Bad Day at Black Bloc

For some people, riots are a place for settling scores. Nominally, we were all committed to non-violence in our protest against the wars and the bailouts, pollution, and the police state. Property destruction is something else all together, but try telling the cops that. We hit suddenly, without warning, without social media, but somehow the OPD knew. They came dressed to party that night, with extra-long riot batons, flash grenades firing off at eye-level, and even an LRAD wailing off in the distance—the liberals cowered before it, hands over their ears, knees to the pavement. The sweet sound of a brand-new art-deco wine bar window shattering helped drown out the car-alarm yowling and all the other chaos, but distracted me too. And at six-foot-two, and the only woman—sexism!—I was supposed to be the lookout for my affinity group. I didn’t see the phalanx of pigs spilling out from around the corner till they had almost outflanked us and pushed over our bicycle barrier, and there was nothing else to do but take our beatings and hope someone’s cell phone was streaming it to the Internet.

Or run. “Run!” Robin shouted, and he started running. No time for consensus, we all took off after him just to keep from being separated, then ran right into another line of police. Two cops jumped right on Robin, working over his joints, and the other boys got smacked down hard trying to extract him. They were everywhere, the pigs, their batons raised high like a very sudden forest of saplings. I felt a slight touch to the back of my head. Then another, just a bit more insistent, almost like a tap on the shoulder. I turned around to see a cop, a woman cop, almost a foot shorter than me, two hands wrapped around her baton. Her eyes were wide like a pair of white eggs.

“Fake it!” she said, her teeth clenched. Then she swung her baton again, and pulled the blow so it was barely a tap. I stumbled forward and dropped to my knees. I’d been political for a couple of years, but had never really gotten involved in black bloc tactics till recently. Who was this cop? She was a young one, and Latina with dark eyes and a badge reading l. perez. I did my best to simultaneously play dead, keep my eye on L. Perez, and keep from getting stomped, which was tough as another surge of protestors had set the cops to mad dancing. A few pepper bombs got popped a block away or so and I could feel my nose tingling even from my spot on the street. Perez whirled through the protest, cleaving a path with her baton. She was definitely off script, running from the police line and then back. A big trash container went up in flames and some of our people turned it over to spill the burning garbage into the streets, and a cop car—empty and left unguarded purposefully for cop propaganda purposes—was turned over. It took me a few minutes to realize… Perez was only taking it easy on women. Dudes, she fustigated. In the ribs when she couldn’t reach their heads with a solid swing. A couple in the face. The few girls she encountered, a fairy wand tap and then down they went, as convincing as any third-grader playing Abraham Lincoln in the school play might be.

I crawled over to the edge of the curb to get a better look at her and was nearly trampled by two crusty punks running from the pigs. That’s when I saw it—someone tall and gangly in a black bloc outfit, face obscured by one of those tedious Guy Fawkes masks, jumped over my body and rushed up to the crusties, jabbed one of them with something, then ran. The crusty stood in place for a long moment, watching his filthy shirt turn black with blood. He was a skinny kid, and tall himself, so it only took a few seconds. He kept walking, staring at himself, oblivious to the riot churning around him, to the sweeping spotlights of the helicopters. Almost everyone was in some variation of black, and the pigs wore navy blue, so the stabber vanished instantly into the crowd. The kid took to a knee and his comrade, spooked, ran.

“Medic! Street medic!” I called out, getting back to my feet. Perez was long gone. The next time a cop came at me with a club, he or she would mean it. The kid looked up at me, or past me, at police reconstituting their lines to have another go at us with their projectile weapons. For a second he looked eager, then resigned. I called for a street medic again, but it was like shouting into a tsunami.

“You’d better go,” the kid said to me, his voice high and cracked. He was right. Neither of us were going to ask the pigs for help, and none of them would give it even if we did. If the kid died at my feet, the murder would be pinned on me. I pulled off my balaclava and shook my head till my hair fixed itself, turned my hoodie inside out so that the baby blue lining showed, and threaded my way through the crowds, to my apartment. My cell phone blooped all night—texted demands to meet at the police station to do some solidarity for the arrested, worried calls from my mother, and a couple of affinity group guys who’d not been nabbed, but I just smoked cigarettes and followed the #Oakland hashtag on Twitter till dawn.

