038 – …And Justice for None

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The police officer squirmed under my grip, but he didn’t resist. He should know not to. His feet were two stories above the ground. It probably wouldn’t kill him. Probably.

Sumeet only sniveled, still shaken by the sudden abduction. I had to repeat myself.

“You’re going to tell me everything you know, you don’t exactly have the right to remain silent, here.”

Being here, in this position? It wasn’t going to win me any favors in the public eye. Hardly relevant, now.

He opened his mouth, letting his jaw hang, gasping for breath.

In my opinion, he was being overdramatic.

I opened my hands, then closed them. He fell for an instant.

Sumeet cried out, the most he vocalized since I nabbed him. His breathing turned coarser.

“You better say something soon,” I said, my teeth grinding together, “Or next time, it’ll be a much longer fall.”

Finally, he conceded. He put his hands on my wrists, as if he could use them for further support.

“The hell you want from me?”

I had him.

“Your friend, Jeffery, was the cop that was last seen with Thomas before his disappearance. Where is he!”

He did what he could to answer clearly. Though, the fear of being dropped more than twenty feet crept into his voice.

“I don’t know! I don’t know where he is!”

“Where can I find him?”

“No one’s been able to contact him since yesterday! He’s not even at his home!”

I squinted behind my mask. I brought him in closer, lowering him just a tad. The movement should have upped his pulse even more.

“It’s, it’s the truth!”

“Give me something usable,” I said, demanding, “And do it fast, my arms are starting to get tired.”

“Okay… okay.” He was breathing out the words more than he was saying them.

I asked again, “Where the fuck did Jeffery take Thomas Thompson?”

“All, all I know is that Jeff was tapped to handle a big job by our boss as a favor to someone else. He wouldn’t say anything about it, he didn’t want to talk about it, but it was something he didn’t have a say in. They wanted him to make up for some old shit, so the boss had to give him up, but I had no idea it had to do with-”

I shook him, getting him to zip it. Couldn’t have him rambling when time was such a huge factor. Couldn’t afford to waste a second.

“Let’s keep it simple, back it up a bit. Who are you really working for? Who’s your boss?”

Sumeet’s lower lip trembled.

“Whatever you’re afraid your boss will do,” I said, “I promise I’ll deliver onto you something far more severe. Answer me.”

He coughed it up.

“D’Angelo… dammit!”

I thought the same thing, too. I didn’t know who that was.

“What does he run?” I had to ask the question in a way that didn’t completely show my ignorance. I still had all the cards in this situation, but I had no reason to tip my hand, however slight.

“He, he runs a subset of a mob from New York. An Italian family. Pushes some drugs, but mostly hires out enforcers for the big clubs. The cops that work with him… we’re just asked to keep a blind eye, whenever we can. That’s it.”

“Except that’s not it,” I said, “Jeffery was tapped to do more than that. Why is D’Angelo involving cops? Is he Solace?”

Eyes wild, Sumeet was looking in every direction. I raised him an inch higher, despite my arms already starting to ache.

Focus,” I ordered.

“Shit, I don’t know! It doesn’t sound like him, it’s not his style. But… fuck, how would I know?”

Dammit, I thought. This guy was turning out to be more useless than anything else. Why did Gomez hand him over to me?

Another route. Ask him something else.

“That ‘someone else’ then, who are they? Who gave Jeffery that job?”

He clutched my wrists, tighter.

The mask distorted my words, I yelled to make them clear. “Tell me!”

“Benny! It’s Benny!”

My heart skipped a beat.

Benny.

I was right, but it didn’t make me feel any better. I felt like shit, really, especially since I knew a person who had a hand in this.

But what the hell was Benny doing? Why?

I continued my questioning. “Benny, of El Carruaje? I thought she was in jail.”

“She was supposed to be brought in, but she never ended up on a record. I wasn’t in charge of that, though, I don’t have the exact details there.”

No exact details, but the broad strokes were a start.

“Her gang, didn’t it get dissolved?” I asked.

Sumeet explained through chattering teeth. “It got split up among her second-in-command, and they’re fighting over what used to be The Chariot’s territory. Even some other crews are trying to muscle in.”

That sounds awfully similar to something I heard before, I thought. But, it didn’t seem relevant, it didn’t seem like it connected. Wouldn’t Benny want to be more concerned over that than this?

I had to squeeze every last detail I could out of this man.

“Why did Benny contact the Italians? Where is she?”

“I don’t know, that’s all I know, honest! I’m, I’m telling you the truth! Everything between D’Angelo and her, I heard through Jeffery. If you wanna know, you’d have to ask him.”

I wanted to strangle this guy, right then and there.

It felt like I was running in circles. The same questions, the same answers, over and over. Who, what, where? Why? All I got that was substantial was Benny, but that was just a confirmation, nothing more.

How was I going to find Thomas at this rate?

Thomas… No, another route.

Another circle to run.

“Then, where can I find him? D’Angelo? You have to at least know that.”

Sumeet grunted, his legs swaying. He adjusted his hold on my arms.

“Can you please just let me go?”

“Not until you tell me.”

“For fucking sake, please, my girlfriend’s gonna-”

Tell me!” I growled out the words. It probably didn’t sound very intimidating, considering my voice wasn’t deep at all, but the emotion carried.

Sumeet finally answered, sounding out of breath. “Hey, okay, I know where he’s going to be, tonight. Panorama, a club in the Eye, on West Ninth. He’s overlooking a deal, there.”

The Eye. Where the criminal and gang activity was at its most deep. That didn’t make things any easier.

“There,” Sumeet said, “I’ve told you everything I know, can you please set me down?” His eyes grew big, then he hurried out, “On the roof.”

I so wanted to do that, to let him go and move on with my night, and find Thomas, alive or not. But something still nagged at me, bothered me. So many details to consider and parse through, it was too complicated. I wasn’t sure if I was done or if I still had something to ask.

I just want someone to tell me what to do.

I stayed there, holding him.

One more. I’d ask one final question, and move on.

I recalled what Gomez told me, before he went back inside. Before he ran away.

