We were up to our elbows in status updates, police reports, 9-1-1 transcripts and dispatcher traffic, trying to put together a coherent picture of what had been happening in the city for the last eight to ten hours, when one of our dispatchers came in and tapped me on the shoulder.
“Is this important?” I demanded. There were at least a dozen things that I needed to be doing at the moment and if he was about to hand me another one it had better be worth it.
“We just heard from Agent Massif and his team in the city center.” The dispatcher – I couldn’t remember his name – kept his voice so low I barely made out what he was saying.
I huddled in closer and matched his tone. “What happened?”
“Agents Clark Movsessian and Isabella Rodriguez disappeared about fifteen minutes ago. Agent Massif said they found something like tear gas canisters in the area they were headed to when they were last seen.”
So yes, it was important. If we hadn’t already been at our highest state of alert that would have put us there. “Right. Listen, do you know Agent Samson? Miguel Rodriguez?”
His eyes got a little wider. “Yeah. I’ve seen him before.”
“Go find him. He was up here a couple of minutes ago but I think he went somewhere with Senator Voorman. Check Samson’s office first, if he’s not there go door to door until you find him. And when you do.” I tapped myself in the chest. “Come get me. No sidetracking, don’t tell him what happened. Got it?”
He nodded quickly and hurried off. I turned back to my reports, reminding myself that I was younger than Izzy the first time I went out in the field. She had training and more power than a freight train. The biggest problem would be convincing her dad not to tear down the city looking for her.
I woke up groggy, head throbbing and dry-mouthed. And sore all over, it felt like I’d been rolled down a couple of flights of stairs while I was out. Sitting up wasn’t hard although it made me very woozy. I was in a featureless room that had probably been an office of some sort before all the furniture was cleared out. There were still visible marks in the carpet where a desk and chairs had been in recent past. Someone had drilled a hole in the wall and a chain came out of it.
I traced the chain and realized, in a weird, detached kind of a way, that it ended at my ankles, which were held together by a set of manacles with a bar between them. The chain attached to the bar through a heavy ring. I lay back down on my back and gave a sharp kick, snapping the bar in half easily.
My ears popped, there was a vague sense of the air being thick and heavy all of a sudden, there was a sharp bang I more felt than heard and searing pain ignited at my feet for just a second before I passed back out again.
“She’s what?” Samson was talking to me but his whole body was winding up like a spring, getting ready to tear straight through the wall and anything else that might come between him and his daughter.
“Not with Massif anymore,” I said, as if that thin layer of obfuscation made it better. “Now calm down, Rodriguez. It’s not guaranteed that Circuit grabbed her or anything. She could just be running down a lead with Clark. You know, underground or somewhere else where they might not have noticed that communications or power were back.”
Samson’s mind, which had obviously been drifting from the conversation at hand out through the city streets towards wherever Izzy had wandered to, snapped back to me. For the first time since I’d met him I saw what Manuel Rodriguez looked like when he was really, truly angry. I understand that side of him used to show itself a lot more frequently back in the day and I felt a brief twinge of pity for the people who had to deal with him back then.
Both the crooks and his boss.
“You don’t honestly expect me to believe they’re just poking around in the sewers do you?” He snapped.
“No. I expect you to keep your mind on a realistic assessment of the situation. Isabella is a field agent dealing with Open Circuit and there are rules about how that game is played.” I ticked points on my fingers. “She’s more useful alive than dead and Circuit’s not above using hostages so he’ll prefer her alive. She represents law and order, something Circuit claims to value as well so he can’t do much to her without harming the image he’s trying to establish. And she can crush a car with her bare hands, so there’s only so much Circuit can do to keep her restrained outside of using Movsessian as leverage against her. In all likelihood he’s just loaded them onto a truck and shipped them towards the city limits so they present the fewest complications.”
“Assuming it is Circuit,” Samson said darkly. “Even you’re not sure it is.”
“Assuming that, yes.” I sighed. “Look, I’m not saying you can’t go out there. I just want you to understand that you need to do it by the book. Contact Massif, meet up with his team and work out from her last known location until you find a promising lead and report back. Don’t go tearing through the city hunting down thugs and juggling them like bowling pins until they tell you what you want to know.”
“I only did that once.”
I grabbed his shoulder and pulled him down to my level, which was a fair distance, and dropped my voice to a whisper. “Look, I’m not going to claim to understand your feelings because I don’t. But if you go off half-cocked and do something stupid, here’s what’s going to happen. I’m going to let you tear apart the city in whatever way your personal demons tell you is best, because there’s no one here who could stop you. Then, when you find your daughter and she’s fine, because I still have every confidence that she will come out just fine, I’ll arrest you. And then I’ll throw you in a jail cell for twenty to life. Do we understand each other?”
Samson gave me a hard look, then nodded slowly. “Yes. And thank you, Helix.”
“Good. Now stop wasting our time, get out of this building and do something useful.” As he started to straighten up I grabbed his shoulder and pulled him back down and added, “Something useful, Samson.”