The kid’s name was Conner Kiernan. Someone had managed to get him to a hospital, where he lived most of the night, conscious and in sufficient pain to ask to speak to his father before he died. Conner was in all the papers come morning. The cops and the mayor spun it like so: wild anarchists not only trash downtown—again—but go on mad stabbing sprees for obscure initiatory reasons. We turned on our own, like desperate cannibals. “Worse than gangs,” Mayor Yoshida said. “At least gangs have an economic purpose; they fight over territory, or drug money. These people just live to create chaos, and they die to create chaos as well.” The wound hadn’t that bad; if not for the riot, Conner would have made it to the ER, and the doctors would have saved him, if not his spleen. If not for the riot, Conner wouldn’t have been stabbed.

Robin was livid. “This is a total escalation. What’s next, live ammunition?” He’d asked me that five times before coffee. He was bent over his laptop, going through videos on YouTube and on other, more secure websites, looking for footage of the stabbing that one or more of the streamers might have captured. Like most of our side, he was sure that Conner Kiernan was the target of a cop assassin. I didn’t say anything about what I’d seen.

Instead: “Why him?” That’s what I said, mostly to myself.

Robin glanced over at me, then announced, dramatically, “Time for me to get goin’ to ye ol’ dayjob!” That was the signal. He closed his laptop, then pulled his cellphone out of his pocket and took out the battery. I was stretched across the couch, my legs hanging off the far end, ashtray on my belly because I liked to live dangerously, so it took me a minute to find my own phone and pull out my battery. Now we could talk. Robin was very security conscious. In a wireless world, we were all always swimming in electromagnetic fields we couldn’t even perceive. Robin liked to remind me of that.

“Maggie,” he said. “I’m going to speak for approximately two minutes. Please don’t diminish me by rolling your eyes or interrupting me. I think it’s MKUltra. I’m going to assume you don’t know what that is, so I apologize in advance if you do. CIA mind-control experiments. Chemical, biological, and even radiological means to brainwash people; they experimented on Americans and even some Canadians back in the 1950s, 1960s, and early 1970s. The Bay Area was a major locus of the experiments. It’s back, and I think last night was a field test. The ruling class won’t have to worry about the rabble if they could keep us at one another’s throats literally, and not just socially via racism, sexism, homophobia, cissexism and—”

“National chauvinism,” I finished. He frowned at my interruption, but too much complaining about it would be patriarchal, so Robin said nothing. I considered his idea, let my cigarette burn down another centimeter. “That explains why a stabbing. It doesn’t explain why that kid. Why Conner Kiernan. Why him?”

“Why not him?” Robin said. “Maybe he wasn’t even targeted specifically. The command could have been ‘Kill the next person you see wearing white-boy dreds.’ Or even ‘Kill the fifth.'”

“Yeah, but now you’re just explaining everything in a way that allows us to predict nothing. A theory has to have predictive power, not just explanatory power.”

“Huh?”

“I took a course on the history of scientific thought last semester,” I said. “I’ll lend you the book we had to read. Anyway, sure, the CIA brainwashed Guy Fawkes Number 4397 to kill someone at random, and it worked. But doesn’t that explain everything? Why did the cops start lobbing tear gas at 11PM and not 11:30? The CIA! Why did the liberals decide to hold a candlelight vigil last night instead of just staying home and signing an online petition? The CIA! Why did we all set eyes on the Disney Store and decide to liberate the cowgirl from Toy Story last night, all at once? Wasn’t that spooky? As in spooks.”

“Actually, I didn’t want to do that,” Robin said. He sipped his coffee. “Are you asking me to consider the possibility that I’m the only person on Earth with free will, and that everyone else is just part of a CIA shadowplay put on for my benefit.”

