by Betsy Leohtar
His brain was fuzzy as he looked up and saw his wife, Evelyn, was the one holding his hand. He recognized her but couldn’t remember her name. She was talking to him but he couldn’t link the sounds to meanings. He was glad she was there though. She calmed him while he tried to work out what was happening. He stared at her until meaning gradually came.
“What happened?” he eventually managed to say.
He saw her smile in relief. “It’s okay Rich,” she said. “Everything’s going to be fine now.”
He struggled to move and discovered his right arm was tightly bandaged in such a way he couldn’t move it. He stared at it and repeated, “What happened?” His mind was clearer now and he could understand more of what he saw.
The man—doctor?—behind Evi spoke. “I’m Dr. Hamil. You’ve been in an incident Dr. Cox and you’ve been injured. But everything went well and you’ll make a full recovery.”
“I have adverse reactions to a lot of drugs,” Rich was worried. Some of those adverse reactions were severe. “Recovery from what?” He wondered why he didn’t think of that first.
“Well, what do you remember?”
It took him a while before answering. Evi gave him a comforting squeeze of his hand, his good hand, while he tried to sort his memories.
“I was at the lab and we were working on the Akert stone fragment. Everything was normal. We hadn’t applied any power to it. We were just trying to work out its composition.” He stopped there for a while before continuing. “Then I woke up here?” He looked at Evi, “How’re the kids? How long have I been here? What happened?”
“Sophia and Sara are fine, Rich. They’re at home right now. You’re mother’s looking after them…”
The doctor interrupted. “That’s right Dr. Cox. As for the rest, they’re not relevant right now.”
“Why not?” Richard Cox had learned to question authority late on in life, but he had learned.
”Because we want to know how much you remember. It’ll help us in determining your recovery program.”
That made sense. “Right,” he answered while looking at his smiling wife.
“Now doctor,” Dr. Hamel said, “I want you to have a proper sleep and I’m going to ensure you get that. Rest assured you’re perfectly safe now and everything will be explained when you’re up to it.” He moved to adjust the drug flow.
“Wait for a second, please.” He turned to Evi. “Evi, you must get back to the kids. My mother’ll spoil them rotten. You know what she’s like.”
Evi smiled at his concern, which matched hers. “Rich, I’ll be here for you…”
“No Evi. You can see I’m fine but I won’t be if my mother looks after Sophie and Sara for long. I’ll be fine now. Please look after them properly.”
Evi wondered at discussing this in front of the doctor and the nurse but acquiesced. She was worried too.
“Okay. I’ll phone you when I can and arrange another babysitter for when I come back.”
He smiled in relief. “Thanks, Evi.”
The doctor smiled and adjusted the medication.
Two days later he managed to twitch his fingers. After that, the doctor informed Rich that his arm had been severed and stitched back on. The operation had gone exceedingly well and the prognosis was excellent. Rich was not happy but couldn’t do anything about it. He was a pragmatist though and quickly came to the view of thinking about the future without dwelling overmuch on the past. In this respect, he was a model patient. He was a model patient in other ways as well. His operation had gone exceedingly well using the latest experimental procedures which Evi had okayed after being told this was the only way he could recover his arm.
“I think it’s time I knew how I lost my arm,” Rich insisted.
Dr. Hamil pulled a face. “Ordinarily I’d agree with you, Rich. But my hands are tied in this case. I’ve been asked to hold off telling you that until another doctor can talk to you. Do you feel well enough to talk to her?”
“Okay then, I’ll arrange her to come in tomorrow.”
That evening Evi came in to visit accompanied by Sophia and Sara. Sophia ran up and hugged him first. She was careful of his arm.
“Are you all right Daddy?” She was so worried he nearly burst into tears.
He smiled at her, “I’m going to be fine Sophia. Don’t you worry at all. Everything’s going to be fine.”
Sara pushed her way next to him and stared at his eyes.
“What happened Daddy?” She was scared and excited, not being old enough to really understand what was going on.
He laughed. “You know the funny thing, Sara?”
She solemnly shook her head.
