Life had certainly interestinged up a bit. A lot, actually. Quite. Because I was very big news Sunday morning.
Based on the size of the headline in the Sunday paper you’d’ve thought they had captured Hitler. I had been so lost in meself hiding in plain sight I’d completely lost sight of how big a case the assassination of the ambassador was.
I got caught up Sunday morning. At leisure, too, because I was the only guest in the three-cell nick. There were a few screws, it was difficult to know for sure how many because they kept coming and going. I’d ordered breakfast out and the screws provided a pretty lousy cup of coffee and had I not been in a cell, and without Constable the cat, it might well have been pleasant. Custody ensures there are never too many demands on your time.
Blimey, me mug shot was ugly. I’d been obliged to remove me wig or else they would have done it for me, so I was mostly bald up top. Fortunately, they didn’t make me wash out me coloring or I’d’ve been a fright. Me eyes looked shocked, dumbstruck and, more than anything, sad. As snapshots go, it was rather poignant.
Mine, to hear it told, had been an international manhunt, from the States to Finland to Senegal, at least at the start, when sightings of me were pouring in left and right. This, if you ask me, made everyone look downright silly because I’d never left the city.
The constable was hardly eating up the limelight. The chase had humbled him and he showed the contrition appropriate for a man who had been flailing about hopelessly for years before arresting me on what had to be an utter fluke. I still had some zero clue how they had found me and the papers didn’t seem to know, either, the constable apparently reserving that knowledge for himself. The only thing the constable said for the papers was that they had acted on a tip.
From who? Nobody knew who I was or where I was. Nobody in the Firm knew, Monica had some zero clue and Constable the cat couldn’t use a phone. Neither did the constable speculate how I managed to live underground for several years, though there were no shortage of others willing to do that for him. One story noted the constable didn’t say I had not gone overseas and the story even intimated there might be other unsolved, probably precautionary, murders I may have committed, each rife with international implications; it was impossible to say either way. My fave was some columnist who had solid information that those who go underground spend a lot of time moving from place to place, like that writer who pissed off the Muslims and ended up with a death sentence. He said that guy and his wife changed hotels every three days and it was likely I was doing the same, too, at least for a while and he suspected I had grown weary of underground life and had subconsciously let meself get caught.
Ha! They wish. This got me thinking about how I most certainly did not live moving from hotel to hotel. Me life underground had been well planned and well-executed. Don’t even start. But then that got me down because it would be a long time before I lived that life again, if ever, so I stopped thinking about that, though I was never too far away or removed from thinking about Constable the cat.
I read every word of me coverage, too. One, I had little else to do. Two, I could not get over the magnitude of the news. I was the biggest story on the planet! It was especially big news in the ambassador’s homeland, of course, and they were already starting to talk extradition.
Later that day one of the screws got off the elevator, made his way to me cell and proclaimed me attorneys were here to see me.
Me attorneys? I didn’t know I had an attorney, much less multiples of them. I had no bloody idea what the deal was, but years of haggling with ministers and royalty for the pleasure of Rachel and Monica’s company and collecting ransoms taught me to keep me face in any situation, so I nodded as if I’d been expecting them as a matter of course. To further keep up appearances, I even muttered that it was about bloody time.
I recognized Mauricio as soon as he got out of the elevator, of course. I hadn’t seen him since I first got to the States, but he was easy to spot. As usual, his dark skin and closely curled hair betrayed his African ancestry, but his facial features and especially his hands showed his European heritage. He wore a suit and as always looked like he belonged where he was and for this role he even carried a briefcase. Put a screw’s uniform on him and he would have looked like he belonged a screw, too.
He got off the elevator with a woman, about me age, who immediately gave the impression of competence, perhaps brilliance, and that she knew exactly what she was about. Like every man, the first thing I noticed was whether or not I was attracted to her. Blame Mother Nature. Her only mandate is reproduction, so she sees to it that is the first thing we notice. No, I wasn’t particularly attracted to her. Good thing, too, when you’re in the nick. The last thing I needed was the hots for me solicitor.
