“Nice of you to join us,” Torres said, not hiding her annoyance.
“Sorry I’m late. Good to see you again, Chief,” Alan said, nodding toward Wright. “I assume since you’re here the mayor’s looking for a progress report?”
“Yes. He is,” Wright replied.
“Well, good news for you because the reason I’m late also happens to be the answer to all our prayers,” Alan said, tossing a paper bag on the table. Hastings opened it.
“Thumb drives?” the detective asked.
“Copies of the security footage from inside the Cosmo on the day in question,” Alan replied. The few seconds of stunned silence was broken by all of them scrambling to grab the thumb drives.
“Where the hell did you get these?” Quinn asked.
“Got a friend in the FBI. He owed me a favor,” Alan said, sipping an Irish coffee.
“Wait, what about chain of evidence? Uh, fruit of the forbidden tree? We can’t use these in court,” Deputy Whitmore said.
“We went through the proper channels. We would have had these days ago if the Feds had played nice. I say we go with it,” said Chief Wright. A chorus of thumb drives plugging into desktops and laptops filled the room.
“Holy shit,” Quinn said as the first images loaded.
“Jack pot,” said Hastings.
“Nicely done, Mr. Watson,” Torres said, duly impressed.
“I do what I can. Oh, here,” Alan said, grabbing the file under his arm and handing it to Wright. “I typed up a summary of my findings for you to read at your convenience. In the meantime, I’m going to pay CSI a visit and see if I can’t sniff out any more clues.”
“I’ll read your summary,” Wright began, setting the file down. “But I’d rather hear it from the source.”
“Hear what, exactly?” Alan asked.
“You’ve got years of expertise according to your business card. I want your take on this. On the Spiders, Nobody and his friends, all of it,” said Wright.
“My take,” Alan said, contemplating his answer. “My take is that this case is complicated and there’s more to it than it seems. I think what you’re looking for is hidden beneath a few layers of bullshit that interested parties are keeping secret to cover their own ass. I think what you have here is a genuine mystery and as I happen to love solving mysteries, I think we can have this wrapped up in a day or two.”
“Okay, I’m gonna stop you right there,” Wright said holding one hand up.
“Drop the Sherlock routine,” Wright said dryly. “The last thing I need is some private investigator type show boating and upstaging my team. As long as you work for me you’re not going to be running around my investigation like a grandstanding peacock. Are we clear?”
“First of all, the name’s Watson, Chief,” Alan said with a wink. “And secondly, check the contract. I don’t work for you, I work with you. As a semi-autonomous subject matter expert with a license granted by the government of these United States of America to investigate criminal acts across the nation.”
“And frankly, Jet City is lucky to be one of the few cities left anywhere that has an exclusive deal with the Society like this. A lot of them expired and were never renewed because of how complicated Mask Laws have gotten. So maybe count your lucky stars that I’m even here.” Alan took another sip of his special coffee as Chief Wright floundered between feeling offended and embarrassed. “And for the record, I hate grandstanding peacocks. I take care of business, no muss no fuss. So if you’d like to tell the mayor to release me from my contract, feel free. Otherwise I think we should all get back to it.”
“Well. I guess I misjudged you. I apologize,” Chief Wright said.
“Don’t worry about it,” Alan said.
“I mean, between your #1 Detective mug and the suspenders I thought you were some kind of…”
“Professional douche canoe?” Alan asked. Wright shrugged. “The mug was a gift from my god daughter. I take it everywhere with me since she passed. Something to remember her by. The suspenders are better for my back than a belt. Scientifically proven. So there you go.”
“Now I feel like a douche canoe,” Wright whispered, face red from the awkwardness.
“So, if you’re with the Society,” Deputy Whitmore asked, butting into the conversation, “can I ask what super name you went by?”
“Sure. I went by Super Sleuth, the Number One Northwest Detective.”
“No kidding,” Whitmore said, his jaw dropping just a little.
“That was you?” Quinn asked.
“I had no idea,” said Torres.
“I’m more recognizable with the suit, I’ll admit,” said Alan.
“Wow. Um. It’s an honor,” Wright said, extending his hand. Alan obliged with a curt shake.
“Look, I’m not going to wait for the giant monologue at the end to “reveal my conclusions and methods” or whatever. I’m here to support you guys. If you have any ideas or need my expertise I’m there. Otherwise I go where my nose takes me. I operate best that way.”
“Is it true you can smell guilt on people?” Quinn asked.
“Not exactly, but sure.”
“Do you still have that mean right hook?” Torres asked, slapping her bicep.
“More or less.”
“Did you know Right Cross or any of the original Society members?” asked Wright.
“Let’s get back to the investigation, shall we?”
