It was a brilliant morning for a fishing trip. Michael Richardson’s father, John Richardson had promised to take his son for weeks, but work had always interfered. Finally, the workaholic Thomas Law Enforcement detective has managed to take a day off. They were ready to go with fishing equipment and a days' rations tightly packed into their horses’ saddlebags.
“Remember, son,” John informed the sixteen year old. “We're trying to catch enough fish to feed the entire station.”
“That's ambitious,” Michael observed. “I thought we were going fishing today to unwind from work, not bring it with us. Is this another job?”
“Not officially,” Michael's father replied. “It's good protocol to provide for one's collegues and friends. You'll learn one day when you replace me.”
“Is it good protocol to provide for family too?”
“I do provide for you,” John snapped in a dark, deep tone he usually reserved for the interrogation room but also when Michael gave him attitude.
“And it's this job that allows me to do so. You'll understand that when you have a family one day.”
“I'm never getting married,” Michael retorted.
John narrowed his eyes and examined his son quietly.
“Are you still upset about your mother?”
“Can't I make a decision without it being about Mom leaving?” Michael demanded. “Let's just go fishing.”
“Hang on,” John said, his gaze now focused behind Michael.
Heart sinking, Michael turned around. As he suspected, a messenger was riding his horse toward them. This could only mean one thing. There was an emergency at the station, just as there was always an emergency. Every time, John would drop everything to address.
“Detective Richardson, sir,” the messenger greeted him as he approached. “I have a message from the police station. They need you to come in right away.”
“What’s so important that it can’t wait until tomorrow?” John asked impatiently.
“Some Undergrounders found a couple of pickpockets living in the old library.”
“Homeless criminals are always found in the old building. It's unsanitary, but not an emergency.”
“Yes, sir. But...”
“They are children, sir. Beaten, starved, and...”
“Paranoid, shaking, and screaming about Franklin Moore... experimenting on them.”
“That's a new low, even for him.”
Franklin Moore. The magic words.
While Patron Thomas dedicated his wealth and influence to provide the people of New City with their daily essentials including food, clothes, and work. Meanwhile, Franklin Moore ruled a less honorable part of the city. He provided the city with drugs and weapons. There were rumors of human trafficking.
He was a dark cloud hovering above the city eager to rain ruin upon the good people. Innocents were afraid to walk outside. Hard work people were losing business. Most importantly, Thomas was losing business, and he insisted that his law enforcement not rest until Franklin Moore was either dead or in prison. Including its lead detective, John Richardson.
Michael would never deny it. He admired his father's brilliance and work ethic, even when it interfered with his personal time. He could tell his father genuinely cared about people, especially unfortunates and innocents. Victims of a world plagued by poverty, disease, and neglect. John's dedication to his job was admirable. However, it also seemed futile. Circumstances in New City would never get better. Franklin Moore would never see the inside of a prison. Michael would never have a care-free day with his father.
“What would Franklin Moore want with children?” John asked in disgust. “Where are they now?”
“They are safe at the station. The nurse is watching over them.”
“She won't let anyone near them.”
“Good. Make sure she keeps it that way. I'll be there as soon as possible.”
“Dad!” Michael protested.
“You're coming with me, Michael. While you’re there, you can learn a thing or two about your future.”
Michael paused to think. He had always hated the idea of following in his father’s footsteps. There were so many nasty aspects about being a detective that hardly made the “noble career” worthwhile. There were long hours, incredible amounts of stress, and unbelievable danger. On the other hand, the department's patron guarenteed security in leu of a salary. Room and board, uniforms, horses and weapons.
Michael had been the recipient of such generosity all his life. Only because of his father's promise that Michael would one day take his place. After many years of hard work, he would even be granted a small house and a wife. She would give him a son, and the cycle would continue.
“Fine,” Michael groaned. “Let's go.”
“I’m glad you understand,” John replied sarcastically.
He didn't. As John rode off towards town, Michael considered not following him. On the other hand, the case sounded intriguing. He would not want to miss some excitement. So, he steered his horse down the road after his father. The road from John’s home to the station was long. The station was located in the center of New City where citizens could have easy access to their service and protection. Law Enforcement house, on the other hand, remained safe on the outskirts of town near Thomas Manor.
Michael wondered if the inconvenient location was an attempt for Patron Thomas to keep an eye on his officers, not to protect them. The long road from home to station was riddled with dangerous people. Desperate, druggies, homeless, or men working for Thomas Moore. Any one of them could shoot him dead just for wearing a Thomas Law uniform. The closer to city center they would ride, the more dangerous the road became.
However, there was one part of the road that made him eager to ride it, Dr. Wilson’s health clinic. It was one of few safe havens in town. Dr. Wilson was the only doctor in town that Patron Thomas commended. The treatments he offered were strictly holistic.
Michael’s father called him a hippy, but Michael liked him. He was a good man. He cared more about people’s welfare than wealth. Michael’s favorite thing about the clinic (and his training) was Emily, Dr. Wilson’s nurse and daughter. Like Michael, she was an apprentice to her father. Like Michael, she was unhappy with her fate. Like Michael, she frequented the neighborhood bar for lunch.
That was how they met, and they’d eaten together everyday since. She would often tell him how unhappy she was with her work. Many of Wilson’s patients were dirty, homeless druggies. Many of them were just looking for shelter and a meal. Many of them enjoy the company of young girls. They made her very nervous, which is how she came to enjoy Michael’s company. She said that an enforcer (even a trainee) made her feel safe.
She made him feel needed, but he also knew that his job was far more dangerous than she fathomed. All the more reason he could never marry. Though he liked her, he imagine someone so sensitive addapting to such a dangerous way of life. He was better off alone.
In the meantime, he enjoyed riding past the clinic every morning on his way to the station. She would often be on the front patio sweeping. She would wave to him, and he would nod. However, she was nowhere in sight on this day. Michael had told her that he would take the day off, so she wouldn’t feel the need to sweep the front patio. Or Dr. Wilson was keeping her busy. Either way, it was probably better he didn’t see her. At the moment, he was fuming over the developments of his day.
“Michael!” he heard Emily called out.
He haulted his horse and spun around in his saddle. Emily stood in the doorway of the clinic with a rare expression on her face: excitement. For the first time since they met she was excited about her work. He could see the desire to share her news burning in her dark eyes as she rushed to his horse’s side.
“You won’t believe who the police brought into the clinic,” she said.
“Who?” Michael said, suppressing his annoyance as best he could.
He hated guessing games.
“I don’t even know how to describe it,” she continued. “It’s a medical miracle.”
“What is?” Michael asked suddenly intrigued.
“Michael!” John barked from halfway down the block. “I told you to stay close.”
“Tell me later,” he whispered.
“Okay,” she whispered back. “I’m glad to see you today.”
