The Alter Mysteries: Death Shadow, Chapter 2.5 by Laura Zabala
                                                    Plans

 Tanaka arranged for a car to “pick him up” and drop him off with his family in Connecticut. He is to remain in Jersey in our house. He already closed his account with the apartment complex and had his furniture moved to storage by drone. His clearance as an investigator allows him to travel in secret without the need to be scanned en route.  That clearance and the official paperwork he insisted on us getting was a huge part of today’s plans. He tends to be right. I just never admit that to his face. Izzy had mysteriously stated she was taking the day off and holed herself up in the office. Neither of us allowed in, we figured she was working from home. For the first time, I am headed into the office to work by myself. Tanaka and I arranged for our flimsy armbands to be connected by audio and video. A quick press of a button and we can have privacy, but another press and we could see what the other was doing. This is the most protection I can afford without looking suspicious. 

 When I enter the office, officer Ryan is standing there staring up at the clock. I don’t know how he got in without clearance from the scanners. Something is off. He is in his officer uniform his hands in his pockets. At the sound of my entry, he turns to look at me. Officer Ryan doesn’t smile. Boldly, I walk forward. Capture his eyes with my own. “Hello Ryan, I see you let yourself in.” My irritation is open, mocking. “How may I help you?” Ryan, the man I have been working with on cases for a good seven years holds up his flimsy. The police badge logo shining off it like a 3-D hologram. “I have the suspect in custody.” For a moment there are no words. “What the hell are you talking about Ryan?” He shuts off his flimsy which is against protocol.

 “The most recent murder leads me to believe you are involved.”

 “Involved? The perp’ killed a guy that looks like Tanaka.” I hold up my engagement ring, “my fiancé!”

 “I know that once I explain you won’t throw a psychic tantrum because you will end rights for your people if any violence is recorded against a police officer.” I shut down, weighing my freedom against the lives of the many.

 My anger becomes so intense, a tear drops from my eye. My head throbs. “Ryan, don’t you trust me?”

 He nods, but says nothing, “you will have to trust me.” Confused I turn around and lift my hands in the air. He takes them down and cuffs me. A formality. I could have gotten away at any point. Killed him instantly if I wanted. He is going to be in so much trouble! Ryan removes my flimsy and shuts it off with the police codes. I am disconnected from the grid. The traceable one. When I get a chance I will reach out. Try to connect with someone I know telepathically.

 “It is not a good idea to use any of your abilities. They can be picked up by our sniffers.” I blanch. 

 “Sniffers?” He begins walking me back to the police car which was parked at the back of my building. “Sniffers meaning the hunter paranormals that catch criminals who run away.” Criminal? We get into the car. He restrains me in the seat next to him. A divider between us up to the neck ensures I can’t surprise attack him. When the doors close he presses a code. Locks the doors and my cuffs fall off.

 “Now we can talk.”

 “What the hell Ryan?” I glare at him, “for a moment I thought you might be the killer!”

 Ryan started laughing, “I had to get you to safety.” The car starts moving on a predetermined route. There are no recording devices or scanners inside the police vehicle. There is even a protective barrier commissioned by the government for every vehicle. It is said no paranormal can penetrate the barrier. For the first time, I am able to check for myself to see if it is true. I can not sense anything outside the car. Meaning no one can sense me. My flimsy is still not on my arm. A chill runs down my spine.

 “Congratulations on getting engaged.” Ryan is watching the tiers of various cities pass beneath us. We are still on the third level where most businesses and shops are run. We are moving along the police tube where non-authorized vehicles do not travel. It is a barrier that can only be penetrated by vehicles with police frequencies. Meaning if Tanaka somehow managed to triangulate our location by tapping the code he could not follow us directly. He wasn’t a hacker by smarts. He was a rare Paranormal that could cling onto frequencies and track them to the end of the earth if necessary. If the police force had him, he could be deemed a “sniffer.” The word brings disgust as if we are compared to dogs.

