Thursday, November 29, 2012

Chapter 24: Last Chance

She was alone again, her eyes watering as they tried to adjust to the brightness of the overhead lights. She was grateful that the room was warm, but by now her bladder was hurting and she desperately needed a bathroom. The last thing she wanted to do was lose control over her bladder in front of these people. She walked over to the glass mirror at the other end. She remembered Ms. Weathers telling her when they brought her mother to see her that all she had to do was tap on the glass and someone would be there to help her confess. She wondered if it was a one-way mirror, which would make sense if they were using this as an interrogation room.

Without her hands free, she couldn’t tap on the glass, so she began hitting her head lightly against the glass, hoping to draw their attention. “I need a restroom, please,” she said. “I’m going to dirty your conference room if you don’t help me soon,” she warned.

She wasn’t kidding, either. She had never needed to go so badly in her entire life. She just hoped they would come soon enough to avoid the mess. There was no opening of the door, however, and no acknowledgement that she’d been heard. Eventually she just couldn’t hold it any longer. She had never in her life been so embarrassed. She felt like crying, but didn’t want to give them that satisfaction.

Afterwards, she was too exhausted to stay awake. It was awkward but she managed to get onto her side. She fell asleep almost immediately, but as soon as she did there were hands hauling her up to the table and forcing her into a chair.

“You stink,” Ms. Weathers stated calmly as she looked with disdain at Kate.

“I’m sure I do,” Kate replied. “Perhaps I wouldn’t if someone had helped me to the bathroom as I asked several times.”

“I’m sorry, we were a bit busy sorting things out with our other guests. We have more responsibilities to deal with than one stubborn 15 year old such as yourself,” she replied. The tone of voice she used reminded Kate of woman who felt that she was being unfairly taken advantage of by some unappreciative relative who had overstayed the welcome.

“I do hope your little visit to our facilities has helped you to reconsider whether or not you will cooperate. As I’ve already stated, we have enough work to do without adding you to the mix. We’d just as soon let you and your mother go. All you have to do is cooperate with us and you can be home tonight, safe in your bed, in a matter of hours. Your mother’s job will be returned to her, the twins can come back, and all will be forgotten,” the woman said in a tone that suggested Kate would be an absolute fool to decline her offer.

By now, Kate was far too tired to think straight and much too tired to moderate her tone of voice or attempt to be diplomatic. Her words to the woman in front of her were short, simple, and spoke volumes. “Screw you,” was her eloquent reply.

Ms. Weathers looked at her with a frown. “I was afraid you might prove uncooperative. We’ll just have to give you some better reasons to cooperate, I suppose.”

Kate just glared at the woman. She had no intentions of cooperating. The woman got up and walked to the mirror and rapped on it twice. The door opened and two gentlemen came in pushing a TV cart with a small screen. Kate frowned and wondered what they were up to now.

The men left and Ms. Weathers went over to push play. An image popped up on the screen. It was her mother, in a shed much like the one she’d been in just a little while earlier except that this box was absolutely flooded with light. They’d stripped her mother of her clothes. All she had on was her bra and panties. She didn’t even have on a pair of shoes. Her mother looked fragile and weak, shivering in that box. She kept crying out for help, begging someone to come get her, promising she’d do anything.

Tears poured down Kate’s face as she watched her mother. She wanted to turn away but Ms. Weathers stepped behind her, grabbed a handful of her hair, and forced her to keep watching. “This is what you are doing to your mother, Kate. And it can all stop right now. All you have to do is agree to tell us what we want to know. That’s all you have to do. You do love your mother, don’t you, Kate?”

Kate’s heart burned with a special hatred for this woman and this place even as she watched her mother suffering. “Go to hell” was all she said as the tears continued to stream down her face. Truthfully, the only thing that kept her from giving in to them right at that moment was something she had learned a long time ago about bullies. Once you give in to a bully, they don’t stop, they just view it as permission to do more. Stopping a bully means taking away their power by refusing to show fear. She knew somewhere deep inside her that giving in wouldn’t stop anything, it would just make it worse.

She couldn’t stand seeing her mother like this. She didn’t understand why God was allowing this to happen. Hadn’t she been trying to do what he wanted? Hadn’t she been trying to live like He asked her to live? Where was He now that she needed Him? Her mother was curled tightly into a ball, and Kate was afraid she was going to go into hypothermia. The temperatures outside had to be at least in the low 40’s if not lower than that. There’s no way her mother could survive for very long in those temperatures.

As Kate was forced to watch, the lights in that shed suddenly flared so brightly that all they could see on the screen was a blinding white. There was a sound of glass shattering, and then the TV went completely dark. Kate felt her heart race and she tried to hide the near frantic concern she felt for her mother. Not being able to see was somehow so much worse than having been able to see.