He nodded at her before he returned to his father’s side. They rode the rest of the way in silence, but Michael couldn’t shake the feeling that something serious was about to happen. As they entered the station, he even felt a heavy tension amoung the officers. Ever since the possibility of Franklin Moore’s questionable new venture broke, every officer in the station was commanded to investigation every developement with a fine tooth comb. The pressure was tremendous, but also exciting.
John lead Michael through the over-crowded building to his desk. The desk directly accross belonged to John’s partner, Detective Luke Ross. He was much more relaxed than John, but he was brilliant and thorough. Most impressively, he had a knack for entering into the mind of a criminal. His sense of humor may have been cringeworthy, but John appreciated his results.
“Where are they now?” John asked Luke without even a greeting.
Luke rolled his eyes, but John was too busy reading files to notice.
“They are already at the clinic,” Luke responded. “Dr. Wilson wanted to examine them as soon as possible.”
“What does he know so far?”
“Only what we already suspected. Starving and bruised. No broken bones or internal damage. They are, otherwise, in good health.”
“Any sign of drugs?”
“He’s still conducting his examination. So far, he’s doubtful.”
“Either way, we can use it to our advantage.”
“How?” Michael asked.
“If they are on drugs, then Dr. Wilson should be able to trace them back to Moore. If not, they would make credible witnesses for any other charges they have against them.”
“What if they’re lying about everything?” Michael demanded. “What if you can’t use them against Moore at all?”
“Then, we charge their family with abuse, and the orphanage will find them homes.”
“We won’t know until Dr. Wilson clears them.”
“What else do we have on Moore? Any updates on the human trafficing?”
“It doesn’t look promising. Moore is smart. He’s managing everything by the book.”
“How?” Michael asked.
John handed him the file.
“You tell me.”
Michael opened the file and examined the contents carefully.
“It’s a school,” he reported in disbelief. “Marsh’s Academy for Ladies. They take in adolescant virgins, train them in the domestic arts... ohmygod.”
“...And match them with potential husbands.” he scoffed before he handed the file back to John. “You have got to be kidding me. You’re not actually buying this, are you?”
“Of course not,” John replied.
“However,” Luke added. “We can’t charge it as trafficking unless the men pay for the girls.”
“Which means we’d have to catch them exchanging money redhanded,” John explained.
“Good luck organizing that,” Luke scoffed. “He’s setting up the school next door to Moore Mansion.”
“Isn’t that a sign?” Michael asked.
“Yes and no,” Luke said. “He’s on record admitting he’s keep the school close by for their own protection. He’s even providing body guards.”
“Male?” John asked.
“They won’t stay virgins for long,” Michael mused.
“Distasteful,” John said, “but not illegal.”
“What about rape?” Michael asked.
“They would have come forward, which means leaving school grounds and venturing into the most dangerous part of the city.”
“Not to mention destroying their hope for a secure life with a wealthy husband.”
“It’s far more likely that Franklin Moore will walk through those doors and turn himself in.”
“Can’t we pick him up for... being creepy? Who would start a school like this?”
“Technically, he is a Patron. The owner and headmistress is a woman named...”
“Ronnie Marsh,” Michael recited.
“Good memory,” John said.
“So, it’s all air tight? You can’t get him?” Michael asked.
“What would you suggest?” John challenged.
Michael considered the options carefully.
“An undercover job.”
“Hang on,” John interjected. “That’s not a bad idea.”
“Moore choses his body guards very carefully,” Luke argued. “If he catches even the slightest hint of unloyalty, he’ll shoot the man dead.”
“I didn’t mean a body guard,” Michael said.
“A girl?” John asked in disbelief. “Where are you going to find an adolescent virgin with insight to Thomas Law and the ability to read? In this part of town?”
“Emily Wilson?” Michael suggested.
“Dr. Wilson will never allow it,” John told him. “It’s a solid and creative theory, but impossible. No such girl exists. We should examine the options in front of us.”
“We’re back to the kids?” Luke asked. “Don’t count on it. We’ve been working on taking down the Moores for years. And you think you can place that in the hands of two kids with a drug addition and a criminal history.”
“Show a little compassion,” John retorted. “They’re children, innocents. It’s our job to protect them.”
“It's our job to find out what they're hiding.” Luke retaliated.
“What do you mean?” Michael asked.
“They sound desperate to me,” Luke responded. “The cops catch them squatting and pickpocketing. They'd tell us anything to avoid trouble.”
“It possible,” John said. “Let's go to the clinic and find out.”
The ride down the street to the clinic was short, but it was long enough for him to analyze the course of his day. When he wode up this morning, he expected a relaxing fishing trip with his father. No studies, no training, no shooting practice, no tests. All he wanted was a day to relax. Instread, he found himself in the middle of another impossible case.
He knew what his father would say. It was a speech he heard many times before.
Disappointment is part of the job.
Part of your training is to learn to adapt to every case as they come.
Until you accept that, you will never be ready to take my place.
It was pointless to even complain anymore, but he was still frustrated. By the time they entered the clinic, he was fuming. As John quietly conversed with the doctor about the young criminals, Michael searched the area for Emily. She hadn't been outside. She wasn't in the lobby or the patient area. He also didn't see any patients. That left one other room, the kitchen. She must have feeding them in the kitchen.
He considered joining them until his father suddenly raised his voice, and a part of their conversation caught his ear.
“I had plans with my son today. The only reason I'm here is because the message was marked urgent. You suggested they were drugged. By HIM. That they are somehow connected to him. Now, you tell me that they are not only in perfect health, but they refuse to acknowledge their connection to Moore.”
“They're not talking at all. They won't talk to the officers, they won't talk to me. They won't talk to Emily.”
“That hardly constitutes an emergency. Why am I here?”
“John,” Wilson said slowly and patiently, “I'm sorry I misled you, but I needed you to be here.”
“What are you talking about?”
“I don't need you,” he explained. “I need Michael.”
Michael's brow raised, his interest peaked.
“I was hoping the kids would be more receptive to someone closer to their age.”
“What about Emily?”
“Emily is working on her bedside manner. She hasn't exactly been accomidating, and they picked up on it pretty quick. Now, they won't even eat. They're convinced she's trying to poison them. Michael is trained to gently interrogate. He's the best chance we have in getting them to talk. Emily mentioned how charming and approachable he can be.
Michael's heart sank more with every word. In light of everything else, he was also a florified babysitter. He'd never thought of himself as charming or approachable. In fact, he had put in a lot of efforts to give people the opposite of that impression. What was Emily thinking?
“Michael!” Emily suddenly exclaimed from the kitchen doorway. He turned to look at her. “You came. I'm so happy.”
Swallowing his growing irritation with her, he nodded.
“Emily,” Dr. Wilson said. “Do you want to tell Michael why he's here?”
“These kids are totally nontrusting, expecially the girl. They won't tell us their names, where they come from, or why they were in that rotten, old building. And they won't even eat the food I made for them. I was hoping you could help us earn their trust. The sooner they get better, the sooner Dad can drop them off at the orphanage.”
