“He mentioned two other families?” Cheryl asked.
“Yeah.” I was sticking to grunts as struggled to see around the two file boxes I carried stacked in my arms. They weren’t heavy, but two of them together was taller than a guy like me could see around. I was beginning to regret agreeing to help her carry them into the new Records office, whether it made for a good excuse to rehash last night’s discussion with Senator Dawson or not.
“That doesn’t mean she was an adoptee.” Mona had kept to a much more sensible one box, although she was tall enough to see over two. She set the files down on an open desk and leaned one elbow on them, assuming a thoughtful pose. “Her parents could have divorced and remarried. He could have simply been referring to the way the extended families of both parents treated her. There are-”
“A lot of other possible explanations,” I said, stubbing my toe on a desk and muttering something very unprofessional under my breath. “I get the picture. It’s something he said, is all, and it supports the idea that Teresa was the daughter of one of Lethal Injection’s victims.”
“Duly noted,” Cheryl said, taking one of the boxes off of the top of my stack and moving it over to one of the offices filing cabinets. “And you honestly think that the Senator was just worried about Teresa’s health?”
I put the other box down next to Mona’s and shrugged. “He didn’t ask about the case and seemed pretty confident that we had Herrera under surveillance already. I don’t see any other reason to talk to me in what he said.” I glanced up at my former analyst. “Do you?”
Mona sighed and shook her head. “For now it looks like we’ll just have to be content with knowing that the Senator looks after his own. I wish I could say that was news, but really I don’t think he could have gotten as far as he has if he didn’t.”
“Speaking of looking after your own.” I matched Mona’s leaning pose and gave her a sideways look. “Herrera somehow got directions to my workshop yesterday. You wouldn’t know how that happened, would you?”
“Me?” Mona jerked upright and failed to look innocent. “How many more boxes have we got out there, Cheryl?” She asked, making a beeline for the door.
“A dozen or so,” the red head answered, following Mona out the door. “Since when does Helix have a workshop?”
There wasn’t much to do but follow along behind the two women as they wound their way back down the hall, through the large open floor where most of us field agents would work, and out onto the loading dock. As we walked I felt obliged to point out, “I’ve had a workshop almost ever since I was posted to the Midwest about four years ago. As you might have already guessed from the fact that you’ve never heard of it until now, it’s not something I talk about much.”
“I’m not entirely sure why. He made me a great sofa.” Mona said.
“A sofa?” Cheryl sounded surprised and more than a little confused.
“Yeah.” I waved that away. “But it was originally supposed to be for your anniversary four months ago. That kind of thing takes time. And I could only afford it because Jack paid for the upholstery.”
“Of course.” Cheryl piled three boxes into my arms, maybe as some kind of punishment for confusing her because her face said she was still completely lost. “What’s the big deal about Mona mentioning your workshop to your boss? Teresa’s probably going to need to know where it is sooner or later.”
I shifted the boxes to one side, then the other, in an unsuccessful attempt to look Cheryl in the eye. Mona either realized what I was trying to do or just didn’t want me spilling potentially sensitive information all over the loading dock floor, because she grabbed the top box out of my arms and added it to the one she was already carrying. I nodded my thanks and managed to hook the other two boxes under my chin. “You see, the thing is, I go to my workshop to relax from, you know, work. Yes, by building sofas.”
“I have no idea what you just said, Helix,” Cheryl said.
For a moment I considered taking the boxes I was carrying and building a little fort under my desk with them. That way I could illustrate my point and maybe finally get some time to myself. Then Mona said, “He wants to get away from things from time to time, that’s all. And with a chronic case of foot in mouth, he’s always hated anything where he has to be subtle.” I sent a glare in Mona’s direction, nearly spilling my boxes on the floor as I did so. She ignored my fumbling and went on. “Bob and Michael have shoved him into the middle of this mess with the Senator and it’s got him all worked up in knots. I was hoping meeting Teresa on his home turf would help him relax and see the situation in a less adversarial light. It doesn’t look like it worked.”
“I am still here, you know,” I muttered.
“Okay, so you don’t like having your boss drop by on your day off,” Chery said. “No one would. Bill it as overtime.”
“I’m on salary. No overtime.”
“I could bake you some oatmeal cookies,” Mona said.
That was tempting… “No. I resist all attempts at casual bribery.”
“All serious bribery attempts will be given due consideration.” I balanced the boxes I was carrying on the edge of the desk, next to the last one I’d left there, and rubbed my hands together. “Do these muffins have nuts?”
Mona laughed. “Of course not.”
“Then we have a deal.” She piled her box on top of mine and we shook on it.
