Vestal Sins: Chapter 4: Cedar Gables
Posted By: Arthur Wellesley<firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: 24 July 2009, 4:03 am
"That motherfucker," Mantega said.
Eyal shrugged. "We don't actually know what he's lying about."
"Well, it's nothing good, is it?"
They had settled on a small diner away from the North Delta, closer to the Taiga Docks to the south. It was a dingy joint, with plastic booths and a flickering neon sign, but it served good coffee in generous portions. Even the sandwiches were passable—the meat was rubbery and tasteless, but the bread seemed genuine.
"Of course, he gave us nothing," Eyal said slowly.
Mantega nodded, holding her mug of coffee just below her mouth. "I know it. It wouldn't matter even if we did."
"I could go to Cedar Gables," he said suddenly. "I could go to the site. There must be someone around there who knows something."
"Maybe I could go back to Stahl
try a last ditch effort to get something from him
She stared at him intently. "You realize this is something you're gonna have to drop, right?"
He shook his head. "I can't do that Michelle."
"There's no win here for you Eyal." She tapped each of her outstretched fingers as she made her points. "You could go to Cedar Gables and very likely fall off the edge of the fucking world. Or, you could survive and come back with nothing and be out of a job. Or, you could actually find something or someone who doesn't treat you like the plague, and Lansing just denies everything." She dropped her hands and leaned back, apparently finished. "You've satisfied your damn curiosity: Lansing's a piece of shit. That's where it has to lie."
"Fighting the Covenant absolves all sins, then?" he asked sullenly.
"You're not hearing me," Mantega said through clenched teeth. It was always a touchy subject between them. "Even if he did do something at Cedar Gables, you won't be able to get him for it. It's been too long. You'll only destroy yourself." As soon as she said this, she sighed heavily and ran her hand through her hair. "Jesus Christ. Don't tell me all this time you've been harboring a death wish."
"No," he said, lowering his eyes. "I just don't think I can let this one go."
"Please, Eyal," she pleaded seriously. "Don't end yourself. If for no one else than for me. I've actually gotten used to you as a partner. I even kind of like you."
He gave her a bland smile but said nothing. They finished the rest of their meal in near silence. Eyal insisted to pay but Mantega would not relent. They walked to her car and she drove him home.
"Christ, I don't want to work this shift," Mantega grumbled as they neared his apartment. "I'm sure Lansing's already called Singh. I'm sure she's preparing to rip my head off right now."
"I'm sorry to have gotten you involved," Eyal said.
"I involved myself," she returned.
She pulled up alongside his apartment and he offered his thanks. "Apologize to Ellie for me," he said in parting. "I'm sure she hates me for fucking up your shift."
Mantega smirked. "Don't worry, Eyal. She hated you anyway."
Eyal watched her car drive away until it turned a distant corner. He shoved his hands in his jacket pockets and turned his head towards the sky. A few snowflakes drifted onto his nose—from the rooftops, he decided. It was not snowing.
He stood in this position for some time, feeling passersby knock roughly into him and likely cursing him in their minds. He thought seriously making the long drive down to Cedar Gables to see if the locals had any pertinent information. Questioning Stahl now was completely out of the question, even if he had thought it to be a good idea. Instead he could track down the few remaining survivors of Charlie Company. Yet leaving now, when the fallout of the Lansing interrogation not yet even fallen, would surely get him fired, or worse. He contemplated the loss of his job, and decided quickly that he would not risk the one good thing in his life.
Suddenly breaking from his reverie, he walked to his car parked further down the block. He set off northwest, along the river, taking a longer but more scenic route. The river was frozen solid. For weeks the ice had only crept out from the edges, but with midwinter approaching the surface had frozen and would not flow for some months. A few children could be seen skating on the flat expanse, but not as many as there used to be.
He arrived shortly at his destination: the Alehouse, his favorite bar in Massilia. Or rather, the only bar in the city he cared to patronize. The prices were good, but it was the healthy respect for anonymity that he appreciated. He had noticed that cops tended to frequent the seediest bars—he was grateful this one remained his little secret.
The bar was nearly empty at this time of day. A few unsavory characters lurked about—off-duty shift workers or dead-eyed retirees. He saw one or two men in workers' jumpsuits, likely tying one on during their lunch break. The room was dank and smelled of smoke and unwashed bodies. A perfect place to lose oneself for an afternoon.
He walked up to the bar and ordered a double rum. The barman acceded without a word. It was why he loved the place.
His world had become bleary and indistinct. The bar was now humming with distant voices. The temperature had risen several degrees. He glanced at his watch: it was only nine o'clock. This meant nothing to him, for he could not remember when he had entered. He did know, however, that he was done. He paid for his drinks, left a generous tip—inebriation always loosened his wallet—and stumbled out of the bar.
The blast of frigid air that greeted his departure was welcome after the hot closeness of the bar. He nearly slipped on a patch of black ice just outside the doorway, and was saved an embarrassing fall by an entering patron. He offered his thanks and chuckled in drunken amusement. He should not be driving, he knew—but he would be damned if he would leave his car in this neighborhood.
