Each sharp retort of the gun brought a certain bleak satisfaction to Derek Fitzpatrick’s heart. Weeks of surgery had left him pale and far thinner than he’d once been, but a meticulous regime of exercise and healthy eating was starting to restore the flesh to his bones, while the doctors had performed the same service for his face.

Almost the same service. There was little resemblance to the man pictured in the Hall of Fame at CSA headquarters, not any more. He’d had to pull a few legal strings to convince the reluctant plastic surgeons to do as he asked.

Three shots, then the low whine of the mechanised pulley system as it reeled his target towards him.

He unclipped the picture from the cardboard target. Ian Carlyle’s features, looking back at him from the glossy headshot, seemed far less smug, marred as they were by a perfect diagonal track of three bullet holes. The enforcer slipped a finger through a hole that punched right through the pictured lens of the man’s habitual sunglasses and whirled the photograph idily around his digit. “An eye for an eye, my friend… An eye for an eye.”

He set the punctured photograph down and clipped a pristine one onto the target in its place before pushing down the button to set it scrolling backwards down the range. His eyes flicked briefly to the pale band on his tanned finger where his wedding ring had once lain. His wife, Lucy, had skipped town while Derek had been in hospital and he found himself too weary and on edge to put the effort in to find her again.

It was simply another gift for which he would have to thank Ian Carlyle properly.

He was two shots into his sequence again when a hushed step on the concrete interrupted him. He set down his pistol and pulled off his ear muffs and goggles, pushing his sweat-soaked hair back off his face as he suddenly became conscious of the evening heat radiating from the walls of the building.

“Did you get ’em?” Derek looked his visitor in the face without fear, though he would be one of very few to do so.

The man in the grey suit nodded, holding out a large, thick envelope. Derek snatched it from the man’s fingers, pulling out a handful of enlarged photos. He shuffled through them, one by one, then stopped, waving dismissively to his visitor, who simply bowed his head and left without a word.

The telephoto lens had captured every detail, from the lines on Carlyle’s knuckles to the sheen of reflected light from the engraved letters on the inside of the plain gold rings inside the tiny cushioned box he held out to his brother.

Wedding rings.

Derek closed his eyes and silently thanked either God or the Devil, whichever force had given Ian Carlyle something else for him to take away.


“Whoah! Whoah! Hey, I thought I’m not supposed to see the bride at all the night before the wedding?” Ian was laughing, resolutely keeping his back turned to the little blonde who was pressed close against his spine, arms reaching around his body and fending off his efforts to catch them with playful slaps.

“So keep your eyes closed! I have a solution to all our problems.” Dolly was half-laughing, half-exasperated as she tried to focus on tugging off the item of his clothing that had her attention.

“If it’s that ridiculous hoodie and mask you came in wearing, I’m not sure it’s a solution I want!” He finally stopped trying to blindly catch her wrists, lightly caressing her forearm with the back of one finger as he felt her hands brush near his face.

“It’s not.” Pulling his scarf loose, she tied it firmly across his eyes. “There! Can you see at all now?”

“Nope! But you’re making me want to!”

“That’s nothing…” In the darkened room, there was the long sound of a zipper unfastening, followed by the soft thud of cloth falling to the floor.


The soft purples of early twilight smeared into grey beyond the heavily-barred window as, in a low-rent apartment on the San Paro Waterfront, a blonde woman set aside a slim, colourful hardback book and lent forward to kiss her daughter, tucking the covers in around the little girl’s chin.

“And they all lived happily ever after, until the end of time.” The woman’s voice was soft and low, the British accent sounding rich and plummy in a sharp contrast to the west coast American drawl her daughter had picked up at school.

“Mommy? When is Dad coming home?”

“Soon, sweetheart. Very soon now. He’s been out on the streets making sure we’re safe.” She bent to kiss the child again, as a hand touched her shoulder and she staightened up to smile radiantly at the man who had just entered the room.

“I’ll always be home in time to kiss my little girl goodnight.” Chris Walsaw smiled tenderly at both of them as he reached past his wife to brush his daughter’s ginger hair. “Both my girls.” He turned, swiftly, leaning in to his wife for a kiss.

***

In a low-rent apartment on the San Paro Waterfront, Chris Walsaw jolted awake and stared blankly at the slowly-spreading damp stain on the ceiling, a knot in his throat and an inexplicable feeling of loss in his chest as the dream faded.