The screw unlocked the barred door that led to the cells and the two entered. Mauricio immediately answered my first question, do we know each other, by sticking out a paw and heartily greeting me. He introduced the woman as Abigail, who extended a hand, said hi and handed me her card. It confirmed her name was Abigail and I turned the card over and there was a crude drawing of the Firm’s logo. After I had stopped looking at the card Mauricio said The Chairman sent his very best. We sat down at a round wooden table that had attached stools. I then got up and asked the screw if I could offer me guests some coffee and he said sure.
Mauricio said I should have followed his advice and met him at the intersection after I’d bolted me flat, that they would’ve had me out of the country. I told him that wasn’t the advantage he thought it was, mainly because I would be dependent on the Firm. Control what you can control, I said, which made Mauricio smile. I added I had prepared well for this evolution, that I had a safe house, papers and money already lined up and that it was easy to hide in plain sight. I added I wasn’t sure how they caught me, but it had to have been a rotten piece of luck on me part. There was no way anybody knew me or where I was or even if I was anymore. Mauricio said that explained why I had completely ghosted on the Firm. The Chairman had said that under the circumstances he probably would have done the same thing. I didn’t tell him I wasn’t entirely sure whose side they were on. Then or now. It could be the Firm is providing an attorney because, well, actually, who knew? Maybe they suspected I did it on me own, independent of the kidnapping. Or maybe they knew I didn’t do it and they wanted to be helpful in my journey through the States’ legal system. Either way, they had the added motive of being privy to what I told the coppers. Also either way, I was under some zero obligation to utilize Abigail’s services. I could always decline them.
Abigail said she had been familiar with my case from the start. She was a long-time contractor with the Firm, whom she liked working for because unlike a lot of criminal elements, they were reasonable and paid on time.
She talked about the process. Tomorrow, Monday, there would be me initial court appearance, when I was trotted out before a magistrate. This magistrate would not be presiding over me trial but would be handing the routine, initial procedures. I would be advised of the charges against me, as if I wasn’t already completely familiar with them, would be required to enter a plea, and would be advised if I would remain in custody or be allowed to post bail. Abigail asked if I had a fixed home and I said sure, I’ve had me own flat through all of this and she said that might help me get bail because a long-time residence is regarded as something that would keep you in town. Realistically, however, considering the magnitude of the case, and the fact I’ve already got a successful escape under me belt and that the ambassador’s home country would whine, loudly, about it, I should prepare to remain in custody and I should expect to be transferred to a proper jail in pretty short order. I figured that was inevitable, though I would prefer to stay here on me own, of course, me thoughts on living with the mouth breathers in general population having already been noted.
Abigail then said the step after that was called discovery and would probably be held within a week. This was where the prosecutor will present us with a list of witnesses and the evidence he intends to use. Abigail said there were other adventures on the way to trial, which she estimated might not start for several months. She added, almost offhandedly, that the penalty for being found guilty could be death. Could be life in the nick, too, but it could also be death.
I’d forgotten they still kill people for punishment in this god-forsaken place. I asked what the current method was and Abigail said lethal injection, where they strap you down and stick needles in you and send poison through your veins.
Blimey! They’d stopped executing people back home years ago on the theory we were sufficiently civilised not to do that anymore and that every now and then an innocent one might slip through the cracks. Of course, that would never happen to me, but that fact it could was unnerving enough.
Then she asked me if she wanted me to represent her. I told her sure, I had no other options, that Mauricio’s stamp of approval carried some weight with me, especially since I could hardly go and get a solicitor on me own.
Then Abigail asked if there was anything I needed. I told her I had a cat that would need some care and like a proud parent, I wasted everyone’s time by going into some detail about Constable. How not try to pet her because she only liked me and other such crap that cat owners yap about when talking about their little buggers. Abigail, and Mauricio, were indulgent, however, feigning enthrallment while letting me blather uninterrupted. Blabbing uninterrupted to me solicitor was about the only privilege I retained.
