Book 1, Chapter 19

The Solace Police Department was unlike any other government agency in Solace for one reason: outsourcing. No other department was as capable or as willing to accept outside help as the SPD was, and for a good reason. Many cases required the help of people who would never pass the background checks required to join the police force. Double agents were a must have, as were specialists that had no interest in a long term job commitment. It was a little different for someone who had served with the Military Police. Any able-bodied person who had finished his or her stint on duty was considered a reserve member by default; it was Julian’s civic duty to help the SPD should they ever call upon him. Today, however, Julian was quite keen on turning the tables.

He bypassed his local law enforcement branch and hopped a bus to the Core, where the offices of the central precinct were. Like most things near the Core, the building had a very elegant look to it; the architecture favored style over the simplicity and functionality of buildings closer to the rim. It was courthouse, jail, forensics lab, law offices and police station in one large skyscraper known to most as the Tower.

The building represented self-contained justice, in the words of a few notable policy makers. Once an arrest was made, the accused need only take the elevator to go from the police offices to the law offices to the holding cells, and if convicted, could spend the next eight to ten years in the top floors which boasted the nicest mid level security prison in the area. Mostly white collar criminals and domestic offenders were kept there; their crimes were nothing so grievous that they might worry the occupants of the building or those surrounding it. The building even boasted a handful of murderers, due to the fact that Solace’s laws differentiated various types of murder.

Killing, raping or otherwise wounding someone for no apparent reason or in cold blood and one was sent...elsewhere. Such crimes were up to the government to deal with, and whether the sentence was execution or long-term imprisonment, the remaining options were grim.

The bus stop was just outside the building and, after hopping from the last step down to the curb, Julian walked up the wide stairwell leading to the front doors. He eyed the statue standing at the top as he approached; she was shiny and beautiful with scales balancing from her hands. Why Justice was always depicted as a woman he would never understand. As far as stereotypes went, men were the analytical ones and women were more emotional. Wouldn’t Justice be a being that sought truth without involving their emotions of personal bias? More likely, the archetype’s gender just an excuse to have a seven foot tall woman made of finely cast metal standing around all day with her shiny bosom forever threatening to escape the support of the flowing cloth wrapped around her. That at least made sense.

Inside the Tower the air was almost too cold, hitting Julian straight on as the doors parted in front of him. His stuck his hands in his pockets as he looked around for a help desk or directory, finding both across the long entryway, a good fifteen feet from the door. What a pompous waste of space, he thought, as he crossed the glossy floor. His footsteps echoed loudly, his nice dress shoes clicking a rather important sounding beat as he walked. He’d been sure to dress up for this meeting, a little above and beyond his normal work attire. He even wore a tie. It made him feel old and pretentious, but the woman sitting behind the help desk seemed impressed enough to stand as she greeted him.

“Can I help you, sir?”

Julian was ninety-seven percent sure that the help desk clerk, rather like the lady Justice, was kept around for her impressive cleavage. “Yes, actually. If you could point me in the direction of the personnel director, I would be much obliged.” He had the decency to direct his smile at her face.

The busty clerk smiled back and looked down at her computer screen. “Well, he’s out to lunch at the moment. If you can tell me what it’s about, I can send you up to the department and have you speak to someone there.”

“It’s about Nicholas Rabbit. I hear he’s doing some casework for this precinct and I was hoping to get some information.”

“You know Rabbit? Oh, he’s such a dream. He could take me away on that bike of his any day,” she swooned. “It’s been a while since I’ve seen him, though. He only takes the occasional case. He’s working with missing persons right now, the juvenile division. I’ll send you right up. Elevator nine.”

“Thank you.” Julian inclined his head and walked around her desk toward the elevators. There were several guards stationed there, just waiting for some ill-conceived escape plan to bring a prisoner into firing range. They seemed like they would welcome the excitement, and let him pass through and into the elevator without so much as a glance.

Upstairs was a whole different picture from below. In contrast with the wide open, unused space below, the upper stories were packed so full that walking around seemed to be a rather pioneering idea. Desks were piled in wherever they could be and terminals beeped madly for someone to pay attention to them. There were pictures displayed on programmable plastic sheets everywhere, faces of children smiling back, ignorant of their fates. Julian maneuvered toward the captain’s office, trying to pretend he didn’t hear a woman sobbing in the background from one of the questioning rooms.

“Come in,” a gravelly voice replied after Julian knocked at the private office. He opened the door and smiled at the older man behind the desk as he closed it behind him.

“Hello. I was told I could speak to you concerning Nicholas Rabbit.”

“Rabbit? What do you want with him?” The man leaned forward over his desk, his fat, wrinkled hands clasped together over some paperwork. The name plate at the edge of the desk read Captain Leon Helms.

Julian took a seat across from him. “My name’s Julian Vaughn. I used to work for the Military Police. I’ve got my civilian ident. card if you’d like to run it for verification.” He offered his card to the man, not at all surprised when he took it.

The Captain swiped it through a card reader affixed to the monitor of his terminal and it fed information onto his screen. He nodded a few times as he eyed the results, then handed the card back. “Thank you, Captain Vaughn. Though I must say this is rather unexpected. It’s not often we get someone of your skills in this department. Not much call for snipers in child abduction cases.”