“Well, you’re the one who suddenly wanted to run, and you ran right into the arms of the cops. So maybe that was the CIA too, and I’m the only person on Earth with free will.” That shut him up. He even stood and poured his coffee down the sink. I definitely couldn’t tell Robin what I’d seen go down. I didn’t know much more than anyone else. Conner had been very forthcoming at the hospital—a random “black bloc” type in a mask appeared in front of him, stabbed him in the abdomen, and then jetted. He didn’t know why anyone would do that to him either, and could he please call his father in Croton-on-Hudson, New York now. His father got up early every morning to commute to Wall Street, where he made a very good living ruining the planet. His parents were divorced. Conner was estranged from both of them, but his father was the one to call, even though he lived across the country now. So, he had been a rich kid slummer. “I’m just testing you, Robin. A real CIA mindslave would finish his coffee and pour himself, and me, another.”

He didn’t. He made some excuses about needing to hit the Whole Foods Dumpsters before the sun ruined the dairy products—”But you’re vegan!” I called out after him as the door slammed shut—and left me alone. I smoked a cigarette, then smoked another one. Conner Kiernan. Locally, people were abuzz. The argument had already turned political. Right-wing blowhards love a good bloodletting when they can pin it on the left. Leftie theories were about on par with Robin’s, along with a healthy dose of generalized distrust of the cops. Kiernan’s death—his murder—would wreck havoc on the scene, and the movement. Carte blanche to stop us on the streets, enter our apartments, infiltrate our meetings, and with enough “probable cause” or whatever that even Oakland’s usually liberal population would applaud as the pigs kicked down our doors.

One more cigarette, and I decided. I needed something to organize my days, between protests. I’d find the killer.

Crusties don’t really spend much time in Oakland, not since the Occupy encampment had been broken up. Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley is more their scene. Plus, the kid who ran when Conner was stabbed had headed north. I took a pocketful of change and a spare pack of cigarettes with me and went looking for him. Maybe I’m getting old, but all these kids looked alike. Dirty blonde boys with crooked beards and ratty T-shirts, girls rebelling against beauty standards with heavy eye make-up and acne that was almost cultivated. They lounged on the curb, or leaned against storefronts—the record store, the café, the vacant lot with its peace symbol murals, and played with their pitbulls, shouted demands for money they knew they wouldn’t get from passers-by, and smiled when they saw me. I was a kindred spirit, with my own hoodie and its patches, my boots, baggy black jeans. And I had quarters and cigarettes. But none of the boys would talk to me when I mentioned Conner.

Finally, outside of Cookies Rule Everything Around Me, a weird little light blue dump that served ice-cream sandwiches, one of the girls sidled up to me. “Hey,” she said. “Tall girl.” I glanced down; she smiled up. She had dull brown eyes, and a long scraggly line tattooed across her face. She was either looking to drop out of society completely, or had just been the last one asleep in the squat one night.

“Listen, I have some information for you. I’ve seen you around. I know you’re not a fucking pig. But listen…” Her eyes darted toward the store. “Everyone thinks I’m a vegan. Go buy me a sandwich. Chocolate chip and blueberry ice cream.” I just had to laugh, but I did it. She said she’d meet me down the block, in the parking lot behind Happy High Herbs. She ate; I smoked. She licked her fingers. They were smudged. A wind blew past her.

“So, you and Conner were together, eh?” I asked her. “And is what you have to tell me was that he, and you, are poseurs?” She didn’t say anything, so I told her. “You smell too good to live on the streets. And that tattoo—”

“Screw you,” she said quickly.

“Did you just say screw you? Who even says that anymore?”

“Oh, shut up,” she said. “Conner was trans. That’s why he was on the streets. He had some money his mom couldn’t keep from him, so he could afford T.”

“I’m sorry…” I can be a real jerk sometimes. And I had questions, but she slowly polished off the ice cream, making me wait. Fake vegans are everywhere.

