Monday, May 7, 2018

Query 1.11: The Third Man

Logan kept to the sidewalk opposite the alley Black had charged into so hastily a moment ago. It was a move Logan had employed on several occasions to get eyes on the man without drawing attention to himself. Logan glanced across the street as he meandered passed the alleyway, but Black was nowhere in sight. Logan got closer, crossing the street and walking by again in the opposite direction. Still, no sign of Black.

Now, where have you gone?

Black hadn’t varied his routine at all the last few days, so the man’s sudden disappearance, even if it turned out to be Black taking a leak around the corner, constituted enough variance for Logan to risk blowing his cover. Besides, he’d been looking for an excuse to stretch his legs, anyways.

Logan had the urge to pull his gun before proceeding. Despite the bureaucratic hassle related to their use, guns were still standard issue to all officers in the field. Civilian firearms had been collected as part of an extremely radical legislative move a few years back to reduce anxiety in areas where resources and law enforcement were scarce. It had started as a fairly liberal, voluntary buyback program and had evolved into search and seizure as more vulnerable communities began to fear the emergence of anarchy. Police had received exemption to this rule in an equally controversial measure that frequently resulted in marshal law in areas where government oversight was thin.

Just to be safe, Logan unbuttoned his sidearm and proceeded into the alleyway.

Like most backstreets in Old Town it was dirty, smelly, and a little cramped for Logan’s preference. Logan saw in the distance that this alley did connect through to another street. Black had never walked all the way through an alleyway, at least, not in the time Logan had watched him. The man seemed to favor the main streets and only ventured into the alleys when something caught his attention. Regardless, unless Black had a past life as a track and field star, Logan would’ve caught glimpse of him before he could make it to the other side. So, where was the guy?

A soft cry sounded a little further in and Logan’s attention was drawn to a door, slightly ajar, set into the building on his left. Another scream crept from the doorway. It was distant and muffled, but insistent, afraid!

Logan pulled his side arm and ran forward, pushing through the door. The dark, musty hallway reeked of neglect, tiny sordid rooms branching from its sides at regular intervals.

“Decoupled from Delphi Police Department real time communications.” Logan heard the notice buzzing in his ear. The ramifications of the nagging voice were not lost on him. From this point forward his earpiece, phone, and body camera, were all offline. His devices could cache local data for later use, but he would be unable to signal for help if things got dicey. This was a notoriously common problem in Old Town, especially in the older buildings. Protocol dictated he stop and call for backup before moving in, but there was no telling how long it would take for the finicky electronics to reestablish communications and the situation had a tangible sense of urgency.

Logan moved quickly, dodging trash and debris built up over years of dereliction and vagrant living. The wailing was constant now, guiding Logan to one of the only doors still standing in its frame.

While Logan wasn’t certain, a scream being something very different than the sounds made in conversation, he got the impression that this scream belonged to Black!

What the hell have you gotten me into!

Logan raised his food and kicked hard. The door exploded inwards, dilapidation rendering it susceptible to forceful entry.

Shards of splintered wood flew into the dim little room as Logan’s large frame shifted to occupy the space where the door once stood. As Logan entered he saw Black, suspended in the darkness, his body limp and swaying a few inches above the floor. Logan knew this must be an illusion, a trick of the light, but before he could shake it from his mind, Black dropped, creating a storm of swirling dust as he crumpled in a heap on the cold concrete floor.

Logan hesitated for just a moment. He didn’t see anyone else in the room, but something was off. He took a slow step forward to see into the dark corners on his right and left. Finally, feeling satisfied that he was alone with Black, Logan holstered his gun.

Suddenly, Logan felt a gentle tug on his jacket. Logan had known a few pickpockets in his time and wasn’t easily fooled, instinctively grabbing the ballsy perp. His hand wrapped tightly around an arm and Logan glanced down to see who he’d captured, but was shocked to find that his hand was completely empty.

“What the fuck!”