Cheryl shook her head, amused, and said, “You people are remarkably easy to please.”
“Sure,” I said with a grim smile. “All I want to know is what’s going on in my job, kick all the politicians out of it, have fewer criminals on the streets and figure out where Circuit is going to be tomorrow so I can arrest him and finally get a good night’s sleep.”
Mona lifted a can of caffeine and sugar, Pepsi brand, that I’d been drinking earlier off the desk and said, “It might help if you drank less of this stuff.”
“Yes, mother.” I took my soda back and finished it anyways. “Any word on how Circuit might have found our building and broken into it yet?”
“We’re still working on that,” Mona said, her brain visibly switching gears as her face went from amused, but slightly worried, to just plain worried in a heartbeat. I didn’t like to see that, but she had come a long way from when she first moved to field work and joined our team. She was plain worried all the time, then. “No leads so far, but we’ve ruled out pretty much any possible perpetrator besides Circuit, another branch of the government or someone we’ve never heard of.”
“Another branch of the government? Has that ever happened before?” I swiveled to look at Cheryl, who would be in the best position to know.
“Not that I’ve heard of. I’m sure if it was a serious possibility the matter would have moved out of our hands and up the chain of command.” She frowned. “Still, shouldn’t the fact that he managed to call us on the phone been a danger sign?”
“No, that number routes to us through City Hall.” Mona drummed her fingers on top of her box for a moment. “Maybe it’s time Bob and I went and had another talk with the Forensics people, see if we can come up with a way to check if he was tracing that call to us.”
I pinched the bridge of my nose and sighed. “Well then I should probably lean on Mosburger, see if he can work out where Circuit’s going to pop up again any faster.”
“Go easy on him, Helix.” Mona’s scolded. “He’s still new at this. You need to give him time to get his bearings.”
“I’d love to, but he got stuck on this case before he had time to get them.” I shook my head and started for the door. “And we can’t afford to wait anymore. If I know Circuit, he’s got his next move planned out already.”
“No, I don’t have any idea what our next move is. I will confess that the Enchanter’s ruthlessness and planning has exceeded my expectations entirely.” I leaned forward across my desk. “But I will not substitute haste for preparation, Davis. We will deal with the Enchanter, then we will focus on Chainfall. Not before.”
“Chainfall has nothing to do with it!” My chief technician braced his hands on my desk and leaned forward until we were almost nose to nose. “You’ve been saying that the Enchanter was a secondary concern for the last two months. Now, he’s suddenly the hottest thing since sliced bread. You underestimated him, Circuit, and yet the day after his biggest fire yet you were off who-knows-where, with your head stuck in the sand! You should be out there now, pounding the pavements to find this guy and leaving me to do my work. Or leaving the Enchanter to the Feds and focusing on the long term. Either way, I don’t need you looking over my shoulder!”
These loud fits of indignation are a semi-regular thing with Davis and I accept it as the price I must pay for his brilliance. And I don’t use the term lightly, Davis is a brilliant man. His understanding of modern day industrial processes is second to none. Unfortunately, he often thinks that his skill with production translates directly to skill in strategy, and that he is qualified to advise my decisions. This is manifestly untrue, particularly as regards the use of my talents.
Occasionally, it’s necessary to remind him of this. So I stood up, causing him to back up a step, and rested one hand on his shoulder, which caused him to flinch. “There are many things that I do which are not considered admirable, Davis. Micromanagement is not one of them. I assure you, when I no longer trust you with work I will not waste time looking over your shoulder, I will simply find someone who I can trust and replace you.” I stepped around the desk and leaned in close to him again. “That transfer is likely to be very disruptive. For both of us. I’d prefer to avoid it if I can.”
I had to give him credit, Davis paled slightly but otherwise didn’t react. “But we are both in luck right now, because I am certain you can do what I want today. And what I want is to test the prototypes you’ve been working on.”
“I only got the designs for the second thing you want two days ago,” he pointed out. “And you changed priorities on me, too, said you wanted it before the hydroelectric prototype.”
“So I did. But I still want to test them this afternoon, and I’m sure you’ll have them ready on time, just like always.” I gave him a pat on the back and walked him towards the door. “Now, if you would be so good as to get ready for todays tests, we can get back to Chainfall that much quicker.”
As soon as Davis left, his expression suggesting he was already wrestling with the details of getting his work out on time, I walked back to my desk. From his place standing just beside it, Simeon gave me a wry smile. “Do you want me to start looking for a replacement for Mr. Davis?”