He fumbled for his keys at his car, but they caught on the fabric of his jacket and fell to the ground. As he knelt to recover them, he mysteriously collapsed to the ground, feeling the pain of the blow only a few seconds after his fall. His whole world turned black and breathing suddenly became difficult as something was slipped over his head. Eventually he realized that he was being dragged away by two pairs of very strong hands. Only belatedly did he begin to struggle, but to no avail. He guessed that even had he been sober he would not have been successful—his captors did not even falter from his efforts.
He was lifted unceremoniously onto a hard surface and held down by a third pair of hands. The sound of two doors slamming shut could be heard behind him, and then his world was pulled out from under him. He rocked around from side to side for a few moments before the blackness that enshrouded his eyes was lifted.
The space was dark and his hazy vision took a moment to adjust. At length he was able to make out a figure that was seated before him, apparently immune to the jarring turbulence that had Eyal twisting even on his back. Soon his face came into focus as well: a thick, weather-beaten face set upon a pair of broad shoulders. Even in the low light Eyal could see a malevolent glint in the man's dark eyes.
Instantly Eyal's chest turned to ice and his already unsettled stomach clenched painfully. His hands no doubt would have trembled were they not restrained by two gorilla-sized men on either side of him.
Grantmyre chuckled mirthlessly at the expression of terror no doubt plastered on his face. "Detective Dayan," he said slowly. "Do you recall what I said I would do if I ever saw you again?"
Eyal could not find the voice to protest the terms of their meeting. Grantmyre, however, surmised his argument from his countenance.
"You see, Detective, you fuck with any one of us, and you fuck with me." Grantmyre leaned closer to Eyal, and any trace of false amusement evaporated from his face. "That's something you wouldn't understand. You fucking coward."
He returned to his original position. "So, the persecution of war heroes continues unabated, eh, Dayan? Un-fucking-believable. I've never met a man with so much to be ashamed about so obsessed with other men's skeletons. What is it? Self-loathing? Self-righteousness? Or are you just out of your fucking mind?"
Eyal could think of nothing to say. He could only stare at the Sergeant unblinkingly and will him not to pull out a knife or gun.
"I dug around your file some more, Dayan," Grantmyre continued. "Never served a day in your fucking life, did you? Course, I already knew that. But then I saw that you were married."
Eyal flinched at the mention of his wife. "Christ, is that real guilt I see?" Grantmyre spat. "Are you even capable of feeling it? Does it kill you inside to think that while your wife was dying on Siggy you were arresting some teenagers for partying too fucking loud? I wonder what she thought of you, at the end, while she burned. I wonder how much she hated you. I wonder how humiliated she was by you." Grantmyre shook his head in disgust. "It must be self-loathing," he decided.
"What do you want, Sergeant?" Eyal asked, finally finding the will to speak. He was surprised by the steadiness of his voice.
"I just want to understand you, Detective," Grantmyre said. "I want to figure out where such a miserable little cunt like you finds the balls to go after great men. If only you'd found them earlier, at the enlisting station.
"Are you really so damaged that you can't see the bigger picture here? You think it's a good idea to drag up the ghosts of the civil war now that humanity is finally united? And especially during this election? What the fuck is wrong with you?"
Eyal did not bother to say that he was done prying into the matter. He simply remained silent and hoped the session would come swiftly to an end.
"You will stay away from Senator Lansing," Grantmyre hissed. "You will stay away from HQ. You will give a wide berth to any Militia you see from now on. Do you understand?"
He nodded intently.
"You see, Dayan, I'd kill you right here, right now, and I would sleep just fine tonight. Only, the disappearance of a cop might raise some questions. So I'm gonna rely on your cowardice to see that your bullshit gets buried. And I'm thinking that's a safe bet."
Eyal could not resist a parting question. "Did you organize this, Sergeant? I'd have expected more violence from you."
He had his answer from Grantmyre's hesitation, even though the Sergeant did not oblige him with a response. He simply shrugged and said, "Good point."
At Grantmyre's signal, the two men at his side promptly began to beat upon his stomach and face. He had never suffered a sustained beating before, and though the experience was even more painful than he had expected, it was also somehow less debilitating.
After what seemed like an eternity of this treatment, the vehicle came to an abrupt halt and he was heaved out the back. He landed heavily upon the pavement, the fall accentuating the pain of his thrashing. Grantmyre yelled something to him as the van took off, but he could not make it out above the ringing in his ears and the screeching of the tires. He was sure the particulars were not important. He got the gist of it.
For several minutes he lay face down against the street, the frozen asphalt numbing the searing pain of his skin. He was in agony, but he nonetheless offered gratitude to his estranged God for still being alive. He remained in this position until a passing car sounded its horn right next to him. He blindly reached out for something to assist his rise, and grasped the edge of a car parked to his side. As he got to his feet, he realized that the car was his own.
At least they were courteous, he thought.
He arrived safely at his apartment after a long and cautious drive. If nothing else, the beating had sobered him up.
Exiting his car was a painful exercise, and forced from his lips a protracted groan. He stumbled to his building's door, unlocked it after four tries, and took the elevator to his floor. A woman in the elevator gasped in shock at his appearance. He managed a smile that was intended to reassure her, but succeeded only in eliciting another gasp.
He eventually made it to his room, limped along its length, and collapsed into a chair in his living room without removing his jacket or shoes. There he remained for some time, keeping the apartment dark and waiting for the pounding in his head to subside. The sharp ringing of his phone did little to help the matter.
