The truth was, as soon as he heard that Demorovic had seized power, Mokrzan knew he’d be arrested. A new broom sweeps clean and, in his country, there was no such thing as “retirement”.

They came for him two days later, on the morning of March 2nd at 3:30 A.M. There were four of them, three burly soldiers smelling of alcohol and a colonel in the militia. Mokzran was surprised by the fact that he recognized none of the four, not even the colonel. Thirty years as a bureaucrat in the capital meant that there were few government functionaries that he didn’t know, at least by sight. Chances are they had recruited the men from another district. That way there would be less chance of them knowing who he was–or used to be–and of them treating him deferentially. He was equally surprised when they allowed him to get dressed. Standard procedure, as he knew well, was to burst in, awaken the subject, and then haul him off as quickly as possible–in his pajamas or even naked, if necessary. The timing, the almost clinical precision, of the entire process was designed to disorient and intimidate the suspect… and to stress his utter vulnerability. Mokzran had no idea what to make of this deviation from the norm. It was possible that they were simply going to take him to the militia building and execute him that very morning.

Mokzran’s fears, at least in the short term, were unfounded. The new regime apparently had other, more grandiose plans for him. After spending five-and-half hours in a cell at the militia building, he was transported to a courtroom at the Ministry of Justice. His “trial” began at 10:00 A.M. that morning. The first thing that he noticed was the large portrait of the new president that hung high over the judge’s bench. The second thing that caught his attention was the fact that his son, the manager of a factory on the outskirts of the capital, sat at the table with the state prosecutors. The young man looked up at his father from his chair as the prisoner was brought in. His expression seemed to say, “I’m sorry but you’re the one who taught me how the system works, how to survive.” The two men never spoke. Thereafter they avoided looking at one another.

The evidence that they brought against the defendant was damaging. There were phone records detailing conversations with highly placed individuals in numerous Western governments. The prosecution alleged convincingly that Mokzran had been providing his foreign contacts with intelligence that was inimical to the interests of his own country. Not only was Mokzran undermining the revolution, he had also been seduced by the decadence of the West. As proof, travel and meal vouchers were produced showing how he had misused his position in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to appease his growing appetites.

Most damaging of all, however, were the surveillance photos of Minister Mokzran in the company of individuals suspected of being affiliated with the C.I.A. The fact that Mokzran was also an agent in the Ministry of State Security and that all of his activities were being carried out at the behest of his superiors was never mentioned. Mokzran didn’t dare bring it up. He felt that his son’s survival depended on his silence. And, after all, two of the judges deciding his case had also participated in the very operations that were now being used to seal his fate. Mokzran knew that the line between fiction and reality, between truth and fantasy, had always been arbitrary in his country… or at least such distinctions were subject to interpretation by whoever happened to be in power at the time. Such facile hermeneutics had been the death of thousands of his countrymen over the years and Mokzran was about to join their ranks.

At 12:30 P.M., Mokzran was sentenced to be shot to death by a firing squad on the morning of 16 March at 9:00 A.M. The delay, he assumed, was to allow for an interrogation designed to elicit “evidence” that could be used against other members of his ministry who, he was certain, had also been arrested. It didn’t matter what names Mokzran gave his captors. The system had been “programmed” and the result was already a fait accompli. At this point it was a matter of observing the formalities.

Two days passed and no one had yet come for him. Mokzran became increasingly agitated. He had been party to this sort of thing for three decades. He knew how it was customarily done. This breach of procedure was unprecedented. By the 10th of March he was beside himself. It wasn’t the thought of his execution that caused him concern; he knew how quickly that would be over. It was the anticipation of his interrogation that was turning his bowels to water.

On the 14th of the month, and on the assumption that reality seldom conformed to one’s expectation, Mokzran began imagining the worst possible scenarios of torture. He didn’t touch the meager rations that were provided for him. Sleep was a fond memory. He was certain that he was running a fever. He fought to maintain his faith in the established order.

At 8:30 A.M. on March 16th, Mokzran was lying on his bunk with his eyes closed. He had lost all track of time. He wasn’t sleeping; he was reliving a botched interrogation he had witnessed nine years earlier. At the sound of keys jangling in the lock he sat bolt upright. He could feel the blood pounding in his veins. Two guards moved into his cell. As they reached down to seize him, Mokzran’s heart exploded in his chest. He was dead by the time the two soldiers grabbed his shoulders.

The report in the state newspaper was succinct and definitive: The traitor, Minister Mokzran, was executed as scheduled. The “truth” was never in dispute.

James C. Clar is a teacher and writer living in upstate New York. He is a regular contributor to Mystery News. His short fiction has been published in the Crime & Suspense Ezine, Powder Burn Flash, MysteryAuthors.com, Hackwriters, Static Movement and Long Story, Short among other venues.

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