They came through the door in waves, two at a time, until I had lost count. The men that came with my brother were dead, they’d been shot no less than a half-dozen times each in the chest and head. Two of my friends, college students, lay dead on the floor, too, victims of well-placed gunshots from highly-trained men with automatic weapons. My girlfriend died under me, a bullet glancing off of the floor and hitting her in the neck. There was nothing I could do. Amid the cacophony of screams to “GET DOWN” and short bursts of gunfire, I could hear my brother yelling “They’re unarmed, there are no weapons here!” I was pulled off of Angel and a bag put over my head. Then the blows came, and I passed out.
The night before they took my brother, a group of us had been talking about how we got to where we are. Seven young adults, from money with no money, stranded in the middle of nowhere. I told the girls to relax, he’d always come through, it’s what he does. I knew he would. We’d been stuck on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere with a broken truck for almost an hour, and the sun was beating down on us. There was no shade to be found on the side of the road, save for that provided in the truck, and it was HOT in there.
“If he’s always doing the shit you say he’s doing, do you really think he’s going to drop what he’s doing to come all the way out here?” Selena asked, perturbed but by far the calmest of the three girls. She had been raised in Virginia by a woman that wasn’t her mother, a man that wasn’t her father, but provided for her like she was their blood. Both of her adopted parents had worked two jobs weekly to provide for their children, even those that they hadn’t biologically brought into the world. They taught her love and compassion through self-sacrifice and dedication, and she had always, even if just by nature, instilled the same sense of calm and security in her friends that she got from her parents. She just wanted to go home now, and had had enough. I knew things were getting bad if she was starting to lose it.
“Of course he will, even if he doesn’t come out here, he’s always got something. Maybe he’ll just get us a tow truck on his credit card or something” I said quietly. I knew he didn’t have a credit card, didn’t believe in them, and definitely wouldn’t use them, but I also knew he’d come through. He always did, it’s who he is, it’s what he does. I knew I could count on him to make some kind of difference, I just didn’t know how. I thought about what he’d say to me after all of this, the lecture he’d give me about auto maintenance, or responsibility, or why this could have been avoided by “not having my head up my ass.” He’s always so blunt with me that it offends, it stings when he lays into me, and I often leave feeling wounded. It’s normally about 3am on a weekend that I’m drinking with friends, have had enough, and go to bed that I begin to remember what happened before he said the things that set me reeling. It’s just about then that I realize why he always came at me like that, and what he meant to achieve when he did. That’s when I’d normally call him.
He’d always answer, a gruff and low rumbling voice, and after a brief second of confusion, that gruffness would leave his tone and he’d just rumble. I’d spew whatever it was at him that he had said to me, and tell him that I got it now, that I understood, and he’d tell me to stop whining, get my shit together, and do something bigger than me. I’d get mad and hang up, and almost every time, my phone would ring again. After the first few times of answering it and getting laced for being “an emo little shit with a silver spoon hanging out of my asshole”, I stopped answering, knowing that I’d managed to get under his skin, even if it wasn’t the intention of my call. I wouldn’t hear from him for weeks, until we’d cross paths at our mom’s house on a random weekend, and then he’d normally act like nothing happened.
He was a lot older than me, more than ten years, and had been around a lot. He’d done a lot of stuff in his life that always made me think as a child that he was a bad man, but as I grew a little older, I realized that something in him changed somewhere, something clicked, and he lived well beyond himself. He traveled a lot, each time going somewhere with nothing in his pockets, leaving with new friends and enough to get him somewhere else. Then, it stopped. I never really understood why he stopped traveling like he did, and he never told me. I never really understood what actual occurrence made him a shut-in, but something did. He still worked with a lot of people, he still seemingly directed traffic for his friends, so to speak, and helped to make things better for me (even if he tore me a new asshole often.)
