Shouting his list of contacts at the cops was getting them all nowhere fast, Fritz realized as they cruised along in the squad car. People just didn’t have any respect anymore. Fritz, though, would be caught dead giving up that easily.
“Okay, guys, maybe I won’t call the ADL, but you gotta hear me out,” he kept on, speaking a little too fast. “We found some serious shit on a private Cerberus server, stuff that could implicate them in gang affairs. You don’t really want to be arresting us when we’ve got vital proof, do you? Help a poor boy out.”
“You know the mercs picked your pocket, don’t you?” questioned the detective who had the megaphone, whittling away at a game of Tetris on his cell. Cardozo, he thought the nametag said.
“And why do you think they did that, huh? They wanted my pack of gum?”
“Listen kid, I believe you. I don’t like Cerberus any more than you do, bunch of slimy, sleazy, lying, corporate rent-a-cop bastards.”
Cardozo caught himself messing up his tower. With a laugh, he adjusted his collar. “Sorry. I take my job security pretty seriously. I’m a second-generation cubano – my mom moved to Blackburn when she was just a girl. My grandpa owned a deli in Camagüey, real salt-of-the-earth kinda guy by all accounts. Loved his family, went to church, I bet you see ‘em all around this city. Wouldn’t harm a fly. Had a rival though, Luis, big green-eyed monster. Well Luis had a lot of connections to the communists. When Castro and his thugs came into power, they ran the capitalists into the Gulf, or his prisons. Luis framed my grandfather as an American collaborator and an imperialist pig. Mind you, he had only a meat shop to his name! So the DGI hauled him off to one of Castro’s gulags.”
Fritz noticed Alex and Jessica looking like they had exited their skulls. Cardozo hurried himself along. “Look the point is, there’s a lot of people out there who want what’s not theirs, and they don’t care who they have to step on to get it. They have no respect for democracy, or the law. I mean, what’s the difference between that freak Rebecca lobbying government officials for special treatment and the communists? She should be in the ground with Castro.”
The longer Cardozo talked, the more Fritz’s own eyes glazed over. He understood the gist at least – the cop didn’t like Cerberus either and had some problems with them – but did he have to go on so long about it?
“Uh. That’s great and all, but does that mean you’ll help us or not?”
“What, just let you out?” Cardozo laughed. “No, son. But I can tell you to really use that lawyer of yours. With what’s going on at city hall, any controversy that can be lobbed Cerberus’ way will help.”
“What’s going on at city hall?” Fritz asked, leaning forward. “Rebecca been doing anything else lately?”
“You mean you don’t know?” Cardozo allowed air to escape between his teeth, grimacing slightly. “Rebecca’s lobbying the city to enter into a contract to run its policing operations. Turn BPD into a subsidiary of Cerberus.”
“What?!” Now stirred from her stupor, Jessica nearly had her face pressed against the glass. “There’s no way she could do that! How do you know this?”
Cardozo turned around slowly, looking Jessica up and down. “Hey, Jeff?”
“Yeah, Dallas?” Jeff said, not turning his eyes from the road.
“Are we both stupid and haven’t noticed that this kid looks just like the crazy lady we were just talking about?”
“Well, you do call me-” Jeff took a glance in the rearview mirror and did a double take. “Whoa, you’re right!”
Dallas jerked a thumb at her, turning back to Fritz. “Wanna tell us who your friend is?”
“Hey, she ain’t our friend, we just met her,” Fritz told them, shaking his head. “But you are right, she looks familiar.”
“You keep an eye on her, she’s weird.”
Jessica leaned back in her seat, pouting all the way.
“Anyways, I know that because I’m close to the Chief. Believe me, half the department would love for nothing more than the Chief Executive Asshole to take a pair of scissors and cut the red tape of due process. I’m no conspiracy theorist, but if I was, I’d think Ms. Illuminati was going to turn Blackburn into her own personal playground.”
“Jeez, sure as hell sounds like a conspiracy,” Fritz said. “The gal kinda strikes me as the world domination type.” He glanced over at the cop driving the car. Jeff had been the one to arrest him, but he hadn’t spoken much all the while.
“Say, who’s the strong, silent type over there? We haven’t been introduced.”
“My name’s Jeff!” he said, not taking his eyes off the road. “But officially it’s Detective Higgins.”
“I keep an eye on him because he’s weird,” Dallas remarked. “Poor bastard. Thinks he’s in a noir movie or something.”
“Hey, I love those old noirs!” Jeff cried. “I always wanted to be like Philip Marlowe, finding clues, interrogating suspects, winning the hearts of women along the way.”
“Oh God, not this one again…”
“Everyone in my neighborhood’s falling in with Zo Bwa Tet, and there I was, trying to solve who stole all the water filters right out of the back of the local convenience store. Nothing else taken, no sign of forced entry, but he left me some little clues, fingerprints on the counter, a spilled bottle of ketchup. I felt just like Jeff Bailey!”