“I don’t know what happened either. There was an accident and I woke up here. Did Mommy tell you that?”
Sara nodded, still without smiling.
He looked at Evi.
“How did Mom take it?”
She smiled. “It was fine. She knows and accepts how we want to bring them up. All she wants to do is spoil them.”
Rich nodded and didn’t pursue it in front of the kids.
The visit went well and they left happier and more confident than when they entered.
Dr. Richard Cox was a physicist, not a medical doctor, but he knew enough to realize the tests they put him through the next morning were extensive. Their reactions indicated to him they thought his reattached arm was working better than expectations, which pleased him enormously. He was uncoordinated enough normally without having to do everything with his left, non-dominant, hand. The helmet and electrodes on his head also surprised him until he realized they would be checking if the signals were being sent and received.
Or so he assumed.
After a light lunch, he was wheeled into a comfortable office room where a classy lady sat. Blonde and dressed all in white she rose to shake him left handed. He appreciated that after noticing people, even when they saw his right arm was strapped up, still put out their right hand automatically. Not the nurses, the other visitors. The ones asking him strange questions about what he recalled and generally looking him over for no apparent reason.
“Hello, I’m Dr. Eva Snow, but you can call me Eva.”
“Richard Cox,” he answered shaking her hand. “But call me Rich. Just about everybody does.”
“Thank you Rich.” She sat, without slouching.
“Now Rich. I’m not here to further your recovery. Instead, I’m here to evaluate you.”
Rich was silent. This was his normal response to situations like this. He had learned over the years to let people talk without interruption. It seemed to produce, in most people, a garrulousness that just wouldn’t appear if he answered with pleasantries as most would. Plus he was not good at social occasions and was often at a loss for instantaneous replies. That was how he discovered this method. It didn’t work on Dr. Snow though.
“Your doctors have given me permission to show you this.” She was setting up her laptop as she spoke. “It’s a recording of what happened to you. How do you feel about watching it?”
“I’m fine with it. In fact, I want to know. My memory about this is non-existent.” She smiled and started the recording.
He watched his lab, with him in it, working solidly. He remembered that. Then all hell broke loose and a group of men burst in screaming and shooting. A number of his colleagues went down. He saw himself dive to the floor. One of the attackers stood on a table while the others started ripping equipment away from their target, the Akert stone fragment. Once gained it was placed in what looked to be a special container and they started to evacuate when they were attacked from outside the lab.
They immediately grabbed the women and used them as shields and the shooting stopped while the tension ramped up. Side doors were blown in and the attackers tried to turn to face this new threat but their hostages hampered them and a few hostages pulled free and tried to dive for cover. He saw himself staring at Chelsea as she squirmed free and her attacker twisted and brought his gun to bear on her. Watching himself scream, “No,” he winced as he saw himself rise and attack that gunman. He caught him unawares and they struggled together while Chelsea scrambled under a desk.
He wasn’t the only one to do this and there were several bodies littering the ground when somehow the industrial laser went off and started swinging around the room causing even more chaos and deaths. He watched himself continue to fight and finally, to down the attacker with a right hook. He was amazed. He never thought he could do anything like that.
She stopped the recording there.
“Are you all right, Rich?” she asked with concern in her voice.
Rich, in his wheelchair, panted and trembled, but managed to nod. “I didn’t know I could do that.”
“Yes. Your records show you to be a peaceable, sensitive man and all the indications would show you never to instigate any sort of fight. But events make heroes of us all or cowards. You are a hero. If it’s any consolation, Dr. Chelsea Brown is safe and will recover with all her faculties. Now, I know that was traumatic for you. Are you up to discussing it?”
He nodded. “Yes. If it helps to convict them I’m up for it.”
“We have no one to convict. The ones we have are dead, the rest escaped. They had an efficient escape plan in case things went wrong. They lost a few personnel as did we. But I’m not here because of this case. From what I can see now, I don’t think you understand exactly what happened. You know, the mind is a funny thing and plays tricks on us all the time.”
He nodded. It wasn’t his specialty, but he did know that.