“Did he have enemies? How much money are we talking about?” I was thinking maybe the parents had Conner bumped off somehow, or maybe even a transphobic person in the movement. Some manarchist asshole maybe, or even a psychopathic radical feminist with a hate-on for transfolk. It’s not like Guy Fawkes had looked all that different than I did.

She shrugged. “We all have enemies, right? I don’t know. I just… I mean, the body’s in the morgue, right? He didn’t have bottom surgery. I was surprised the media didn’t report it.”

“Yeah…”

I made to go, and she asked after me. “Hey, Tall Girl!”

“Maggie,” I said, over my shoulder.

“What are you going to do if you find the guy who did it?”

“How do you know it’s a guy,” I turned to face her.

“Women don’t do these things,” the girl said. She had an ice cream mustache, like a little girl. “But what will you do?”

I shrugged. I didn’t even know, really. It depended on why Guy Fawkes had done it.

That night, I spent online, switching between my job—I do web stuff for HotQUILT.com; Hot Queer Undecided Intersex Lesbian Trans. Dot Com—and various vids and pics of the demo. Their media and ours. For a security conscious bunch, anarchists sure spend a lot of time posting to Facebook. Finding a Guy Fawkes in a crowd was like finding a particular piece of hay in a haystack, but Conner I found, and I found his friend. Someone had even tagged one of the photos he was in. Jeremy Saltz. And even better, he was a friend of Robin’s. (Robin has like 2000 Facebook friends.) I logged me out, logged him in, and found that Jeremy was dumb enough to have given Facebook a phone number.

I call him and he answered. But when Jeremy said “Hello” I got confused and excited and blurted out, “Who killed Conner Kiernan? Was it a hit? His parents? Did you know he was trans?”

“Who the fuck is this?” he demanded. His voice squeaked.

“I’m trying to find out who killed Conner Kiernan.”

“You’ve been asking about me, haven’t you?” he said. “The tall chick. Shit shit shit.” There was noise in the background. Street traffic, cars. Then he spoke again. “Why do you care?”

“Why don’t you?” I said. “I’m not a cop. I’m… a witness.”

“I care. I just, how do I know that you’re not, uh… the killer.”

“Did the killer call Conner bef—”

He blurted out, “I didn’t say that.”

“Well, that’s a yes.” He grunted affirmatively. Good thing Jeremy hadn’t been arrested last night. I didn’t know how much he knew about the movement, our plans for upcoming demos and other actions, but this kid had no poker face.

“Conner was worried. I dunno. We had a lot of things going on. I…” Then he realized that he still didn’t know who I was and shut up. But he didn’t hang up. A nice, polite boy. Jeremy probably didn’t even get many calls on his cell phone. “Look, we were involved in a lot of stuff. Some of it went back. Don’t call me back, I’m gonna throw this phone into the bay right now. I’m leaving town. Maybe the state. Don’t try to find me.”

“Are you going to Portland?” Everyone loves Portland.

“Yea—ah, damnit!” Then Jeremy hung up.

I didn’t learn much, but I did get a confirmation of what I’d already suspected. The anarchist left, despite all the great projects and experiments in freedom and willingness to fuck shit up—we were fucked if kids like Jeremy were involved. The state hardly needed to oppress us. We’d just self-destruct, or turn ourselves in, sooner rather than later.

When Robin came home from the night shift at the all-night copy shop, I asked him how he knew Jeremy. “Your Facebook friend,” I had to remind him. Then I had to narrow it down: a smelly street kid. Local. Blonde fauxhauk. You’re in three pictures with him. And you’re both holding up a giant papier-mâché puppet of Mitt Romney with crepe paper blood pouring out of his mouth.

“Oh, him!” Robin said between spoonfuls of lentils. “D’you think he did it? He killed Conner Kiernan? We’re having a vigil tonight, by the way, if you’re so interested.”

“No, he didn’t do it, but he was standing next to Conner when it happened.”

“So, maybe he did have something to do with it.”

“I was standing next to Conner too!”

