“How’s the President?” I asked.

            My brother shrugged.  “Not good.  He was shot three times, twice in the chest.  They don’t know if he’ll live.”

            “The Vice President?”

            “Shot four times.  Also in critical condition.”

            “The Speaker of the House?”

            “Still missing.  Whether kidnapped or in hiding, nobody seems to know.”

            I stepped closer to him.  I scratched the stubble on my chin.  “Raymond,” I said, “who’s in charge of the country?”

            He looked at me gravely but said nothing.

            The bell on the door clanked, and I went out to the front of the grocery store.  It was my store; I ran it with my brother’s help.  Today I was working up front with the customers.  He was in the stockroom, arranging crates and watching the TV on the wall.  Whenever I could, I’d go back and get a report from him.  The reports were always the same: not good.

            An old woman with the face of a rodent probed the aisles, her nostrils twitching.  Business was steady, despite everything.  I felt this was somehow indecent, but what could I say?  People don’t stop eating because of a social or political crisis.

            Eventually the ratfaced woman bought a loaf of bread and a quart of milk.  Her nostrils twitched at me.

            “Do you sell guns here?” she asked.

            I was polite.  “No, ma’am,” I said.

            “I heard you had guns here.”

            “No.  No guns.  This is a grocery store.”

            “But I was told—”

            I shook my head.  “Sorry.”

            She stared at me hard for several seconds and left scowling.

            I went back to check with my brother again.  “The Chief of Police,” I said.

            “Died a little while ago,” he answered.  “One of the bullets passed completely through his brain.”

            “The Archbishop?”

            “Gone underground.”

“And the New York Philharmonic?”

            “Which section?”

            I spread my hands in exasperation.  “I don’t know.  Any of them.  Flutes.”

“Hostages, mostly.  Terms for their release have yet to be clarified.”

            I wanted to find out more, but again the bell drew me away with its dull clank.

            This time it was an old man with a bright red torch of a face.  He bought two Gala apples and a bottle of aspirin.

            He squinted at me.  “Your prices are awfully high,” he said.

            “The economic climate,” I smiled.

            “I could go down the street and get a better deal than this.”

            I tried to look amiable.

            “Of course,” he said slowly, “there are other steps that could be taken. . . .”

            He left, and I went back to consult with my brother.  For the moment, however, I couldn’t find him.  I looked around, but he simply wasn’t there.  “Raymond!” I called.  “Raymond?”

            I lifted my eyes to the broad-shouldered TV glaring down at me.  The sound was muted, but the images themselves created a noise in my head.  The jostling, shifting scenes held me transfixed.  I saw people running haphazardly through the streets, rows of sheet-covered bodies, orange flames and black smoke spewing from tall, glass-and-metal buildings. . . .

            Then I heard my brother’s voice behind me.  “Stay where you are,” he said.

            I turned and saw he was pointing a gun at me.  Others—customers, I think—stood at his sides.  They too were carrying guns.

            “Raymond,” I said.  “What . . . what . . .”

            “Shut up,” he said.  “This is a coup.  We’re taking over.”

            “But this is . . .”  I felt unsteady on my feet.  “This is a grocery store.”

            “It’s our grocery store now.  Up against the wall.”

            I began to tremble.  “For God’s sake, man, you’re my brother.”

            He seemed to revolve this fact for a moment.  He looked almost rueful.  “Up against the wall,” he said, and he pointed the gun at my heart.

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