Masks 19: Part 4

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Masks XIX:

A Disturbance of the Peace

by

Rodford Edmiston

Part Four

One of the things we were there to discuss with Shaw was interviewing Doro. He'd only seen her briefly twice so far; both times she'd been too doped on pain killers to make much sense, especially since she couldn't speak yet. The second time Shaw had given her a pad with an app which allowed her to type out what she wanted to say and have it appear in large print on a screen via Bluetooth. A neat solution to the problem, in my estimation. She had since typed out what she remembered had that forwarded to Shaw. Unfortunately, her account stopped with leaving work to go to her apartment, and resumed in the recovery room after the murders.

Once our belated discussion at the law office was over Sally and I agreed to be back at 1:30 the next afternoon. That's when Shaw was scheduled to visit Doro again and he would take us along.

Sally and I finished by telling Shaw about the vehicle rental agency, and he promised to get the records. Satisfied - and both tired and sore - Sally and I headed out.

* * *

"Damn," I said, groaning, again in my Lorraine form, once we were finally again in our suite. "I need to get back into hard training. Been slacking off the past few weeks."

"You didn't do that badly," Sally said, tone comforting. "You just got dogpiled. Where do you train, anyway? Do they take supers?"

"Well, these days it's a local soke not far from my apartment building. I actually helped him find the location of his dojo. Teaches Okinawan Kempo, pure self defense, no competition stuff. Don't know if he takes supers; I'll ask. However, I got my initial training in my teens. From the Dragon's Hand."

"Wait. The Dragon's Hand?! The original?!"

"Yes." I smiled at the memory. "Lovely young woman, daughter of Christian missionaries who went to Okinawa, back in the Twenties, though I didn't hold being a preacher's kid against her. She started training under their housekeeper as a preteen. The housekeeper and her husband quickly recognized she had superhuman abilities. As well as a talent for mayhem. When things started getting really tense in the region in the mid-Thirties her parents sent her to San Francisco to stay with an aunt while she attended college there. That's where I met her, though a few years later. Mack Risk introduced me to her."

Sally stared at me, mouth literally open. I just smiled. She shook herself.

"The original Dragon's Hand. Of course, you not only knew her, but trained under her."

"Hey, it's not like I have any of her powers," I said, with a shrug and a wince. "Just some basic skills."

She wandered off to take a hot shower, muttering under her breath. I went to take my own soak, still smiling.

* * *

Later, after we had both treated our bruises, we reconvened in the central area of the suite.

"One thing about Doro... and what was done to her," said Sally.

"Oh?"

"I'm a little concerned about... being able to handle anyone who could take her out. She's... somewhat stronger and tougher than me. She can also fly."

"Remember, someone drugged her," I pointed out. "Probably in an ambush."

"What if they shoot me with one of the same darts?"

"A valid concern, but not a likely possibility," I said, frowning a bit as I thought things through. "So far, I'm the only person in this town who actually knows you're a super. The guys who attacked the law office might suspect it, but they're being held incommunicado, since they might also be the ones who killed those businessmen."

"Okay," said Sally, only a bit assured.

"Also, they likely only had one or a few doses in actual darts. If whoever did the deed has any brains the darts and whatever delivery system they used would have been disposed of as soon as they considered the operation completed. The stuff is rare enough that someone just being found with it is enough to consider them a suspect in this case."

That seemed to reassure her. We both called it a night soon after and went to bed early.

* * *

The next day Shaw contacted us about ten in the morning with an update on the details for visiting Doro. Sally and I went to the law office right after lunch and hooked up with him. He was supplying the transportation. It was nice change to ride in a limo. The trip to the SeaTac Federal Detention Center took a while, but we weren't in a hurry and Doro wasn't going anywhere any time soon.

Clearing us through security took nearly as long as the drive to the prison. The facility was fairly new, having been built in 1997. During the Thurlin administration - as part of his crackdown on supers - the medical care part of the facility had been expanded to include one bed with a neutralizer mounted over it, in a separate room. Which was why Doro was here, instead of at a hospital or local or state prison. It was the closest place to the jurisdiction of the crime with an infirmary where a super could be securely contained.

