by David Hox
Sitting in the driver's seat of the state van, I reviewed the dossier on my smart phone as air-conditioning battled stifling summer heat. In the past two days, the low-level recidivist, Mr. Martin Douglas Reed, incurred several social infractions, all of them worthy of censure. Yesterday evening, at a nearby grocery store he illegally parked his cherry-red Porsche, blocking the ramp. Then, leaving the parking lot, he bypassed two motorists at a clearly marked stop sign and nearly rammed a cyclist at an intersection. Definitely, this guy had it coming.
Paco napped in a cot in the back, snoring so loud I swore I'd get revenge during my break. We'd been waiting for an hour in the expensive parking garage of Mr. Reed's high-profile condo. Already, people had started returning from work and filling the spaces with their expensive vehicles. Mr. Reed afforded his Porsche as a finance manager for a back-office clearing company in Jersey City. He made enough money to live in a split-level condo over-looking the Hudson in New Port. He had the car, the attitude, and the character flaw: entitlement. And now he was going to get a legal beating by a professional.
Paco fiddled with the hand-held while trying to keep sweat out of his eyes. He still looked half asleep, even though we'd been standing in front of our van for a half hour.
"Wake, up," I said.
"Right." He grunted as his camera refused to respond. "I have a feeling this one will be fun."
"I'm looking forward to it."
A few individuals had gathered to bear-witness, each one aware of our task, most of them eyeing us with curiosity. The state hired employees like me and Paco because of our efficiency, and our restraint. We looked the part, as well. Two fit guys in standard matching khaki slacks and short-sleeve button downs, steel-tipped work-boots, and leather gloves, one carrying a camera, the other a smart phone -- both with paddles tucked into belts. Both happy to do our duty. The logo of our division, NJSCS (New Jersey State Censure Squad), was embroidered in blue lettering inside a white oval across our backs and above our hearts. I felt content, happy to be doing this since graduating from college in criminal justice when the Censure Board recruited me. They threw everything they had my way. I passed their stress test and demonstrated I could control myself. Some people try to get into this business to satisfy their inner sadist. I got into it by accident. I thought the test was to join the New Jersey State Detectives. Instead, I checked the wrong box and earned candidacy for junior censure training. They started me with a small team where I read the "Writ of Social Critique," while another more experienced junior meted out chastisement, and made me crazy with jealousy. Then I got my chance, and demonstrated my prowess. Our team lead watched until she felt we were both fully capable to work alone. Paco and I teamed up, and have been working together for two years. We were professional. We were good.
Marty Reed sped around the corner of the fourth floor of the parking garage, his low-rimmed Pirelli's squealing. I let that go. He'd already earned enough to get his beating. Then I heard the fucking radio and the thumping bass. Couldn't let that go.
The crowd had turned into twenty or so eager observers. I'd kept them to the side so Marty wouldn't see.
He didn't, and came walking right into us.
He was already pulling his silver and black designer tie loose, and even whistling to himself.
What a project, I thought. Real self-absorbed prick.
When he saw me and Paco, he dropped his burnished steel attaché case.
If he pisses himself . . . , I thought, realizing I forgot my gloves in the van.
Paco began filming.
"Don't," I said to Marty. He assessed my six-three frame and blanched. "I can still run a forty under five seconds. If you bolt, I'm authorized to get creative."
Marty stood gaping.
The crowd formed a circle. Some of them had been contacted by the state as witnesses. Others had probably heard about the state's new non-carceral methods, although no actual footage had ever leaked. Forward thinking neo-states like New Jersey had apparently made world-wide news. Their social measures were controversial, sure, but most critics couldn't deny the results. Come to Newark and you'll see extraordinary urban renovation. Blight turned to beauty. Society had tired of agents of malaise like asshole drivers (and other things). I had the wonderfully fulfilling job of exacting retribution.
Marty fell to his knees, "Oh...my...god."
I clicked on the "Writ of Censure" in my phone and read, "I am authorized by the New Jersey Board of Censure to exact non-lethal chastisement on Martin Douglas Reed for eighteen social infractions -- " I paused and looked at him in such a way his jaw nearly unhinged. Paco stepped in, focusing. "Eighteen surveilled infractions in the last month." Marty began to whimper. "You deserve what's comin', bud. Big time."
A few people shouted obscenities. They'd been invited to this public chastisement because they'd been wronged and were allowed to voice their displeasure.