Robin eyed me for a long moment. “Well, he’s a Democrat you know.” His lip curled when he said Democrat. “Both of them. They were outreach activists, trying to get street kids registered to vote.” We hate Democrats. They’re just capitalism’s B-team. Nothing’s worse than some well-dressed coffee-clutching non-profit types showing up and collecting names for petitions that never went anywhere but to the NSA, handing out their bumper stickers and pamphlets, bursting into red-faced rage on behalf of “the people”, and then finally clearing us all off the streets, to wait for Election Day and the Messiah that would never come. One of the major strategic reasons we bloc’d up to smash storefront windows was to keep the Democrats away. We wanted to be something other than politics as usual. The Democrats hated our spectacles of non-violence. It reminded them too much of the TV news footage of their own foreign wars and occupations.

“So, if he was a Democrat, maybe he was a mole for the cops too,” Robin said.

“And someone murdered him to keep him quiet? An anarchist did that? Or the cops did?”

Robin shrugged, non-committal. Every theory sounded good to him. I lost my appetite and took my cigarettes, and my laptop, to the roof. Oakland looked peaceful enough from up here. Riots get cleaned up quickly, and there’s already so much plywood over the windows of the abandoned houses and burnt-our storefronts that the few new additions barely made a difference. Back to the computer, back to the footage. Lots of boys in their comic-book Guy Fawkes masks running around. The revolution, brought to you by Warner Bros.! For a bunch of people who hate corporate hegemony, we sure know how to keep hoodie manufacturers and boot manufacturers in business. And then I remembered something about the killer—the shoes were all wrong. Back in 2007, in Canada, a bunch of Quebec police provocateurs dressed like the black bloc and got themselves “arrested” for throwing rocks. The boots had given the hoax away.

But my Guy Fawkes hadn’t been wearing either ratty Doc Martens or well-worn combat boots, or police-issue footwear. He—no, she!—had been wearing something a little different. Her whole outfit was slightly off, really. A windbreaker shell jacket with nice lines, instead of a hoodie. And fancy clog boots. She’d stepped right over me, on her way to Conner. It was dark, except for the flickering of flames and wide splashes of red and white police lights, but I saw it clearly. A middle-class brand, maybe Patagonia or Billabong. I should know. I’m as middle class as anyone. Born and raised in Orange County. College at Smith. Back to California because I hated cold weather and missed real oranges. And only then, politics. Free oranges for everyone, on demand.

So, why a woman? So much for that girl and Women don’t do these things. Radfem?—not that kind of shoe. Jilted ex, maybe one who was upset that he was trans? Female cop? Then I remembered Perez. Guy Fawkes had been tall enough to be a dude, but so was I. And even in the chaos of a riot, it’s hard for someone to swim against the current. Guy Fawkes had been heading toward the police line. Perez must have pretended to club her, like she did me, then let her do the deed. There were still holes in the theory—it’s harder to track the movements of a particular crusty punk in a riot than it is to keep your eye on a single drop of rain in a squall. So, Perez…

Oakland Copwatch almost certainly had a file on L. Perez, but when I tried to click over to the page, I got nothing. The wireless was down. But I didn’t need Copwatch. When I turned to go back downstairs her small frame was filling the bottom half of the door. She called me “Margaret Wilkins” and didn’t look happy. Behind her, another cop lurked in the stairwell. Robin was behind him, looking defeated. I did my best impression of accidentally dropping my laptop hard enough to screw up the hard drive.

I had a lot of questions for Perez, and she for me, but I knew better than to say anything other than my one word: lawyer. Which they ignored at first. It felt so strange, to be arrested alone, without comrades on either side of me, without the security of the knowing that there would be a protest outside the precinct house, a quick 6AM hearing, dropped charges and a welcome-home party for the returning heroes. They ran me through the system the hard way—I had to spread my ass and my vagina, made me take a fucking pregnancy test in case they felt like beating me later, and then they put me in a holding cell with the usual crowd of working women and the unfortunate girlfriends of lumpenprole entreprenuers. For thirty hours, my nickname was White Girl rather than Tall Girl. I took a shit in the little public commode with everyone watching, and didn’t cry.