He never told me what happened, and the truth is, I never asked. In retrospect I wish I had, I wish I knew what happened, and why, and what series of events led to when they took him. All I know is that they have my brother, and they aren’t letting him go. My family is shattered, shaken to the core, and at some level, it’s my fault. I’m not sure how to fix it, or if I can. I don’t even know how to reach the people he knew, or who they are, or what they did, but I know that I have to. I’m reaching out to you, telling this story, in hopes that you’ll recognize him and help.
Before they came, there were things that he had pointed out to me that I didn’t pay attention to, but should have. I’ve had two days to research what I could remember, which isn’t much. This is an attempt to tell the story of the things that happened that led up to my brother coming to help me and my friends at the side of the road, and the police response that we were met with at a hotel my brother got for us to stay in. This is the story of how the police in a small town in Virginia, aided by Federal agents and paramilitary officers from various agencies, entered a hotel room and killed my girlfriend, a student I went to school with, and two men that had sworn their lives to protect my brother.
To say I know who he knew, or what he did, or how my brother affected people would be a lie. I can only speak from experience of the time I shared with him, and can only speak of the things that I saw him do or knew he did by hearing about it from other people. Our parents had high ideals for him, he was brilliant- but he never did the things they wanted him to. He refused college, he bungled the rigid structure of the military, and yet still had landed good jobs in the past. He’d stay with them until some great rift in personal belief or understanding happened, and he would move on, no cares in the world. The jobs that he started to get later, though, were progressively worse than the predecessor, and his ability to live in the manners to which he’d grown accustomed diminished to near poverty.
We were driving through Hampton Roads, Virginia, near where he lived one night. Two blocks from his small home was an unmarked white van. It had an antenna on top, similar to the type that you see on news vans. There were soft lights visible through the back windows of the van, although there were no windows on the sides. Aside from the license plate and city tax sticker in the windshield, there were no markings on the van. My brother pointed out to me the small box-shaped protrusion on the roof near the base of the antenna array.
“That, little brother, is a device that acts like a cell phone tower. Any cell phone, lap top, or wireless adapter in range recognizes it as the strongest signal and attempts to connect to it. By design, every device that connects to a network has a signature, like your name, that shows what it is. They use that to identify, track, and ultimately access the phones of people they’re investigating. The problem is that they investigate most everyone these days, and do it on such a wide scale that it’s overlooked, no one even realizes the scope of surveillance in this country.” He spoke with authority, was audibly confident in what he said. Perhaps I inherited his inquisitive curiosity, but when I got home, I googled it. Sure enough, IMSI- International Mobile Subscriber Identification- it works exactly like he said.
Hindsight being 20/20, maybe they took him because he was batshit crazy. Right after telling me what that van looked like to him, he commanded me to stop the vehicle. I did as told, he was older and larger than me, after all, and watched with my mouth agape as he bounded from the car into the night air. He crossed the parking lot at a sprint, running like a huge madman until he reached the van. As soon as he did, he smoothed his shirt over his enormous frame, straightened his ponytail, and knocked on the back window.
I watched the van bounce lightly, sway, and my brother knock again. I rolled down the passenger side window to hear what he was saying. I couldn’t hear what, if anything, the occupants said, but he knocked again.
“Hey guys, uh, yeah. Your dish is spinning and the van’s moving. You can open the door or I’ll call the police, your call!” he exclaimed, knocking a little more urgently. A man opened the door wearing a polo shirt and khaki cargo pants. I could see a badge on his belt. I couldn’t make out the beginning of the occupant’s response, but I clearly heard “interfering with an investigation, now go home”. My brother had insisted that we leave our phones at his house, so there was no way I could record this exchange, but it had the potential to be funny.
“Who or what are you investigating, and with what agency are you employed?” my brother asked, stepping back. The man in the van motioned his hand toward the car and told my brother to “go home and mind your business.” He walked back to the car, a smile crossing his face as soon as his back was turned. As we pulled away and got to the end of the block, my brother told me to turn away from his house and go up two more blocks. We parked there between two cars on the street and sat in silence. I started to ask him why, but he shushed me. We sat.