The arrangement was that a city attorney and prison official would wait with two prison guards, outside in the corridor. Meanwhile, Shaw, Sally and I would be allowed to communicate with Doro in semi-private.

We were escorted to the armored door, which the prison official unlocked. It was pushed open and we were motioned inside. There lay Doro, on a small, plain bed. She waved but made no attempt even to lift herself any higher than she already was, propped up on three pillows. There were no chairs beside the bed.

She looked terrible. Her face was severely bruised and her jaw was wired shut. Doro was, of course, also under a neutralizer, which was mounted in an armored fixture in the ceiling. From the way she looked I doubted she'd be able to cause trouble even without that.

"You stay over here, away from that neutralizer," I said to Sally, in a low mutter, as Shaw calmly went ahead. "Near the entrance."

"Definitely roger that," said Sally, eying the area influenced by the baleful glow of the device with serious concern.

I took a deep breath, squared my shoulders and walked into the neutralized area. I was already in the form I wanted, so that was not a problem, but I was now missing my empathy. I also felt a bit fuzzy-headed. I showed none of this as I walked to Doro's bed. The pad was on the table beside it, left within her easy reach. The display was on a stand on the same table, against the wall. Doro was expecting us. She grabbed the pad and quickly typed as we approached.

"Hello! I'm very glad to see you, Mr. Shaw."

Doro knew me as Larry, but not as Henley Regatta, so I let Shaw introduce us.

"He's here at the recommendation of your boss. To help with the investigation."

"Hello," I said, nodding and smiling. We had been told, very firmly, that we were not to touch her or hand her anything. "Sorry to meet you under such circumstances. Hopefully, we'll soon be speaking properly in more friendly surroundings."

I gestured towards Sally, who waved.

"That's my assistant, Sally Driscoll."

I was taking a bit of a risk, but that was the name by which Shaw already knew her and the name the prison had been told to expect. I saw Doro's eyebrows push together a bit and wondered if she recognized the name. I recalled Sally telling me that the Bureau had tried recruiting her.

Shaw took over, asking how Doro was and giving an update on the case. He mentioned the attack on his office - and person - which surprised me a bit, since that was officially not connected with the case against Doro. Then he took things in a direction which really surprised me.

"I may have a suspect," said Shaw. He glanced at me. "Preliminary interviews with the people who attacked my office didn't give us much, but two of the suspects picked this guy out of a stack of photos, in which he had been included at my suggestion. He's a businessman who made multiple fortunes in the past few years by taking advantage of the rebuilding after the war: Solomon Harvek. Many of his projects were in this area. The cops told me this morning that at least two of the men who attacked my office had picked Harvek's image out of a pile of photos, saying he was the person who hired them. Though they can't be certain, because the man was wearing a coat with the collar turned up, in a place with poor lighting. He also disguised his voice."

"That's the second time I've encountered that name, recently," I said, glancing at my partner, who was watching us very intently. Her hearing was pretty good, and I could tell she was reacting to what Shaw had said. "Just because he's an unpleasant character doesn't mean he's in any way connected with these murders and the cover-up attempts."

"I remember that jerk," wrote Doro, scowling. "He grabbed my ass at a morale building event."

"Sorry?" said Shaw, startled.

Doro sighed through her nose. Then resumed tapping.

"Both the psychologists and Brade thought sending me out on goodwill missions like that would help me deal with Ray's death. Maybe they were right. At this event, though, as I got ready to walk out on stage Harvek grabbed my ass. I just sort of reflexively jerked all my muscles tight. Think I hurt his hand. Glared at him and told him to keep his hands to himself. His attitude was... strange. Like he hadn't done anything wrong and I had attacked and insulted him for no reason. He was smart enough not to try again, though he was unpleasant to me the rest of the event."

"Surely that isn't a valid motive for trying to frame you for murder," said Shaw, uncertainly.

"Oh, it could be," I said, nodding. "I've definitely known people who would kill for less. Not all of them men, either. The sort of person who thinks they're entitled to make sexual advances to whoever they choose, and see any protest as just playing hard to get. Or their target having something wrong with them."

"He's in the same party as Sievers!" said Shaw. "I mean, he... they..."