“I'm afraid it's not that simple anymore, Emily,” Dr. Wilson interjected.
“What do you mean?” John asked.
“When they came to me, they were literally caked in dirt and mud,” he explained.
“It was disgusting,” Emily added.
“So,” Wilson said, “the first thing I did was give them baths.”
“They used up a lot of water,” Emily continued complaining.
“But we discovered why they had done that to themselves,” Wilson said.
“Why?” John asked
“I don't think they're hiding from the Moores,” he replied. “They're hiding from the Brotherhood.”
“They're redheads!” Emily exclaimed. “With grey eyes. And they're twins? The rarest of the rare.”
“A medical miracle?” Michael repeated her words from earlier.
“It's a coincidence,” he argued. “An unlucky one.”
“They should be with the Undergrounders,” John snapped. “Not hiding in plain sight.”
“The Brotherhood could have snatched them in a heartbeat,” Michael observed. “Why take the risk?”
“Excellent observation,” John relied. “Go find out.”
“Careful,” Dr. Wilson added. “They may be paranoid, but they are very clever. They nearly escaped three times since they've been here.”
“They, why did you leave them alone?” Michael snapped at Emily.
He ran into the kitchen before she could reply. Much to Michael's surprise, they kitchen wasn't empty when he burst through the door. A young boy with strawberry blonde hair and blue-grey eyessat calmly with his feet perched casually on the table and a know-it-all smirk on his face. Two untouched bowls of stew sat cold and forgotten in the center of the table. The girl, however, was nowhere in sight, and the back door was wide open.
“Where's the girl?” he demanded.
His smug expression didn't even flinch.
“She walked out,” he responded calmly. “I tried to stop her.”
As the boy spoke, Michael heard the kitchen door open and close behind him.
“Really?!” Emily angrily interjected. “People eat off that table.”
His expression changed as he diverted his attention from Michael to Emily.
“You can clean the table, can't you,nurse,” he bit back at her.
His eyes were dark, and his tone was cold.
“You think soap is easy to come by?” she demanded.
“Emily,” Michael snapped. “You're not helping. Go back to your dad.”
His frustration with Emily was growing by the second this was his first time seeing her in her elements, and he didn't like her attitude. He waited until she had stormed out of the kitchen before continuing his interrogation.
“Where is she, really?” he demanded.
“Really,” the boy replied, “she ran out.”
“Without her brother?”
The door behind him opened again.
“Find her, Michael,” John commanded.
“Does everything today have to be a test?” Michael snapped.
“Yes,” he replied matter-of-factly. “Where is she?”
“Isn't it obvious?” Michael replied. “She hasn't left the building,”
“He would have left with her,” Michael explained, “and no one's seen her in the patient area. That leaves only place.”
He pointed to the door to his right leading to Wilson's office.
“Wilson normally keeps his office locked.”
“And we're dealing with spry pick-pockets who broke into an abandoned buidling and successfully avoided the Brotherhood. Picking a lock should be fairly easy. Honestly, dad. If you're going to set me up for a ruse, then at least make it difficult.”
“I'm offended by that insinuation,” the boy replied.
The door to the office was cracked just as he suspected. Slowly and quietly, he pushed the door open. The office was eerily quiet. Too quiet. No candles were burning, but the scent of smoke in the air suggested that they had been very recently. He blinked several times trying to adjust his eyes to the dark. He crept forward uncertain of how to approach the hiding girl. As a victim or a suspect. Since she was a starved child he kept his night stick holstered. How much damage could a girl do?
“Miss?” he spoke softly. “I know you're in here. Don't be afraid. My name is Michael. I am a peace officer. I'm here to help.”
He heard no replied. Not even a gasp or labored breathing. However, he couldn't shake the feeling of a dark presence in the room. Cautious, he stepped farther into the office.
“Miss,” he repeated. “Please, come out. I promise I won't hurt you.”
Then, he heard something. The door behind him creaking. The little light that the kitchen provided slowly faded. In an instant, he realized his mistake. He should have checked behind the door before turning his back to it.
Resisting the urge to grab his night stick, he waited for the creaking to stop. Then, he spun around just in time to see the sillouette of a small, frail frame advancing on him. She swung hard at him, but he caught her wrist with his hand. She stumbled. So, he pulled her left wrist and swung her around pressing her back to his chest and pinning her crossed arm to her chest.
She cried out in frustration as squirmed against his grasp.
“Let me go,” she seethed.
“Go to hell, cop.”
He'd worked with unruly kids before. Their rebellion and resistance to cooperate often came from fear or frustration. Frustration that authorities didn't do more to protect them, and fear of what their guardians would do to them for ratting them out. He was now looking at a clear cut case of both. This girl required a careful strategy.
“You're stronger than you look,” he replied. “I'm impressed. You must have been taking care of yourself for a long time.”
“That's right,” she sneered. “What's it to you?”
“That depends,” he said. “If you are orphaned, homeless, or abused, we can help you. All you have to do is talk to my father.”
“Let me go,” she growled, still squirming.
In spite of the risk, he complied. Once released, the girl whirled to face him before pushing him back.
“There is no need to be so aggressive, tough girl,” he said calmly. “Like I said, I'm here to help.”
“How am I supposed to believe you?”
“I'm a peace officer.”
“Give me one good reason why I should believe you.”
“I'm a peace officer.”
“You could also be Brotherhood.”
“It's possible,” he agreed. “I guess you'll just have to take me at my word.”
“I've heard that before.”
“From whom? Parents? Guardian? Peace officers?”
“Ugh,” she responded.
“Why don't we talk in the kitchen?” he asked. “I'd like to at least see the face of the person I'm talking to.”
“I'm fine where I am?”
“In the dark?”
“You're not hiding something?”
“Maybe I am.”
“No need. I already know. Red hair, grey eyes, faternal twin. Makes no difference to me.”
“Doesn't it?” she asked, still suspicious.
“No,” he said. “I tend to look beyond the surface of a person. I look at who they are, not what.”
“And who am I?”
“Based on the facts I know so far, you're a petty criminal with no home and no respect for authority.”
She was silent for several moments.
“Fair enough,” she finally said, the anger and mistrust almost gone from her voice.
With that, she turned and walked back into the kitchen. Michael was stunned as he followed the girl back into the kitchen. The moment she stepped into the bright light of the kitchen, he understood the danger she faced in the world and why she was so afraid of the Brotherhood. Her hair was a bright as an apple. She would stand out anywhere she went.
The first thing he did as she sat next to her brother at the table was close the back door. He would need absolute privacy for his interview. Fortunately, there was no one else in the kitchen. It was eerily quiet as he sat down at the table across from the twins. Neither of them said a word. Instead, they studied him as much as he studied them.
