Back Up Plans

Chapter 10: Familiar Territory

Television painted them in every shade of glamorous and trashy, but the police department building had still surprised her the first time she came here years ago. It looks exactly the same now: Greek columns, carved figurines, oxidized nickel dome. The whole image seems like a snapshot of a fictional universe now aged and dirty. Katara imagines women in long gowns and men in bowler hats climbing the polished steps at a leisurely pace where the most heinous crimes reported to the lawmen was a lost parasol. Miraculously, the building has outlived every occupant it's had. Katara takes one more gulp of her morning coffee before she dashes across the slow traffic. She climbs the sagging steps of the police building wishing she could block out the memories of her mother.

Katara wanders down the main hallway until she finds the right unit. She approaches the officer behind the front desk and speaks. "Can you please tell Detective Bato that he has a visitor?"

Familiar with police protocol, she offers her driver's license to the young officer. He quickly enters her information into his computer and returns the ID. "Have a seat. Detective Bato will come get you when he's ready."

She thanks him and picks out a seat, unaware of the man's appreciative observation of her backside. Settling into her chair, Katara wonders what kind of people visit this particular precinct on a daily basis. Did the desk officer see families arrive preparing to receive bad news, or did shady characters spend more time in these seats? Her grim musing is short lived because Detective Bato has been waiting for her arrival.

"Katara, it's good to see you." The middle-aged detective stands at the security door looking welcoming.

"Hi Bato, it's been a while." Katara rises from her wooden chair and hugs the detective. Bato chuckles awkwardly and pats the girl. As Hakoda's old partner, Bato knew Katara when her mother was still alive and spent many dinners with the young family. It had been many years since the family dinners ended. The pain of Kya's murder extended far beyond her immediately family. "Sorry I couldn't be here yesterday," Katara says as she releases him from the brief hug.

Bato takes a step back and observes the growth of the young woman. "You look more like your mother with every passing year," Bato remarks. Katara smiles bashfully at the comment.

"I came here alone like you asked."

Bato's eyes shift around the room surreptitiously. The small department is sparse during this hour. There's half a dozen officers assigned to this unit, and Bato made sure as many as possible were stationed around the city when Katara arrived. "Let's go to my office."

"Really, what's going on? I've been nauseas since you called yesterday. You sounded so serious."

Bato remains silent until his office door is securely shut. "I'm sorry that I caused you alarm, Katara. Do you remember what I said on the phone?"

"You said you wanted to talk about someone involved in my attack."

Bato nods and places four pictures on his desk. They're pictures from various angles and qualities of four different men. Katara observes the details of the pictures as they're laid down. "Can you tell me if you see Jet in any of these pictures?"

Katara looks at the headshots and immediately spots the man, though he looks far removed from the charming character she's come to know. It's clearly a surveillance photo shot in some unfamiliar place. Jet is looking over his shoulder with a cold expression.

Katara places her dark palm on the image with her fingertips resting just below Jet's face. "This is Jet."

Bato nods in agreement. "Thank you." He removes the other photos so that only Jet's remains. "Katara, I have read everything you and Jet reported about your attack. I want to tell you about another crime. But first, what do you know about Jet?"

An intuitive dread begins to fill Katara. She doesn't want to know where this conversation will lead, but out of loyalty to her old family friend she answers. "Not much. He kept hinting at a job but wouldn't ever get specific. I don't even know his last name for that matter."

Bato nods as if he expected her answer. "Have you had any contact with him since the attack?"

Katara nods though she feels inexplicably embarrassed. It had always been a habit of hers to quickly assume guilt. "After I was released from the hospital I visited him there to thank him. And he…he did mention something about a company called Noriko & King Consulting." Bato makes a note in his folder as Katara speaks but doesn't seem to react to her information beyond that. "And this morning he showed up at my apartment."

Bato's pen immediately freezes and he looks at the young woman intently. Katara had been wishing that this interview would have a simple ending, but clearly, it was headed toward messy one. "When you say 'showed up,' does that mean that you never gave him your contact information?"

She stiffly inclines her head in agreement. Bato sets down his pen and opens a desk drawer. It's metal hinges creak slightly until it's wide enough for him to pull out a thick folder. He places it in front of Katara and starts flipping through pages. "For you to understand why I am going to ask you to help with an undercover operation, I need you to understand who the Red Nation is."

Bato allows Katara a moment to process everything he has just implied. She has obviously become unintentionally involved with a gang member and she is being asked to risk her safety to help the police. "Does my father know I'm here?"

Bato smiles empathetically and nods. "Your father is the Chief of Police. I don't think anyone would be crazy enough to involve his family in a police operation without running it past him."

Katara takes in a shaky breath as she plays with the necklace at her throat. Is this really happening? She summons the memories of every interaction with Jet and searches for any reason to turn down Bato's request. In the back of her mind a thought forms. You knew from the beginning that things didn't add up.

"I know this is a shock, Katara. But please let me explain the facts and then we can talk about what you're thinking," Bato requests.

Katara's blue eyes look at the photo on the desk and then into Bato's clear gaze. She nods in agreement, but knows that at the end of this meeting she is going to be a part of a police operation. "Okay, Bato."

