"The Copper Responds"
(Note: The story that follows was written as a response to Cory Doctorow's story "Printcrime", as told from the perspective of one of the "coppers" in the original story. I suggest you read the original story first, and then read mine; otherwise my story might not make much sense. Special thanks to Cory for the permission and kind words.)
The Copper Responds
by Peter Anderson
Coppers, they called us, at first for the color of the buttons that gleamed down the chests of our navy blue uniforms, but later for the way we always made them cop to their crimes. In time we adopted the name for ourselves. And cop they did - they always confessed. Some pleaded innocence at first, but after only a few minutes inside the interrogation room they'd confess to anything, just to make it stop. We probably could have detained most of them anyway, locked them up indefinitely, but a formal confession made their guilt official, neat and tidy and impervious to any attorney who might get involved, not that many attorneys ever did.
Kessler was different, though, and in some way I admired him for it. Unlike the rest of the printmen riff-raff, he never cried out for a lawyer or claimed innocence. Instead he came along quietly, conceding guilt from the moment the indictment blared out of the bullhorn and we hauled him out of his house, by his ankles, his head bumping down the stairs. Some might say that, as meekly as he submitted, none of the rough treatment - dragging him out and destroying his house - was at all necessary. And maybe they'd be right. But still we swung our clubs, drunk with power, cracking skulls and smashing furnishings, all for the joy of it.
We would always put on a show, getting carried away in the mad spirit of the arrest. Of course it felt good, which is why we did it, but such treatment was also considered a deterrent by the Department, which is why it was official policy. Smash everything - glass lamps, old steamer trunks, appliances, dishes, windows - and leave all of it behind as a reminder of why all citizens should obey the laws whether they agreed or not. Kessler had more junk than other people, probably from illegal printing, and even had this ridiculous birdcage that I destroyed myself, with one stomp of my jackboot. Never did see any bird inside, though if it lived in his house it was must have been a criminal just like him, and deserved whatever it got.
We gave it to Kessler nearly as bad we did his house. Three of us worked him over with our clubs and our fists and, after he fell to the floor, with the steel toes of our boots. He was broken and bloody when we dragged him out. We stopped for a minute to give the newsies a good shot of him, all of us grinning for the camera like we had bagged a twelve-point buck, before tossing him the back of the wagon. Again, deterrence. We knew the newsies would dutifully report on the proceedings, commending our diligence and warning citizens everywhere. Citizens like the neighbors who cowered behind locked doors and never came to Kessler's aid, those very same people that Kessler was helping with his illegal goods.
We would leave behind the outlaw's belongings, as a grim public service announcement - all of it, that is, except the printer, which even smashed up could still be dangerous. These printmen were clever thieves who could undoubtedly extract a machine's specs from its shattered remains and be able to create another, good as new and just as dangerous to civilized order as the original. Printmen had no compunction against producing high-grade pharmaceuticals, computers, regular household goods, anything that was, by sacred law, the sole province of The Corporation. The printer had to be taken to the station house for safekeeping and as a trophy - but rarely, fortunately for us, as evidence for any trial.
Kessler quickly submitted to justice, quietly accepting his verdict, and my superiors were so pleased that such a high-level bootlegger had been neutralized that they gave me a promotion, to punitive officer at the prison where Kessler was kept after finally being released from the hospital. From the moment he arrived I hounded him, waking him at odd hours, spoiling his food, even inciting a fight between him and another con that left him with a bad limp and forever looking over his shoulder for me.
But times changed. The Corporation still reigned, of course, but a new Administration assumed power, one that foolishly pitied criminals who continued to be, even while behind bars, a grave threat to the state. The Administration took over the Department, recklessly granting leniency to cons they called "the unjustly convicted," including Kessler, who was pardoned only ten years into his fifty-year sentence. And I was demoted, put back on regular patrol, and since I was powerless against either the Administration or the Department, I exercised power where I could. Namely, Kessler. After I heard reports of him asking around about printer goop, looking for a fresh supply now that his old sources had been eliminated, I knew he was up to something.
Back on patrol, though, it isn't like the good old days. I can't just kick down doors and crack heads, or interrogate a confession out of the defiant ones. Instead I have to spy, gather evidence and obtain warrants - real ones, not the rubber stamps of before - to arrest anybody, for even the smallest crime. Instead of brute force, I have to watch and observe, which is interesting in a way - an intellectual exercise instead of the old physical release. So I watch and observe both Kessler and his daughter, a luscious eighteen-year-old named Lane. She was just a kid when I put Kessler away, but since then she's ripened into quite a looker. Through Kessler's kitchen window I watch them one afternoon, in the parlor, him sitting in a corner and her nervously pacing around - long legs and snug pants - but though I can see them well enough I can barely hear them through the screen.
Early on I figure out that Kessler has changed his methods. No longer are neighbors parading in and out of his house at all hours, coming and going for their pharma and knicknacks and appliances. Instead only one or two visitors arrive each day, coming with nothing but hopeful faces and soon leaving with nothing at all. Kessler must be going upmarket, I think, operating on a larger scale, and either doesn't have product available yet or has product so costly that no one can afford it.
Outside the open kitchen window, I hear only scattered phrases - "worth going to jail," "never again" - and hear him slurp, as if from a glass, and give out a loud sigh. "Let me whisper..." I hear him say, before his voice drops off, drowned out by the hum from the generator works. He is telling a secret, only to her, about the scheme he must have thought up.
Through the window, past a tattered screen and grimy curtain, I peer into the parlor, catching a glimpse of the daughter's slender hips as she leans over him, coming in close to hear his secret. For a moment I think of being in his place, not as a criminal whispering his latest scheme, but as the object of attention of a young woman like her, soft and supple and warm, with sweet breath and deep brown eyes, and unlike Kessler my thoughts are not at all fatherly. And I imagine...no, I can't imagine anything like that, not now. Right now I have a job to do. Let the rest be a fringe benefit of the job, eventually, but not the job itself.
I see the girl straighten up suddenly, as if shocked, as if his scheme is so audacious that she's recoiling at the thought. Kessler has obviously thought up something big, and I'm onto him. For now I'll just investigate, going at it the hard way that's been imposed on me and the other coppers, but even handicapped I'll put Kessler away, for good this time. I should be able to get him with evidence, delicately and gently, but I'd rather do it the old way, by breaking down doors and cracking heads. And soon I'll be able to again, since this Administration is already losing its grip - power is shifting back to the other side, back to coppers like me who prefer using force. That sweet day will come soon, and when it does I'll appreciate it that much more, for having been without it for so long. Getting it back will be worth more than anything.
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Rock on Pete, nice work. And if this message appears four times as it usually tends to do I will apologize in advance.
Posted by: Ben Tazer at Dec 3, 2007 9:26:57 PM
In my book, it's better than Cory's original. I normally cannot stand dark stories, but I just loved it.
Posted by: Tinkoo at Dec 4, 2007 3:04:10 AM
I translated your story into Polish and published it here:
Thanks for your writing. Keep up the good work!
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Posted by: Luke Kowalski at Jan 10, 2008 12:28:03 AM