They appeared to be the same age of 12 or 13, and there was no doubt the two were siblings. They bore similar feature: the same round face, the same half-moon shaped eyes, the same small nose, and the same thin lips. The color of their hair and eyes, on the other hand, differed. The boy's hair was strawberry blonde and the girl's hair was a darker red. They's eyes were an appealing mix of grey and blue while the girl's eyes were pale grey.
It was a detail Michael nearly missed, because her right eye appeared almost blue due to the fresh black and blue bruise that covered her eye socket. Michael also noted the bruises that dotted they boney arms and chest. He wondered if there were more beneath the plain white clothes Wilson provided all his patients.
His attention transitioned between the twins to his notebook and back to the twins. All the while keep a mental note of their stone cold expressions. Most suspects would fidget or glance around the room while he took notes, but these two sat perfectly still, their eyes baring the same look of disdain were locked onto him.
They've been through this before, Michael figured.
If so, they'd already have files.
“All right,” he said, once he finished taking notes. “Let's start with an easy question. What are your names?”
“They call me Matty, and this is Kira,” the boy replied.
“Okay,” Michael replied, marking the names in quotations. “Now, what are your real names?”
“Why?” Kira asked. “So you can send us back to that monster?”
“Or do you want to turn us over to the Brotherhood,” Matty demanded.
“What monster?” Michael asked gesturing to Kira's black eye. “Did he do that to you?”
They glared at him.
“Look” Michael said quickly losing his patience. “I can't help you if you don't help me If your parents did this to you -”
“Our parent are dead,” Kira interjected.
“And they were the kindest people to ever walk this disease-ridden earth,” Matty added angrily.
“I'm sorry to hear that,” Michael replied, scribbling more notes.
Parents dead. Plague?
“Who takes care of you?” he asked.
“A monster,” Kira repeated.
“Yes, you mentioned,” Michael said. “Does this monster have a name? Does he belong to the Brotherhood? Does he work for Franklin Moore?”
“What he does outside of the house is his business.”
Not homeless. Taken in by “monster.” Runaways.
“Is he abusive?”
“What do you think?” Kira replied touching her eye.
Abusive guardian. Relative. Uncle?
“We can protect you from him,” Michael said. “He'll go straight to jail. He'll never harm you again. But I need to know his name.”
The boy's eyes narrowed with rage and suspicion.
“For your information,” he seethed, “we were on our way to getting help before your moronic cops swooped us away. Now, we'llneverget help. We'llneverbe safe.”
Afraid of Brotherhood.
“Help from whom?”
“The Undergrounders, duh,” Kira answered. “They were minutes away from picking us up...”
“What makes you think the Undergrounders exist?” Michael asked.
The twins paused.
“Faith,” Kira responded.
Waiting for Undergrounders. Library is their pick up location?
“You're willing to put your faith in a group of people that never show their faces in sunlight? Yet, you refuse to put faith in a group of people sworn to protect you.
“If you could, you would have by now,” Matty sneered. “We take care of ourselves now.”
“So, you've been to the station before?” Michael inquired. “You filed reports against your guardians?”
“More or less,” Kira answered.
“And what do we get for it?” Matty added. “A cadet asking us elementary questions.”
Educated? Large vocab.
“How would you two know if I'm still training?”
In one perfectly unison motion, they pointed to Michael's chest. Where the badge on his shirt clearly read “Cadet Michael Richardson.”
“Excuse me,” he said moving to leave to the room. “I believe I have all I need at the moment.”
“What are you talking about?” Matty asked, confused. “You don't even know our last names.”
As soon as he opened the door, he found Shannon on the other side. The sudden swing of the door had made her jump back. She'd no dount been listening to his interview.
“Watch them,” he ordered. “Reallywatch them.”
His father was standing in the patient room with Dr. Wilson. They were examining a file, and Wilson was explaining its contents. As Michael approached, their whispers immediately stopped.
“That was fast,” John said.
“They weren't exactly a fountain of truth.”
“They lied to you?”
“I don't think so,” Michael said. “They spoke in riddles.”
“Like they're testing you?”
“I think you're testing me.”
John sighed with frustration.
“Maybe, I am,” John said. “Assuming I'm testing you, tell me what you know.”
“First of all, they wouldn't give me their names. Their nicknames are Matty and Kira, and I'm certain they already have files at the station,” Michael began.
“How long have they been thieving?”
“Not criminal. Complaints against their guardian.”
“Dead. Most likely from the plague.”
“What is their guardian's name?”
“They wouldn't say. They are terrified of him.”
“Terrified enough to runaway and live in a decrepit building.”
“Not live. Wait.”
“The Undergrounders. The library must be one of their pick-up spots.”
“Should we stake it out?”
“Leave it alone, Michael. The Undergrounders are good people. In a way, they make our job easier.”
“Fine,” Michael said. “We need to get back to the station and look through complaints against guardians.”
“We need more,” John insisted. “We need their names.”
“Two redheaded orphans walk into the station to complain about an abusive guardian, and you think no one would remember them.”
“Perhaps,” John replied. “I would have, but I don't.”
“How does that even end without an arrest.”
“Depends... on the guardian's connections.”
“Franklin Moore?” Wilson asked.
“They mentioned him by name for a reason.”
“Enough with Franklin Moore!” Michael snapped. “Those kids need protection fromrealthreats. An abuser and the Brotherhood. Let's focus on that.”
“You can't even give me their names,” John replied. “You want me to find those supposed files? Get me more.”
“There is something else,” Michael said. “It would make themreallystand out.”
“They can read.”
“Really?” Wilson replied. “What kind of homeless kids can actually read.”
“Indeed,” John replied pensively.
“Who are they?” Michael marveled.
“I don't know,” John said, “but I intend to find out.”
Seven Years Later
The sun rose above the horizon giving New City its primart source of light.For most of New City's citizens it would be another day of hard labor for very little profit. For the residents of New City prison, it would be another day of hard labor for no profit. Just two meals and a cot at the end of the day. For prisoner Peter Matheson, it began just like any other.
As soon as the sun light peeked through his window, he pulledtheitchy blanket over his eyes,desperate for the additional five minutes of sleep he could steal before the deafening bell thatsignifiedthe start of the day. However, this was no typical day. This day, a prison guard appeared outside his door and banged on the bars as loudly as possible.
Peter winced at unnecessarily loud noise. Feeling a headache coming on, he contemplated the possibility of getting away with killing the guard. He could just reach through the bars and snap his neck. It would be so easy...
“You have a visitor,” the guard announced. “Moore.”
“I have nothing to say to him.”
“Either you get out of that bed, or I'll come in there and drag you out.”
It was at that moment, the morning bell rang, it's unavoidably loud chimes resonating through each cell of the prison.
At that moment, he snapped. He threw back the blanket andjumpedto his feet. He would see his former boss only to tell him exactly where he could stick his visit. He cooperatively followed the guard to the visiting area. However, he was surprised to see the young man waiting for him was not Franklin Moore. This person was practically a child, no older than twenty-one. He had slicked-back blondehairand icy blue eyes. Yet, there was something familiar about those eyes. They were cold unfeeling and determined.