She took out a syringe. “With your permission, I want to inject you before showing you that again, this time with commentary. Your doctors know all about it and have given their permission.”
“Why?” He was calm again. After all, it was only a recording. A horrifying one, but still a recording. It couldn’t hurt him now.”
“Because your mind is refusing to see the truth of what happened. There’s a reason for that and normally I’d just accept it and wait for you to see things properly in your own time. But this case is different. You need to be able to understand what happened now.” She raised the syringe. “This is just a sedative. It’ll relax you and help you cope.”
He was frightened but still nodded.
The second time through, Dr. Snow stopped the recording early. He had just leaped at Chelsea’s attacker but it wasn’t the coordinated two-fisted attack he saw the first time around. This time his total ignorance in fighting was displayed. He had gone in wide-eyed and screaming. His arms flailed around in a sort of windmill action and he kept trying to kick as well. It was a wonder he stayed on his feet.
“What do you see now, Rich?”
He told her. She nodded and resumed the recording.
The interloper was simply not ready for such an attack and he backed off until Rich’s right arm caught him on the face and as he went down and hit his head on a bench. Rich just stood looking around not knowing what to do next until, shortly after, the medics entered and took him in hand just in time. He collapsed.
“Now Rich, what did you see?”
He told her and she nodded.
“Yes, that’s more like what really happened, but you’re still not seeing it all. I want you to take a deep breath and watch again.”
He was feeling a lot calmer now and was ready for anything. Whatever was in that syringe was working. He took a deep breath and she restarted the recording. He saw what all this fuss was about this time.
Right at the start he looked around in total confusion and was seriously lucky not to be hurt because he was the last to dive for cover. He saw the fight and the confusion but it was that laser that he had blanked. As soon as he rose to attack Chelsea’s attacker the laser seared his arm off. It was a clean and quick amputation that cauterized itself and obviously, he wasn’t aware it had happened. That was a shock, but he could take it. He had been warned and he had that drug inside him after all. It was the rest that freaked him out.
He attacked Chelsae’s attacker with both arms windmilling. It was obvious he didn’t know then he only had one arm. But he could see his amputated arm was still effective from the way the thug reacted when it hit his face. Granted each hit wasn’t very effective but it was the same with his real left arm. He simply wasn’t a very effective fighter. It was the total surprise that worked. He saw himself pick up a small piece of equipment with his non-existent right arm and smash it over his opponent’s head. The medics arrived shortly after that.
That was impossible. He stared at Dr. Snow open-mouthed.
“I see you see it now.”
He nodded, not trusting himself to speak. She let him have the time to collect himself.
“We don’t know.”
There was another pause while he tried to think.
“What does this mean?”
“I think it means you need testing, don’t you?”
“I’m sorry Rich, but I can’t see what else we can do.” Dr. Harper was giving Rich his final summary.
It was the end of two years’ effort into understanding his talent. There was effectively no talent for them to understand.
“You know, I’ve deliberately not asked about anything during this process and it’s been over two years now. What you’re telling me is I have a talent but it’s so useless as to be non-existent except as some sort of freak ability.”
Dr. Harper smiled at that. “Just don’t mention it to anyone then, if that’s how you feel.”
Rich sighed. “Did you discover why it was so strong right at the start? And why it’s so weak now?”
“Not really. We do have a hypothesis though, but we’re at a loss as to how to test it.”
Rich was interested.
“What is it?”
“The hypothesis is it’s your brain that’s the problem here.” He looked at Rich to determine whether or not to go on. He went on.
“We think your brain automatically used your hidden ability when it didn’t realize your arm was gone. That’s why you were so effective during that event. Your brain assumed your psi arm was your real arm and just acted. Perhaps it’s a placebo effect. Now your brain is confused. It accepts the recordings of what happened but can’t accept it was possible in the first place. The effective result is your psi arm is still there but extremely weak, Nowhere near as strong as your real arm and we can’t find any way to change that.”
“I assume those tests with Dr. Snow were my brain being probed in some way?”
“Yes, but no usable results there either.”
Rich moved his right arm at this point and stretched out his fingers. It had healed well and no one could tell it had once been amputated. Not unless they saw the scars or the recording.