His wrung his hands and promised he wouldn't "do it anymore."
"You're right about that," Paco murmured.
"Give me your ID," I said.
He handed over his wallet. I always check, just to be sure.
The actual method was left up to the chastiser, within well-defined guidelines. I could use a variety of means as long as I transformed recidivists into compliant citizens. I did have to provide instructions, though.
The most basic methods worked best.
I withdrew an old Jokari paddle I'd stuck in the small of my back; a handle attached to an inch of walnut the size of a dinner plate always did the trick.
"Two ways," I said. "You can lean up against the wall and not complain. As long as you keep your hands in place, I'll finish quicker rather than later. Or, your hands come off, and I bend you over my knees." I slapped the paddle. "And I can."
Marty weighed just under one-hundred and forty pounds, and those were soft pounds, not the hardened stuff of a small man with fight. When you get a gamer, you need a team. Today, I could probably do this with one hand.
Marty curled up in a ball and covered his face, shaking like he had batteries.
"All right," I said. "Fine with me."
Marty kicked and screamed as I maneuvered him into place over my knee. I wrapped my arm around his torso and grabbed my pant leg. I placed a sticky heart-rate monitor on the side of his neck.
Paco called out, "racing, but within range," as he monitored the man's zone with a device on his wrist.
I had to avoiding squeezing too hard, or he might pass out. I began to paddle his middle-aged butt with enough force to make him squeal. By the third strike, he was promising "to be good." By the tenth, he finally wet himself.
"Damn," I said.
"Red line," Paco said, chuckling. "Heart rate over one-eighty. He's done."
I let him fall to the floor in a puddle of whimpers.
"Back up, folks," I said, whipping my hands on my pants. "Give him a minute."
With soft-cases like this, the offenders broke quickly. What I wanted was a true show of contrition, documentation on video, and with a promise of fiscal remuneration. Or, what the board called a cash promise. Our fee was the same no matter what they offered. I didn't get commission.
"Are you ready to hear your accusers?"
He nodded furiously, cognizant the worst might be over.
Making a person wait is actually kind. Beginning with the physical chastising provides the greatest impact with the least amount of trauma. I helped him to his feet, with an encouraging pat on the back. This part could get volatile, though, but usually went quickly.
An old woman ambled forward with the help of her grand daughter to voice her complaint. She was almost eighty and maybe shouldn't have been driving. She looked in my direction.
"He got on my bumper and gave me the birdy finger. Yes he did. Shame on him."
She finally pointed and hissed once.
A well-dressed young man who looked like he might work in a clothing boutique in the mall came forward. He faced Martin. "I was waiting in line at a stop sign. You were behind me and you cut into oncoming traffic and sped past us all. Almost caused an accident."
A young female Jersey City bus driver, still in uniform, stepped forward. She must have just gotten off work. "You turned into oncoming traffic and got stuck in an intersection and didn't try to move." She took another step forward. One more and I'd have to intervene. "If I could, I'd whoop you myself."
In all, six other public witnesses gave their testimonies.
Tapping the Jokari paddle for effect, I asked, "Marty Reed, what do you have to say?"
"I'm sorry," he mumbled.
That was good enough for me. If he resisted, I was authorized to repeat the process or call in a go-team to take him to a social adjustment facility.
I needed just one true word of contrition. Sometimes, you get a rebel. Not today.
Marty earned verbal compliance with two.
"What fee will you pay for your social offenses?"
"You want money?"
"I don't. The State does."
"Uh," he stammered. "What do you suggest?"
I usually waited a few long seconds for this concept to crystallize. "The more you pay now, the more the State will consider your sincerity . . . if there's another infraction."
He understood, "How is five-thousand?"
"We'll take a check."
They never bounced.
He eventually handed over the check, after unsuccessfully trying to write it out a few times, then signed a contract stating his intention to drive with care.
I was about to release him, when someone else stepped forward. A young girl, maybe eighteen or nineteen, fully covered in baggy jeans and a long-sleeve shirt, despite the heat. She hadn't signed up for the witnessing or the testimony. I didn't recognize her until she cleared the group.
One of our Top Ten Maligned. I saw her name and face on a poster everyday after morning briefing, a sad beautiful face you wanted to make your own.
"It was him." She extended her hand and pointed a damning finger. Oh, shit, I thought. She leveled the accusation with such certainty. "Him."
