3 double cheeseburgers, 2 large fries, and a sweet tea. A meal that far exceeded the mere $3 I gave him so I let him keep the bills and paid for it all with my debit card. Heading eastbound on High Street, the only sounds in the car was a local NPR story about some kind of Ohio State University Marching Band controversy and the man’s noisy chewing as he scarfed down the cheap fast food like a dragon sucking the bones of a charred Medieval knight. Never before have I seen someone eat McDonald’s with such gusto.
We drove past the Short North and the OSU district. The sidewalks swarmed with a random assortment of bodies. Carefree students wearing croptops and flipflops laughing and enjoying their summer break, students in oversized sweatpants holding large coffee cups freaking out about upcoming finals, and other rambling souls with their minds whoknowswhere thinking about whoknowswhat.
“So man, what’s your story?” I asked, trying to break the silence.
A police car in front of us switched on its lights & siren to blow through a red light only to turn them off again once they were farther down the street.
“Fucking cops,” he snorted out between sloppy bites and handfuls of salty french fries. “I used to be a cop. It was my first real job after I got outta high school. Those were dark times.”
“How so?” I asked.
“I had no purpose after I graduated. I hated everyone and everything seemed stupid to me. Years were passing me by in a blink of eye and I had do something. So I became a cop. To help people, if you can believe that.” He chuckled drearily and wiped a glob of ketchup off his upper lip. “Did that for about 10 years. I was ready to go halfway through year 3 but after seeing the things I had seen, it was hard to imagine doing anything else. I was good, too. Damn good. I started off as a lowly traffic cop. I was making my quotas and doing everything right. Started rising in the ranks…. Ol’ Kenny even nominated me in the bid for police commissioner until-”
“Wait, Ol’ Kenny? Who’s that?”
“Oh. Ken Prochazka. The old turkeynecked conservative bastard who was the mayor before Obama-Lite.”
“You mean Michael Coleman?”
“Yeah, him. Anyway, so I was next in line in the commissioner running but I didn’t want that gig. I was so sick of that kind of work and being the chief would only increase the workload tenfold. I told Kenny I was grateful but turned it down. Know what he did? He offered me a Head Security position in his office building. Now that, my friend, was a sweet gig. Got paid way more than I was probably worth, considering the amount of actual work I did. I met a fine honey, married her, had a few kids. It took a long time but I made something of myself.”
“Alright, so, how did you go from all that to homeless on the street?”
He burped loudly and shoved the greasy sandwich wrappers into the bag, and pulled out another cigarette from my pack.
“Outside of being the most physically and mentally draining job imaginable, the biggest reason I hated working in the police force was the corruption. I watched far too many innocent men get locked away and kids getting their entire futures ruined because of one bad decision to ever sleep soundly at night. I needed to get away from it. And I was naive enough to believe that I could.”
He sighed heavily and took another long puff. I turned off the radio.
“You look young, so you probably don’t even remember the whole ’99 Broadgate Scandal?”
I shook my head.
“Long story short, Kenny was a paranoid ol’ geezer. On my first day I looked at the roster and couldn’t believe how many guards he had on staff. You would think we were secret service, not security for a fucking mayor. As the years went on, his public image started to suffer after a string of questionable policies and decisions and his approval ratings started to drop, which only made his paranoia even worse. A sizable portion of the cities budget starting going towards modifications to his office building. You wouldn’t believe the amount of cameras he had set up, not only inside the building and along the perimeter, but hidden cameras that covered a huge radius. If you so much as dropped a penny on the sidewalk 5 miles away, there was a camera stationed somewhere that recorded it. But that was just the beginning.
“I was working late one night and went up to his office to escort him to his car, which was already in a secured parking lot. The door was cracked and I walked up to knock and I heard him talking with several other voices. From what I had overheard, for years Ol’ Kenny had been trying to pass a law of some kind granting him permission to tap phones, bug neighborhoods and homes, situate even MORE cameras around the city, the whole works. A real Big Brother type of deal. All for “surveillance and security purposes”. Yeah right. Unsuccessful in his efforts, he decided to go a different way. I don’t know who those other guys were but they were going to make it happen.
Oh, turn left at the light up ahead.”
“Holy shit” is all I could think to say.
“Holy shit is right. The next morning I went to his office to confront him. It went about as well you could imagine. I was fired. Heartbroken, I called every newspaper in the city and anonymously leaked the story. It was a media shit storm. Kenny knew it was me who spilled the beans. I was finished. Former colleagues in law enforcement kept there distance from me. I even went back home one night after a long day of job searching and my wife and children were gone. Don’t know where they went or what happened to ‘em. No friends, no family, and no money. Years later, here I am.”
“Wow.” I couldn’t believe what I had just heard. “So, did Ken actually go through with his Big Brother plan? And where does August 8th and wherever we’re going right now fit in to all of this?”
“You ask a lot of questions. I like that,” he said, giving me a reserved smile. A car honked repeatedly behind us. “By the way, you should probably go ahead and turn now. The light’s been green for a while.”