“You’re saying I can’t accept what happened properly. Somewhere deep down inside my brain I mean. That’s the part that can’t accept it. But it must because it happened and it can’t refute that. So it’s come to some sort of compromise where the psi arm will move things but only extremely light things, a piece of paper for instance. Nothing more massive.”
“Yes. That’s it.”
“You’ve verified this is a true psionic ability I have. So why is the limit of my,” he made inverted quotes with his fingers, “‘power’ so close to my body?”
“We think your brain is more literal than most in this regard. It accessed your power in extremis as an arm replacement, so now it’s a phantom arm. It has the reach of your real right arm and can’t twist any way your real arm can’t but it can pass through solid objects. You have a literal phantom arm there, but we can’t amplify or train it any more than we have now. I’m sorry.”
Rich wasn’t sorry. He was glad. His real arm had healed perfectly and he had been back at work for over eighteen months now. The psionic testing was in his spare time. He had felt an obligation to investigate this phenomenon, but he was afraid of it. Afraid he might have a ‘real’ effective power which would oblige him to use it in dangerous ways. While undergoing this testing, he had investigated the Supers in the city and didn’t like what he discovered. They protected the citizens and put their lives on the line for them. He didn’t think he could do that, even with a superpower at his command. He was awkward and uncoordinated still, nothing had changed there. But most of all he was afraid. Just the thought of deliberately approaching some event or situation where he could get hurt or killed gave him the shakes.
He wanted to know and understand what had happened to him, but there was no way he could use the ability in any sort of heroic way. If he could lift anything useful he could move things in a radioactive environment, but even then he would have to be very close. Not really practical.
“Thank you for your efforts,” he smiled as he said that. He was happy with the way this had ended.
“Not at all. You’ll let us know if anything changes?”
“Of course.” They shook hands and he left for the last time.
Dr. Richard Cox was happy again. He was back at work and focused on his job. This was what he loved for himself. He loved his wife and children more, but this was still heaven for him. It was a different sort of love. And he was back to square one. His company had won, again, the contract to analyze the fragment of the Akert Stone, the fragment that caused all the trouble in the first place. Rich wasn’t superstitious. He didn’t think it was jinxed and someone else would try for it and he would lose his arm all over again. But it was a puzzle and Rich was a major part of the team that would analyze it.
They didn’t get that far the last time they had it and now, they were starting again with a new operations manager. Dr. Cox could’ve been the operations manager if he had any ambitions that way. In fact, he had tried it out more than three years ago now with great success. But managing people and playing politics didn’t come naturally to him and he hated it, despite his successes. His greatest success during that time was getting his old job back after resigning from being a manager. He knew that.
He was as happy as he could be when he arrived home one evening, tired and thirsty. This heatwave was a killer. He was looking forward to playing with his girls and, later, his wife. But no one was there. He looked around for a note and found it in the kitchen. His blood ran cold when he read it. It was a ransom note. They had his family and would kill them slowly if he didn’t do exactly what they wanted.
Rich started to panic but managed to pull himself together. He couldn’t see anything else to do so he obeyed. Calling the police against their express wishes didn’t enter his head.
He stood by the van in the multi-story as instructed. That was all he had to do and he didn’t have a timescale. He would wait forever to get his family back so he deliberately pushed all his fears and worries to the back of his mind. It was difficult but he knew they wouldn’t help him or his family right now.
His thirst was the first thing on his consciousness before anything else, even the fact he was strapped onto some sort of frame. While trying to get his brain working again he deliberately told himself not to wonder how that had happened. That was not relevant now. His wife and family were.
His face was slapped. Hard. He focused on the face of the man before him who looked like everybody’s favorite uncle. Medium height, rotund and with a natural tonsure. This image was spoilt by the obvious cruelty on his face. Rich had no doubt this man would do anything, especially when he saw each of his family in glass boxes at the other side of the room. He couldn’t hear them although each one was obviously trying to make noise.
“About fucking time. You’ve been out for days. Give me the access codes to the Akert Stone,” was the demand.
