchard,” Mosley said.
Peter took a deep breath and calmed himself.
“That’s better,” Mosley said. “You should understand that you are here at my discretion. I am in charge of this investigation. Do you get that?”
Peter swallowed and nodded.
“Good,” said Mosley. “Now, we have plenty of time—so let’s talk about Charlotte.”
She was sitting two rows in front of him. He had tried to get closer, but the back of the lecture hall was full. Thomas had switched classes after checking her schedule. Political Science. Totally boring, but it might turn out to be useful one day.
He had to keep leaning to one side to get a look at her because the stupid blonde bitch directly in front kept on moving her head. Thomas took the end off his ballpoint pen and removed the ink cartridge. Then he leaned forward and blew softly down the barrel onto the back of the blonde girl’s neck. Her hand came up and she looked left and right. Thomas blew again, a little harder, and this time she swiveled around.
“What the fuck are you doing?” she whispered.
“Me? Nothing!” Thomas said, hiding the pen under his desk.
She scowled and turned back around and Thomas waited a beat before blowing again.
The blonde spun around, red-faced, and said, “I’ll call campus security if you don’t stop!”
“Stop what?” Thomas said. “You’re nuts! Leave me alone, will you?”
The girl turned again, rubbing the back of her neck—and Thomas blew on it again.
“Fuck this!” she hissed.
The girl gathered up her books and found another seat near the front. Thomas quickly jumped over into her vacated seat—now he was right behind Charlotte.
He discreetly leaned forward and inhaled. She smelled of lavender soap. She had a small brown mole on her slender neck. He loved her hairstyle, all kind of mussed up as if she didn’t care about her appearance. But now Thomas was learning that this was all an act. The way she carried herself. He minimalist makeup. Her self-restraint. Everything was calculated. She was a Venus flytrap, luring men like helpless insects.
He could make out her black bra strap under her blouse and imagined himself unhooking it and then cupping her breasts in his hands. He wondered what color her nipples were. Sitting up in his seat, he could see her shapely ass under her tight jeans, the tops of her panties showing where her shirt had ridden up her back. They were black too, and he thought about what was under them, whether she shaved or just kept herself neatly trimmed. A girl like her certainly wouldn’t have an ugly, thick bush. Thomas realized that his dick was pushing up the crotch of his pants and he crossed his legs under the desk.
He took out his phone and sent a message to Luke.
Charlotte was going crazy in the apartment. After making dozens of frantic calls to family and friends, she had finally received a call from Peter’s lawyer who had warned her that under no circumstances was she to go to Civic Headquarters by herself. On the contrary, he had even suggested that she lay low at a friend’s place until details of Peter’s arrest became a little clearer. On an intellectual level, Charlotte knew this made sense. Nobody went to Civic Headquarters of their own volition. If a loved one was apprehended, you simply had to sit tight and hope they were released. A citizen no longer had any basic human rights in this city, and there was no realistic recourse to the law where the Civic Police were concerned. As everybody had pointed out, if Charlotte were to go asking questions, she would most likely be arrested herself!
But she needed to do something! She was unable to stop herself visualizing Peter being tortured in a dingy little cell and her helplessness was tearing her apart! There had to be somebody in this fucked up government who could help her! Right now, all that she needed to know was that Peter was still alive.
At around midday, Charlotte was packing an overnight bag when her phone rang. After the frenzy of calls earlier that morning, her phone had been quiet for a couple of hours, and she watched it vibrating on the bedside table a moment. It stopped and then rang again and now Charlotte looked at the screen. It was an anonymous number. Her pulse began to race as she sensed this had something to do with Peter’s arrest.
She touched the receive icon.
A man’s voice said, “Your husband is alive.”
Charlotte’s throat went dry. “Who is this?”
“You can call me Luke.”
Charlotte sat on the edge of the bed.
“Can you help him?”
“No. But I know who can.”
“Somebody you know too.”
Somebody I know?
Luke said, “There is a Toyota SUV parked opposite your apartment building. It will wait for another ten minutes. If you want to see your husband again, I suggest you get in it.”
He hung up and Charlotte stared at her phone screen.
What the fuck was that?
She got up and peered out through the curtains. Sure enough, a black Toyota was parked on the other side of the road. A uniformed policeman was leaning against the hood, smoking a cigarette. This wasn’t a hoax.
Thomas’s phone pinged and he checked the message.
She’s on her way.
Curiously, Thomas discovered that he was nervous. It was as if all the intervening years had been stripped away and he had regressed back to that bumbling idiot of a boy that had made such a fool of himself in front of everyone at college.
He got up and examined himself in front of the mirror. He had changed out of his uniform since returning from Civic Headquarters, and he was now wearing gray pinstripe slacks, black brogues, and a crisp white shirt with an official silver and gray Res Publica necktie. He held up his hand and waited until it stopped shaking. This was ridiculous. Yes, the amazing Charlotte Dray—or Blanchard, as she was called these days—was actually coming to his house, but everything had changed since college. He had the power now, and it was she that needed something from him.
