around the bar. Smiles. Laughter. A couple of kids sucking face in the corner. How many of them knew what had happened that morning? And if any did, how many of them cared?
“That’s not the point. She shouldn’t have commed with the guy in the first place is what I’m saying.” Derul pointed a bony finger. “And you’re only defending her because you’ve had a thing for her since third course.”
“Fourth, actually,” said Uval. “But that’s not the point, either. It’s none of our business, is what I’m saying.”
Derul shook his head. “That’s a fine attitude. He’s supposed to be a friend of ours. How many times have—Hey, I was starting to think you ditched us.”
“Not me,” said the stocky form of Jat Mundeem as he slid into the booth. “Got tied up with a client is all.” He set his bottle on the table, pulled a pack of tubes from his shirt pocket. “Who’s supposed to be a friend of ours?”
“Oh, don’t trouble yourself,” said Uval. “We were just commenting on Veddi’s latest female drama.”
“Yuck,” said Jat, putting a tube between his lips. “Yeah, I’ll pass.” He lit the leafstick, blew out the first puff of smoke, and paused. “For the sake of the Source, you look terrible, Sib. What’s the deal?”
The three friends looked over at the silent, miserable figure in the corner of the booth. “Don’t waste your time there, either,” said Derul. “Sib’s out of reach tonight.”
“What’s the problem?” asked Jat, looking Sib over. “He drunk?”
“He was drunk when we picked him up,” answered Derul. “Now he’s straight up smashed.”
“It’s that case,” said Uval. “That Tullar Rhove case.”
“Who’s Tullar Rhove?” asked Jat.
“He was a transient out in Venoba.”
“As in no longer among the living,” said Derul, and took a swig of beer.
“He was this homeless guy out in Venoba who died a few years back,” continued Uval. “Well…was killed, actually. By the cers. A whole pack of ‘em. They beat the man to a pulp and he died in the hospital.”
“Why? I mean, what did he do?”
“Nothing,” answered Derul. “Not a damn thing. ‘Cept maybe to not follow the officers’ orders fast enough to their liking.”
“Oh,” said Jat, leaning back into the booth. “So he was resisting.”
“—No, he wasn’t,” said Uval, cutting Derul off. “Tullar Rhove was a known transient in the area. He was known to have some mental issues. And he was very well known to the cers.”
“And he wasn’t resisting,” added Derul. “The police were called in that night to investigate suspicious activity or whatever. What they found was Tullar Rhove. He was a little whacked-out maybe, but not threatening.”
“And they just pounced on him,” said Uval. “Batons, lectraguns. The whole treatment.”
“For no reason?” asked Jat through a cloud of his own smoke.
“Well they argued the usual at trial,” Uval continued. “Resisting arrest, fleeing the scene and all that. But it’s clear from the footage that the force used by police that night was absolutely uncalled for.”
“So there’s video?”
“Man is there ever,” said Derul, then turned to Uval. “What did that cer say to him? The lead one.”
“Oh, right,” said Uval. He turned to Jat. “The main cer, the one who started it all? He looked Rhove square in the eye and said, ‘Now we’re gonna bust you up.’”
Jat blinked. “You’re joking.”
Uval shook his head. “You can probably pull up the video on your datacell right now. But prepare yourself. It’s ugly, man.”
“No thanks,” said Jat. He looked over at Sib, who didn’t seem to be aware of anything but the glass in front of him. “I haven’t heard of any of this.”
“Neither had we until Sib told us about it,” said Derul. “It didn’t get much play on the major hubs.”
Jat nodded, pulled from the leafstick. After a moment he seemed confused. “So why am I looking at this tonight?” asked Jat, gesturing toward Sib. “You said this was a few years ago.”
Uval drank from his bottle, leaned back. “Trial ended today. Verdict was this morning.”
“So the cers were charged, then?”
“The two main ones were, yeah,” said Uval.
“Manslaughter, excessive force—“
“—Murder,” Derul interjected. He looked at Uval. “They charged that fat bastard with murder.”
Uval slowly nodded. “That’s right, they did.” He turned back to Jat. “Murder for the lead cer.”
“And the verdict was this morning?”
Derul and Uval exchanged glances, then Derul turned to Jat. “Not guilty, on all charges.”
Jat stared at Derul, then looked to Uval, then back to Derul. “I don’t understand. If there was video…if it was clear what happened…I don’t understand.”
“And that’s why,” said Derul.
Derul looked over the despondent Sib. “Why you’re seeing this tonight.”
He could feel the weight of their eyes on him. He could hear them talking, but his friends’ voices were just sound in a room of sounds. He sat there staring at his glass, a face, a window, connected and disconnected to it all. It was the way he’d felt all day. Since that morning. Since the verdict.
He’d began drinking immediately. It hadn’t been a decision. He’d simply shuffled, dumbstruck, into the kitchen and grabbed a bottle. By the time he was able to process what had happened he was on his way to a bender.
And what had happened was unreal, unbelievable, and completely unexpected. A left hook to the gut that came out of nowhere. He’d never given thought to the possibility that such a thing could occur. That’s why it shook him the way it did, he’d realized that afternoon. He’d been totally unprepared for it.
This was supposed to be the one. The one that showed them all. The one that finally exposed the epidemic. No one would be able to deny it after this. People would begin to look at it, to see the evolution of it into the animal, the fanged beast, that kept them paralyzed as a society today. There’d be no more defenders, no more apologists. There’d be no arguing with the consensus of the people. The violators would be held accountable, and in the new light they could finally begin to fix things.
And now…what? Where would it go from here? Things would only get worse, wouldn’t they? How could they not? The criminals had walked free, vindicated, their actions sanctioned by the citizenry itself. In the face of all the evidence, in the face of unconscionable brutality, the criminals had walked free.
A man at a nearby table suddenly yelled above the din of the bar. Sib looked over, watched as the man animatedly told a story to his group. Sid could see right off the man was drunk, vulgar and obnoxious. And as he watched, he could feel his grip tighten on his glass. He could feel the tension settle into his shoulders. Sib wanted to walk over there and break the man’s face. He wanted to break the man’s face like the cers broke Tullar Rhove’s face that night. He wanted to scrape the man’s head across the asphalt until he cried out for his mother, the way Tullar Rhove cried out in the streets of Venoba. He wanted…
Sib closed his eyes, felt the anger leave him. He wanted things to change. And that was the other part of it. The reason he’d been so devastated that morning. Because, though he could now see the foolishness of it, he’d been hopeful. He’d been more hopeful than he’d been in a very long time.
An hour later Derul and Uval were helping Sib to the vehicle. Jat had run into a couple of guys he knew and decided to stay at the bar. The plan was for