"This is likely something which goes beyond party affiliation," I said, wryly.

"There's more," wrote Doro. I noted that even under the neutralizer she was a very good typist. Perhaps due to recent forced practice. "Once she started opening up to supers he attacked Sievers for being 'in the supers' pocket.' Said she had switched from her rational, pro-super control position to being a 'gushing fangirl.' Tried to get the party to support forcing her to have a 'mental evaluation.'"

"I remember that, now," Shaw said, nodding. "He lost power in the party after that. Was seen as an extremist as the party moved away from the anti-super position of a few, influential members. People said that gave him another reason to hate supers, for causing that, but it wasn't even the supers who did it!"

"In his mind I'm sure there's a direct cause and effect," I said, nodding. "I can actually see how people like him justify that attitude. However, there's no evidence any of that connects with the murder of those businessmen, and the connection with the attack on the office isn't solid."

"He's one of those guys who built his fortune on his own merits - and gaming the system - from the start of a modest fortune, who espouses egalitarianism, as long as those he considers less than him remember their place," Sally said, scowling. "He's been in trouble for having illegal aliens as maids and gardeners, for abusing them and others working for him, for making sexist and racist jokes at rallies for equality, for getting women pregnant and denying knowing them even when DNA tests prove he's the father... Which may be why he's been married - and divorced - four times."

"I get the idea," I said, rolling my eyes.

I was feeling a bit embarrassed. I don't like following politics but try to keep abreast out of self defense. Somehow, I had missed most of what this guy had done the past several years.

"He's also a friend of disgraced former Vice President Harold Sargent," Doro wrote.

"Whoah," I said, eyes widening. "Wait. That's definitely motive to attack Sievers and anything she did, but still not proof of any connection to this crime."

"A couple of businesses he had money in were taken over by the vultures after some financial reverses," said Shaw.

"Yes, but... That's still very tentative."

"I know," said Shaw, with a sigh. "So far he's the only firm name we have. The guys who tore up my office and put Mrs. Grundage in the hospital couldn't say for certain who had hired them, and so far haven't given us anything on the murders. However, in size and shape the description of the man who hired them matches Harvek."

"Even if they're telling the truth," I said, "that sounds like either a coincidence, or someone trying to frame Harvek. Why would he meet with those men himself?!"

"Uhm, good point," said Shaw. He grunted in frustration and rubbed his head. "I may just be desperate for clues."

"I think Doro has had enough, too," I said, looking at her. I couldn't be sure about that with my empathy offline, but the super looked exhausted. She nodded, carefully.

"All right," said Shaw. He looked at his client. "Unless you can think of something else I guess that's all for now. Even if we can't figure out who actually committed the crime, we're a lot closer to getting the charges against you dismissed. So, rest easy."

She nodded, again carefully. We turned and walked away. I was very glad to get out from under that neutralizer.

* * *

Sunday was a day of rest for Sally and me. We puttered around the suite, watched various entertainments on TV and went out for a very good supper at a top restaurant.

Monday brought another call from Shaw, with some good news. The police were going to let us witness the first serious interrogations of the men involved in the attack on the law office.

"They won't let us interrogate them or even be in the same room," said Shaw, when we got together at his office. "Understandable, since they assaulted all three of us, plus my assistant. However, we can suggest questions."

Again, he gave us a ride in a company limo. We arrived at the police station in plenty of time to be introduced to several of those involved in the investigation. That included the pair of detectives who would conduct the interview.

We were escorted to a dark room with a one-way mirror, where we watched as the first - and only for today - suspect was escorted in and manacled to the table. His attorney objected to the restraints, but not very strongly.

The man we were there to watch being interviewed had been tentatively identified as the boss of the operation by the detectives. I confess I don't remember his name, and am not at all motivated to look it up.

The detectives worked on him for over half an hour just covering the preliminaries. Several times the suspect's attorney vetoed a line of questioning. As someone who had been on the receiving end of such treatment I was actually uncomfortable... not to mention a bit angry. However, I held my tongue.