Eyal fumbled for the phone and answered it. The voice was loud and he instinctively removed it a few inches from his ear.
"Are you kidding me, Eyal?" the voice demanded. A lot of people had been saying that to him recently.
"Captain Singh?" he asked blearily.
"You interrogated Alexander Lansing about Cordova while off-duty?" Singh asked incredulously, pausing between each point and heightening her outrage. "What the hell are you doing?"
"I don't really know, Captain," he replied, utterly unable to form a cogent response.
"Goddamnit, Eyal. I sent Mantega to talk some sense into you. I thought at least you'd have the decency to keep her away from your insanity. But you dragged her into it as well, along with the whole Department."
"It was my doing," he said. "Mantega begged me not to do it."
"I'll deal with Mantega separately," she said, her voice regaining some composure. "I know that this escapade was your idea. Christ! I'm trying to keep a place for the Department in this city and you pull a stunt like this?"
She paused for a moment as if she expected a defense, but he gave none. She just sighed and continued. "I'll have to suspend you, of course, even though you know I can't spare you. One week without pay. Goddamn you for forcing me to do this. And if you do anything else like this, you're done." She hung up, and Eyal threw his phone into some corner of the room.
One week. What a coincidence, he thought. The day after the election.
He rose from his misery soon after the call, noting with displeasure that he had stained the fabric of his chair with blood. He walked to his bathroom and shed his bloody and tattered clothing and stepped into the shower. The warm water burned upon his cuts and bruises at first, but after a time it began to feel soothing. He kept his head down and watched the water empty down the drain; it slowly turned from red to an off brown. When at last the water became clear he emerged from the shower and gently toweled himself dry.
He steeled himself to study his face in the mirror. He appeared less ghoulish than he had feared, the shower washing away most of the blood and grime that had so shocked his elevator companion. His body was a mass of cuts and bruises. He had a large gash on the right side of his forehead and both eyes were blackened. No doubt he would look and feel worse by morning.
Walking remained painful, but measured steps carried him to the kitchen without undue agony. He was hungry, but his jaw was swollen and he did not really feel like eating anyway. Instead he fixed himself a drink—rum with bitters—and grabbed an ice pack from the freezer. He lay down gingerly on his couch, placed the ice on his head, and sipped his drink. He turned on his television, saw Lansing's face, and immediately shut it off. He reached for his copy of the Economist instead, and continued his way through the issue. He would have a lot of time to catch up on his reading, it would seem.
He was interrupted some time later by the doorbell. At first he ignored it—he could think of no one he would like to see at the moment. Yet his visitor was persistent, and began ringing the bell in rapid succession. At last he was brought to his feet, making his way to the door. He flicked on the monitor to see his caller's face and drew in an involuntary breath.
He had not expected this.
Reluctantly, he opened the door. The man shoved aside the half-opened door and entered the room without a word. He carried his left arm like a club—it swung limply from his shoulder as if it were not a part of his body. He shook with a pent up energy, his head twisting from side to side, his eyes darting across the room. Eyal began to regret his decision to grant his visitor entry.
"Martim Salles," Eyal greeted his guest quietly.
Salles looked at him as if seeing him for the first time, then heaved a racking sigh and began pacing frenetically about the room.
"Why did you come to me, Detective?" he asked without looking at him. "Why now? Why would you bring that back to me now?"
Eyal shrugged. It was a question he was still unsure of himself. "I just want to know why Luis Cordova was killed," he offered simply.
"I know why. You probably do too. It's because of Cedar Gables. Cedar Gables," he repeated, halting in midstep.
Eyal's heart seemed to skip a beat. "Why are you here, Martim?"
"I'll tell you what you want to know," Salles said, his face set.
For a moment Eyal was at a loss for words. Then he said, "Would you like a drink?"
Salles looked at him as if he did not understand. Then he began pacing again without a reply. Eyal almost smiled—stupid question.
"Can I record what you say?" Eyal asked instead, more lucidly.
"What kind of coward would I be if I confessed my sins only to you?" he returned.
Eyal nodded, and retrieved a recorder from his desk drawer. The pain that accompanied his movements offered a good reminder of all the reasons why he should not be doing this, but he ignored both his body and his mind. He took a seat upon the arm of his sofa, while Salles stubbornly continued pacing as if he were unable to stop. Eyal switched on the recorder.
"State your name for the record," Eyal said.
"Sergeant Martim Salles, retired."
"What were you doing in the winter of 2524?"
"I was a Private First Class in the Northern Legion, Charlie Company, 95th Reconnaisance Regiment, 10th Infantry." His voice was robotic and emotionless.
"Who was your company commander, Mr. Salles?"
Salles paused, as if just now realizing the weight of what he was doing. "Captain Alexander Lansing."
"Did your company see action during Operation Pegasus of that year?"
"Yes. Operation Pegasus was meant to root out the insurgents entrenched in the central highlands. Charlie Company was assigned to advance recon along the 10th's right flank, to prevent an ambush on our boys in the valley. We secured numerous towns along the flank. One was called Cedar Gables."
"And what happened at Cedar Gables?"