No Asylum – Epilogue

September 10, 2010


Two weeks later…

…In an office off an underground parking garage

“Aye, I have it for ye, laddie.” Grayson Fell’s accent was even thicker over the phone than it was in person, but the Dundee brogue came easier to Ian’s ears than it might have to an American’s, coming as it did from less than two hundred miles North of his home town.

“Yer man Fitzpatrick? Twice-decorated CSA officer. Admitted to San Paro General two weeks ago in critical condition, then transferred elsewhere last week… Don’t know where to, yet, though; they keep that stuff pretty quiet. But the good news is, the prognosis for yer man doesn’t look very good. Cranial bleeding, multiple fractures to the skull, one bullet lodged in there. Best he kin hope fer is a really long nap.

“I’ll keep an eye on him for ye, though. Somethin’s twitchin’ me nerves with this, like, and we neither of us need some fuckin’ CSA hero comin’ after ye and yer lassie.”

Behind his dark glasses, Ian’s eyes went somewhere far away. Since he pulled her out of Detention Centre 14, Dolly had reverted almost immediately to her usual, sunny self, as if the experience had washed straight out of her. But she trembled more at night, now, whimpering in her dreams until he wrapped her tightly in his arms and held her close. Then she’d give a soft little sigh and squirm about, grinding her bottom against him in a way that wasn’t really conducive to sleep and rubbing her foot back and forth against the sheets before sinking deeper into sleep with a smile on her face.

It wasn’t just the arrest, he knew. But her time in detention had opened the door again for older, darker horrors. Horrors he’d worked so hard to chase away.

“If he does…” Ian drummed his fingers restlessly on the table. “It’ll be worse for him.”

…In a top-floor room in a private hospital on the Waterfront

There was a certain, unwritten code to be obeyed in a police partnership. You could refuse to partake in corruption but you couldn’t rat. You could drunkenly insult each other, but never fight. You never forgot each other’s birthdays, but it was never too personal a gift. You always had each other’s backs, protected each other. You could argue and they had to listen, but if they insist, you have to help.

Pretty much the only instance in which it was acceptable to break the code, was if your partner slept with your wife.

Chris was divorced, but as he stood beside the bed with a thick file clutched in his fingers, he wondered if a fast, drunken marriage to some Vegas hooker, followed by outright pushing her into Derek’s hospital bed, would have been preferable to what he was getting involved in.

“Look. He already almost killed you once. Christ! Look at yourself! This is not a good idea!”

Derek couldn’t answer verbally. The bandages swathed his entire head, sealing his mouth shut, leaving only a tiny slit for one eye to abate the claustrophobia. He typed on a slim, silver keyboard instead, moving his hand carefully to navigate the tangle of wires for various monitors, the tubes from IVs sending liquids in, the tube from the catheter taking liquid out.

Chris pondered a joke about “taking the piss” but figured Derek wouldn’t be in the mood.

“LOOK at me, Chris. Look at the file. The guy NEEDS taking down.

“I want to be the one to do it. I OWE him, Chris.”

“We can pull him in on any one of a hundred charges at any time. The problem is that we can’t make it stick, and CSA warrants expire a lot faster than police ones.” Chris shook his head. Derek hadn’t been thinking straight since he regained consciousness. All he could talk about was Ian Carlyle.

To the extent that he could talk at all.

“It’s not about arrests, Chris. This is about DESTROYING the Limey fuck.

“I’m going to tear away everything he cares about, one by one, then I’m going to take him off the streets FOR GOOD.”

“Christ, Derek! You can’t… I’m not going to stand here and listen to you plot cold-blooded murder!” Chris half-turned to walk away, feeling that surge of panic in his chest again, but Derek was still typing.

“We HAVE to, Chris. What’ll happen to that poor girl if we don’t?”

Fuck. Derek was playing with his head. Chris knew it, but he couldn’t take his eyes off the screen.

“She’s only 19. Not mentally competent. And he’s the insanely jealous type, you said.

“For all we know, he beat the shit out of her once they got out of DC14.”

No, thought Chris. No, I’ve never seen him hit her. But the image of it still gnawed at his guts, etched itself on the backs of his retinas, pricked at his palms, curling them into fists.

“Fuck you, Derek.” Chris threw the file onto the bed and stormed from the room.

You’ll be back. From the bed, there came a wheezing sound that might have been a chuckle as Derek carefully erased the screen.

