R O N   B E N D E R


Book 2

⊶ 2.01 ⊷



“Listen to me Suarez,” the Capt. leans onto my desk, “The whole precinct has been ordered to let this one go. The corporate guys are in charge now. They’ll sort it out.”

“So a citizen gets gutted and prepped like a piece of sashimi and we do nothing?” My disgust comes out a sneer.

“No,” the old man clips the word short. I know he’s pissed at me for pushing. “We do what we’re told. Now the ball is in someone else’s court. It’s finished for us, case closed. Like we had time to work on a dead-end case anyway. The guy must have been an asshole to get diced up like that. So, one less asshole and no mess for us, paperwork’s done. Hell, they even took possession of the body.”

“Sure. Ok.” I pull my suit jacket over my body armor and straighten my tie.

I’m not ready to let it go. I have more than a gut feeling. The corporation pulling the case is one I’m familiar with. They were the ones who pulled the case that got my partner killed. I’ve been waiting eight years for something to link back to them. “I’ll let it go, Capt.”

“Goddamn it Rico,” he glowers, “You are one terrible liar. But you already knew that.” He stands as tall as he can to look me in the eyes. “I mean it. We. Are. Off. This. Case. This isn’t worth fighting for. Now give me your files and get the hell out of here.”

I hesitate; just enough to make it look good. Capt. plucks the mem-chip from my fingers. I’m glad I ripped a chip copy for myself. It burned all guilty-like against my chest, hanging beside my grandfather’s Saint Michael medallion.

“It’s been a long night, Suarez, go home,” the Capt. is smiling at me now. His idea of working with local corporations is flexible and includes bending to hold his own ankles. “The shift is over and you’re not allowed anymore O.T. this week.”

“Home.” If my situation were different, I’d consider hot-bunking in one of the holding cells upstairs like some of the other guys. Trouble is I like my place even though I’m only there a few hours a week. I have to be the only cop in New White Sands UnderCity with a TopSide apartment. It’s in a rent controlled tower on the sun-side of the Corporate Zone. My abuelita inherited the place from her mother’s family and it was passed down to me when she died. “Yeah, good idea, Capt.”

“I know it is,” he gestures magnanimously, “Now, go on get outta here. Next shift needs your desk.”

I pull my pistol out of my thumb-locked drawer and make my way into the back hall leading to the maglifts. An officer comes out of booking. It’s Williams. He and I butted heads when he first joined but we’re solid now. I suspect we had trouble because he’s the only cop in the precinct almost as tall as I am. He always looks pissed off, and tonight is no different. It’s his game face. By his own words he uses ‘bald, black, and angry’ to intimidate the CitOnes who slink around in UnderCity. If he really was upset, it would show around his eyes. I nod and head toward him.

“Lt.,” he rumbles as I join him. We fill the passageway side to side as we walk, both of us twisting to let other cops go by the other way.

“How’s it going?” I ask.

“It’s my kid’s birthday this weekend. She wants a clown at her birthday party.”

“A clown? Really? Jesus, better you than me. But hey, swing past the Corporate Council, I hear they have lots.”

Williams snorts. “You could come by if you want.”

“That’s funny Williams. You know I’m not great with kids.”

We get partway to the maglift.

“Lieutenant,” I know whose voice it is, “Lieutenant Suarez.” I pretend I can’t hear her. Williams arches a brow and follows my lead. He pushes his way into the lift’s cabin, making sure he elbows just enough room for me.

“Rico, I know that you can hear me,” she’s coming at me from behind, moving fast. It’s late. Why the hell is she even here?

I step into the maglift as the doors glide shut. I’d grin but I’m not so lucky. Her hand scissors into the closing gap and the doors bounce back open.

She steps in and nods at the other officers in the lift, “Lieutenant.”

I stare at my shoes, doing my best not to look at her. She’s practically standing on my toes.

Maybe in a different time and place she’d have been attractive. As it is she’s just cold, from her looks to her attitude.

“Doctor.” I force myself to be polite.