 “Thank you, you were going to explain why I should trust you.” I smile leaning to emphasize the barrier between us. Without a thought, Ryan brings it down. He knows what I can do. Either he is an idiot, or he knows I am powerless. 

 “Here is your flimsy. I think you need to see this to understand.” He hands me my flimsy. Locked on my arm it turns on and a picture comes up. A woman with small breasts, plump lips, a long nose with a bulbous end. Pale skin, coal eyes and long black hair graces the screen. She looks like she could be related to me. Today is one of those days for being creeped out apparently. I shake and catch my breath. My vulnerability so apparent to me. Trapped. If something happened to Ryan, the car would still fly to where it is going. Thoughts of home with Tanaka and Izzy flood my mind.

 “The perp’ knows what I look like? Why did you take me? You didn’t even read me my rights.” Ryan puts a hand to his temple, “Zara, this is not an actual arrest in my eyes. It was all I could do. This was the first time too that a note was left.” He swipes and the text shows up on screen. The killer had used a pen and paper. Something so traceable it was brazen.

At The Crossroads

Face the reaper

Know the truth

Watch as they die

Your assignment is almost done

Your last breath my gift to you

—Z.

 I jump back in my seat. This is crazy. My breaths are shallow. “I didn’t think you wrote that letter. You see that boss?” I turn in shock. A surly old man is on the screen of Ryan’s flimsy.

 “That isn’t definitive proof Ryan.”

 “Hey, why would I threaten myself and my fiancé?”

 “To look innocent.” I try to steel myself. Force my breaths to be deeper, slower. Am I the killer? It would be possible to do it while I sleep, but then how could I not know?

 “I am not the killer. Keep me in custody if you need to. You’ll see. I can’t kill people if I am in custody. Another body will probably turn up.”

The man on the line laughs, “that only proves you might have someone corroborating with you, para.” I cringe. Para is a pejorative term for paranormals. It is a way of saying we are extra, beyond what is necessary for the human race. Of course, Ryan’s boss is prejudiced. 

 “So all of those cases I helped solve mean nothing?”

 “There are many reasons to help the enemy, including getting away with your own crimes.” I put my hand to my head. “I won’t speak to you further without a lawyer present. That includes you, Ryan.” I am tempted to spit at him but look out the window instead. My mind racing in all kinds of directions.

 “Zara, you are safer here with me than anywhere else. This person is clearly out for you. I wouldn’t be here with you if I thought you did it. Look my flimsy is off.” I turn and see that it is set in a charging port. It can charge via wi-fi, but ports are still used so people can take technology off their skin.

 “Remember, ‘I have a wife and kids.’” I look at his hands. A ring is on his ring finger.

 “What does that even mean?” I refuse to use words that can be used in soundbites like, “yes,” or “no.” My eyes resume scanning the surrounding area. Based on the scenery we are headed south. My flimsy is on passively recording everything once more. Hopefully, Tanaka is listening.

“Somewhere on the mainland.” Ryan isn’t an idiot. He sets the windows to blur out the landscape. “Somewhere south of the mainland, southeast judging by the trees.” Ryan takes the flimsy from my arm and shuts it off. “How did you even get clearance to do this?”

 “Under the law, any high powered paranormal who becomes a suspect loses their rights. The police can do what they want. I fought to get you transferred to where we are going. Once you are cleared of any involvement I will personally bring you back express on my dime.”

 My stomach lurches. I am going to a holding facility. Tanaka and Izzy are left alone unprotected without me. “You are taking me away from the people I love.” I can’t say I can’t protect them. It could be used against me later as if I were making a threat. My eyes are pleading. I have Ryan in my hold. He doesn’t know it. No scanners in the vehicle mean there is no instrumentation to pick up what I am doing. “Your flimsy looks like it is off.” His hand raises and shuts it off. So now it really is just in the charging port. Before I can make the next suggestion. The car shakes. I release him. We both are looking around. He sets the windows back to viewing mode. There is a car running parallel the police line, I look inside hoping to see Tanaka. The face is wearing a ski mask. Seriously?! A ski mask? Come on, what century is this and the person is wearing a ski mask?