No Asylum – Chapter 7

September 9, 2010


Following the signs to Interview Room 2, Ian paused in the shadows of a doorway, watching the slow pivoting of the security camera in the hall as he slid the magnum back into hiding under his jacket and half-unzipped the hold-all slung over one shoulder, reaching in to feel the smooth metal stock of the silenced De Lisle carbine tucked within. For an instant, he almost smiled, adrenal excitement sparking through his nerves, but then a frown cast over his features like a looming thundercloud.

“Dolly…” His jaw set. Pulling his sunglasses off, he strode to the door of the interrogation room, an artfully-made badge prominently displayed on the chest of his stolen uniform proclaiming him to be an employee of the San Paro Institute for the Criminally Insane named Darius Jedburg. The door was not quite closed, but he rapped on it sharply all the same.

“Agent Walsaw? I’m here to collect your prisoner.”

For a moment, he thought he heard a soft sound, a muted cry of pain from a woman’s throat. He told himself he didn’t, not the cry nor the heavy metal snap of handcuffs that followed it. They were not touching her. They were not hurting her. He forced down the fury that prickled in his blood; the red, red rage that seethed through him until it sank into a cold, clear place in the depths of his heart.

When the door opened, he smiled, clinically charming. “I’m from the SPICI, here to collect Miss Phorbes.”

“No, you’re fucking not! You’re…” Ian slammed his full weight into the dark-haired young enforcer who had answered his knock, silencing his protest with a swift, brutal punch to the stomach, dragging the De Lisle from the hold-all with his other hand as he pushed the enforcer back into the room and slammed the door behind him.

There are only two ways to survive on the streets of San Paro. To be an enforcer, or to be faster than one.

But this guy was fast. Before the layout of the room had even made its way from Ian’s eyes to the mind behind them, the enforcer had grabbed his wrist, pushing the gun aside and down, slamming his wrist savagely against the side of the table. Hitting the nerve, making his fingers convulse. The clatter the gun made as it hit the floor almost drowned out Dolly’s cry of recognition and alarm, but not quite enough. His eyes went to her, taking in the redness and swelling around her eye, the blood on her lip, the drying tracks of tears on her cheeks. It all went to the cold place.

The enforcer’s fist caught him squarely under the chin, snapping his teeth together, forcing him back a pace or two, making static hiss in his ears. By instinct, Ian brought his knee up, pushing aside the kick to the stomach that would have followed, then he grabbed for the man’s wrists, missing his right hand and paying for it with a line of vivid, red pain that lanced through his right shoulder and across his ribs.

If he’d been two inches shorter, the ‘Forcer’s hidden little flick-knife would have slashed his throat.

He slammed another punch into the man’s gut, pushing him back, fighting for room to move. A kick that would have broken his knee bit his shin instead as he stepped forward, letting the blow slide off to the side. He grabbed for the man’s knife-hand again, fingers fastening firmly around his wrist this time.

For a moment, everything froze as the two stood locked, muscles corded and straining, sweat beading their brows, then Ian slowly started to push the agent’s arms back and outwards, away from his body. When they stood almost nose-to-nose, arms outstretched, he slammed his forehead into the guy’s nose.

The crumpling sound of the enforcer’s limp body falling was the only thing to disturb the stillness. He bent to pick up the carbine, then turned to the blonde woman who was already rising from her chair despite her handcuffs, stumbling forward into his arms, sobbing with relief.

Ian rested his cheek against the top of her head as he held her, closing his eyes to let the sweet, vanilla scent that clung to her hair wash over him. She babbled at him, tearful and incoherent, until he dropped a kiss onto the crown of her head and lifted her chin with a tender hand to examine her face.

“It’s okay, Blue. It’s okay now. I’m here… I’m not going to let you go.” He brushed her cheek gently, wiping away her tears. “Who hit you, love?”

She flinched against him as the enforcer groaned on the concrete floor. “Him…” Her voice was hoarse from crying, but she pointed with a trembling hand. “Derek.”

He kissed her again, smiling the smile that was just for her and drew her against his chest with one sheltering arm as the carbine swung to bear on the enforcer. The sound was barely louder than a sneeze, but the man on the floor howled in agony as deep red blood began to blossom on the belly of his shirt.

“Fell said the ginger guy had you. Where’s he now?”

“Behind you…”

Ian whirled, pushing his lover behind him as he pointed the carbine at the red-headed enforcer who stood, frozen in the doorway, staring at the writhing body of his partner on the floor.