“So, you were in the riot downtown two nights ago,” Perez asked me in the interrogation room. This wasn’t like Law & Order at all. The lighting was better. She was out of uniform, in a boxy suit. I checked her shoes. They were proletarian. Nothing fancy.

“Lawyer.”

“Did you have fun with your riot, White Girl? Real radical of you guys, the way you start trouble on yuppie blocks and then run into the black neighborhoods when the cops show up.”

“Lawyer.”

“Did you happen to be rioting along with Conner Kiernan? Also white.”

“Lawyer.”

“She was born Constance Kiernan, you know,” she said. “Funny, her parents sent an old picture. They didn’t want to come to the morgue to ID the body. She was a pretty girl. He died an ugly boy.” Perez licked her lips. “What a waste.”

I didn’t say anything.

“You know why we gave you the body cavity search? I made up some bullshit about drugs. Told the judge you probably had bath salts up your va-jay-jay. He bought it. I just wanted to make sure you weren’t a pretty boy transitioning over to being an ugly girl.”

Transitioning. For a transphobe, Perez knew the lingo. Was she trying to tell me something? Did she think I was Guy Fawkes, or did somebody higher up want to frame me? Either way, it sounded like a job for my…

“Lawyer.”

I didn’t even have a lawyer of my own, and my case was apolitical, so it took another day to spring me. The fat-acceptance genderfluid genderqueer porn must flow, so my boss called her lawyer, whose clerks and interns went through all the visual media related to the demo and managed to find a tenth of a second of video featuring me crawling along the curb as Guy Fawkes leapt over me and then out of the frame to kill Conner Kiernan. No hearing, no grand jury—the judge and my attorney’s partner, whose names I never even learned, were members of the same eating club in Princeton. And of course, my boss and her lawyer and her law clerks were all Smithies, like me. Every little bit of class privilege helps.

I went home, found my cell phone in the hidey hole Robin prepared in case of arrests, and called Jeremy right away. He answered, of course. “Glub glub, is this a fellow fish at the bottom of the Bay?”

“Shit,” he said. He recognized me.

“Obviously, only a Democrat would go running to the cops,” I explained.

“You assholes sell each other out all the time. Half of you are cops. You play into the hands of the cops with your stunts.”

“Actually,” I said. “We’re all pawns of the Glazier Industrial Alliance. Think about it? Who benefits from broken windows, but window replacement factories …And even the Nike Store has to buy local too.” Jeremy didn’t hang up. “So, why didn’t you hang up just now?”

“Look, she found me. She made me tell her about you. She—”

“She who? Perez? Or the woman who killed Conner.”

Jeremy was authentically surprised. “That was a woman? For real? But how would Officer Perez know…” Officer Perez, he called her. Jesus Christ, why didn’t this kid just get an internship with CALPIRG and call it a political day?

How would Perez know? She was either part of a conspiracy to kill Conner, or was covering up for something she found out after the fact. I had managed to bust my laptop but good up on my roof, but my smartphone still worked. The Copwatch site coughed up a fun detail—where Lola Perez liked to drink. Sometimes she’d take out her service revolver and spin it around on the bar.

Luckily for me, Perez favored the White Horse Bar, a lesbian joint in Temescal. Just a half a block from Berkeley. If there was any trouble, I could run across the border, where she might not shoot me and get away with it. The BPD didn’t like it when OPD officers shot people over the imaginary line that separated the cities. At least that’s what I told myself. And two-buck PBRs for happy hour. Maybe I’d meet a nice girl. So I went there every night, for three nights, leaving when the karaoke—ugh!—or the drag king show—yay!, but I had bigger fish to fry—started. It was Thursday when Perez showed up, with a certain girl in tow.

“Hey there, Officer,” I said. “You know, she ain’t a real vegan. I didn’t know she liked bacon, though.” I was surprised that Perez was the one who blanched. The girl smiled; her face tattoo looking like a primitive city bus map.

“Free,” she said. “Call me Free.” She drank her drink and said, “You have a lot of nerve, showing up here.”

