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On the southern edge of town, beyond the new juvenile court building and its outliers, beyond the broad empty parking lots with a few youths idling in reflective orange vests and caps, across a dusty stretch of dirt road to county pavement and farm shacks with wide vineyards and fallow fields in brilliant sunshine, “Bldg 716”. Our two vehicle caravan negotiates via cell phone and we’re let in the compound through the electric gate. As we approach the doors of the large windowless blockhouse, an assistant approaches us and verifies who we are. The mass of the building thrusts one pillar in front of the entrance, and that pillar exhibits on one side the quadrangular stainless steel doors (each one with a handle like a car door) one might associate with a morgue. But the coroner does not allow viewing of the body on premises, and the assistant punches a code into the keypad of the automatic door to allow us into the lobby. The boy’s body will have to be viewed later a a chapel across town, across the street from a cemetery, for a fee. The assistant tells us someone will bring out the boy’s personal effects and she exits through steel doors which reveal a corridor, then close behind her. Another assistant (a young dark haired woman, seemingly little older than the boy had been) brings out the boy’s camera, laptop, wallet, cell phone, etc., in his black backpack, and tells us she is sorry for our loss. While his mother looks through the boy’s wallet and laptop and backpack on the row of chairs against the wall, and his brother checks the camera, the elderly coroner or assistant becomes curious, leaves his chair and brings his face to the large bullet-proof window and peers at the family. Behind him, a bank of close-circuit TVs show the entrance of the building, the lobby, the compound gate, the fence line, etc. A younger clerk or assistant sits before the bank of TVs. After a moment, we return to our vehicles in the full sun of the compound and drive along the fence line to wait for the electric gate.









As a reporter, Ben Ehrenreich has won awards for reporting from places like post-Katrina New Orleans, post-quake Haiti, post-war Cambodia, post-war El Salvador, drug war Mexico City, post-1070 Arizona, and post-modern Los Angeles. The following story is like some of that reportage, except it uses fiction to get there. It takes us to a far-flung extremity of the American interior and locates scars of terrible violence there, reflections of a terrifying amputation.

Ehrenreich is that triple threat: he’s a working journalist currently on assignment in a Palestinian village investigating the conditions of Israeli occupation for The New York Times, he’s a critic, book reviewer for The Nation, the Los Angeles Times, the Los Angeles Review of Books and elsewhere, and a novelist, author of The Suitors, and EtherThe Suitors retells the ancient mythical return of Ulysses to vanquish the suitors of long-suffering Penelope and recasts the tale amidst the endless war of the contemporary era; Ether likewise brings deity to earth in the extremity of the dehumanized contemporary human condition. In his fiction, perhaps even more than in his reportage, Ehrenreich goes to extremes and refuses to stop asking hard questions, refuses to look away (even if the characters may flinch).

You may flinch.

Dusty Boots Line by Richard Long

Dusty Boots Line by Richard Long

March 2013