I withdrew my smart phone and dialed headquarters. I told them I had Paula Sanchez providing a high-level accusation. She had pointed. She had claimed. While the crowd murmured and Marty stood up against a wall, unsure what was happening, I waited for headquarters to run the data, which began to appear on my phone's display. Paula's case. Her description of the night out. Fake IDs. Her friends leaving her in Hoboken to go to another bar. Testimony she left with a guy that fits Martin Reed's description. All verified. Even her waking up in the park, surrounded by police. Then Hoboken University Medical Center. Proof she'd been drugged with a generic brand of Flunitrazepam. Two weeks in recovery. They had enough semen DNA to identify a match.
Martin stared wide eyed, unable to speak.
"You live here?" I asked Paula.
She shook her head, "A friend."
I smiled at her. She didn't return the gesture.
I always feared this part, although it did seem necessary in a world where entitled people could do such damage. In minutes, we'd all know his fate.
"Hold on, Mr. Reed," I said as I attached the scanner to my phone. "This won't hurt."
I ran the capture device over his slick, sweaty neck.
I had no idea how the small device no bigger than a roll of quarters worked, but it did in minutes now what took a week years before.
I waited for the assessment. Headquarters finished; the data came back a match.
I repeated the process two more times.
"This may take a few minutes."
I knew a speed-team was already in the building, combing his apartment. After a half hour, Marty actually relaxed, his shirt now open to his navel, leaning on his side to relieve his battered ass. He probably thought the delay meant he was safe, until he saw my face. Multiple genetic samples identified him at over 99.8%. This was beyond me now, as a level one chastener, and I felt a little sick at what was coming. I employed simple devices like Jokari paddles or leather belts or, in the toughest cases, brass knuckles (something I rarely ever did). This was a level three comprehensive chastisement. That meant veterans, and their controversial methods. The go-team, Deviny and Alex, arrived a few minutes later in a nondescript van, and then silently began to cordon off the area. By law, those who witnessed for state testimony were allowed to stay. Deviny and Alex set up canvas barriers around the area so the unauthorized crowd couldn't see what was about to happen.
When Marty saw the contraption in the back of the van, he scrambled under a car and grabbed hold of the drive train like a terrified monkey. I felt my stomach turn. I had never seen one before.
Deviny and Alex set up the area for their Kafka-Harrier, both discrete veterans and highly decorated social protectors who understood the power of first impressions. I nodded solemnly in recognition. I knew I was on the right track, just a few more years and I might be able to chasten at their level. I had always wanted to see them in action.
They rolled the large rectangular stainless steel frame on wheels out of the van. A computerized control panel lit up in cobalt blue. Deviny punched in a code. The machine began to unfold itself like a mechanized flower until it filled most of the space like a chrome arachnid. Articulated arms encircled a bench in its center.
Jesus, I mumbled. It was more horrifying than I expected.
They extricated Marty from his hiding place and fastened him belly down on the bench. He wailed like a man about to be executed. Close enough, I thought, and tried not to look as they cut away his pants and revealed his pudgy, white ass. They read the "Writ of Chastisement" for rape, and then set the Harrier in motion. Gears cranked, electric motors whined, and a robotic arm with a dry, silicon dildo moved into place outside his anus. The wailing turned to ululating screams as it drove the unlubricated implement in and out of his ass. Deviny and Alex watched with practiced sang-froid. I emulated them, even as the blood began to pour. The crowd had hushed. Paula watched, obviously aware her duty to be there outstripped any horror she felt at remembering her own ordeal. They offered her a hand-held dildo, but she turned it down in disgust.
I wanted to comfort her, to let her know I understood this could never repair what had happened. She eventually turned away, unable to watch.
The chastisement lasted five minutes.
The ambulance was already here.
Deviny and Alex nodded in my direction. I helped them clean the Harrier and then disassemble the area, as medics tended to Marty and trauma counselors prepared to step in. Then they left, as quickly as they came.
Paco viewed the data in his camera. "Bastard got his."
"Yes, he did," I said with less confidence than I felt, as I watched the moving images. "One more off the recidivist's list. For sure.
My phone vibrated. A new message:
Level one infraction. Blatant littering. Sending subject profile now.
"Come on," I said, steeling myself. "Back to work."
© 2010 David Hox
Bio: "David Hox" is a pseudonym for a recluse afraid his mother might read is fiction. Under his given name he has published in literary magazines, small press horror/sci fi magazines, and academic journals.
E-mail: David Hox
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