“Alright, mate, come on in.” Ian’s voice was eerily calm, even to his own ears. He waved with the gun towards a chair. “Take a seat and then you can explain to me why you and that cunt…” He jerked his head towards the fallen Derek. “…are bothering my fiancee.”

Chris’ mouth was moving like a goldfish’s as he walked to the chair and sank into it. He stared at Derek for a long moment, then up at the muzzle of the gun, then past Carlyle to the pale, shaking form of the woman who was the reason both of them were here. The door clicked shut again, soundproofing the room to the outside.

Chris kept his eyes on the floor as he spoke. “Your fiancee is a schizophrenic, suffering from multiple personality disorder along with severe depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and a couple of violent psychoses. She killed her whole family ten years ago and the only reason she’s not in prison now was that, as a minor, she was confined instead to a secure mental facility where, for her sake and yours, she should be now.” He lifted his eyes to the blonde girl. “You know it’s true, love. You’re very sick and if you stay out here, innocent people are going to get hurt.”

The rage flashed through Ian like a fire through dry brush. He smashed the butt of the De Lisle across Walsaw’s face, enunciating every syllable with a frosted clarity. “You. Do. Not. Speak. To. Her. You do not look at her. Not ever again. Do you understand me?”

Walsaw clutched the side of his face in his hand, bright spots dancing in front of his eyes as he nodded. The Englishman’s eyes bored into him and he spoke as if explaining something to a child. “She’s not sick anymore. We took care of that. Her only problem, now, is you. And that makes you my problem.”

The carbine was moving. Chris surged to his feet, shouting at Carlyle to stop, but somehow the three soft sneezes from the gun drowned everything else out. Three bullets stitched themselves into Derek’s face and then he was falling back, quite still, quite silent and the gun was panning back to point at Walsaw himself. His left hip exploded in pain, sending him tumbling to the floor. He scrambled for cover behind the chair as Ian drew the silver magnum from his hold-all, firing once into Phorbes’ cuffs as she stretched the chain across a corner of the table. Chris was drowned out by the thunder of the shot as he screamed at the Englishman, “She’s incurable! File says she’s fucking incurable!”

“C’mon love, time to go.” Ian grabbed her hand in his, steadying her as the two of them ran from the room.

Chris dragged himself to the door in their wake, his limp leg leaving a bloody trail across the floor. He shouted after them, “She’s not Dolly! She’s not Priscilla Phorbes! Her name is Peony! PEONY!”

No Asylum – Chapter 6

September 4, 2010


“No.”

Chris had expected trouble, but he hadn’t anticipated running into difficulties quite so early in the interview. “I beg your pardon?”

“No, that’s not my name! Stop calling me that!” Her slender hands had clenched into angry, white-knuckled fists and her lips were pressed thin, near-horizontal with rage.

“Uhh…” For the briefest of instants, a sharp dread that he’d been following the wrong woman swept through him, but he pushed it aside. It simply wasn’t possible. Her very denial when he caught her was a confession of identity. “I didn’t start the fire and I’m not going back!”

I’m not Peony. Peony was my sister. I’m Pris!”

Chris pulled out a chair and sank down into it, resting his head in his hands for a moment. “I’m sorry, love, but no, you’re not.” Keeping his eyes from the angry, baffled look he knew was on her face, he opened the dossier and turned over a few pages, pulling out a large, glossy photograph. He slid it across the table to her with two fingers.

“Has anyone ever shown this to you before?” The picture was taken on a dark, rainy day, its few participants oblivious to the camera as they huddled deep into black overcoats or crowded together beneath umbrellas. Only the priest remained in the open, drops of water sliding off his bald pate and soaking his solemn robes. All eyes were on the three open graves at their feet as a half-sized white coffin was lowered into the earth’s maw.

The girl looked away from it, clapping her hands over her face as if to stop the image sliding into her eyes. There was a muffled sob. Chris felt like a heel, but there was no turning back now.

“This was the funeral of Anna, James…” He pointed out each grave with a fingertip as he named them. “…And Priscilla Phorbes, aged nine years old. They died in a fire at their home; a fire you admitted to starting. Do you remember that, Peony?”

“No.” The denial came out sounding bitter and accusatory, as if Chris was trying to make it be true. Or perhaps it was still her name she recanted so adamantly. He started to reach out to her across the worn, graffiti-scarred surface of the interview table, stopped himself briefly, then carried through on the motion, sliding his hand gently under her fingers and clasping them in his palm.