“I get it.” No sooner was it said than he was gone, out of the office and down the hall in the blink of an eye.
Voorman gave me an assessing look from where he sat in Samson’s desk chair. He’d watched without saying anything since I’d informed Samson of what had happened. “That was a very generous approach to the situation, Helix. I’m not sure I would have handled it that way.”
“I lied, you know. I do kind of understand how he feels.”
Voorman tilted his head in a curious fashion. “How so?”
“I want to get out of here and do something useful, too.” I left Voorman to think about that as I headed back to my office to see if maybe, just maybe, there was something productive to be done there.
“That was stupid, Davis. Incredibly stupid.”
People arguing. Great way to wake up. My ankles felt like they were on fire and things were numb from there down. I tore my eyes open and looked around. Same room, except for the scorched, pitted floor on the other side of the room.
“What did you want me to do? We’re out of spare hands and I wasn’t expecting her to just rip right out and try and tear this place apart.”
My ankles had been dressed with some thick gauze pads and I wasn’t sure what else. Bare toes stuck out beneath them – and I was really glad for that – but I couldn’t feel them. Whether anesthetic was involved or it was a result of nerve damage I couldn’t tell.
“Listen, Davis, that girl can’t even drink legally yet. She’s going to be spooked and edgy. And you’ve seen the profiles we hacked out of the Project – she can smash us both to a bloody pulp. What were you going to do if the manacles were faulty or something?”
I was sitting with my back propped in a corner, hands in a similar manacle set to what had been on my ankles before right down to the wire running into the wall. I did notice that it was a new hole in a different place. Unfortunately I wasn’t sure if that was significant.
“That would have been your fault, since you built-”
“You would have been dead, Davis, since you weren’t watching her like you were supposed to so there would have been nobody to put her back under if she got out!”
The voices were coming through the door to the room I was in. I cleared my throat once and they went quiet, which I took as an invitation. “Hello? If you’re done yelling at each other can I have a turn?”
There was a moment of total quiet then the door to the room swung open and two men came in. On my left was a squarish man, not more than five foot five but nearly that wide, with a heavy jaw and a five o’clock shadow. The other guy wasn’t much taller but he looked totally normal except for eyes that never quite seemed to focused on anything. When the square man spoke his voice told me he was Davis.
“Looks like you’ve come around.” He squatted down, an operation that didn’t really seem to make him much shorter since what height he had was in his torso, and pointed at my feet. “You’re lucky you still have those, you know. The shaped charge in those cuffs should have been enough to take your feet off. I’m not sure why it didn’t but we upped the charge in the cuffs you’re wearing now and your wrists aren’t quite so thick so maybe they’ll work this time, hm?”
I glared at him with the confidence born of pain and sleep deprivation. “You’re lucky you stopped where you did. I really just need to touch you to do the pulping thing.” To my satisfaction my toes wiggled when I told them to, coming withing a few inches of his closer leg.
Normal guy grabbed Davis by the collar and proceeded to do some weird kind of maneuver where he crouched down while also pulling Davis to his feet. “I’ll play good cop.”
“That’s a laugh,” Davis said as he backed away a step.
“Listen,” normal guy said, ignoring his partner. “I didn’t want you getting hurt and I’m sorry it happened. My friend here was supposed to keep an eye on you and warn you about that when you woke up.”
“I was getting a cup of coffee,” Davis grumbled. “We’ve been up all night.”
“Join the club,” I said, wiggling back into the corner just a bit to try and get away from them, trying to cover for it by straightening up a bit. “Maybe next time you guys can cook up a master plan that doesn’t involve drinking a gallon of coffee. It’s healthier for you.”
“Look, miss, I just need you to know we’re not planning to hurt you in any way.” He pointed at the manacles. “Those are just insurance to make sure you hold still. There’s a current running through them tied to the detonator. Don’t break the chain or the manacles and it won’t blow your hands off. We’re hoping to trade you for some concessions from Project Sumter soon, so-”
“You haven’t met my boss, have you?”
He grimaced in a way that told me he’d at least heard of Helix’s legendary obstinacy. “So just sit tight, okay? I’m sorry about your feet.”
“Look, if you guys think it’s going to be that simple you’ve got a new thing coming.” I wracked my brains for something more to say, there’s a whole course on negotiating in all circumstances but I was having a hard time remembering anything from it. In fact, I was pretty sure nothing I’d said so far matched what that class had taught.
“Come on, good cop.” Davis grabbed the other guy and hauled him to his feet. “The big guy is going to be waiting for us. Let’s see if we can actually scare up a guard now and get back to him.”
The two of them left before I could say anything else and I didn’t want to leave them with some stupid parting line so I held my tongue. Once they were gone I slumped back into the corner and let my head thump lightly against the wall, trying to figure out what my next move should be. As I sat there a soft thump from the other side of the wall interrupted my thoughts.
I was about to write it off as something being moved in the next room over when Clark’s voice, very muffled, came through the thin drywall. “Izzy? Is that you?”