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8-Tracks and Razor Blades

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The trick to surviving an interrogation is focus. They will leave you alone, sometimes for hours, to give you time to work yourself into such a state of anxiety that, when they finally return, you'll be so desperate for reassurance, you'll spill everything. Your fear can be their most powerful weapon. Don't let it. Focus on anything else---times tables, song lyrics, state capitals---anything that you can recite by rote that will prevent your mind from wandering.

~*~

May, 1986

Michael tapped his fingernail against the table, beating out the drum solo of "Back in Black." He'd already run through all of Highway to Hell and Fly on the Wall. By his accounting, adding up the time of each of the songs, that meant he'd been sitting here for just under two hours. There was no clock.

The table was plain metal, the walls grey cinderblock, the chair he was sitting on stiff and uncomfortable. It felt like a small little slice of hell, like Sartre's No Exit. Just a room, no windows, no features, no way to tell what was going on outside---whether his mother had been called, whether his dad was working up a good head of steam in the waiting room. He'd be angry enough to be called to the police station, but when he found what Michael'd done to his music collection, he would pull out the belt for sure. In a way it would be reassuring to deal with the intensity of his father's anger. That at least he was familiar with.

Whether Nate was sitting in another room just like this. He wouldn't know to keep his mind focused. He'd be frantic by now. And even though he hadn't been involved, Michael knew that didn't always matter to the police. They would use him as leverage against Michael if they thought it might break him. Michael thought maybe it would.

His tapping faltered and he focused again on his finger, filling his mind with nothing but the rhythm of Phil Rudd's drums.

When the door clicked open, he started. He'd been mesmerized by the sound of his own fingers against the table, beginning to feel like the only thing left in the world was this room and it's flickering light and the silence.

The man who came in was cool, confident, slightly raising his eyebrow at Michael's movement. Michael had to fight not to fidget. Instead he catalogued the face of his interrogator. The dark hair, the strong chin, the scar running along his jaw line. He didn't say anything as the man pulled back the other chair with a screech against the concrete, then started flipping through his file, ignoring Michael completely.

Michael flicked his eyes over the pages he could see, not moving his head so he wouldn't look interested. He could see the name of his high school across the top of the first page, then underneath: BOMB THREAT.

~*~

Disassembling an 8-track cassette is easy. With just a razor blade, tape, and a lot of time, it is just as easy to splice together a new recording. An 8-track player can be turned into a crude reel-to-reel recording device with a couple of dollars worth of goods from the local hardware store. The trick is only to be meticulous in the assembly of the new tape---if the splices aren't perfect, it can bind in the player and ruin all your effort.

It takes only a few minutes and a couple of cables to patch a regular 8-track player, like the secretary's personal stereo, into a PA system. Then it's simply a matter of inserting your assembled tape and letting it play on a loop while you get as far away as quickly as possible.

~*~

Michael had returned to his drumming by the time the man closed his folder and addressed him.

"What I find most impressive is that you managed to make a credible bomb threat from the lead singer of AC/DC. If Mr. Powers had been more familiar with the classics, he might have thought it a prank, rather than evacuating the school and calling in the bomb squad." The man leaned back in his chair. Michael met his eyes without blinking and said nothing.

"They dusted the stereo equipment and the tape for fingerprints and found nothing. If the janitor hadn't seen you sneaking out of the office, you would have gotten away clean." He paused for a moment, then continued. "What confuses me is the motive. You're a model student---A minus average, A pluses in chemistry, physics, and calculus. You've never missed a day of school. The track coach says you're they're star runner. I don't see any reason why you would want to evacuate school on exam day. By all accounts, you should be sailing through your tests right now."

He opened up the file and flipped through a few pages. "Your brother, on the other hand, seems much more likely to pull a stunt like this. C's, D's, a few F's. He's been called into the principal's office six times this semester for fighting. He was suspended from school last spring for throwing a rock through another student's back windshield."

He paused again, closed the folder. Michael clenched his jaw. He tried not to show anything, but it was this or start throwing punches.

"If Nate was in any way involved in this, if he asked you to do this, maybe to get out of a test he knew he'd fail, he'll be expelled."

Michael slammed his fist down on the table. "Leave Nate out of this."

The man raised his eyebrows and leaned back, crossing his arms. "I'm not the one who brought Nate into this, Mikey."

"He never asked me to do anything. I did this all on my own." Michael squeezed his eyes shut as soon as the sentence slipped out. He hadn't meant to admit guilt. Dammit. He was in trouble now. They didn't have anything on him that wasn't circumstantial, they had nothing on Nate. And now after just a meaningless threat, he'd given up everything.

The man stood up, started pacing. "You're an interesting boy, Michael. You keep to yourself, do your work. You've showed up at school on several occasions with black eyes, claiming to have gotten into fights with your brother, though no one I've talked to has seen you be anything but protective toward him. One might suspect there was trouble at home."

Michael wanted to open his eyes, to look at this man, but he was afraid if he did it would confirm everything.

"And yet you're always on time at school, with your homework, always well-dressed, well-fed. That's why none of your teachers have ever called Child Services, by the way. They figured if there was trouble at home you'd show some of the other signs." Michael heard the sound of footsteps stop. "You know what I think? I think you're the one that keeps your family together, that makes sure you and your brother look perfectly normal to the rest of the world.

"Your classmates describe you as reliable. That's the word most of them used---reliable. A few said that you had helped them out when they were in a tough spot---stood up to bullies, mediated disputes. But you always keep to yourself---lots of acquaintances, no close friends. You sound like the perfect all-American boy. Not the sort of kid to be caught making bomb threats."

Michael heard the chair scraping back again. He opened his eyes to see the man sit forward. The gaze was intense, like he could see everything that Michael fought so hard to keep hidden, but he didn't look away.

"I think you made that threat today for your brother. You knew if he failed again he'd be expelled, and the prospects for a high school drop out with a penchant for fighting are pretty much shit."

The man broke out into a smile. Michael couldn't hide his confusion.

"You're smart---bordering on brilliant. You're not intimidated by bullies. You're very good at making people see what they want to. And today you showed you're not afraid to bend the rules a little, but only in the service of a greater good."

He extended his hand. Startled, Michael took it.

"My name's Sam Axe. And I think I have the perfect opportunity for you."