His eyes moved up to see what this mysterious nothing was attached to and was stunned to find himself face to face with Black. Logan gazed into Black’s eyes for only a moment before Black raised his leg, kicking Logan square in the chest. The blow was impressive, impossible even. Logan toppled backwards through the doorway, slamming heavily into the wall behind him. Black closed the distance, raising his fists for another blow. Logan brought his arms up defensively as he worked to regain his footing. Black struck Logan again and again, Logan’s forearms bearing the brunt of the assault. Finally, when an opening presented itself, Logan struck back, connecting squarely with Black’s jaw.

“Ahhhh, fuck!” Logan’s hand screamed in pain. Black’s chin was like punching the sharp edge of a brick! Logan struck again, his knuckles scraping, as if the skin might be stripped away. Black easily blocked Logan’s third punch, pushing it aside effortless with a sweep of his left arm before delivering a hard uppercut.

Logan was done, his body slumping over as he fell, unconscious to the ground.

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Logan awoke to the bitter sting of smelling salts. A few members of the DPD were busily examining the scene, scraping the ground for evidence and chatting about home life and sports.

“What happened?” Logan groaned at the paramedic who was examining him.

“Looks like you and Stringbean beat the shit out of each other.” It wasn’t the paramedic who spoke, but John Dalton, his partner, standing over the man’s shoulder as Logan was coming to. From the smile on John’s face it was clear that Logan’s defeat at the hands of Black was considered comical to the other officers who would likely rib him endlessly.

“Bullshit.” Logan mumbled, struggling to sit upright. “Where’s Black?”

“He’s on his way to the hospital. For what it’s worth, he definitely got the worst of it.”

Did he now…

“What about the third man?”

“...there’s no sign of anyone else. Just you and Black.”

“No, someone else was here, I know it.”

“You’ve taken a pretty hard blow, I think you may have a concussion. You should take a minute to orient yourself. Actually, you should go to the hospital as well. We only held you back because John thought you’d freak if we shipped you over.”

Logan glanced up at the smug look on his partner’s face. “I guess even you have your moments. But, why are you here? I didn’t call for backup.”

“Dispatch got an anonymous call about a kidnapping in progress at your location. I don’t think you’ve been out for more than a few minutes. Just about everyone from the department scrambled to have a look once they heard you were on your ass.”

“How kind of them,” Logan groaned, standing and dusting off his clothes. He took in the scene, all the furtive, concerned looks and outright sneers of some of his colleagues before turning to make his way out of the dark corridor and into the alley.

“Where are you going?” The paramedic asked, seemingly surprised that Logan was standing at all.

“To the hospital, I think I might have that concussion after all.”

“You know you can’t talk to Black without his lawyer.” John said, matching Logan’s steps.

“He’s lawyered up already?”

John gave a little snort. “He really did do a number on ya. Don’t forget, he’s already on parole. If he’s charged they’ll throw the book at him.”

“That’s right, I almost forgot. Anyways, concussion, I’ll catch up with you later.”

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Py sat in his hospital bed looking with a furrowed brow at a small tablet sitting in his lap. A few nurses bustled about on their rounds, checking his sensors and forcing pills down his throat. They told him the worst was over. He’d suffered what the doctor had lazily called ‘impact’ injuries, a few abrasions, some deep bruising, and a rather nasty blow to the head. The doctor speculated that at some point Py hard fallen and fallen hard. In addition there were some signs that he may have been in a skirmish, specifically some cracked ribs consistent with a hard kick. There were a few other injuries that we’re harder to explain. Fractures in his left forearm consistent with a persistent crushing force and dislocation of his left shoulder. The police hadn’t filed an official report yet and the forensics were a mess. Virtually nothing had been found, and the few bits of trace that had been recovered were inconsistent to the point of being ridiculous. Py had access to preliminary DPD findings courtesy of Alice, probably sooner than some of the officers who were still on the scene. Py didn’t know how much information was still floating about on paper or cached on local drives, but so far it didn’t look promising that a conclusive theory would present itself. In the end, Py was alright physically. He would certainly ache for a few weeks, but his larger concern were the implications of his latest horrifying hallucination.

“So you have no evidence of Alan Smith? I can’t believe it. There must be something?”

“I’m sorry Py,” Alice chimed back, “I have no record of anyone named Alan Smith having been present at the location you specified. I have been able to locate a number of people with that name in other areas of the city. I can provide contact information if you would like to speak with them.”

