Thursday, January 17, 2019

Query 2.12: Flatware

Carl escorted Logan on the short elevator ride to the holding cells and was kind enough to apprise him of the situation as they went.

“Abigail Reynolds, white female, early fifties. No prior history of violence, or for that matter not so much as a parking ticket. Picked her up about a day ago at an incident inside the Millennium Homeless Shelter.”

The doors of the elevator opened and the two men quickly transitioned through the security checkpoint and into a long hallway of holding cells. Each was fitted with reinforced one-way plexiglass that allowed for observation of an occupant without them being made aware. Carl led Logan to the cell at the end of the hallway and gave an open hand gesture to the viewing window.

“Logan, allow me to introduce you to Abigail.”

Logan stepped forward to get a better look and as his eyes wandered across Abigail's seemingly benign form, a sense a of dread began to creep up his spine. A casual glance wouldn’t have raised alarm. Abigail Reynolds was a bit disheveled. Her hair was a tangled mess of flyaway gray and brown. Her dress was a simple flower print, the soft pink of the roses faded from years of washing. The dress was torn and frayed, smudged and stained. She sat in a corner of the cell with a vacant expression on her face, gently rocking back and forth. If Abigail had been on the street she would have been taken for a homeless woman and suffered the invisibility that came with that assumption. But she wasn’t on the street. She wasn’t even in the standard issue uniform that marked her as having been processed. Logan couldn’t help but fix his gaze more intently on those smudges and stains, at the discoloration of skin around the hands and mouth, the grime under her fingernails, that he couldn’t help but recognize as dried blood.

Carl reached over and pressed the button that switched the glass from one way to two.

Abigail's neck snapped round seeing Carl and Logan on the other side of the glass. She sprang forward from her crouched position with incredible speed and slammed herself into the plexiglass with enough force that Logan jumped back, thinking she was about to break through. The glass held firm. Carl pressed the button and the glass became one way once more. Abigail stood scratching at the glass a few seconds more before her eyes went dead again and she slinked back to her corner and plopped herself back on the floor.

Logan took a moment to gather his composure, realizing he’d instinctively reached for his gun and gripped the handle tight. He let himself relax and returned to Carl’s side.

“What am I looking at here, Chief?”

“I was hoping you might be able to tell me.” Carl said with a sigh. “We had to sedate her just to get her through the processing scan. That gave us nothing. I called in the Quacks just to be safe and everything they did came up negative.” By ‘Quacks’ Logan knew Carl was talking about the Quarantine and Containment Bureau. The Q.C.B was an extension of the C.D.C., funded shortly after the Rapture virus had claimed over a quarter of the world’s population in one vicious stroke. They were meant to be rapid response units in large population centers that could quickly test and evaluate health risks as they developed. What they amounted to for the police force was often a bureaucratic obstacle, and more often than not an unnecessary confound in situations that were cut and dry. Hence the epithet ‘Quacks’. If Carl had called them in he was even more concerned than he looked.

“I’m at a loss here, Chief. Exactly what do you think I can do?”

Carl pulled his eyes away from Abigail and raised one eyebrow mockingly.

“Really Maxwell, after our little chat up top, I thought you would have caught on. I want you to bring Vergeron in on this one. Just get your friend Mr. Black down here to have a look. Everybody’s telling me it’s nothing, but there’s a reason we haven’t moved anybody yet.” Carl pointed to the cell across from him and then jabbed his thumb at another back over his shoulder. “Ms. Reynolds here isn’t alone.”

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

Admittedly, the thing Py found most odd was the fact that Logan was wearing a visitors badge. Logan had briefly explained what had transpired between himself and the DPD to Py on the way over. He’d been vague about the details and Py had difficulty reading exactly what it was Logan thought about his departure from law enforcement. The truth was that Logan had pulled Py out of his own depressive spectacle. He’d been morosely poking around the supposed lab of their deceased terrorist, and finding it wanting. Alice had been sifting through and crunching the formula the FBI had discovered onsite and hadn’t found it to be particularly viable, so Py was left as little more than a Vergeron representative babysitter, watching the FBI cart away trucks of what he suspected was useless laboratory paraphernalia. Logan had kindly swept in with something far more interesting.

The description Logan gave of Abigail Reynolds was certainly disturbing, and would’ve been alarming under different circumstances, but the thought that Abigail’s condition potentially represented a huge break in their investigation of the Night of Madness created an excitement that was hard to entirely conceal. It wasn’t the first time a catastrophe in one person’s life had ended in a personal victory for Py. Maybe he’d become numb? Maybe he’d crossed even that line and had moved into honest detachment? In any case, this new obsession had eluded him time and again and there hadn’t been any physical data since the Alleyman had died and been moved beyond his reach.

It was in the midst of these thoughts when Py saw the stone faced expression of Chief MacArthur and in that instant had a sharp, sobering moment. The man greeted Py warmly enough, having not seen him since the joint Vergeron-DPD operation, but MacArthur’s barring was a firm reminder that people’s lives were at stake here.

The Chief of Police led them to the quarantine cells and introduced Py to its troubled occupants.

“You say Q.C.B.’s given the clear?” Py asked skeptically, looking carefully in on Abigail Reynolds and her two compatriots.

“That’s right, and if this had been the only piece of weirdness to hit my desk this month I would’ve turned them over for psychiatric care already.” Chief MacArthur said. “But something isn’t right here and I wanted a second opinion. I mean, just look at them.”