I shrugged. “Free country, Free.” I put down six bucks and got three PBRs. “If you don’t want yours, I’ll drink all three. They’re free, Free! To Conner Kiernan!” Free just glared at me. Perez found the selection of booze on the bar back very interesting.

“So really, is this what happened: someone transitions, and a lesbian vigilante takes him out? That’s murder, and for reactionary reasons. Forget the cops; the community would tear this place apart and salt the earth.”

“You’re an idiot,” Free said. “I thought you were smart.”

“Yeah, college girl. The Great White Hope, smashing up downtown Oakland, like you even live there,” Perez said. “You ever even talk to a person of color before wrecking their neighborhood and bringing the cops down on ’em. You ever talk to a cop about what you make us do?”

“You and I spoke twice,” I said. “If you hate me that much, you should have brained me when you had the chance.”

“You’re not the only one I should have brained,” Perez said, into her drink. She had a gimlet. Free was almost done with a ridiculous-looking cosmopolitan.

“So, Guy Fawkes was a woman. You know she wasn’t me. And you know who it is. So, who are you protecting?” Free threw a look at me. “You know who it is too,” I said to them both. “Tell me this isn’t what I think it is.”

Perez snorted. “You’re paranoid. ‘Lesbian vigilantes.’ Is that what you learned at Smith College?” She got me. For a second, my mind spun. Was there a file on me, was my Facebook not locked down sufficiently well, did the cops—

“I went to Smith too,” Free said. So much for my poker face, two beers into the night. “I saw your name in the alumnae magazine, when they did that article about Hotquilt.com.”

“Hey, I love Hotquilt.com,” the bartender interjected, leaning over the bar with a leer.

“Another cosmo, please” Free said. The bartender scowled but went to work at the other end of the bar.

“Sometimes detective work is easier than you think,” Free said.

“And sometimes it’s harder, because the answer doesn’t even fucking matter,” Perez said. Was she tearing up?

Perez knew Guy Fawkes, but couldn’t arrest her. So she was either a very powerful woman, or Perez would expose herself somehow by bringing the woman in. Or both. Conner Kiernan—he’d come from money. Guy Fawkes was a woman. That night…

“Okay,” I said. I opened the third PBR. “I’m sorry, you’re right. I have some issues of my own to work out. Internalized misogyny and sapphophobia. Sapphobia. Is that a word?” I covered my mouth and burped a bit. “Sorry, a little drunk. Here’s what I think happened now.

“Officer Perez…” I was surprised to hear myself saying officer. And even more surprised a moment later when I actually twitched my fingers into air quotes—another thing I usually hate. “You’re a ‘good cop.’ Why else does a Latina queer put up with OPD bullshit? You even help the ladies out during a riot, pretending to beat the shit out of them so they can get away, or regroup, or at least spend the night in jail without bleeding into their hands and begging for a doctor.

“But not everyone’s so good as you, eh? You did you bippity-boppity-bomp trick on the wrong person. A woman, a tall woman like me. She wasn’t there to rio—protest though. She wanted to kill Conner Kiernan.

“Conner was trans. And rich. And living on the street. Abandoned by his parents, cut off from most of the money, except a trust fund or something. Or maybe one parent sent him a little money. One who lived far away and didn’t even know he was in transition. Ain’t that right, Free?”

We all waited a second for the bartender to return with Free’s new cosmo. She took a sip and said, “Yeah, I was the one who told you that.”

“And why does someone go masked at a demo? To keep from being easily identified. But clearly, if our fine upstanding police officer here had encountered Guy Fawkes, she just would’ve cracked his head open. So when you saw her, she wasn’t wearing her mask. Because she was trying to find someone. So you let her go, and then you move on to me, and then to some other girls that caught your eye, and she sees her target—Conner Kiernan—and slips on the Guy Fawkes mask. Not because she’s worried about being IDed by the cops. Hell, she practically was depending on being recognized as a law-abiding middle-class citizen, so she could wander through the protest unmolested. But she didn’t want Conner to recognize her.”

