NOT WITH A BANG

Chapter 13 Closing the Case

Joan was pulled out of school the next day. It seemed that Manny Keys refused to make a statement unless Joan was present. Price okayed the absence; he was willing to do anything to close the case and get off the hook about the mysterious Email message.

It was a weird conversation. They were in the hospital room: Manny was in the hospital bed with the wounded arm in a sling and the other handcuffed to the side rail. Joan, her dad, Manny, Lucy, a court stenographer, and even a cameraman, were all crowded in.. Lucy wanted Joan to ask Manny questions at her dictation. On the other hand, Manny just replied to Joan as if nobody else was there.

After the Miranda warning, which Lucy told Joan not to echo, the questions started.

"Did you set the bombs at City Hall?" asked Lucy.

"Did you set the bombs at City Hall?" Joan echoed.

"Yes," confirmed Manny.

"Why?" demanded Joan without prompting.

"The City Government was hopelessly corrupt. Mary wasn't the only person to lose her life under their bungling. It was time for a clean sweep."

"But--" Joan began, but stopped at a wave from Lucy Preston. She remembered her father's complaints about widespread corruption in the Arcadia government when the family first moved in, but the ringleaders had been arrested more than two years ago, due to her father's own efforts. Then she realized that Manny Keys would have been out of the country at the time, fighting in Iraq, and probably never heard of the reforms. Had a near-mass murder been based on a misconception?

"Did you have any accomplices?" asked Lucy. Joan repeated the question.

"None. I learned about bombs in the army. Once I was on the maintenance staff, I was able to smuggle the supplies in easily. The security apparatus was targeted at visitors, not employees."

"Who emailed the warning, then? How did they find out?" Joan repeated the questions.

"I don't know. I didn't intend to spare anybody, except the one that gave me the job, and he was out of town. But they all survived thanks to the warning," he added angrily.

Joan was doubly frightened by that: by the casual wish to kill multiple people, and also the realization that Glynis's story would not hold up. Would the police come to the school again?

But Lucy, who didn't seem to be pleased with the answers, was going on to the next case. "Did you kill any members of the so-called Third Street All-Stars Gang?"

"I killed all of them."

The atmosphere of the room charged markedly at that. For Joan it was the shock of hearing so casual an admission of mass murder. To the law enforcers, it was the fact that he had openly confessed to a heinous crime after being Miranda'ed, on a tape that proved that the confession was purely voluntary. He had basically handed the prosecutors their case -- unless the court decided that he was insane, which seemed possible..

Lucy seemed the only one unmoved. "Did you have any accomplices in that act?"

"No. Didn't need them. Posed as a dope dealer, but gave them a more powerful dose than they were expecting. After an hour they were so doped up that they were easy pickings. My only regret is that they didn't suffer as Mary did. Too drugged to feel any pain."

"Did you threaten Detective Girardi and his daughter with a gun?"

"I threatened the detective. Not his daughter."

"That gun was still pointing at me," protested Joan.

"Yes, Miss Girardi, we'll get your testimony separately," interrupted Lucy. "Just echo the questions. Did you fire a bullet into the Girardi residence, Mr. Keys?"

"Yes." And only then did Manny look disturbed at his own action.

Lucy closed her notebook. "I think I have all the information that we want."

"I want to talk to Joan privately," Manny said.

"NO!" Will protested vehemently.

"Leave a guard, dad," said Joan. "Between that and him handcuffed, I think I'm safe."

After some negotiation, the cameraman handed his camera over to Lucy and produced a gun from somewhere. The others went out.

"So what did you want to tell me?" asked Joan. "I'm not ever coming back."

"You've obviously had a sheltered life, and I just wanted you to understand things. There's two type of people in the world, the Good and the Evil. The Evil prey upon the Good, and the Good, and the Good let them do it. They have the silly idea that to fight back is wrong, violent. 'This is the way the world ends, not with a bang but with a whimper'…I used to think that God would come and correct things, and the meek would inherit the Earth," Manny went on. "Then I realized that He wasn't coming, and that He probably didn't even exist."

Joan kept her mouth closed about that.

"Then I thought a strong government was the answer. I joined the army, and they sent me over to Iraq. It was chaos. Two groups over there, the Sunnis and the Shi-ites, and both of them were violent, and it wasn't clear which were friends and which were enemies. I got in trouble for roughing up the wrong guy: he deserved it, but officially he was a 'friend'.". So the army sent me back to the US and kicked me out."

Joan didn't know what Manny's idea of "roughing up" a guy was, and didn't want to know. It sounded like he had been Court-martialed, but maybe on psychological grounds that didn't involve jail time. The army just wanted to be rid of him, and considering what she had heard about manpower shortage in Iraq, that was saying a lot.

"I got back to Arcadia and tried looking up Mary, who had been very nice to me on my first job. But she was dead, burned to death because she had gotten in the feud between a street gang and the gang in City Hall. I decided, a pox on both your houses. I was going to avenge Mary's death on both sides."

"It didn't work," Joan said coldly.

"No. But at least I got the gang, and you know what your father is like now. Don't be a wimp like other good people, Joan. Take up the fight against Evil."

"I'll fight," said Joan, "but in my own way."

