by Jeff KozziAccounts representative Sheri Donovon clamored down the stairs and into the parking lot. Her previous night's company had been mildly rewarding, but wouldn't be worth anything at all if she lost her job because she was late (again). She crossed the sun-bleached tar to her car.
Two men stood by the '06 Taurus. Dark suits fit snugly over athletic bodies, and revealed the lumps beneath their jackets. Mirrored sunglasses showed her the lipstick on her teeth.
"Can I help you?" she asked with a slight tremor.
A shiver ran from the crest of her buttocks to the nape of her neck when one suit flashed his wallet. She saw the black leather. She saw the badge. But the only thing that registered in her mind were the letters.
"Miss Donovon, do you know a man by the name of James Christopher Harden?"
She didn't recognize the name at first; she'd known him as Jim. But when the realization came, she felt the guilty look cross her face and she could only wonder just what type of man she had entertained in her rented home the night before.
"I barely know him. We just met last night. Why?"
"We'll ask the questions. Where did you meet him?"
"What does Jim have to with anything?"
"You are not denying you know him?"
"What is it? I barely know Jimmy--we only met last night--I--he--"
The suit stared at Sheri, unsmiling. "Let us refresh your memory, miss. You met James Christopher Harden at approximately six-fifty yesterday evening at the Clover Corner cocktail lounge on Brigham Young Boulevard. You consumed two Fuzzy Navels and remained with him there until approximately nine-thirty, at which time the two of you left the establishment. He followed you to your home here at 76 Laurier Drive, apartment 2C. You entertained him in the living room until approximately ten-thirty five, at which time the two of you retired to your bedroom."
Sheri's face reddened with rage and embarrassment. "What is the point of this? Why are you doing this to me? Is this some kind of stupid joke?!"
"This is no joke," the suit assured. "Your intercourse of yesterday evening lasted until approximately eleven-fifty-five P.M. Then, at precisely eleven-fifty-eight, you reached into the nightstand and lit a cigarette. Mister Harden departed your residence at twelve-oh-five."
"I don't get it. Has Jim done something? I made him wear a--uh, a raincoat. Does he have something? Is he some kind of criminal?"
Both suits stepped towards her. "Miss Sheri Donovon, you are under arrest for the possession and consumption of tobacco."
Brent Maddock ran up the steps and shut the door carefully behind him. Long fingers depressed the handlelock, turned the deadbolt and slid the chain. He exhaled, deeply, but not as deeply as healthy lungs would have allowed.
He took the stairs two at a time, to the bathroom, where he closed and locked that door behind him as well. It was spring, 2008, and the weather showed the promise of a warm New England summer. The window had been open while he was at work, but he closed and locked it now. He dropped the miniblinds then turned the rod, closing the scams as tightly as they would move. He spread the curtains to the center, and looked from all angles to ensure that none of the neighbors would be able to see inside.
He turned the fan on but left the lights out. Sunset rolled back steadily, and he saw no reason to risk casting shadows.
Brent leaned into the tub and turned the faucet dial all the way counterclockwise. The pipes coughed water, then the shower released a steady stream. He watched the water for a few moments, and turned away only when steam began to cloud the small room. Grim, he fished for keys in his front left pocket, then unlocked the cabinet built under the sink. He lifted the false panel from the base of the cabinet and withdrew a small leather pouch.
He closed the toilet lid and sat, his back to the closed and locked and blinded window. He sniffed the sweet smell of the pouch, savoring the aromatic substance before stuffing several pinches into the open end of the tool. He licked his fingers with nervous anticipation then put the plastic-tipped end to his lips. He raised the old Zippo and flicked.
The well of the pipe glowed.
Brent eased back against the wall, resting the base of his skull on the windowsill. He held his pipe between thumb and middle finger and took a long first drag, holding the smoke in his mouth. He closed his eyes with pleasure. Finally he exhaled in a slow breath, letting the sweet smell surround him.
The smoke mingled with the steam and was drawn up through the filter of the bathroom vent.