Salles swallowed hard before continuing. "The operation turned bad real quick. The main invasion force was dealing with unexpectedly high resistance. A few klicks from Cedar Gables we sustained a casualty from a landmine. There was a ban on landmines, no one should have been using them," he insisted angrily, as if trying to convince himself of something. Then he sighed and continued, "Anyway, when we got to the town we were all—demoralized.
"When the company reached Cedar Gables we secured the area. Intel said we should expect no resistance from the residents, that they were all women and children." He shook his head ruefully at the memory. "Well, they got pretty riled up by the operation, and emboldened by the rebels' success. As we were policing their weapons, one of the civilians shot one of our men. It was a neck shot—our man bled out slowly. The shooter was dragged out from one of the buildings. He was just a teenager, but the men beat him to death. Ripped him limb from limb.
"Then my Platoon Sergeant, Luis Cordova, turned to the boy's mother, who was screaming at us to stop." Eyal's ears pricked at the name. "He killed her. Beat her with the butt of his rifle until she was unrecognizable. A bunch of us were gathered around, watching him. When he was finished he started screaming about burning the town to purge it of hostiles.
"We were angry. We were cold. And we were frightened. We listened to him.
"It started slowly, and then it spread. We went from house to house. We shot them first, and then we burned the buildings. A few tried to flee but we cut them down as they ran. As we made our way through the town, the survivors gathered in a church. Some of them had weapons but they didn't put up much of a fight. Sergeant Cordova set fire to the building. We barricaded the door from the outside and shot anyone who jumped out through the windows."
He stopped his pacing for a moment and gazed off into the distance. "I can still remember them screaming inside, banging on the doors. I held my rifle, ready to shoot in case they broke through." He shook his head unbelievingly, as if he could not fathom that the memories accorded with his own actions. "Eventually the church was consumed and all of a sudden there was total silence."
Eyal let the long pause play for a few moments. As he did so he studied Salles' face, and eventually decided that he was telling the whole truth. "Where was Lansing during these events?" he asked hoarsely.
"He wasn't there," Salles said. "He was on the horn with command at the edge of town. The division was planning a general retreat."
"Lansing was absent the whole time?"
He nodded slowly.
"How long did the slaughter last for?" Eyal asked.
Salles winced at the term "slaughter" but did not protest. "Three hours, I think. Maybe four."
"So Lansing knew what was going on?"
He paused for what seemed to be a long time, then nodded. "Yes. He must have. He couldn't not. There was screaming, shooting
the whole town was in flames."
"And he made no attempt to stop it?"
"What happened afterwards?"
Salles cleared his throat and continued his account. "Lansing entered the town. He was pale and wide-eyed
I think he was genuinely shocked. Then he ordered us to dig a mass grave and to get ready to move out. Our division was already retreating."
"Were there any survivors in the town?"
Salles shrugged. "Probably. There were some woodlands downhill from the town. Some of the residents might have escaped that way."
"Is there anything else you would like to add?"
"No. Just that
" Salles ran a hand across his mouth and closed his eyes. "I don't know why I did it. I don't even know how it happened. I just
I don't fucking know, is all."
Slowly, Eyal reached for his recorder and turned it off. He felt breathless. He was not sure what he had expected to uncover—he supposed it always had to be something along these lines—yet hearing the details of the atrocity, conveyed as they were from a man who helped commit them, was a shock to the mind.
Eyal allowed himself to imagine Isaac Stahl walking down the street and seeing the face of Luis Cordova, still in uniform only now as a Militia officer. Probably he heard him, too, barking out orders in the same harsh voice that had incited the men of Charlie Company to killing Stahl's family. He wondered how long it took for Stahl to work up the courage to follow him to his home, and thereupon to exact his vengeance with a brutality beyond his nature. Once again the image of Luis Cordova's body flashed across his mind.
In the heavy silence that followed his confession, Salles finally collapsed into a chair, utterly deflated. "Jesus Christ," he murmured. "I can't believe I just did that."
"Would you have gone to your grave with it otherwise?" Eyal asked. He was strangely calm in the wake of the shocking confession, and felt greatly sobered as well.
"I don't know. Maybe. I expect I'll be there soon, though."
Salles grunted irritably. "My grave. They'll bury me for this, you understand. You cannot turn on your own, Detective. Especially not Lansing—and especially not now. I suppose the honorable thing to do would be to fall on my sword."
"I wouldn't know about that, Mr. Salles. I prefer to live with my shame until it kills me."
Salles let out a single, hollow laugh. "Well then. I guess I'll meet you there."
When Eyal arrived at the He Xiangu hotel it was nearly midnight. It was freezing in the dark, and a stiff wind blew off the mountains to the north. The breeze carried a few ice particles into his face, the kind that seemed to congeal in the frigid air rather than falling from the clouds. They stung his cheeks and clung to his jacket.
There were few people about, and he was confident that most of the tightly bundled people gathered around the hotel were Lansing's Militia entourage. He tried to walk casually up to the front doors, but he was almost immediately approached by one of the guards.
"Excuse me, sir, can I see some identification?" the guard demanded. It was a woman. He had not been able to tell from the low cap and the high jacket.
He pretended to be startled. "I'm a guest here. Just trying to get to my room."
"May I see your room pass?"
Eyal frowned and scratched the back of his head. "Alright. I'm a police officer. I'm here to see Alexander Lansing regarding a sensitive matter."