They finally began asking about what the attackers had done at the law office. The attorney tried to squelch several lines of questioning, but kept being reminded that the men had been caught in the act. The only real defense they had was to plea bargain, and their only bargaining chip was providing information. The suspect's attorney and the detectives negotiated for a while, without making much headway. They seemed to have reached a stalemate.

I leaned towards the detective who was sitting with Sally, Shaw and me.

"Have them suggest that the autopsies of those murdered businessmen at the convention center prove their injuries were caused by the same type of sap glove he and the others in his group were using," I said, quietly.

We didn't know that for a fact, but even if I was wrong that sort of suggestion might spark a response. Which it most definitely did.

"What?! No! That bitch Doro killed them! It was in the news!"

"Yeah, and how many times has the news gotten things like that wrong?" asked one of the interrogators, in a tone dripping with sarcasm. He leaned forward, looking very angry. "She was set up. By people who used weapons very much like those we found you using. We can make a good case against you."

The detective leaned back in his chair and smiled.

"We have the death penalty in this state. We don't get to use it often, but for those murders it's pretty much guaranteed."

There was no need to try the old - and usually ineffectual - trick of claiming that one of his buddies had already decided to rat him out. Mention of the death penalty opened this guy up like a pull-top can of soup, despite the fact that even the murderers of the businessmen were actually unlikely to get that sentence. My empathy was a bit strained due to the distance between my seat and his, on the other side of that one-way mirror. Especially with all the other people around me emoting. However, I had the distinct impression that he was very worried. He hadn't signed up for a death penalty risk when he took this job.

We soon got times, dates and names... though still nothing solid about whoever had hired him. Payment had been in cash, with half up front. He and his boys were there to rough up anyone they found in the building after hours, then steal the computers. He didn't know why, but I figured the idea was to cripple the investigation into the murders while making the operation look like a pure robbery. They followed their usual modus operandi of cutting all wiring into the building (the detective sitting with us said that meant he - unintentionally - had fingered his gang for several similar crimes in the area over the past few years) then gone in.

Things had gone a bit wrong when the receptionist (actually, Shaw's assistant, waiting for Sally and me) had refused to be quiet. They used more force than usual - probably due to being unfamiliar with the sap gloves - on her and were worried they'd killed her. However, with her confirmed to be alive and now finally out of the way they made a beeline to Shaw's office. Only they'd just started on him when Sally and I arrived.

The rest Sally and I knew.

The boss attributed most of their defeat to me. I suspected he didn't want to admit his manly men had been floor wiped by a woman. That cut out most of Sally's credit for stopping them, but also meant she was less likely to be suspected of being a super, so neither of us minded.

* * *

Back at the law office Shaw had some good news waiting. The warrant for the vehicle rental company's records had been executed. Extra care was being taken to make sure the documents were protected from theft or destruction. Scans were already being made; copies would be sent to the law office once they were complete.

As part of the process, the police had taken the description of the van driver from the clerk and combined it with that of the parking garage attendant. They were a pretty close match. A composite image had been produced which both men agreed was pretty close. That was also being circulated.

* * *

The day was starting to turn rather dreary, but there was still a lot of work to do. Late that afternoon Sally and I finally met with Ernest Chiodini, the reporter who had been working this story longer than we had. He had arrived back in town from a business trip late the previous evening. From his name I had figured he was of Italian extraction. When we finally met him he looked very Mediterranean. From my research I knew that his closest immigrant ancestor was one great-grandparent. He was older than Shaw; in fact, he was almost my age. The regular business day at the newspaper was just ending when we arrived.

"Ms. Driscoll. Mr. Regatta. Please, sit down."

We spoke for nearly an hour about the case, sitting there in an otherwise very quiet office. He related some of what he had learned and we reciprocated. Both sides got a lot out of this. However, I could tell that Sally was wanting to bring up something, so I gave her the high sign.

"We have some evidence - very indirect and circumstantial - that Solomon Harvek might have a connection to this case."

I hadn't planned to mention this but there was really no reason not to. I also knew that Sally was placing more emphasis on that tentative connection than I was and figured letting her pursue it might be a good check on my own judgement.

"He's at a gay rights rally in San Diego right now," said the reporter. "Should be back in town in a few days."

"Isn't he Mr. 'Gays deserve our understanding, sympathy and chemical castration'?" Sally said, startled.

