The hood was ripped off my head unceremoniously, and I fought through the grogginess to keep my eyes closed before the expected bright light seared into my eyelids. I tried to get my hands up to block the light, but they were cuffed to the arms of what I was slowly realizing was a painfully industrial metal chair.
“What the hell are you, 23?”
I groaned, leaving my eyes shut as my brain slowly recovered from whatever had been used to knock me out. I assumed that I was somewhere in south Dallas, since the speaker had used my “street” name, but who had captured me and why was still to be determined. Suddenly my head was rocked to the side by a hard backhand.
“I know you’re awake. Start answering questions or I’ll put you back out – the hard way.”
My tongue felt like cotton, but I forced out something of an assent, and tried to ask for water.
“Ya used too much, Wahz. He needs water.” The second voice sounded familiar, but I couldn’t quite place it.
“Then go get some!”
That exchange bought my mind some time to recall a little about how I’d gotten here…
It had been a couple of weeks since the Red Court’s final attempt to regain power in Dallas, and Arthur had been very impressed with the report that I gave. From what I’d heard from Jamie, the White Council was impressed as well.
I’d been coordinating with Belle more on the efforts to bolster the defenses around the Nelson Center, and had returned from a long day up in Denton working with the new director and visiting with the kids. I got in just ahead of yet another big thunderstorm system, and a long shower took the edge off. I was just settling down to do some additional work on the Book of Armaments when there was a loud banging at my apartment door.
This, of course, immediately set off warning bells for me, since whoever it was should have requested to buzz through the street gate via the intercom before even making it to my door.
“Mr. Consprite? This is DPD. We need to ask you a few questions.”
That caught me off guard. Dallas PD hadn’t bothered me since the LINC business at Christmas-time. I couldn’t recall anything that I’d done recently that might have garnered attention, but I slipped my cross around my neck as I went toward the door, grasping it lightly in one hand. “Would you mind putting your badge up to the peephole?”
I heard some shuffling. “There.”
Peering through the hole, I saw a dark hand clasping a legitimate looking badge. “Ok, just a sec.”
I unlocked the deadbolt and started to open the door. “What can I-“
I was knocked over as the door was kicked in, and before I could move, a large black man was pressing a cloth over my face. “We got some questions for you, 23.”
I gasped for breath, and felt the fumes waft into my mouth and nose. As I faded out of consciousness, it occurred to me that I hadn’t yet gotten those blackout curtains for my windows like Elena had suggested…
I felt a cup pressed to my lips and tilted my head back to receive the acrid, lukewarm water. I swallowed gratefully, despite the taste. “Thanks.”
“I’ll ask again – what the hell are you?”
“Don’t you mean who?” I held my eyes shut. With the interrogation light on me, opening them was pointless.
“I said what I meant. We know who you are, Matthew Consprite, unemployed street preacher, orphan, former employee of LINC.” I head a page or two flip. “I want to know what you are that you can walk around gangland, get lit up, and come through without a scratch.”
He has a file… must be vaguely official. “Don’t I have a right to remain silent or something, officer?”
“You are trying my patience.” Was there a note of desperation in his voice?
“It’s a virtue, you kn-“ I was cut off by another backhand slap. It hurt, but was serving to lift the remaining fogginess from my mind.
“Son, do you have a death wish?”
Huh… he’s either a rookie, or he slipped – giving me information? “Excuse me – Detective – but if you wanted me dead, I’m assuming that could have been handled at my apartment. You need something from me. I’m willing to help, if I can – if you have a file on me, you should know that. Just asking would have been simpler.” And less painful.
I heard a shuffle and thump of someone sitting down heavily. “Ok. Just be aware I don’t trust a squeaky clean #
$&#*##^$ with no dirt on his hands; but since you asked nicely we’ll try one time your way.”
Unsure how to respond, I just waited. I could hear the muted sound of thunder in the background, so I assumed that it was still the same evening.
The light on me suddenly dimmed, so I carefully opened my eyes. I was in a non-descript concrete-walled room, with just two chairs and three occupants – myself, a seated figure that I assumed was the detective, and a third figure now bathed in the light. It took me a minute to recognize him. “Joe?”
“Thanks for the water.” I held his gaze for a moment.
He shrugged and looked away, glancing at the other seated figure. “He needed help… he and my mama go way back, and we both thought of you.” A bit of a glare broke through the shame and fear. “Didn’t know it was gonna go down this way, though.”
I turned my attention back to the detective. “So… why did it go down this way, Detective…?”
“Get outta here, Joe. Thank your mama for me.” Joe stood his ground for a few moments. “I ain’t gonna kill ‘im, a’ight?” Joe finally nodded, shrugged somewhat helplessly at me, and left the room. The detective stood up and walked over to me. “Washington.” He knelt down and undid the cuffs locking me to the chair.
I nodded in thanks as I massaged my wrists. The name was familiar, and cemented our location. “We must be in Pleasant Grove. I’m familiar with you only by reputation, Detective.”
“Likewise, Consprite. Word on the street is that you walk into and out of situations no #
$&#*##^$ should be able to, either here or in the OC. Weird shit happens around you.”
“And word on the street is that you run ‘Da Grove,’ and partake of some of the activities that you should be stopping. One could argue that odd things happen around you as well.” I shrugged, deflecting for the moment. “You came looking for me. What’s going on?” I picked up the tin cup of water off the floor next to me and polished it off. Nasty, but I needed to get the chloroform out of my mouth.