The Militia Officer stared at him without blinking. "Sir, I'm going to need to see some identification."
"Fine," he grumbled, and handed her his badge.
She inspected it, and then glanced back up. "Detective Eyal Dayan?"
"You've been suspended," she said severely. "Lansing instructed us to remove you immediately if you came anywhere near here."
"Be that as it may, I have a pressing matter I must discuss with the Senator."
The guard raised her hand, and three more nearby guards started closing on him. "You have to leave, right now. You do not want to make a scene out of this." Only now did he realize that her hand had drifted towards her holster.
"You don't understand," Eyal insisted stubbornly, ignoring the three brutes who were approaching him. "I have information that concerns the Senator's safety."
She must have sensed the desperation in his voice, for her response was laced with dismissive sarcasm. "You can inform the Senator of any danger through the proper channels."
The reinforcements were upon him now. One of them grabbed him by the shoulder and tried to twist him away, but he held fast. "Please. Just radio Lansing the phrase 'burning church gables.' He'll know what it means."
She flicked her hand and two of the guards seized him and began dragging him away. "Your supervisor will be contacted for this breach of your terms."
"Wait!" he pleaded, struggling uselessly against the guards. "I am no random kook. I am a police officer, and I'm telling you the Senator is in danger!" The commander held up a hand, and the dragging stopped. "Just radio Lansing the phrase," he said, out of breath. "If it means nothing to him, I'll leave peacefully."
He was in no bargaining position. He was confident even one of the guards could have removed him without much difficulty, let alone three. Yet she stared at him for what seemed like forever—perhaps appraising the level of his insanity, perhaps judging the consequences of a false alarm. In the end, however, she relented.
"Fuck," she muttered, and brought out her radio. "Put me through to Lansing," she ordered. Eyal could not hear the other half of the conversation, but when he heard the commander address Lansing, his heart seemed to skip a beat. "Yes, sir. Detective Eyal Dayan was caught trying to enter the hotel. He's in our custody now. Yes, sir, I'll do that right away."
She paused for a moment, then said, "The detective wanted to pass along a message first. He said you'd know what it means." She hesitated once again, clearly regretting her decision. "He said, 'burning church gables.'"
The phrase hung in the air for many moments. The breeze whistled through the tall buildings of the North Delta, whipping more ice pellets into his bare face. He felt as though he had been standing out in the cold for an age.
"Sir?" the commander prompted. "Are you still there?"
An answer. Eyal could see little of her face, but every inch of it registered surprise. "Yes, sir." She closed the link and nodded to the men who were still holding Eyal by his shoulders. "Bring him over to the hotel. Hand him off to Lieutenant Hamza." She continued to stare at him in amazement as he was led off.
The lobby of the He Xiangu matched its convention hall, all marble and dark wood. It was a high-ceilinged affair, with an impressive waterfall cascading down the rear wall. The long reception desk, manned by only one clerk at this late hour, was beautifully polished and adorned with ornate Oriental carvings. The whole scene was a holdover from more prosperous times, a garish anachronism in the city that Massilia had become.
The two perimeter guards handed Eyal over to two Militiamen dressed in suits and earpieces. They wordlessly received him and handled him in the same rough manner. Only after they brought him to the elevator, the double doors thudding together and the lift soaring skywards, did he begin to contemplate the hopeless situation he was plunging into.
He had no solid notion as to what he thought he might accomplish by seeing Lansing. Coming to the hotel had been the first thing that had come to his mind after hearing Salles' confession—he had done it almost on instinct. He had not even truly expected to gain entry. He chastised himself for his foolishness in coming to this place without a plan. He frantically began to formulate questions in his mind, but found that he could not think clearly over the pounding in his ears.
Lansing's room was on the fourteenth floor. Eyal wondered if the whole floor had been booked as a security precaution. It was oppressively quiet, even for an upscale hotel corridor at midnight.
They stopped at what he presumed to be Lansing's room. He was ordered to spread his arms and legs and was thoroughly scanned with a small handheld device. Apparently satisfied, one of his escorts opened the door with a key that hung from his neck and announced their entrance as the door swung open.
Alexander Lansing was seated on a leather sofa facing the doorway. A datapad rested on his lap, illuminated by a lamp situated on the end table next to him. The room was large, obviously a suite, though Lansing kept it dark, leaving Eyal to imagine the luxury that surrounded him.
"He's clean, sir," said one of the men beside him.
Lansing continued reading for a moment or two after their entry, putting on an air of calm. At length he looked up and frowned at the sight of Eyal. "Thank you, Lieutenant. You may leave. You, too, Harry," he added, turning to a man standing to the right of the door.
The man looked surprised. "Are you sure that's wise, sir?"
"I gave you an order, Captain," Lansing returned sternly.
The man called Harry turned to leave without further protest, but he shot Eyal a hostile look on his way out the door.
Alone now with the great man, Eyal felt more nervous than before. His mind seemed blank. Lansing was staring at him with an inscrutable expression, the datapad still balanced on his crossed legs.
"You didn't bother to come bugged?" he asked eventually.
"There was no need," Eyal replied, trying for confidence. "I already know everything."
Lansing sniffed. "Just who the fuck are you, Detective?" Lansing asked. "The Ghost of Christmas Past? A blackmailer looking for his big payday? Or are you just a total fucking crackpot?"