“Who is Mister?”

I asked him that question.

He was moving, struggling before, but Sumeet went stiff at the mention. I could almost feel him go cold. It was in his eyes, too.

Horror.

His eyes met mine, from behind the mask. I held him up, my arms burning, my throat almost about to.

Sumeet’s face lost all color, his grip on my wrist even stronger, knuckles white. He bit his lip, almost to the point that he might draw blood.

All from a name?

I tried again. “Who is-”

Kicking, screaming. Sumeet tried to fight me.

He started thrashing, twisting and doing what he could to get me to let go. His legs were longer than mine, so his kicks would occasionally connect, hitting me square in the chest.

“No! Let me, let me go!”

Caught by surprise, I had to make a split-second action.

My balance was more than compromised, my arms losing their hold. The only way to salvage this was to fall back, and use one hard pull to toss him over him head.

Little time to come up with anything else.

I placed a foot back, and shifted my weight to my shoulders. I let myself fall.

But Sumeet got the better of me.

He twisted in a way that brought my arms together, and he swung a foot, knocking my elbow. My strength finally gave out, and I opened my hands.

As I fell back to the roof, Sumeet plunged into the alley below him. My back hit the concrete way sooner than his did.

I could hear it from up top. Thump.

I scrambled back up to my feet, looking over the edge. My heart skipped another beat.

Sumeet was on his stomach, limbs sprawled around him. He wasn’t moving.

Fuck, fuck, fuck. Fuck.

I hopped down, bracing for the impact. There was no fire escape, here.

I landed next to him, crouching. He still hadn’t moved.

All this over a name?

Hesitant, but I put a hand on his back. I didn’t press, I just touched.

He groaned.

Still breathing, though barely. I was equal parts relieved and confused. And scared.

Who was this Mister guy that Sumeet was willing to do this? He’d rather die than explain what he was. Was this what Gomez wanted to show me? How bad things actually were? What was the point?

The point can wait, I have to get this guy to a hospital.

How was I supposed to go about this? He looked too hurt to move, but my best guess was that he needed to be on his back. Could I do that without causing any more pain?

It brought to mind my own abilities, my healing. Something I hadn’t realized I had taken for granted.

I nearly jumped out of my skin when I heard someone in the near distance.

“That’s where I heard it! It’s him, the Bluemoon!”

I looked up. A pair. A woman, the other a cop.

The cop already had one hand on a gun, the other hand on his radio.

Ugh.

I was out before I heard him call it in, scaling over a fence that divided the alley. I leapt, reaching halfway up a building, I caught a foothold from a windowsill, then pushed myself up the rest of the way.

I took to another building, another roof, just to be careful. It was taller, floors higher than the others. I searched for the next available path, but I came up short. The line of buildings ended here, unless I wanted to leap across the street. At the risk of being seen again, though?

Sirens started to blare, and they weren’t distant.

Nope.

I went right to putting my backpack in front of me, removing my mask and parka as I walked across the roof, to the door. I put on a hat, and tucked in my black long sleeves.

I cursed at myself.

The cop saw me, that was enough to get the word out that The Bluemoon was active, tonight. They’d be hunting me, now, much like how I was on the hunt for Thomas.

The rooftops were no longer a means for travel, not if I wanted to get to D’Angelo unannounced.

Which reminds me…

I don’t know what D’Angelo looks like.

Shit.

Keeping my thoughts straight during interrogations were never my strong suit, apparently. Couldn’t search for it on my phone because, well, my phone sucked. And was it even a face I could look up? Damn. Another detour.

I approached the door. Unlocked, thankfully.

Hurrying, I descended the stairs, entering the building. I moved away some hair, some strands stuck to my face. Running and jumping around could really make a girl perspire.

I came into a hallway. Wooden doors down both long walls, a metal door at the other end. An apartment building, it looked like, and it wasn’t broken down and emptied out. The fluorescent lights above were on, and I heard signs of activity.

And they were getting louder, coming to a head at the end of the hallway, another stairwell. My exit, essentially.

The door bursted open, and police spilled forth. Body armor, riot gear. Shields.

Oh fuuuuu…

Without telling myself to, I put my head down and stuck close the the wall, an attempt to make myself smaller, less noticeable. It probably had the opposite effect, though.

“Check every hall, every floor!” one of them barked. “Put a squad on the roof!”

There was a shout of assent, followed by a flood of steps coming my way. People.

Fuuuuuck.

They mobilized quickly.

The only way I could be any closer to the wall was if I was paint. But, I wasn’t. Men ran past me, shoulders hitting me from just how many of them were here.

Too many, and they were going the other way. I couldn’t move.

Keep my head down, don’t move, just wait until-

A hand grabbed my arm.

My head jolted up.

A police officer, dressed in a standard uniform.

“You. You see anything?” He had to be loud to be audible over the commotion behind us.

My mind was blank. My mouth opened, my tongue dry.

“I don’t…” I said, but I trailed off. “No.”

“You don’t know?”

“Ah, I mean, I didn’t see anything.”

“What are you doing here? You live here?”

Questions, and how was I to answer?

I tried nudging my arm, but he wouldn’t give. His look was getting more harsh with every second.

Give him the truth.

“I don’t live here,” I answered, “I was looking for a friend?”

Why did I say it like that?

“I was looking for a friend,” I said, correcting myself, more flatly this time.

The officer’s look hadn’t changed, not really. His grip on me remained.

“What floor is your friend on?” he asked, “I can escort you there, personally. It’s better that you’re inside, anyway.”

If he was calling my bluffs or not, I couldn’t say for sure. I had to roll with it, either way.

“Actually, I was thinking about leaving. It’s late… and things look pretty heated at the moment.”

I looked past the officer. The hall had thinned out, but there were still some cops, here. Mostly in standard wear.

He nodded, then said, “I still think you should be seen out, can’t have you getting lost in here.”

I nodded back.

He released me, then turned, motioning to follow. Very, very, carefully, I did.

“You can call me Officer Maxwell, by the way.”