“No Alice, it’s alright.” Py sighed, defeated, his head full of questions.

Py had managed to acquire sections of the DPD drone footage from earlier in the morning and he was viewing it over and over on his bright tablet screen, examining it for any clue that could explain his current situation.

“What am I doing?” Py asked himself, watching a slice of video where he’d run without warning deep into the alley where he had later been discovered. “I can almost remember. There was a cat, I think. Still, why the urgency?”

“I’m sorry Py,” Alice chimed again, “you didn’t record anything at that moment which can clarify your behavior. Your heart rate and breathing were elevated. It is possible you were excited, or scared.”

Hmmm…

Py let his head fall back on the pillow and closed his eyes, trying to focus. He had gone through the evidence a hundred times, and a hundred times more, but there was nothing there. Worse was the fact that his mind was starting to whisper a very plausible and inescapable possibility, one that Py had discounted and suppressed, but nonetheless was demanding consideration...that he was going insane.

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Logan reached the hospital only an hour or so after Black. Black had undoubtedly been checked in, but hopefully didn’t have enough time to get his story straight. Logan had found it was easier to catch a perp in a lie if you caught them off guard.

When Logan arrived at Black’s door a duty officer was talking with the Chief Hospital Administrator, arranging for a guard to be at the door until they could determine if Black was in danger, or an immediate flight risk. Logan was still a little disheveled from the events of the alley and the Hospital Admin looked at him for a moment as if he were a patient, wandering lost in one of the halls. The duty officer recognized him immediately and gave him a knowing smile. Obviously he’d already heard the rumor that Black had given him a thrashing.

The officer gave the Admin a nod of dismissal and moved to intercept Logan’s approach.

“How’s the suspect?” Logan asked.

“Stable. He’s talking, but not making much sense.”

“I need to see him.”

“I’m not supposed to let you in there alone, under the circumstances.” The officer replied, looking at Logan’s rough condition. “Besides, I think he’s lawyered up.”

“Don’t give me that shit. I just need two minutes.”

“Alright, but if Carl asks…”

“Don’t worry I’ll take the heat. Now go grab a coffee.”

As the other officer walked off down the hallway Logan clenched his fists, feeling the bruises and broken skin, the swelling that made his hands feel uncomfortably tight. He took a deep breath and stepped into Black’s room.

Black was propped up in bed, reviewing something on a tablet when Logan arrived.

“What do you want?” Black said with a strange sense of betrayal, turning the tablet towards Logan, showing a clip of him trailing Black into the alley. “How long have you been following me?”

Logan tensed. He’d expected a lot of things, but having Black show him confidential footage from the DPD the instant he walked in wasn’t one of them.

How the hell do you have that?

Logan hesitated to answer the question. There was a lot to process here. He could have Black immediately arrested for accessing classified documents, but first Logan needed to get something off his chest.

“Get up.” Logan said sternly.

Black looked at the array of monitors that had been glued over his arms and chest, before his eyes met Logan’s again. “Why?”

“There’s something I need to know. And before you refuse, let me remind you that your parole hangs on what I say when I leave this room.”

“...very well.” Black groaned, slowly swinging himself out of bed and to his feet.

“Punch me.” Logan demanded.

“What?” Black responded with genuine surprise.

“Punch me.” Logan repeated, pounding his chest. “Right here, as hard as you can.”

“Are you trying to get me thrown in jail? Punching a police officer is almost certainly on the list of things my lawyer would advise against.”

“Just do it.” Logan repeated, with growing frustration.

Shuffling over to Logan, Black did his best to swivel his hips and deliver a hard blow. The punch was reasonable for a man of Black’s build and made a satisfying thump as the fist and chest collided. Still, Logan barely flinched. He meditated for a moment on the blow, looking down at Black, judging his sincerity, the amount of pain the man was in. Was he pulling his punch in fear of reprisal? Exhaustion?

This was the second time Logan had been given the opportunity to size the man up and much like the first time he found nothing but honesty in his determined expression.

“Py, you owe me some answers.”

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