Abigail had me write a note to the landlord authorizing her to enter me flat to care for me cat. I told her there was a spare key taped to the bottom of a drawer that she could take for future use. There was nothing to hide; she could bring every constable in the tri-state area around for a tour. The only thing in the flat I could be implicated for was leading a dull life.
After all that was done and Abigail was stuffing things back into her briefcase – Mauricio’s was apparently for show, he never opened it – I asked her why she hadn’t asked if I was guilty. She said actual guilt or innocence meant very little in the States. She said she was very good at what she did – which followed my initial impression that she knew exactly what she was about – and she would see to it I got a fair trial. She added that if the evidence was not there to convict I might well be acquitted but there were no guarantees in the States anymore; it was now one of the premiere law-and-order countries on the planet, perhaps not quite on par with your odd dictatorship, but pretty close. She would do everything she could, of course.
Me first appearance before the magistrate had been as routine as Abigail had said it would be. From me perspective, for others, it was not routine. I was still big news and the courtroom was packed as I was walked in through a side door. There were no cameras, which was good because I still looked a frightful mess in me real hair. Or lack of hair. Whatever. There was an artist seated in the front row.
It was brief and I said one word. The magistrate, a dour-looking man who acted like he had first grown weary of being magistrate years ago, advised me I was facing a single charge of murder, that I still retained me right to remain silent and he asked if Abigail was me attorney of record and I said yes.
My only utterance as Abigail entered the not guilty plea for me. She did not raise a fuss when the judge said that under the circumstances – the murder charge and me previous escape from the nick – the prosecution’s request for denial of bail was not completely unreasonable and that I would remain in custody. Nothing was said about moving me, and I was returned to the three cell nick.
Before I was allowed into me cell I was stripped searched. I don’t understand this. I had been stripped searched before we left, had been in their view the entire bloody time we were at the courthouse – which was an underground walk from the nick – with me hands cuffed the whole way with no more opportunity to stick a knife up me bum than I had opportunity to sprout wings but I had to be stripped searched before I was allowed back into me cell. This is a very humiliating process where you take your clothes off and open your mouth and grab your groceries and lift them up and then bend over and spread ‘em. I dressed and then used the loo before settling in to see what wonders the rest of the morning had in store. After a few minutes, I heard some general commotion out front and peeked out me cell because there are a lot of hours in a day to fill in the nick and something like this could be sufficient to kill a few minutes.
It was the constable coming to visit me.
The pursued and his pursuer.
The hunter and the hunted.
The captive and his captor.
He stood at the barred door with a screw and asked, rather politely, if he could come in for a chat. I looked at the screw and said sure. The constable entered and we both sat on the wooden stools attached to the wooden table. Neither of us offered a paw to shake.
I couldn’t think of anything to say. I could quote a fee for Rachel’s company to the heir apparent’s private secretary with aplomb but I could think of nothing to say to the constable who was responsible for me being away from me cat, locked up, possibly to be sent to me death.
The constable said, yes, well except for one small item of business this visit was completely unofficial, that his work was done now that he had foisted me off on government prosecutors.
The business was me lodgings. The constable noted it was customary to keep prisoners in the main nick. The reason they hadn’t taken me there immediately was the international magnitude of the case, the constable thinking it better to keep me separated for the first day or so. This had gone splendidly, he thought. Access to the courthouse was easier than the main nick, a mere underground walk rather than a van ride through one of the busiest downtowns on the planet, and it was felt I was more secure here. The constable said me opinion didn’t matter one way or the other, but did I mind staying here?