“Not yet,” I said, sliding back into my chair and taking just a moment to appreciate it’s sculpted leather depths. You can only call yourself a man of intelligence and culture if you actually take the time to appreciate what the intelligence and culture of others creates. “If nothing else, Chainfall is too far into implementation to replace him now. Besides, he’s intelligent and hardworking, both of which I need, and while he can be grating he’s always delivered when we need him to.”
“Very good, sir.” Simeon pulled out his notebook as I woke up my computer. “Do we really have no next step for our enchanting little problem?”
Pulling up the periodic data dumps I was getting from Project Sumter was a fairly complicated task but I managed to spare a disapproving glance for Simeon’s pun. “I have a few theories, but actually following up on them is going to be difficult. It would be nice if Helix had cooperated with us. Unrestricted access to the progress of the investigation would probably give us several more leads to follow up on. Have you finished your analysis of the books?”
“There’s very little to them, sir.” A shrug was far below Simeon’s dignity, but he still managed to convey the impression that he found the stories to be so much twaddle. He stepped over to the office’s side table, where coffee and other refreshments were normally kept, and picked up the books in question. “Analyzing morality tales is not exactly what I was trained for, nor am I a psychologist, but I do have one or two ideas about how the Enchanter might be drawing from them.”
I started my computer on collecting and decrypting the various data packets that had piled up in various corners of the Internet over the last two days, then leaned back in my chair and said, “Go on.”
There was a moment’s hesitation as Simeon extracted a sheet of notebook paper half covered in elegant handwriting from one of the books. “First, the primary enemies of the Enchanter featured in the books were park rangers and taxicab drivers. That’s probably the meaning of his last message, the symbol of the park rangers was a silver hatchet. The Enchanter’s own power derived primarily from a powerful network of propaganda and slave labor provided by orphans.” I grimaced in distaste. If I had been in any way impressed with the Enchanter up until then the feeling was well and truly gone at that. “Since our Enchanter hasn’t been able to gather any allies of his own, in part because he ran into us, I surmise he is trying to undermine what he perceives as the power base of the state he detests.”
“So he attacks the firefighters first.” I steepled my fingers and tapped them lightly against my chin. “Yes, that makes a certain degree of sense. But why not the police first?”
“The biggest thing the rangers do as a group is fight a forest fire,” Simeon said. “Perhaps he thought that made firemen a more appropriate target.”
“So the a good symbolic match is important to him as well.” Symptom of a disturbed mind. But at least it was a potentially useful pattern. “Propaganda suggests the newspapers, or perhaps simply the spokespeople for government. Maybe even mean us, since we’ve seen to it that his attempts to make himself known have been suppressed. But orphans… that will be more of a problem. Not many of them in the U.S., far fewer in the city.”
“In the literal sense, perhaps.” Simeon set the books down on the desk and folded his hands behind his back. “But, given that there is no direct corollary between most of the stories and reality, it’s likely that the Enchanter will simply look for the next best thing. Perhaps he’ll try to recruit from street gangs. They’re young, functionally without parents and likely to be amenable to his wants.”
That made sense, at first, but the more I thought about it the less likely it seemed. “No, he’s not to that stage yet, don’t you see?” I drummed my fingers on my desk absently. “These arsons are all a kind of grandstanding, he’s putting himself on a stage, trying to make himself so big people can’t help but ignore him. Forming patterns, sending letters to the police and to us. He’s aiming to be noticed and if he stops to gather a cadre of others he’s going to have to share the stage. He doesn’t want to do that until he’s sure he owns it.”
Simeon frowned but nodded, conceding my point. “Then he’s likely to be planning another arson.”
“Yes, but one that fits with the stories.” I picked up the top book and flipped through it. “The Enchanter calls himself an anarchist but he’s proven willing enough to stick to a pattern once he’s decided on it.” I paused as one of the short story’s titles caught my eye. “The Orphan Exodus. What’s that?”
Simeon leaned forward slightly to look over my shoulder. “Ah, that is a story in which the Enchanter’s rival frees the exploited orphans, and sends them to be looked after by his followers.”
I closed the book with a decisive snap. “Of course. And the Enchanter is the opposite of the king. The system is the king in America, so the Enchanter will turn the tables. And then he’ll have his army, just like you said.”
“Beg pardon, sir?”
I turned back to the updates from my mole in Project Sumter. “I know his next move, now. Thank you, Simeon.”
“Of course.” His expression suggested he wasn’t sure why he was being thanked. “Then, I will page you when Mr. Davis is ready to test your new countermeasure for…” he hesitated, clearly uncertain. “Is this new countermeasure intended for the Enchanter or Agent Double Helix?”
Although mostly engrossed in sifting the data on my screen I still had enough presence to spare a smirk and ask, “Why can’t it be for both?”Previous Chapter Next Chapter Fiction Index