“Okay. Fine,” Wright said, a little let down. “Since Nobody and his gang are our number one suspects right now, let’s focus on them.”
“Nobody and his crew are hard to figure out. We can’t nail down their motivations,” said Torres from her workstation.
“We have his manifesto and his call to action video from YouTube,” Quinn countered.
“Did you read the damn thing? It’s gibberish,” Torres countered back.
“Their behavior makes no sense either. Are they terrorists? Crazed murderers? Thieves? Were they working with, against or alongside the Spiders? Who knows?” said Hastings from his workstation.
“Okay, so no motive. And we still don’t know anything about them?” Wright asked, perusing the file.
“Allow me.” Alan took a photo out of his pocket, a print out of security footage. He grabbed a tack and pinned the photo to a bulletin board. “Nobody,” he began. “Real name unknown. Aged somewhere between 19 and 30. Six foot tall, lean build. Highly trained. Probably ex-military or, I don’t know, a ninja school graduate.”
“Ninja school?” Wright asked.
“Fine, hidden Ninjutsu Academy graduate. Is that enough verisimilitude for you?” Alan asked.
“I didn’t know they were still around is all. They were big in the 70’s and 80’s,” said Wright.
“Yeah, they’re still around. You just haven’t seen them because they’re masters of disguise,” said Alan. He pulled out another photo and slapped it on the board. “James Wagner. Entrepreneur, I.T. whiz, tech savant, and co-founder of D*Liver.”
“The delivery app?”
“Among other things. Busted for drug use as a minor. No other priors. He was seen entering the convention center wearing the helmet they found at the scene of the crime. It’s cutting edge stuff. Very advanced for normie tech.”
“Normie tech?” Wright wondered under his breath.
“Based on his background and skill set, I think he may be responsible for the electronic surveillance and digital intrusion into Cosmo’s systems that allowed this whole thing to happen in the first place.”
“Digital in… you mean hacking?” Wright asked.
“No one calls it that anymore.”
“The Marble Maiden,” Alan said, slapping another photo on the board. “Real name unknown, but hopefully the security cam footage is of a high enough fidelity that you can run facial recognition. She’s a new superhero on the block. Appears to be able to shift in and out of her marble form at will, based on witness testimony.”
“That explains how she got away.”
“Finally, Tina Berkowitz. Was found in possession of Mr. Night’s gas gun and the Shroud of Damascus. No criminal record. Not even a parking ticket. She was treated for minimal injuries at the scene. Psych eval shows some PTSD, no signs of obvious insanity. Given the circumstances, I think it’s possible she may have been roped into this.”
“Is that her story?”
“I don’t know. She hasn’t said much. We’ll know more once you get her talking.”
“A strange mix of people. I don’t know what to make of it,” said Wright.
“You’re not alone in that opinion,” said Alan.
“Okay, let’s start from the beginning. The four of them were already in the convention center, possibly attending Hero Fest when the Spider’s hologram appears. Then what?” asked Wright. Alan downed the rest of his Irish coffee.
* * *
There were a few people hiding in place, waiting for rescue or at least for someone who looked like they knew what they were doing. Nobody quickly found what he’d been searching for. The Weapons of Yesteryear display was a long, ornate wooden case with super strong glass protecting its contents. Nobody knelt and started picking the lock.
“What are you doing?” Tina asked in a harsh whisper.
“Picking a lock,” Nobody replied.
“Yeah, well stop. Security’s going to see you.”
“The ones that… Huh. Where’d they all go?” Tina wondered.
“I think they’re busy blocking the exits right now,” Mallory noted.
“Why are they doing that instead of protecting all these valuable items?” Tina asked.
“It is weird, but it’s also a lucky break and I’ve learned not to look gift horses in the mouth,” said Nobody.
“Tell that to the Trojans,” said Tina.
“Touché,” said Nobody. The lock went click and he lifted the lid off the row of archaic weapons. “All right. Pick your poison.”
“This feels so wrong and I love it,” said Mallory, rubbing her hands together.
“Dang, girl. You changed,” Tina said.
“What do you mean?” Mallory asked.
“I can’t believe you’re not acting more freaked out. I mean, I guess this isn’t the first hostage situation you’ve been in this year but even so, not what I expected. You’re more confident. You don’t care what people think. You’re like a new Mallory lately.”
“Aw. Thanks, girl,” Mallory said.
Nobody noticed other people watching them now and decided to speed things along. “What are you going for, Star Joe?” he asked.
“Did they, um, did they have any guns back then? They did, right?” Tina asked, perusing the display.
“Most people had guns back then,” said Mallory.
“Okay. Sure. Right. Sure. Oh we’re going to get in so much trouble for this,” Tina said, suddenly feeling the gravity of the situation.