Just to annoy him I wanted to cause a fuss and say as a matter of fact I did mind staying here, but he might get pissy and move me just out of spite when the truth of the matter is I liked it here just fine. Just like the protective custody I demanded in the nick back home, I enjoyed the solitude here, the company of me fellow prisoners a tad overrated if you ask me. Plus, as long as I had money, I could eat pretty well. Screws being screws, I could probably bribe them for me nightly brandy. I told the constable here was fine with me, I was OK being alone. Then I asked him why I was obliged to disrobe and spread me bum cheeks every five bloody minutes he said because that’s the way it was, a brilliant answer, then I asked if I would be able to sashay out the front door like I had at me last nick and he laughed again and said no. Then he asked for details of me escape. I told him about the slip of paper with the Firm’s logo on it and how many months passed before a screw – who I don’t think was involved, looking back – ordered me to the storage closet where another screw pointed me down the air shaft and told me to get a move on where the assistant warden was waiting for me on the other end with clothes and such and how a few minutes later we were walking out the front door of the nick together. He seemed to enjoy this story and he noted how stupid it was to have protective custody in the admin building.
He told me I was big news. I told him I’d gathered that by the half-meter headlines in the paper. I added that being here I had no real concept of my hugeness, however.
He asked about my life underground. Seeing how they had squat to do with the murder I didn’t commit, I obliged him. I told him I had planned everything out for hiding in plain sight well beforehand. I had rented me flat almost immediately after getting to town and I told him about the bag I had packed and had at the ready and how I had enough money to last as long as I wanted and needed. Plus, as a genuine master of disguise, I never, and never means not once, appeared in public as myself, the constable allowing how that would explain why all the tips they got about me being sighted were cranks. He never had a legitimate lead because I was always somebody else. I added that I told nobody about these arrangements, either, because if nobody knows where, or who, you are nobody can squeal on you.
We chatted a bit about the night they came and almost got me. They’d had a tip, anonymous which could only be narrowed down to “woman” which was some zero help. She provided me real name and me address and that I was the one we were looking for in the ambassador assassination.
I’d long suspected it had been the assistant warden who squealed, but there was no way to know for sure. We’d have a go of it from time to time, but she knew about Monica – I had told her right off – and while Monica and I were hardly Couple of the Year we had a bond I was unwilling, in fact, unable, to break. This after she had made some noises about becoming something permanent, like a couple that lived together or something. Well, blimey, I didn’t need that. Not with her, at least. Sure, we had fun giving it the odd go and such, but that was all it was; the odd go. For me and, I suspect, her too, but you know women. She was at the age where she was wondering if she’d ever find someone and I was as good a bloke as any, more or less, to latch on to, except there was nothing of me to latch on to.
They did a little surveillance on me, which I made somewhat easier by coming and going at convenient times and the constable saw me and decided yes, I was close enough even if you didn’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to spot me hair and height weren’t the greatest match in investigations history. He went and got a warrant, which took a bit more time than he wanted, and it wasn’t until early morning they could move on me.
The bag, indeed the whole concept of preparing for flight, seemed to intrigue him so I told him there were some clothes in it, and some disguise stuff and some food, mainly nutrition bars and some other ready-to-eat crap that kept forever and ever. Plus cash and me papers.
Because I asked, he told me how they found me. It was devastating, utterly devastating, to have been nicked simply because some copper who paid attention at morning muster overheard me say something in a pastry queue. If I had kept quiet, if I had gone somewhere else, if the copper had gone somewhere else…
Bloody hell. Fuck it. The ticket had been bought for me, and I was taking the ride.
We actually talked for a couple of hours. I have no clue why, except it was nice to have someone to talk to. He even bought lunch.
I was compelled to see him for some reason. I have some zero idea why. He was merely one of thousands of people I’d arrested over a career and an escaped convict to boot. By shooting the ambassador he made it look like we couldn’t protect people on our home turf, even though we have a pretty good record of that. Someone hell bent on causing mayhem is going to do just that.
It was funny. There were some in the media who harped on the supreme good luck we had in catching him. Nonsense. In fact, I was able to turn that pure luck crap to advantage merely by turning it over. Sure, some, a lot, of luck got him captured, but it was only because I had agents who were alert enough, even after several years, to pick up a clue when it presented itself, even if it came while in line at a donut shop.