I didn’t offer a name, I just kept forward.

Act natural, they don’t suspect you. They don’t.

I had to keep telling myself that, it made the next step easier to make.

I fixed up my hair some more as we walked, trying to get more of it in my face.

We got to the other side, turning a corner to pass the stairwell. An elevator, nearby.

“You three.” Officer Maxwell pointed to three others dressed like him, standing around. “Come with me.”

“Yes sir,” one of them said, but they all approached.

Um… why?

This was starting to become… something, but I couldn’t exactly turn and go the other way. Well, I could, but then I’d be in another situation, entirely. It’d look like I was trying to avoid them.

Well, I was, but I wasn’t supposed to look that part.

We all moved to the elevator, Officer Maxwell being the one to press the button to go down. We waited for the door to open. I watched the numbers light up, one by one, creeping towards the number ten.

It took longer than I would have expected.

A ring, then the elevator opened up. We filed inside.

We took to our own spots, but I felt like I was standing out. In more ways than one.

Each cop had their own corner, Officer Maxwell in the front-right corner, by the buttons. And I stood in the middle.

It was cramped, it could probably hold one more person, but we wouldn’t be thrilled about it. There wasn’t any music in here.

Officer Maxwell pressed the button. Ground floor.

The door slid closed. Mechanics shifted, loud, and then the elevator moved. This thing was old.

Nine.

“It’s a bit late to be out on a day like this,” Officer Maxwell said. “Don’t you have school tomorrow?”

You’re not in a position to question my life choices. I didn’t say that, though.

“That’s why I was going to meet my friend, and share my notes with them. They missed a few days.”

“Oh? Aren’t you a good friend.”

I blinked, hair in my eyes. I found it hard to breathe.

Please shut the fuck up.

I checked the number above the doors. Eight.

How?

“Anything?” one of the other cops said.

“Not that I heard,” Officer Maxwell said, “They’ll say something.”

I thought he was talking to me at first.

Officer Maxwell huffed through his nose. “They’ll have to, and soon. The whole block’s been closed off, we’ll hear something.”

The whole block?

I went stiff. Good thing I wasn’t moving. I looked again.

Eight.

Why were we barely moving?

This thing was so slow.

“Um, what’s going on?” I asked. I wanted to slap myself for asking, but I needed to know what the deal was, outside these four walls. How bad it was, really.

Officer Maxwell answered. “Looking for the terrorist known as ‘The Bluemoon,’ unmask them, all to stop another terrorist known as ‘Solace.’”

A cop behind me remarked, “All these names, you’d think we’re in a comic book.”

“Nope, it’s the real deal, people are dying, and they don’t come back like in the comics.”

“You read comics, sir?”

“When I was younger.”

Seven-

God, just hurry it up.

“I thought the verdict was still out on The Bluemoon, didn’t he stop some robberies here and there? We just need ‘em to stop the other guy.”

The cop to my front-left asked that. Someone who gave my actions the benefit of the doubt?

“Far as I care, they’re a terrorist,” Officer Maxwell said. “Inciting riots, disrupting the peace, paving the way for another pyscho? Yeah, that’s enough terror caused to earn that label.”

A chill ran through me. I needed to get out of this elevator, no, this building. This block.

“Don’t forget downing one of our own,” another cop said. “Just now.”

Down? As in dead, or just out?

I stayed tight-lipped.

Officer Maxwell scratched the side of his chin. “I won’t forget that, and I won’t forgive it. But, it did tip us off The Bluemoon’s activities, and I was getting afraid that it wouldn’t show.”

It’s like they forgot I was here.

I was frozen solid. They had no idea The Bluemoon was under their nose, this whole time.

I looked at what floor we were on, again. Five.

Still not good enough. Still not fast enough.

“Speaking of… what was the physical description in the report, again?” a cop behind me asked.

Officer Maxwell answered. “White mask, blue jacket… a backpack.”

The cops in front of me, Officer Maxwell, their eyes fell on me. I didn’t even need eyes in the back of my head to know that the cops behind me were like that, too.

My eyes went down. No wall to stick close to, here.

But I certainly felt small.

“That’s a big backpack,” Officer Maxwell intoned. “Filled with notes, I take it?”

I put all my effort into keeping myself standing, and speaking.

“A lot of books,” I said, more softly than I wanted.

“Do you mind if I see for myself? I don’t have a kid, so I’ve been wondering what you young folk are studying, nowadays.”

I could’ve sworn they were inching closer, Officer Maxwell’s arms brushed against me when he crossed them. Every hair on my body was standing.

Couldn’t move, couldn’t back away. And the fucking elevator doors wouldn’t open, yet.

Three.

I was scared, putting it into simple terms.

“Don’t you need a warrant to search anything?” I asked. I figured the attempt was feeble, but I had to try.

“Probable cause,” Officer Maxwell said aptly.

He inched closer, close enough that I could’ve threatened harassment.

Buy time, there’s still one more floor left.

“I’m not very comfortable with you guys going through my stuff,” I said. I wanted to bring my arms up and hold onto the straps of my bag, but they were too close. “It’s a personal thing.”

“You know, normally, I’d be willing to leave it at that, especially if you lived here, except, you don’t live here, and I found you close to the roof as soon as the search party got up there. And, this is just a hunch, but I’d be willing to bet that you don’t have a single friend anywhere in this building. Tell me, is my cause not probable?”

Everything Gomez said came to me, what I saw of Sumeet was seared in my mind.

I couldn’t let myself fall into that. Let myself go with them.

“I… um…” I drew out my words, trying to come up with something to say. My heart, going a mile a minute. It might explode, soon.

Everything elevated to a high pitch.

Rather, a high ring.

A ring, and the elevator doors opened. I immediately moved to get out.

“I have to go,” I rushed out, slurring words.

Everyone else moved at once.

“Excuse-”

The cop to my front-left reached for my arm, seizing it for a moment.

But only for a moment.

I was a ball of bubbling panic before, and now that bubble was bursting.

I flipped my hand, grabbing his forearm, then spun. The cop went off his feet, and he was sent into the others. They all toppled over.