Home, alone, out of work and out of public, locked away securely with no chance of being witnessed, Brent Maddock relaxed for the first time of the day.
Rather, he relaxed as much as he could with the fear that the police would be knocking on the front door.
"They're comin’! They're comin'!"
The Georgia plantation shocked awake with scattering men and women. Some filled their pockets with raw crop. Others feared death more than they favored the profitability of the black market. They ran, out of the fields, away from the planes and helicopters that soared over the field from the northeast.
Art Lancellotta watched from the front porch of the plantation house. Blue eyes stared at the curing barn with expectation. He didn't have to wait long.
The planes dropped bombs. Art counted the people in the fields, knowing that not all of them would get out. He knew that at last six of his employees had been working in the barn when the bomb dropped. The curing fires were fed, and smoke rose into the sky. Tobacco smoke mixed into the air, carrying the putrid twinge of burning flesh. Tar and nicotine drifted west with all their pollutants. Second-hand smoke would overtake the people to the west of the farm, and they would all die horrible deaths from it.
Art nodded sadly to himself. Becky stood inside the screen door behind him. He looked to her and pointed to the billowing blue-grey cloud.
"Art, we'd betteh run," she said. "Plane's heah now, Feds'll be followin’."
The planes dropped bombs across his field while the choppers circled the borders of the plantation. His crops burned with his barn. His employees were fleeing, but Art held little hope that they would escape. If the government felt certain enough to have made such a high profile raid, they had already spent time scoping the plantation. Dossiers could identify who worked here when and for how long. Escape was certainly possible. But it would lead to the life of a fugitive, even while government agencies did not always pursue.
Art know the value of his estate, and necessarily kept himself informed of other such raids. The evening news would be billing this as the largest raid since tobacco was outlawed in early '07.
The flames were spreading. It had been a dry spring, and despite the day's heat, humidity was low. Tobacco stalks, and the tomato and cotton plants that had concealed them, burned.
"Beck, you git, if yall can."
"Arthur. What bout you?" she asked her husband.
He smiled and stepped into the foyer. "Ah'll make my stand heah an now."
Rebecca's lips broadened fully as she pouted. Art found the expression erotic, and she knew that. He leaned forward to kiss his wife. They parted sooner than either would have wished. "Good luck, Arthur. I love you."
"Novembah," he said. "Remembah me in Novembah." He lit a cigarette.
The trial of Arthur Lancellotta took place the following September. He was charged with growing illegal substances, smuggling, money laundering in excess of one million dollars, and negligence, death resulting. The last charge rooted from the asphyxiation of one of the federal agents who had raided the curing barn. The agent had, of course, choked on smoke from the fire that other federal agents had started, but the truth never mattered in opposition to malleable laws.
The trial lasted for three weeks. The eight man, four woman, seven black, five white, twelve nonsmoker jury deliberated for three hours.
The charge of growing illegal substances; guilty. Recommended term: minimum three year sentence.
The charge of smuggling and possession of illegal substances: guilty. Recommended term: minimum two year sentence.
The charge of money laundering in excess of one million dollars: guilty. Recommended term: fifteen years.
Tile charge of negligence, death resulting: guilty. Recommended term: capital punishment.
The lawyers of Arthur Lancellotta appealed the verdict and sentencing. The courts had acted quickly in Lancellotta's case. If he had been charged on just the negligence charge, he probably would not have even seen trial for a few years. The fact that the outlawed tobacco predominated his case gained him speedy justice. Such expediting held media attention and maintained the governmental promises to follow through with the war against "the nation's largest murderer," tobacco.
The industries had been smashed in '06, despite their spectacular struggle. But the government had acted with steadfast determination, fulfilling its role as protector of the people, whether or not they knew the dangers associated with their habit, whether or not they wanted to be protected. The loss of television and radio advertising in '70 had been the first nail in the tobacco coffin, and well-crafted lobbying through the '80's and into the twenty-first century quickly drove in the rest.