Ms. Weathers pulled a walkie talkie out of her pocket. “I need a report on containment unit 379,” she barked.

“Checking on it, sir,” was the only response.

“Don’t think this means we’re done here, Kate. We’re so far from done,” she hissed.

Kate sat there, waiting for whatever would come next. She wasn’t prepared for two men to open the door and escort her mother into the room. She couldn’t meet her mother’s eyes, she felt guilty for not doing more to help her.

“What is the meaning of this?” Ms. Weathers demanded of the men.

“Ma’m, we are unable to continue the operations for the time being,” one of the men stammered.

“Out! I will speak to you outside,” she snarled at the men.

Kate was left alone with her mother. She didn’t know what to say, or how to explain. All the guilt she felt at putting her mother’s life in danger bubbled to the surface and she broke down in tears. She was surprised to feel her mother reaching over to stroke her hair, just as she had when Kate was little.

“Kate,” her mother said hoarsely, “Kate, look at me.”

Kate shook her head. What Ms. Weathers had been unable to accomplish through everything her mother had been able to do with such a simple gesture. She was ready to tell them anything if they would just let them both go.

“Kate, I need you to look at me now,” her mother commanded. Kate reluctantly looked at her mother and her mouth almost opened in surprise. Her mother was smiling.

“Kate, I understand now. I understand why you did what you did. Keep fighting them, Katie. No matter what happens. Keep fighting,” her mother said, cupping Kate’s chin in her hands and bringing Kate’s eyes up to meet her own. “We’re going to be just fine, Katie. We’re going to be just fine,” she said.

“Mom, what happened?” Kate asked, looking at her mother in confusion. This was not the same woman who had earlier been promising to do whatever they asked as long as they would let her go. This was someone new, someone who was not afraid. Kate couldn’t understand it.

Her mother didn’t get the chance to respond because right then Ms. Weathers stormed back into the room. She was unable to hide the scowl that distorted her features. “I’m afraid we’re going to have to postpone this little family reunion, ladies. We’re already well behind schedule due to Kathryn’s selfishness,” she said.

Ms. Weathers looked Claire in the eyes and said, “I pity you. Your daughter cares absolutely nothing about you. She watched you in that room, in the freezing cold, and did not lift a finger to help you. She has more loyalty to some strangers she barely knows than to you.”

Claire’s face was serene as she gazed back at Ms. Weathers, and Kate marveled again at the woman before her. This was not the mother she knew. This was a woman who had no fear. She wasn’t angry, or sad, or worried, she was peaceful. Kate yearned to know what had happened out there, but she knew she wasn’t going to be able to find out anytime soon.

“Ms. Weathers, it was not my daughter who had me stripped to my underwear and thrown in a locked room in the freezing cold. That was you, and your guards. The guilt for my fate does not belong to my daughter, as much as you might try to place it on her shoulders. That guilt belongs to you, to those who helped you to do this, and to your superiors,” Claire said. “You gave my daughter a choice between saving one individual life and saving the lives of many people. She did what she has been raised to do. She sacrificed her own concerns to protect the many. I hope you someday have a daughter with that kind of courage.”

Kate could not believe her ears. Her mother didn’t blame her for this? Wasn’t angry or disappointed with her? Was proud of her for not doing whatever she could to free her own mother? Kate felt so confused. This just didn’t sound like her mother. Apparently, Ms. Weathers agreed.

Ms. Weathers stared disbelieving at Claire. “This from the woman who was promising to give us anything and do anything if we would just let her go? You’re a fine one to lecture me about courage. You people are disgusting and filthy. You’re worthless trash. I had hoped to help you do the right thing, but I can see that’s a foreign concept to you people,” she sneered.

She pulled out her walkie talkie. “I need four guards here to the conference room, please.” She smirked at Kate and Claire. You want to behave like animals, that’s fine. We’ve got a place prepared for animals like the two of you. You’re going to wish you’d have done what I asked. I imagine before it’s all said and done you’ll be begging to come back here and spill your guts to me, but it’ll be too late.”

Ms. Weathers paced in front of the door, the sound of her high heeled shoes marking the rhythm of her footsteps. The knock at the door announced the arrival of the guards. The four broke into groups of two, two men for each woman. Kate was unable to see where they took her mother next as she was forced to head in the opposite direction.

They drug her outside and forced her to walk across the barren ground until they reached a set of train tracks. Cattle cars were hooked together in a long stretch, and the men stopped in front of one of these. They slid open the doors and pushed her inside. There were hundreds of people in here. Men, women, and children all shackled into place. Each of them moved as far from the guards as they possibly could. The guards drug her to an empty spot in between several other prisoners and removed her cuffs just long enough to secure her arms in the dangling shackles. They walked back across the floor and slammed the door shut behind them, leaving the prisoners alone in the darkness.

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