The expletives somehow sounded even more menacing with Lansing's erudite inflection. His eyes bore penetratingly into Eyal's own. He was still standing by the door where the Militia had left him, feeling desperately exposed before the seated man in front of him.
"I have no interest in blackmailing anyone, Senator."
"Just the other two, then?" Lansing laughed, and finally put the datapad aside. He stood and paced slowly to the opposite side of the room, where he was enveloped in shadow. "So, just what is it you think you know, Detective?"
Eyal heard the clink of ice from the darkness, and surmised that Lansing was fixing himself a drink. Eyal recognized this as an attempt to demonstrate control over the situation. This realization finally brought calm to his nerves: Lansing was concerned.
"I know that you led your company into Cedar Gables in 2524," he answered, his voice steady. "I know that your men proceeded to wipe out every man, woman, and child in the town. And I know that you stood by and did nothing."
Lansing was standing now in the half-light behind the sofa, nursing a glass of brandy. When he spoke his grating voice emerged as a growl. "Son, you don't know a Goddamn thing."
"Normally I would agree with you, sir," he allowed. "But this—this I know."
"And who told you all this?"
"One of your men."
"Who?" Lansing demanded.
"You will find out soon enough."
Lansing remained silent for a moment, then chuckled ominously. "You are an insolent little prick, aren't you?" He drew a deep breath before continuing. "Let me try to explain something to you, Detective, as I have been told that you may be unfamiliar with the subject. Things happen in war that you cannot control or stop or undo. Situations devolve with frightening speed, and you have to just keep moving. Cedar Gables was just one of those things that happen during war that you have to put behind you."
"Sir, with respect, you stood by for four hours while three hundred people were murdered by the men under your command. Are you really trying to pass it off as spilt milk?"
"Must I remind you that there was a war on?" Lansing retorted angrily. "We were in the middle of a catastrophe. Our division was retreating under fire. I was trying to get my men out of those mountains without getting surrounded."
"It took you four hours to put in a call to command?" Eyal asked. "And were they talking so loudly that you could not hear the screams of women and children being burned alive?"
Lansing slammed his fist upon the wooden frame of the sofa. "Goddamnit man, are you really going to lecture me on how to fight a war? We had lost good soldiers taking that piece of shit village. Good men! And thousands more were dying in the valley below. Some of those soldiers had been waging that war against unreason for almost a decade. So, yes, my men were on edge, and they did some bad things."
"So you decided to let them have their revenge? Stay out of it until they had their fill?"
"You have no idea what you're talking about, Detective," Lansing said through clenched teeth. "You have no idea of the cruelty that nine years of intractable fighting can produce in the human man. They liked to raid first aid tents and slit the throats of the wounded. Sometimes, we could come across ambushed patrols, and the men would be lying in a circle, bloody holes in their crotches and pain etched in their faces. It was a war of brutality—on both sides.
"I mention this for your benefit only. I forgave myself for Cedar Gables many foxholes ago. I spent twenty years fighting the Covenant. I spent the last three trying to make sure that aliens are the only thing humanity need fight in the future. I wonder what service you believe that you are rendering by dragging this up now?"
"I have an insatiable curiosity," Eyal said. "I had to see just how full of shit Senator Lansing was."
Eyal was surprised at his own brazenness. Lansing's expression seemed to turn to stone. "You did not come to hear my defense, then," he said slowly. "Why did you come?"
"To ask you a favor."
Lansing's eyes narrowed in suspicion. "What?"
"To tell the people what happened. To let the people be the judge of your actions. To work in mention of Cedar Gables between one of your war stories and a plea for unity."
"I see," Lansing said, taking his first sip from the glass of brandy. "That puts us at an impasse, then."
"You fear the people's judgment?"
"I fear rattling old skeletons. Skeletons better left long buried."
"You might as well do it yourself, Senator," Eyal suggested. "Put a positive spin on it. Because it will come out, and in a light which may cast you rather poorly."
Lansing shook his head. "You understand I cannot allow that to happen."
"Will you sick Grantmyre on me again?" Eyal asked pointedly.
Lansing did not deny the charge. "You won't make it to Grantmyre, Detective," he replied instead.
They stood together in silence for a few moments, appraising each other with smoldering eyes. Lansing once again wore a mask of detached calm, leaning heavily against the back of the sofa, his mouth set in a firm line. Eyal felt like a mouse chasing a lion. The weight of the man's experience and fame was almost palpable. He conceded their test of wills without much of a fight, turning away and opening the door.
"Goodbye, Senator," he said in parting. Lansing did not respond.
The three Militia waiting outside the door stared at him as he left. He could feel their eyes on him even as he walked away. He tried to maintain a steady stride, though every instinct screamed at him to start running.
About half-way to the elevator, he heard footsteps following him down the hallway. Had the adrenaline from his meeting not been coursing through his veins, he likely never would have heard them. They were soft and measured—the sound of a predator stalking its prey.
He increased his speed without breaking into a sprint, passing the elevator doors without a pause. He sharply turned the nearest corner, resisting the urge to steal a glance behind him. An identical corridor lay before him, also devoid of any sign of life. To his left was a derelict cleaning cart. He quickly searched through the scattered spray bottles and damp rags and discovered a set of keys. He slid the key into the nearest door and slipped through just as he saw two of the Militia turning the corner.