The charge of second-hand smoke had been the final nail. It played on the fears of public consciousness. Everybody had exposure to smoke somewhere in their lives. Rightful or otherwise, tobacco and its users became the scapegoats for the entire country's bad health. The unbiased truth didn't matter; by the time the "victims" of smokers were all passed and other ills besieged people, another scapegoat would be found. It was an endless cycle in an era where adult children, diagnosed with cancer in middle age, sued parents who had smoked.
The system consumed Arthur Lancellotta, yet another statistic. His best hope remained with his lawyer's attempts to forestall what Art knew was inevitable. His second best hope was Rebecca.
Thursday, November 20th, 2008.
Thanksgiving was in a week, on the minds of most Americans, with the joy of breaking failing diets fashionably, the loneliness of holidays alone, and the stress of spending several uninterrupted hours with the family growing.
High noon approached on the east coast. Scattered showers sprinkled New England, and Brent Maddock reached for his raincoat.
Eleven a.m. drew near in Houston, Texas. Rebecca Lancellotta stood on a Baytown pier and sunk her hand into a jacket pocket. The sun shone brightly overhead.
Breaktime arrived in Salt Lake City. Free on bail and pending trial, Sheri Donovon reached for her down jacket and followed the trail of people heading for the elevators and stairs.
Nine a.m. in L.A. The workday was beginning, but people loitered outside their workplaces. Los Angeles was renowned across the world for its smog and violence, both of which were about to got worse.
Across the nation, police squads and national guard regiments stood ready. Commanders tried to ignore the fact that the lines began to stagger as the hour drew near.
The clocks of America changed. Correctly-set digital models across the nation flashed to groupings of zeros. Church bells rang in time. People on the streets began blowing horns and cranking New Years noisemakers. Steamships blew their whistles. Cars and trucks, some pulled over to the sides of the roads, sounded their horns. Industrial smokestacks puffed and charged.
On the hour, people reached into their pockets and withdrew small boxes and packets. Fingers flailed with nervous anticipation. Americans everywhere put cigarettes to their lips and lit.
One minute past the hour, people were hacking across America.
Clouds rose over metropolitan areas. The lawns of the state houses were crowded, and in some states, governors and legislators stood with the people. It was easy for them to do. They, after all, were least likely to be arrested.
Sergeants and commanders called for the people under their control to move forward. Those with cigarettes in hand refused to comply. Some stood in the way and blew smoke in the faces of those following orders. Others ran off.
Police drew handcuffs, Arbitrators raised megaphones.
"All of you! Put those butts out and return to your homes and offices!"
"Up with butts!" someone shouted, chain-lighting a second indulgence. The chant spread, and as newscasters aired live across the country, it became a nationwide rally.
Tear gas canisters fired; the projectiles landed among the people, and chemical smoke spread. Armed with shields and masks and nightsticks, police moved forward. Bricks hurled through the air shortly afterwards. People panicked, and the sounds of glass smashing became frequent tempo throughout the night. Incidences of mooning were reported.
"Up with butts!"
Protesters tried to return to their buildings, but nonprotestcrs blocked their access, more forcibly than not. Fights broke out, small at first, and people with bosses who deserved a punch in the nose finally found a reason to give'm one.
"Up with butts!"
Barricades rose as looting and violence spread. The resentments of a nation rose beyond the idealisms of clear air and personal liberties. Fleeing feet trampled cuffed prisoners. Children clung to their mothers and tried not to get burned by the cigarettes in the women's hands.
"Up with butts!"
Calls dispatched, and ambulance drivers found blocked passages. People at home stayed glued to their televisions after making sure their doors were locked.
Fires broke out, and smoke rose into the skies ....
Thousands of people died in the Great Asphyxiate of '08, dampening the holiday season to economic depression. The legal state of the issue remained technically unchanged, although prosecution of cases dwindled to disappearance. Health-conscious crusaders, meanwhile, turned their sights on fragrances, red meat, coffee, and carbonated beverages.
Art Lancellotta was executed on New Year's Day, 2009.