After about ten minutes, he said “Go back by there, I’m willing to bet the van is gone.” Sure enough, we cruised up two blocks and back over two, and the van was gone. I’d had about enough of the questions in my mind, so I started rattling them off.
“Who do you think they are?” I asked.
“Shhhhh”, he replied.
“What do you think they wanted?” I asked again.
“Shhhhh”, he replied.
“Are you going to tell me anything?” I asked, this time irritated. He said only “Take a right to get to my house.” He was staring out the window. I knew he was lost in thought. Looking back, I think he was scared. I think he knew that they were looking for him. I dropped him off and headed back across the water to my apartment on campus, thinking ceaselessly about the look on his face. I knew that he was concerned when he got back in the car, but he was so carefree when he was interacting with the cops, so cavalier when he smiled and walked back across the parking lot- stress, it seems, impacts people differently. I called him. He didn’t answer.
The next time I saw him was the following weekend at our parents’ home on the northern Chesapeake Bay. He’d been working on the water all day, was coated in sediment and grime from the bottom of the Bay, working oyster cages. His favorite part of working the water was twofold, he’d often proclaim “Cleaning the Bay, and free oysters!” before slurping one off the half-shell. This was one of those times. I approached the back deck where he was seated, and he called me over softly. He was smiling, but looked older than even a week ago. His beard was noticeably unkempt, and I saw for the first time lines near his eyes. How did I not see this before?
As I sat down, he offered me a beer, and leaned the bucket of oysters in shell toward me. I shook my head, he knows I can’t shuck oysters without nearly losing a limb. With a flick of the wrist, he’d plied his knife between the lips of the shell and pried it open, offering its insides to me. I took the shell, cracked it the rest of the way open, and slurped it down. Oysters have the consistency of snot when eaten raw. I’ll probably never do that again. I grimaced, and he laughed heartily.
“So, anything come out of that van we saw last week?” I asked. He shook his head and pulled another oyster from the bucket. “Nope, but then, I didn’t necessarily plan on running up to the Norfolk Field Office of the FBI to ask if it was them. Didn’t even really think who to ask. Just noted what we saw, what they said, and went about my business. Lots to read, lots to write, lot of people to talk to at night, you know” he said with a wry grin. As usual, he was nonchalant in air, but as I noted before, looked tired. I asked if he was okay.
“You know, never better, man. Living the dream an’ all that” he said, this time smiling genuinely. He truly was happy, even if our definitions of what makes a person happy differ. We talked for a few hours then, until well after dark, breaking only to walk to the fridge for beer or to the bushel for more oysters. I saw mom come to the door a couple of times, but as usual, when she sees me talking to brother, she leaves us be. We talked about what he believed, about the ways people can make huge differences for others with little sacrifice to self, and how sad it is that people have to be pushed to see and do that. We talked about how I was doing in school, and about what I wanted to do with my criminal justice degree. I still wanted to join the Coast Guard and be a rescue swimmer, but, I told him, criminal justice will give me something to look forward to when I get out.
It was then that the air changed. The feeling of good times that had permeated the outdoor table we sat at vanished, and I saw the age in his face again. He muttered something about the Civil War, and brother versus brother, and false expectations as he walked inside, the door slamming shut behind him. I sat there, pondering in silence what I had done wrong. It had felt like we were close to having a moment, that we were close to a breakthrough, and just that fast, it was gone. I finished my beer and came inside. Through the front door I could see the tail lights of the car he’d been driving on its way out. Maybe next time, I thought.
A note to the reader: This is a fictional piece, based in fact. This piece represents the first of a continuing series to tell a story of a random man in modern times, faced with modern choices, and the extraordinary events that led to extraordinary acts by people as ordinary as the man it describes. It’s written solely to inform through entertainment. Any technology discussed, mentioned, or described, is rooted in reality and is currently available on various markets in the intelligence/surveillance fields. Any people mentioned here are absolutely based on real people, names, places, events, have been changed for all the right reasons. Hope you enjoy what’s to come.