I've got the scars from tomorrow and I wish you could see
That you're the antidote to everything except for me
A constellation of tears on your lashes
Burn everything you love
Then burn the ashes
In the end everything collides
My childhood spat back the monster that you see
~My Songs Know What You Did in the Dark; Fall Out Boy
I wanna go, where they tell me it's impossible
Fan the flame, and walk on the water
I got heaven locked up in these bones
Chapter Seventeen: Defiance
Jackson followed the drip of water as it rolled down the side of the plastic cup. The officers brought him the cup hours ago after they paraded him through the precinct and into the interrogation room. They hadn't talked to him since; hadn't even come to see if he'd choked on the lone ice cube that they'd put in his drink.
Jackson slouched in the seat. If they hadn't come to speak to him yet it only meant one thing: they were waiting for someone else.
He pulled a hand through his hair. That was one thing he could be grateful for. They had forgone shackling him to the table. The hard metal chair was already uncomfortable; he didn't need to add the harsh rubbing of handcuffs to the mix.
Near as he could tell it was close to midnight. He was getting bored with this. They hadn't even given him a reason for why he was there.
He rested his neck on the back of the chair and stared at the grey ceiling. It'd been years since he'd been in an interrogation room and they hadn't changed much. Just a simple room with one wall filled by the two-way mirror. It was set up for intimidation; one camera in the corner of the room watching your every move, the door that only unlocked from the outside. Jackson's eyes flicked to the mirror. He almost smiled. It's a shame their intimidation was wasted on him.
Jackson didn't move as the door opened. A man walked in wearing a rumpled suit, his tie loose and off-center. Jackson watched him sit in the chair opposite him. The man was early forties, hair already graying at the temples. He dropped a file on the table and turned his attention to Jackson. He didn't say anything. They just stared at each other, sized each other up.
"You want another cup of water?" he asked, his voice deep and raspy from his afternoon cigarette. Jackson's face remained blank. "I'm sure your water's gone warm by now."
With a sigh Jackson scooted himself up. He leaned forward, propping his elbows on the table. "What am I here for, Mr. . . ?"
"Agent Machado, Mr. Rippner. I'm here to ask you a few questions."
"So I keep being told. What exactly do you want to ask me about?"
"You didn't ask for a lawyer?" Machado asked, ignoring Jackson's question.
Jackson raised an eyebrow. "Do I need one?"
"Depends on how you answer my questions. Where were you the night of Secretary Keefe's death?"
Jackson's heart thumped. So that's what this was about. A thin smile crossed his lips. But it wasn't like he had anything to worry about. Neither he, nor anyone he knew, was anywhere near Keefe when he was killed.
Well. . . not entirely true.
"I thought he died of a heart attack."
"We like to cover our bases."
The smirk didn't leave Jackson's lips. "Right."
"Let's not make this difficult, Mr. Rippner. Where were you?"
"I was at my girlfriend's." Man, it felt weird saying that. "We were eating macaroni and cheese-homemade of course- and sitting together on the couch, watching television."
"And what time was this?"
Jackson tapped his chin, pretending to seriously consider the question. "Around six? She was at work until five. I was there until close to midnight."
"And she'll corroborate this?"
"Why wouldn't she?" Machado just stared at him. Jackson sighed. He was getting bored with this. "Yes. She will."
"And her name?"
Machado's eyes flicked to the mirrored glass and gave a barely perceptible nod before turning back to Jackson. "Where were you before that?"
"Sleeping. Before that I was on a phone call with a coworker."
"Where do you work?"
"I'm sure you already know that."
"Just answer the question, Mr. Rippner."
"And what do you do there?"
"I manage a group of ten associates. We install and run security systems for big name companies," Jackson leaned over the table. "I'm sure you understand I can't reveal which ones for security purposes."
"What were you speaking to your associate about?"
"One of our clients had a security breach. We were working out how it happened. You can check the phone records if you like. The call lasted several hours."
"And did you figure out what happened?"
Jackson shrugged. "We're working on it."
"Uh huh," Machado's phone buzzed. He glanced down at it, his face a mask of disinterest.
"You still haven't told me what I'm doing here, Agent Machado."
Machado glanced back up at him from the tops of his eyes. His fingers stilled over the key pad.
"Secretary Keefe's autopsy revealed trace amounts of poison in his system and we found your finger prints at the crime scene." Machado leaned in, crossing his arms on the table. "Explain to me how we found your finger prints there."
Cade. The name was on the tip of his tongue. If he had been a lesser man he would have said it. But one of the first things the company imbedded in you was loyalty. You do not talk about it. You do not betray the people who have become like family.
A very screwed up family, yes, but a family nonetheless.
Jackson also knew it would be impossible to prove Cade's existence. What would he do? Show them the picture of the maniacally grinning cop? That would go over great. There was no other physical evidence proving the man was even real.
"What kind of excuse are you going to give now, Mr. Rippner?"
"Is that all you have?" he responded.
Machado blinked. "What else do we need?"
Jackson shrugged. "Video of me? Did anyone in the house actually see me there? I'm sure you showed my picture to the family and staff."
"Did anyone recognize me?"
Machado's phone buzzed again. He glanced down at it and then back up to Jackson but didn't answer him.
"Somewhere you need to be, Agent Machado?"
A small grin lit Machado's lips. "No. You've got me all night."
Jackson sighed. "I don't know what else you want me to tell you. I've told you where I was. I've given you my whereabouts for that night," he leaned his forearms on the table again, keeping his eyes locked on Machado's. "What more do you want?"
Machado held his gaze. "The truth, Mr. Rippner."
Badges were flashed in her face. "Miss Reisert?"
Lisa's eyes flicked from the badges to the two faces behind them. "Yes?"