"A bit of an overstatement," Ernest said, dryly. "As well as an oversimplification. Like most long-term politicians, not only does he go through impressive rhetorical gymnastics to justify previous positions which have proven unpopular, his current position may be the opposite of his original, with no sign given that he even realizes the contradiction."

"He's also Mr. 'It's not rape when I do it because I respect women.'," said Sally, with surprising heat. This was also news to me. I realized that maybe she had more reason than I did to want to nail him on something. "Why is he still a political strongman? They should have kicked him out of the party years ago! He hasn't even held office in nearly a decade!"

"He says he stopped running for office because it distracted him from his mission," said Ernest, again dryly. I was beginning to suspect that was his default mode. "The actual reason is that in his last three elections he kept pouring more and more money into the campaigns and winning by smaller and smaller margins, while making less and less of a favorable impression on his party. So he quit running for office in order to focus on being a force behind the scenes, mainly through his money. Though, of course, he makes certain everyone knows he's a force behind the scenes."

"None of which tells us if he might be involved," I said, pointedly.

"That's true," said Ernest, nodding. "I suppose I just want to blame someone, and would also really like to get the goods on him."

"There's lots of crooked or just incompetent politicians," I said, honestly puzzled. "Why do some folks have such hatred for him?"

"Hang on," said our host, as he did something on his computer.

He turned the screen around so we could see.

"Here's one of his speeches," said Ernest, as he clicked the virtual Play button. "You really need to hear it as he said it to get an accurate impression. It may explain why he would want to hurt Doro."

This turned out to be a speech the man had recently given at a fundraiser for a candidate he endorsed. At first Harvek wasn't any worse than most politicians. Then, though, he got to supers. He started out mild, but rapidly moved into full-blown spittle slinging. One thing he said particularly stuck in my mind.

"These elitist 'supers' think they're so much better than us! They think their randomly acquired abilities let them get away with whatever they want! They still must obey the same laws as the rest of us or face the weight of the law coming down hard upon them!!! If they will not behave like true, equal citizens of these United States, if they will not control themselves, if they will not behave they must be controlled by government regulations! If even one life is saved by controlling rogue supers that achievement completely justifies these measures!"

"I can't believe he used the 'If it saves one life!' argument," said Sally, tone very sour, as Harvek paused for a drink of water.

"I can't believe a man who has repeatedly abused the law and bought his way out of the consequences could condemn privilege like that with a straight face," I muttered, as the glass was put down.

The senator resumed his rant, going on and on about legitimate - though exaggerated - problems a small percentage of supers had caused and claiming this justified cracking down on all of us.

"Overgeneralize much?" I muttered, when the speech was over.

"Humans have an understandable but regrettable tendency to remember exceptions and act as if they were the rule," said Ernest, dryly. "Simply because the exceptions do stand out. What strikes me about this effect in connection to Harvek and his view of supers is that his whole position seems to be based on a bone-deep belief that since anyone can have super powers regardless of their socioeconomic background or accomplishments, the powers - and whoever has them - must be considered suspect. That, alone, gives him motive to act against Doro."

"Unless it helps us determine whether he actually is behind all this, please skip the psychoanalysis," I said, tiredly.

"I actually have a minor in sociology," said Ernest, a bit apologetically. "I thought I might want to be an FBI profiler. Decided to become a reporter instead."

I sighed, and told him about Doro's encounter with Harvek.

"Ow," said Chiodini, not at all sympathetic with the politician. "Though you're right. Just disliking supers - and maybe having some sort of personal grudge against Doro - doesn't make him guilty. Well, not of organizing these murders."

We talked for a little longer. Then Sally and I bid Chiodini farewell. We had a late supper then took the monorail back to the law office, where Shaw had agreed to meet us to find out what we had learned from the reporter. I didn't see any reason to try and conceal our trail this time. In fact, I wanted anyone who might be watching to be aware of this connection. The more people the guilty party believed might be out to get them, the more nervous they were likely to become. Nervous people made mistakes. If we could manage to survive whatever mistakes whoever was behind these crimes made in response to our actions, they would likely give us a break in the case.



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