With my now free hand, I slapped the button to close the elevator door. I hopped out as the door began to shut.

Officer Maxwell was shouting at the top of his lungs, from the bottom of the pile of bodies. “Get that girl! She’s the Blue-”

The door shut before he could finish. I could hear him, but he was muffled, now.

I kicked, and the doors bent in. That’d keep them.

I spun back to face the hall, and I realized that they weren’t the ones to worry over.

It looked like a service hallway, nothing but a long corridor that led outside, but there were still obstacles in my way.

A handful of policemen – count that, nine – about half of them wearing body armor and riot gear. All facing me.

Adrenaline sprinting through my body. I kept my head down, my hat blocking my eyes, and pushed my hands into my pants pocket. I walked.

And they did, too.

“Get down!” they ordered, shouting.

I didn’t listen. I kept on.

“Put your hands on your head, and get down!” They started getting into formation, lined up, huddled together, three by three. The ones in riot gear were up in front. They started banging on their clear, polycarbonate shields with hard plastic batons.

This really is not good.

They advanced, picking up speed with every footstep. I had to return in kind.

I took my hands back out of my pocket.

The ceiling wasn’t high enough for me to get much leverage. I did what I could.

I hopped, pushing off the wall, closer to where it met the ceiling. Not to get over them all, but to land in the middle.

The first two went down easy as I landed on them.

I got up quick, taking advantage of catching them unaware.

Three were behind me, still trying to wheel around. My attention went to the ones that were still facing me.

I lunged forward, driving my hands outward. My palms pressed into two cops in the back line.

I pushed.

They flew, one landed on the floor, then slid a distance. The other hit the wall before coming back down.

Didn’t want to throw a punch, when I was so unsure of my upper limits. No one here should be unable to walk away because of a hole in their chest.

Four down, five still standing.

I drew back in, crouching, shifting my weight to focus on the next one.

In a sense, I was cornered, my front and left were blocked by the cops. Not a lot of leg room.

The last cop from the back row ran, swinging. I backed up as much as I could, pressing my arms close.

His shoulder slammed into me, and I felt myself lift off the ground, my back slammed against the wall.

But, I pulled my legs towards me, and I pushed, again.

We both fell, but he was sent towards to another cop, one with armor. The force of impact sent them both down. Hopefully, they stayed there.

But now, I was down, too, and the rest didn’t waste that chance.

They laid it out on me, kicking, thwacking with their batons. They were the ones with armor, they were the ones with weapons. They were the ones with training. Even with my powers, they knew how to keep a person down.

I held my arms against my head, but it was a futile defense. Bones fractured with every hit, then mended, then fractured again.

I could feel it. Every break, every bone coming back together.

I didn’t have an arm to swing, no leg to kick with. I had no limb that I could use to keep them away.

You have to use your whole body.

As they continued their volley, and I pulled my legs in again, trying to sit up and squat. I did what I could.

Then, I jumped. I jumped like I was crossing over a street, or getting halfway up a building.

I jumped.

They were all above me, and the force I used in my legs – tremendous force – hit all of them.

It wasn’t pretty, my limbs were thrown about, smacking into masks and plastic. The one directly above had the worst of it, the back of my neck and shoulders smacked against his face and upper body, and he flew up with me. My back hit the ceiling, breaking a light, and I promptly returned, crashing into the remaining two.

Nine… nine down.

But it wasn’t enough to keep all of them down.

Fighting myself, and the urge to rest and sleep forever, I crawled off the pile of cops, and struggled to my feet. As I rose, I gathered as many of their batons I could.

I didn’t have time to test my body and let every ache and sore get to me. Move.

I ran to the other end of the hall, the front, the entrance, my exit. Bright lights grew stronger, I could barely see. Sirens, could barely hear.

Thought so, they weren’t going to let me walk out the front door.

I placed the batons between the handles of the door. It wouldn’t hold, but it’d buy me some time.

I turned and ran again, back down the hall, hopping over the police, most of whom were stirring now.

Beside the elevator was the stairwell, I rushed in and took my backpack back out.

Not a lot of time at all to change, to put my hat back in and replace it with my costume. No time for the parka, it was too stuffed in there. I grabbed the gas mask, and zipped the bag, and then I worked putting the mask back on, taking stairs three at a time, winding up the steps.

The door to the second floor had burst open before I got to it, more of the search party coming in. As soon as my hands got free, I put one on the railing beside me and vaulted on top of it. I hopped to avoid the next set of steps, and cops, and continued upward.

I went up to the third floor, opening the door by pushing it with my shoulder.

A person flew back by the impact of the door, my strength breaking the hinges. It was something of a domino effect, others falling down as he fell into them.

A few hops took me across the hall. Others were still standing, but I shouldn’t be wasting time and energy on them.

I should be using my time and energy to get out.

My breathing was heavy, nearly grunting out every bit of air. A rush.

The nearest door, it led into an apartment.

Of course I had qualms about this, but desperate times…

I kicked the door. I felt my knee nearly give out.

But it was the door that broke, instead.

I stepped in.

Two girls were screaming on the couch as I barged into the living room, trying get my bearings of the layout of the apartment.

Where’s the window?

There. In the kitchen. Above the sink.

I ran to it.

It was dark out, but I would’ve seen a building on the other side if there was one. There wasn’t.

A street, then?

I had literally no other choice.

I ran to it.

I hopped over the sink, then crashed through the window. Shattered glass and pain came with me as I fell.

No sound escaped my lips. I was spent.

A loud, metallic bang. More pain. All-encompassing, spiking, pain.

I kept down, my hair bristling at incoming wind.

Wind?

I was stopped, but I was still moving.

Shaking my head, I had to get my bearings, again.

I pushed myself up, using what little strength I had left.

On top of an eighteen-wheeler, inside a dump trailer. Moving.

The edge of the whole block, I think. The truck’s being rerouted.

Was this luck? No, luck wouldn’t have put me deep into this shit to begin with. It probably wouldn’t take the cops long to find me again, not if they would be using helicopters. I’d have to be on the move again, soon.