Thomas adjusted his tie and thought back to the conversation he had earlier had with Peter Blanchard. Even under such worrying circumstances, the arrogant prick had still found a way to look down his nose at him, but when Thomas had informed him that he would be meeting with Charlotte that afternoon, Peter had become so agitated that Thomas had called a couple of guards to take him to his cell. As he was being led away in handcuffs, Peter had repeatedly asked Thomas why he needed to talk to Charlotte. Thomas had remained silent. He wanted to let the handsome Peter Blanchard stew in his little cell and allow his imagination to run riot. But he doubted that Peter could ever conceive of the delicious torment that Thomas had in store for his beautiful young wife!
Thomas hung a few yards behind her in the passage, but not so far back that he wouldn’t be able to act swiftly when Luke did his thing. It was crowded with students moving between classes and when Thomas saw Luke coming toward them, he closed the gap on Charlotte, ready to make his move. Luke spotted her and began to charge forward, pushing a couple of girls out of the way. It should have been a simple enough play. Luke would barge into Charlotte, knocking her books out of her hands and Thomas would be immediately on hand to pick them up for her and finally get her attention.
But as Luke came barreling toward them, a fat girl suddenly appeared out of nowhere, filling the space between Charlotte and Thomas. Panicking, Thomas gave the fat girl a shove just as Luke banged into Charlotte. The fat girl spun around and the lunch bag she was carrying flew out of her grasp and into the air.
The moment before impact would remain painfully etched in Thomas’s memory for the rest of his life. The bag splitting open in mid-air, the fruit and sandwiches spilling out onto the floor, the plastic cup dropping from the fat girl’s fingers, the lid coming off—the chocolate milk.
Charlotte hadn’t even dropped her books as Thomas skidded on a banana—a banana!—landing on one knee with his arm stretched out as if he were proposing marriage—and his entire head was then covered with chocolate milk!
There was a shocked silence in the passage and then a girl tittered. Another one chuckled and then somebody roared out loud, and soon everybody was laughing at him. Mortified, Thomas blinked up through the sticky chocolate and saw that Charlotte was giggling too.
The Toyota pulled up in a leafy suburb on the far side of the city and the uniformed policeman got out and opened Charlotte’s door. He hadn’t said a word since she had made the decision to get into the vehicle, and Charlotte decided it would be prudent not to question him.
During the drive across town, Charlotte had tried to figure out who could possibly be behind this meeting. The mysterious Luke had said it was somebody Charlotte knew. But who? Since the takeover, she had made a point to avoid as much contact with the new Corporate Government as possible—just like any other normal person who hoped to survive this madness.
She stepped out and the policeman gestured toward a smart bungalow set in a several acres of garden. A silver and black Res Publica flag flew from a pole on the front lawn and Charlotte’s stomach tightened. As she walked up the pathway, she had the awful feeling that she was heading straight into the belly of the beast!
She stopped on the front porch and glanced back at the Toyota as it pulled away. Was it too late to change her mind and make a run for it? But what then? Maybe this was Peter’s only chance of salvation. She took a deep breath and rang the bell.
While she waited, she looked up and down the deserted street. A couple more houses had the Res Publica flag waving in their front yards. Just a couple of years ago, she suspected that this area would have been populated by middle-class families with their kids riding bicycles in the street and communal barbecues on the weekend. Now it was eerily quiet.
The door opened and a familiar looking man said, “Yes?”
What was she supposed to say?
The man waited. He was dressed in a white, short sleeved shirt, pressed slacks, and polished shoes. A Res Publica pin was attached to his shirt pocket. Was this him?
The man said, “Are you here about your husband?”
Charlotte swallowed and nodded.
The man appraised her casually. She hadn’t had time to change and was still in her T-shirt, jeans and sandals—which suddenly felt woefully inappropriate in this neatly dressed man’s presence.
“My name is Luke,” he said. “I called you earlier. This way please.”
Charlotte followed him into a cool and tastefully furnished living room.
“Take a seat. Captain Mosley will be along in a moment.”
Mosley? Surely not!
Charlotte perched on the edge of a plush Chesterfield sofa and looked around at the expensive decorations. She wondered who this place had belonged to before the takeover. Where were they now? Had they been arrested and taken to Civic Headquarters never to be seen again? Or had they been forcibly relocated to a poorer district of the city after having their assets confiscated? Charlotte had heard of such things happening. If a government official wanted a citizen’s property, all they had to do was prove that their targeted victim was an enemy of the state. She thought of Peter locked away in a dark cell and she shuddered.
Charlotte looked up at another smartly presented man standing in the doorway and her heart skipped a beat. He was fuller in the face and thicker around the middle, but she immediately recognized the ratty little eyes and weak chin. She stood and her eyes dropped down to his official Res Publica necktie.
“Thomas?” she said incredulously.
“That’s right,” he said. “Civic Police Captain Thomas Mosley, to be precise.”
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