Katara forgets the passing time as Bato pulls page after page from the folder on his desk. There are mugshots of people she's never seen. Descriptions of gruesome crimes and the smiling images of people now dead. He explains the culture of the Red Nation gang- a complexly organized group of violent, racist monsters who spawned from the ideas of a small group of elitist pigs. Originally, the Red Nation was a controversial social club made up of the children of the wealthy old families in the area. They intentionally created life threatening circumstances to test their limits and required every member to do the same. Over time the group became obsessed with their superiority and a new charismatic member, Azulon, shifted the history of the group. Its violent hobbies turned outward guided by the young man's twisted justifications. Breaking and entering became a coordinated attack on a family. An alley mugging became a near death experience with victims waking up in hospital rooms.

"Stop. Please, stop," Katara begs. At this point her elbows rest on the desk as she props her head up. Her posture is slumped in defeat, and Bato feels sorry. He'd spent decades dealing with infinitely worse crimes but had still tried to spare Katara most of the horrifying truth. Clearly, his perspective is still a little callous. "I can see that the Red Nation is…is…" she looks for a word to finish her though but can't find an adequate one. "Just tell me how all this relates to me and Jet."

"Jet is the leader of a local section of the Red Nation Gang."

A myriad of emotions blend in Katara's expression, but Bato continues. "His gang members are particularly violent. Their victims are typical for Red Nation, but his crimes have the air of a professional. As we've studied his movements he definitely has an unusual amount of resources."

"That would explain how he got my backpack back." Katara's thoughts are no longer a hurricane of confusion and disbelief. She has heard enough and accepted her previous suspicions as truth.

"Katara," Bato's tone is deeply serious. "This explains how he knows where you live."

Everything inside her clenches into icy stone. "He knows where I live…"

"So let's play on the hunch that he's attracted to you-"

"I'm sorry- what?" Katara quickly pulls away from the officer in shock. With her back against the chair she looks at the man as if he had a third arm. "Jet is not attracted to me."

"How else would you explain his behavior? With zero connection to you he takes a beating for you in the subway. Then he goes out of his way to track down your backpack- something of zero importance to him and delivers it directly to you. Didn't he say anything to give you a clue about his feelings?"

I don't drink coffee much, but I do eat. Would you like to have dinner instead?

Mentally, her palm connects with her forehead but she's not ready to accept the crazy just yet. "I don't remember…But let's say he is attracted to me." She says the word 'attracted' as if it was a dirty word. "How exactly would we act on that hunch?"

"You could be a helpful distraction," Bato explains. "You keeping him busy for a couple of hours- say with dinner and a movie- would let my officers use a warrant to bust his safe houses and seize his property. We already have enough evidence to arrest him, but I want evidence to bring down as many of his people as possible."

Katara continues to look at Bato with an incredulous expression. "A few hours? What if someone calls him while we're out and lets him know what's happened?"

"I understand that you managed to get his phone once before already."

Katara blushes feeling guilty before she remembers that Jet is the criminal. "That was an accident," she insists.

"I'm just pointing out that it's possible to deal with his cellphone."

"But what if the date doesn't last that long?"

"I am confident that what I'm hoping for is far from the maximum amount of time Jet will want to spend with you."

Katara leans back in her chair again as she takes a moment to think about Bato's proposition. After everything she has learned about Jet, does she want to want to spend hours alone with him? He's so perceptive that he would see right through her. And did Bato really want to make her dating skills the crutch of his police raid?

"I…" As Katara's thought trails off her phone rings loudly in her bag. Muttering an apology she quickly pulls it out. She glances at the number lighting up her screen. It's not someone in her contacts but instinctively she knows who it is. She freezes for one brief moment.

The ringtone starts over and she glances up at Bato in panic. "It's Jet. He asked me if we could have dinner. What do I say?" she asks desperately.

"You have to decide what you want to do," Bato answers.

A frustrated comment is at the tip of her tongue but the phone in her hand demands an answer now. Biting her lip she holds the device up to ear.

"Hello?"

"Hi, Katara?"

"Yes," she replies. Jet's voice is slightly distorted over the phone. It sounds harsher, but maybe that's her imagination. It's hard to hear anything over the pile of incriminating information on the man.

"It's Jet. How are you and your backpack today?"

Katara's smile more closely resembles a grimace as she listens to his charming manner. "We're still celebrating being reunited."

"I'm glad." In the back of her mind, Katara wonders who gives Jet her information. First her address and now her cell phone number. "I was just calling to make sure you're still doing okay. Keeping that leg taken care of, avoiding subway stations and backpack thieves."

Her laugh is polite at best. There's an important decision scrambling her thoughts as she tries to pay attention. "Jet, about yesterday-"

But Jet cuts her off before she can finish. "Don't worry about it Katara. I can tell you're too busy saving the world one patient at a time to waste a couple of hours with me."

Katara quits chewing on her lip. She really is too busy but that isn't the reason for her hesitation. Bato watches her intensely, so she turns away from him and faces the wall of his office. "Everyone has to eat dinner," she says nervously.

"Yeah?" Jet's tone has taken a more hopeful note.

"And you asked me if I wanted to have dinner with you."

"That offer still stands," he says. "How about tonight?"

"Sure," she agrees and her body is icy tension once more. The old saying, making a deal with devil, suddenly seems very applicable to her life.


Update! Update! Here's a (for once) timely update :)

To those of you who are wondering when the Zutara kicks in please just TRUST me. In fact, I have ANOTHER chapter ready to go which I think will satisfy a little of our Zutara need *wink wink* But I will wait to post it because I'm greedy and want to see your reaction this chapter first.

Thanks for your reviews guys! I love you readers