But this stunt did give me some time to breathe again, and pick some glass out of my arm.

This was turning out to be a wild goose chase, for everyone involved. And each step of this chase branched away from the original goal. The goal wasn’t even trying to stop Solace, now, I just wanted Thomas back. And I couldn’t even do that yet, I had to find someone else. And I couldn’t even do that because I still needed to get the cops off my trail. If that was even possible, now.

And…

And even if I could do that…

I still had to take on yet another gang, in one of the most dangerous parts of the city, with everyone against me, in some shape or form. All on my own. I had serious doubts about how well this was going to go.

This was exactly the kind of situation I wanted to avoid, when I started this with Thomas.

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037 – Vicious Circle

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I pushed and pushed Solace’s announcement out of my head. Oh, I tried. I didn’t see it. I didn’t hear it. It didn’t happen. I did everything in my power to block it out of my head.

Block it out, block it out.

But, if I could, then why would I be crying, hiccuping?

Okay, Alexis, let’s try to get ourselves together, then. Let’s try to think straight.

How the fuck was I supposed to get myself to do that?

Nothing was making sense, nothing was connecting. Thomas? Solace spoke about him when he hijacked a TV station’s signal again. Said his name. Thomas, right? My Thomas? Both first and last names were used. Thomas Thompson. His name was uttered by Solace, filtered through their digital hiss.

And it spelled disaster.

I wracked my brain some more, clutching the mask even tighter. The mask he gave me.

Now, things were starting to connect, but I still couldn’t make sense of it. I didn’t know why. I didn’t know how.

Dead.

Thomas was dead. Dead. He wasn’t here anymore. He wasn’t available. He couldn’t help. He wasn’t an option.

I kept telling myself that, yet I couldn’t bring myself to believe it. I was too shocked. Too rocked to my core. I felt like I was coming apart, the whole world crashing around me at the most minute level. As if the fundamentals of what made this world tick were changing, shifting, and I was forced to get my bearings and recontextualize everything, again. This was as bad than that night, when I got hit by that truck, and watched my body pull itself together… after I drank blood. It broke any logical convention I was aware of, yet it happened, and I had to wrap my brain around it, and accept this.

But I can’t accept this.

I can’t.

How could he do this? How could this happen? Before we could do anything decisive. Before we could strike back. Before we could meet and properly plan.

I coughed, and it was a punch to the chest. Hurt, pain. But that was a good thing, it brought me back to the here and now. It helped center me.

In the gloom, down, curled in a ball. I put effort into regulating my breathing. Slow, didn’t know how long I took, but I took my time.

Time to center myself.

I almost let myself be mad at him, for abandoning me at such a critical time. For abandoning me here and now.

But I didn’t.

I still had a sense of self-awareness to not place any fault on Thomas. Something had happened. Something bad. Something out of either of Thomas’s or my control.

And it was up to me to figure it out.

I put everything back the way I found it. Mask, bag, boxes, and clothes on top of that.

I had very little strength left in my legs. I crawled out of the dark closet, back into my dark room. I didn’t need the light.

Getting onto my bed was embarrassingly difficult, mostly because I was making it hard on myself. I labored, I crawled, I pulled on the sheets until I sat at the foot of the bed, hair falling around my face.

I was so lost.

Lost at what to do, lost at where to start. An eerie quiet, I could hear my ears ringing. A clock ticking, my mom talking behind the wall to the living room. I let more time slip by without thinking much of anything.

The passing time brought attention to how thirsty I was, now. That breakfast really did a number on me.

A knock. At my door. Limp, a soft push that pressed the door against the frame. My mom.

“Can I open the door?” she asked.

I pushed my hair away from my face, hastily cleaning myself up.

“Sure.”

She opened, and from just one look, I could tell that she was taking this as bad as me. We looked about the same.

Terrible.

She flipped a switch by the doorframe. I winced.

“How are you feeling?” she asked. She stayed by the door.

With everything that was running through my head, all I had for her was a measly shrug.

She lifted a hand, and I saw she was holding a phone.

“I have Kristin right here, I wanted us to go over to their house, but she wanted us to stay here.”

Kristin. Katy. Right. How could I be so selfish? Thomas was a husband and a father. Someone else’s dad. He had a role in other people’s lives. Not just mine. And they were more important roles, too. How could I let myself forget?

“How’s Katy?” I asked, though, I probably already knew. Worse than me.

“I can’t say, Kristin says she has locked herself up in her room.”

Her too?

“Can I talk to her?” I wanted to know how she was doing, above all else.

My mom had no expression I could put to a word or two. Just… a sense of struggling. She entered my room, and handed me the phone. She brushed my cheek with the back of her hand, and I felt a bit of moisture wipe against her skin and the bottom of my eye. I thought I had gotten that.

Without another word, my mom left, closing the door behind her.

I put the phone up to my ear.

“Hello?”

“Shiori?” It was Kristin.

“It’s Alexis.”

“Oh, hi.”

The phone wasn’t the best, so it was hard to tell if her voice was actually hoarse, or if it was the fuzzy sound quality.

“I’m so sorry about…” I stopped. Sorry about what? That I was part of the reason why Thomas was gone? How could I say that now?

I left that sentence hanging.

“Did you want to talk to Katy?” Kristin ignored my condolences, or maybe she refused to acknowledge it, wasn’t ready to accept it. I know I wasn’t.

“Yes please.”

Moments ticked away, there was distorted sounds on the other end, but nothing I could make out. I sat in the dark, waiting.

“Alexis?”

Muffled, indistinct.

“Katy?”

“Sorry, Alexis, but she’s locked her door, and she can really be stubborn when she wants to be…”

I had guessed so, but it pained me all the same. She was taking it worse than me.

“That’s fine,” I said. “She needs space, I understand that. There’s no offense taken, there.”

“I do think she needs someone to talk to, though,” Kristin said. “You know how she can be, and…”

There was a pause, and it wasn’t brief.

“Maybe text her? Or try calling her on her cell?”