The room was thankfully empty. As he had surmised, the whole floor had probably been booked for Lansing's safety. He bounded across the room to the balcony doors and slid them ajar. Immediately he was blasted with a rush of frigid air, the wind even more treacherous fourteen stories up than it had been in the plaza. Once on the terrace, he jammed one of the deck chairs in the doorframe and turned to the edge.
He could not keep from peering down. His stomach churned at the height, and an image of cleaning crews scraping him off the pavement flashed unbidden across his mind. Turning his attention to the next balcony over brought no reprieve to his nausea. They were spaced much further apart than they had appeared from down below. He swallowed hard. Inside the room he could hear the muffled sounds of the Militia trying the batter down the door. He was not fond of either of his options.
At last he brought himself to make the leap, vaulting over the balustrade with his arms flung desperately forward. He very nearly missed, barely grasping the bottom ledge of the adjacent terrace. His body crashed painfully with the concrete underside, the collision sending a wave of agony from his bruised torso. He swung himself from the ledge and landed in a graceless heap upon the balcony below.
As quickly as his aching body could manage, Eyal pulled himself to his feet. He smashed the glass pane of the balcony door with a metal table and ran towards the door. Unlike the rooms on the floor above, this one was occupied. A startled woman screamed at his entry and fell out of her bed. He rushed through the door and into the hallway, shutting the door behind him to contain the woman's shrieks.
He moved towards a fire exit near the end of the hall. Voices echoed down the stairwell from above. He clambered down the stairs as fast as he could, each step sending a horrid wave of pain coursing through his body. He surprised himself by his ability to ignore the pain, and moved with impressive alacrity.
The fire door at the bottom of the stairs slammed open and a single Militiaman rushed in, spotting Eyal immediately. Nearly at the bottom, he gripped the railing hard and flung himself bodily at the guard, throwing his shoulder into the collision. The impact likely debilitated him as much as the guard, but by a stroke of luck he landed almost at the threshold of the door to freedom. The Militia grabbed his ankle as he tried to flee, but a desperate kick connected with the man's face and forced his release. He stumbled free and made a headlong dash out the rear of the hotel.
He could hear shouted commands echoing against the walls of the hotel and into the alley, but they were distant. Each stride brought almost unbearable pain. He had to hope that his head start would make up for his condition.
So he ran. And prayed. And kept on running.
Eyal rang the buzzer twice in rapid succession. He quickly scanned the street, sure that he was still being pursued. He rang the buzzer a third time.
"Who is it?" a tired voice sounded over the intercom.
He sighed. It was not the voice he was hoping for. "It's Eyal."
"Go home, Eyal," came the irritated response. "It's the middle of the night."
"Ellie, let me in," he said, gritting his teeth.
Her answer never came, but eventually a buzz was sounded and the door unlocked. He hastily entered the building, slamming the door behind him. The elevator was not far from the front door, yet, on this final stretch, it seemed miles distant.
The apartment door was already opened at the end of the hall. Ellie was leaning on the doorframe, watching him limp down the hall towards him. Her expression of distaste gradually transformed into reluctant alarm as she saw his face.
"Jesus Christ," she exclaimed, as he came to a stop before her. "What the hell happened to you?"
He felt his shoulders slump, and his vision started to fade. He teetered and fell against the wall, grasping blindly for some support. Ellie held out a restraining arm before he collapsed to the floor.
"Fuck," she murmured, draping his arm around her shoulders. "I'll get you inside."
She stumbled under his weight but was able to drag him to the couch, dropping his near unconscious body upon its hard surface. Some of his blood had smeared on her robe. She cursed and wiped the stain in a hopeless effort to remove it.
"Michelle!" she called angrily. "Your partner has dropped by for a house call."
He heard another pair of footsteps approach, but he did not see the person they belonged to. Their voices were muffled and indistinct. He could detect their movements around him, but they seemed distant and random, as if he were in the midst of a crowd.
He must have passed out, for the next thing he knew he was staring into Ellie's face, only inches from his own. Something cold was pressed against his head. He tried to investigate with his hands, but Ellie smacked them down.
"You're a damned annoying patient," she muttered. He looked up without moving his head, and saw she was wiping his forehead with a damp cloth.
Eyal studied her face as she worked. She had soft features and smooth skin, and her eyes were an inviting shade of light brown. He supposed it must have been a welcoming face to most, but a perpetual scowl marred its friendliness whenever he was in her presence. She reserved a very special hatred for him within her otherwise warm heart.
He shifted his eyes to the left, where Mantega was staring back at him, her arms crossed and concern etched on her face. It was that expression which would stir Ellie to anger: a concern she would never understand. His own self-flagellating need to work his sins away had ensnared Mantega on many occasions, and had kept her many hours from her wife.
Eyal returned his gaze to Ellie. "Thank you," he said, his voice a hoarse whisper.
She wrinkled her nose and drew away. "You reek of booze," she said, disapprovingly.
"Don't knock the alcohol," he said after clearing his throat. "It made me do something very foolish that probably saved my life."
"It probably got you into the mess in the first place," Mantega growled, still staring at him.
"Good point," he agreed.
Ellie withdrew the cloth from his forehead and dropped it in a bowl of water. The water instantly turned red. He must have bled more than he had thought.