“Peter Matheson,” he said with a friendly smile after Peter sat down across from the unsettling stranger. “It's good to see you again.”
“Have we met?” Peter asked shortly.
“My name is Dennis,” the boy replied. “I'm here on behalf of Franklin Moore.”
“That's probably for the best,” Peter said dully. “I have nothing good to say to the boss man.”
The boys eyes narrowed.
“Keep in mind,” he said. “You put yourself in here. You choseto take theblame for him.”
“I didn't have a choice,” Peter sneered. “He threatened to turn in the kids.”
“Don't act like you're completely innocent in this. You may not have been theone to givethem the injections, but you knew the experiments were happening. Had you been properly feeding them, whose to say it wouldn't have worked?You are just as responsible for their condition as the doctors.”
“Yeah,” Peter scoffed. “I admit it. I was a lousy uncle. I made a lot of mistakes. I was poor and alone and working for aglorifieddrug dealer. I wasn't ready to take in a couple of kids. I did what I had to so we could survive. Otherwise, I'd have to turn them in myself.”
“Would that have been so bad?”
“Have you heard of the Brotherhood? And what they do to rarities? My brother did. He made me promise on his deathbed to do everything possible to keep his kids out of there. By any means necessary.Evenif it means selling them out to the boss. Even if it means going to prison for a crime I didn't commit.”
“Boss says all that stuff about the Brotherhood is rumors.”
“Don't believe everything the boss man tells you. He works with them, you know.”
“That is a serious accusation.”
“But it's true,” Peter replied. “He'll even occasionally sell out a rarity when he can find them, even children like my niece and nephew.”
“Speaking of the twins,” Dennis said, “I don't suppose you've heard from them recently?”
“They have no reason to come see me,” Peter replied. “Even if they wanted to, Richardson would never allow it. Not as long as they're in protective custody. I doubt they stayed in New City. They could be anywhere in the world.”
“Are you certain?”
Peter suddenly got a bad feeling about the boy. The deal he made with Moore was contigent on the twins safety. Peter would confess, and Franklin would leave the children alone. So, why was he so eager to find them now? Seven years later. They'd be almost twenty years old. Even so, Franklin Moore never broke a promise.
“Why,” Peter demanded suspiciously, “are you interested in finding them? You're not here for the boss, are you?”
The boy's mouth crept into a wicked smile. “You got me.”
“Who are you?” Peter demanded. “Are you with the Brotherhood?”
“Think of me as an independent,” Dennis replied calmly. “I'm not with the Brotherhood, but I am madly in love with a redhead. My many years of research brought me here... to you. Peter Matheson, uncle of Mark and Karmina Matheson. Two redheaded teens with a reputation, a record, and a fondness for books.”
“If you already know her name and background, why do you need me?”
“She's in a place that's hard to access.”
“Then, you know more than I do. I lost custody of them seven years ago. You want to discuss their rights, ask Richardson. I can't help you.”
“Yes,” Dennis replied. “That trouble maker, Richardson. Even in his retirement, he refuses to give up the case keeping those twins under lock and keys. He even stole their files from the station, before my informant could get them to me.”
“Good,” Peter replied.
“If he's doing anything to protect my niece from the likes of you, Brotherhood or not, then he has my full support. I may even write a letter informing him that some punk kid named Dennis, if that is your real name, is trying to hunt Karmina down.”
The boy remained calm and quiet as Peter spoke making it nearly impossible to determine what he was thinking.
“So, you're saying I don't have your approval?”
“Don't take it personally,” Peter replied, unfaltered. “No man on Earth has my approval. And if you knew her at all you'd know you wouldnothave her approval either, especially if you work forhim.”
“I do work for him, and I don't think he'd be too happy about your sudden change of heart. Keep in mind, those twins are a threat to the business. If boss gets even the slightest hint that they're still in town or resurfaced, he'd have them killed in a heartbeat. Is that what you want? I can protect her. I can provide for her. I can take careofher. And her brother by extension. That's more than most of this city's beggar population could dream of.”
“Listen carefully, because I'm only going to say this once. You stay away from my niece. I would rather diethansee her married to anyone who works for Franklin Moore.”
“That's your final say on the matter?”
“You'd break your promise, write to Richardson, and jeapordize our boss' empire over a girl?”
“That girl is my niece, my blood, I made a vow to protect. I failed to do that seven years ago, but I'll do it now.”
Peter didn't even see the boy draw the revolver, but he heard the gun shots before everything went dark. Those shots were the last thing he ever heard.
“Thank you for the meeting,” Dennis Moore said, tossing a bag of coins to the prison guard. “My father thanks you, too.”
The guard merely nodded to Dennis as he walked out of the room. Once outside, he welcomed the cold, fresh air with enthusiasm. The inside of the prison was hot and stuffy, and everyone smelled. It made him wonder how people couldbearto live in that building every day. In that moment as he mounted his horse, he decided he would never end up in prison.
“Dennis,” a deep voice said from behind him.
Dennis spun around, his hand on his gun and heart pounding. It was Franklin Moore.
“You startled me,” he said.
“Did Matheson cooperate?” Franklin demanded.
“No, sir,” Dennis Moore replied. “In fact, he threatened to recant his confession.”
“Well, that’s less than ideal,” Franklin responded. “Did you take care of it.”
“That is good work, but Richardson could still come after us. Why else would he steal those files from the station?”
“I firmly believe that is hisintention, sir.”
“Then, I'll have to take care of him.”
“Let me do it,” Dennis eagerly offered. “I've already proven myself here. I can find those files.”
“You handled a dumb, common criminal. John Richardson is the finest detective this city has ever seen, and his son is sure to follow. I need someone strong and reliable.”
Dennis hated every time his father compared him to Michael Richardson. He hated Michael. He hated everything Michael stood for. He hated everyone Michael loved. In Franklin's eyes, Michael was everything that Dennis wasn't. Michael was strong, successful, and handsome. Michael was a son after his father's heart. Michael Richardson was Dennis Moore's mortal enemy.
“Fine,” Dennis replied bitterly. “Ask Michael Richardson to retrieve the files.”
“Don't be petty, Dennis.”
“I'm here. I'm your son. I'myourheir. Let me prove myself. I can do it.”
Franklin sighed, hesitant, and Dennis continued.
“One day, like it or not, I will take your place. I deserve more challenging jobs. Otherwise, you will leave me woefully unpreparedto manage yourempire... and without a progeny.”
Franklin sighed again.
“Congratulations. You've made your case. Go see John Richardson. When you finish, I will give you what you want. I will take you to the academy to meet your bride.”
“Don't joke with me,” Dennis said controlling his excitement.
“Whether we take her home today will depend on you.”
“Who is she?” Dennis asked eagerly.