He didn’t have to talk to me of course. In fact, he hadn’t talked at all during official interrogations, but I wasn’t investigating him anymore. The investigation was over, even without his help, and now he was the government attorney’s problem maybe he’d be open to a chat. If not, that’s OK, officially I was there to discuss the conditions of his confinement. I would do that and leave, if necessary. But I figured he might be. After all, here he was in jail in a foreign country. He had no friends and his only company were my stormtrooper officers
As it was, we were happy with keeping him in the basement jail. It was easier for us. Access to the courthouse was easy, a walk down an underground tunnel and you were there. A long walk, but it was still less of a hassle than putting him in a van and having to drive him through the city’s traffic, which at its best was a nightmare. And Lord knows it was secure. It was built for this purpose: holding high profile detainees because the main jail is a lousy place to keep the really famous ones because there are many others in custody and who knows if one of them wants to take their cuts at our guy. I was glad when he said he was content in the small jail although this wasn’t his call.
You never say escape-proof, but short of having the help he had for his first escape – and I still can’t believe he merely walked out the front door – he would be staying put. First off, his cell was located two floors below ground and except for the elevator shaft going up was surrounded by three feet of concrete. His cell was in a secure area which led to another secure area and the elevator was behind another barred wall. To use the elevator you needed a key and a passcode. In case the elevator failed, there was a secret fire exit that detainees didn’t know about and even if they did there were the usual keys and passwords required.
He had been a major part of my life for years. He was responsible for my brief appearances on the world stage, which weren’t all they were cracked up to be, you can keep them if you want my opinion. The investigation itself wasn’t particularly difficult. You follow established investigatory procedures, which is about 99 percent leg work and one percent brilliance. You keep plugging away. And we did. And it produced nothing. I was a good cop, completely familiar with how to find someone, but nothing worked. We worked everything; even our snitches had nothing, not even a faint rumor, which is rare. Usually, someone does something big someone hears about it but not here. Nothing. Squat, not even when they went tactical and really went on the earie for us. Nothing. A team of kittens could have conducted as productive an investigation as we did. When we finally caught a break and found him, it was more relief than triumph, merely something I no longer had to worry about.
I was curious, so I asked him how he was able to vanish like that. He told me and I had to admit, it wasn’t a surprise he was able to pull it off. He was supremely well prepared. A safe house, money, disguises, heck, his papers were even legit. Not merely good forgeries, but issued by the State Department. They would have passed muster anywhere. But he took no chances. He didn’t travel. He made few friends. He laid very low and he had the temperament to make it work.
His choice of apartment was brilliant. Nothing too fancy that would stand out and in a busy location where an average man living an average life would draw no notice whatsoever. Had Harris not overheard him talking in the donut shop, he’d still be free.
He knows that, too, and it crushes him. He had a visible reaction when I told him the events of the day he got caught. His head hung and he even rested his head in his arms on the table for a while. Bad luck for him, good luck for us.
We talked about our childhoods a bit. It wasn’t the Upset of the Year when he said he started out as a thief when he was a boy. His parents drank and there wasn’t any particular love shown and he started stealing things because it was more fun than standing in line to pay for them.
He said he ran a couple of high-class call girls which is how he made his fortune. We can place him as a member of the Firm, of course, and we know what they’re about – they’re providing his attorney and she’s damn near brilliant – but he chose not to get into too much detail about his work there.
He’s a smart guy. Had he chosen something on the right side of the law he would have done well at it.
I told him I’d grown up here and always wanted to be a cop, so that’s what I chose to do with my working life. Actually, my entire life because the work consumes you with odd hours and odd circumstances and whatnot. I told him, honestly, I had a pretty good childhood. Not perfect, good. I was loved and home was a good place to be.
Completely opposite childhoods. His lousy, mine satisfactory. No surprise I was the one visiting and he was the one in jail.