“You like hearing yourself talk a lot more than I do,” Perez said. “Get on with it.”

“Fine, fine,” I said. “So who would Conner recognize, and be surprised to see at a demonstration? And what woman would be tall enough to maybe spell me… except someone maybe the same height as Conner was. He was about my height too. Something they had in common. Oh, and her boots. They were very nice. So a tall woman, not at the riot for political reasons, trying to hide her identity from Conner, so she could kill him.”

Both Free and Perez turned and stared at me.

“Guy Fawkes was Conner’s mom, was it?” I asked. “She killed him. Maybe even with some bullshit psychological theory like ‘Conner killed my daughter. I’ll kill him.'”

“I don’t know about any psychology,” Perez said. “All I know is that if I pursue the case, all she has to do is tell her white-shoe lawyer that I let her by, that I pretended to hit her with my baton so that she could find her son, and kill him. Hell, I’m practically an accomplice. I conspired with her.”

“‘You conspired with me.’ That’s what was written on the back of the picture she sent the OPD,” Free explained. “When I saw that you were interested in Conner… I figured that maybe you could do something that wouldn’t involve us.” She shrugged. “You know, something anarchish.”

“Or that I’d make a good fall guy,” I said.

“Don’t blame her,” Perez said. She was looking at the barback again, and her reflection in the dozen bottles of booze, all warped shards that made up something less than a whole. “That was my idea. Either I’d have a perp, or I’d scare you off.”

“Yeah, thanks for the false arrest. That was an awesome experience for me. And good job, protecting the murderer of a transperson.”

“Either way, I get to keep my job, my life.” Perez said. Free gave her the side-eye at that, but said nothing. Then she looked at me, and shrugged again. I hated shruggers.

“I could write it all down,” I said. “I could tell the whole world. Name names. Everyone’s names.”

“Go ahead,” Free said. “Who’d believe you over Conner’s mom? Worst-case scenario, she gets off because she’s rich, and white, and attractive, and Conner was a trans street kid, and five years from now this is all on the Lifetime Movie Channel.”

“And she gets the Hollywood money. No crime, no time,” Prez said.

“Best-case scenario, they get you for something,” Free said to me. “It’s not like you don’t break the law constantly.”

So that was it. Conner’s mother did it. Maybe out of some sort of transphobic rage. Maybe because of money issues with Conner’s father. Hell, maybe she just liked her fancy house up in the Berkeley Hills so much that she would gladly sacrifice her own child to cast the movement into disarray and disrepute. Conner’s murder was still front page news, and Twitter fodder, a week later. And he hadn’t even been outed yet. Fox News probably thought doing that would make him less sympathetic. She was untouchable. Officer Perez couldn’t help but end up working for her with every swing of her baton, even as she tried to side with us. Wheels within wheels, that is the system of the world.

I finished my third beer, swallowed a burp. “You’re right. But one day…”

“One day what?” Perez said.

“One day things will be different.” And I slid off my stool and walked out of the White Horse, onto the street, right on the edge of two cities. The traffic lights on the corner flipped from red to green, through there were no cars on the street. The system maintains itself without human help. I walked into Berkeley, and turned my hoodie inside out, from baby blue to deepest black. My lighter fell from my pocket, but I caught it before it hit the ground. It’d come in handy. I found a broken piece of concrete and hefted it in my other hand. It felt good. The air was rich with ozone—like I could sense all the electricity in the air, from cell phones, satellites, fifty-trillion dollars worth of financial transactions a second, every second, wrapping around the world. Or right before the sort of lightning storm we never get in the East Bay. I started walking to the Berkeley Hills, up toward the mansions.

About the Author

Nick Mamatas

Nick Mamatas is the author of several novels, including most recently Love is the Law and The Last Weekend. His short fiction has appeared in Best American Mystery StoriesAsimov’s Science Fiction, and many other venues, and his reportage and essays on radical politics have been published in ClamorVillage Voice, and In These Times.

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