----

Joan and her father managed to share an empty elevator going down. "That lady from Washington didn't seem very happy," she remarked, "even though the case is solved."

"No," said her father with satisfaction. "Lucy wanted to 'catch a terrorist'; that would have enhanced her career down there. But it turned out not to be a matter of terrorism, and she didn't do the catching."

"And you?"

"I'm just glad a dangerous man is off the streets. And relieved that he didn't hurt you."

"He didn't ever want to hurt me."

As they exited the elevator, they heard an alarm go off. A voice came on the intercom. "Attention, emergency personnel to the sixth floor, both medical and security. Attention--"

"That's Manny's floor," said Joan, turning around. But her father grasped her arm.

"Let them handle it, Joan. I don't want you involved with him ever again."

Joan found out later what the emergency was. With his life in ruins, and in spite of the handicap of two immobilized arms, Manny had somehow contrived to kill himself.

-------

Grace came by the house that evening. Helen was tempted to throw her out for getting her lastborn in so much trouble, but Joan begged permission to talk to her, particularly when Grace said she wouldn't be back for two weeks. Reluctantly Helen let Grace upstairs to talk to her children. Grace brought them up to date on her side of the story.

"I went by the Beghs to return the bracelets and apologize to the professor in general. He was fairly reasonable about it. He said that asking for the stuff was honorable, that it was Maggie's fault for giving them to me. She's not going to be able to ride her horses for at least a week."

"That's her punishment?" asked Joan. "Being grounded from horseback riding?"

"No, that's a consequence of the punishment. Seems that Maggie got her butt whipped, literally. Her Dad doesn't have modern Western inhibitions about corporal punishment. Apparently you don't feel like sitting in a saddle after that. Or anywhere else."

The three looked at each other uncomfortably, each obviously wondering how they would have fared in a milieu where children were still spanked, or worse.

"I'll try to make it up to her later," Grace said finally. "Right now I'm grounded, big time. My parents let me pay you one visit because you found me and persuaded me to come home. My dad and the professor are meeting tomorrow to talk out the events of the week. I hope the professor doesn't persuade dad that his form of discipline is better."

"I'm grounded, too," said Luke.

"And I'm not going to get my two hundred dollars paid back," groused Joan.

"There's another thing worrying me," continued Luke. "Glynis's story and Manny's don't match. There was no email traffic about the bomb, because Manny was working alone. Will Glynis get in trouble? Or the school."

Grace shrugged. "The guy's dead, and can't be questioned anymore. If Glynis is smart enough to stick to her story, the police will just have to assume that he lied."

A knock at the door. "Joan? Another guy from your school. Said his name was Harvey or something like that. Wants to talk to you, but I thought I'd ask you first."

Mystified, Joan opened the door and followed her mother to the top of the stairs. Cute Boy God was standing in the living room, with a serene smile as if people made him wait all the time. He wasn't fazed by the boarded-up window, either. "Harvey" must have really been "Yahveh". For a moment Joan was tempted to tell her Mom not to let him in, and see what would happen, but she didn't have the nerve. "Yeah, I know him. Send him up."

Cute Boy God came into the room a minute later and shut the door. It was odd: Joan's bedroom should have been crowded with Joan, Grace, Luke, and the Boy all occupying it, yet it seemed more spacious after he entered. Luke speculated afterward that the Boy had somehow reshaped space, or at least their perception of it.

"I'm sure you have some questions for Me about this week," he began.

"Yeah," replied Luke promptly. "Why didn't you give me more warning about sending that message? I could have covered our bu--, um, our tracks better."

"But a greater lead time would also have affected the recipients of the message. As it was, with the predicted explosion only minutes away, they had no choice but to evacuate. If the warning had come earlier, they would have felt doubts and suspicions about it, and it would have been ignored."

"Are you sure?"

"Of course--" the Boy sighed. "Foreknowledge is hard to explain. I not only foreknow what is going to happen, but what would happen if I did something different. I'm the only unpredictable part of the equation."

"I'd like to discuss that someday," said Luke, his philosophical side taken precedence over his annoyance.

"What about me?" Joan intervened angrily. "I thought Manny was a nice guy with a lot of bad luck in his life, and that you wanted me to befriend him. Why didn't you warn me that he was a homicidal maniac? I could have been shot!"

"I knew you wouldn't be."

"Well, yippee for You!" Joan said sarcastically. "I didn't!"

"No, and that's why your standing in front of your father was admirable. You have developed courage and know it. You needn't feel embarrassed any more about panicking in the Ramsey case. And do you see other lessons in this week's events?"

Joan thought deeply. "I suppose so," she conceded. "Manny was wrong. People aren't all bad or all good. Manny wasn't completely a monster. He genuinely loved his murdered friend and wanted to do good by her. And dad, who is a very good man, has made mistakes in his life."

Grace added sulkily: "And I suppose the moral is that even though society has flaws, I should have been able to trust its institutions rather than upsetting everybody by running away."

"Exactly," replied Cute Boy God. "Manny was correct in discerning the evils of the world, but wrong that the only choices were violence vs submission. This is the way the world is changed: not with a bang, nor with a whimper, but with wisdom."

THE END.