“I don't know much about her,” Franklin said. “Mistress Marsh promised me she is a star pupil. She is called Donna Belle, a gorgeous blonde and a champion of the domestic arts.”
“Blonde?” Dennis repeated, disappointed.
“Yes,” Frankling answered sharply. “What is wrong with blondes?”
“Nothing. I was hoping for the redhead.”
“There are no redheads at the academy.”
“Yes, there is,” Dennis argued. “I've seen her.”
“Where?” Franklin demanded. “You haven't entered the academy without my permission, have you?”
“No,” Dennis said. “Every morning, she climbs onto the roof. I can see her from my bedroom window.”
“That is absurd.”
“No, it's not,” Dennis argued trying to control his growing his anger. “She likes to read in the light of the dawn.”
“Stop making up nonsense!” Franklin barked. “Virginsdon't climb buildings, they don't read, and they don't have red hair! Redheads areliabilities. If I find a single redhead in my academy, I would immediately hand her over to the Brotherhood.”
So, it's true,Dennis realized, thinking back to Peter Matheson's accusations.
“But they're monsters,” he argued. “Have you heard what they do to rarities?”
“Rumors, of course.”
“How do you know?”
“You know what?” he responded calmly. “I don't know.”
“Then, how could you do it?”
“Because I need them to stay away from my academy.”
“Why do they agree to leave the virgins alone?”
“Father Addison and I have an understanding,” Franklin replied. “That's what you have yet to learn, son. Leadership isn't just about power and money. You have to work with people. You have to negotiate. You have to compromise.”
“I understand, sir.”
“Then, show me,” Dennis pleaded. “Go get those files from Richardson, and try not to kill him... unless it's necessary. Bring me the files, and I'll give you what you want.”
“Are you serious?”
“Meet me outside the academy gates at 7:30, and we'll go from there.”
“If I don't find the files, then I'll find out where they are,” Dennis vowed, his heart pounding with excitement. “I promise.”
“I will wait for you outside the gates of the academy at 7:30,” Franklin instructed. “Sharp. Don't be late.”
Dennis was not excited about meeting a strange blonde that day. However, he would at least gain access to the academy, and he could find the redhead once inside. Franklin would see he was not crazy or a liar. Step by step, he would prove himself. Then, when the time was right, he would take his father's place. One way or another. One step at a time.
For now, he had a job to do. He rode as fast as he could to the home of John Richardson. Hopefully, John would be alone. Dennis would be able to sneak, find the files, and then empty his gun into the father of his mortal enemy.
Finally, he relished.A job I will enjoy.
Detective Michael Richardson reined his horse to a stop outside his father’s house, dismounted, and headed inside. The small house was quiet, but he knew where to find John. He was in his office hovering over his desk, which was cluttered with papers and files. Michael sighed at the sight of it. It didn’t matter if his father was retired; his mind would always be at work.
“Father,” he said with disappointment. “What are you doing? What is all this?”
“You never should have closed this case, Michael,” he replied without looking up at him. “I was so close to solving it.”
“You did solve it,” he reminded his father.
“Except,” the old man argued, “the link to Franklin Moore’s…”
“But you couldn’t,” Michael interrupted. “You’ve been retired for two years now. You’ve got to let it go.”
“What about the witnesses? Innocent children. Should I let them go?”
“What happened to them was tragic,” Michael responded.
“You sound like the chief,” John muttered.
Ignoring his father's bitting remark, he continued.
“The image of those starved, frightened children will be burned in my memory forever, but that doesn't make Franklin Moore the suspect. It was a simple child abuse case. That's all.”
“They identified him.”
“They were high on drugs.”
“They described him in detail.”
“They describedamiddle aged, white man.”
“They also described his son.”
“Dennis was the same age. Maybe, they went to the same school.”
“They didn't go to school.”
“You're not helping your case.”
“It was for their protection!”
“So, the Brotherhood was unacceptable, but starvation and drug addiction was just fine.”
“Because of Franklin Moore.”
“Why, then, did their uncle take the blame?”
“If I knew that, Franklin Moore would be in prison.”
“That's what this is all about, isn't it?” Michael asked angrily. “You would find any excuse to put Franklin Moore in prison. Any excuse at all.”
“He's a crime lord,” John responded. “It shouldn't be this hard. Unless...”
“Unless, he's paying off a cop.”
“That’s no excuse to steal official police files.”
“For their protection,” he said in his defense. “That nosey partner of yours...”
“I can’t tell you why Meyer was so interested in the file room,” Michael explained rolling his eyes. “Maybe he was conducting an inventory. That doesn't make him a traitor.”
“It doen't mean he's not.”
“I try not to askquestionsthat make my partners feel like traitors.”
“What kind of detective doesn’t ask questions?”
“A dispassionate one,” Michael said as he walked over to John’s desk. “Just hand me the files, so I can get to work.”
John sighed heavily and stood from his chair openly allowing Michael to look through a pile of letters. He was looking for four police files, which sat neatly stacked to the side, unopened and orderly. Michael was relieved of that. At least, he could tell Chief Ross that his father had taken the files, but had not altered them. The case was so old that it probably wouldn't have mattered.
“Maybe, you are dispassionate now,” John said as Michael placed them in his satchel, “but one of these days you’ll find yourself emotionally involved in one of your cases. I can assure you of that.”
Michael scoffed. “If you say so.”
“Yes, I do,” he agreed proudly. After a long pause, he added, “Keep those files safe, or those children are doomed.”
“It’s been seven years,” Michael groaned. “Do you honestly believe that Franklin Moore is still looking for them?”
“It’s a risk I cannot afford to take.”
Before he could respond, Michael watched unsurprised as his bitter father disappeared out of the office and into the kitchen. He sighed and shook his head before the pile of letters on the desk grabbed his attention. Though curious about who would bother writing to John, he still respected his privacy. John’s personal matters were his own. It was one thing with which Michael was happy not to involve himself.
“Do yourself a favor,” he said. “Clean out all this paper. No one likes a hoarder.”
“These papers are important.”
“All of them?”
“Yes, they're letters.”
“From whom?” Michael demanded reaching for one.
“An informant,” John argued snatching up the stack of letters before Michael could take them. “She's very important.”
“An informant,” John repeated, “who happens to be female.”
“Where would you find a girl that can write?”
“Let's say, she fell into my lap.”
“Like an angel?” Michael asked mockingly. “Dad, I know Mom is gone. I know she's not coming back. So, if you want to move on, romantically, then I'm fine with it.”
“She's not my girlfriend.”
“Whatever you say.”
“Yes, I do say.”
Michael paused, examining his father's physical state. Even for a man in his fifties, he had always worn his age well. His otherwise dark brown hair was lightly sprinkled with grey, and he had ocean blue eyes that sparkled every time he knew he was right. His face had mininal wrinkles and a strong jaw line. Even with the dark circles under his eyes, he looked no olderthanforty-five. He was alsostrongand fit. Physical fitness was a hard habit to break, even two years after retirement.