Py couldn’t argue with that. The behavior of the three captives was unusual, to say the least. Chief MacArthur had been kind enough to give Py the same demonstration he’d given Logan just a couple hours prior. The subjects were docile until a person came into view, suffered from a loss of higher brain function, exhibited self soothing behavior, and, though Py thought this might be coincidental, they all appeared to live with, or at least be adjacent to, a low standard of living.

“Well Chief MacArthur, I'm happy to help. First thing we need to do is get these people transported to Vergeron.”

If Py had known Carl MacArthur better he would have understood the slight rising of the man's eyebrows to be akin to the average person's violent exclamation of surprise.

“That's a big ask Mr. Black. Can't you run your tests here?”

Py gave a shake of his head.

“I'm afraid to exhaustively test all possible afflictions with any speed I need resources your facilities lack. I also want whatever the Q.C.B. gave you regarding anything they’ve already run.” Py glanced at Abigail in her cell and felt a familiar pity take his mind. “You were right to get a second opinion^” Py said softly. “While I admire what the Q.C.B. does, their methodology is hasty at best.”

MacArthur gave a ponderous sigh and followed Py’s gaze to the gently rocking Ms. Reynolds.

“The later part is easy enough. I’ll get the Quack report to you asap. The other’s gonna take a little time and no small amount of paperwork.”

“If there’s one thing I trust,” Logan said with a grin, “it’s your familiarity with paperwork, Chief.”

“You know Maxwell,” MacArthur replied, “you resigned such a short time ago, and yet I can’t wait to see you leave.” The words were dry and cutting. Py looked at Logan to gauge his reaction. Chief MacArthur's natural stoicism made it difficult for Py to judge to what degree his words were in playful jest. Since his friends grin only grew wider Py trusted that Logan had a better read on the man he’d worked with for so many years.

MacArthur returned his attention to Py.

“Anything else you need to dive into this thing?”

“Well,” Py asked a little sheepishly, “It would help immensely if you put in a call to Vergeron and actually asked for their help in an official capacity.”

Logan gave a snort.

“Never known you to ask for permission, Py.” Logan said, the laughter clear in his voice.

“I’m afraid it’s necessary this time.” Py said, with just a touch of resentment. “Transporting three quarantined persons and subjecting them to probative examination is something that should be done with mutual understanding.” Given the number of agencies involved it was a little daring, even for Py, to try and obfuscate the involvement of three flesh and blood people. Spinning human subjects in a centrifuge was a big step up from corporate espionage, or hacking up cats. “Access to any samples or reports from the crime scene would be helpful, as well.” Py was glad Logan didn’t openly laugh again, though he did see the man’s mouth give an involuntary twitch. Py wasn’t sure how much Logan had divulged to Chief MacArthur regarding access to DPD systems. As far as Py knew, MacArthur had never asked after the source of the DPD server backup, although Logan’s most recent tic was likely the result of knowing that Alice would have the data up on a screen in the lab before they even made it back to Vergeron, regardless of Carl’s consent. Py had never considered his actions to be all that humorous. Before yesterday, Logan probably wouldn’t have found the breach of protocol humorous either. Py wondered what had sparked the sudden transformation?

“I’m ahead of you there, at least.” MacArthur said raising his chin towards Logan. “Gave Maxwell the case file before you even touched down. It should be enough to get you started. Now, if there’s nothing else, let me escort you out. I’ve got some calls to make.”

Py spared a last look into Abigail’s cell before following MacArthur up and out of the precinct.

By way of goodbye Chief MacArthur extended his hand and gave both Py and Logan a firm handshake and said, “good hunting,” before turning and disappearing back through the security checkpoint.

“You know,” Py said as they made their way to the car, “I think I like that man.”

“Yeah,” Logan replied, “Carl’s an acquired taste, but the man grows on you. Anyways, you’re gonna love this.” Logan said, pulling out his phone. He gave it a few quick taps before passing it over to Py. It was a piece of map data Py had compiled over the course of their investigation. Within a semi-translucent circle of red was a new label in what Py recognized as Logan’s own blocky scrawl titled Millennium Shelter.

Logan pointed down at the screen.

“That’s where the DPD picked up Ms. Reynolds and co. It’s dead center in one of our activity zones. The Quacks have it locked down for observational quarantine for the next forty eight hours.”

Py gave a heavy sigh.

“I’ve worked with the Q.C.B. in the past and getting clearance before they break quarantine will be like pulling teeth.”

Logan nodded.

“There is one other promising lead.” Logan took his phone back and swiped through a few images before turning it to face Py once more.

“...utensils?” Py asked, not sure what Logan was driving towards. The picture was of a set of metal cooking implements. They were all clearly well worn and ill used, whatever they’d last stirred, flipped, or skewered was now dry and crusted on their exteriors.

“Not exactly,” Logan said, dragging his fingers on the screen to zoom in on the picture. Py could see now that on each of the cooking implements was a name - New Covenant Church.

“I’ve already checked,” Logan continued, putting his phone away, “and Ms. Reynolds is a part of that congregation.”

“Ahh, I see where you're going. That might get us out ahead of the Q.C.B too. Alice?” Py prompted, bringing the silver pen from his pocket.

“Yes, Py?” Alice’s reply had the clear inflection of a question. She was getting better all the time.

“Does New Covenant Church overlap any of our other data points?” Py asked.

“Yes, Py. A few people in this suburb are scheduled for questioning as persons of interest. New Covenant Church is one point two miles from the center of the targets in question.”

“Sounds like a winner to me.” Logan said, swinging around to the driver’s side as their car came to a stop along the curb.

“Agreed.” Py said, opening the passenger side door and jumping into his seat. “It’s off to church we go.”

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