“I’m not here to force you to go back the asylum, Peony. Not right now, not if you’re innocent. But nobody knows exactly what happened that night except you and I need you to tell me so that I… I can keep you safe. You trusted me once; I was there that night. Do you re…”

The door swung open and Derek walked in with a chipped glass jug of iced water and a stack of incongruously colourful waxed paper cups. Chris hastily yanked his hand back across the table, making the girl yelp in surprise as the motion jerked her cuffed wrist. The younger enforcer set his burdens down at Chris’ elbow; as the figure of kindness, Chris should be the one to pour.  He filled one of the cups – a bright, jolly object proudly announcing somone’s fortieth birthday amidst flying balloons – and held it out until she took it, lifting it to her lips between her bound hands and drinking greedily.

Derek leaned against the wall behind him. “She talking yet?”

Chris shook his head ruefully. “We’re just getting started but… I think we might need to get a professional psychologist in here to help, and I know Miss Phorbes doesn’t want that.” His eyes flicked back to her. “Is that right, hon?” She nodded frantically, a few drops of water glistening on her chin where she’d drunk too eagerly.

With his eyes glued to her face, Derek walked round to her side, then reached out slowly and cupped her chin in his hand, wiping the water away with a firm brush of his thumb. Chris’ stomach clenched, his legs curling back from their outstretched position as if he was going to stand, but he bit his lip hard and stayed put.

“It’s a legitimate interrogation tactic. He’s heightening her fear of him to make her want me to protect her,” he told himself, repeating it in his head like a mantra until his heart stopped thumping against his ribs.

Meanwhile, Derek smirked at her and licked a drop of water from the ball of his thumb. “My partner here thinks you never got a fair trial. He’s a bit old fashioned that way. Me? I think you’re a killer. You deserve whatever you get, so if I were you I’d start telling my partner here what he wants to know, because he’s the only one in this room with the keys to your cuffs and an interest in undoing them.”

“I…. I don’t remember the fire.” She turned pleadingly to Chris. “Really, I don’t! And I’m Pris! I am! Please… don’t send me back!”

God, those eyes. Chris stared at them, a strange, vertiginous swirling in his head as if he were about to fall into the oceans that lay there. He stood up abruptly, his tie feeling like it was slowly strangling him. It was hard to speak but he grated the words out. “Why don’t you… sit here for a while and relax? Try to remember something about that night, anything, no matter how small. Find us somewhere to start. I have to… have to step out for a moment. Derek will keep an eye on you.”

Her lurched to the doorway and out into the hall. The dizziness wasn’t getting any easier and now he felt short of breath and his heart was hammering wildly in his chest. It was a full-fledged panic attack; he tried to lock it down, this wild surge of fear, and made his way to the bathroom with the intent of holding his head under a tap until the world felt normal again.

***

Back in the interrogation room, Derek sat on the corner of the table next to the girl and watched his partner exit, waiting for the door to close. Patiently, he leaned across to the recorder and pressed the Stop key, listening to the tinny click of the tape’s wheels grind to a halt. He sat up again, looking at Phorbes, who was watching him with bright fear in her eyes. There was something indefinably attractive about broken women, but right now, he had a job to do. He drew his arm back and once again backhanded her across the face.

She shrieked, raising her cuffed hands to try to protect her head; he grabbed the chain in his right hand and dragged them back down to the table. “No screaming, no tears. You speak when you’re spoken to and you answer what I ask you, or I decide to fuck with my retarded partner and his stupid delusions and start treating you like any other fucking crim in here. Because believe me, sweetheart, we are treating you very, very well indeed, right now.”

Inwardly, Derek smiled to himself. It had come out sounding exactly right – dark and sonourous with an edge of suppressed menace and rage. She was cringing back in her chair in fear of him, fighting back tears and nodding her assent to his commands. He lowered his hand. “Now, it says here…” He tapped the file. “You have that multiple personality thing. So you tell me what you think your name is.”

She opened her mouth and for the first two tries, no sound came out. Finally, she croaked “Pris… I’m Priscilla Phorbes.” She succumbed to a fit of coughing then and Derek held out the cup of water to reward her. They were off to a good start.

Then the phone rang. The dark-haired young man held up one finger to the girl, cautioning her to silence, then leaned across to answer it. “What is it? We have an interrogation in progress in here.”

“It’s front desk. That’s why I’m calling. There’s an ambulance here from Spikky with an escort to pick her up. Looks like they’ll be taking it from here.”