“Right right right, another time buddy. Look, the station is just up ahead. I’ll go ahead and call for backup.”
Dallas took the cruiser’s radio, directing Jeff around the back with his finger. “All units this is Cardozo, we’re going to need a few extra hands with these suspects. The males are both anomalies, prep a holding cell.”
“Psh, ‘anomalies’,” Fritz scoffed under his breath. “What am I, a birth defect?”
Dallas shrugged. “Probably.”
Jeff parked the cruiser in the back garage slowly. Four extra officers, in the BPD’s distinctive green and khaki uniforms, stood at both doors. The ones on the left had their hands on their hips, shaking their heads as Jeff revealed a sulking Jessica.
“Well, well, well, if it isn’t our little Jane Doe,” said Officer Brewer. “What’d she do this time, Higgins?”
“Got involved with these two,” Jeff said, gesturing to Alex and Fritz. “Stole something from Cerberus and started a car chase.”
The two officers exchanged a brief look of shock. “Kid, you need help,” said Brewer, taking her out by one arm as Jeff held the other.
“Go fuck yourself…”
“What was that?”
The trio were processed quietly, searched, fingerprinted and photographed with what seemed like the eyes of the entire station on them. Some expressed shock or even dismay at the urban camouflage uniforms of Fritz and Alex – others jeered. As for Jessica, Fritz could overhear that there was ‘still nothing’ on her – no alias, no DNA match, no record of her existence prior to her first arrest. Not that anyone really seemed to care. Alex and Fritz were uncuffed, but not before being outfitted with anomaly inhibiting collars. He was a techie, so had to wonder; how exactly did those things work anyways?
A dozen officers placed Alex and Fritz into their cell, probably ready to crack their skulls at faintest sign of disobedience. But Alex just hobbled inside like a kicked puppy, muttering only his ‘yes sirs’ and ‘okay officers’. Fritz slumped down on the the bench with a heavy sigh. Well, at least he didn’t have to move for a while. He just had to sit in this nice, cool cell. Great.
“So. You think I should’ve cracked that server now?” He asked.
“Hey, it was your idea!” Alex protested. He pressed his hands against the transparent material of the cell, watching the desk sergeant gossip about them from across the room. “All this because you couldn’t wait to go home and rub one out. I hate you.”
“Aw, I love you too, old buddy,” Fritz teased. “Why you didn’t let us have that one-nighter I’ll never understand. Guess we might never have it now, with Cerberus after us.”
“You don’t think they’ll uh, disappear us, do you?” Alex slid his hands down the wall. “Nevermind, don’t answer that.”
“Maybe. I mean, they were about ready to gun us down in the street. Before that girl came around.” Fritz pursed his lips as he pondered. “Hey, didn’t the boss have a daughter who ran off a few years back?”
“She did.” Alex pulled himself off the glass, plopping down next to Fritz with a sigh. “You think that was her? I mean, she did have Rebecca’s uh, charming attitude.”
“Sure had the hair,” Fritz said. “But who knows? We probably won’t be seeing her again anyway.”
An officer tapped on the glass, gesturing to an old-fashioned phone in the corner. “Call for you on line one, Malone.” Uh oh, someone’s grounded.
Alex pulled the phone to his ear and spoke in a low voice: “Hello? … Dad? Oh geez…” Alex raked a hand through his hair, leaning back against the wall to stare at the ceiling. “Look, um, it’s a really long story. But you’ve gotta believe me, it’s bad. But if I tell you, that’ll put you in danger too. It’s really bad… Look, listen dad, it’s going to be okay, really. Fritz has a really good lawyer, I’m sure when they hide the evidence they won’t like, throw the book at us or anything.” He huffed out a breath, then made himself smile. “So can I at least come back to working at the Cachaca when I get out? … Thanks dad. I’ll uh, I’ll do my best. Bye.”
The trio weren’t held at the police station for long. Cerberus’ lawyers filed charges within the hour, and by the next day they were transferred to the Blackburn County Jail.
The psychoanalyst who met her at intake probed Jessica with all the inane questions: was she a substance abuser, had she any suicidal thoughts, was she mad that she had tried to do one decent thing and the world shoved her to the ground and kicked her teeth in.
Yes doctor, I’ve been a very bad girl, throw away the key and forget about me.
The jumpsuit fit the same, blended her in with the common criminals as the deputies marched her into genpop. But with the way she carried herself, crestfallen but unbowed, she knew that they knew that she wasn’t one of them.
The inmates tracked her with wary eyes, a few whispering to their companions. They grouped together around tables and against walls, some by neighborhood of origin, some by ethnicity, some ad hoc. She ignored them all and took a seat at the furthest table in the rear, arms folded and eyes straight at the television. Somehow Cerberus had kept her little incident off the airwaves, and instead the news channel was running a story on a new wave of immigrants leading the latest real estate boom. Cute.
It wasn’t long before she caught several women approaching her from another table.
