(Note: This novel contains critical ENEMIES FOREIGN AND DOMESTIC
"plot spoilers,"so consider reading that book before plunging into this sequel.)
From over the eastern horizon a crop duster appeared, a buzzing yellow dot, lining up to fumigate a distant field.
"A-rab! Yo, A-rab! Come here, Bardy-well!"
It was Big Kendra. The black Philadelphian couldn't quite grasp the concept of Christian Arabs, and frequently wondered aloud how an "Arab" had wound up in D-Camp, instead of in a separate camp for Muslim women. Ranya had never attempted to educate her. Big Kendra was hopelessly stupid; a perfect camp guard, a model employee of the Internal Security Agency. It was a standing joke among the detainees that if government employees were completely illiterate and lacked the people-skills required to work for the TSA or even the DMV, they were still more than qualified for the ISA, the bottom rung of the Department of Homeland Security.
Ranya turned and walked back nonchalantly. She wasn't afraid of the guard, despite Kendra's height and weight advantage. She could easily cleave the guard's skull with the edge of her steel hoe, but after that moment of satisfaction, she'd be shot down by the two trailing riflemen, the so-called "gun guards." Still, Ranya habitually fantasized doing it. She vividly pictured a full steel-edged swing to Kendra's throat, the stark terror on Kendra's open-mouthed and bug-eyed face, the scream that would never make it past the severed windpipe, the spouting arterial blood.
She regularly imagined rushing one stupefied gun guard, and wrestling his rifle away from him before he could unsling it and prepare it to fire. The question was: would the other rifleman fire at them both, rolling on the ground? And even if he didn't open fire immediately, what then? Even if she managed somehow to kill Big Kendra and both gun guards, she couldn't outrun their radios and helicopters. Not out here in the endless open fields of western Oklahoma.
Even so, she wanted to kill a guard, to kill all the guards. She wanted very badly to kill them. She endlessly daydreamed their sudden, painful, violent deaths. She just wasn't quite ready to sacrifice her own life to that end. Not yet. The camp guards were only bottom feeders, they meant nothing in the greater scheme of things. The ones Ranya had a stronger desire to kill were much higher up the food chain. Ranya still valued her life too much to trade it away for the momentary satisfaction of cleaving Big Kendra's empty skull.
After almost five years at D-Camp, Ranya knew all of the guards' weaknesses. One of her infrequent victories had occurred the previous summer, when she had found a king snake in a soybean field. Growing up in rural Virginia, Ranya had no fear of non-poisonous king snakes, which mimicked the deadly coral snake with a similar color pattern. She had carefully pinned the banded red, black and yellow snake with her hoe and grabbed it behind the head, and when Kendra's back was turned, she had flung the snake at her feet.
The guard had broken every Olympic record sprinting from the field, and then she split the back of her too-tight khaki pants climbing on top of the flatbed stake truck. The other guards, male and female, had mocked Big Kendra for weeks after the incident, baiting her with false snake alarms, and leaving rubber snakes in her lunch pail. Ranya's original tossing of the live snake had never been suspected. If any other prisoners had witnessed her defiant act, they had kept their mouths shut.
"A-rab, what you doin' giving that white girl you hat? Why you be doin' that?"
"I don't need it anymore. I'm almost as dark as you now."
"Hah! That'll be the day!" Kendra grinned, her single gold tooth gleaming in the sun. "I don't understand why you is feeling all sorry for a no-good white bitch like that. What she do for you?"
It was pointless to try to explain normal human feelings to a line pusher, one of the bottom guards at D-Camp. Collecting a federal paycheck for following hapless prisoners across fields was about as low a living as Ranya could imagine. Obviously, Big Kendra considered the deeply tanned "A-rab" Ranya Bardiwell to be something other than "white," and therefore she couldn't fathom Ranya's sympathy for the new pale-complexioned prisoner. Politically correct racial solidarity must have been drummed into Kendra's pea-brain in government schools and institutions all of her life, Ranya mused. She ignored the guard's question.
"That ain't why I called you back, Bardy-well. Warden Linssen, she want you back by the tool truck. That little pickup truck over there, that be Warden Linssen. I don't know why, but she just axed for you on my radio. Go drop your hoe in the tool bin, and see what she want."
Without replying, Ranya marched back down the row of corn, between the two male guards with their Mini-14 rifles slung on their shoulders. These gun guards in their khaki uniforms regarded her carefully as she passed between them: they formed the back points of a wide triangle 50 yards behind Big Kendra. The two men tracked Ranya with their eyes hidden behind sunglasses, their faces obscured by wide-brimmed tan desert hats.
No matter what direction a prisoner might try to run, one or both of the gun guards would have an easy shot. Their iron-sighted Mini-14s were crummy rifles, provided to prison guards solely because they were the cheapest of the available alternatives, but she knew that at these distances, even a gun guard with a Mini-14 would not miss.
She carried the hoe across her chest at military "port arms," with her head up and eyes front. She wanted to shoulder the hoe like a rifle of her own, and aim down the "barrel" at them, but that type of rebellious gesture would only earn her another stint in D-Camp's rusty iron "sweat box," where one could neither stand up nor fully lay down. Besides, she was consumed with curiosity about why Deputy Warden Linssen wanted her, and she would do nothing to jeopardize this meeting.