"I'm Special Agent Hurt and this is Agent Tennant. I'm very sorry about the late hour but we'd like to ask you some questions about your relationship with Jackson Rippner."
"I don't understand." Lisa responded, confused.
"May we come in Miss Reisert? We just have a few questions."
Lisa shook her head, clearing her mind. She stepped aside, giving the agents entry. "Yes, of course."
Tennant walked through first and gave her a small smile. "Thank you. We promise not to take up too much of your time."
"Please, sit," Lisa said and gestured to the couch. Still watching them, she settled on the arm of the chair, crossing her legs.
"How long have you known Mr. Rippner?" Hurt asked.
"Where did you meet?"
"On a red eye from Dallas to here. We sat next to each other on the flight."
"So you know him well?"
Lisa held back a snort. "I like to think I do."
"And do you know where he was on the night of Secretary Keefe's death?"
Unease settled in Lisa's mind. Her hands clenched in her lap. She couldn't understand why they were asking her this. The news droned on in the background, announcing that a suspect had been brought in for questioning for Charles Keefe's death. Why would someone be arrested? He'd died of natural causes. "Why would you ask that?"
"Just answer the question, please," Tennant said soothingly.
Lisa's gaze snapped up to theirs. "Yes. He was here all night."
"Yes," she snapped, growing frustrated with their questioning. "We had dinner. We were watching TV when the broadcast came on that Keefe was dead." Lisa shook her head. "What is this about?"
"Do you know where he was before that?"
"Home?" Lisa sighed. "I don't keep track of him everywhere he goes. He works. I work. We see each other when we can." She shook her head. "Why are you asking me this? Keefe died of a heart attack."
"Secretary Keefe was murdered, Miss Reisert."
Lisa's gaze shot up to meet his. "Murdered?"
"Yes. And we have reason to believe Jackson Rippner may be involved."
Lisa slipped from the arm of the chair into the cushions as one of the agents continued talking. This couldn't be true. Jackson wasn't like that. He wasn't a killer. They had the wrong person. They had to have the wrong person.
Lisa's attention was drawn to the TV as a voice began talking.
"I'm standing outside the Miami Police Department where we've learned a suspect has been brought in for questioning in connection to Deputy Secretary Keefe's murder. The name of the suspect has not been released, but sources tell us the lead investigator, FBI Agent Machado-"
Lisa's attention shifted to the agents. "You don't really think he did it?" she asked, interrupting the agent that was talking. "You don't really think that Jackson murdered Keefe?"
The agents exchanged a look. "There is evidence to suggest it, yes. That's why we-"
Lisa shook her head. "He didn't do it," she cut in. "He couldn't have done it. He's not that type of person."
"You've admitted yourself that you've only known him for a couple months. How can you be sure?"
Lisa opened her mouth but shut it. She didn't have an answer. He was right. How could she be sure? "I- because he's not. He's a good guy. I may not have known him long but I know that much."
"Of course Miss Reisert," Hurt replied, standing up. "Thank you for your time."
Lisa followed them to the door. Before she could close the door, Tennant handed her a card. "If you can think of anything else, please call."
Lisa nodded. "Thank you."
She shut the door and rested her forehead against it. Lisa just couldn't understand it. Why would they think that Jackson would have anything to do with a murder? He wasn't that type of guy. She knew him. They didn't. The only thing they could do is look at him on paper; they didn't know him as a person. Except . . .
There were so many times that he wouldn't tell her about something and there was always that niggling suspicion that he was always hiding something from her. And he would always distract her if she tried to ask.
Lisa sighed and turned around, resting her back against the door. She chewed on the tip of her thumbnail. Maybe . . . maybe they had-No.
She shook her head. No. He didn't do it. She wouldn't believe that he did it.
Except . . .
"My client has nothing more to say to you Agent Machado."
Jackson and Machado turned in their seats as the metal door was thrown open. A well dressed woman in pleated pants and a blood red silk shirt stepped in, pushing her glasses further up her nose. She wore a red braid tucked over her shoulder.
Jackson frowned. McCalister. Why the fuck did they send her?
"And who are you?" Machado asked.
"Riley McCalister. I'm Mr. Rippner's lawyer. If you don't have anything to hold him on, I'll be taking him home."
"We have plenty."
"Circumstantial evidence, Agent Machado. You've already verified his whereabouts that night. You have no reason to hold him now."
Machado leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms over his chest. He stared at her, his eyes meeting her own unflinching gaze. "Fingerprints aren't circumstantial, Ms. McCalister."
"If you can explain how my client was in two different places at once, then he'll stay. Otherwise, we're leaving. Come on, Mr. Rippner."
Jackson looked at Machado, his eyebrows raised. "Looks like it won't be all night, Agent Machado." He stood. "I hope you catch whoever you're looking for."
Machado stood as well, his eyes catching Jackson's. "I will, Mr. Rippner. I'm sure I don't need to tell you not to go anywhere. I'm sure we'll be seeing you again."
Jackson drew up straight and followed McCalister out of the door. It had already been a long night. He wanted to go home. He wanted to crawl into bed and sleep. But one look at the tension in McCalister's back and the angry way she was walking made Jackson know that he was not going to have a good rest of the night.
AN: Not the best chapter, I know and I'm so sorry for the long wait. I really should just stop apologizing and start updating more regularly, shouldn't I? I am definitely going to start working on that. Just know that we're in the home stretch. I have the next couple chapters plotted out (including the last chapter being entirely written) but, of course, things could always change.
It's late so, unfortunately, I don't have time to respond to all of the reviews but I wanted to let all of you know that I adore all of you and am so thankful that you've kept reading. It makes me so happy that you've all enjoyed this little world that I've created.