Rich was instantly panicked. “I don’t have them. You need to be operations manager for that.”
“Whaddya mean? You’ve gotta. I gave you the drug,”
“What drug?” Dr. Cox was shaking but his mind was clarifying fast.
“The drug that’ll make you do what I tell you. Why won’t you give me the access codes?”
“I have adverse reactions to a lot of drugs. It might not have worked.”
“You’re the fucking operations manager. Give me the codes.”
“I’m not. Check the website. It’s all there.” He was trying desperately to ignore his pain.
“Don’t think it’ll stop here. They gave me the drug as well.”
“You’re controlled? Who by?”
Rich was punched in his guts for an answer and he tried to double over but was prevented by his bonds.
His abductor pulled a face. “Don’t think that’ll help you. I got your family as well as backup.”
He walked to the side and pushed a button. Water started to pour into the box containing Sara.
“No. Stop. I’ll get you in somehow.”
“Too late. This is what happens when you try to be clever. There’s no way to stop it now. Your daughter is dead. Watch it happen.”
Rich watched, as did Evi and Sophie. They were obviously screaming but he couldn’t hear a thing. The water slowly covered Sara’s head. She lasted a little longer before she expelled the air left in her lungs and tried to breathe water.
Rich stared wide-eyed at his dead daughter floating in that tube, staring at him accusingly. He was brought back to the here and now by another vicious slap.
“I’m not fucking around! Tell me the codes!!”
Rich panicked. He didn’t have them. He’d given all that up when he resigned from the operations manager post. Blind hate filled his mind and he struggled and flailed against his bonds. Suddenly he felt something in his hand, something small and throbbing. He squeezed. He squeezed with all his strength and kept on squeezing. He squeezed until he felt it eventually slip from his grip...
Graeme Coombs was angry. This was taking far too long. His initial idea to say he was giving the police a piece of his mind would no longer fly. How could he say that after being in here for so long? And what were they implying? He had behaved properly. More than properly in fact. He had given Richard Cox an extra few days before telling HR he hadn’t turned into work and hadn’t phoned in a reason. That was to his credit, wasn’t it? He’d been considerate to Dr. Cox and that was to his credit. It would be remembered later when he highlighted Rich’s failings.
So why was this bureaucrat of a police sergeant giving him such a hard time? Okay, Rich had been kidnapped along with the rest of his family, but how was that his fault? Or responsibility? And the protections he employed in dealing with this stone fragment were adequate. After all, they were the standard protections his firm employed and he wasn’t going to take any guff from this bureaucrat about the history of this stone indicating even better protections were necessary. He’d done nothing wrong and this wasn’t his fault.
Detective Curtis Green held his temper and proceeded with the interview politely but firmly until he had all the information he was going to get. He expected backlash and it arrived quickly. Curtis estimated the time Graeme Coombs would need to return to his firm and talk with his directors and sure enough, the complaint came in six minutes after the time he set. Of course, he had his response ready. This was almost too easy, but such things got in the way of his real job where two adults and two children had been kidnapped. Could it be because of this stone fragment? He assumed so and proceeded on that assumption for now.
Once the seriousness had been ascertained they’d moved fast. They had the note left at Dr. Cox’ house. That was now in forensics. From the content, they had investigated the area he had to go to and wait. That was days ago and there was nothing there now. But there was a camera which they’d accessed. He had a policeman going through the tapes now to see if there was anything interesting on it. That had taken time to set up as it was an old system and used real tapes. His team had to borrow a player just to view them. He wondered why they didn’t just reuse the tape daily instead of storing them up but he didn’t mention it. This was the only lucky break they had so far and he wasn’t going to jinx it.
Their luck held as Richard Cox was eventually found in the footage. They had seen someone creep up behind him and place a rag over his mouth. It was obviously drugged as Dr. Cox collapsed after a few seconds. The attacker injected him, went away and returned in a car. He placed the unconscious Dr. Cox in the passenger seat, belted him in then drove away. The license plate was in full view.