Not bad ideas, but I was beginning to second-guess talking to Katy. I didn’t trust myself enough to talk or think straight.

“I can text her,” I said, “And I can look after her during school, tomorrow. You can count on me.”

I tacked that last part at the end, but I had doubts about that. Was I someone who could be counted on?

“Thank you, Alexis,” Kristin said. “I’ll talk to you and your mom soon.”

Kristin hung up right after. I set the phone beside me. The ticking clock came back to my attention.

I couldn’t talk to Katy, and she wouldn’t talk to anyone. Yet, even with only her mother to exchange some words with, I wasn’t as down as I was right when I heard the news… on the news. Still down, but not totally and completely out. This was, in no small way, a step back, but if I could even get an inkling of where to go from here, I’d turn that next step to a leap, then a bound.

Text…

My cellphone was on my desk. I could start with writing out a draft to send to Katy, at least.

I moved to go get it, dragging my feet.

The phone felt heavier in my hand as I started typing.

I stared at the letter ‘H.’

‘Hey,’ ‘hi,’ ‘hello,’ ‘how are you holding up?’

Shit, I didn’t know where to start. I had known Katy longer than I didn’t, but this was uncharted territory. Anything I say could hurt more than it helped. I didn’t want that on my plate, didn’t need a bigger rift to form between me and Katy. Maybe she did need some space? I wasn’t about to take that away from her.

I put the phone down. The news just broke out, the wound was at its most raw. If anything, it could wait until later tonight.

Fuck…

I was standing over my desk. Going back to bed now would mean that I wouldn’t get up until tomorrow afternoon. Principal Kirk’s offer was looking a lot more enticing, now.

I just didn’t want to be alone, in my head, drowned in my thoughts. There had to be something I could do. Anything, a simple step forward, and I’d try and turn that into progress.

As if on instinct, I reached down to a drawer to the side of my desk. It was old, rickety, and it jammed easily. Some people would give up after a single tug, most would be afraid they’d break it after another, harder tug. It was hard to open, sure, but it wasn’t impossible, you just needed to know how to work it, and it required some strength.

I wiggled the handle, feeling for the inner-workings, then pulling when I was sure I got it.

The drawer slid open.

There wasn’t much in here, two notebooks stacked on top of each other, my knife tucked beside that. Extra batteries were piled here, too. But that wasn’t what I was going for. I removed the two notebooks.

The pager was waiting for me. The one Thomas had provided when we first started this thing.

My eyes widened.

I had just wanted to look at the pager, as another memento of Thomas and Hleuco, but something caught my eye.

A light, beeping and beeping.

A light that would only be on if I had received a message.

I snatched it out immediately, the notebooks and knife and other miscellaneous items falling in its place.

I was having trouble trying to make out the words, my hands were shaking, and my eyes were getting watery, again.

But, I read it.

‘Go to Gomez.’

I had to rub my eyes in order to believe whatever the fuck I was reading was indeed real.

A message… from Thomas?

This can’t be right.

But what other conclusion was there?

Thomas was the only one who had access to this thing, he was the only one who knew the number this pager was connected to. He sent out a message? When?

I checked the pager again, this time reading the time that was stamped by the message. My skin began to prickle from sweat.

It was around the same time as Solace’s new announcement.

This can’t be fucking right.

Now things were making even less sense. What the fuck was this supposed to mean? Thomas was alive? Alive?

There might be a chance he was. Thinking it over, none of Solace’s victims were ever confirmed dead. No bodies were found, and all we had to go on was Solace’s word. Could this have all been one big bluff?

I inspected the pager again, spinning it around in my hand.

There was no keyboard, I couldn’t send a message back. Could I just use my phone?

Cool it, Alexis.

I forced myself to take a step back. Physically, and my thinking process.

There was a message, here. Instructions. But was it from Thomas?

This could have meant any number of things. The last thing I wanted to be right now was cynical, but what I was looking at could be too good to be true.

It could be a trap.

Would that be feasible? Unfortunately, it might be. The only thing I knew for a fact was that Thomas was missing. If he was okay, I wouldn’t be the first person he’d contact. He’d let his family know, first and foremost, and we probably wouldn’t be in this situation. Meaning, something else was at play, here. He needed me.

Or someone who had access to his phone and knew this number wanted me. Wanted Blank Face.

Solace?

The message itself was vague, too. Too vague. Go to Gomez? To do what? Coordinate with him, in place of Hleuco? Would he be willing to cooperate, even, considering how fucking terrible the past seventy-two hours have been? I wouldn’t bet on it.

And why not just message me with a location? Wouldn’t that have been more straightforward?

Too many questions…

But I didn’t have any other leads.

This was the closest thing I had to making any headway. If this really was Thomas sending out an S.O.S., then I was on the right track. If not… then I had to keep on my toes, not catch myself slip. Exercise extreme caution.

I dropped the pager beside my phone, and I dropped myself onto my bed.

It’s up to me, now. Solace is forcing my hand.

Might not be the worst idea to pay Gomez a visit, he was a good friend of Thomas, after all. Having him on my side of the court would net me a huge plus. And, I had some choice words to give him about his subordinates.

The countdown had started over. Twenty-four more hours. Solace would be announcing three more names by then. Three more victims.

Now was the time for action, I thought, I just have to not make Solace read my name by the end of this.

It bugged me, just how at ease I felt with my mask on again.

Was I already that used to it?

I adjusted the straps behind my head, making it fit snugly.

The hood then went over my head, to finish the look.

I was even wearing the pants that Thomas provided me, when he gave me the updated costume. I was complete.

If I had to list one thing I was missing, it was probably my own way to and from downtown. Couldn’t keep taking buses forever.

Already, I was missing what I would have liked to dub the ‘Hleuco mobile.’

It was late, but I had little doubt that James Gomez was still in. From what I had heard from Thomas, Gomez was among the few friends he had in the Stephenville Police Department. If he was anything like us, Gomez would take as many late nights as needed to beat Solace. He would want to beat the bad guy just as much as we did.

Also, I could see him from the window.

