06 May 2019 at 07:24:20
Part of Apex of Creation
The timing of my father’s arraignment could not have been worse: right in the middle of exam week, on a Tuesday afternoon. By sheer good fortune, I didn’t actually have any exams that day, but James and I both had Calculus on Monday and Organic Chemistry on Wednesday.
Tuesday was not going to be fun. At least I wouldn’t have to actually testify - that wouldn’t be needed until court, and my interview with Agent Ramsey was enough for the prosecution to bring charges. I had to be there, to see it, though. To see the look on my father’s face when he realized he no longer controlled me.
But those worries - along with the inevitable balance on my bursar account - were concerns for Future Emily.
For now, I just enjoyed James’ company. Right up until evening came and we realized that both Kevin and Maria were staying in. Reluctantly, we said good night and went to our separate rooms.
And then, I did what I’d done damn near every day of my pre-James life.
I escaped into studies. I escaped into math, into chemistry. I got lost in the rabbit hole of Wikipedia. I devoured stories on Reddit, I read all the recent news, and I even ended up on 4chan at one point.
But only briefly. 4chan wasn’t a terribly pleasant place.
In the blink of an eye, the evening had vanished, and it was long past time for bed. Another day done, with no mental breakdown. All things considered, today was a reasonable success.
Special Agent Samuel Ramsey
“Ramsey, you got a minute?” My boss knocked at the door of my cubicle. “Walk and talk?”
I closed what I was working on. “Good morning Ken. What’s up?”
“Let’s walk and talk.” he said, nodding vaguely in the direction of the coffee machine. “It’s the Butler case.”
I locked my workstation and got up. “Did something happen? I already submitted my report to the federal prosecutor; the arraignment is next week.”
Ken shook his head with a smile. “Not that.” He paused, and we walked in silence until we were in the canteen, out of earshot of my cube neighbors. Two swift finger-jabs later, the coffee machine was preparing to spit out something that was theoretically going to be mocha.
“What I wanted to say, is good job on the Butler case. If the prosecution goes well, you might even be up for promotion.”
I cocked an eyebrow. “Really?” I asked. “How do you figure?”
Ken shrugged, as the coffee maker started belching out some brown sludge. “I had lunch with the director the other day. She said something along the lines of - and I’m paraphrasing here - ‘We don’t pay the poor bastard enough to be dealing with that kind of bullshit.’”
“No kidding. Marianne said that?”
“Yup. Seems that Nigel Butler’s hotel vigilante bust drew a fair bit of attention higher up. You just got lucky enough to get the case handed to you on a silver platter.”
“Hmm. Well, I don’t know if ‘lucky’ is the right word, considering amount of unsavory evidence I’ve had to go through. But anyways, if that happens, I should see if I can put in a good word for the responding officer at the hotel. Dakota… what’s her name? Jackson, yeah.”
“Yeah, Officer Jackson sounds right.”
“I don’t think it was the vigilante bust itself that drew attention though. I don’t think I’ve ever seen resources vanish from an investigation faster. Not that we want people running around playing Batman or anything, but everyone seems to be silently thankful that it happened.”
Ken chuckled. There was a nasty sputtering noise as the coffee maker finished dispensing its brew. “Off the record, I think it’s pretty clear that there were at least two, maybe three people involved, and one of them had to have a master key. On the record, we have absolutely no leads whatsoever. Honestly, I’m alright with that.”
“So you’ve been following the investigation then?” I asked.
Ken stirred his cup of chocolate-scented tar before yielding the coffee maker to me. I hit the espresso button.
“On and off again. I’m familiar with the basics, but I haven’t gotten into the detailed evidence. Why?”
“You know how there was that hit attempt on Butler’s daughter that got interrupted?”
“Yeah, I heard about that. Hit attempt turned gang fight gone wrong, right?.”
“The cameras were down, but yeah, that’s what we think. One of the perps - a Tomas Alvarez - was indicted. Pled guilty and had a total mental breakdown in the courtroom. Screaming, crying, nearly hit his lawyer, tried to attack the arresting detective, and had to be restrained. From the sound of it, he thought he’d be getting witness protection or something like that.”
“Yikes. Can’t say that I feel very sorry for the guy though. Play stupid games, win stupid prizes.”
I picked up my cup of crude oil. “I know, right? I wouldn’t be surprised if that somehow ended up on YouTube or Reddit.”
“It’s a site… where… um…” I tried to come up with a concise answer and failed miserably. “Lots of different things, but there’s a page for public freakout videos. It would probably do well there.”
“Anyways, Butler’s arraignment is this week, but we’re still on the lookout for connections between his gang and the Butler ring. The fishing expedition was a total bust.”
Ken sipped his drink. “You know what, Ramsey? You should go to that arraignment. Looks good politically, you know what I mean? Dedication to the cause and all that.”
“I might do that.” Truth be told, I didn’t normally like to go to court. But if a possible promotion was on the line...
“Hell” Ken continued. “Maybe Butler will even plea down his sentence in exchange for cooperating and ratting out the rest of his ring.”