 “Exactly as I suspected.” Ryan shifts the car out of autopilot.

 “Woah Ryan, what are you doing?” He looks at the other car and salutes the masked stalker.

 “A killer doesn’t write you a love note to get in your pants, sweetheart. I suggest you tighten that harness.”

 I do as he says. Ryan swings the car down through the transport field out into the traffic. Tiers of cars on autopilot are streaming around and below us like networks of data. The sky is so congested. We have to weave through patterns of traffic narrowly missing a few cars. The car is jerked in different directions. The system begins issuing a warning, “resume autopilot, resume autopilot” It warns over and over. Ryan issues a command in code. His flimsy turns on and transfers an official override. “Badge number 45122300, ID Ryan O’Leary, is being chased by an unidentified vehicle.”

 “Issue a BOLO on the details of the vehicle, now!” The computer launches a scan and assessment of the car in pursuit. Zara sighs in relief when she realizes it was not Tanaka on some crazy pursuit. He would definitely go to jail otherwise. Then she realizes it is worse. If it isn’t Tanaka then they could very well be being chased by the killer.

 “Don’t these cars have some self-defense system?!”

Ryan laughs, “Just like paranormals are suspect so are the cops. We are not trusted with shiny things. You can thank the 21st-century rap sheet for that. So many murders, we lost some privileges. Especially during the…” He trails off looking at me. I nod. We both know the stats on the number of paranormals killed after The Rising. People were so scared of what the paranormals could do. Forgetting that they had lived alongside them for centuries peacefully. If you engage someone with hostility enough times eventually they fight back. It was the civil war no one had expected. The paranormals lost. Outnumbered, betrayed. Then there were the concentration camps.

A jarring motion kicks me back into attention. Ryan takes a nose dive towards the ocean. My hands are clinging so tightly to the handle on my right and the armrest on my left that my knuckles go pasty white. The sensation of falling is so intense I feel as though at any moment everything will go black. “Ryan! Are you trying to kill us?” I lose all composure and caution with words.

 “Just trust me Zar’” Within a few feet of the ocean he pulls up and the car behind nearly crashes into our rear. He initiates a traction beam that holds the vehicle. The person inside jumps into the water miles out from the coast. Suspended in the sky I am breathing hoarsely. Glad to be alive. We watch the perp’ swim back. “Aren’t you going to go get that guy?” Ryan sighs, “I don’t get paid enough. You sure don’t either. I have a feeling it will take more than two people to take that person down.” As if in answer police cars surround the swimmer and set down nano restraints to ensnare the perp’. Every single car explodes with the occupants inside. Not one shred of metal left. Ryan inputs command codes into the computer and we head back to the police tube. “The amount of paperwork I have to do is ridiculous.”

 “You just saw a squad of cars vaporized with the cops in them and all you can think about is paperwork?”

 Ryan leans back in his seat and puts his hands behind his head, “I mean the paperwork I have to do to prove your innocence. You owe me one.”

I scoff, “You kidding me?”

 “You get to go home today, Zara. It is hard to prove your involvement or justify taking you to the Hole when you did nothing to assist that brute and even insisted on an arrest.” I sigh. 

 “Besides, didn’t you see? He has explosives.” Ryan winks. So he knows that guy killed them using his abilities but is going to cover it up. Time to investigate further into standard Ryan’s background.

When we arrive at The Paranormal Investigation Task Force building I am tempted to kiss the solar glass sidewalk. Tanaka is inside waiting when we arrive. He grabs me and kisses me fiercely. An uncharacteristic display of affection. Then holds me in his arms. His eyes locking with Ryan’s, “you should have spoken with me.”

 “We cleared your girl of involvement.”

 “Zara deserves better than the treatment she just received. Jenna?” A woman in a business suit steps forward, “This is our lawyer. Do you have anything else to discuss?”

 Ryan smiles and scratches his head, “He really loves you, Zara. Be safe. Sorry for all the fuss guys.” With that, he leaves the building.



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