I realized where we were headed almost immediately: back into the heart of Boston. The Massachusetts Avenue bridge was up ahead—and so were the familiar blue and red flashing lights of the police cars that were blockading it.
The protesters didn’t stop.
There were dozens of policemen in riot gear, National Guardsmen taking aim, and not a single one of the protesters stopped marching forward. I felt my feet slow and was shoved forward by the momentum of the crushing wave behind me.
The policeman in the center of all this, a grizzly old man staring the rest of us down, held up a megaphone. “This is Sergeant Bowers of the Boston Police Department. You are trespassing in violation of Mass General law, chapter two sixty-six, section one twenty, and are subject to arrest. You are unlawfully assembled. I demand you immediately and peacefully disperse. If you do not immediately and peacefully disperse, you will be arrested. This is your only warning.”
I didn’t see the first stone that was thrown. I didn’t even see the second or the third. But I heard the clatter of their impact against the clear shields of the riot police.
“Fire, then!” someone was yelling. “Fire! Fire! Fire!”
The girls around me picked up the word and began screaming it. “Shoot, shoot, shoot!” was the only rival to the chant.
I took a step back, elbowing my way through the crowd’s throbbing crush. They wanted the police to open fire on them? To make a point, or—
To capture it on video. I saw the handheld devices clutched in their stiff, frozen fingers. The snowflakes clung to the cameras’ glassy eyes, following the path of every rock, snowball, and brick that was launched toward the men and women in uniforms. I ducked, holding my arms over my head as I fought my way to the back of the herd. A stray elbow nailed the back of my head, and it was enough to knock me out of my haze.
I reached behind me, grabbing Jude’s arm as I turned—but the person holding my jacket was a short Asian girl with thick black glasses, who seemed just as startled to see me as I was to see her.
“Sorry!” she shouted. “I thought you were my friend—”
Dammit. I whirled around, scanning the nearby crowd. Where is he?
The gunshot was the only thing sharp enough to cut through the chanting, the only thing strong enough to silence them. The girl and I both jumped back but were roughly shoved aside by the people still marching forward behind us. Maybe the officer or soldier thought the threat of it would break up the crowd, but they had seriously misjudged the anger powering these people.
The protesters at the head of the pack were clearly used to this kind of bullying. I glanced back over my shoulder; they were struggling against the clear shields blocking their paths, clamoring over the hoods of the police cars. The unlucky ones were yanked back and beaten into the ground by batons.
“Jude!” I called, my guilt nearly cutting me down at the knees. “Jude!”
The first can of tear gas released with a sinister hiss, but it wasn’t enough to shift the crowd. They only launched themselves toward the officers at a run. I felt someone try to grab my arm and haul me back around to face it with him, but I yanked myself free.
Bad plan, I thought, choking on the poisoned air. Bad, bad, bad plan, Ruby.
It was dumb luck I even saw him then; I had started turning the other way, only to catch a glimpse of a curly head of hair out of the very corner of my eye.
The blue EMT jacket was flapping in the wind, one sleeve torn with a ragged edge. Jude was standing on his toes, one hand on the nearest streetlight to keep himself upright, the other curled around his mouth as he shouted, “Ruby! Roo!” over and over again.
I saw now the way that fear fed anxiety and turned it into chaos. Jude’s shape went out of sight, tucked into a cloud of tear gas, hidden behind the sudden stampede of bodies trying to get away from the guns, from the smoke, from the bridge. People were screaming and the gunfire hadn’t stopped. There were new noises, too—a helicopter hovering above us, casting a light down over us. The whirring of its blades drove some of the smoke away, clearing the way for the National Guardsmen to rush toward us. For the first time, I noticed more than one black uniform in the mix.
If it had been a clear night, if my eyes weren’t streaming with tears, if I could have heard anything other than the thrumming thunder of my own heart, I would have noticed it sooner. The air seemed to vibrate against my skin, and I caught the whiff of ozone a second too late to do something about it.
The line of streetlights along the stretch of road began to buzz, their orange lights bleaching to a molten white a second before they blew out together, sending a shower of glass and sparks down on the already terrified protesters.
I’m not sure anyone recognized what Jude was, not until the lights from the nearby buildings switched on after months or years of darkness.
I reached him half a second before the National Guardsman and his gun did, throwing my shoulder into his chest and driving us both to the ground. The impact blew the air from my lungs, but I scrambled up, shielding him from the butt of the soldier’s rifle. With one blow, it cracked against my skull and sent me spinning into darkness.
THE GROUND GRUMBLED beneath my cheek, a low clattering that underscored the dull pain in my brain. Feeling was slow to come back to my limbs. I took a deep breath, trying to swallow the taste of iron and salt from my dry tongue. Matted hair stuck to my neck in clumps. I tried to reach up and brush it away only to realize that my hands were trapped behind me, something sharp digging into the skin there.
My shoulders ached as I twisted to readjust myself on the van’s grimy floor. It was dark in the back, but every now and then a flash of light would come through the metal grating separating the front seats from the rest of the vehicle. Just enough for me to see that the uniformed driver and the man sitting in the passenger seat were dressed in black.
Damn. My heartbeat was in my ears, but I didn’t feel afraid, not until I saw Jude sitting pin-straight on one of the benches, his hands bound and his mouth gagged.
While the PSFs had bound my hands, for whatever reason—probably because I was already unconscious—they hadn’t used a gag on me, and I was grateful. Bile rose, burning the back of my throat, and the only way to make the whole thing worse would have been to choke on my own vomit. I could feel the anxiety in me building to a slow and steady beat of Not again, not again, I can’t go back there, not again.