This must be a decoy, thought Curtis when he saw that but he actioned it anyway. He got a member of his team to pull up all the information he could get on that number. Meanwhile, he applied himself to work out what he was missing. This kidnapping and the license plate info was obviously designed to send him off in the wrong direction, so he had another of his team give the whole tape in for analysis. He hoped he would learn something from the way it had been forged.
By this time results were coming in from the door to door inquiries they were making, but it seemed that nobody had seen anything out of the ordinary. He was conscious of being too late already.
“Have you contacted the lab yet Darren?” he asked.
“Haven’t managed to get through yet. They’re busy, I suppose.”
Curtis sighed and thought of his budget. “Get over there yourself and get them to take it now and get my results by this afternoon.”
Darren smiled as he left. This was more like it.
Curtis had more information a couple of hours later when the details of that car came through. It was owned by a Samuel Sanders, a low-level thief, and troublemaker. Some violence but nothing proved as each time the witnesses suddenly refused to cooperate. Curtis smiled. He didn’t think Sam Sanders was his man, but this was good enough to roust him and people like Sam Sanders deserved rousting every day of the week. Nothing else was going to come through soon, so he personally went and obtained a court order to search his premises.
The warrant was quickly obtained, Curtis knew how to use the system, and he volunteered Harley Carpenter to accompany him. Sanders’ house was a surprise. It was a standard home in a standard middle-class neighborhood. Far too upmarket for the likes of Sam Sanders. He didn’t let his surprise show though as he rang the doorbell. There was no answer. He tried the door anyway. It was open. They entered.
In his experience, Curtis developed a sense of properties. Nothing like a power. This was what just about everyone would develop with experience. It was a sense of occupancy. Everything here said the house was unoccupied. That Sam Sanders was out. But Curtis felt he wasn’t. He felt Sam Sanders was here somewhere. A quick check around the house showed them nothing. Nothing amiss, no indications of a fight or anything untoward, just that Sam Sanders was out now and would be back soon.
“What’s up, Curtis?” asked Harley when they returned outside and were just looking at the house. “What’re we looking for?”
Harley was young and inexperienced and this question pleased Curtis but Harley not sussing out what he was doing straight away didn’t please him. Harley was definitely not a brain, but she was conscientious, and that meant a lot. More than brains in a job like this actually.
“I’m looking for where else he could be. See the roof? It’s not really tall enough for a room up there, but there could be a hidey hole. Now I’m wondering about a basement.”
“I looked for that. There’s no entrance anywhere.”
“Yes, I know. But it’s always best to check when it’s easy. C’mon.” They walked to the nearest neighbors with a car in the drive.
“Afternoon ma’am,” Curtis greeted the door answerer. She’d answered her door far too fast. Obviously, she’d been watching them and wondering. He assumed the whole neighborhood was now aware of them, those who were in, that is. He hoped Harley knew this as well. He’d check that out later.
The door answerer smiled. “What can I do for you officer?”
“Just a quick question ma’am. Does your home have a basement?”
She looked puzzled at this question.
“Why yes. All these houses do.” She considered. “Well, I assume they all do. I haven’t been in each one.” She laughed at that.
“Thank you, ma’am. Would you mind showing us where the entrance to your basement is?”
“Of course. Come in.” She showed them.
Returning to Sam Sanders’ house, Harley asked, “How’d you know there should’ve been a basement?”
Harley was asking questions, proper questions. That was good. Curtis had heard the maxim there are no such thing as an inappropriate question. He didn’t agree. He judged people by the questions they asked as compared to their experience at the subject. Harley was slow but still learning. That was good.
“I didn’t. But it was easy to find out then. Just ask a neighbor. It would’ve been a little harder later with more potential for embarrassment.”
They investigated that specific area again, this time knowing there was an entrance there somewhere. Curtis was pleased Hayley found the switch. It clicked but nothing else happened.
“It must be a simple solenoid switch. Something’s unlocked,” he said while pulling at the items in the area. It was the bookcase that swung out. Curtis sighed in disappointment. Is there no originality any more? he thought. Sometimes River City feels like it’s the product of a deranged and boring mind.