“Da Grove is my neighborhood. Believe it or not, I try to do some good in the community. DPD can’t stop the gangs, but I keep ‘em under control. You think Pleasant Grove is bad? It could be a hell of a lot worse without me and my boys. That’s the reality.”
He sat down again and stared right through me. “At first, it was just gang turf stuff. Shit I deal with day-to-day – Bloods and Crips, dig? The OCT has a few lines into Da Grove, but it’s been minor and out of the way, so it hasn’t been a problem. When they started making moves into Blood and Crip turf a few weeks back, I thought keeping the them in line would be no different – drop the hammer on some, let others go – start playing the chess game with a new player. But the OCT…” He paused and shook his head. “ They ain’t human!”
I tensed a bit, seeing where this was going. The OCT wasn’t a normal gang. “How do you mean?” I asked carefully.
“Consprite, we’re trying it your way. Don’t try to play me for the bitch.” He paused, I nodded. Don’t push it, dummy.
“They rolled in and starting throwing people around – literally. They got muscle I ain’t never seen. They don’t pull guns, they shrug off bullets, and they tossed some of the heavy hitters in the Bloods and Crips through walls. Through. A cinder block wall.” He paused, and I could hear his shaky breath. “Some of those kids… there wasn’t enough left for forensics to identify. They even kidnapped some and took them back to the OC.”
I nodded. “Weird shit.”
He snapped up his head to look at me, and realized that I was serious and not mocking him. “So I’m gonna ask again. What the hell are you, 23? The OC is your primary ‘hood, and those dudes leave you alone?”
I shrugged. “I’ve tried not to give them a reason to hate me. I help out at the area churches, play some street ball with the younger gangers…”
“Bullshit. I’ve asked around here. You’ve been in Da Grove, too.”
“That’s no secret. And I’ve been doing the same thing, generally.”
He shook his head and stood up. “#
$&#*##^$ you are starting to get under my skin with your non-answers. About two years ago, you walked through a firefight with some chica muscle, and both of you walked out without a scratch, and saved a little girl too.” He walked over and handed me a handkerchief. I wiped at my face, and blood came away from my lips and cheek. “Don’t look like you’re bullet-proof, so answer my #$%^&*@ question.”
“Believe me, I’m as vulnerable as you are.”
He sat back down, glared at me expectantly and said nothing.
“Do you believe in miracles, Detective?” I watched him carefully.
“Do you believe that a higher power can intercede on your behalf, if you have faith?”
“What, you mean, like, God?”
“Shit, I ain’t set foot in a church since high school. JC ain’t done nothin’ for me.”
He grunted and nodded.
“Lotta hellfire and brimstone there. ‘JC’ already died for you. What more do you want?”
He drummed his fingers. “This ain’t about my faith. This is about a gang of freaks taking over my hood.”
I sat back, and raised my hands, dropped that line of thought for now. “Ok… what do you want from me?”
He drew his pistol and set it on the table. “I want you to answer my $%^&#$* question. This is the third and last time I ask your way. Look, Consprite, there’s good folk in Da Grove. I don’t want them caught in the middle of things. What the hell are you?”
I sucked in a deep breath through my nose as I considered my options. Detective Washington was, by reputation and admission, a deeply-rooted crooked cop. But – as he noted – he was a necessary evil. If the Bloods and Crips had been allowed to run rampant, things would indeed be worse. The question I had to consider was what to support – a somewhat orderly status quo of gang violence and crooked law enforcement, or a “sole provider” of chaos in the OCT, with the underlying Winter Court power grab pulling the supernatural into the limelight. Jaime had warned us all about the danger of bringing mortal authorities into supernatural affairs, but in this case, that play had already been made – now it was about damage control. When [[Kawaii Desu Yo… Ne?, II | faced with a similar decision in the past]], we of course chose order – but the supernatural elements on both sides were subtle enough not to be a factor. In the end, mortal trumps supernatural, so I decided to trust his assertion that he was trying to do good and give him the critical information he needed to deal with the threat – I already knew that there were good folk in Pleasant Grove.
I stood and walked over to Detective Washington; he was also on his feet, pistol in hand, having risen the moment I did. “Do you really want the answers to your questions about me? Because you need to be prepared to have your eyes opened in a way that will be tough to reverse.”
Washington topped me by a couple of inches, iron attitude in his voice as he looked down at me and holstered his weapon. “I can handle whatever you dish, preacher.”
I nodded. “Then let’s go somewhere more comfortable to talk this out? This will take a while to explain. But we need somewhere with some privacy.” I paused. “And I’d like to run back by my apartment to pick up a couple of thi-“
He reached behind his chair and pulled out my rucksack, tossing it to me, “Joe’s got you.”
Bless you, Joe. I opened it and checked the contents. Although Detective Washington had obviously rifled through it, I found, as expected, a fresh change of street clothes, along with my cassock, collarino shirt, and my clerical collar. The capped PVC tube with my rebar shank was still there as well, and my cross was laid carefully on top. It pays to always re-pack once I get home – guess I’ve learned something from Elena about having a system…
But… my old reliable brick mobile phone was still sitting on its charger in my apartment, and it was unlikely that Washington would let me make a call regardless. Guess I’m on my own . “This will do for now, Detective." I motioned to myself, in t-shirt and sweats with no shoes. “Can I change?”