The building wasn’t hard to get close to. Situated in a cluster, between other buildings, I managed to maneuver up and across roofs and gaps to get a good position to watch. Gomez was sitting in his office, at his desk, either writing or taking phone calls. His back was to the window, he didn’t see me climb up the fire escape to approach him, and I knew to be quiet. I was unnoticed.

Time to get at it.

I opened a side zipper of my backpack, and drew a marker, popped the cap off the top. I wrote in large letters, all caps, right to left, backwards. I had to do it slowly, so the marker wouldn’t squeak on the glass. I put back the marker, then reread the message, mirrored from my perspective.

ROOF COME ALONE.’

I tapped the window, then scaled the rest of the fire escape. Metal rattled with every step, but it wasn’t enough noise to draw attention from anyone else. I reached the roof in a few breaths.

I moved to get atop the roof access door, perched above the cement enclosure. I waited. Tense.

I wasn’t used to doing these types of things on my own.

Unsurprisingly, the door didn’t open until my legs were aching. Gomez took his time.

The stress of the job, and just aging in general, had gotten to this man. Balding, his hair more grey than black. He had a brown overcoat over his suit, but his physique still showed. Not fat, but he looked like the type of person to call himself ‘big boned.’ Even from the back of his head, I could see the ends of his mustache curl down.

He walked forward, looking around, probably puzzled. No one came with him, it seemed, the door was able to close without being interrupted by another person.

I dropped as soon as the door was shut, announcing my presence. Gomez turned.

“Chief James Gomez,” I said as I faced him, blocking his way back. “I believe a formal introduction has been long overdue.”

I looked for a reaction, any reaction, so I could judge how this meeting would go. He didn’t provide one. Nothing discernible.

“One word,” Gomez said.

I didn’t move, respond, or provide a reaction, myself. I simply kept waiting.

“One word, one press of a button, and I finally have you, and I can finally wipe my hands of this mess,” he said.

I noted his use of the singular. He had a personal stake in this, too.

I kept still.

“But,” Gomez said, “If you’re here, it must be really good, so I’m willing to hear what you have to say.”

“You don’t suspect I’m here for anything… not really good?” I asked. Probably a dumb question, but I wanted to be clear on where we were standing, in terms of this conversation.

“As I said, one word, one press of a button, and you’re done. And if you were here for something more nefarious, you would have done so, already. But I don’t think that’s your style.”

“My style?”

Gomez nodded. “Somewhere in that messed-up head of yours, you actually think you’re the good guy, right? The hero?”

My feelings were mixed. On some level, he understood, he got what we were trying to do, but he was also belittling me. Even with all my strength, my power, he was still taking me for some kind of fool.

“You can put it like that,” I said. “I’m here about Solace, and Thomas.”

That garnered the biggest reaction out of Gomez so far. He squared his shoulders, and inched forward, to me.

“Thomas, huh? That’s the name that brings you to me, after all this time? I was right, this is good.”

I couldn’t get a good reading of this guy. He probably wasn’t corrupt, or on the take, but he seemed to be getting some kind entertainment out of this. Like this was one big game.

Could I trust him? Could I let him in on what was going on between me and Thomas? Or was this a trap all along? A way to get at the both of us?

When in doubt, Blank Face, exercise extreme caution.

“Solace already went too far with Edgar Brown, but I can’t do this by myself. I’ll need your help, your assistance, your resources.”

“And you wanted to come to me? I’m flattered.”

Dammit, old man. Work with me, here.

“People out there have a high regard for you,” I said, “Can’t see why, myself.”

Somehow, he chuckled. “People, huh? Alright, I’ll drop the pretense. It’s been a long night, and it’s about to be even longer, now. What is it you want from me, Bluemoon?”

“It’s Blank Face, actually,” I said, “But never mind that. I… received, Solace’s message earlier tonight, but I have reason to believe that the victims haven’t been killed. There’s a possibility that they might still be alive, and we can save them.”

Gomez wasn’t particularly moved by that chance.

I had to move the conversation along. Get the basics, first.

“Before that, do we even know anything about Solace? Who he, or she, or they are? How they’re even managing anything they’ve been doing?”

Gomez brushed his mustache once. “Nothing concrete.”

You’re kidding.

“Then, something abstract? What do you know about Benny? Of El Carruaje infamy.”

Gomez brushed his mustache again. “Ah, the no-name you took down in your first viral video? How is she relevant?”

“She may have something to do with all of this, with Solace. But, it’s funny, last time I saw her, I left her with your men.”

Gomez was back to being unreadable.

“It’s an interesting theory, I’ll give you that, but no, I never got a record of her arrest. I always assumed she died on the way to the hospital. If I remember correctly, you did assault her with a deadly weapon.”

I held back. Both myself and my tongue.

“How did Edgar Brown go missing?” I asked instead. I needed something I could use. Anything.

For his part, Gomez managed to answer that. “A group, no more than five people, broke into his home, and they took him. They seemed to know the layout of the house, the placement of my men. They slipped away, like it was nothing.”

His jaw clenched at that last word.

That can count as concrete, you know.

I pressed on. “And Linda Day?”

“The details on that are still coming in, or rather, they haven’t come to me. But yes, it’s a similar situation. She was taken from her home.”

“None of them were killed in their own homes? Their bodies haven’t been found?”

“No to both,” Gomez said.

Then there’s a chance they’re alive.

“What about Thomas?” I asked, “I think we know that he wasn’t taken from his home.”

He raised an eyebrow. “And how do you know that?”

“People,” I said. “It’s easier if we just leave it at that.”

Gomez went silent for a time, before saying, “So you know what I know, congratulations. What else do you want, Blank Face?”

I had thought long and hard about what I wanted, and how I was going to get it.

I asked for it.

“So, you have to believe me when I say I know that Thomas’s phone was used at the same time as Solace’s announcement earlier tonight. You must know it personally. I want you to trace it, and tell me where it was last used.”

This was the key, this was what Thomas wanted me to put into place. I was to go get Gomez, and take down Solace together, the entire police force in tow.