“That’s possible, I suppose. But the chat logs from his laptop… everyone used screen names that don’t turn up anywhere else on the internet.” I replied. “Butler was named Toxxxic, with three X’s. The channel owner goes by ‘Thanlols’, then there’s also a ‘Hotdogger’ and a ‘maphunter’. Google keeps asking if I meant to type ‘Thanos’ and showing me inappropriate cartoons of hotdogs. Honestly? I highly doubt that Butler actually knows the real-world identities of anyone else.”
“..Ah. I forgot about that bit. Well, we can hope. Hey, what about the wife? Allison Butler.”
I shook my head. “We don’t have that case. Allison is being handled at the state level. As I understand it, the main charge for her is failure to report child abuse.”
“Yeah.” I sipped my coffee. “In their state, everyone is a mandated reporter.”
Ken frowned. “But wasn’t she a victim too?”
I shrugged. “You’d have to talk to the state. Not my case, strictly speaking. Unofficially, I think that she has a lot going for her in terms of mitigating factors. She probably won’t spend very long in prison. Maybe a couple of years, minus time served?”
“Her husband’s going away for what, life?”
“Several dozen life sentences, unless he gets a plea deal down to only a couple life sentences. Barring something extraordinary, he’s completely screwed.”
Ken finished his coffee as we walked back to the cubicle farm. “Good.”
“Do I look okay?” Emily asked as I opened my dorm door.
“Wonderful.” I responded. In truth, Emily was stunning. It didn’t take much for her to go from her usual everyday attractiveness to downright gorgeous. She was wearing a blue dress, similar to the red one she’d worn - and subsequently ruined - on Valentine’s Day. She had a silver necklace and earrings to go with it, and her hair was pulled back into something more civilized than normal. Agent Ramsey had advised us to dress up for court, and Emily had outdone herself. Given the seriousness of the situation, I could hardly blame her.
While Emily came into the room, I scrambled to find a tie and closer match her level of formality. I came up with two - green and red. I held them up. “Which one?” I asked.
Emily frowned. “Red. Green is too… festive, I think.”
“Fair point.” I began fumbling with the tie in the mirror. “How are you doing today, Emily?”
“Terribly. I woke up at three thirty and couldn’t get back to sleep.”
“The calculus test was that bad?” I jested. I glanced at Emily in the mirror. Sure enough, a slight smirk escaped the corner of her lips.
“You’re very funny, James. You know how hard we studied for that.”
I finished tying my tie and turned to Emily. “How about me? Do I look okay?”
“Very handsome. Except for...”
“Aw, you’re so sweet. Now I just gotta do...”
“...the hair.” we finished in unison as I started rooting around in my hygiene bag for my hair gel.
“At least your hair takes what, thirty seconds?”
“Forty-five if I haven’t had a haircut in a while.”
“Only because I got you.” I grinned stupidly, as I darted into the bathroom to gel and comb my hair. “...Aaaaand… I think I’m ready.”
We left the dorm tower, looking slightly out of place as the best dressed people around. One quick hike to the student parking lot later, and we were on our way to court.
“Seven… Nine… Eleven, here we go.” I looked at the docket posting by the door, and confirmed that we were at the right spot. Emily and I slipped into the courtroom. The public seating was half full, and we found two seats in the second row from the back.
“Possession of a class one drug with intent to distribute. How do you plead?” the judge was asking.
Someone up front - the defendant's lawyer, probably - stood up. “My client has agreed to a plea deal for a reduced sentence. He pleads guilty.”
“The defendant pleads guilty. Sentencing to follow.” The judge banged his gavel. “Next!”
Drug trafficking. Grand larceny. Weapons trafficking. Bribery. The cases dragged on, most of them either pleading not guilty or accepting a plea deal.
Then, the side door to the courtroom opened. Emily stiffened and grabbed my hand, as Nigel Butler appeared.
Jail had not been kind to the man. When I’d seen him back in January, he’d been well-dressed, well-groomed, and sophisticated. Now, he was ragged, disheveled, and worn. Even across the room, I could make out the bags under his eyes.
With any luck, Nigel Butler would be getting even less sleep once his future co-prisoners learned what he was convicted of.
Emily and her father made eye contact. I could feel Emily’s hatred radiating from her, and Nigel’s contempt coming back. Emily gripped my hand so hard it almost hurt.
I’m not your plaything any more. Oh, how the tables have turned.
You. You did this to me.
I shook my head; I hadn’t even meant to divine their thoughts, but the emotions in both directions were intense. And I was emotionally invested too.
Then Nigel saw me. From afar, I could see hints of his sin in his eyes. It wasn’t nearly as intense as when we had made physical contact, but I knew what he was, and I knew what to look for. The dark fire was there, dulled by distance and a bit of time, but easily visible to me.
I was brought back to earth when someone slid into the seat next to mine. I turned to see Special Agent Ramsey. “I hope I’m not late.” he whispered. “Figured I’d come show support, since this case is kind of a big one.”
Emily broke eye contact and let go of my hand. “Appreciate it.” she whispered back, and shook his hand. “Thank you.”
“Nice to see you again, Emily. And nice to see you again too, James.” Ramsey whispered at me, offering his hand. I reached out and shook it.
Oh. Oh. Oooooooh.
I barely had time to process that realization, when the floor heaved open and all Hell broke loose.