“Just Julian, please. I‘m not here for a job really, just some information. You see, I recently worked with Nicholas Rabbit on my own missing child case a few weeks back.”

Captain Helms snorted, his mustache jumping on his lip as he did. “Rabbit won’t work with any of my men. How the hell’d you get him to cooperate with you?”

“I have very good interpersonal skills. People like me.” Julian flashed a charming smile to try and prove his point. “We didn’t exactly meet in the best of places though--a black market child auction. I thought Rabbit might have just been an undercover agent but it turns out he has honest ties to a lot of people there. And not just there--Rabbit‘s well known to a lot of underground organizations as well as several legitimate ones.”

The older gentleman smirked a little, leaning forward across the desk. “That information isn’t exactly easy to come by. We’ve made sure of it. You’re more than you seem to be. What is this really? Who sent you?”

“No one sent me. Like I said, I just wanted a little more information about Nicholas Rabbit. How much of his past do you know?”

“If what you’re looking for isn’t available through the CommNet, you’re certainly not going to find it here. He keeps to himself; doesn’t have any friends here with whom he might have indulged something personal. You want information about Rabbit, you’ll have to speak to him directly.” Captain Helms spoke in a very matter of fact tone, without a hint of distrust in Julian’s motives. He wasn’t hiding anything, that much was certain, and didn’t think that Julian was either. The man simply did not know anything more about Nicholas Rabbit than Julian had been able to uncover. “Why don’t you tell me what this is all about, really?”

Julian smiled at him again. “I’m a private detective--I can’t disclose much information, sir. You understand how it works. I have to protect the privacy of my clients just as I’m sure you would protect the privacy of your men.”

“If you knew that, why’d you bother coming here to ask me?” the Captain inquired.

“Because he’s not one of your men. Nicholas Rabbit is as much a mystery to you as he is to me, and I’m sure somewhere inside you, there is a hint of curiosity as to how such a man operates in such diverse circles seamlessly.” Julian’s red eyes flashed as his grin widened, his words carrying a careful, manipulative pull. “I can get in close enough to solve the riddle, but without a purpose, I’ll be easily ignored. What I need is a reason to become involved. I believe you know exactly what I mean.”

The man’s white mustache swished as he worried his lip. “I thought you said you weren’t here for a job.”

“Have I even once brought up payment? Consider it a win-win situation for you. You bring me in to help Rabbit and not only do you new get the expertise of a trained military police officer for free, but should I find that my hunch is correct, I’ll make sure to drop your name to the right people.”

“And what hunch would that be?”

“If you don’t work with me on this, that’s just something you’ll never need to know.” Julian watched the signs of his victory play against the Captain’s aged face. Captain Helms was putty in his hands now, a victim to curiosity. A few seconds of silence was all it would take. Julian could practically narrate the dialogue going on in the police captain’s mind: The first thoughts would be about the ethics of the situation, whether assigning Julian to Rabbit’s case knowing his intent would be a violation of Rabbit’s personal privacy. He’d decide it wasn’t though, decide to deny knowledge of the situation if it were brought up; he’d continue to make himself feel better about the situation by thinking about the case and how it would benefit the missing child to have someone helping. In the end, it would seem like such a logical decision to make that he’d feel the need to take as much credit for the situation as possible, maybe even shake Julian’s hand and welcome him to the force.

At length, Captain Helms nodded, a small smile creeping onto his face. “Alright, we could use another man on the case. We’re about to drop it, truthfully, so with any luck maybe Rabbit’ll actually be thankful for the intrusion.” He turned to his terminal and plugged some information into it. “You can download the case file now if you’d like.”

Julian smiled and used his datapad to do so, watching as the face of a young blonde boy popped into view: William Speight. “No ransom, no communication, nothing at all from the abductor?”

“Not a trace.”

That was not good news. Looking over the evidence, it was hard to see what need Rabbit would have for help; there was practically nothing to go by. Still, this was a rare chance and he was not about to waste it. “Thank you, Captain. I’ll review this and meet up with Rabbit at his residence.”

“No, thank you, Julian. I hope the two of you can bring the kid home safely.” Captain Helms stood up, offering his hand. “Welcome to the force.

Smirking with self-satisfaction, Julian shook his hand before exiting the building. He could hardly keep the skip from his step as he strode victoriously down the stairs toward the street. Among all the things he cursed his father for, teaching him to read people well was not included. Just as it had helped him get the Police Captain’s favor, it also came in handy for profiling criminals. Already he felt he had some idea of what kind of person would abduct the eleven-year-old. He would need to review the evidence more thoroughly of course, but that was what tram rides were for. For now, he felt giddy, congratulating himself on being so underhandedly clever. Pride was one of his sins of choice.

He passed lusty lady Justice, who guarded the greedy hearts sentenced far above the ground levels. Who was responsible for locking away many of those white collared criminals?

The Surge. Vigilante, terrorist, and the best auditor of fraudulent expenditures in Solace. Perhaps even more enigmatic than the legend was the man behind it, the man Julian was eager to face. He had so many questions to ask. They were connected, Julian knew that much for certain. But why? How?

He had to get close to Rabbit, see what others may have missed and confront him about his identity.

From this point on, there was no turning back. He’d find the Surge at any cost.

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