“What are you looking at?”
“You tell me, frosty,” the leader spat back, sizing her up. She wasn’t much herself, possessing a moderate layer of muscle but hardly over five feet. “Thinking you’re so special, got a table all to yourself. You’re the bitch who works for Mouse, aren’t you?”
“At this point, you can probably make that past tense,” she grumbled.
“Yeah? Well we know what you did to Carlos.” Three other women began circling the table. “He was my cousin.”
“Hmph. That must’ve sucked. And that was actually Mouse, but listen lady, I’m having a really bad week,” she announced, suddenly popping to her feet. The women flinched. “Unless you want to end up with him, I advise you leave me the fuck alone.”
The cousin laughed, cracking her neck as she approached. “The guards don’t circle around for another five minutes. You girls think we can work her over in two?”
Jessica grabbed the collar of the nearest inmate and slammed her skull against the steel table. The other two pulled her back by her arms, flinging her into the nearest seat. She pushed them back with her feet, then waited for the cousin to charge. With a shoulder she knocked her assailant into the second table, then threw her into her friend. The third inmate placed her into a headlock, crushing her windpipe. Jessica threw elbow after elbow, trying to regain her footing, but the larger woman wouldn’t budge. Finally she worked a thumb to her eye socket, and that got her released with haste.
She waited until the cousin charged again, and with the reflexes of a cat, kicked herself off the wall, over her, and onto the inmate behind her, pounding her head into the floor with a flurry of punches.
Whump, whump, whump.
Jessica was snarling, adrenaline pumping through her veins, blood drumming in her ears, but all she cared about was making this bitch hurt. Every blow only made her more angry that she couldn’t pound some respect out of that empty skull. But she didn’t lose focus enough to not hear the large inmate approaching, and when she heard her come up just behind her, she tossed her hapless victim into her arms like a ragdoll. The woman scarcely had time to catch her comrade before receiving a haymaker to the nose.
The cousin took a few steps towards the wall. “Don’t just stand there you morons, get her!”
A dozen inmates peeled off from the crowd, rushing Jessica and knocking her to the ground. Over and over they kicked, sneering as she rolled into a fetal position. Her anger – God, it hurt – continued to control her, but now only manifested as involuntary twitches and inaudible hisses.
“Step away, get on the ground!”
Rubber bullets pounded the ceiling, and the inmates flung themselves to the floor. Deputies scuttled around prone bodies and threw Jessica’s attackers to the ground, frogmarching them back to their cells, leaving her to crawl her way to safety.
By some miracle, Jessica managed to sleep the next few hours away in her new protective custody cell. Instead of sheep, she counted the deputies circling her cell block, and she was lucky enough not to dream about them kicking her face in.
She found herself wondering if a deputy informing her of a visitor too was a dream.
“Who is it?” She inquired as she hauled out of the cell block, ignoring the threats and Spanish curses in the air.
“Rebecca Napier.” That woke Jessica up. “Apparently she used to be some kinda superhero or something? You’ve got an uncanny family resemblance going on kid.”
The battered woman took her seat in the conference room without another word, idling the time away with her thumbs. It wasn’t long until the CEO of Cerberus took a seat across from her, and her throat began to close. She was indistinguishable from Jessica in all but age, height and Cerberus fatigues. The younger woman put a hand up to the glass.
“Jessica, my poor baby.” The hard lines of Rebecca’s face softened considerably. “You shouldn’t be here.”
“Momma, I want to go home.” Jessica allowed herself to savor her mother’s brief joy. Why was it always so brief? “But you came here from work. Came here from that goddamn fortress. What will it take for you to stop? My corpse?”
Rebecca pursed her lips, blinking away the moisture in her eyes. “My love, in a few weeks, it’ll be all over. You won’t have to do – whatever it is you’ve been doing. I’ll hand you this city on a silver platter.”
“I don’t want that!” Jessica cried, voice cracking. “Why can’t you understand? I don’t want to be a tyrant.”
Rebecca sighed heavily. “Then what do you want?”
“I don’t…” Jessica pinched the bridge of her nose and closed her eyes. “I don’t know. Can’t we just leave this godforsaken hellhole?”
“I can’t walk away from this,” Rebecca said sadly. “Not even if I wanted to. Soon, fire and brimstone will burn this city white and clean, and I will sweep the ashes of these degenerates into the ocean. I will do what Scott never could, and America will thank me for it. I will finally bring law and order to Blackburn, Jessica. Come back to me and we can protect this city, together.”
“I can’t believe what I’m hearing!” Jessica stared at her mother in revulsion, unable to formulate another complaint. Why? How could she have fallen so far? How could she have allowed herself to become this person? Rebecca merely shook her head.
“I’m sorry my love. You’ll understand when the time comes.”
“No, wait!” Jessica pressed herself against the barrier, shouting as her mother left the room. “What are you going to do?! What the hell are you going to do?!”