In spite of looking young and fit, he was woefully unkempt. Unfortunately, his obsession over the unsolved cases he left behind didn't provide much time for self care. His hair was dishevled, there were dark circles under his eyes, and his skin was pale as if it hadn't seen the sun in months. Above it all, he looked tired. His body, his mind, and his heart were all exhausted. Michael wished he could do more to give his father some people, but John would never find it as long as he obsessed over his old cases.
“I'll be back tonight,” Michael told him. “What would you like for dinner?”
“Usual,” John muttered as he buried himself in his mysterious letters.
“All right,” Michael replied. “Try to clean yourself up while I'm gone. Even if you don't have a girlfriend –”
“It doesn't mean you can't. It'll be good for you. You'll have another focus in your life.”
“Maybe,youneed a girlfriend,” John retaliated.
“I'm going to work now,” Michael quickly announced.
He rushed out of the house before his father roped him into another awkward conversation about his need for a companion.
Nineteen-year-old Karmina Matheson sat at the writing table in her unadorned bedroom as sheadded the final touches toher latest letter to Detective John Richardson. The long-awaited, dreaded for Karmina – day had arrived where young Dennis Moore would come to claim Angela, her closest friend, to be his bride. Despite Karmina’s desperate pleas for her to reconsider accepting his proposal, Angela was oddly eager to get married as soon as possible.
The whole idea of Dennis Moore getting married to any of the virgins at Marsh's Academy shook her to the core. It had nothing to do with his circumstances, because he was the son of the wealthiest man in town. For years, Karmina watched many of her fellow students battle each other for such an “honor,” working themselves to the brink of exhaustion. Every student except for Karmina was disappointed to learn the winning student was Angela. However, no one was surprised,sinceshe was the most beautiful and skilled inthedomestic arts. Headmistress Marsh had expressed the importance of first impressions considering the Moores were honorable patrons, and she intended to keep them as such.
It had been hard for Karmina to take the competition seriously. She never even tried to impress Marsh. It killed her that she couldn't tell them the truth about the Moores. On the other hand, it gave her a wealthofinformation to pass on to Detective Richardson. He had expressed a keen interest in learning the identity of Dennis Moore’s future wife for the purposes of making her a spy and getting a much needed pair of eyes inside Moore Mansion.
When Angela had been named, Karmina immediately made it a point to befriend her. Never had she expected she would start to care about Angela and her welfare in the process. It wasn’t hard. Angela was a kind, charismaticgirland impossible not to love. Over time, it became harder to allow the wedding to occur. She could not shake the fear that Angela was in serious danger. As Mistress of Moore Mansion, she would no doubt be stuck alone with Franklin and Dennis and whatever evils with which they were involved.
All of these sentiments she expressed in her letter to Detective Richardson in a colorful language she only used when in the heat of desperation. The bottom line remained the same as it always had: she feared for the safety of the future Mistress Moore, whichever girl happened to fill the role, and she begged him not to prosecute her should she act in defense on the girl’s behalf.
She folded, sealed, and addressed her letter before placing it between the pages of her Bible. All the while, she contemplated anything she could say to Angela in one last attempt to save her friend. Short of revealing her dark secret and ruining a seven-year-old mission, she quickly realized there was nothing further to say.
She stared hatefully out her window at the roof of the grand house that loomed a mere half mile from the academy’s front door. Franklin Moore prided himself in keeping all of his investments as close to himself as possible. She could only imagine how fortunate it must have felt for Mistress Marsh when he secured the property next door to him when she had first founded the academy. Every morning, as Karmina sat on the roof to read she would glance over at the house with a desire to see something incriminating. At the very least, she hoped to see it one day burn to the ground.
Most days, she would arise early in order to use the first rays of the morning sun to read her books and enjoy the solitude. However, she knew better on this day. Any moment, Franklin and Dennis would appear at the gate. She did not want to risk them seeing her. Her auburn hair and grey eyes gave her a very distinct look. The chance of being recognized could cost her very dearly; most likely it would cost her her life.
If she wanted to see her friend before her engagement ceremony, she would have to take the long way through halls of the third floor. That floor was completely vacant. It always had been, and its many rooms were used for storage. Sometimes, Karmina found girls hiding in the rooms playing games or practicing the things she secretly taught them, primarily self-defense and reading. Once a week, she gathered many of her enthusiastic learners for a reading. They loved listening to stories, because entertainment was sparse in the academy. Marsh was a stern advocate for hard work and little else.
It had taken four years to secure a Bible from her book dealer. Bibles were extremely hard to come by. If a member of the Underground were lucky enough to find one, it would be carefully hidden. Otherwise, members of the Brotherhood would burn them. Karmina could often see smoke rising from within the city limits signifying a book burning. The thought of such depravity made her sick to her stomach.
She found it impossible to understand why some people embraced ignorance so openly. What was left of the old world’s written word was their only key to understanding how it thrived and why it failed. Perhaps, they were afraid of the answer. Perhaps, they believed they were better off without the answer.
However, that was something Karmina Matheson could not abide. Despite Mistress Marsh’s campaign to keep the poor girls in a state ofignorance, Karmina believed wholeheartedly that knowledge was true power. It did not matter how many clothes she mended in exchange for books. She would not rest until she had acquired as many books as she could.
She listened carefully as she passed each door on her path down the hall of the third floor. There was no one inany of the rooms today. She did not expect there to be. With Dennis Moore’s impending arrival to claim Angela, everyone had strict orders to be on their best behavior and remain in the restricted areas.
Not even Karmina could argue with that. She had resolved to remain locked in her tower for the entire day. As soon as she gave Angela one final chance to back out of the engagement. If Karmina failed, her last resort would be sending out the letter, and that would be the end of it. Her footsteps echoed through the empty hall as she climbed the long winding staircase to her neighboring tower, but she was surprised to find to door locked. Angela never locked her door. She knocked politely.
“Angela? It’s Rose,” she called through the door. “Can you let me in?”
“Angela,” Karmina called knocking loudly. “If you’re still in there, you need to come out. Dennis Moore will arrive any moment. You know how particular Mistress is about time. She'll find a way to blame me.”
A wave of alarm suddenly struck her causing her heart rate to double. She threw all her weight against the door and pushed until it relented. But it swung open suddenly and caused her to lose her balance. She struck the floor hard enough to knock the wind from her lungs.
Ignoring the pain in her palms and knees, she climbed to her feet looking around at the chaos that had become of her room. The chair that had once rested by the window now lay on its side by the door. The linen had been stripped from the bed, and the mattress was stained with a light spattering of blood. Her mirror was shattered and shards of glass littered the floor. Karmina’s heart pounded in terror as she took in the room. However, Angela was still nowhere to be found.
“Angela,” Karmina managed to say, barely above a whisper.