His hand scrabbled along the wall for a moment before it found the light switch and they were looking at a rough stairway down to another door.
“Hey, this is metal,” observed Harley after checking out the new door.
“Yes and we’re not going to get through these in a hurry. See this and this?” he indicated to Harley. “This door’s bombproof. We’ll need the key or the code to get through it without a lot of work and cash.”
“I can’t see a keyhole,” observed Harley. “Or a keypad either.”
“And that’s another indication we need help here. And quickly. Remember a family’s been kidnapped.”
Curtis walked back up to where there was a signal. Harley followed and watched him make a call. Strangely, it was to a friend and not his superiors. Curtis watched Harley’s puzzlement and said, while waiting for someone to pick up, “Sometimes it’s who you know that counts.”
“Hello…” Harley listened in, wondering who he was talking to. It didn’t last long.
“What now?” asked Harley after the call ended.
It only took a couple of minutes before Omega Girl arrived.
“It’s a question of knowing who to talk to,” Curtis told Harley before explaining things to Omega Girl.
“I can’t go knocking down doors without cause,” she said.
Curtis nodded sagely. At least it looked that way to Harley. She didn’t know what to say to Omega Girl and was trying desperately not to look at her tits, the kidnapped family forgotten in a moment of sudden lust. Curtis showed her the search warrant. She checked it out thoroughly and nodded.
“Where’s this door then?”
Curtis took her down to the bombproof door.
“Stand back,” she warned before pulling it completely out of its frame.
“Where could the likes of Sam Sanders get a door like that?” Curtis was pleased Harley would wonder at that. She would make a good copper.
“Probably second hand from some abandoned government installation,” he answered. So far knowing where the door came from wasn’t important, especially if there was a logical explanation.
They all walked inside. The smell hit them before they went a few paces. Nobody mentioned it but their hearts fell. This was not a good sign.
It was a grim-faced and silent Omega Girl who ripped open the first transparent box, letting the water and the drowned child out. There was no water in the next two boxes but the woman and other child were still dead. The dead man tied up on the frame was Dr. Richard Cox and the man lying on the ground in front of Dr. Cox was Samuel Sanders. He was dead also. Dr. Cox had died of terminal dehydration. Curtis knew the autopsy would say that. He didn’t know why or how Sam Sanders died though. It looked like a straight heart attack but an autopsy would be needed to confirm it.
Omega Girl finally spoke. She had been investigating the boxes. “These boxes were airtight. They died from asphyxiation.”
She didn’t say more. There was no need. Harley did her job without speaking. She was thorough and conscientious. It seemed appropriate.
On returning to the office Curtis immediately canceled all the remaining lab time his team had booked. Certainly, the work would have to be done eventually, but not on his budget. That was important. He detailed his team to write up all the events properly and he wrote up his own case notes. It was well before his shift ended when he finished his tasks and had read over his team’s reports.
He looked at his workload. There was plenty to do. There always was. He went home.
Once there he justified it to himself as taking executive time. After all, even his President took extensive executive time, so he was due some too. True their respective jobs weren’t compatible. He wasn’t ‘creative’, while a President was. Or was supposed to be.
He took out the whiskey—no, not the whiskey, this was not a celebration, such distinctions were important—and sat down on his old leather swivel chair that had molded itself to his frame over the years. He drank slowly and thought as little as possible.
But not thinking was impossible. He wondered about ‘executive time’. His President used it a lot and people blamed him for that. Curtis didn’t. That was one thing he didn’t berate his President for. Executive time was important for some jobs. But not usually for Curtis’ job. There was not really any need for innovative thinking here. The vast majority of his job was to follow the tried and tested procedures as quickly as possible. The main problem was getting the coordination of the people around him. That didn’t require any recourse to executive time.
Sometimes people with his job encountered something not covered by the book. That was when, usually, things went badly. That, again usually, couldn’t be helped. The trick was to learn and to include that learning in the book. He could cope with things like that. Tragedies happened. His job was to try and stop them, but if he couldn’t, make sure they didn’t happen again. And to ensure he wasn’t unduly affected by what he saw along the way.