Spikky was the San Paro Institute for the Criminally Insane. Derek swore under his breath.

“The guy’s coming down to pick her up, OK, Derek?”

“Yeah, whatevs.” He affected a casual tone but still slammed the receiver down harder than he’d intended. He looked back at Phorbes. “Sorry sweetheart, it looks like our time together is getting cut short.”

***

Desk Sgt Pinsky set the phone down and looked up into the mirrored glass that covered the eyes of the paramedic, then glanced down at the waterproof, emblazoned set of coveralls the man wore and let his eyes run along the man’s muscular arms to the heavy, metal barrel of the magnum levelled at his face. It started to lower.

“Yep,” drawled Ian Carlyle. “That was exactly right.” He reversed the gun and slammed the butt heavily into the man’s face.

No Asylum – Chapter 5

September 1, 2010


Another point in Derek’s favour, Chris thought; the two of them had always played their roles to excellence when it came to the game of “Good Cop, Bad Cop.” A lifetime of intimidation tactics had given his partner a sure insight into the psychology of fear, while his own sincere need to solve a case honestly bled into the role with such a passion it inspired faith and trust in a listener.

Besides, he’d had a lot of practice at talking Derek down, so it was easy to make the performance believeable.

He’d been through the finest interrogation training San Paro PD could provide, had years of experience grilling literally hundreds of suspects. What was new this time was that his stomach was turning backflips and the palms of his hands were cold and clammy.

It’s just Derek, he told himself. Putting the wind up me.

It was definitely nothing to do with the long, cloistered nights spent at a telescope in a damp sixth story tenement room staring into what might as well have been a window to another world, drenched in light and warmth, draped in rich colours, full of life and love and laughter and moments that ranged from the sweetest, tenderest of intimacies to the feverishly pornographic.

It was definitely not because of the ten years he’d spent turning back to this case again and again, trying to reconcile the differences between what he saw in those timid-deer eyes of hers and what the experts told him: that trembling in the chair opposite him was a girl (woman, he corrected himself) steeped in murder before she knew puberty, someone riven with one of the least-comprehensible mental disorders known to science. Someone utterly untrustworthy, completely unpredictable, whose values and concept of good and evil were wholly alien to society at large.

And it was definitely not remotely related to the way her blouse stretched, leaving tiny oval gaps between its buttons as it strained to cover her chest, the fringe of black lace just revealed by the open neck of the garment, contrasting sharply with the creamy skin underneath and beckoning the eye down to that hint of come-hither cleavage. Nor the fact that his memory provided a near-perfect recall of what lay underneath.

Then Derek cleared his throat and Chris was left with the horrifying realization that he’d been standing, mute, with both hands braced on the table, staring at the girl’s chest. And sweating. Sweating a lot.

Derek leaned in and whispered in his ear. “Is this a new technique? Bad cop, horny cop? It seems to work well, because you’re certainly scaring the shit out of her!”

Chris looked across the table and saw that his partner was right. Phorbes had shrunk back into her chair as if trying to get as far away from him as possible… and who could blame her? He was just the bastard who’d electrocuted her unconscious, dragged her away in his car and dumped her in this place to be slapped around by a total stranger.

Not for the first time, he ached for the old days of a real police force, of proper procedure… of public trust. The days when she’d have been looking at him like he was a hero instead of a sweaty pervert.

The way she had looked at him ten years ago, when he wrapped her in a blanket outside the ashes of her home and carried her to a waiting ambulance, murmuring soft reassurances that everything would be alright.

They’d made him into a liar for that.

“I’ll get you some water,” Derek muttered, keeping his back to the girl as he spoke. “Cool down, get things back under control, OK? Don’t like seeing you fuck up like this.”

Chris looked at his partner with unfeigned surprise. The young enforcer grinned back rakishly. “You’re stealing my schtick!” Derek shoved a hand through his short-cropped black hair, narrowed his eyes and shot an intimidating look at Phorbes, then stalked out of the room as if something far more dire than a glass of water was involved.

He cleared his throat and sat down, carefully pressing down the record key on his dictaphone. “12:38, August 23rd, 2010. CSA Chris Walsaw and CSA Derek Fitzpatrick in attendance. Case Number 13516, interviewee…” He looked up at the girl and gave her his most reassuring smile, wondering in the back of his mind whether she remembered him from all that time ago. “…Peony Phorbes.”

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