Something caught her eye from the other side of the bed. It looked like a corner ofasheet. She crept across the room afraid of what she would find.
“Angela?” Karmina asked instinctually, knowing a reply would not follow.
She was wrong. A small whimper escaped from the corner. There was Angela cowering in the corner shrouded in bloodstained bed sheets. Upon a closer look, Karmina could see that a coat of blood also stained her arms from fingertips to elbows.
“Angela!” Karmina cried rushing to her side. “What’s happened? Where are you bleeding?”
Angela answered with a series of sobs.
“I need to call you a doctor,” she declared, peeling the sheets away from her friend. “Can you stand?”
“I don’t know,” she said with a throat so dry she could hardly whisper.
“You can take care of me, can’t you?” she pleaded. “You trained with Dr. Wilson.”
“In the field of drug withdrawal,” she exclaimed. “That hardly qualifies…”
“All right,” she relented. “Just be quiet. We don’t want to attract Mistress’ attention.”
She walked over to her dresser where an untouched water pitcher sat. She poured a glass for Angela to drink and the rest of it went into a washing basin. Then, she turned around and told Angela to undress. Before she moved to examine and wash her, she pushed the dresser in front of the door. So, no one else would be able to walk in on them. When she turned around she saw that Angela had consumed the whole glass, but she hadn’t removed a thing.
“Angela?” she said with some annoyance. “I can’t help you if you’re not going to cooperate.”
“You have to promise you won’t tell Mistress about this.”
“Have I told any of your secrets yet?” she asked gently. “Of course I won’t tell her.”
She walked back over to Angela’s corner and began to help her out of the bed linens. At first, all she saw was more blood stained white material. But her eyes cleared and she saw where on Angela’s dress the blood was concentrated. Then, she saw that Angela was holding a small bundle inside her pillowcase against her stomach. Karmina’s jaw dropped and she nearly lost her balance.
“Oh, my God,” was all Karmina could say.
It was Michael's first case of the day. Two sailors had been shot at New City port. He and his partner, Detective Henry Meyer, arrived on the scene just as the Dr. Wilson was zipping up a body bag. A crowd of sailors and random civilians had formed around the crime scene. Michael immediately jumped down from his horse and started barking orders to the police officers.
“Get those people back,” he ordered. “Do you want them trampling on important evidence?”
“Yes, sir,” they responded.
“Question them all,” Meyer added. “I want the statement of every witness available.”
The men dispersed while Michael examined the area where both the dead and the unconscious sailors were found. There wasn’t much except rocks and dirt, but something glittered that caught his attention. Pulling on his gloves, he leaned down to examine the source. It was a bullet casing. Looking closer, he saw there were more of them. Seven to be exact.
“Bag thesecasings,” he told Meyer, turning this attention to something else.
A few feet away he noticed a small bundle of broken wood.
“What do you suppose it is?” Meyer asked from behind him.
“It looks like…” he paused and picked up a piece. It was made of brown wood, and wire like strings dangled from it. He could barely make out the familiar black curly design. “It looks like some kind of string instrument. Too small to be a guitar. A violin, maybe. Find out if one of our victims was a musician.”
Meyer disappeared to question the surrounding sailors while Richardson bagged the splintered instrument. He then handed the evidence bags to a nearby officer before he walked toward the medical carriage and poked his head inside. Wilson was treating a young, ginger-haired sailor. His otherwise white uniform was dirty, torn, and bloodied from the injuries to his arm and head. He was unconscious.
“Has the witness come to?” he asked the Dr. Wilson.
“No,” the Dr. Wilson replied. “He’s been shot in the arm and has a very serious head injury, mostly likely from hitting the ground. It may be days before he wakes up.”
“So, throw a bucket of water on his head,” Michael demanded unreasonably. “I don’t have time to wait days. He has crucial information.”
“With all due respect, detective,” Dr. Wilson snapped, “I don’t tell you how to do your job. Don’t tell me how to do mine.”
With that, he reached over and slammed the carriage door closed. Michael sighed, afraid and frustrated. If the sailor died, the case may die with him. If he survived, the shooter might hunt him down to finish the job.
He turned to the officer next to him and said, “Follow that medical carriage to the clinic and guard that witness. Don’t move from his side until his eyes open and he starts talking.”
“Yes, sir,” the officer replied.
Meyer approached Michael hastily and reported his findings.
“The violin belongs to our victim.”
“Name?” Michael demanded.
“No one knows,” Meyer replied.
“Check his dog tag.”
“He doesn’t have a dog tag.”
“God damn it!” Michael swore. “Question those men again. See where the sailors are staying and find out who didn't check in.”
“You don’t suppose this was the work of the Brotherhood?” Meyer asked nervously, knowing Michael hated mention of the cult.
“I doubt it,” Michael replied. “They set fires, because fires are cheap. They don’t have the resources for guns. Besides...”
“Yes?” Meyer asked eagerly when Michael didn't continue.
“Well, there is that one glaring piece of evidence.”
“Are you saying I missed something?”
“What glaring piece of evidence?”
“What about him?”
“He's a redhead,” Michael said. “Would the Brotherhood leave behind such a valuable asset? Even if he was injured?”
Meyer was too stunned to speak, almost making Michael snicker. It was a rare moment where he could make his know-it-all partner speechless. He savored the moments when he could. Most of the time, he wondered how Meyer even made detective. Meyer was openly prejudiced, and his observations were mediocre at best. Suddenly, he found himself wondering if his father's suspicions were true. Could he be an agent for the Moores?
The moment he'd arrived to the station, Meyer had immediately swept him out again for the case. He didn't even get the chance to turn in the files. They remained in his satchel. On their way to the port, Meyer asked if John had the files, but Michael insisted they focus on the case at hand.
He would have to test that theory.
“It’s more likely this is the work of –”
“Don’t say it, Richardson,” Meyer warned him, quickly regain his voice. “Your father took that road seven years ago, and it led him down a long and fruitless path. Do you really want to make that same mistake?”
“No,” Michael replied. “Absolutely not.”
However, he couldn’t help but wonder if the Moores were involved. What could a sailor have that was worth killing for? Suddenly, his father’s voice started to echo in his head.
You’ll find yourself emotionally involved…
“No, I won’t,” he muttered bitterly. “I’ll die before I end up like you.”
No sooner had he finished that thought when a police messenger galloped into view.
“Michael Richardson!” the messenger announced hastily.
“I am Michael Richardson,” he replied.
“Your Chief urges you and Dr. Wilson to the home of John Richardson immediately.”
“What’s happened?” Michael asked.
“There has been an incident.”
Though the statement was vague, experience told him something terrible had happened. He ran to his horse, mounted it, and kicked it into motion. All he felt was regret that he'd left his father alone in spite of his instincts. With every step his horsetook, his heart sank a bit further. He didn't know what had happened, but he couldn't shake the feeling that he'd never see former Detective John Richardson again.