Tuesday, 25 December 2007

Indiana

Our flights take us to Northern Indiana, where Robert has arranged to meet the man who's going to help him go into hiding. "Campbell" has done this before, helping unsuccessful conscientious objector applicants to hide from the military police until they're ready to turn themselves in. Usually, they wait 31 days until their names are struck from their unit roll to ensure that, when they do finally turn themselves in, their unit doesn't simply try to send them back into combat in handcuffs. It happened to another conscientious objector, Agustin Aguayo, but he didn't stop running. He eventually served time in prison, but he believed he was doing the right thing, and now he campaigns against others joining the military.

Talking to Campbell on my mobile as soon as we touch down, he tells me to let Robert walk out first, alone, while I wait to collect his bags in case the military police have finally been alerted to his flight path and are expecting him to walk out with a journalist. With Robert safely outside the airport, Campbell joins me beside the luggage carousel, joking comfortably about our situation. He points to a sign above the exit: "Michiana welcomes back its service men and women". Despite people like Campbell, this is a red state, the home of the Hummer, and heavily invested in defence spending.

On the drive through the freezing night, Robert and I tell the story of our narrow escape from the state troopers. Campbell, like the rest of us, still finds it hard to be believe that Robert's own sister would turn him in. "I don't know, it doesn't surprise me that much," Robert adds. That only makes it worse...

We can finally rest for a moment, finally joke about our situation. The interrogation, the flights, that certainty that Robert was going to be arrested - possibly with me - was exhausting, draining.

We weren't expecting it, of course.

"Usually," Campbell explains, "We don't have to deal with anything like this until a few weeks into it when their unit realises they're missing..." But we got it out of the way sooner. I watch the city lights reflecting off the car window, the air outside sharp with snow and ice. I listen to Robert and Campbell laughing together, discussing the next 31 days during which Robert will be in hiding, waiting for the right time to turn himself in and, if necessary, serve his time in prison.

We drive in to the Travelodge where Robert and I check in for two nights until Campbell can arrange for a safe house. I leave a London address, a combination of several of my old addresses which the receptionist misspells anyway. I don't want to be able to traced in case the police come looking for us. They already know we were flying in to here, it wouldn't take much for them to search the hotels closest to the airport for our names.

Campbell has some good news a little later that night. The hotel bar, which we were told was closed for Christmas, was open for a few hours. They didn't plan to serve anyone except a few friends, but we ordered anyway and sat in the freezing bar, music hammering on an empty dance floor, and talked about the journey so far.

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