But, Gomez had no words to say, no expression to make. He was just there.

“You seem to have a lot of faith in me,” he said, “And a lot of it is unfounded. I can’t get access to that.”

I couldn’t feel my eyes straining from widening. “How could you not have access? Are you fucking inept?”

“You clearly don’t know how things work around here.”

I almost laughed. “I think I know exactly how things are, here. You’re on someone’s payroll, or some shit like that. You motherfucker.”

He wasn’t defending himself. He just stood, his hands now in his pockets.

This wasn’t going well in any stretch of the imagination. Panicking. I started to grab at any branch that could provide me leverage, any path that could still mean forward.

That, or I was about to seriously hurt Gomez.

I demanded, “An officer named Jeffery was the last person to be with Thomas before his disappearance. If nothing else, I want Jeffery.”

Gomez lowered his head.

“You want one of my men? To do what?”

“One way or another, he’s involved in Thomas’s disappearance, maybe even the others. I just want to have a talk with him. Because if I can find where they took him, I might be able-”

I heard the door knob turn, behind me. My whole body moved without thinking, jumping and flipping back behind the roof door enclosure.

A sudden burst of adrenaline.

The door swung open.

“Chief, what’re you doing out here?”

Another person. Fuck.

“I’m out here for a smoke,” Gomez answered.

“You don’t have anything on you.”

“I’m about to have a smoke.”

An audible sigh.

“Well, when you’re done with your smoke, Barry wants you.”

“Another meeting? I’m starting to feel like a prisoner in my own building.”

“It is what it is.” I heard a footstep. “That was it for me, so…”

“Um, any word from Jeffery, yet?”

A lump in my throat.

I crouched.

“Jeffery?”

“Jeffery Robinson,” Gomez clarified.

“He hasn’t called in.”

“Isn’t that a problem? He was assigned to Thomas.”

“I know that, I’ll get a guy on it.”

Didn’t sit well with me, how dismissive the other cop sounded.

“Also, could you bring Sumeet up here? There’s something I’d like to discuss with him.”

Sumeet?

“Uh, sure, Chief, I’ll give him the word.”

The other cop left, and the door closed.

“You can come back out, now,” Gomez said.

Cautiously, I did, reemerging from the shadow. I went around the door, standing in front of Gomez, again.

“You think I don’t know what goes on in my own police force?” Gomez asked. “It runs deep, it’s systematic. Keep an eye out for someone, and they won’t try and find a reason to gouge out yours. The only way to survive out here is not have any ties with anyone, or they will find it, and they will cut it. The gangs will stomp out anything that tries to upset their little world, their order of things. I may be the chief of police, here, but that doesn’t put me in a position of power. That was one of things Thomas was wanting to fix, when he finally became DA.”

I thought back to Thomas, whenever I saw him in the past week. His anger, his frustration, his weariness. He had said something of regrets. Was this what he was trying to fighting this whole time? This… system?

“So you really can’t help?” I asked. “Even if you wanted to?”

“I’m saying I can’t help you directly, or I’m dead.”

“Thomas is dead! Isn’t he your friend?”

Shit, I raised my voice.

But how could I not be angry? How could this man let his hands be tied?

I knew I was being irritable, irrational, but the anger came, anyways.

Gomez nodded, as if he understood where I was coming from.

“Thomas is a very good friend, and I’m already helping you, more than you probably deserve.”

“What?”

In short, I was confused.

“I’m helping you with every second I don’t call in about you standing on this roof. Honestly, it’d be easier if I did, and maybe this bullshit can stop for just a day. But, I’ll give you this one chance, because it looks like Thomas has given you one, already.”

I didn’t know what to say. That was what he called a chance?

“Sumeet is coming up here soon, he runs with Jeffery. He might know something, but I’m not planning on being around when you have your talk with him.”

Gomez walked, then passed me to get to the door. His back was to me.

“That’s all I can offer you,” he said. “That’s all I have.”

I had to instruct myself to unclench my fists. “It’s a start,” I said.

His hand on the door, now. “Still want handouts? I give you any more, and someone like Mister might pick up on what I’m doing.”

Mister. Something about that name seemed familiar, but it was very foggy.

“Who’s Mister?”

Gomez’s expression changed.

“You really don’t know anything? There, that’s my last freebie. Ask at your own discretion, but unless you know with an absolute certainty that he has a part in this, that’s not a fight you want, even with your fancy hopping around.”

“Who is he?”

He left, ignoring me, his exit unceremonious. I was left alone on the roof.

I gathered my thoughts as I returned to wait above the door.

That did not go how I wanted it to.

Nothing on Benny, nothing about Thomas and the other victims, and the last cop Thomas was with was missing. All I had to go on was Gomez’s lack of cooperation – which was somehow a form of cooperation – Sumeet, and the name ‘Mister.’ How did any of this fit?

So many questions, and I had nothing but frustration.

It didn’t help that this might all be a trap. A setup.

My blood boiled.

I waited, and kept low. I touched a pocket by my thigh, where I kept my knife.

The door cracked open, a man in a cop uniform came running out.

“Chief, sorry I’m late! What was it you wanted?”

Sumeet.

I dropped, hitting the roof running.

It was like a tackle, my shoulder ramming into his stomach when he turned, but I kept going. Until I got to the end of the roof. I leapt, carrying him all the way. The night kept us relatively obscured as I traversed the roofs.

He wasn’t screaming, probably from how hard I hit him with the initial hit. Keeping a hold on him as I ran and jumped wasn’t difficult, I hugged his torso with enough strength to crack some bones, but not break him in half.

I crossed streets, alleys, until I was comfortable with the distance I managed. I let go of him as I landed on another roof, his body crumpling.

I didn’t give him a break. Not a break of that kind. I grabbed him by the collar, dragging him until I had him over the edge, his feet dangling.

Anger moving me, frustration flowing. I needed something to direct it to.

He was light, and I was strong. Holding him was like holding a doll.

“Sumeet,” I said, seething, pushing the words through my teeth. “You’re going to tell me everything.”

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