She says, “We had an appointment earlier today and you never called to rebook.” Her tone is winter frost. I wonder if she’s ever been in a relationship before. I can’t see it.

“I was busy solving crimes,” I roll back on my heels and shrug my reply.

My blunt flippancy causes snickers from the men behind me. I hear Brady undertone, “Way to save the city Lt.” The laughter grows but no one looks up from their feet. They cut it off after a struggle and a loud clearing of throats.

Doctor Hildebrandt’s eyes narrow into hard points. “You are required to rebook if you can’t make the meetings.”

“Doctor,” I do my best to look disappointed with myself, “I was busy. I apologize.”

She cuts me off, “You said that the last five times Lieutenant and I’ve been lenient with you so far.”

My temper slips. “What now? Huh doc? You gonna tell me I can’t go back to work in the shittiest place in the city, a rat hole so bad that cops are drawn by lottery to work it. I stop coming in, bad guys get away. Simple.”

“You overestimate your role in the UnderCity hierarchy,” she’s cold all right.

“Ouch,” comes a chuckle from someone behind me.

“Yeah, I took a bullet that time.” I feel a vicious grin on my lips. “My point is, the scum out there is always rising. Rising up to the sunshine. You live TopSide don’t you Doctor Hildebrandt? Should we just let’em boil up to your doorstep?”

“I’ll suspend you.” Her voice drops but it’s a clue I register way too late, “I check off the boxes that agree with the common consensus: Lieutenant Suarez is a better shot than a cop and refuses to accept treatment for what is obviously a severe mental condition resulting from traumas experienced before he joined the NWSPD.” She stresses the word ‘before’.

I get the hint now. The union won’t cover any prior mental issues. If those issues are bad enough, I’d lose my pension and health coverage, be relieved of my badge. Everything would be open to review and someone would find reason, whether there were one or not, to have me dishonored. Every collar I ever made called into question…

I clench my fists. “Let it go Lt. She’s just pushing to get a rise outta you. Let it go,” Williams says over my shoulder. The chorus of murmurs behind me is sympathetic.

She sneers up at Williams and then passes her gaze across the other occupants in the lift. It’s an unconscious movement on her face, only there for a fraction of a second. But now I know what she thinks of cops in general.

“I want a rise out of him do I?” she snaps, “Why would I provoke a murderer with a badge in a maglift filled with his fellow officers?”

The whole car falls silent.

I unclench my hands. She said the magic words. My friends are all around me. They’re on my side. And as for calling me a murderer, “Suspend me. I’m talking to a union rep and a lawyer as soon as I’m out of the building; breach of confidentiality and slander. You guys witness for me?”

“Yeah, Lt. All the way.” William’s voice is louder than the others but he’s not alone. The men behind me have my back. “We got you, man,” says Omar quietly from the corner.

Her eyes flick from face to face as she realizes that she screwed up.

The maglift opens. “Excuse me.” I push my way past her. As I leave the offices I’m followed by a thin blue line, all of whom are hitting the streets.

I get to my car and sit just as the suspension goes through. I look at my datavice, “Huh. That was fast.” I knew the answer to my next question even as it leaves my mouth, “Who’d you blow to get that signed and stamped in less than five minutes?” The Capt.’s name appears next to Hildebrandt’s at the bottom. That’s who she blew.

He’s pro-corporate control and a ‘friend of the council’. It figures, a corporate type who panders to corporate loving types. A guy who loves kickbacks from corps so much he’d screw his own mother if it paid enough. The Doc and him, they’ll make a nice couple.

The Capt. has to know I bullshitted him about dropping the case. This is his pressure, keeping me down. Hell, he might even think he’s doing me a favor.

“Well now what, Rico?” I lean back in the seat and slip the dv back into my breast pocket. The edge of the copied mem-chip hanging next to my medallion jabs into my skin like a calling from beyond, “Ok. I’m in.”

I leave the precinct’s bunkered parking garage and let the car push me into the traffic flow going up. By the time I hit the TopSide ramp there are only three cars around me. I buzz through the automated checkpoint and take control of the wheel.


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