He was unduly affected by what he’d seen this time, though. It wasn’t a particularly difficult case. It didn’t offer any difficult or unusual aspects he should learn from. It was a tragedy though. He didn’t know if it could’ve been averted but it certainly should’ve been dealt with better.
He poured himself another three fingers.
He wasn’t at fault. He knew that. He had acted properly and effectively all through his involvement. He had seen tragedies before. They happened. He accepted them. But he didn’t like preventable tragedies and this one was preventable. Okay, it was possibly preventable, but that was enough.
Knowing what he knew and reading those reports, including the bits between the lines, told him Graeme Coombs was also to blame. But he couldn’t charge him with anything. Mr. Coombs was guilty of being paranoid and uncaring. Lots of people were like that. He waited far too long to tell anyone Dr. Cox was missing and now four people were dead. It was obvious now Mr. Coombs was going to use Dr. Cox’ absence later as a factor in getting rid of him. He didn’t know why but that wasn’t necessary. He just knew the type.
Sam Sanders actually did the deed, but he was dead. There were many more like Sam Sanders and this sort of thing would happen again and again until society sorted the problem out. But Sam Sanders wasn’t the only one to blame in this tragedy, Graeme Coombs was also culpable. His little act of petty vindictiveness caused all this to happen. Maybe it would’ve happened anyway, but that wasn’t the point.
Mr. Coombs would go on with his life as if nothing had happened. There was nothing Curtis could do legally against him and any sort of investigation would be correctly classified as harassment. But he could make sure Mr. Coombs paid for what he did, or rather, didn’t do. It would be easy. As easy as tearing down that metal door in the basement...
But he didn’t do that. Instead, he used his contacts to get a super who had decided to be a Super to do the job for him. As it happened, the few minutes he wasted there didn’t matter. But should that be a consideration?
After all, he’d done it once. He’d gone after people the law couldn’t touch. And he’d succeeded, well mostly. That one time he got the wrong man still haunted him. Not the wrong man, he got the right man. It was just that the information he counted on was incomplete. The man he ‘got’ didn’t deserve what he got. It was a few days after that when he hung up his spandex. It was still there, in its little hidey hole, ready to be used again. He wasn’t too old, yet. He could still do it.
But so far he hadn’t seen any reason to and he’d seen many reasons not to. People mustn’t rely on super-powered people. That, to him now, was absolute. Systems and procedures were far better for the long term benefit of all. He could see the, oh so gradual improvements in his lifetime and he could extrapolate those small benefits to massive changes over a few generations. That was far better than the one-time-only fixes the Supers made. Thinking of humanity as a whole, he saw no point in the Supers and refused to rejoin their ranks.
That decision reached again, he found he could continue drinking without much thought.
He woke the next morning, still in his chair, and went back to work with his hangover, but stopped off on the way.
“What’s this all about?” asked the blonde with the piercing blue eyes after removing her full face helmet.
“A guy called Graeme Coombs.”
“What’s he done?”
“Nothing much. He’s a fucking prick, that’s all. He hasn’t done anything wrong but he’s one of those people who leave a foul taste in your mouth when you’ve contacted him. As far as I’m concerned he helped get a family killed but he hasn’t done anything illegal. It’s all there,” he tapped the file she was now leafing through. “It’s up to you if you take it further.”
Yet again, her speed reading impressed him. She didn’t know the file properly yet, but she already knew the essence.
“I’m not gonna take your word on this. I’ll check myself.”
“Do what you have to.”
She smiled at him. “Based on your previous, that’ll be a formality. Then I’ll make his life hell. People like that have colleagues who’ll gladly spill the beans with evidence and usually, there’s something newsworthy in their private lives as well. Thanks. How’re you getting on?”
“I’ll manage. Each day as it comes. You know the drill. You? They found out exactly what you can do yet?”
She laughed. “No. They’re only interested in the stories. If I stop getting them I’m gone from the office and their minds.”
She replaced her helmet, mounted her motorcycle and roared off. The noise didn’t help his hangover.
He smiled. She was a kindred spirit.