She stood up and began applying something to his wound, and was rewarded with an agonized moan. Ellie was a nurse, and apparently a very fine one, though on this occasion she seemed to be performing her craft with undue roughness.
"What the hell happened anyway?" Mantega pressed.
He heaved a deep breath and collected his thoughts. "You recall the man I spoke to you of earlier? Martim Salles?"
"Christ, Eyal, I thought I asked you to drop this!"
"He came to my apartment a few hours back," he continued, ignoring her. "He wanted to confess what happened at Cedar Gables. They killed them, Michelle. Everyone in the village—slaughtered them. He told me every detail. They shot them, burned them, killed them all. And Lansing let it all happen. He as much admitted it to me himself."
Ellie stopped what she was doing and stepped back. "Lansing? As in Alexander Lansing?"
"The one and only," Eyal confirmed.
"My God," she said, wide eyed. "You didn't tell me it was because of Lansing that you got into shit."
"Alright, fine," Mantega said to Eyal, avoiding Ellie's accusation. She seemed unsettled by the news, but not so much as to steer her from her course. "You curiosity is satisfied. Stahl killed Cordova for killing his family. Lansing's an evil fuck. Fine. But that's where the story ends."
Eyal shook his head. "No, Michelle. I have the recording of Salles' confession. I'm going to go to the press with this."
"Goddamnit, Eyal," Mantega spat in helpless anger.
"You confronted Alexander Lansing with this," Ellie said slowly. "Presumably threatened him with it. And then you came here?" Her eyes were ablaze.
"I know," he said, holding up his hands in a conciliatory manner. "I'm sorry. I'll leave right away. I just needed a place to recover for a second."
This was not entirely true. He came here to be stopped, to hear all the reasons why he should not do what he had set his mind to. He wanted to be convinced against destroying himself. Yet he kept parrying Mantega's attempts, even as he desperately wanted to listen to her.
"Eyal, if you do this, they will kill you," Mantega stated flatly. "You will disappear one day from your apartment and they will never find your body."
"There it is, then," he replied simply.
"Fuck you!" she screamed with unexpected ferocity. "Fuck you, Eyal! If you wanted to die, why didn't you just ask me to put the bullet in you? Christ knows you'd never be able to pull the trigger yourself! You fucking coward!"
She stalked off to her room and shut her bedroom door with a reverberating slam.
He realized Ellie was still tending to his wounds. She was closely examining the gash on his forehead, though she still somehow managed to give him a withering look.
"This usually isn't the order of things," she observed.
"Does that mean you're coming around to me?"
She did not reply, but a particularly vicious graze to his wound gave him the sentiment of her answer.
"You know," she said in the measured tone of someone whose attention is elsewhere, "quite frankly I agree with you. If Lansing did what you say, he should go down for it. Too smug by far, that one. Plus, if it gets you out of the picture, all the better."
"This is you agreeing with me?" Eyal grunted.
She turned his head so that their eyes met. "Listen to me. If by some miracle—or curse, rather—you end up alive, I want you to find another partner. You're fucking poison."
He smiled tiredly. "We're finding much to agree about tonight, Ellie."
She frowned, and continued her work. She bandaged the worst bits of him and cleaned up the greater part of the blood. At last she injected him with something that had an immediate soothing effect.
"That'll keep you going for a little while longer before you drop again," she said.
"Thank you," he replied shortly. He offered his hand. She did not take it.
"I thought the hours Michelle spent with you would at least get her rapid promotion. Then you fucked that up for her. If this little stunt comes back to bite her a second time, I'll find your corpse and I'll kill it again."
He withdrew his hand. "Goodbye," he said instead. He left.
The shot that Ellie had given him had both dulled the pain and infused him with renewed energy. As he walked down the street, he felt almost none of the effects of the day's varied beatings, save for a limp in his right leg that seemed to stubbornly resisted his mind's assertion that all was well. There were a few souls out to keep him company, the usual two o'clock crowd: drunks, thugs, and the occasional civil servant. Life seemed so much simpler, strolling down the street at night.
Eyal slipped into a café a few blocks from Mantega's apartment. It was one of those twenty-four hour joints, catering to hipster students who enjoyed sipping coffee and writing bad fiction throughout the small hours of the morning. He asked the young barista if there was a public terminal available. She directed him to the back, raising an eyebrow at his appearance.
He retrieved Salles' recording from the database he had uploaded it to earlier. He played the recording once or twice to make sure it was uncorrupted, and to confirm that he had not imagined it. Then he prepared to send it to a journalist he knew from the Massilia Post.
Before he did so, he paused and took in his surroundings. The room had been heated to a pleasant temperature; warmer perhaps than it should have been, but a comfort against the cold wind that blew outside. There were an unusual number of patrons at this hour, though none appeared the least bit tired. A few midnight lovers exchanged hushed words of affection, while two friends in the corner carried on a lively discussion about a sports team. The barista, meanwhile, was alternately reading from a datapad and then scribbling something down, no doubt studying for a test she would write when the sun rose.
He thought about what he was about to do. About the old hatreds he risked rekindling, of the newfound sense of unity he sought to destroy.
It was but a passing thought. He sent the recording. The computer helpfully informed him that his attempt was successful.